Civil Rights Greensboro

UNCG Home > The University Libraries > Civil Rights Greensboro Home > Oral History Interview with Hobart Jarrett by William Chafe

Oral History Interview with Hobart Jarrett by William Chafe


Date: circa 1975

Interviewee: Hobart Sydney Jarrett

Biographical abstract: Hobart Sidney Jarrett (1915-2005) was a member of the faculty at Bennett College from 1949 to 1961 and president of the Greensboro Citizens Association from 1960 to 1961.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This history interview conducted by William Chafe circa 1975 with Hobart Jarrett primarily documents Jarrett’s involvement in Greensboro business desegregation in the 1960s.

Jarrett describes at length his background, education, and influential experiences prior to joining the Bennett College faculty in 1949. Topics include the Tulsa, Oklahoma, race riot of 1921; the Tulsa school system; successful African-Americans from Tulsa; the Great Depression; his decisions to attend Syracuse and move to Greensboro; and his admiration of W.E.B. DuBois. Jarrett also describes the important role of the Wiley College debate team and its coach, Melvin Tolson, on his life.

Jarrett discusses his experiences as a faculty member at Bennett College as well as some of his impressions of N.C A&T College. Topics include lack of faculty activism at Bennett and A&T; the progressive nature of Bennett College; Jarrett's impressions of presidents David Jones and Ferdinand Bluford; a voter registration drive organized at Bennett; Bennett hosting the Roosevelts and Martin Luther King Jr.

Of the 1960 sit-ins, Jarrett discusses David Morehead’s relationship with Spencer Love; being named liaison between local leaders and students; negotiating desegregation with business leaders; Edward Zane and the Human Relations Commission; and the involvement of African American church leaders. Other topics include include Jarrett's initial impressions of Greensboro; segregation at the local movie theatres; interracial meetings; aiding in William Hampton’s successful campaign for city council; and the history and activities of Greensboro Citizens Association, Greensboro Men’s Club, and NAACP.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.652

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 Hobart Jarrett by William Chafe

Note: This transcript is an edited version of an original transcript for which no audio recording was available. Therefore, CRG cannot guarantee that this transcript is an exact representation of the interview.

William Chafe:

—Jarrett, who was in Greensboro from 1949 through 1961. Dr. Jarrett, where did you come from to Greensboro? Where had you been before that?

Hobart Jarrett:

I taught in Langston, Oklahoma, a school that's called Langston University, and it's a very little town. Langston University in those days was the only state-supported school that Negro people could attend. University of Oklahoma and Stillwater A&M [Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University-Stillwater] had not begun in those days to do what they are now doing. So I worked there for ten years, and then I worked at Bennett [College] for twelve years. I've been here for fourteen years. So progress is ten, twelve, fourteen years.

WC:

Where had you gone to school yourself?

HJ:

Pardon me?

WC:

Where had you grown up?

HJ:

Where did I grow up? I grew up in Tulsa. And I did not work at Langston because Tulsa was my home; that is the first job I got [unclear]. I had no particular desire to remain in Oklahoma, but I did stay there for ten years.

WC:

What had been your experience growing up in Tulsa in terms of race, in terms of discrimination?

HJ:

Tulsa is a very interesting community in those days; it's much more interesting now. You perhaps know that Oklahoma really never was a slave state. One of the big holidays celebrated until this day was the 89'ers Day, when the territory of Oklahoma was opened up and people were swept in from Missouri and Kansas and Texas.

The first genuine memory that is really etched in my mind is the Tulsa race riot. This was in 1921, and at that time I was seven years old, I guess—no, I was six, and that was my initial encounter with the life, you know. And at that time, of course, it didn't mean nearly what it came to mean to me, but that was the initiation. Then, in growing up—I could say a thousand things about my experiences that I remember as a child. As far as growing up was concerned, Tulsa was a very proud community, and I think—I mean the Negro community—I think that it became so largely because of the [vilifying?] effect that the holocaust of the rioting had wrought on Negro people. For years it was impossible for a non-Negro owned business in the black community to succeed. That's all changed now. Tulsa is completely integrated. But when I go back there, I do not see Negro businesses as prominently as I saw them in my youth [unclear].

WC:

But it was a strong community?

HJ:

Oh, yes. And people were proud of each other. It's almost unbelievable to me at this time to remember that part of the big things that happened in my home was the going away to college. When young people left by train to go to college, scores of people—mainly now high school friends; some parents would gather, too, at the station to wish them off. I've never seen anything like this since, but it was very important to all of us in those days.

Our high school, part of the public school system as far as the separate school system was concerned, was superior to public school systems that I know anything at all about. My knowledge, of course, is necessarily limited, but I do know that the Tulsa separate system was in great advance over other systems in the state. People from [unclear] might not agree with me. But I remember that our high school was—the Negro high school was very early, before I went into high school, taken into the central association. I think that was the name of it, one of the major rating agencies of that section. And the southern association was rating most of the schools that were black, but not so with us. We maintained high standards, high scores for this, and excellent people. And I'm not being [unclear]. You know John Hope Franklin?

WC:

Yes.

HJ:

Tulsa boy, and one year ahead of me in high school, and that, of course, is the most prominent name and scattered throughout. There are physicians who have distinguished themselves. George Lipcoff[?], right now—I've just read that during the past week [he was named] vice chancellor in charge of public health at the University of Michigan. I think it's either Michigan or Minnesota; I've forgotten which. And I could actually put a finger on several men who have done very, very well, and some women.

