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Oral History Interview with Cleo McCoy by William Chafe


Date: September 6, 1977

Interviewee: Cleo McCoy

Biographical abstract: Cleo McCoy served as a Methodist chaplain at North Carolina A&T State University from 1946 through the 1960s.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This transcript of a September 6, 1977, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with Cleo McCoy primarily documents McCoy’s experiences at North Carolina A&T State University during the 1950s and 1960s. He discusses veterans attending A&T in the 1950s; Governor Luther Hodges’ visit to campus and Dr. Ferdinand Bluford’s reaction; the Greensboro Four; post-sit-ins campus activities; William Gamble and Warmouth Gibbs’ responses; A&T presidents being referred to as Uncle Toms; Jesse Jackson, Nelson Johnson, and Vincent McCullough; and the 1969 A&T/Dudley High School protest. Other topics include Randolph Blackwell running for office; civil rights discussions at Guilford College in the fifties; "outsiders" in the 1963 and 1969 protests; and James Farmer discouraging the role of clergy in the movement.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.664

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 Cleo McCoy 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:

Were you born in Greensboro?

Cleo McCoy:

No, I'm a native of Louisiana.

WC:

Did you spend most of your childhood years there or—

CM:

I grew up in Louisiana, went to college in Georgia, graduate school in [Washington] D.C., came here in 1946.

WC:

In 1946, so you've been here for thirty-one years?

CM:

It will be the fourteenth of this month.

WC:

And you've been at this post for thirty-one years?

CM:

Yes.

WC:

Now, when you first came to A&T [now North Carolina A&T State University], the war had just ended and you see changes coming out of the war in terms of the students who were coming back or on the GI Bill. Was it a different kind of student?

CM:

Not—I do not recall any drastic changes in the early years of my stay here.

WC:

Were there a lot of ex-GIs on campus?

CM:

Oh, yes we had a large number on campus. I don't know the figures but it was several hundred on the campus at that time.

WC:

In terms of political activities, I have interviewed Randolph Blackwell, who told me he was running a campaign for the state assembly, I believe from this campus, while he was still a student at the time I believe. I'm not sure. Do you recall that campaign at all?

CM:

[unclear]

WC:

Yeah, 1948, I think.

CM:

No, I do not recall that.

WC:

[F. A.] Mayfield I think was in the same campaign, if I recall.

CM:

I remember Mayfield running for local office.

WC:

There was a story that Blackwell told about. He was attacking the state legislature and the state higher board of education, and [A&T president] Dr. [Ferdinand] Bluford was rather embarrassed by this student from A&T running this kind of a campaign, but on the other hand he did not really try to take any action against him. And I didn't know if you might have recalled that or been involved in it at all.

CM:

Unfortunately, I do not recall that episode.

WC:

What would you—how would you characterize the general attitude of students, first of all, toward the whole prospect of changing things in the society when you first came here in the first five or six years?

CM:

Well, there was of course expressed desire for change. Naturally students were interested in this and much discussion about it, but I do not recall any activism at that time that would focus attention upon this, other than a student through private conversation, classroom dialogue, and some organizational topic discussion on that kind of thing.

WC:

Would you, in your work with the students, be involved in discussions of civil rights activities?

CM:

Well, yes, I'd say, to a limited stance. There would be some different perspectives from religious organizations of topic discussions, and back in those days there was some interracial activities at Guilford College. [J.] Floyd Moore, better known at Pete Moore—

WC:

Was his first name Claude?

CM:

Floyd Moore, who is still at Guilford College. He and the president of Guilford, at that time Dr. Clyde Milner, [were] known as liberals in the area, and there were activities between campuses. For example, I would take students to meetings in Pete Moore['s] home. We would have these discussions, and once a year there was a conference at a certain camp—I can't think of the name of it—outside of Greensboro. Of course, we would go into these matters of issues in race relations, that kind of thing. There was a lot of discussions, but nothing—because everyone was cautious, not wanting to do anything that would disturb the status quo at the moment. But in terms of interpersonal relations, to the extent that students and faculty members could do these things and exchange ideas, that's about the extent of it.

WC:

Was this during the early fifties?

CM:

Yes.

WC:

Before the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision?

CM:

[unclear]

WC:

Wasn't there also an adult group which met periodically of faculty people from these various schools?

