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Oral History Interview with Jack Elam by William Chafe


Date: circa 1975

Interviewee: Jack Elam

Biographical abstract: Jack Elam, a Greensboro attorney, served as the city's mayor from 1969 to 1971.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This oral history interview conducted by William Chafe circa 1975 with Jack Elam primarily documents Jack Elam’s career as Greensboro city attorney from 1954-1961 and mayor from 1969 to 1971. Elam briefly describes his background and education before focusing on the events of February 1960, including advising the police department and city council, meeting with the "Greensboro Four" to discuss city ordinances before they sat-in at Woolworth's, Klan activity, urging Curly Harris to desegregate Woolworth's, and working with Edward Zane and the Advisory Committee.

Elam also discusses Greensboro politics and some specific elected officials and city employees during the 1960s, including Carson Bain and city curfews, hiring black police officers and other employees, and the appointment of Walter Johnson and Vance Chavis to citywide boards. Elam also describes in detail his experience as mayor during the May 1969 Dudley High School/NC A&T riots, including the murder of Willie Grimes, the shooting of city policemen, Owen Lewis, the decision to call in the national guard, FBI informants, and his communication with various other local and state leaders.

Other topics include Elam's service on the Human Rights Commission, his attempt to get Henry Frye admitted to the Greensboro Bar Association in 1954, George Simkins winning a tennis tournament at the Greensboro Country Club, the desegregation of city golf courses and swimming pools, the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and Hal Sieber’s involvement desegregation attempts, Nelson Johnson’s role in the community, and the sanitation workers strike.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.639

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Civil Rights Greensboro and the appropriate repository.



Oral History Interview with Jack Elam by William Chafe

William Chafe:

I'm talking to Jack Elam who was mayor of Greensboro as well as being a city councilman for many years and is still active in the Greensboro community. Have you always lived in Greensboro, Jack?

Jack Elam:

I was born and raised in Greensboro.

WC:

And you went to [University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill to college?

JE:

Undergraduate and law.

WC:

I remember reading a comment that you made—I'm not sure when you made it—but it was in reference I think to your association with Frank Porter Graham. Did you know him personally?

JE:

Bill, I'm not sure what you'd be referring to. Dr. Graham was at the university when I enrolled as a freshman in 1943, but I didn't spend much of my time on studies. I devoted myself to extracurricular activities. I was only sixteen at the time I entered. And I think it was probably a good thing that I went away to navy service in '44. Then when I came back in '46 I was engaged to be married and got married a year thereafter and began to settle down a little better. I never—I met Dr. Graham. He met all of the freshmen that came back in those days. And he was an influence in my life, but I'm not one of those people who speaks very—a very close sort of familiarity with him.

WC:

Yeah. Okay. I guess there was some—I think there was, at one point during the late sixties, where in a newspaper article you said that you had grown up under the influence of him and I didn't know quite what that referred to, whether it was personal or not.

JE:

I think to the extent that I admired him and to the extent that I was more liberal then than I am now. He did influence me, and I think it was an influence for the good. But I don't regard myself as a protg of his or anything of that sort.

WC:

Right. Okay. Now you went to law school and got out when, around '51 or so?

JE:

I graduated from law school in 1952.

WC:

And then went directly back to Greensboro from there?

JE:

No, I started on the faculty. I was an assistant professor of public law and government and assistant director of the Institute of Government. I started there when I was in law school and stayed for two years after graduation, and left the university in April of 1954 to go to Greensboro as an assistant city attorney. And when Herman Wilson retired in 1957, I became city attorney and was city attorney until December of 1961.

WC:

So those were important years in terms of—of course, you wouldn't have been the school board attorney. Robert Moseley was the school board attorney.

JE:

That's right.

WC:

But you would have been involved as city attorney, at least, on some of those questions probably having to do with, well, the trespass questions, as far as the sit-ins were concerned?

JE:

Well, I did several things. First of all I had some contacts with the student leaders, not extensive contacts but some contacts, and I remember certain ones of them. And I, of course, was a close advisor to the police department because that was part of my official duties. And I also was involved in advising the city council. And we got into a lot of questions. For example, the council considered very seriously passing several detailed ordinances about picketing and so forth, and I discouraged all of that. I thought that the laws on the books could deal with the major problems we were going to encounter, and, of course, this is a mixed policy and law question, but I thought it was inadvisable under the pressure of the moment to rush into print a whole group of rules and regulations.

WC:

Which students would you—do you remember the names of any of the students?

JE:

I recall Ezell Blair [now Jibreel Khazan] particularly and—well, the names won't come back to me now. He was—when I was present, he was the most outspoken. I think there were four, if I remember correctly.

WC:

Right, right. Yeah, [Franklin] McCain, [David] Richmond, and [Joseph] McNeil were the other three.

JE:

Yeah, and I remember now the name McCain and Richmond. McNeil I don't recall.

WC:

And in what context would Blair have come and sat down and talk to you about these issues or—?

JE:

Well, I don't recall being alone with him except on one occasion. And my memory is pretty rusty on this point, but as I recall it, Blair and one or two others, maybe all four of them, came to my office and inquired as to what the rules were, what ordinances would apply, and we were talking them primarily about the situation around Woolworth's, Kress's, and the moving picture theatre across the street. And I explained to them the fire ordinances, that the exits from the public areas had to be kept clear, that they could not obstruct the sidewalks, and most of the things they were already familiar with. They couldn't get out in the street and block traffic, and, of course, they couldn't run into people and harass people on the streets. And I was most impressed with their desire to avoid confrontations and unpleasant situations. They never indicated to me in any way that they could control all the people that would be involved in this, but I formed a very firm impression that our big problem was going to be the Ku Klux Klan, not the A&T [North Carolina A&T State University] students who were involved.

WC:

And had you any contact with them, with the Klan people? Would they have come and asked the same kinds of questions by any chance?

JE:

No. [police captain] Bill Jackson and I talked at length, as did Paul Calhoun and I, the chief of police, about this subject. And they had certain intelligence information on the Klan, and they would come to me and say what they thought was going to develop and I would tell them how I thought they could handle it within legal bounds. And on several occasions I actually went to the scene and observed the Klan so I could give them on-the-spot legal advice. I don't want to say anything to give you the impression that I played a key role here, but I suppose in some ways I was near the center of things, at least as far as the sit-in activity.

WC:

And would you say that Jackson was pretty much the officer on the scene in most of these cases.

JE:

Yes, he was the person with high visibility, and I give him very high marks for handling that role. He didn't shy away from it, nor did he use it to any kind of personal advantage. Bill had been a friend of mine, a good friend, before that, because I had worked in Greensboro while I was with the Institute. Police administration was my field. And so—and being born and raised in Greensboro, we knew a lot of people, mutual friends and so forth. So I had a good relation with Bill and with many others there at the City Hall before I ever went to work there.

And my grandfather had been a leader in the community. He was on the council and president of the Old Eagle Hose Company, the volunteer fire department. If I stray too far, stop me.

WC:

No, that's okay. That's good. Now during this time when you were with the—assistant—when you were city attorney, did you have contact with [state attorney general] Malcolm Seawell or with [Governor Luther] Hodges during the period of the sit-ins?

JE:

I was on a personal friendship basis with Malcolm Seawell. Malcolm—when I was with the Institute, I was hell-bent on getting into the trial courtroom, and I persuaded Albert Coates, who was the director of the Institute, to let me go down to Lumberton and try some cases with Malcolm Seawell. And Malcolm Seawell presented me when I was—when I took my oath as an attorney before Judge Hatch down in Elizabethtown. And you know how you have a fondness for people who play that kind of a role in your life. I talked to Malcolm on several occasions when I thought the state had an involvement and I needed advice on how the state criminal laws would be interpreted. But we weren't—we didn't work through this one-on-one the way I worked when the riots took place in '69.