WC:

So there was a strong tradition then of pride and accomplishment?

HJ:

Oh, yes.

WC:

Where did you yourself go to college?

HJ:

I went to college in [Wiley College] in [Marshall], Texas. I went there on a four year scholarship. Those were the days of the Depression. I graduated from high school in '32, when the Depression really hit Oklahoma at that time. It had not really hit Oklahoma prior to that time. So those were some difficult days as far as money was concerned. Nobody had any money, so everybody was pretty generally on the same footing. My [unclear] experience is something that I would not trade for anything [unclear]. Do you know that name [unclear]?

WC:

I know—

HJ:

[Melvin Tolson] is a poet who received recognition really late, and he is in the process of receiving recognition. [Tolson] was contemporary with Langston Hughes at Lincoln [University]. He was my mentor in debate at that time. [Tolson] was writing poetry, but he was really known in those days as a speaker, a [unclear], and a first-rate coach of debate. He had produced teams throughout the number of years there, which won a great deal of fame. And I'm happy to say that I was on [debate] team for four years. I made it as a freshman, and as I can recall I was the only freshman. I know I am the only person who was on [debate] team during my generation for four years. So that has been one of the highlights in my educational experience, without any question.

I suppose there might have been some subtle influence that [unclear] had on the—causing me to major in English, but it was a very subtle way because English had been my strong suit in high school. And I had had some very fine teachers, too, in high school. And the English department at Wiley was very solid. I went directly—let me not say it quite that way—my father was a grocer, you know, meat market, before the day of the supermarket, and when I went to college during that first quarter. I think, as I recall, that I had planned to go into business with my dad, and I had talked with—I remember this very well—I talked with a professor of economics. There was no such discipline as business administration, and it's good that I talked with him because he discouraged me. I don't mean that he wanted to discourage me, but from what he was saying, I was discouraged. And figures, mathematical sciences were never my great desire, though one of the things I was proudest of when I was in college was what I did in math. But having talked with this man very early and then seeing that the pull on me was really [unclear]. Anyway, I knew exactly what to do.

WC:

Where did you do your graduate work?

HJ:

I took a master's [degree] at Syracuse immediately after graduation, and this was '36, '37. And then I went to Harvard [University] on a general education board, Rockefeller money, a grant, and I studied at Harvard for two years. I then returned to Syracuse. I don't mean I did this in chorological years, but this was the chronology of my graduate work. And I took my degree, my doctorate at Syracuse, in a very fascinating program. My degree is really in the humanities, and it has helped me tremendously with a strong literary background and philosophy and religion coming into the picture; these are my three fields. One had to have [three] fields, one major field and two minor fields. [unclear] was my major. And that's really it, as far as my college and graduate training.

WC:

Did you find the experience of moving from Texas and Oklahoma to Syracuse and Harvard, did that have a decisive effect upon you in any way? What were your—

HJ:

Not really. I recall that the first time that I had felt what I would like to say as being free was during my extensive debate experience when we were—we debated the University of Southern Cal[ifornia], College of the Pacific, San Francisco State [University], [unclear] University of California twice, in two different years. And the first time that it dawned on me that I could move wherever I wanted to, sit where I wanted to, eat wherever I wanted to, was on one of those trips. It was on the first trip to California. The last trip that I made, that our team made, was during my senior year, as I recall.

So when I left college to go to Syracuse, I was well aware of the fact that I was miles away from the Mason-Dixon Line and was nearer Canada. As a matter of fact, I went to Syracuse because it was the northern-most point that I could find on the map. Now, this may sound silly, but it is actually a fact. A friend of mine and I were the bright boys in my class, and the president of the college thought that he was going to be able to get scholarships for the two of us. And we had agreed—my friend was in the drama and has made quite a successful life [unclear]—we were both going to McGill [University]. And when, for some reason, the money was not available, my friend couldn't go to college—I mean to grad school, and I think my family did not wish me to go to Canada, so I simply looked at the map [laughter] to see. This always interests me when I remember, but that's how I got to Syracuse.

I had some fine experiences there. I remember the first day I went to class, I did not know how I would be accepted. And I knew that I couldn't stay in the dormitory; I found that out. There were no Negroes in there and very, very few Negro people anywhere near Syracuse University. And when I went to class the first day, I made it my business to get there about twenty minutes early. And having found the room, being there, I went to the center of the room. And it interested me very much that the second person came, came all the way around, and sat next to me, and that was my initial experience with Syracuse. Then I cannot say that I have any [unclear] experiences there because of race at all, because I did not. The only thing that was obvious was that there were no Negro students in the dorms, and I found this out long before I went there because the department had advised me that I would have to arrange for housing, then they suggested some names that I could contact and I did. I remember having a slightly undesirable experience in the city of Syracuse, but never anything on the campus. I made some good friends there [unclear]. Well, I kept in touch with them for several years. I guess most of them are about dead [unclear].

WC:

Besides Mr. [Tolson], were there other people who kind of represented models, people who you wished to emulate?