CM:

That far back I do not recall. I know there was at one time a faculty group that met. It seems like to me that would be, but I never attended more than one or two of those sessions. I don't recall very clearly. My memory is not too good in terms of specific times and dates. But I did not relate to the interfaculty group much. I can't speak about it.

WC:

When would you date the change in moods? Was it only in 1960 when the sit-ins started? Was there a change in mood before that that you detected in the student body?

CM:

Well, I would say there was a change in the late fifties but nothing spectacular until the sit-in movement with Ezell Blair [Jr.—now Jibreel Khazan] and others who initiated. And as I say, my memory in terms of dates is weak, but you will probably come across the incident involving the Governor [Luther Hodges] coming to campus. That was in the fifties, because Dr. Bluford died in '55, so this was before. It must have been.

WC:

Just before he died.

CM:

He died—a few months before he died. This was representative of the [unclear], this whole issue of [unclear]. After the Supreme Court '54 decision, this is one thing that pointed up the difference in [move?]. The incident on campus—which there again is one of those misrepresentations that I refer to that I know are a misquote on the part of Dr. Bluford that was carried in the press and in a book written by John Snider here. It's absolutely false.

WC:

Snider, Bill Snider?

CM:

Yeah, the book he wrote about the recent developments and quoting Dr. Bluford telling the governor to go on. He did not. He absolutely did not say that. He said, “As you like, Governor,” [and] left it up to the governor, did not tell the governor to go and speak. Because I was close to Dr. Bluford in administration, personal relationships, and always in every public program I was in reach of him, by his orders, so that we could communicate. And when the governor turned and asked him if he could go on, Dr. Bluford replied, “Well, it's as you like.” [He] did not say, “Proceed,” as you will see in print.

WC:

Did you know that was going to come? Did you have the sense that that demonstration was going to occur before it happened?

CM:

Yes, I knew of the possibility, probability that some form of expression—how it would take place I didn't know, but of course we were aware of the probability.

WC:

Now, of course, in the press and as Governor Hodges writes about it in his memoirs, he talks about that as being caused solely by his mispronunciation of “Negro.” But it strikes me that there was something else involved as well, and I wondered what you sensed the issue to have been, in terms of the governor. Was it him personally? Was it the attitude of the state toward the whole question of desegregation?

CM:

I think it was more of the attitude of the state and of course the governor as the particular head of the state. And subsequent he had just gone on television hookup and asked blacks to accept the traditional patterns, which blacks considered—

WC:

An insult.

CM:

Definitely.

WC:

So that it was a combination then of his being the spokesman for a whole point of view which had been acceptable.

CM:

Right, they resented his coming here in the first place. But it was just one of those things. The invitation had been given a month earlier, before the Supreme Court decision. A commitment had been made. Dr. Bluford couldn't see himself saying to the governor, “Don't come.” And of course there was considerable emotional feeling against the president for having the governor come under those circumstances. After the man had insulted the race in such a public manner, how can you bring him here?

WC:

This is a classic example of Dr. Bluford being, in a sense, caught in the middle. He really had no alternative—

CM:

Right.

WC:

—given his position.

CM:

This is, I think, what he felt, although I never discussed that particular issue with him. I think he just felt he could not say to the governor, once he committed he could come—they worked so hard to get him to come. He felt he could not say, “We can't have you.”

WC:

I've heard it said many times that his subsequent death was related to that incident and the trauma which occurred as a consequence of it. Do you think that's—or would you have personally have [that sound?], or is there any medical evidence that that's what happened?

CM:

I don't know that I would be qualified to speak on that subject. I know Dr. Bluford had not been well before this. Of course, I have no medical information on the basis of making a decision, so I don't know. I think the matter that no one will ever—can definitely say. The man was not a young man, you know. I just can't say. I know it was a tremendous hurt to him. He had [unclear], a facet of this. And I can't recall the man's name. You probably know who I'm talking about, but he was either at that time or just recently had been head of the—of this forerunner to the Board of Governors, what it is now. I forget what it was called.

WC:

[William] Dallas Herring. Was that the man?

CM:

No, it wasn't Herring, but it was another man who was here that day onstage when this incident occurred. And I'll never forget this man because he wept backstage after the governor left. His comment was “Such a tragic thing in the life of Dr. Bluford, that here on the day that he is to receive his greatest honor, he received his greatest defeat.” What he had reference to was the library being named for him and then the embarrassment of the demonstration against the governor. I can't remember that man's name, but he was head of the state agency on higher education.