WC:

Now, he was very active against the Klan, I remember, Seawell, especially later on.

JE:

Yeah.

WC:

Were you involved in the—I keep on forgetting the famous case down in Lumberton that was tried. [James] “Catfish” Cole and—

JE:

No. No, I was not involved in that.

WC:

The time of the sit-ins, Seawell's position seemed to be that—basically in favor of arresting the demonstrators on grounds of trespass.

JE:

Well.

WC:

At least publicly that seems to be his position.

JE:

Malcolm was a politician and a consummate politician. I was always surprised a little bit that he didn't go farther than he did, but I guess time caught up with him. Frankly, I didn't share those views, and we remained friends. I just didn't see the situation like he did.

WC:

Now, Hodges, also—I've been through his papers and found them very interesting, and there are transcripts in Hodges' papers of telephone conversations that he has with the heads of Woolworth's and places like that. He seems to have been very strongly in favor of arresting the demonstrators. Did you have any contact with him on—or know of any involvement of his beyond that, in terms of Greensboro per se?

JE:

No, I had no contact with him that I recall. And if you say transcripts, meaning that those telephone conversations were recorded—

WC:

They were.

JE:

I'm not too high on that either. But my ordinary contact with Governor Hodges would have been through the mayor, and it would have been the mayor coming to me and saying, “The governor wants to do this. How do you see it?” And I don't specifically recall any conversations that I had concerning arresting the demonstrators, except I was asked by someone in one of the many conferences we had whether I thought that they had violated any laws, and at that stage I said none that I thought were significant. And I advised against making insignificant arrests. But that's a pretty vague recollection, Bill.

WC:

Sure. Well they, of course, did—

JE:

And I didn't carry around a recorder and record all of my conversations, telephone or otherwise.

WC:

I'm not sure whether the people he was talking with knew that they were being recorded, but there are little disks there and then there's a transcript from the disks right in the files.

JE:

That's done more than we know I suppose.

WC:

Yeah, I think so. Were you at all close to the [Edward] Zane committee [Advisory Committee on Community Relations] and their negotiations?

JE:

Yes, Ed Zane had been a personal friend of mine. I knew him. He took a great interest in me when I became an assistant city attorney. In fact, Ed made me promise that if I ever decided to leave the city, I would come to see him about going to work with Burlington Industries, and I broke that promise when I went with Cone [Mills]. [laughter] The reason I did was because he was so persuasive and I was afraid he would talk me into going with Burlington. Yes, I did work with the Zane committee—well, yes I did.

WC:

My sense, I guess, is that those negotiations basically broke down over the refusal of the store owners to agree.

JE:

That's correct. And if you want a vignette on this matter, I can't give you the timing of this, but I think you can probably work it out from what you know of the chronology. I went over to talk with [Woolworth's manager Clarence] “Curly” Harris one day when things were getting pretty tense and it looked like the students were going to have problems in controlling their group and the Klan was becoming more active. And I went downstairs to his office and closed the door, so there was no one in there except me and Curly. We called him Curly; he was as bald as a cue ball. And told him that I had not been sent over there by the city administration [but] that I was in there to express a personal opinion, but that as a friend of his, I felt very strongly that he ought to go ahead and serve the students and get that behind him. That there were many people in the community who did not welcome this, but would support him if he'd make that decision, and I told him that I thought the community was being damaged by the posture. And I told him I realized that he worked for a national organization and that he couldn't make the decision alone. And I suppose that visit might be open to criticism. I've never been entirely comfortable with it myself, because I don't—I never bought the idea that a public official can speak as a private citizen. It just can't be done. But anyway, I did it. It may have been my youth that caused me to butt in. But Curly looked me right in the eye—I'll never forget this—and he said, “These people don't mean a damn thing to me. They constitute less than—” my recollection is “—four percent of my business dollar-wise.” And he says, “If they never come back in here, I don't care.”

My recollection is that not two weeks went by that I wasn't talking to him again and he said that his business was ruined. He was losing twenty-five thousand dollars a week or something of that sort, and what he hadn't realized is that the white people wouldn't come in there either, and he had done a 180-degree turn at that time. And I honestly don't recall the sequence of when they made the decision, but my recollection is that they did a complete turnaround in the space of about a week to ten days or two weeks.

WC:

Yeah, I think that's true. And it struck me at least that Joseph Martin was crucial in that turn around too, as being the manager of the third downtown [five and dime store].

JE:

Yeah, he was Meyer's department store.

WC:

And he in a sense was holding out after Harris and Kress's went.

JE:

That's true. Joe was a very stubborn man and he had strong feelings. And he was in a way, I suppose, subject to more local pressure from people who would be close to him than Woolworth or Kress's would.

WC:

Yeah, well that's interesting.

JE:

But I didn't give you that side of it because I didn't talk to Joe Martin very much, it just happened to be a conversation I had with Curly Harris, and at that time Woolworth was the beginning point and the sticking point.

WC:

And the key institution. You were—you had left at least public employment by the time of the second set of demonstrations took place in '63.

JE:

That's right.

WC:

Had you gone to Cone at that point?

JE:

Yeah, I left in December of '61 and went to work for Cone Mills. And I got a call from David Schenck one day asking me if I would serve on a human relations commission. And you'll have to refresh my recollection of this. I believe Oscar Burnett was the chairman of that commission.

WC:

Well there were three different commissions. That's the problems with that period of time. There are three human relations commissions, one of which begins with Bland Worley as chairman, and that in turn is replaced by one which has George Evans as chairman and Oscar Burnett as vice chairman, and that in turn is replaced by one which has W. O. Conrad as chairman.

JE:

I was not on the Conrad commission. Was Oscar Burnett on the Bland Worley Commission?

WC:

I think he was.

JE:

I think it's possible that I remember him because he played such a key role and that maybe Bland was chairman at the time I was appointed, and this would have been about '62 or '63, somewhere along in there.

WC:

That commission was in effect from July '62 through May '63.

JE:

All right. That's the one I was on.

WC:

Now my sense—their major action, or at least public action, seems to be—seems to have been a statement in December of that year that they urged the people in the community and businesses to give consideration to equal access to all people, but that seemed to be kind of balanced pretty much evenly with an emphasis on private property rights. Is that consistent with your recollection of the period?

JE:

That was a compromise statement. You had to—I thought that the mayor had done an excellent job in making those appointments, because he had someone at the head of the group who—I never was sure of Bland's private views, but he ran a good meeting. He really knew how to conduct a meeting with divergent interests there. And you had people like Otis Hairston at one end of the spectrum, and Howard Holderness at the other end of the spectrum, and I thought Bland did an excellent job with Burnett putting the oil on troubled waters with a little humor.

Well, let me give you an illustration of the humor. Oscar owned the Summit Avenue Shopping Center area and a group of the students came out to picket him. And he went out there and handed one of them a ten dollar bill and told him the signs were disgraceful and he'd like to pay to get them some nice signs so the shopping center wouldn't look so bad. And then he told them, he said, “You know my competitor across the street is not being picketed, and I don't think I ought to have all the joy. Why don't you share a little bit with him?” And the students took it with pretty good grace. That's the kind of guy he was.

WC:

I've heard very good interesting things about him.