HJ:

I didn't wish to emulate [unclear]. [Tolson] was really the [unclear] ideas to me, but—and I loved him—but there were things about [Tolson] that did not make me want to emulate him. But the man that I was most impressed by was [W.E.B.] DuBois. I have read The Crisis for years, and as a college student, I saw DuBois. He came to our campus, and a few of us had a chance to—at the president's home—to eat with him and—or something as I recall. And when I went to Syracuse and something or other for a dissertation, a thesis, I wrote on the contributions of W.E.B. DuBois to American literature. A long, long topic, but this was the [unclear]. I have a house guest right now, but I want, during the course of your being here, if it is possible, I want you to see my library. I have pictures of DuBois, so I have to see him every day. And now that was the man whose life I was most impressed by, whose life and work—and I guess I wouldn't single out anybody else really.

WC:

He's a giant—

HJ:

Yeah.

WC:

I did my undergraduate thesis—I did [it] on the racial philosophy of DuBois, using The Crisis and his own writings as the—

HJ:

I saw your face light up when I mentioned DuBois. Where did you do that?

WC:

Harvard.

HJ:

Where?

WC:

Harvard.

HJ:

At Harvard?

WC:

But it was a very, very exciting thing to trace his published work from 1900 through 1960—very, very, exciting. He's really one of the most incredible people, I think, of this or any other century.

When you came to Greensboro, what did you come expecting?

HJ:

Well, let me see now. How can I possibly answer that question? I was dissatisfied with the shabbiness of Langston. Langston had never received the money that it ought to have received from taxes. It was a—well, it was run down at the ears. There was no paving on the campus at all. [unclear] muddied up the whole place, no matter how clean people might have tried to be. The signs of the physical environment were right there.

I had heard about North Carolina and its interests in its education of all of its citizens, and when I had decided to make the move from Oklahoma, I concentrated on North Carolina and wrote several colleges—Durham [North Carolina Central College], [North Carolina] A&T [State University], Bennett [College], and I guess maybe St. Augustine [College]; I'm not sure. My friend, you see, was at St. Augustine, and he was talking to me about North Carolina. That's when John Hope was doing the Free State Negro [The Free Negro in North Carolina].

So I went to Bennett. I was expecting to find a well-ordered school. I had heard so much about [Bennett president] David Jones, [unclear]. And of the communications that I had made, it was the Bennett situation that interested me most. I was to go there, as I did do, as the chairman of the humanities division. And as I recall, that was the largest division, as far as faculty employment was concerned, on the campus. And I knew that it was a well-ordered school that concentrated on doing for black girls that which few schools concentrated on. I expected to work hard, and I had the nerve, the drive of a man with ten years experience, who sort of knew where he wanted to go. And so I was determined that I was going to succeed there, and I did. Now, this is the kind of thing that comes to my mind when you say, what did I expect?

WC:

In terms of the community which you were moving into, what ideas or image did you have of Greensboro as a city in which to live?

HJ:

Prior to my coming?

WC:

Prior to your coming.

HJ:

Prior to my coming, I was a little snobbish I guess, because Oklahoma was not a Southern state. I knew the Southwest. I had never been in the South—that's not true; I never thought of living in the South. So when I first thought of going to North Carolina, it gave me cause for pause, because I associated in my mind the Southern traditions with North and South Carolina. The only thing that I had that was in North Carolina's favor was what I was hearing from two or three people that I knew who had somehow [been?] there. And then I'd made a practice of talking with people on the street wherever I go, raising some of my questions, and when I went to Greensboro—did I go there before?—I went there. I know Mr. Jones interviewed me here in a hotel here, but it seems to me I went there before I got the job. But at any rate, just in walking the streets downtown, I asked questions of the people and directions, and it was very congenial, so I didn't feel any hesitancy about going once I—

WC:

There are a whole series of questions which I want to ask, both about Bennett and the larger situation in Greensboro. Let me begin by asking, as you lived in Greensboro for two, three, four, five years, what perception did you have of the attitudes of both black and white Greensboro people? What feelings did you have about where Greensboro might be going, where power was, things like that?

HJ:

Let me say first of all, I fell in love with Greensboro and [still] feeling that way until this day. Fortunately, I got there in '49. And I think it was the year—the calendar year '50— that William Hampton ran for [Greensboro] City Council. And though Oklahoma had been a political state, I had never had anything to do with politics other than having had to contribute a certain percentage of my salary to the Democratic Party—which I resented as a young man because I had it to do, and I fought it, but I couldn't win. So when I got to North Carolina and saw that Bill Hampton was running—I didn't know him, but I knew this was something very, very different from what was happening. And I made my way to the Hayes-Taylor YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] to one of the meetings that I had heard about. I perhaps was the only Bennett faculty person who made his way there. And I recall—it's rather vague now; it's been a long time—but I worked with the Hampton campaign, and that's when I first came to know John Leary, who's dead, and who is a strategist, political strategist, down-home strategist; he knew how to get things done. And my experience in working with the Hampton [campaign] was [surely white?]. And we won and Hampton made the cover of Time, and I think he was a very good councilman. That was my first brush with the light.

Now, as far as the general attitude of Negro people are concerned, it seems to me that they were progressive, not as I have been accustomed to certain [push?] in Tulsa. It seems to me that people were sort of pleased with what they were doing, with how they were achieving. And I guess they had reason to be pleased, because they were achieving things. And one thing that really annoyed me about Negro people in Greensboro was that they were going to segregated movies. Negro people could not go to every movie in Greensboro. The Bennett girls would dress up; they had to, to leave the campus in those days. The girls had to wear hats and to carry gloves and their purses. And it used to hurt me to the core to see those nice little girls traipsing up there to go in a side door that said "Colored." And I discovered, after I had been there for a while, that so their [unclear], so did the townspeople—people with whom I was rolling shoulders with or beginning to rub shoulders with—and so did the Bennett faculty people and A&T faculty people. This was to me very unnecessary segregation, and I alarmed this of this. I enjoyed going to the movies, but I never went.