WC:

That seemed to have—with that kind of sentiment expressed that day by the students, was—did that find other manifestations, or was that kind of a surfacing of it and then it went underground again or—?

CM:

Well, that was '55. I do not recall any outburst or any public expression of this before '60. But, of course, there were lively discussions all the time.

WC:

Had you known these students, the students who took part in the sit-ins? They were freshmen, I guess, when this occurred.

CM:

Yes, they were freshmen.

WC:

Would you have had much contact with them beforehand?

CM:

Well, no, not directly. Ezell Blair I knew, a local boy. Frankly, I can't say that I knew personally either of the other three prior to the incident. I knew Ezell.

WC:

And you knew his folks as well?

CM:

Yeah, I knew his parents, his father especially.

WC:

And his father had been a staunch supporter of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and of protest activities.

CM:

Right.

WC:

So that was—and that was widely known in the community, wasn't it?

CM:

Oh, yeah. His activities were known.

WC:

Had you any inkling that this was going to happen?

CM:

No, I had no prior knowledge.

WC:

So that in that sense, the spontaneous or relatively spontaneous nature of the initial demonstration seems to be an accurate understanding of it—that the students were not part of any kind of long-range plans to engage in this with the kinds of prior consultation that that would imply?

CM:

I have no information to the effect that it was other than spontaneous.

WC:

And then, of course, it became almost immediately involving many, many more—hundreds more, I guess. If I could, I'd like for us to talk a little bit about those first five or six days. Was there—were there immediate meetings that took place after the first day in which students came together to hear, I guess—is it true that Ezell Blair was the primary spokesman for the four?

CM:

Yes.

WC:

So do you think that means that he was the leader or just the one who spoke publicly?

CM:

I can't say. I wasn't close enough to the students to know really. All I know he was the spokesman. Now, as to who was, say, the brain behind it [unclear], I can't.

WC:

So was there immediately a set of meetings with the student body as you recall?

CM:

I do not recall. Are you talking about, say, campus-wide convocation?

WC:

Yeah, or meetings which would involve or which would be inviting or potentially involve the whole campus?

CM:

As I recall, there were some meetings, but not what we would call convocations. I do not recall clearly enough at this point, but I do not remember being in a campus-wide convocation called especially for that purpose. I know there were meetings but—

WC:

Toward the first [of February?], I guess it was, the demonstrations reached a peak. I know there were one or two meetings which were attended by as many as fourteen hundred students.

CM:

Are you talking about 1960?

WC:

Yeah. I guess there are some missing pieces in my own head in terms of how the student body got mobilized in '60 during that first week, and I just wondered whether there was some kind of convening process in which other students got mobilized to action?

CM:

Oh, yes, I'm sure that there were, but you see these things take place. For example, there is an area down in front of the dormitory known as the Bowl where many of impromptu student gatherings take place, and some, of course, that I didn't know about.

WC:

I guess in a convocation, an official kind, would be just difficult to happen because it would have involved the university's prior [unclear] and that would be a problem, of course.

CM:

Yes.

WC:

On that question, I guess I'm interested in how Dean [William] Gamble and Dr. [Warmouth] Gibbs saw their response, whether you were in consultation with them at that time, and about the way in which they were publicly handling this, whether they would make statements discouraging demonstrations, how they would respond to the demands of the students.

CM:

I think neither of those gentlemen, I think, would say or do anything to discourage. I know—although obviously it was a serious problem for Dr. Gibbs, as president of the institution. He was interested in having everything done possible in the interest of these students, their protection, and I'm certain prayerful that their objectives would be realized. And Dean Gamble was the administrative official with the responsibility of working closely with them.

I did not identify, in terms of sitting in on many of their meetings. I attended one or two, and I did what I could to help raise some funds. I took not one of those four, but representatives of the group to Winston-Salem where the annual conference of my denomination was having a meeting to solicit funds. But I never did become identified with the group in terms of counsel of working with them. It was my understanding that Mr. Gamble was the one person to work directly with them.

WC:

He's still here, is he not?

CM:

He's still here.

WC:

I need to talk to him.