JE:

Quite a guy.

WC:

Did that committee—as the demonstrations began much more heavily in '63, did that committee more or less collapse? What's your sense of that?

JE:

Bill, I was thinking about this on the way here. I just have to tell you that I don't remember what happened to the committee. It seemed to me like once we made that statement and took a position that we kind of faded away. Now, David [Schenk] didn't die—he died suddenly, but he died in—he died while I was—

WC:

Mayor?

JE:

Mayor, yeah. Because I remember calling on his widow and giving a statement to the papers and so forth. So I don't know what happened to the commission.

WC:

My sense, at least from the public material, is that once it did make that statement, it was too torn to really be an effective committee.

JE:

Well, at some stage we formalized it by an ordinance and made it a permanent body.

WC:

Right, that was after the demonstrations ended.

JE:

That was much later.

WC:

In July of '63, the city council made that statement. Now at what point do you go on the council?

JE:

In May of 1965.

WC:

So you are on the council basically for four years prior to becoming mayor.

JE:

That's right. I was mayor pro tem[pore] my first two years. Greensboro had a—do you want some background on this?

WC:

Sure.

JE:

I don't want to take up your tape digressing.

WC:

I wanted to get into some of these city council years.

JE:

All right. And I've also got a little bit of background going back to '54 that I thought of that might give you an insight on my own personal views here, again, if that's in order. The—until the term after I went off the council—I guess it was about '73—the council selected its own mayor. And as you might expect, the top vote getter was just the natural candidate for the job. I came in second to Bill Trotter the first time I ran, and then came in first in the election in 1967, and the council selected Carson Bain. There had been some strains among the council members, and I was not wildly popular with enough of them to cause them to vote for me, and so I got demoted to council member, if you want to put it that way. And Bill and I—I supported Bill. I said, “If you're not going to select me, then I think we ought to reelect Bill as the mayor.” And I'll never know what behind the scenes politicking went on, but anyway Carson Bain was selected mayor and Forrest Campbell was selected mayor pro tem. And Bill and I were pretty well excluded from the council deliberations for that two year period. And—

WC:

'67-'69?

JE:

'67-'69. That's right. In '69 I ran again and came in first again and was chosen there by that council. And some of the people who had not gone with me before didn't run. And then in '71 Jim Melvin, who was my mayor pro tem, ran again. I ran again. I came in first in the primary, but Jim beat me out by 230 some votes in the final election and he was selected mayor and I was mayor pro tem for my last two years, so that's the history of the council situation.

Let me—if you don't mind, let me go back and pick up something in '54 just to let you know about this, in case it hasn't cropped up in anything that you've come across so far. I want to say this because I think with a certain number of people in the whatever we refer to as the black community, I came across as a pretty firm mayor. And I think a lot of them forgot that in 1954, only five or six months after I came back to Greensboro to be assistant city attorney, I was very disappointed that there were no blacks in the Greensboro Bar Association. And at my own expense I wrote a letter to every member of the Bar Association saying that I deplored this. I think I said I thought it was immoral, which again was a product of my youth, I guess. If I were going to write the letter today in the same circumstances, I think I'd try to make it more persuasive. But anyway, I wrote a letter to all the members of the Bar Association, and some of them were excited enough to write back and say if I didn't like the way things were, I could get out. But my timing was pretty good because it was only a few months thereafter that Henry Frye was admitted, and he was the one that I had urged that they admit, so I felt good about that. I thought it was a good move for Greensboro and the Bar Association. And I think it's a compliment to the town and to the Bar Association that—whether my letter triggered it or not I don't know—but they did break the color barrier thereafter voluntarily.

WC:

Which is different from the medical society, I think, quite different.

JE:

Yeah. And I don't know enough about the medical society to know why except—well, I don't know. Perhaps they didn't have a candidate of the stature of Henry, although George Evans was highly regarded in the community. I don't know.

WC:

There is some correspondence on that too in the Hodges papers, and Evans, in fact, was the person who was involved. That's another story.

JE:

Well, that just shows you that lawyers are nicer people than doctors. [laughter] You don't need to print that.

WC:

Well, you know, you never can tell.

JE:

I might die on the operating table.

WC:

I guess I had a sense that Trotter was pretty important in '63—and you may or may not have anything to add to that—but that my sense at least is that Schenck felt kind of immobilized by the pressures against him from both the demonstrators on one hand and people who were strongly defending the rights to private property on the other. At a certain time, Trotter ended up taking some initiatives which Schenck did not take. Does that correspond with your recollection?

JE:

Well, I can only tell you I was not privy to that since I was not a member of the council, but I know that when I did get on the council, Bill and I became good friends, and I had always been a very good friend of David Schenck. And Bill at times—Bill was not a vindictive person, but he was bitterly critical of David. He said he that was absent at critical times and left the tending of the store to Bill and Bill resented that. He felt like he put him on the spot in a situation where David had whatever authority there was and he didn't. And he was critical, highly critical of David for that.

WC:

I think there was especially one key weekend when—

JE:

That's right.

WC:

—when he was away and Trotter ended up convening a meeting at something like one o'clock in the morning or something like that, which was a key meeting.

JE:

You can't always anticipate when these things are going to break loose.

WC:

Of course not.

WC:

I always had a feeling that perhaps Bill was not entirely fair to David. But, you know, I was David's friend too, so I don't know where the truth lies in that.

WC:

Well, in the period when you are in the council and before you become mayor, and actually before either the King assassination or the things that happened after that, it appears that there are two—at least a couple of issues which are crucial, in addition to the school issue, which we may or may not feel like discussing. I don't know how much involved you were in that. But one seems to be the housing question and the other seems to be the question of political representation. Now there may have been others which appear to you as a participant as having been equally violate or at issue between the black and white communities.

JE:

They were golf courses and swimming pools. We actually got into litigations over the golf courses.

WC:

Now, this is before—

[Redacted conversation with Chafe's son]

WC:

That was the Simkins case. That was probably when you were still—

JE:

That's right. I tried that.

WC:

—at the city attorney's office. You tried that case, okay.

[Redacted conversation with Chafe's wife]

WC:

So you tried that case. Did you later play against Simkins in a tennis tournament?

JE:

No.

WC:

That was someone else. [laughs]

JE:

No, but I'll tell you—gee, I don't know how many of these digressions you want.

WC:

As many as you have time for.

JE:

The recreation director came in to see me one day and said, “Boy, have we got a problem.”

And I said, “What's that?”

And he said, “George Simkins is entering the Greensboro—the tennis tournament sponsored jointly by the Greensboro Country Club and the City Recreation Association. What are we going to do?”

I said, “Let him in.”

And he said, “Well, that's great for the city, but they don't allow Negroes to play at the Greensboro Country Club.”

And I said, “Well, I think you ought to just tell them if they want city participation, that's it, because there is no doubt in my mind about what the city ought to do.”

And I frankly don't recall at the moment whether I based that on case law or whether I just threw a little policy with it. And so they—if I remember correctly, they moved the tournament—no, they didn't either. They played the tournament over there and George won the damn thing. He and a partner won the doubles tournament. It just tickled me to death. That's—anyway.

WC:

Somewhere I read that not only did he win it, but one of the people that he won it against had been one of the attorneys prosecuting him. [laughter] And I just wondered whether—I don't remember you name being associated with it, but maybe one of your colleagues—

JE:

No, I didn't. I was not in the tournament, but it did amuse me that he won the thing after being told that he wasn't good enough to play on the Country Club courts.