I had had this experience of segregating myself when I taught at Langston. See, as a boy in Tulsa, I never saw any segregation. But I was over here, and part of the power section of the city was ours, and what we did in that section—what we did, we did in that section. I know as a child I couldn't afford to get hungry downtown. I knew that. I used to pass the movies which—movies have always interested me—and see the interesting [unclear], but I knew this was out of bounds. And it was not until I think I graduated from high school that I ever subscribed to segregation, to discrimination. During my days at Langston, this weighed heavy upon my mind. I realized rationally that there are two kinds of segregations: that which is imposed upon a Negro, a black, which he can do nothing at all about, and that which he imposes upon himself. And I would much prefer not to know a goddamn thing about what Cary Grant is doing other than reading it, if it is necessary for me to put my pride in my hip pocket and do this, so I just didn't do it. That was something that the Greensboro people annoyed me on.

And with the five colleges there, a few of us began to come together interracially, and we had a meeting, a very, very nice meeting once a month as I recall, going from one campus to another, or sometimes going from one home to another. And then there was the Unitarians in Greensboro who used to invite—and this was long before the sit-ins—or it was before the sit-ins, let me say. They used to invite black people individually to come speak, you know, or conduct service. I did this a couple of times. The YWCA in Greensboro was the one public meeting place—the white YWCA—for interracial groups, and I used to attend a luncheon there. It seems to me this was the auspices of a specific organization. I don't remember at this moment what it was, but I remember having met an ex-mayor of Greensboro in such circumstances, and Vance Chavis, George Evans. It was in such meetings that I began to see the stature that these men had in the city—W. L. T. Miller, Douglas, Reverend [Julius] Douglas, who is now dead.

As a matter of fact, the relationship between me and white people was really quite pleasant. I enjoyed banking at the Bank of Greensboro, for example. I had borrowed some money there on occasion and paid it, naturally. And there was a friendship—well, strong acquaintanceship that was built up between me and the vice president. I remember his name, Mims[?]. He was an old man then; he might well be dead. And I remember having been in the bank one day when a person, a faculty person from A&T College, was trying to transact some—oh, he was trying to cash a check. And Mims happened to look up and he saw me, and he asked this fellow if he could get Dr. Jarrett to vouch for you, “I'll do whatever this business is,” and I did. I mean, it was this kind of relationship. The stores, [unclear], Montaldo's for my wife—the relationships were all quite nice. There was nothing that made change, as far as my personal life was concerned, except the movies and knowledge of the fact that Negro people are not free.

My friends—my acquaintance, who was white, at Bennett College went to the movies, and she did not go in the segregated movie. She ate wherever she wanted to. I say she—they. One of the slightly distasteful things that I can think of at the moment: the man who was under my—I was his chairman, and he and his wife and child moved from one home to another. And they [unclear], in the second home, did not wish them to have blacks in their homes [unclear]. And they were extremely apologetic to me. I never liked this. I wondered why they had gone there and why they hadn't found this out.

I'm really reaching for something to say to you, because the general center of life was [unclear].

WC:

Did you have a sense of there being a movement for change—first of all, a movement in the black community for change, and then was there response from the white community which was open to this change? I guess that there is really two parts to that question. Where did you see—or did you see a locus within the black community pushing for change, and what kind of response did that receive?

HJ:

Well, I think the first thing is why I mentioned the fact that Hampton was able to pull that weight.

WC:

Who else was in that campaign by the way, besides Mr. Leary and yourself?

HJ:

I'm sure Vance, Vance Chavis. I'm sure that Miller was. I know Douglas was. Everybody was, the leaders—the persons I have named were certainly leaders. But what had happened there was that an association was formed, which I know very well. But that association has meant a great deal to me. I eventually became president of it. But the association was formed to support Hampton.

WC:

Was—that was—

HJ:

The Greensboro Citizens Movement [sic—Association].

WC:

That was its origin?

HJ:

Right. And do you know the structure of that?

WC:

I know the organization, but I don't know—

HJ:

Every lodge, garden club, choir organization, any organization of black people in Greensboro that could be identified was invited to send a representative to this association. So the association was composed of the strong middle class people, the blacks, the people who were certainly beneath the middle class, and they melted into one. So actually this is the first evidence that [I saw change?].

And I remember such things as the water fountains. Bennett students would not drink—let me not say that. There were Bennett students who refused to drink, as I refused to drink out of fountains that said “For Colored,” and eventually those signs came down. One of the other remarkable things about change was the fact that Bennett, and nobody else, in one of its annual homemaking institutes took upon itself the problem of registering black people. What's your first name?

WC:

Bill.

HJ:

Bill, it was glorious to see it. I don't remember the year. I've got the date somewhere in my papers, but Greensboro Negro people saw something that they had never seen in their lives: long lines at the community center, Windsor Community Center—I think it's changed now. But actually people waiting in line, a long line, in order to get in to be registered. And what Bennett had done was to arrange to have registrars to come and—I mean this was all well organized. The girls sat in homes with the children of parents who hadn't registered. It was as strong a community project as I had I guess seen. And the city school people, the laboring people, everybody fell right into it. We even offered transportation to people to come get them and to go to register.