Toward the end of that week, there seemed to have been two meetings, one of which was held, I think, on Friday night involving about thirteen hundred or fourteen hundred students, at which the steering committee brought to the student body at large the question of should they adjourn the demonstrations, should they put a moratorium on demonstrations. And at that point, the student body said, “No.” And then came the Saturday demonstrations, which I gather were the most potentially violent of any of the demonstrations. And then Saturday evening there was another meeting of about twelve hundred students, at which the students voted that they would cease the demonstrations and give a time for negotiations. Now, one of the things I guess I would like to know—and I'm not sure if you recall those meetings specifically enough—but I am kind of interested in knowing why that turn around and what might have been involved in either the way the issues were presented or the way in which the student body responded would cause that reversal in twenty-four hours.

CM:

I don't feel qualified to speak to that. Possibly Dean Gamble could help.

WC:

Okay. These are hard questions to ask and I realize they require almost—I'm asking you to put yourself back as if it was there last week, and that's very hard to do.

I've seen one memorandum, I guess, in which the chancellor at [The University of North Carolina at] Greensboro claims a lot of the credit for this, [Gordon W.] Blackwell.

CM:

Of changing the—

WC:

As if he was coordinating the response of the student administration, as if he was the one in touch with Dr. Gibbs and Dean Gamble and attending the meetings with the students. Does that ring a bell with you at all?

CM:

I know nothing about that.

WC:

Then comes the negotiating phase, I guess. And were you at all involved directly or indirectly with the work of the [Edward] Zane committee [Human Rights Commission]?

CM:

I attended one or two sessions of this committee. Well, when you say committee, I attended two meetings at Hayes-Taylor YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] where Mr. Zane spoke. Now, I don't know anything about a committee as such. He was [unclear] in the situation, but that's the extent of my connection with Mr. Zane.

WC:

Do you recall what went on at those meetings and what he said or what the issues were?

CM:

Not in detail, no, I can't, except Mr. Zane was, of course, trying to minimize overt action of public demonstrations and trying to appeal the group for negotiations; this kind of thing. Trying to assure the students [unclear], that the issues could be resolved through peaceful means; that's what I recall.

WC:

Did you get the sense that he was had credibility with the students?

CM:

Yes, I think a considerable extent. Well, at least the adults who knew Mr. Zane's character had confidence and—to the extent that adults could influence the thinking of the students. They—I think they looked upon Mr. Zane as a man of character whom they could trust but not completely willing. Well, he could only speak for himself, you see, and they didn't know to what extent they could trust the power structure of whose point he represented. I don't think there is any question about his personal views but hesitation to accept a package.

WC:

As in fact they shouldn't, since it took so long to even get that minor concession. Who would some of the adults have been that you are referring to? Would Dave Morehead been one of those?

CM:

Yeah, Dave Morehead, and frankly there was another gentleman, Dr. F.A. Williams, [who] was on our faculty at that time, one of the administrators here. He and Dave Morehead were closely identified with Mr. Zane and knew him personally. Other than those, I don't recall now specifically other adult leaders. I'm pretty sure probably Vance Chavis, but I wouldn't say because I can't recall that clearly who were in these meetings. I know some of the people who were interested at the time, but specifically who were in these committee sessions, I don't know.

WC:

Now that particular phase of the student movement, at least in retrospect, seems to have been incredibly moderate in its approach, in its tactics, and in its demands. And there seems to have been—or let me say—let me put it another way. Do you see a change having occurred between '60 and '63 in the student body and in the style of leadership or in the tactics which were used?

CM:

Oh, yes, very definitely. Well, let me see now, in terms of style there was still the peaceful, the sit-in. The lunch counter sit-ins are one thing, and then the peaceful march. The march was the next step, but still nonviolent approach. I see no basic change in terms of the movement at that time.

WC:

But in terms of the number and in terms of perhaps the—it seems somewhat unlikely that the movement in '63 would have accepted a moratorium in the same way that the movement in '60 did. And that may simply have been a lesson of the way in which moratoriums and demonstrations were used.

CM:

Well, four had happened by this time, if I'm correct. I think I recall the chronology. The Freedom Rides had taken place, and this had created a national focus, attention. And of course CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] had come on the scene [with] Farmer, James Farmer, and others. A different character of student leadership [unclear]. Of course, in the second stages we had one other factor which was significant, I think. A young man had assumed position of campus minister, united campus position [A. Knighton “Tony” Stanley]. He was a very brilliant young fellow and he would spend considerable time working with the students from a perspective that was not the university's, private program. The coordination, quite different from the 1960s [unclear]. And the churches became involved, the local ministers [unclear].

WC:

So that the mobilization of resources would have been greater?

