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Oral History Interview with Joseph McNeil by William Chafe


Date: 1978

Interviewee: Joseph McNeil

Biographical abstract: Joseph A. McNeil (1942- ) was one of four students from North Carolina A&T State University to stage a sit-in for desegregation at the F. W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This transcript of a 1978 interview conducted by William Chafe with Joseph McNeil primarily documents McNeil’s participation in the 1960 Woolworth’s sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. Topics include his surprise at not being arrested the first day of the sit-ins; turning to other local colleges for support; the participation of female students; financial support from the black community; the role of Edward Zane; waiting for the community response; assumption the sit-ins would end when students left in the summer; arrests in April; having no one leader; and avoiding becoming "personalities" in the movement.

McNeil also denies both the influence of Gandhi and his total committment to nonviolence, but briefly describes his childhood; the influence of teachers in black high schools; participating in a boycott of Pepsi-Cola during high school; an experience at a concert motivating him to become more involved in nonviolent civil rights protest in Greensboro; and the support of Ralph Johns. Of the 1963 demonstrations, McNeil mentions the importance of the economic boycott and filling the jails as a tactical method.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.665

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 Joseph McNeil by William Chafe

Joseph McNeil:

—have you—I have never read that book. My father has it at his house. I've always intended to read it, and I have never read it.

William Chafe:

Yeah. Well he has an interesting—it's a chronology of the—based primarily on newspaper accounts, you know. And one of the problems I've found is that the newspaper accounts are notoriously inaccurate; therefore the book itself may be inaccurate.

JM:

Either you tell them things to be misleading purposely, or they distort what you do tell them.

WC:

Right, or they don't print half of what you tell them.

JM:

Yeah, or it's a context thing.

WC:

Right, right. But didn't you grow up in Wilmington primarily?

JM:

[Yes.]

WC:

So that when you came to New York was that to seek family?

JM:

Yeah. My family, like most others, did some migration to the North for job opportunities.

WC:

Yeah. So you'd come up here and spend summers and—

JM:

Yeah, did some high school, middle school up this way, too, elementary school.

WC:

In the city, or—?

JM:

[Yes.]

WC:

One of things I remember reading—I think I remember reading about your experience in Wilmington was the Pepsi-Cola or Coka-Cola protest.

JM:

Yeah, there was a social movement, albeit small and rather temporal. We had a social club—not social action, but social, social—and from that we did other things. It was a pretty dynamic, straightforward—

And high school instructors who would pretty much tell you what your rights were as citizens: what you should have, what you don't have, how you're going to get them, how you should react if somebody invades your home. A man's home is his castle. You should not let anyone come in and destroy your home and everything else. I guess in a black school there were things that were taught to us that are probably not taught in the integrated schools. Of which, you know, I'm not in a position to make a value judgment of what it means to a whole man in some other stage in life, but it meant something to us. They always said things like, “They can take your house, your car, all your physical belongings, but they can't take what you have up here.” So there are some real solid, inspirational type teachers in the black high school. I think they pretty much imbued not only myself but others with a real sense of “Go out and do something.”

WC:

That seems to be a theme of, certainly, the experience of David Richmond and Ezell Blair [Jr.-now Jibreel Khazan], because they had, as you did, incredibly powerful teachers in Dudley High School.

JM:

Yeah, from a historical point of view, that's significant. To me it is.

WC:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah, because what it really says is that we're not talking about something which was like an immaculate conception. We're talking about something which grew out of a long tradition of—

JM:

That was the other thing. I guess during the time when all of this was happening, people were—President Truman was making comments about it. He'd say “Oh, God, the thing is communist inspired,” as if, you know, these concepts were instantly conceived or some foreigner came in and put these ideas in our head.

WC:

Right. Had the Pepsi-Cola thing taken place in high school when you were still in high school?

JM:

Yeah.

WC:

Was that a boycott?

JM:

I can't even remember very much about that. It was a boycott type of thing. We had talked about how we'd approached it. We had our—there was a guy who came down and he was flashy, and he had a suit on. And he said, “well, here's what we'd do. We'd go in and, we'd carry ourselves in a certain way, and we'd anticipate questions. We'd have answers, and we'd do this” and, you know. So that's an interesting approach. We were kids. You have to lean on some adult or some authority figure in life. And these people are there to say, “Well, here's the way we can do something like this.”