You mentioned the golf course case. We had a peculiar situation on the council that year. We had had a big annexation and we picked up two additional new members on the council. We went from seven to nine, and we got Ed Zane from Hamilton Lakes and Newt Farnell from the Bessemer Cemetery district. And immediately the council divided five and four into two factions. And this was a pretty rough time for the staff, for the city manager, and for the members of the council, too. And when the issue came up about the golf course, we had one of these phony dollar-a-year leases with the Gillespie Park Golf Association, I think it was. It was a private corporation. I advised the council that the lease wasn't worth the paper it was written on and I also felt—again slipping over into policy, which I guess I could be criticized for—I told them I thought that Greensboro was ready for the integration of the golf facilities and that the swimming pools were going to be the real tough nut to crack. And they turned me down and said, “Fight it.” And we fought it and lost it, and I did counsel them to appeal the case because I felt that the decision of the district court was so broad that it infringed the right of the city to make genuine leases of whatever nature, and we appealed strictly on that basis and lost on appeal.

The swimming pool situation, the city decided to close the pool and not operate any pools, sell both of them. And I took a different tact there, because I felt the law was different. I told them that as long as they operated the golf courses, it had to be integrated. When they said, “Can we go out of the swimming pool business?” I said, “Yes.” And that was sustained. We sold the pools and the attack on the sale was upheld.

WC:

Right. Now, Spencer Love bought one of those pools.

JE:

He bought the black pool at Windsor and donated it to a—I think they set up a private corporation for that.

WC:

Yeah, and David Morehead ran it.

JE:

And Ed Zane had a lot to do with that.

WC:

And what happened—the white pool was sold—Lindley was sold, too?

JE:

Sold to a pool association, and a lot of people donated money for that purpose and so forth.

WC:

Well, jumping ahead into that period of '63 through '67, I guess the whole question of the housing issue, and the Human Relations Commission did that housing study, and the whole case of Reverend Williams in a sense seems to be at least emblematic of the tensions involved in the housing issue. I just wondered to what extent the council itself experienced significant tension over that question and what you might recall on some of the issues that the council saw and some of the things which might have kept it from acting. My sense is that eventually it did not really act except to authorize the Human Relations Commission study.

JE:

Bill, I don't have a sharp recollection of that, and I think it's because when the Human Relations Committee—I think it was then called—kind of petered out, I was not actively involved in that situation. I don't have any specific recollections of that housing thing. I might have been peripherally involved in talking to people and counseling, but I don't remember specific involvement in it.

WC:

There seems to have been some—if one is to at least measure or think in terms of clashes of violence, there was the Williams episode and then the episode that came the next night in the black community. It seems to have been the first real episode of violence in the sixties, and then of course leading to what happens after the King assassination. I just didn't know whether the city council had been at all involved in any deliberations on that beyond what, you know—

JE:

Well in the '65 to'67 period, I do recall making some public statements to the effect that I didn't think the schools were the problem or the place for the problem, that if we could somehow bring about an orderly integration of our residential neighborhoods, we'd stop this white flight. And that once we had some reasonable degree of integration, the busing and the school problems would fade away. They were not really the root problem there. And that—I heard a lot about that, but I stuck to it and I'll go to my grave thinking that's the case. But remember Bill Trotter was mayor then, and then Bill and I were deposed and Carson took over, and he imposed the curfew. He had the first real full-fledged riot, I guess you can call it, and at time, remember, I was sitting on the sidelines.

WC:

You were not involved in that at all?

JE:

Bill and I were not consulted. We were not told anything until after the fact. We just had a pretty rough political situation there for two years.

WC:

So that was basically totally his decision, with one or two other people would have been his allies.

JE:

That's right.

WC:

Do you have the sense that that was the decision that Chief Calhoun had a lot to do with, or you think it was more Carson Bain? I realize I'm asking you for subjective impressions at this point perhaps, but—

JE:

Not only subjective, but biased. I'm not one of Carson's ardent admirers. But Carson bitterly resented—and if you look at his career, in every public agency he served, he bitterly resents any assertion of individual thinking, particularly in policy matters, by any member of the staff. His view is that they are there to serve him, they answer questions when they are asked, and if they get out of line he's going to have their jobs. And this is where our clashes have come primarily, when he intruded himself into things that I because of my background, I'll admit, felt very definitely were matters of city administration that the council ought to stay out of. So during this two year period, I would guess from knowing Carson and knowing the city administration that he didn't ask them for much. He told them what he wanted them to do, and he expected them to do it.

WC:

Now there was a lot of criticism of that curfew afterward, of course, because the schools already had been dismissed, basically. Was there criticism of that from within the council, of that curfew decision?

JE:

I was not critical of it because I thought that Carson as mayor was entitled to the support of the council once a decision like that was made. I thought it was more important for him to be supported than it was for him to always be right. And on a matter like that, I didn't see it as a matter of principle, it was discretion and wisdom. And perhaps he could have gotten by without imposing a curfew, but I didn't think it would—I hope I'm not on record anywhere in public as being critical of that decision because—

WC:

No, I don't have any evidence—

JE:

—that's not my style, although I was free to criticize him and did so openly in the council chambers on several occasions.

WC:

In a sense, that '68 curfew seems to be a slightly different kind of situation than the one that you faced when you came into office the next year; at least it appears that way from reading the accounts of it and from talking to people about it. Now you were, I guess, inaugurated in March, is that right? Or was it—?

JE:

May.

WC:

In May. I guess—

JE:

May of '69. That was an interesting shakedown cruise for about two months, too. [laughs] We had a riot, we had an unprecedented flood, and we had a councilman die in office.

WC:

Yeah, it really was.

JE:

And then we had a garbage strike, a sanitation department strike.

WC:

That was—it really was quite a year. Now I'm not sure where to start in this line of questioning, because, of course, there are so many things that happened in that, as you pointed out, in that four or five or eight months period getting in to 1970. But why don't we begin, I guess, by talking about the school situation at Dudley [High School]? To what extent, if at all, were you consulted by the school administration about that issue?

JE:

Practically to no extent, and this was one thing that I was extremely unhappy about. I felt that there was a lack of communication at all levels, even to the extent that I didn't feel like the police department was being adequately informed. Their help was sought whenever school officials thought they were in trouble, but I didn't feel that there was enough of a flow of information to enable to police to prepare for those situations. Now that's my point of view. There is no need for me to keep repeating that there are built-in biases there. I've always been close to the police department, and I wasn't seeing the daily school problems. I might feel differently about it if I had been on the other side of the fence and knew what their day-to-day problems were.

WC:

Now once Owen Lewis moves into Dudley, which he seems to do fairly shortly after the issue becomes really divisive, would he be directly in communication with the police or would your office have been involved at all in that?

JE:

If there were any steady stream of communication between him and the police, I was not aware of it. He was criticized in my presence by many, many people who were trying to work with him. I myself—and I had known him when he was on the staff of the Greensboro Daily News—I thought he was the wrong person in that job, but I didn't have the prerogative to do anything about it, and since I didn't there was no need in my going to [superintendent] Dr. [Wayne] House or any of the people on the school board to put those points of views before them. But we were extremely unhappy with his work, not because he was intelligent enough to do the job, but he just had an unfortunate way of rubbing people the wrong way, white and black.

WC:

I've never met the man, but I have read memos he's written as well as reading the public accounts of what took place, and I just have the sense of a very abrasive personality who could get very rigid very quickly.

JE:

That's right, and that's the last thing you need in a situation like that in my view. Firmness, okay, but abrasiveness is the wrong thing.