WC:

Was Randolph Blackwell—

HJ:

The Steering Committee[?]. I don't remember whether we called it that or not, but that's what it was. But by chairman, I mean that was the person who pulled the group together, but I don't mean that that was the person who was responsible for it. This was a highly cooperative effort on the part of the Bennett faculty and the students; committees were faculty and students. And the whole college, the total college, participated in this, once all of the details had been worked out.

WC:

You had said a little bit earlier that you were perhaps the only Bennett faculty member who found his way to that meeting at the Hayes-Taylor Y. Would that indicate that other members of the Bennett faculty were not as politically—minded or active as you were?

HJ:

I would think that would be the indication. Let me also say that there were few—with the Hampton thing, I don't remember whether there were A&T people there or not. I assume that there were. Later, in the period of the sit-in, I know very well that Bennett people came in, but not too many—A&T people, but not very, very many. I think that as far as activism was concerned—certainly prior to the sit-ins, and even through the sit-ins—that [neither] Bennett nor A&T distinguished themselves as far as faculty participation was concerned.

WC:

Why would that be?

HJ:

I don't know. I guess that people were satisfied with what they were doing, as far as their work was concerned. There might have been some devotion on the part of—well, there was devotion on the part of Bennett faculty people, I know, too, because of assuring that these students are getting the education that my discipline can afford. Now, I don't mean to say that there was not here and there a Bennett faculty person who came into the picture. For example, [Ellease] Browning is now the alumni secretary at Bennett. By the time of the sit-ins—not when Hampton, but by the time of the sit-ins, Ellease was becoming more and more strongly involved, as was her husband Zack, who is also yet a [unclear]. But chairmen, professors of standing, I can't name many.

WC:

Does that mean that you would have been—have a reputation as being a militant, an activist?

HJ:

I don't—in those days, the word militant hadn't come into use.

WC:

Yes.

HJ:

Nor had the word activist. But as I sit here now and think in terms of militancy and activism, I guess that had the words been used—however, there was never any pulling away from me by my colleagues. As a matter of fact, they were quite interested in what was going on.

WC:

Was Dr. Jones ever discouraged?

HJ:

Anything other than that. Jones was a fighter. Jones brought Eleanor Roosevelt to Bennett in a day when North Carolina Piedmont was feeling to kind toward the Roosevelts, and he insisted—this was before I got there; I've heard the story two or three times—he insisted that Mrs. Roosevelt speak in Bennett's chapel, and he opened the doors. Bennett was the only integrated place in the whole city, no question about that, none whatsoever. Anybody that says anything different is wrong. Woman's College [now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro], no. A&T College, hell no. Bennett had several white faculty people who were ex-[unclear], in the main. And Bennett had exchange students between our college and another, and we had two—I think one white girl, while I was there, who graduated from it. She had come as an exchange person, and she simply stayed there. But this was—Bennett was a fighting institution.

WC:

Would you say more so than A&T?

HJ:

No comparison. No comparison at all, and I'm being objective. When Martin Luther King was brought to Bennett—pardon me, was brought to North Carolina, to Greensboro by the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], it was impossible to find an auditorium for him, save one; that was Bennett. And Bennett's auditorium was not big enough, and Bill?

WC:

Yeah.

HJ:

On that occasion, the science assembly—which is a small room, but is the second biggest room at Bennett College, and certainly a [unclear]—the science assembly had Dr. King's address piped in, and it was brim full. People were sitting in the loft, the choir loft, all over the place. But Bennett was the college—and this was after Jones, by the way. But Bennett was the college. The only institution in the city that could provide [unclear], that was Bennett.

WC:

Was Jones retired?

HJ:

Yeah, Jones was a man with vision and determination. One might well also add a picture to the thing: Jones, a strong man who did not tolerate any shilly-shally. One of the bright experiences that I can possibly ever have was having gone to Bennett at the time that Jones was in his heyday. Prior to my getting there in '49—from what I saw from '49 on until Jones died, I know that he must have been hell to get along with by many people. He was not hell for me to get along with. He had—I don't think was hell for many people by that time, but there were people who were scared of Mr. Jones. [He] was one of the last of the Negro college presidents who around them was an aura of majesty. People sort—let me erase sort of—people count on the Negro president, Negro college president of the earlier era. Mr. Jones had built a fine school by the time I got there. His wisdom let him see that what he had to do was to build the strongest faculty that he could build. So experiences that faculty people had had in the past—I'm guessing with an educated guess—they needn't to have had from the time that I got there.

But one of the first—the first meeting that I went to as a member of the division chairmen was in Mr. Jones' office. And I remember we were sitting there and he asked a question, and I'm the only new person. The others had known each other and had been there for some time, and I kept my mouth closed. But when he asked the question again and the other people kept their mouths closed, and the answer to the question was very obvious, I answered it. And I remember he scowled at me and he said, “You think so?”

I said, “Well, darn it. I don't have to think about that. You pointed this out,” whatever it was, some educational decision a long time ago. “Everybody knows that.” And he scowled. And perhaps it was the next day, I don't remember, but we met and he clasped my hand and said—and this was his words; this was an expression he liked to use—“My friend, I want to thank you for your contribution to our meeting.” This was the kind of man that Jones was to me. Now, you asked me earlier about persons whose lives meant a great deal to me.

