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Oral History Interview with George Evans by William Chafe


Date: circa 1975

Interviewee: George H. Evans

Biographical abstract: Dr. George H. Evans (1907- ) was a local physician appointed to serve as chairman of the Mayor’s Special Committee on Human Rights in the spring and summer of 1963.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This oral history interview conducted by William Chafe circa 1975 with Dr. George Evans primarily documents Dr. Evans’ recollection of school desegregation in Greensboro and his time as chairman of the Human Relations Commission during the 1963 sit-ins. Evans discusses his appointment to the Human Relations Committee, its subcommittees and membership, the role of Bill Thomas and Tony Stanley, and meetings with students and business leaders to negotiate desegregation. He gives reasons why some businesses were reluctant to desegregate and talks about Mayor David Schenck’s announcement in support of desegregation.

Topics regarding school desegregation in the 1960s include being the one dissenting vote on the board of education; Robert Moseley, William Caffrey, Phil Weaver, and Lewis Owen; the futility of appealing court-ordered school integration; presentations by the Greensboro Citizens Association and the Greensboro Community Fellowship before the school board; the freedom of choice plan; why many black families didn’t enroll their children at white schools; and Josephine Boyd’s experience at Greensboro Senior High. Evans discusses at length the inequities between Greensboro's traditionally black and white schools, and how these were exposed and improved upon because of desegregation and busing.

Evans also briefly recalls the city council campaigns of several African Americans in the 1950s, discusses the segregationist employment practices of local hospitals, and describes his effort to persuade the Medical Society of the State of North Carolina to admit black members. Other topics include the May 1969 Dudley High protests; Nelson Johnson and GAPP’s role in community activism; and Hal Sieber’s role in the chamber of commerce.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.642

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 George Evans by William Chafe

William Chafe:

George Evans, who has been very much involved in Greensboro's public life, as well as community life, for a long time. Dr. Evans, when did—were you born in Greensboro?

George Evans:

No, I'm a native Tennessean. I've been in Greensboro, however, since 1935.

WC:

Since '35. That's a long time.

GE:

Right-o.

WC:

You've seen a lot of change.

GE:

Lots and lots of changes. Many of them are hard to visualize over a long span of time like this, but when you stop and reflect on them, you know they have happened.

WC:

What do you think is the most important change that's happened?

GE:

You're talking about things that happened in the relation to civil rights, I suppose.

WC:

Well, okay. Yeah, particularly in that area.

GE:

Well, there's so many of them it's hard to categorize any one or two that have been more important than others, but I suppose I could say that some of the most important ones have been changes in attitudes of the general populace, particularly the white populace, in relation to the goals and aspirations of the minority population over the years, which were resisted pretty forcibly for a long time and [phone rings] finally broke through. Since the breakthrough, things have moved along a lot more rapidly than we would have ever have expected them to do.

WC:

When you say breakthrough, do you have a time in mind for that, which would have been kind of a crucial point of change where one attitude tipped over one way and a new attitude came in?

GE:

Can't confine it to any very short period of time, like days or weeks. But I think if I had to answer that, I would say it comes close to the period of the demonstrations of 1963, that period of time. Lots of changes took place after that. We like to think that it was a result of number one, the demonstrations themselves, and number two the background work that was done by a special committee appointed by the mayor on human relations. This committee negotiated over a period of some three to four months with merchants and other entrepreneurs around the main part of town, different businesses, about opening their doors. And that effort was met with a lot of resistance in the beginning, but finally, after a period of time, I believe that the merchants and others involved realized that there was a lot to be said in favor of what we were after. And then later they realized, on a much larger scale, that it wasn't such a bad thing after all.

WC:

That it's good for them as well as everybody else.

GE:

Absolutely.

WC:

This was the committee that you were chairman of?

GE:

Yes, that's right.

WC:

How did you come to be chairman of that committee, Dr. Evans?

GE:

That's a real good question, and I'm not sure that I have a definitive answer to it. The closest I can come to answering it is that David Schenck was mayor at the time. And the period of all of this unrest, he and his advisors decided that they should have a committee from the [Greensboro] City Council—appointed by the city council, through him as mayor—to deal with the crisis. And they decided or he decided that the committee should be composed of sixteen members, eight white and eight black. And when the first meeting was called, some of us on our side of the city were prepared to nominate a man from across town as chairman of the committee, but before that could be accomplished, my name was proposed by Bland Worley, who was a member of the commission. And I've always thought that it was at the insistence of the mayor that he did this, although I have no proof of it. And so I got nominated in that way, and the nomination went through without much of any opportunity for anybody else to be considered even. That's as close as I can come to answering it, I suppose.

WC:

Can you tell me who it was you were going to nominate?

GE:

I don't mind your knowing. Oscar Burnett, who was later voted in as vice chairman, and who, in my opinion, did as much as any individual to get this program going because of his wide knowledge of Greensboro business community and his contact with them. And Mr. Burnett did a whole lot of leg work that was done in trying to accomplish our goals.