WC:

Yeah. Now, of course—

JE:

I say that kindly, because I've been told that I'm abrasive at times and I can understand.

WC:

Right. I guess all of us are some times. At what point do you recall being brought into a central decision-making position in the midst of that crisis, during that crisis?

JE:

You mean for the schools?

WC:

Is it only after the violence occurs at Dudley, just before they go over to A&T?

JE:

Absolutely. My participation was in the area of when do we call in the National Guard, when do we declare a curfew, when do I make a statement urging the citizens to calm down, and this sort of thing. It was strictly the mayor's job as such, and I had to lead the council and to be their spokesman and be sure that all of them were together on this. We had two black people on the council and this was tough. I went for days without sleep and stayed down at the city hall for more than twenty-four hours at a stretch.

My efforts—and I would say that this is characteristic of my administration as mayor—I don't think they meant to, but the Daily News carried an editorial when I went out as mayor saying that my administration had been workman—like but uninspired. And I thought this was a compliment because that's exactly what I set out to do. I didn't think the people needed any great new society programs laid before them. What they needed was about two years of calm. And when I left office, we had a council that was working harmoniously, we had a calm city, the administration was in good shape, the staff felt that the council was supportive of it, and so I feel like I turned over to Jim Melvin a pretty good organizational situation.

So I simply worked through the crisis trying to restore order, get the National Guard out of there, get feelings toned down, and begin to make amends and redress wrongs and put the community back together again.

WC:

Would you have been briefed in the days leading up to the explosion at Dudley?

JE:

Yes.

WC:

Would you have been briefed regularly as to what was happening?

JE:

Yes, I was.

WC:

Was that at your own initiative or was that something which happens just as a matter of course with the police?

JE:

Well, this is a matter of course with the Greensboro city government. The manager is the one who runs the city administration. He's a professional, and he—in Greensboro it's a violation of the city charter, a violation of law, for the council to concern itself with hiring and firing and day-to-day administration. The manager does this. And this is what I was alluding to and I talked about my clashes with Carson Bain. Carson's more comfortable with the county-type of political involvement. So I didn't go to the city manager and—

[End of Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 2, Side B]

WC:

Who would have been involved in the decision to call in the National Guard? Who would the people be in the room when that decision was made?

JE:

I am unable to recall whether the attorney general was there or not. I know that Governor [Kerr] Scott came through, and we had an extensive conversation and he was given a thorough briefing by the city administration and by myself and those people involved in the thing. I remember the director of the SBI [State Bureau of Investigation] spent quite a bit of time with us. Both [state attorney general] Robert Morgan and [SBI director] Charles Dunn spent a considerable amount of time there. The commanding general of the National Guard, who was [unclear] Davis, was there, but the decision was mine alone as I recall it. This was—the mayor doesn't have many directly given legal powers in Greensboro. We have a weak mayor system. But that devolved upon me, and after talking to everybody involved and consulting the council and discussing it, I made that decision that I look back on as a lonely decision. That the police were worn out, that the situation could get out of hand, that the policemen were so tired that I thought their judgment could become impaired. I never thought it did, but it could have. They were awful tired. So I told the city manager to get in touch with the governor, and ask him—no, I called the governor myself and asked for National Guard assistance.

WC:

I think it was the next night that Morgan and Scott were there, because it was—

JE:

It's possible I talked with them by telephone then before that decision was made.

WC:

Yeah, because the next night they were there and that was the occasion of the sweep, or the night of and the morning after the sweep. And I think the Guard was first called in—

JE:

At which I was appalled, incidentally.

WC:

I'd like you to talk about that if you would.

JE:

Well, I don't know how much of this is after the fact type of hindsight, but as this matter—as the operation was taken over by the National Guard, I became very much concerned about what I was hearing. The briefing officers were standing out there and describing how they were going at this. I was a navy man, I wasn't an army man, but they were talking about—they were going to be [unclear] in this area, and they were going to be shooting into these windows and all this stuff. And a retired air force general was our city manager at that time, and I called him over to one side and I told him that if somebody didn't do something, we were going to get about 150 people killed over there, and I'd rather just go into a holding situation and let these people wear themselves out, whoever they were. And, you know, we had all kinds of intelligence reports about who was coming and going and what types were in there. And I believe it, from what I saw. I think we did have a lot of people who slipped in and out of there and probably never will be known.

Be that as it may, I was very much alarmed at this, and he told me that he had the same reaction. So I felt that I was supported by somebody who knew more about that type of military operation than I did. So we went to see the National Guard people and expressed our misgivings to them. And my recollection was that they just told us that they felt that they had the expertise there. They tried to reassure us that they would not use excessive force, but they didn't want to get a bunch of their people killed going in there either. So with a lot of misgivings, we watched that operation develop.

And I feel now, looking back on it, that while we didn't have the 150 people killed, I still think it was a use of force that was excessive. And feelings were generated as a result of that that's going to be in Greensboro for years to come. I'll never forget going down Scott dormitory the next day, I guess it was, and seeing that place all shot to hell. You could see where the guardsmen had gone down the halls kicking the doors in. Well, that didn't trouble me quite as much, because you can get shot and killed in the halls, too, even with a rifle in your hand. So I realized that once they got in there, each man was trying to see to it that he didn't get shot. But my own personal judgment is that the operation was carried out as if it were going against an enemy of equal strength and armament.

WC:

Yeah. That's certainly—just reading the damage reports, which are in the official papers—

JE:

But you are working with reservists, people who don't do this for a living, and I think a lot of them were scared and uptight and overreacting. So it's almost like watching something unfold that once you start, it's out of everybody's control. It just plays out its own force.

WC:

One of the things that I guess still remains something of a mystery is the whole question of Willie Grimes. Were you satisfied with the way that was handled?

JE:

Never satisfied with a mystery that is not solved, but I wouldn't pick out Willie Grimes. I'd say that there is a real question mark about the wounding of the police officers.

WC:

And of course one precedes the other.

JE:

And the medical reports, the ballistics evidence, I think leaves a lot of unanswered questions. I'll give you a little sidelight on Willie Grimes, though. This is a story that has never been told; this is one where I would like to consider editing the name out anyway. And you're going to have to help me with the chronology of this.

I was either called out of bed and went to the city hall, or I was at the city hall when that report came in about Willie Grimes. And my best recollection is that I had gone home to get about two or three hours of sleep, and the city manager a called me and I dressed and went back down there. But I wouldn't want you to hold me to that because I'm not totally clear on it. Anyway, when I got there—what time was Willie shot?

WC:

About 1:15 in the morning.

JE:

Right, I thought so. Well, my recollection is that I was given a brief report over the telephone and I put on my clothes and went to city hall. And, of course, my home was being guarded because we had been threatened. Actually, at one time there was a group in an automobile on the way to apparently burn the house down, so I was glad to have that protection for the family. I was safe down at the command center, of course, but I was concerned about my family. Anyway, a policeman escorted me down there. In fact, they may have come to get me. I believe maybe they sent a police car out and got me.

And on the way down there, I was trying to think about the possibilities that this thing could develop into, and I decided to call George Evans because I knew that he was a well-respected leader in the black community, and not only that, he was a surgeon. So I called him, got him out of bed, and asked him as a personal favor to me—and I was building on a relationship that had been established when I wrote that letter in 1954 and I worked together on the Human Relations Committee. I asked George, as a personal favor to me, to go to the hospital and view the autopsy, because I knew that there were going to be all kinds of wild charges, and either way I wanted to get at the truth, and not only get at the truth but have it creditable when we got it. George agreed to do so and he did view the autopsy.