WC:

Yes.

HJ:

I never wanted my life to be like Mr. Jones', but I strongly admire the man, tremendously. I think that many people—despite what reputation he has, many people don't really know the significance of this man. As an educator, as an administrator, he's very good. So that's when you say—Mr. Jones found out that I, [a] new member of the faculty, was working with Hampton, and he called me into his office. Hampton was a member of his church, and the church in Greensboro was a strong institution. And Jones said, “My friend, I understand that you are working with Bill Hampton.”

And I said, “Yes. Yes, sir, I am.”

And he said, “Well, I'm very glad you are. Give him all the support you can. He's a good fellow.”

So that's the kind of man that Dave Jones was.

WC:

This next question is a little bit obvious, but Dr. [Ferdinand] Bluford was—of course, was very different from Dr. Jones. I wonder whether—was there a general feeling among your friends that Dr. Bluford was helping or doing nothing?

HJ:

My association with Dr. Bluford was a “handkerchief head.”

WC:

And this was simply a feeling about him?

HJ:

Yes, this was a feeling about him. I never—among my association, there was nobody singing president's Bluford's praises at all.

WC:

He would never have done what Dr. Jones did to you, as far as Hampton—

HJ:

Well, I frankly didn't know Bluford. I knew who he was. My guess would be that he wouldn't. I don't know. I don't really remember. An F.A. Williams, who is now dead, was very active in the community. He was at A&T College. My guess would be that F.A. Williams would have supported Hampton, but I don't remember. I know that Mr. Bluford never cast the figure of being a leader moving toward progressive change in Greensboro.

WC:

Let me ask you a little bit about the Greensboro Men's Club.

HJ:

What about?

WC:

The Greensboro Men's Club, was it a primarily social group, or was it a group which got involved in what one might call protest politics?

HJ:

It got involved in protest politics, but it did so with a [unclear]. It was—it's a very difficult group to describe. The socializing was quite important, but there was no cause that was not backed by the Greensboro men who were in the club, and by the club itself. And I think I'm not being prejudice when I say that the men who were at club were almost invariably the men who took the leadership in the community. Now, I can't say everybody was in the club, because Dave Morehead, for an example, was a very active man, but he was not a member of the Greensboro Men's Club. He was in another men's group which I didn't know too much about. But I think I have answered the question.

WC:

Yes.

HJ:

It was quite civic in its orientation.

WC:

Did you have much contact with Dave Morehead?

HJ:

Yes. I was a member of the board, and we worked together on several projects.

WC:

Would you have had contact in that capacity among others—with Spencer Love or Caesar Cone?

HJ:

Not really. I collected money for the United Negro College Fund from Cone organization. Caesar Cone, I think—Spencer Love I know came to Bennett and were—I think it was Spencer Love who was very active in the twenty-five year anniversary of Bennett and raising huge funds, but as far as my life was concerned, I didn't have any direct contact with these people.

WC:

Dave Morehead seems to have had fairly close contact with Love and with Burlington Industry people, and I just wondered whether—

HJ:

[unclear] I think that Dave had some close contact with several of the money people in the city. You know, just in conversation I'd hear him talk about it and how much Spencer Love was giving and blah, blah. And I knew that he was the person to whom this was being given.

WC:

What was your general impression of the [unclear] of influence, constructive—?

HJ:

Of what influence?

WC:

Of Spencer Love and Burlington Industries.

HJ:

I think I cannot answer that question.

WC:

Okay.

HJ:

Because Spencer Love did not mean that much in my life nor in my activities at all. People like Vance and, you know, old Greensborians would have that information. I don't have it.

WC:

Was the NAACP an active organization when you arrived in Greensboro?

HJ:

Yes, small but active.

WC:

Who was—

HJ:

By active, it was alive—it wasn't doing anything.

WC:

It wasn't? Who was leading at that point? Who was the president of it at that time?

HJ:

I don't remember. But I remember that the moving figure was [N. L.] Gregg. You know Gregg? It was he who kept the organization going, and four or five others who met ever so often. But we really didn't do anything. We had a membership drive, and I guess that was the main thing we did.

WC:

At what point did that change?

HJ:

With [Dr. Edwin] Edmonds.

WC:

With Edmonds.

HJ:

Yeah, Edmonds came in like a ball of fire and the NAACP grew—and not only numbers, but in strength. And it had a good program and it brought people together. That's when George Simkins—well, there were some of us on the board of directors. I think that's what we were called. And that's when George Simkins began to distinguish himself. George hadn't been back home but so long, and immediately he had to be recognized in the terms that we would use: as an activist, a militant. But I think without any hesitation, without any question, one would have to say that the NAACP became an active force in Greensboro when Edmonds became—

WC:

Now how about the [Greensboro] Citizens Association?

HJ:

Say what?

WC:

How about the Citizens Association? Was that a more active organization than the NAA during the early fifties?

HJ:

There's a time sequence. The first organization that got anything really, that really got something big done was the Association. To get Hampton in, that's when the Association as I understand was formed. That gave it birth. The NAACP was in existence prior to that, during the period of the Martin Luther King coming into the prominence that he was to come into. Now, let's see this was before—the dates are not quite clear in my mind, but this was before the sit-ins, certainly before the sit-ins, when the NAACP in Greensboro was doing things. Then the NAACP was no longer doing things for—with the sit-ins, the Greensboro Citizens Association was reborn, and it was reborn in the time of crisis for the sole purpose, for the expressed purpose, for the definite purpose of seeing that those kids were not harmed. That's how it got started.