CM:

But then one significant aspect, as I see it, of the difference between 1960, '62, and '63 was the introduction of the anti-clergy sentiment expressed by James Farmer of CORE. He came in here attacking the local pastors and, of course, their agents, agitating among students against the Uncle Toms, the concept of Uncle Tom. This I perceived as one of the major differences between the '62-'63 and the '60: the agitation of—among students from these outside personalities to build up friction or, say, cause them to reject local adult leadership. I think that was significant [unclear].

WC:

Did Farmer say this publicly at a meeting, or was this something which he communicated to people privately?

CM:

I can't say that I heard him say it, but I'm certain it came from him.

WC:

And it was then carried through by local spokesman for CORE?

CM:

It's the same type of thing that was later—many of the revolutionaries—was their [unclear] get picked up by other students and it spreads [unclear].

WC:

Was Bill Thomas the primary CORE leader on campus, or were there others besides him? Do you remember?

CM:

I don't recall. I can't say who represented CORE as such. I know there were—I tell you someone that you could talk with who is no longer in this community but Stanley, Reverend Stanley. Have you talked with him?

WC:

No, I am going to next month in Washington.

CM:

He's the young man I had reference to as the young minister who became the brains, really, of the movement in Greensboro. Very high-typed young fellow, brilliant, but he could identify personalities that I would not be able to.

WC:

When you—obviously this statement of Farmer's or that came from Farmer would have been disturbing to many of the adult leadership. Do you think—did you have the sense that this attitude toward the adult leadership became fairly widespread among the students or was there significant division there in their attitude toward, let's say, yourself and other ministers in the community?

CM:

I don't know. I can't speak to that in terms of general. I can only speak about the more or less—the inner core of leadership. As far as the students in general, I couldn't say. But those that were closely identified, activists within the group, of course, expressed this. They felt it very keenly. And of course it was effective to the extent that it brought some of the ministers around to support the movement that had not been [unclear] prior to that time. But I can't say the extent to which it really influenced the masses of students.

WC:

Was it your general impression—and I know this is a difficult question—but that Jesse Jackson was more the public spokesman and others were more the organizers of the movement, or is that not seem correct?

CM:

To a certain extent, that's correct. But Jesse had the personality that kind of [unclear] him into a position of leadership. I remember one time we were over in the church headquarters, Providence Baptist Church, where the general masses met for starting the demonstrations. But the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer was the committee headquarters. We were in there negotiating with—I don't remember whether it was the mayor himself at that time. Somebody from the power structure was there and we were trying to get certain agreements, and Jesse was over at headquarters and he sent word that-his word was sent from headquarters. To Jesse the whole demonstration was scheduled and established, and of course he chose to ignore. This is an order from headquarters, and when we knew anything the march was on downtown. And from that point on, Jesse was really the spokesman. I don't think up to that point he was really the leader.

WC:

He was president of the student body at that point, or was that of the next year?

CM:

The next year, I think.

WC:

When you say we were negotiating, were you on the negotiation committee with some other people?

CM:

I was sitting in—no, I was not formally on the committee, but I had the rapport with the group that I could sit in.

WC:

Who were the people who were doing the negotiating? Do you remember their names?

CM:

I don't remember their names other than Doug Stanley[?] of the student group.

WC:

Did you have a sense of their being or was there a consensus among the people who were negotiating that there was a—that there were certain people downtown that had more power than others and that they would eventually decide what was going to happen? I mean people talk about “power structure of Greensboro” and that's never too specific. And one wonders whether it means that the mayor, whether it means the [Greensboro] City Council, the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce, Burlington Industries, Cone Mills—I mean to you, what does that phrase refer to? Are there some more powerful than others?

CM:

This had meant the people who head the dominate industries control the payroll of Greensboro. Not the mayor. You look upon the mayor as a figurehead representing the power structure, but we never were able to get the power structure to meet with us. For example, I was instrumental in working through McNeill Smith and others to form a community civic group. A group was formed as a result of my forcing McNeill Smith. I called him and went to his office one night, and my suggestion was that he become instrumental in making it possible for us to talk with representatives of the power structure. And he asked me the question, “What do you mean? Who are the power structure?”

I said, “You know, I don't.” I said, “I can say the heads of Jefferson-Standard Life Insurance, Cone Mills, and others, Blue Bell, et cetera. You know. I don't.”

And after a few minutes he said, “Well, yes. I have dinner with a few of these people weekly, and this is a very good idea. I'll take it up with them next time we're together and see what their reaction will be.”