And one of my disappointments is that all during the things that happened thereafter, the wild rumors that were printed in the press and spoken around the community about how many times Willie Grimes was shot, where the bullets entered, and what caliber they were, George never opened his mouth. And when the State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission came to Greensboro and worked me over pretty well and the chief of police and so forth, George never spoke up then. Now I say that kindly, because it's one thing to live on Sunset Drive and be in danger, it's another thing to live in southeast Greensboro and be in danger, so I never thought less of George for that, but I was always disappointed that he didn't follow through on this specific assignment. He had to know when I called him why I wanted him to go there. But that's neither here nor there, I guess. It's just an interesting sidelight on it.

WC:

You were saying—making a comment about the ambush of the police as well. And both those, both of those things, I guess, remain unsolved. Isn't that basically true?

JE:

That's right. I can't shake the question from my mind as to whether one of the national guardsmen didn't shoot the policeman who was most seriously injured. The wound was described as a hunting rifle type of wound, and either somebody got him with a high caliber rifle from the school area or he was hit by a stray bullet from a National Guard weapon. I don't think we ever really faced up to that either. The police didn't want to talk about it. They were terribly distressed and upset about it, as I was. And I didn't set up an investigation or try to go forward with it because I felt that—I don't know how to put it exactly—I felt that it might make a bad situation worse. And if I had it to do over again, I think now I would have gone into it. That may have been a mistake I made at the time.

WC:

It seems as though certainly that shooting of the police, at least publicly, appears to have been the cause for the sweep. So that in fact it might in fact have been fairly significant if it had not been an ambush involving conspiracy.

JE:

That was a public incident, but we were receiving all kinds of information about Black Panther types with military training coming in. And some of this had been observed by eyewitnesses and other came from informers and people like that. And I don't suppose anybody ever will know the exact truth of this, but I do feel—I do believe that a lot of that was going on and we had some real tough outside people in this situation.

WC:

You're right. I guess no one ever will know.

JE:

Well, some of the students would know, who were there. And I've heard from a couple of them—I probably ought to not mention any names—but this was confirmed to me months afterward. And incidentally there is another thing that was going on that's not part of the public record. I was receiving call after call after call from—for lack of a better term—substantial people in the black community urging firmness on the part of the city and asking us to stop the business at the school and make arrests if we have to to get order restored down there. [They] said “We appreciate civil rights but we don't seem to have any civil rights in this situation, and the sooner you restore order, the better off we'll all going to be.” And this caused me to have a feeling that there were a significant number of people in the black community who really were supportive of what the city government was trying to do and that was to restore order.

WC:

I think that there clearly was a generation gap involved, and that certainly there were a number of teachers, as well as certainly the principal, who were very upset by all of what was going on at Dudley, and some of the best teachers and some of the teachers who were most committed to the movement, like Nell Coley and probably Vance Chavis and people like that. And yet those people certainly could not be seen as being accommodationist in their attitudes generally.

JE:

That's right. It's interesting. [dog barks] I had an impression of the so-called black schools, predominantly black schools as they were then. I found that the good teachers were very, very good, and the good principals were very, very good. But you almost had an ambivalence; you had certain ones who were more harsh and repressive than some of the worst of the white teachers and principals that I knew at that time. And I had a feeling that there was an undercurrent of bitter resentment on the part of the young students toward the repressive type of black school administrators and teachers.

WC:

Well, there are a number of questions that do get controversial which involve this whole episode, but before I—one of the questions of course everyone asks is the Nelson Johnson question. And I'm sure you've had, over the years, an enormous amount of contact with Nelson Johnson, probably most of it adversary—

JE:

More adversary on his part than mine.

WC:

Okay. Well, that's interesting. I've heard people who also would probably be considered adversaries praise him and speak of him with some respect and admiration. I wondered to what extent you think that he was the lynchpin of a racist conspiracy, to put the case in its most simplistic but also fairly popular version?

JE:

And in your words rather than mine, I'm afraid. I think Nelson was very much a focal point of the group that did not want peace in the community and who would have been bitterly disappointed if the community had met all their demands. Now this shows a lack of credibility on their part, as far as I'm concerned. I never felt that I had much credibility, if any, with Nelson. There was just too wide a gap between us. But I think it's also significant that Nelson never appreciated what I was going into this situation. It didn't make a damn bit of difference to him that I had urged the admission of Henry Frye into the bar in '54, because his attitude was. “Well this was something that should have been done all along, and you're still nothing but a honky racist.” And his attitude toward me was “I know what you're doing. You're just trying to let a little air out of the balloon as we go along.” Well, my attitude toward him was, he was trying to stick a pin in the balloon and he didn't care [what happened to?] the balloon. So this was our relative posture here.

Nelson to me was an intelligent—is—I haven't seen him for some time now—was an intelligent, articulate spokesman for his cause, but I thought he was terribly misguided. And he—his feelings were so strong that they led him make a lot of mistakes. I'll just give you one example. I never attended a meeting where he was not at least thirty minutes late. And if you're trying to persuade people to see things your way and create movement in the community, what better way to start off than being on time and halfway pleasant to people that you're trying to persuade or at least change in some way. So this caused me to think that he really didn't want the result that he said he wanted. He wanted strife because this put him center.

WC:

Right. Well, I think that that certainly is a lot different from that simplistic statement that I gave, but the reason I gave that statement, of course, is because it does seem to be the bottom line of Chief Calhoun's testimony in Washington [D.C.]. I mean I think that that's a fair representation of what he argues in that testimony.

JE:

That's right.

WC:

And so I wanted to get your response to whether or not you think that was accurate testimony or whether you—accurate is the wrong word—or whether you would've arrived at the same interpretation. It's an important question, I think, in terms of how one assesses what was going on, because if there are differences between being someone committed to agitation versus to someone committed to violent overthrow, those differences need to be brought out.

JE:

Well, you have to remember that the chief had to protect his sources of information and intelligence, and in order to do that, I'm sure he didn't tell me everything that he had heard and knew, nor did he tell the council everything. So generally I supported the chief's testimony because I thought he knew what he was talking about. I'd been working with him for years. I'd been a member of the staff. He and I had been up all night many nights when I was city attorney working on problems together, and I admired him. So I would say yes, I supported his testimony. I can't say of my own personal knowledge that it was factually accurate down to the last detail, because I just don't know.

WC:

Well, of course, one of the things that in retrospect comes out and becomes very troublesome is the whole question of the informers and who they were.

JE:

Right, which is always a troublesome question with any informer situation.

WC:

Let me just ask you this, and you don't have to answer it, or if you want to put if off the record you can. But were you aware that Nunding or Avent was an FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigations] informer? At that time—

JE:

Who?

WC:

Harold “Nunding” [Avent], who was supposedly the first Black Panther who came into Greensboro at A&T with Eric—he came in with Eric Brown in December of '68. And much of Calhoun's testimony revolves around Nunding and Brown as well as Johnson, and subsequent FBI papers have shown Nunding to have been an informer. In other words, the person who supposedly started the Black Panther—or was one of the key involvement people was an FBI informer. And I was going to ask you if basically you—whether you knew that at the time.

JE:

Well, I don't remember Nunding's name. I guess I saw it in reports and so forth, but I remember Eric Brown and of course I remember Nelson Johnson, but I don't remember Nunding's name. So obviously it was not emphasized in the information that I got from the police department.

WC:

How about [George] Dorsett. Was that widely known in the city administration that he was working for the FBI?