Now, though, the difficult thing about lines is that people who were members of the NAACP were members of the Greensboro Citizens Association. But as George and I say to each other, we worked hand and hand. Greensboro was not really an NAACP town; we used to say this to each other. People rallied completely to the Greensboro Citizens Association. Once this started, the NAACP was not the organization [that?] was programming change in Greensboro.

WC:

And you were president at that time, weren't you?

HJ:

Yes. When it was [unclear], I was the convener. Would you like me to tell you what I—

WC:

Yes.

HJ:

The kids from A&T had already gone down and had had some trouble. You know, they had already sat-in, and they left saying that they were going to come back. [African American attorneys] Kenneth Lee [and] Major High were the two people who called me to come to a meeting on—it seems to me it was a Saturday; I've forgotten. But it was an odd day for the meeting, and it must have been eight or ten people there. Lee [informed] us of what was going on and the danger that the kids were about to face because they were going back on a Saturday.

I've written something about this. During the summer, I sent it to Vance and got him to react to it. I have not sent it to any place for publication—about a fifteen or twenty page essay. As I think about this, I remembered that I had written something down.

At this meeting, which was quite crucial, somebody said, “Well, Lee and Hobart go in the private office and word the telegram that we are going to send,” and we did. When we came back, I found that group had named me liaison between them and the students. I was the only faculty person invited to this meeting. I was the only faculty person there. I don't know who was invited. What became quite clear immediately after we sent the telegram, and the cops were out to protect the kids, was that we were in for a long haul and we were going to need all the support we could get. So Dr. Miller was working very closely with me; I'm the liaison.

And I took the initiative, with the support of members of the group, to reawaken the dead Citizens Association, and we did the same thing that the Hampton group had done. We—when John Leary was a member, there were several people who were members of the Hampton group and, may I say, my group. We invited all these people from the varieties of clubs and organizations and they responded. This was the—this was how I became involved in the Citizens Association. On the first night, an election was held and I was chosen by the assembled group as the president. This caused some ill feelings on the part of a Negro minister, I know, because he resigned. I know he had been present at the meeting in Kenneth's office. And he came by my home—it seems to me, he had been elected vice president, but I don't want to call his name. But I know he came by my house the next day and told me that he couldn't participate, and I did a little checking and found that he was disappointed that he hadn't been elected. There had been no politicking because—certainly not on my part, because I was very, very busy at Bennett College. My concern, of course, was to do what could be done. And I—first, not desiring a position of leadership in this thing, I was desiring that the kids be protected and that progress be made. It turned out that I became very much in the forefront of the movement.

WC:

Can you talk about those five or six months?

HJ:

Well, they were very hectic months. The kids were extremely responsive. We never tried in any way to tell the students what to do. What we did was to say, “If and when you need us, come.” There was a student representative who was at A&T—was not a Bennett girl who was their liaison person—the A&T-Bennett student liaison person, and he and I saw each other—I think every day.

WC:

Remember who that was?

HJ:

Pardon me?

WC:

Do you remember who that was?

HJ:

I'm sorry, I don't remember—a very fine boy.

WC:

Was it one of the initial four?

HJ:

No, it wasn't one of the—very articulate young man, sincere. Of course, the other boys and I had occasions—and other members of my group had many occasions to talk with each other, but there was this one person to whom I talked every day.

After things really got under way, kids asked for money for supplies. This is of no value; it was money I could have paid out of my own pocket, as far as I can recall. But we had built up a slight treasury. And we anticipated the day when arrests would be made, and we were trying to get ourselves prepared for that.

Always the students met with us. I mean there were students who met with the Greensboro Citizens Association every time it met. They were always notified. The two groups worked together pushing the students, advising the students when the students wanted advising, telling them things to consider, if we saw things they ought to consider.

My telephone rang all kinds of time during the night [from] irate people. I got hate mail [and mail from] people in neighboring communities who wanted to do the kind of thing that we were doing in Greensboro. It was a difficult, challenging, highly satisfying period.

Now, after so long a time, we saw that the only way we could get out of this impasse is for these places to open up, and they'd better quit shilly-shallying. And then we decided that we would find some business that would agree to open up, and we knew whom to go to, that was Mose Kiser. Do you know whether he is still alive?

WC:

I don't, no.

HJ:

He ran the Guilford Dairy. And a group of us—I chose these people to talk with Mr. Kiser, and as we knew he would be—he was quite sympathetic. He also was responsible for keeping his business going. And he said that—he told us the problems that he had in getting milk from farmers, and the attitudes of farmers against the fact that a Negro—[who] wasn't delivering them in the whole city—had already been employed. “If you can just get one other person to say that he is willing to go along, we at Guilford will do what we should do.” And this interested us because the students had not attacked any place other than the places where you could spend your money but couldn't eat. There was no place to spend money at Guilford Dairy, unless you were spending it for eating. So that was off base.