About a week and two days later, McNeill called me and said, “There was positive response to the idea, and I want you to work with Tartt Bell.”

Tartt Bell was head of the American Friends Service Committee, and in finding a place for us to meet, well, we ended up meeting at the YWCA. But we never got those people I was talking about. [unclear] I mean, they sent a few lieutenants. They sent the lawyer of the school board and a few others in there, but we never met with the Prices or the Cones, any of the real power structure. But out of John R. Taylor, who was looked upon as [unclear] by the power structure around here—you know who John R. Taylor was?—that kind of thing. Well, he and—I can't call the name of the young fellow head of the philosophy department at UNCG at that time.

WC:

Ashby?

CM:

Warren Ashby, yes. Warren Ashby, John R. Taylor, Tartt Bell, and I, along with Dave Morehead and a few others, formed the Greensboro Community Fellowship. We had hoped—it was my hope in making the suggestion to McNeill Smith that we would get these people together and maybe work out solutions to the problems without all these demonstrations. This was while the demonstrations were in progress.

WC:

So you would have gone to him in the winter of '62-'63?

CM:

Yes. Right, but [unclear]. The organization lasted maybe five years, so through that period and all—but it's a serious question whether it had any significance.

WC:

And that would be because it did not involve people who really had the power?

CM:

Right, did not involve them and they were not willing to yield their position.

WC:

So that you see the executives of the major corporations in Greensboro as eventually having the power to control what kinds of concessions were made, what kind of arrangements were—

CM:

At that time.

WC:

At that time, with people like Boyd Morris [owner of the Mayfair Cafeteria] and other merchants in the downtown area being secondary figures?

CM:

Well, I would express it like this—now, I'm not saying the power structure determined the thinking of every individual—

WC:

Right.

CM:

—at all, but my position was that once the power structure makes up its mind for change to take place, they can handle it and bring this change about in whatever, by whatever means it sees fit. It won't change the thinking of every individual. I don't know Boyd Morris well enough to speak about that and say that anybody had any effect on his thinking necessarily. But I—well, I think the recent years' experience in Greensboro with reference to school desegregation proves my point. Once the official family of Greensboro decided this was to happen, then we had a minimal amount of friction and put it in to effect.

CM:

When do you see that as having happened? Would you see that as only happening when the court decision came down or as having happened before that?

CM:

After the court decision.

WC:

So after 1970?

CM:

Yes.

WC:

There are some I think who would see it happening a little bit earlier than that, with the chamber of commerce becoming more involved in community issues across racial lines.

CM:

Well, I think the chamber of commerce had a definite effect, but there again, who is the chamber of commerce?

WC:

Right, or who supports it?

CM:

Right.

WC:

I agree with you very much that once they decide they want to do something, it happens, and it happens with a remarkable ease compared to what people's fears are or have been. Of course, when that did happen, it happened also in conjunction with or at least at approximately the same time as the third phase of student activity here. I guess I'm—tell me if I'm wrong in sort of dividing the sixties into three stages, in terms of at least the A&T students in their activities, with '60 and '63 and then '68 and '69 being a third stage.

CM:

I think that's correct.

WC:

My impression is at least that between '63 and '68 there is not a great deal of activism. Is that correct from your recollections?

CM:

Well, yes.

WC:

That there really aren't—

CM:

Once the demonstrations were settled downtown, right.

WC:

Now, that obviously doesn't mean that there isn't concern or there aren't people who are perhaps going off to other places to do active work, but in terms of the immediate community there would have been a kind of lapse or [unclear] of that period. And, of course, I guess the initial catalyst for the '68 demonstrations seems to have been with Dr. [Martin Luther] King's death. Is that—does that correspond with your perception, or were there things going on before Dr. King's death in terms of things like the Poor People's Campaign or other issues that were involving the students already?

CM:

There were other factors before Dr. King's death, because we were in a negotiating session with militant student leadership when news of Dr. King's death came. We were in the cafeteria, demands were being made. So Dr. King's death was not the starting point.

WC:

Now, the demands that were being made, were they campus demands or were they citywide demands?

CM:

Campus. As I recall there were demands [for] basic changes in the academic setting.

WC:

I recall dress regulations and [unclear] and things like that. Were there other things in terms of curriculum as well?

CM:

Matter of class attendance [unclear]. I don't remember specifically what the issue or issues were that we were dealing that night, but I know the campus was in turmoil before King's death.