WC:

What was his occupation? I've seen reference to it, but—

GE:

Mr. Burnett is a real estate developer.

WC:

Is he still alive?

GE:

No, he's been dead some two or three years, I believe.

WC:

So that this committee—actually, the committee represented a fairly activist element, didn't it? I mean, it was—if one had to define committees in terms of their being made up of neutral people versus committed people, this would be made up more committed people, wouldn't it?

GE:

Yes. I prefer the word committed rather than activist, too.

WC:

Okay. Right.

GE:

Although, I think there was a cross-section of people from different segments, some of whom would be activists.

WC:

Yeah. How did you proceed in that committee?

GE:

Proceed with our work, you mean?

WC:

Yeah.

GE:

First of all, the committee was appointed by Mr. Schenck to handle the problem in as quiet a manner as possible. And to that end we held regular meetings, which were not announced to the press or otherwise, so that the general public did not know much about what we were doing. We met quietly and frequently, and the work of the committee was handled through a number of subcommittees, some of whom were assigned to make contact with places of business like hotels and motels, another committee to deal with eating establishments, another committee to deal with real estate developers and their housing units, with regard to the opening of their units, and so forth. So it was accomplished largely through subcommittee spade work.

WC:

Would these subcommittees, when they met with, let's say, with eight different—well, let's say when they met with restaurant owners, would they meet with a group or would they meet one-on-one with owners of particular businesses?

GE:

Largely it was a one-on-one deal. I believe, however, I'm safe in saying that when the individual businessmen were contacted, they surely went back and talked this matter over with others in their same businesses before they gave any decisions about what their answer would be.

WC:

My recollection is that Boyd Morris [owner of the Mayfair Cafeteria] and then S&W [Cafeteria] were the major sticking points. Would you say that the other owners of, let's say, restaurants were similar to them in approach or more willing to be flexible?

GE:

I suppose some of each. Some of them were very recalcitrant; others were easier to deal with and to talk with, so that I don't believe we can categorize them in any one segment. It was a mixture of different attitudes among them, as well as theatre owners, for example, on another hand, so that it was a mixture.

WC:

How did you—were you involved in—I mean the pressure was coming from the demonstrations, how did you deal with the—did you have formalized meetings with the Coordinating Council among the demonstrators or with the students?

GE:

Not formalized meetings, no. But we had occasion to meet with some of them to talk with them [in] sort of an informal, off the cuff, manner, and letting them know to some degree what we were doing, what we were trying to do, and how we were going about it. And, of course, there was some resistance on their part to what we were trying to do, because there were some in the group who felt that we were moving too slowly, and that we should change our tactics and go all out in a more activist manner. We felt, however, that the process of negotiation would pay off, rather than meeting head on with a lot of severe resistance. And, as it turned out, I think our strategy was probably correct, because we eventually got things moving in our direction without a lot of rancor and hard feelings.

WC:

Within the committee itself, or within the community?

GE:

Within the business community.

WC:

Within the business community.

GE:

Oh, yes, yes.

WC:

Correct me if I'm wrong, wasn't your committee, at least in part, a condition for a moratorium on the demonstrations, that its creation was to kind of be an exchange for a temporary moratorium of some kind?

GE:

I think that may be what the city administration was hoping for. I think that's a better term to use. That really was the primary reason, I think, for the committee's appointment.

WC:

So that—then, of course, the demonstrations did continue, and in fact accelerated—

GE:

Oh, yes.

WC:

—as time went on. Dr. [George] Simkins was on your committee, wasn't he?

GE:

Yes.

WC:

Now, he was also on the Coordinating Council of the demonstrations, I think. My recollection of that is that the Coordinating Council is made up of the [Greensboro] Citizens Association, the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], the Ministerial Alliance or Forum, and CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]. And I think that he was one of the people who was—

GE:

I think perhaps he was, although my recollection of that is a little vague at this point. But he was also a member of our committee, yes. Now, just what part he played in the Coordinating Committee, I am not sure. But I know he was active in it to some degree, if for no other reason than the post that he held in the NAACP.

WC:

Right. Now, have you—you were already on the school board at this point, weren't you? So that you had public visibility as a civic leader through that position, certainly, if not through your professional activities.

GE:

That may be a fair statement, yes.

WC:

I guess, did you ever feel—did you feel that—well, let me rephrase the question, I guess. How did you feel that the white establishment that you came into deal—into contact with steadily in this committee position, in the Human Relations Committee position, did you feel that there was a resistance there, or was it more that they were simply hoping that people like Morris and others would go along? I'm not sure that I'm being very clear, but I'm trying to get your sense of how you perceived at the time—in other words, did those people who were powerful economically in the city who were white, did they have to be persuaded themselves, or were they already passive allies, I guess is one of the ways—

GE:

Well, many of them had to be persuaded. Quite a few of them were rather reluctant to go along, so that it wasn't a very easy task. We had some few who were allies, yes. Some perhaps who were more open-minded than others, but by and large, quite a few of them were very resistant to what we were trying to do. It took quite a little bit of doing to change that attitude.