WC:

I think that we have seen—

JM:

I don't even know the individuals anymore. It's kind of insignificant anyway, except for someplace along the way you wish there were a reward system that will recognize people who sacrificed in the name of something that's altruistic. Being the theology type, I don't know what I'm—you know, for goodness sake, as we see it and define it. But we never really get any earthly mention.

WC:

Do you remember Eula Hudgins?

JM:

Eula Hudgins? Not by name.

WC:

I'm not sure whether it was you or Frank[lin] McCain—she's the librarian at [North Carolina] A&T Agricultural [State University].

JM:

Okay. Small?

WC:

Yeah.

JM:

Okay, well, I worked there.

WC:

I thought it was you who worked there.

JM:

Fifty cents an hour.

WC:

She remembers your talking to her, I think, in advance of going down to Woolworth's.

JM:

Okay. That's probably very true.

WC:

About the general issues, about people's rights. And an interesting thing is that she was part of some Freedom Rides in 1948.

JM:

Is that right?

WC:

And I didn't—one of the things I was wondering about was whether you remember her talking about that with you?

JM:

No, I can't. You know the—I guess it was the straw, the thing that really [snaps] snapped me into action at a particular time: we had a concert, somebody like Don Shirley, or a two man ensemble, piano and a bass or something. We went to that thing. God, we had some assholes in the audience who misbehaved. It really, in terms of my peer group doing anything and any of us doing anything, that really sort of set the stage in my mind when I saw behavior like that in something that I thought was worthwhile and it was not being appreciated. Somehow or another, for a science major, I was pretty into social happenings.

I started getting books from the library. I got a lot of books. Something called The New Negro. I must have picked up seven or eight kinds of books. A book on propaganda, projection of ideas. It was interesting as hell.

WC:

And that kind of thing preceded your discussions with-I'm going to call him Ezell just in terms—even though—just to be back in that context.

JM:

Sure. I call him Ezell.

WC:

Okay.

JM:

His mother calls him Ezell.

WC:

Yeah. [laughs] But that kind of thing preceded your discussions with him and Frank?

JM:

You can call him Junior Blair.

WC:

Yeah, yeah. I guess one of the things that has been written is that you all, at some point, got inspired by Gandhi.

JM:

Bullshit. [laughter]

WC:

I've always thought it was probably bullshit.

JM:

I'm not nonviolent. I'm an agnostic. I see the need for strong religious identification in this thing and the work of religious leaders. Hell, I'd go pray and go to church, because the church was a rallying point and is still a rallying point. I didn't knock anybody's religion. But that Gandhi stuff, it was an expedient thing to do. It was the only thing we could do. We couldn't afford to be violent.

WC:

But the idea of having seen or read about Gandhi was not really significant?

JM:

That's probably press stuff. They probably started something like that. For lack of anything else to say in these dang-blasted interviews, you said, “Yeah, why not,” if it's acceptable and then other people say “yes, this is worthwhile because it is nonviolent.”

I, for one, am not nonviolent, but I'm sure that there were many others who were, perhaps. I don't know if it's something that was inspired by Gandhi, but as a concept that you just cling on to for dear life if somebody's going to pound you on the head, I think there were very few who—

WC:

Right. Would go that far.

JM:

Yeah. We took, you know, we took abuse, physical abuse. But the overriding thing was the goddamned success of the movement. We figured that if we did become violent, we'd blow it. We'd blow the image that we were trying to project. And to a very large degree, when people tried to make us violent and did these things to us, it just heightened the cruelty of the entire situation. It dramatized what heretofore was a mental thing.

WC:

You were saying earlier that—we were talking about the idea of there being leaders-that you didn't really think that there were leaders per se.

JM:

I think they came out. Our thing was unique. A&T was unique inasmuch as we had a—we have a military training, ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps], army and air force. These guys are taught a different type of leadership. Not the type that you go out and you come up with creative ideas—God knows the military's not creative—but they are taught a type of leadership where you methodically do things, you have an objective, you follow. If you're ever going to lead, you have to follow. So we had all these sources available to us, and we leaned on, to a very large degree, the students in ROTC to provide the mobilization concepts and to go to the meetings and to do the negotiating—not just ROTC, I mean there were people outside of that sphere. But I think all segments of leadership within the community came forward. There was something like, you know, “Hey, this is our movement, not his movement.” I think there were probably six ROTC guys in there whose names never appeared in the paper. President of the student body. People in the local community, the ministers, the undertakers.