JE:

It wasn't widely known by me, because I started to punch him in the nose one day around the corner from Woolworth's, he made me so damn mad. He got a little boy and was talking him into going around the corner and causing trouble, and that was so cowardly that I just really had to restrain myself. I thought that was just about the lowest thing I had ever seen, to expose a young child to violence, and, you know, to even put ideas like that in his mind. And I tried to get Bill Jackson to put him in jail, and Bill had more sense than I did. No, I didn't know Dorsett was an informer.

WC:

I guess my sense is that very few people knew these things, and that obviously they didn't talk very much about them because of the security reasons.

JE:

I think in a sense my opinion of him is even lower knowing that he was an informer. [laughter]

WC:

He was not only an informer, but he was one hell of an agitator.

JE:

Yeah. If he'd have just been a good honest racist Ku Klux Klansman, I think I might admire him more.

WC:

Well, he seems to have been probably the most effective organizer in the state. It's one of those very difficult questions that makes you wonder a lot about what the FBI has been doing.

JE:

That's right.

WC:

Now we come to the end of—well, just one other question, which is also a difficult question, but has to do basically with—was there a point at which either you or your associates at the police department considered to letting [A&T president Lewis] Dowdy handle this by himself?

JE:

Well, here we go again on a story that I don't know how to tell publicly. Dr. Dowdy is a friend of mine. We are members of several clubs together and I'm an admirer of his. But Dr. Dowdy was not accessible to me, and this is—I had two problems: I couldn't get the school administration and I couldn't get to Dr. Dowdy. Now we had Dr. Marshall's name, was it? His vice chancellor?

WC:

Yes.

JE:

That was our contact and several times—my recollection is that I tried to call Lewis Dowdy before the sweep to discuss it with him and couldn't even find him. He had his own problems, you know, and I don't know all about what they were, but I just felt like that under those circumstances, when the mayor of Greensboro was trying to get in touch with him, he should have come back. And he had to get the message because we sent it through Marshall, his secretary, and everybody else we could find.

WC:

That's important to know.

JE:

So I was just not able to talk to Dr. Dowdy about this during the worst of this crisis. And I was terribly disappointed about it.

WC:

That's an important piece of information, because of course—

JE:

Well he was in the worst situation imaginable. Here he had a white governor and I think his board of trustees was—I think the majority of them were white at that time, and yet he was facing a rebellion in his student body.

WC:

The interesting thing is I think the student trusted him. I think the students did trust him.

JE:

That is because he is a good man.

WC:

And he handled the February thing very effectively.

JE:

He's a kind man and a good man, and I don't want to leave the impression with you that I think there was no good reason for this. I just don't know what the reason was, and I was not able to communicate with him, though I tried.

WC:

Well, I think I will ask him, if I can, because I think it's an important—I'd like to know why he wasn't accessible.

JE:

Incidentally, you just reminded me of one thing that did happen. And the chronology—the date of this is lost on me. I went to A&T to Dr. Dowdy's office and met with Floyd McKissick and Vince McCullough, who at that time was president of the student body I believe. I'm struggling because I can't remember where Jesse Jackson was. I believe Jackson had graduated.

WC:

Yeah, Jackson graduated in '64.

JE:

Yeah, he graduated, and Vince McCullough was president of the student body. I was not overly impressed with his intellect, but he may be one of these people who doesn't spew out everything he knows all the time, so I kind of reserve judgment on him. But anyway, he didn't contribute much of anything. And the word was that Nelson Johnson was telling him everything to do, whether that was true or not. But his manner in our meetings would indicate that he'd go back and check and then come back and say. And there was—he didn't attempt to work anything out on the spot.

Floyd McKissick was the first black to enter the University of North Carolina law school. And I sat in the court room in Durham and heard Harry McMullan, the attorney general at that time, argue that it would be the death of the University of North Carolina law school if they let a black attend there—one of the funniest public statements that I've ever heard in my life. Be that as it may, McKissick sat there and looked at me just like the Great Stone Face, and what I was begging for was some time. And I'm totally unable to recall whether this was when I was city attorney or when I was mayor. I don't think I would have been there as city attorney unless I was trying to build on this law school relationship.

WC:

McCullough wouldn't have been there in that case.

JE:

Okay. All right, it was when I was mayor. And my pitch was that if they would help us to preserve order, that I thought that I could accomplish some of the things that they wanted accomplished. And frankly I thought that since the school administration could have handled some of those student problems better, if they'd give us time to sit down with them and try to exert some influence that we might be able to work out of this problem. Well, looking back on it, I think that Nelson and Floyd had decided that they didn't really want long-term solutions and a harmonious development. But McKissick just sat there and stared holes in me and didn't give me the time of day.

WC:

Now there are some people who think that McCullough was an informer.

JE:

Could be.

WC:

Interesting.

JE:

If he was, I didn't know that.

WC:

Yeah. He's now in jail.

JE:

Is that right?

WC:

I'm not sure where, but somewhere.

JE:

Well, I'll be darn. There was another guy, Harris, Wiley Harris?

WC:

Yeah, football coach.

JE:

He, when I toured Scott Hall, he told me that he was taken out of there and when he came back, there were some things missing from his room. And I told him that I thought I could help him, that if he meant that the guardsmen took it and if there was any way to find that out, I would find it out and go right after it. He also told me that some of the things that I had said in public he thought were right and proper. And, you know, a funny thing happened when the State Advisory Commission hearing was going on. He got up and told a totally different story and absolutely contrary to some things he told me privately. He never came back, and I asked him for a list of the things that were missing and all that sort of thing and offered to cooperate with him. He was a disappointment to me, but I don't know what pressures he was subjected to either.

WC:

One of the things that's fascinating—or not fascinating, but it's interesting at least—is the number of changes that do take place in the next three months. It appears at least as though many of the longstanding concerns that at least were publicly expressed by black activists all of a sudden began to be met. You get blacks appointed to assistant superintendent positions in the school department, Chavis gets named to the city council, an assistant black city manager, appointments on almost all the major boards. What happens during that summer? Was it all simply recognition that it's time to respond to these demands, or what's the process by which those changes occur?

JE:

Well, I think that it's simply that the riots simply speeded things up. I think all these things were waiting in the wings anyway, and that they were simply compressed into a shorter time because the white people of Greensboro who might have gotten up in arms had their elected politicians tried to do this or their school board people tried to do it in that shorter time were so exhausted and concerned about the situation in the community that they were willing to sit by silently and tolerate those moves being made. I don't think a lot of minds had been changed in that period, but I just think people had gotten to the point where they realized that they had not been aware before how important those seemingly token things were to the people in the black community. And now that they knew, and now that it constituted a direct threat their own well being, they accepted it.

WC:

Would these decisions have been made as a consequence of negotiations that you would have been a part of or small group consultations that you would have been a part of?

JE:

Well, again going back to the 1954 letter, this was my style: to try to persuade people that the time has come for this, that, or the other thing. And my feeling is that had there been no riot, given a four-year stretch as mayor instead of two, I firmly believe that at the end of say four years, we would have been there without the civil disorders.

WC:

But would there—who would have made these decisions, for example, in terms of the assistant city manager, for example?

JE:

Well, the city manager at that time was not the sort of person to welcome that type of change. And I think it would either have had to been forced on him or we would have had to change managers, which is something that I wanted to do anyway and just couldn't get to in my administration. It was later done. I was very fond of the manager, John Turner, but to my mind he—whereas General [James] Townsend had been just the opposite, I didn't think that General Turner had the civilian type of mind to handle that job. He was more comfortable saying, “You go pave that street and have it done by next week report back to me,” and this was his style, and I thought it was totally unsuited to the management of the City of Greensboro.