WC:

How would you do that?

GE:

One-on-one confrontation with negotiations back and forth. For example, I took it upon myself, for one, to talk with some of the theatre managers. And after some negotiating with them, I had the feeling that some of them wanted to go along with what we were trying to do, some did not. But I think part of this resistance might have come from the fact that they were afraid of the reaction of their community to opening their doors on one hand, and they were afraid of its economic impact on their business.

For example, a manager of one of those theatres said to me point blank, “Well, doctor, if we open our doors like your committee is wanting us to do, what in the world will we do if all these students from A&T [North Carolina A&T State University] and from Bennett College swarm in here on us at one time? We wouldn't have room enough for them, and our regular patrons wouldn't be able to get in, so it would be one general mess.” I think that's the word he used. Well, in a reply to that, our answer was simply that we felt we could handle that by two means; first of all, we said to him that the students by and large wouldn't have that kind of money that it takes to come into this theatre in droves like that, and the second place, we think we can work out a deal with those people whereby we could arrange for a given number of them to come in at given times and break the ice in a more gradual manner that way. And this is what eventually was done.

WC:

Did you have the sense that they were getting pressure of any kind from above? And by above, I guess I have in mind here people from Cone [Mills], from Burlington [Industries], from Jefferson Standard [Life Insurance Company], from Wachovia [Bank]. If one assumes that there is an elite economic structure in the community, were those people active at all?

GE:

I really don't know the answer to that question. We always felt there was a lot of pressure on them from the top leaders of the business community—or some of them at least—to hold their line. But I could not document it, it was just a feeling I had that some were more resistant than others.

WC:

I guess I'm—I've heard that someone like [Howard] Holderness was very negative—

GE:

I've heard the same thing.

WC:

—to the whole thing. Someone like [Edward] Zane was probably supportive of change.

GE:

Mr. Zane was a member of our committee, and he worked with us very faithfully.

WC:

But I've also got the sense that people who were really at the top—Caesar Cone, Spencer Love—didn't really do very much.

GE:

As far as I know, they did not. If they did, it was behind the scenes, and behind the scenes to an extent that even as I as chairman didn't know.

WC:

Yeah. Which is an interesting commentary, I think, because they became much more involved, I think, during the first sit-ins in 1960 when Mr. Zane headed up that first mayor's committee to resolve the Woolworth sit-ins. That's one of the things I'm trying to get at, I guess, is the whole issue of class, as well as the issue of race, as it has affected both the white and black community, but particularly the way in which the white community has responded to the pressures initiated by black demonstrators, and by the older black community, also. How about Mayor Zane himself? Did you get a sense—Mayor Zane—Mayor Schenck.

GE:

Schenck?

WC:

Yeah. How did you—I gather that there has been a lot of controversy about whether he acted as early as he might have acted.

GE:

Many of us want to believe that he did not act as early as he might have, and we have also felt that the reason he didn't do it is because of pressure from higher up, but I don't know where it came from. I think the mayor probably, during the height of the demonstrations, would have wanted to settle things earlier than they did, but for various reasons that I don't know, did not move.

WC:

I guess that when he finally came out with that statement, which I'm sure that you and your—you and your committee had asked the city council to draw up—to make a policy statement, hadn't you?

GE:

Right.

WC:

And the demonstrations accelerated and there were hundreds of people in jail, and he finally made that statement coming down hard for public accommodations. Did he consult with you about that statement?

GE:

He did not.

WC:

Why do you think he issued it at that time, just because of the fear so much else might happen if he didn't?

GE:

I believe so.

WC:

He just didn't see any way of stopping it, and it was just going to keep on going?

GE:

That's my feeling.

WC:

That's my feeling, too. I would think that at that point he had the choice of either turning Greensboro into a Birmingham or going the other way. Did you have much contact with people like Reverend [A. Knighton “Tony”] Stanley?

GE:

A fair amount of contact. Not on a regular basis, but we knew each other quite well. We had some irregular contacts from time to time, talking over mutual attitudes about the whole problem. That's the best answer I can give you for that.

WC:

Would you think it's fair to say that he was one of the two or three people who were most important in leading the demonstrations?

GE:

Yes, I do.

WC:

[phone rings] I guess my—the three people I would—the other one I would say is Bill Thomas, would that be your sense as well?

GE:

Yes.

WC:

Would there be others besides those two who you think would be in the key, core group?

GE:

[pause] No. I can think of no others right now who had as outstanding roles as they did, no. I think Rev. Stanley perhaps was the key person for the whole thing. Bill Thomas, yes, to some degree, too. Those two I think would perhaps be the key people to consider.