Something unique about Greensboro—you kind of lose touch after so many years—but I think one of things we had going for us was that we didn't really need money. We were kind of told—it's probably true; I can't remember who'd told it now—but that if we needed go—[if] we needed bail money, for example going to jail, that various parts of the black citizenry of Greensboro offered to put up their land as our bail. That's significant.

WC:

Right. So you had a sense that you were really speaking for and with the support of the whole community, rather than against it.

JM:

It got to that stage. I mean there were segments of the community which were never involved in the movement, and there are always going to be segments of any environment that's not going to be involved for various reasons—ignorance, fear—but by and large, those who had the capacities to know, the capacity to understand what was going on and the wherewithal, did. And we didn't need any money. We needed money to do a picket sign, you know, fifty bucks, a hundred bucks, so we don't have to go raising large sums of money. We did need money in the sense that you're getting legal support from the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. They needed money to provide that, Floyd McKissick and those guys. That's their livelihood. They're attorneys.

The other interesting thing is that we were students. Our needs were simple. We had shelter, we had food, and we could take risks that the others couldn't. It took me a while to appreciate that. I was kind of saying, “What about you guys? Why don't you come out and march?” They could contribute in other ways, and we eventually, you know, had a meeting of minds and hearts in that regard and understood what was happening, who was doing what.

WC:

Do you remember just how it happened that you decided to go down there? I'm sure you do. You've probably been asked the question so many times maybe you're tired.

JM:

I was downtown. In fact, I was by—I stopped by Ralph's store. And Ralph—have you ever met Ralph [Johns]?

WC:

No, he's not around anymore—or he's not in Greensboro.

JM:

Is he still alive?

WC:

Yeah, I think he is.

JM:

Interesting individual. In Ralph's store there's a thing saying that Ralph is a member of the NAACP, and that Ralph made a scholarship at the school, and Ralph was in something else. I mean, for a merchant, he was pretty involved in the community, as far as merchants go, far greater than any other merchant in Greensboro, black or white. So you had a sense conveyed to you right there, a sense that this guy's a friend, even though—and he's probably one of the few friends who demonstratively showed support for the college and for the students.

I would go by his store. I felt comfortable with him. He was telling me about how he approached some people, tried to get some people to do a sit-in type thing. And the whole thing with my involvement in the past, you know, that was my state of mind, to make a contribution. I think it had been keyed by several other things earlier, but I felt a deep need to make a contribution. And with a guy who had in the past demonstratively supported black causes, I felt confident that this guy would support me if I did become involved in something like that. He would not leave me out on a goddamned limb. I expected to go to jail. I expected to go to jail the first day, and I expected to be in jail a week or a month. In my heart, I felt this guy was going to not leave me to the vultures. And it was true, he did not. He was super in terms of supporting us, giving us direction.

Ralph was the theatrical type. He's a master of theatrics.

You go and you say, “Ralph, how are you doing today?”

He says, [impersonating Johns] “You won't believe it. Some son of a bitch came to me. I give the guy fifty dollars worth of stuff on credit. He comes and he tells [unclear]. He tells me he'll cut my head off and roll it down the street!” [unclear]

Ralph was a master, or could be a master, of theatrics. We reviewed how we'd approach this thing—or how anybody would approach. His ideas were, again, to have the answers to any questions. Ralph also was aware of the need to have publicity, because without the publicity, it's like the tree in the forest falling and nobody noticing. He had the sources of notifying the local press what we were doing. And this is significant, you know.

WC:

So he was the one who called the press.

JM:

He called the press, Jo Spivey.

WC:

Yeah. Were you the one primarily involved with those discussions with him, or were the rest of were—Ezell, David, and Frank involved, too?

JM:

Some later stages probably.

WC:

But initially it was you who were more involved with that. Why then? I mean, what was it that prompted you to decide, “Tomorrow we're going to go down”?

JM:

I can't—you know, that concert was a thing. I'm not sure of the timing. But that sort of, you know.

WC:

I don't quite understand how the concert—what there was that—

JM:

I think about my buddy Jesse and how he views things now. How he always sort of viewed things was that basically, our biggest strength is from within. If we don't use these strengths, you know, we're vegetables. I have a heightened sense of racial pride. To a very large degree, most black people do. If I get on a subway train and I see a black guy laying down taking up three seats, I react probably differently from you. I think, “I wish he'd get up. He must have problems.” I come up with a million reasons why a guy is, as a black guy, is there, and I kind of identify with him and the old brother comes through.