But at any rate, we were encouraged by this, and we knew that it was going to be hell to find another place, so we finally decided to grab the bull by the horn. Now, this was after much marching and sitting, attempting to sit-in, organization of the community. I should say when I say organization of the community, we went to churches. Members of our group went to churches to hold what should have been a mass meeting, and we talked to people about what was going on, explained to them why. We sang hymns. And Ezell Blair Jr. [now Jibreel Khazan] went along with us and made the appropriate kind of speech, “Get out there and stick with us,” because many of the townspeople did not understand why it was that they were not supposed to go into Kress and Woolworth's.

So finally I called Dr. Miller one day and said, “Fellow, we got to do something. Why don't we call the manager of Kress”—I think it was Kress—“and tell him that we want to meet with him?”

And he said, “Hobart, let's do it.”

So I then when we hung up, I called this man—and I have all of this written; I can check the name—and he agreed to meet with us. I think I told him how many of us would come to see him, and he wanted us to meet after hours in his store. So my experience of having gone to talk with Moses Kiser had showed me that everybody who was really interested—all the black people who are really interested in the Citizens Association and getting this thing done—were not necessarily the people to sit at a table and talk to whites. So we had a very carefully selected group: Dr. Evans, Dr. Miller, John Leary—it seems to me that Vance Chavis—I'm sure Vance was in there—and I. I think there were five of us. No women, I remember that. In that day, nobody was pushing the women's cause. But we were the people to represent the group at the time.

And we were quite surprised when we got there to find [Edward] Zane and other representatives of the city council, among who was Waldo Falkener. We were surprised because this had not been said. It didn't matter to us because, as a matter of fact, we were glad. But we were surprised. The Negro group was quite cool, quite calm. The manager of that store was quite impassioned, incensed over what we were doing to his business and to downtown Greensboro. And we were all quite patient listeners, and our position was, “We know everything that you are saying is true. We also know it's going to continue until what time you open.” And out of that meeting, we came to the conclusion that they would integrate. The manager of the other five and dime was there, and we actually agreed on setting up the times. We worked out all of the details then and there. Now, this must have been months after the initial sit-ins.

WC:

What were your feelings about Zane and his committee [Human Relations Commission]? Were they helpful? Did you do much with them?

HJ:

No, I didn't deal with them at all.

WC:

Did they come to ask for your help? Did they—

HJ:

I don't think so. I think that they talked with the students, the A&T students, but I think they made no attempt to talk with us. Now, you know, it's been a few years, but I cannot remember. I know—I knew who Zane was because we had met in groups at the YMCA, the Hayes-Taylor YMCA, but there was never any contact except that night, and then we all hammered it out. When I say that my group was quite cool, I'm not—I may have been implying that all the whites were not cool. I don't mean it quite that strong. I mean to say specifically that that particular man, who was really something—But I have read of the influence that Zane had, or the contact that Zane had with the students, but he did not have any such contact with us.

WC:

When you and members of your association went to the churches, did you have any trouble with the preachers in getting the audience?

HJ:

No, no. Neither did we have huge audiences. But we had people who were interested and who themselves sort of spread the word, I take it.

WC:

I'm just trying to think. I guess it was Ezell Blair Sr. who told me that there were times when ministers of various churches, to use his phrase, “Put up on the altar before they would”—they would be scorned before they would become—

HJ:

Our drive was not a church drive. Otis Hairston was the only churchman—only minister who really worked. Well, the worst experience that I had in all of the sit-ins was with a Negro minister, but was not in getting into their churches for meaningful groups. After this meeting that I was describing—it pains me now, really, as I recall it—the [unclear] with the ministers.

WC:

Yes.

HJ:

The mass arrest had already been made, and there was talk of—I don't—the district attorney—I've forgotten his name for the moment—was going to call the students back for the trial during the summer, and we were very much concerned about that, as far as the money was concerned, and as far as the attitudes of the blacks and whites would be. So we were to go to this man when we could find him, because he was right in the district, as it were. And on the very night that we were to go to him, we were on that same night to inform the ministers of the result of the conversation with the management and the city council. It turned out then that the only thing we can do is do these two things at one time. “Therefore, Hobart, you go to the ministers,” and Leary and two others went, too.

Miller, I remember, went to Horace Kornegay—I think was his name. The purpose of my meeting with the ministers was to tell them what the schedule was going to be. We also had agreed that night to tell the schools what the schedule would be. And the schedule was that during this week, a particular week, on a given day, which was not to be announced, chosen students would sit and eat in both places. The students liked this. I think Ezell, Sr. had some reservations about many things; I don't remember whether he had a reservation about this particular thing or not. But at any rate, I had already told the Bennett faculty core, and somebody told the A&T faculty core, and certainly the students knew and the people had been chosen. So I go that night to talk with this minister, and I'm just blowing, because after all these months, everything is set. And after I have made my presentation, one minister, whom I have great respect for, said, “Brother Jarrett, there's one thing about this that we don't like.”

And I was taken aback immediately. “What is it?”

“You didn't have any ministers there.”

And I said, “Ah,” and I called him by name. “You know, the many times that I have tried to get you interested, because you are interested, but you never would give us—And when we came to all of these negotiating meetings, we had to take the representatives of the group.”

And [unclear], because I'd have to say that many of the leaders in our group were members of his church. Why he hadn't taken an active part, I don't know. But my own minister was there. It did not bother me that my minister would have had any reactions because he was not a man that I respected intellectually; I was just a member of his church. So when this man let me have it that we should have—we went about the whole thing wrong. We should have done it under the auspices of—

[End of Interview]