WC:

And they both sort of stayed behind the scenes, which is interesting, [laughter] in terms of the overall structure of things. If we can go back a little bit into—had you been active in politics at all, from '35 when you got here? You came and established a practice in '35?

GE:

Right. I didn't have time for delving into other things. I had to make a living, just out of hospital training, no money, Depression.

WC:

Yes. There is one other thing—before we get into the sixties again—I want to ask you about—two other things, really. One of them has to do with the city council elections in the fifties, and I realize I'm putting an awful lot of pressure on one's memory to go back thirty years. But one of the things that was striking was that in '49 there was an election where both a man named Brody McCauley and F. A. Mayfield both ran for the city council, and there seemed to be a significant division within the community, the black community, on those candidacies. Do you have any recollection of that at all?

GE:

Very little. It's a little far back for me. The only thing I can say about that is that they came from two different segments of the community. Mayfield, for example, was a college professor, a well—educated man. McCauley was a good fellow. I knew him quite well. But he was in business. He had a restaurant, a beer parlor, well known in that segment of the population. So they came from different areas all together. It was a polarization, I guess, because of that reason alone, because a lot of people in the educational community didn't know any more about Brody McCauley than, for example, you did, and vice versa.

WC:

Right, yeah. That helps me a lot because I think that basically fills out some of the rough information I had before about that dispute. Then Dr. [William] Hampton runs, and all of a sudden there's not only unity, it seems, in support of Dr. Hampton, but also a massive increase in voter registration. Do you remember that particular campaign, or were you involved in selecting—in any of the activity which went to choosing Dr. Hampton?

GE:

No, I wasn't involved in any of that activity that went toward choosing him. He and I were good friends and I did lend a little support to his campaign after he was nominated, but had nothing to do with the selection itself.

WC:

The other questions I have are more professional, and there really are two. [Moses H.] Cone [Memorial] Hospital was built in, what, the mid-fifties, I think? And I've been into some interesting papers by the American Friends Service Committee, which has to do with staffing at Cone. And one of the issues, I guess, was whether that would be an integrated staff when it started. And I gather that initially they were talking or at least giving some rhetoric about it being an integrated staff, but then they did not allow any black doctors to be on the staff. Now, you were involved in that, weren't you?

GE:

Not directly. No, I never did apply personally, but I know two or three of the men who did apply and were refused, until some pressures later on did open the doors for their membership. One man who comes to mind is E. C. Noel—N-o-e-l—who is no longer here. But he was very active when they campaigned to get the staff doors open. They were very reluctant about it. They didn't do it until somewhat forced into it.

WC:

And that would have been in the sixties?

GE:

I think that's correct—maybe the early sixties or mid-sixties, at the latest.

WC:

Now, you were very much involved at [L.] Richardson [Memorial Hospital]. And it seemed that some of these discussions, when they were taking place, involved the whole issue of whether Richardson would become—well, would change its nature, as it has now, and cease to be a hospital but become a secondary healthcare facility. Do you recall that kind of discussion?

GE:

Yes, I remember quite a bit of discussion along those lines. Never did get down to any serious degree, but it's been discussed on several occasions through the years. The trustee board of Richardson Hospital, generally, though, I think opposed to the idea and never did look favorably upon it, at least the majority.

WC:

And why would that be? What would be some of the considerations there?

GE:

You mean about opposing that point of view?

WC:

Yeah.

GE:

Several reasons, I suppose. One of them being that if this had taken place, then Richardson Hospital as a primary care hospital would have lost its own identity. In the second place, it would have taken away the only health care facility in the area to which the black doctors could apply for staff membership and be active, because at that time the other doors were not open. And in the third place, it was felt—and I think justifiably so—that black patients generally would not be received open-heartedly at the other institutions. So it was felt that Richardson Hospital had to be kept open and active as a healthcare facility on its own.

WC:

Well, that's very helpful to get those reasons that clearly stated. I'm going to be seeing Dr. Simkins later on, not today, but in a couple of weeks. I've seen him once before. Wasn't he involved in a suit against Cone Hospital at some point? Does that ring a bell?

GE:

I believe he was. I think so.

WC:

Yeah, which probably had to do with when it did finally open up.

GE:

Yes, I think so. Dr. Noel—to whom I referred a few moments ago—was at that time in this same building in medical practice, and I think he and Simkins both were involved to a large degree.

WC:

The other question has to do with something which—before we again can get into the school desegregation thing—has to do with your correspondence—which I've seen, and I'm not sure why. I guess I saw it in the governor's papers. I don't know why it's in the governor's papers. [It] has to do with the question of the North Carolina state medical society not allowing blacks to be full members. And I guess that goes back to '63 or '64, because I recall long letters, a couple of them at least from you, speaking I think on behalf of the Old North Medical—

GE:

Old North State Medical Society.