WC:

And then with King's death it became a more overt expression in terms of the city at large.

CM:

Yes.

WC:

Were the militant campus leaders-Vincent McCullough wasn't here yet, was he?

CM:

Oh, yeah.

WC:

That's right. I'm thinking of Claude Barnes. He was still in high school, I think, in '68.

CM:

Barnes was in high school.

WC:

McCullough was here.

CM:

Vince McCullough and Willie Drake[?].

WC:

And they would have been involved in both years, both in the '68 and '69.

CM:

Yeah. Calvin Matthews [unclear] this free speech movement that came out of [University of California,] Berkeley and the students were writing a lot of newsletters, using a lot of their foul language that was typical of the free speech movement. I remember one thing that brought me very closely identified with the leadership of the activists at that time [unclear] faculty forum [unclear]. They were permitted to come in and speak on issues or express themselves to the faculty, and I was embarrassed and hurt at the faculty response, the response of the people in the faculty who expressed themselves. So after the faculty meeting, I went on to the union where they were in sessions and sent for Willie Drake, or I sent for the [study body] president and he was [unclear] or something, and Willie came out to see what I wanted. I told him I simply came as an individual to express my personal apology of what had happened to them. I felt that they were not treated decently by the faculty, and I wanted them to know that [if] I could do anything that would help them I would. I'd talked to McCullough and Drake and all and taught them philosophy. They knew. And I said, “Now, whether—you know, I can't approve of the language. You know that's unacceptable to me, but I resented the attitude of the faculty toward you and their issues.”

He said, “Would you say that to the other boys?”

“Oh, yes. I'll say it to anybody.”

So he said, “Wait a minute.”

So he went and brought three of them in and asked me to repeat it and I did, and from that point on I had freedom of relationships. My wife and I were both that close to Willie Drake. She was with Vince. I never could get through to Vince. I never felt that I had had dialogue with Vince McCullough, never quite understood what he was trying to say. I don't think I ever made sense with him, but Willie Drake and I became very close, and most of that militant crowd was at my house frequently, and really I think seldom if ever comes to town and he doesn't come by to see me.

WC:

Where is he now?

CM:

Far as I know, he is still at Cornell [University].

WC:

And McCullough did go to work for A&T, didn't he?

CM:

Yes, he worked there. I don't know where McCullough is.

WC:

So that that expression of sympathy, of identification, created a bond there that probably had with few other faculty people?

CM:

I think so. Of course, the relationship existed before that—I mean, student-faculty relationships, freedom of expression of ideas. They had been meeting at my house, having hamburgers and songs before that, but after this expression, of course, it really intensified the [unclear], and certainly in Willie.

WC:

Was this before Dr. King was killed? Do you recall whether your exchange with that group on that issue—it must have been almost the same time, I suppose.

CM:

Round about that time. But I really can't say definitely before or after.

WC:

And the faculty response had been mostly one of rejection, indifference, or anger?

CM:

Well, I wouldn't say the faculty—I'd say those people who spoke—I wouldn't put myself in position to try to express the faculty view—but two or three people spoke very negatively and asinine.

WC:

Now, did Willie Drake leave A&T after that year, or was he here in '69 as well?

CM:

I don't know. After all, Willie stayed here until he graduated.

WC:

Wasn't it the next year that Nelson Johnson was elected president of the student body?

CM:

Yes, Nelson—I was trying to recall this morning just what position Nelson—I couldn't remember whether Nelson was president or vice president. Seems like to me he was—

WC:

He may have been vice president.

CM:

He was vice president under a woman president. I can't recall that girl's name. I believe it was a woman, the first woman president.

WC:

Or he might have been vice president when Vincent McCullough was president.

CM:

I think Willie Drake was vice president when Vincent McCullough was president. I'm not sure, but I don't believe Nelson Johnson was ever president. He ran the show, but I don't believe president.

WC:

Now did you have much contact with him, or would he be one of those people who be—

CM:

Couldn't get—I never have been able to relate to Nelson Johnson. I tried to. I sent for him to come in and talk. He came once but we just couldn't get together.

WC:

And it was that next year that he was actively on the campus when the whole Dudley [High School] and A&T thing.

CM:

Yes, I think it was after he spent a summer with Howard Fuller. He came back and then all this [unclear]. This organization was formed, had representatives from these schools throughout the eastern part of the country. I don't remember the name of it.

WC:

SOBU [Students Organization for Black Unity]?