WC:

So that the appointment—I forget his name—of the black assistant manager would have been—

JE:

Lewis Field.

WC:

—would have been your decision or the council's decision?

JE:

I can't—you mean was it our decision?

WC:

Yeah.

JE:

No, because you recall the council—that's not the way the system works. It was a violation of our structure and our policies for the council to involve itself to that extent. On the other hand, we were constantly pressing the manager and the chief of police. “Let's show some movement in these areas. Let's get something done.” And I frankly don't recall—I'm inclined to think that after being told that, General Turner searched and found Lewis Field.

The police department's always a tougher problem, though, and we still are a long way from working out of that. The people who become black policemen are either people without the ability to go up through the ranks and into the higher echelon, or they're subjected to so many subtle pressures that they leave before they get there. And I think probably that is the number one problem—still is, still is. It's a festering sore in the black community that you're not looking at a whole bunch of black sergeants and captains and lieutenants and maybe a chief. And the system—including the system within the black community—is simply not designed to get those people into those jobs.

WC:

How about the decision to name Chavis to—Bill Folk[?] who died, wasn't it?

JE:

Right.

WC:

Was that decision a controversial one? Was it hard to make?

JE:

No. As I recall, Bill—and I really want you to back me up on this—I think that he was the number eight vote getter.

WC:

He was.

JE:

So he was a natural candidate.

WC:

He was a natural candidate, right.

JE:

He was the type of person, a very fine person, who was amenable to the other members of the council, and I remember very little discussion about that.

WC:

Of course, it was terribly important, I think, in terms of the black community, because it in effect created proportional representation.

JE:

It did, and yet we were roundly criticized by certain segments of the black community because he was instantly labeled an Uncle Tom. That's been a problem for Jimmie Barber, too. Black people who get along with white people have that problem. I think it's less so now than it was at that point.

WC:

Now someone like Walter Johnson going on the school board, doesn't the city council appoint—

JE:

Yes.

WC:

So the council appointed him?

JE:

Yes.

WC:

How about that decision? Was that the kind of—do you remember how Johnson was chosen as opposed to someone else?

JE:

Walter is so well qualified that I think he would have been there black, white, whatever the other choices are. This is one of those happy circumstances when you don't have to explain the decision.

WC:

Although it was criticized initially in the black community.

JE:

Well, I think that's built into the situation.

WC:

Yeah, the fact that he was appointed by the council would mean he would be criticized.

JE:

That's right, and they always run that risk.

WC:

There's another whole area here which eventually gets into the whole issue of school desegregation, and I don't expect that this is an area which you were heavily involved in. But certainly prior to '72 and during the time when you were still mayor, there is the fairly well organized effort by the chamber of commerce to promote various kinds of social activity. Were you involved in that at all? Would you have been consulted about that?

JE:

I was very critical of some of the chamber's activities. I thought they were amateurish. They certainly caused me and the council and the city administration a lot of problems in this period of disorder. They were—they set themselves up to hold hearings and they summoned the chief of police to come in and appear before their community unity division. I was critical of Hal Sieber who was running that part of the show for the chamber and finally had a discussion with him when I told him the chief wasn't going to come over there and appear before his group. Because he didn't know how to handle it, and it was so amateurish that what would happen would be that the chief would just sit there and take it on the chin for an hour without any real means to defend himself, and then the next day it would be splashed all over the newspapers. And I regarded Hal as a friend of mine. He was a very well intentioned, bright, articulate young man, and I just felt that if he had mere experience in dealing with people, that we wouldn't have had as much of a problem with that.

On the other hand—let me get on the other side of the thing now—the activities of the chamber played a real role in shaping the attitudes of the community. I think the council played a role, but I also think the chamber played a role that elected officials couldn't play. And when the most significant business interest in the community say, “Now, look, we want things to move along in this area,” then they're pretty well going to move. So my criticism was short-term, directed specifically—the broad program I thought was a great tribute to the community.

WC:

How about somebody like Al Lineberry? He seems to have been a fairly decisive force.

JE:

That's right. Al played a—well, you can tick them off: Ed Zane, Al Lineberry, the leaders are all there in the record. And a lot of them were deeply involved in chamber activities.

WC:

Ed Zane would have been deeply involved as late as '69, '70, '71, or was that primarily an earlier involvement?

JE:

No, my recollection is that he was a force in this thing all the way through, Bill.

WC:

Are you still active politically yourself? No? That's a stage of your life which you have gladly—

JE:

I don't look back a lot with regret. You know, I was in the naval reserve, I retired from that. I got off the city council and am involved in other things now. I enjoyed it while I was doing it, but I don't hang on to it.

WC:

It was an incredibly difficult period to be at the center of things. I'm trying to think. Let's see if there's—

JE:

Well you haven't brought up the sanitation department strike—

WC:

That's right, that's right. My goodness.

JE:

—which kind of surprises me a little bit.

WC:

Well, the only reason I haven't—it was on my agenda, but I—thank you for reminding me. My goodness! What I know about that is I guess what I've seen in the newspapers and what I've gotten from talking to some people who were involved. I have a sense of some division with the workers. Is that true?

JE:

Well, we had a—thank God, we had a living, breathing, out front and center outside agitator. [laughs]

WC:

The white guy from Charlotte?

JE:

Yeah. You know I can't remember his name. Gene—oh, for gosh sakes. Well, I won't—

WC:

I have it in the record. I have his name.

JE:

I won't take up your tape time with this, but events prove that's right, that he was a genuine outside agitator. And when he got enough money in his pocket, he took off for Alaska or somewhere and left his wife. He was a pretty high living young man, but he was a persuader. And I think in some respects this was even more tragic than what we've been talking about, because he went in the sanitation department—and this brought into play Tom Osborn, who is now city manager, who was at that time director of public works, and in my opinion should have been city manager all through this period. Tom has got his own faults, but he is an excellent administrator and he is very good at staying close to the people who are out there doing the work and working with them. Just for example, he's always done things like allowing the men to choose the kind of uniforms they want to wear and to see to it that they had clean uniforms and showers and so forth when they're working. But at that time we had four area supervisors in the city, one of whom was black, and Tom had brought this man along and promoted him on his own because he thought he was getting the job done and it was the right thing to do.

But anyway, this outside guy, Gene somebody, comes in and starts organizing a so-called union, and he persuades a certain number of these people to go out on strike. Of course, he is being aided and abetted by Nelson Johnson and that crowd because they saw a real opportunity there. Well, we devoted a lot of time and efforts to try and persuade these people that they were being led down the garden path, and we tried to find out if they had any legitimate problems and to address those problems. Things were not ideal in the department. It's awfully difficult to ferret out those people who have a lot of racial hostility that's concealed and they abuse the guy who's working, and then you try to find out what the facts were. It's just almost impossible to get at that if it's well enough concealed. [dogs barking]

But anyway, these people were warned and warned and warned that if they went out on strike they were going to be terminated. And I went on and made a television appeal at the last minute trying to persuade them to come in to work that Monday morning, tell them that they were going to be discharged if they didn't, and resisting the efforts of a good number of black leaders to treat them as children. I kept insisting that these people were men, they could make their own decisions, but whatever decision they make, they're going to have to abide by, because I didn't think it a matter of principle involved here. The thing was an unmitigated disaster. They went out on strike. We fired about seventy-five of them and refused to rehire them. This—

[End of Interview]