WC:

Old North State Medical Society to the Medical Society of North Carolina [sic—North Carolina Medical Society], whatever it's called, pressing that question and meeting with a lot of resistance from those people.

GE:

That's rather vague in my memory now—I mean the correspondence itself is. I know the effort, of course. In 1954 I was president of the Old North State Medical Society, and I think that may be the way my correspondence got into the mainstream of the efforts to open up their doors. I don't remember specifically what all was said, but it was an effort really to get them to open their doors and let black physicians join. And we have felt all along—I say we, and I think I can speak for the majority of black doctors in this state—there's been a strong feeling that the Old North State Medical Society should continue, regardless of whether the other doors were open or not, because it would be the only medical society where all black doctors in the state would have an opportunity to be as active as they would like to be and to point their efforts at things which the other state societies, even though it might have black members, would not really be interested in doing that would involve mainly black doctors. So I think it's a fair statement to say that we felt that our society should continue, and that those who wanted to join the Medical Society of the State of North Carolina—which is [was] its official name—could do so, [and] belong to both groups if they so desired. Well that, like so many other efforts during that period, was met with resistance. We were told later that there were some physicians in the other group who threatened to cease their membership if black doctors were admitted to the society. But by a process of I guess evolution or whatever you might call, over a period of time the doors were opened, so that now anybody can join who wants to. It hasn't always been that way.

WC:

I remember reading, I think, part of the floor discussion—which, again, this is, I guess, from either Governor [Luther] Hodges or Governor [Terry] Sanford's papers. And I'm not sure why it was there, as I say, but I just came across it in reading.

GE:

I didn't know it was there.

WC:

Right. Well, it must have been put there because copies must have been sent by someone who was working on the issue of civil rights or race relations to the governor, and that's how it got there. But as you say, the response over and over again—the comment was made, “Well, Dr. Evans is an exceptional man. We'd be happy to have him join,” and it was that kind of overall racism.

GE:

Certainly nothing exceptional about me, and I would never have considered being considered as an exceptional person and to be admitted to membership simply because they thought I was exceptional. That would be the last thought in my mind, to accept such a categorization as that. I would not want membership in a group that did not want my people generally, unless they could go along with me.

WC:

There is an incredible document. I should have made a copy of it. But I never did. I just took notes on it and then just moved on.

GE:

I'd like to see that myself. [laughs]

WC:

If I can identify where it is when I go back through my notes, maybe I'll just go over and make a Xerox of it.

GE:

I'd like to see it, because I have not seen it, and as I said a moment ago, I did not know it was in the governor's papers.

WC:

It's amazing.

GE:

It is, you're right.

WC:

Moving on to the school committee situation, I guess you went on the committee in '60 or '61.

GE:

Nineteen sixty. Dr. Hampton was a member of the [Guilford] Board of Education prior to my going on. He died in the middle of his term, a four-year term. He died after two years. And Mayor—

WC:

Roach, I think.

GE:

George Roach, the mayor at the time. And when Dr. Hampton died, Mayor Roach asked me, on behalf of the council, to take his position, which I did, with two more years to run in his term. And then I was appointed to two other four-year terms on my own, so I served a total of ten years.

WC:

That's a long time isn't it?

GE:

Too long.

WC:

Those were rough years.

GE:

You can say that again.

WC:

One of the things—there are a lot of questions I really want to ask you about that ten-year period, and they, I guess, fall into different segments. I know that on many occasions you were the only person voting no on an issue.

GE:

Correct.

WC:

And the makeup of that committee, I guess, changed now and then, but didn't really shift back toward a more—I'll choose the word liberal for the lack of a better word—until probably '70 or '69.

GE:

I believe that's a fair statement.

WC:

One of the things—it's a general question. One of the things that has always puzzled me is why, when the handwriting was on the wall, especially after '66, and even more especially after HEW [Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] started coming in to look around Greensboro, why the school board, with your being the only exception, I think, continued to vote so overwhelmingly to fight desegregation. Do you have any—I mean, what is your general sense about that?

GE:

My general feeling about that is that the powers that be—if we could call them that—were determined to fight a last ditch stand and to maintain the status quo as long as it possibly could, and I think largely because they felt that's what the majority of the community wanted them to do. During all of those discussions during the period you're referring to, there were numerous discussions about the whole problem. And as you implied earlier, I was a lone vote against what they were trying to do. And even after the federal court had ruled against what they were trying to do, the school board, upon the advice of its attorney, decided to appeal the decision—the circuit court of appeals in Richmond. And I remember the height of that discussion. I made the statement in words that's similar to this: that I thought it was a futile effort, and that the board of education was wasting the tax payer's money fighting it, and that it could never succeed. And I made a special point to ask the secretary of the board to be sure he recorded in the minutes that I voted against it. I was the only one that voted against it, and I'm very proud of that vote.

WC:

Were there people on the board who in private would tell you that they agreed with you?