CM:

Yes.

WC:

Were you close to any of the people who were running Dudley High—I mean people like the principal?

CM:

No, I knew him, but I wouldn't say that I was close to him.

WC:

One of the things that puzzling—I guess there are two ways of dealing with the '69 demonstrations. One, I guess, would be to see them as part of a conspiracy in which the Dudley conflict was planned so that it would lead to a broader demonstration both at the high school and then involving the college. And maybe other way to see it is a totally accidental convergence of issues in which a legitimate question at the high school was mishandled by the school authorities and eventually led to a broader involvement of other people, and that there was no preplanning, [it] was rather simply a convergence of energies and of issues. And I guess I don't know how he finds out the answer to that question, and I guess everyone has their own opinion about it, but do you have any recollections or thoughts which would cast light on that question?

CM:

Nothing that I could prove, therefore I guess I'll say nothing. I have no definite information.

WC:

Would it be fair to say that most faculty people did think—or would most people you would know—did at least consider the possibility of there being—

CM:

I certainly I could not speak for faculty. I don't know. All I know there are those who knew that there were outside influence working or—just what their specific involvements were, I can't say, but there was strong feelings on the part of some. The Dudley incidents were the forerunners to the A&T developments. I couldn't say one way or the other.

WC:

I've heard it said that the Black Liberation Front was in fact well armed and planning for armed insurgency. Does that sound correct to you?

CM:

Well, I can also say that I've heard the same thing. I did not get close enough to be able to say firsthand experience.

WC:

I've also heard, I guess, that there was four or five professors here, not of long standing relationship to the university but a recent duration during that period, who were characterized by this person as being a rabble-rouser. Is that something also which was seen by others within the university? This person was not inside the university who told me that.

CM:

There were persons here who seemed to have close identity with the leadership of the movement.

WC:

And they'd come from outside of here, is that correct?

CM:

They were not of long tenure, yeah.

WC:

I wish there was some way of getting the kind of—let me just ask one or two more questions and then I think I've already taken up too much time. But there is one episode which I'm interested in that you may be able to help me with, and that is the whole question—I believe it was 1958, and at that time Dr. [John Marshall] Stevenson [now Kilimanjaro] was involved in a faculty resolution that certain faculty funds should be expended on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And do you recall that particular episode or what the various positions were on that question?

CM:

No. Just since you mentioned it, I vaguely recall such an [unclear], but I cannot recall the details.

WC:

I guess the other question is—I'm fascinated, as I guess many people are, by the tensions and the ambiguities and difficulties which someone like Dr. Bluford had to deal with every day of his life, and I just wondered if you have any thoughts you would like to share about his role and about how he handled it and about those kinds of tensions. Any [unclear] that might come to mind to illustrate?

CM:

No. I think that, of course, Dr. Bluford did a good job. He was doing what he considered the best thing for a college and the race at the time under existing circumstances. Naturally he has been referred to as an Uncle Tom, but I think Jesse Jackson expressed this very effectively when he was commencement speaker here a few years ago. In talking about this Uncle Tom concept—of course, he used Dr. [Lewis] Dowdy instead of Bluford—but he spoke about the fallacy of black youths referring to the leaders of the recent past and the more distant past, black leaders as Uncle Toms. And he referred to this incident when Dr. Dowdy was before the legislature for stealing some funds and was attacked by an east Carolina legislator for what had happened to the governor and all this kind of thing, and how Dr. Dowdy, of course, stood there and accepted this insult and everything. And it was such a vicious attack, unnecessarily, that a fellow colleague of that fellow, a white man, of course—didn't have blacks in at that time—asked permission to answer for Dr. Dowdy, and he did it in such a manner to make that fellow feel bad, and eventually it resulted in A&T getting a larger appropriation that term than Dr. Dowdy had been asked for. And Jesse was saying that the fact that Dr. Dowdy had the courage and the integrity to stand there and take that abuse in the interest of you black youngsters and the institution that he represented is a significant thing, and you young blacks need to recognize this and stop going around here using this Uncle Tom that you don't know what you're talking about.

And I think this same thing goes back to Dr. Bluford. Of course, naturally, the period that Bluford represented was much more severe and racist situation than when Dr. Dowdy was confronted with it. But I had the highest respect for Dr. Bluford, and I felt that whatever he did administratively was from his perspective in the best interest of the institution and the students.

WC:

Thank you very much.

[End of Interview]