GE:

If so, they never said so to me. The board was constituted, however, in a way that—I mean during most of that period—in a way that it was not a whole lot of private communication between me and them, or them and me—not as much as I would have liked for it to have been. So that I always had a feeling that some of these ideas that were being promulgated were done in private but without my presence.

WC:

So did you feel isolated on that board? Did you feel that there was a continuing, not conscious perhaps, but nevertheless present alienation by you—of you from the rest of the board?

GE:

Not exactly. I didn't feel quite that way, in a general sense, because we had very good relationships for the most part. But that isolation perhaps came about largely in specific issues like we're talking about now, this fight in the courts to keep the status quo. But beyond that, we had rather good relationships. Although we didn't always agree on things, still the relationships were good for the most part.

WC:

I know [Robert] Moseley was the attorney who had died, then [William D.] Caffrey came along. Were these men decisive in the position the board took, or were they instruments of the board's policy?

GE:

Well, Caffrey was not the school board attorney during my later years. He came into the picture as sort of an understudy to Mr. Moseley. Moseley was the attorney who was most active during that period, and I think he and the administration were pretty much together on their ideas about what should be done. Whether they were following his suggestions, recommendations, or whether he was following theirs, it's hard to say. But they were pretty much an agreement on most things, I believe.

WC:

So that it would be your sense that he personally supported this policy delay?

GE:

Yes, I do.

WC:

I guess I've gotten the sense from reading some things that he was—yeah, there are three minutes still on this thing—that he was rather central in this.

Another more or less opinion question, but was it your feeling that Superintendent [Phil] Weaver would have gone further if had he been on his own, or that he was basically acting out his convictions as well?

GE:

I don't any way to have a firm, hard opinion on it, but it is my belief that the superintendent probably would have moved along a little further and a little faster if it had been left to him personally. But I believe he had a feeling that he couldn't afford to do it because of the repercussions from other areas.

WC:

Yeah. Now, that school board, more than the city council, tended to represent the power structure of the city.

GE:

I think that may be a fair assessment, because of the fact that the school board was an appointed body, and the powers that be appointed the people that they felt they could depend on to do what they thought that they wanted done, whereas the members of the city council were elected. It was a different story altogether.

WC:

Back in the early sixties, there were continuing representations from people like Reverend [Otis L.] Hairston with GCA [Greensboro Citizens Association] and the—and Gladys Royal and the education committee of the Greensboro Community Fellowship, and they would come in a present evidence of both the failure to have real freedom of choice and the inequity of resources in the black and white schools. What would happen during those meetings? I mean, were—how did you feel about their presentations and about how their presentations were met?

GE:

Well, for the most part I felt like their presentations were good presentations and that they were well-founded on the fact, for the most part, and that generally they should have received more consideration than they did. These things, I think, were largely handled, however, by the administration rather than the board, and the board was inclined to go along with recommendations from the administration, after the administration had had time to consider these presentations and decide what they thought should be done. So the board did not take as active a role in this type of thing as the administration did.

WC:

I know the groups themselves feel like they were stonewalled, and I guess they were.

GE:

I think so.

WC:

Basically. Well, I think I should—this is going to run out in a second.

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

WC:

Would groups like—before Rev. Hairston or Gladys Royal would come and testify before the—or petition the school board, would they have made contact with you previously to let you know they were going to come and what they were going to say?

GE:

Occasionally they did, but not regularly.

WC:

Were they treated courteously?

GE:

Oh, yes, yes. I never did see any evidence of lack of courtesy.

WC:

They just never got any progress [laughs], any action. One of the issues I know that comes up in the '63, '64, '65 period is this whole question of freedom of choice and whether or not the policy's ever been announced, whether or not people were aware that they could enroll their children in other schools than those to which they'd been assigned. Do you recall discussions within the school board about that question and that whole issue of who knows in the community what their options are?

GE:

Yes. The discussions, I think, must have centered around the fact that this term “freedom of choice” means exactly what it says; that parents have the option of sending their children to any school they wanted them to go to. But it really was not quite as much freedom of choice as the expression would let you think it was. One of the results of it was that the white community—and I think rightfully so—had reason to believe that the schools in that area were better equipped to give their children a good educational background for college because they had more facilities, library facilities, equipment for classrooms, whatever. And the result was that their choice largely was to keep their children where they were going. In the black community, it was known that there was this freedom of choice for children to go elsewhere if they wanted to. Many of the black parents, however, were fearful of it for the simple reason that in the early days the first few pupils who went to the predominately white school, as we look upon them now, were not met with any great favor. They were met with a lot of resistance. And some parents were fearful that their children might get hurt physically. There was no question about the fact that they were hurt spiritually. So I think that sort of worked against their parents exercising their freedom of choice as widely as they might have otherwise.

WC:

And the school board was not providing transportation.

GE:

Oh, no, no. In that day, busing was unknown.

WC:

So if someone wanted to go from Benbow Road out to Irving Park, they had to get there themselves?

GE:

Oh, yes.

WC:

There was no public transportation provided by the committee, at least.

GE:

That's right, yes.

WC:

You mentioned the reception that had been received by those black students who had been the pioneers. One of the things that strikes me is that, at least in the newspapers, there is never much talk about what Josephine Boyd went through, but I gather that it was understood in the black community what she had gone through.

GE:

Oh, yes. We knew that quite well. We knew her mother very well—a very honest woman, very acute, whose word I would take without fear of not being true. And she has talked about it to some degree, and I know from her statement what the child went through. And I think, more or less on a private basis, [I] heard the same thing from some white people who were willing to admit privately that this was going on, but they didn't want to come out and talk about it publicly. [phone rings] So there was no question about what went on. The child was harassed to no end, hounded, spat upon, cursed.

WC:

It wasn't Little Rock [Arkansas], but it could have been.

GE:

It could easily have been.

WC:

It wasn't that different really.

GE:

No, not really. [chuckles]

WC:

By the mid-sixties I guess, there are a lot more black children going to integrated schools—or desegregated schools, and I guess that by probably '67 or '68 there are probably five hundred of six hundred going to—who were part of desegregated classrooms. But none of it goes the other way. There are no white students at Dudley or Lincoln or Washington or any of those schools. Do you think that the—well, a hypothetical question: do you think that the disruptions at Dudley had anything to do with there ultimately being a greater willingness to go along with desegregation when it happened?

GE:

[laughter] That's quite a question. I'm not sure that I have a real good answer to that one, but I would be inclined to think no. I don't know that the disruptions served that kind of purpose. I doubt it.

WC:

I would, I guess, on reflection, agree with you. I just—I think there would probably be very little connection. Did you get—now, those disruptions took place just before you were to get off the school board, or the year before you were to retire from the school board. Were you involved in any of the negotiations, discussion, that occurred around those episodes?

GE:

No, I was not.

WC:

And did the school board itself get brought into the whole question of whether Claude Barnes should have the right to run for student body president? Was that kind of policy decision ever brought to the school board for a decision?

GE:

An administrative decision altogether. The school board did not ever enter into it.

WC:

So that you would find out as much from reading the newspaper as from being a member of the school board about that situation?

GE:

That's generally true, yes.

WC:

Did you have an opinion about that situation, as to whether the school administration, either at Dudley or city-wide, had handled it very effective?

GE:

I'm inclined to think that it could have been handled in a much better manner than it was handled. Yes, I think so. It's hard for me to specify this late as to what might have been done. I always felt that the public relations representative of the school board did not do a very good job.

WC:

He seems to have been very much involved in it.

GE:

Very much so. Owen Lewis.

WC:

Yeah, right.

GE:

I think he antagonized a lot of people unnecessarily, and I would like to believe that the disruption could have been settled more amicably somewhere along the line.

WC:

Within the school, rather than—

GE:

Yes, if it had not been for the way it was mishandled. I call it mishandled because that's my opinion.

WC:

Yeah. Of course, that episode gave rise to a lot of other things. Did you have occasion, in any of your community roles, to ever have any contact with or discussion with people like Nelson Johnson or the members of GAPP [Greensboro Association of Poor People] during this period of time?

GE:

Not discussions that were aimed specifically at these problems, but I think that most of the contact that I had of the kind you're describing now came about in open meetings, which I attended like lots of other citizens did, but not officially as a member of the board of education.

WC:

Right. What was your sense of the relationship between GAPP and Johnson with the rest of the black community and then the white community?

GE:

I would have to believe that there was some division of opinion in the black community about those efforts. Naturally, a lot of the people who subscribed to the methods that GAPP was using, along with Nelson Johnson, were the only way that they were going to get doors to open. But more moderate or more conservative—thinking elements of the citizenry felt that there was a better way to handle it than this push, push, push, all the time. And, of course, I got the sense that the white community was very resistant to what he was trying to do in the GAPP movement.

WC:

And threatened probably?

GE:

Yes. My personal feeling was a sort of mixed reaction. And I've said this publicly on more than one occasion, that I was proud of the role that our mayor's committee had played in helping to solve some of the problems through negotiations, but, on the other hand, I felt like the solution to problems of this kind could perhaps best be found by the combination of negotiations and some element of confrontation without violence. So that I think there was a place for the kind of efforts that some of the more active activist people were playing, in addition to what we were doing, the mayor's committee. I don't think either one by itself was the answer. The combination, I think, was a very good and helpful. So that I personally did not raise any great objections to what they were trying to do, because I felt like it was a very important role.

WC:

It was one prong of a two-prong attack.

GE:

That's right.

WC:

I realize we are getting beyond what we said we were going to talk about but—

GE:

It's all right.

WC:

Did you have any dealings with Hal Sieber in his roles?

GE:

No, I just know him.

WC:

I guess one of the senses I've gotten is that part of what he was able to accomplish was made possible by what you're saying here about GAPP and the more radical movement coming off of the campus. How about Dr. [John Marshall] Stevenson, or Kilimanjaro, did you have much contact with him?

GE:

I did not have a whole lot of contact with him. I had some contact, but most of the contact I had with him, I think, related to an effort that he made back there during the sixties to become a member of the city council—a personal thing like that, rather than anything to do with the school desegregation business. I think he took issue perhaps with some of the positions that I took on the school board because he wrote an editorial one time criticizing me for not pushing things harder on the school board toward desegregation. We were friends and we still are, but we didn't see eye to eye on all these things. And I still felt, even at the end of my term, that I did what I thought was the best way to manage it.

WC:

I know.

GE:

And it paid off, even though it did not pay off as early as some of the more activist people and groups felt that it should have. It's a question of difference in philosophies.

WC:

Right. He's a fascinating man, too.

GE:

Yeah. He's a very bright man, too. He's got a whole lot on the ball.

WC:

Well, I think that this pretty much covers the area I wanted to go over with you. Maybe—have any of the questions I have asked generated other things that you would like to say for the record, in terms of things that may have been suggested by remembering these years?

GE:

Well, let me see. One thing comes to my mind that may not be a very—well, it may not be anything that you would want to hear or want to talk about in a book like you're writing, but I think it's good for you, yourself, to hear this regardless of what action you take with it. While I was a member of the school board, it was brought to my attention on many occasions that there was a wide differential between the equipment—which I referred to earlier—that was available to schools on our side of town, particularly the high school, as compared with some of those on the other side of town. I had occasion to know a few people closely who were involved in some of these teaching programs—for example, the business education program at Dudley High School. They had very, very meager equipment to teach kids with—such simple things as typewriters, for example, the paucity of typewriters. Those they had were very dilapidated to a large degree. The same thing is true in some of the shops. I had occasion to find out that they had far better equipment and so much more of it in some of these same areas across town than they had at Dudley, so much so that in some of those areas they had equipment that was surplus. It was not even being used. It was there but they didn't have a use for it.

And since the desegregation has grown the size, dimensions, that it has now, our schools generally have been given a whole lot more things than they were given before the days of desegregation. In other words, it's said generally in our community—maybe not openly, but its known generally—that so many of our people feel—and I think rightly so—that we didn't get the things that we should have had in schools over this way until the white students came to it and white faculty members, so that now we have a lot of things that we did not get through the years before desegregation took place. And it's so hard to find any other reasons for it than the fact that it's mixed up a great deal now.

WC:

That's right.

GE:

Well, that's a far-out view but—

WC:

No, I don't think so. [laughs]

GE:

It's a factual thing.

WC:

That's right.

GE:

If I had to prove it, I think I could.

WC:

Absolutely.

GE:

But there is no real need to go into that now after this long of time. This is just something that I had wanted to say.

WC:

I'm very happy you did that, because I think that the notion of the inequity or the inequality of resources is one that is talked about a lot, but we don't often have specific examples of it, such as typewriters, shop equipment. And it is especially important given the tendency of white leaders in Greensboro during that period to always talk about how good the black schools were and how well supported they were. I mean Dudley High School undoubtedly was one of the best high schools in the state, but it was significantly less good than it might have been if it had had better resources.

GE:

Absolutely. And earlier than that, long before the days of the period we're talking about, back in the forties, I know for a fact, because I saw the evidence, that some of our elementary schools were being given [phone rings] textbooks that were brought from across town where they had already been worn out and put in the schools on this side of town and new textbooks for them, which was very unfair, which was not corrected until the days of desegregation.

As I'm sure you know and you've read and heard all along, desegregation was a matter that has lots of advantages. It had some disadvantages, too. The kids, for example, in the earlier days—of course, you know more about this than I do, I suspect, with all of your research—ride past two or three white schools to go to a black school ten or fifteen miles away. Now, in the busing program, white kids are being bused across town and the parents are yelling bloody murder in some instances. And we don't like to think of this as being a situation where you can say, “I told you so,” but that's what it amounts to. This is something that black people have faced through the years. Now the shoe is on the other foot and they're yelling. You don't hear as much about it now as you did two or three years ago, but it's there. So that there are some disadvantages to it, yes, but I want to believe it has more advantages than it does disadvantages, because the kids now are exposed to the best kinds of teaching facilities and resources that is known, which they did not have before. Whether it be faculty members or laboratory equipment, library facilities or sports activities, whatever, they just have more of it than they've ever known before.

And this is beside the point altogether, but we in my community say now, among ourselves, in a joking way, “What in the world did these white high school athletic teams do before they had so many of us?”

WC:

[laughs] That's right. Absolutely.

GE:

Be that as it may, it's something that—you know, we think about a whole lot of things, and this is one of them.

WC:

Well, let me just shut this off.

[End of Interview]