I think, though, that most whites don't react like this if they see a white bum. The idea is, “Go sit someplace else,” or “Why the hell doesn't he get up?” It's not a one-to-one identification or a one-to-three or anything, you know, later on, how far removed. When I see displays of conduct which I feel are different from what I've been taught, I get pissed. I imagine we all react in that way. Again, I just basically feel that our strength is from within, and that the changes that we make, we make ourselves.

WC:

So that when this disruption happened at the concert, you felt it was kind of the wrong kind of expenditure of energy?

JM:

It was then, and it continued to be. We saw examples of it later on. Disappointing, disheartening, but most of us continued to do what we were doing.

WC:

Yeah. So you were surprised when you didn't get arrested that first day?

JM:

Yes, yes.

WC:

Were you surprised with how many people came down the next day?

JM:

The next day? There were probably eight or ten of us. Kind of, to be quite honest. The damn thing was so spontaneous. As things started to happen, various types of people wanted to become involved, people who would be violent, and people whose idea to resolution of Greensboro's race problem was to take a bat and go down and beat the hell out of them. Dealing with situations like that is where we started to call upon all resources that we found on campus. And people from the Woman's College in Greensboro, the Quaker college [Guilford College], you know.

So many things just started to happen. It was really, you know, a super thing. And you really felt said, “God, [I wonder if we're doing something now?]” I guess, I don't know how the Crusaders felt, but you get a heightened sense of duty once you get involved and things really start to gel. And we had some really major successes in the early stages. They tried to throw out our [superlaty?] and they applied all the pressures, the violence and the other things, and it didn't work, so we pretty much passed all the obstacles. And then we got to the really crucial part with the waiting game. I think that was an order to perhaps—“Let's prepare.” Nothing to do as young people, you know. We don't like to wait.

WC:

That's one of the things I really wanted to ask you about. There was—at the end of the first week, there was one huge meeting where you decided not to accept a moratorium, and then there was another huge meeting where you decided you would accept a moratorium. I really—those things get mixed up, I know, in memory.

JM:

The strategies behind that, I—

WC:

Yeah. Do you remember Zane, Edward Zane?

JM:

Zane was the—he was with Burlington [Industries]?

WC:

Yeah.

JM:

Okay. We had sent a guy up to New York with Zane to talk to somebody at Woolworth's, a guy we called “White Rabbit.” He was light-complexioned Negro who was in ROTC, and his name was Tally, [Kemp Tally?]. Never seen nor heard of Kemp. But Kemp went up and he came back with what he felt was, you know, our chances. And, you know, it was again a democratic type thing.

WC:

Well Zane seems to have been important in—

JM:

Damn important.

WC:

In—at least the impression that I get, and this is what I really want to find out more about, if I can—the impression I get is that somehow he quickly was able to win your confidence.

JM:

Yeah, in the sense that here's a guy that represents the power, who unsolicited came forward on the basis that, “Hey, this is a problem. We realize that this has always been a problem, but now the thing is getting attention, not just locally, but nationally, and it could have a detrimental effect on the image of the community. Let's see if we can get it resolved. I'm going to work with you in trying to get this thing to a quick head.” It seemed credible enough. We had no other person from the power sources to come forward and try to help, to the extent that we had traveling or need to travel. I think that when Tally came to New York it was also an effort where we were soliciting union support to picket the stores, back at that time. And the whole thing was—it was timely and appreciated. And I think his efforts—

You know, in retrospect, another important thing is that it again opened doors which were perhaps there, but nobody communicates. The feeling I guess we had about Greensboro was that-as youngsters then—is that there are probably a lot of good people who dislike what's going on in the system, but who are afraid to come forward. And we thought that perhaps Zane was one of these guys. When you're in the uphill struggle, you tend to look for as much help as you can without giving up control. We had help from just about every national organization there was, you know, CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] and everybody else, the NAACP, the local community, the churches. You never turn your back on anybody.

WC:

So that now, since he represented both power and the [Greensboro] City Council.

JM:

He was on the city council, wasn't he?

WC:

Yeah. He would be important in that sense. When you talk about the waiting game, that's one of the things that really—

JM:

That seems to have been a national ploy of somebody's, you know. In retrospect, you look at it; I guess it was well thought and conceived. Patience is not a characteristic of the young. What they didn't understand—maybe they didn't appreciate; they perhaps understood—I don't think they did really—was the super penetration of the community that this thing had. And that when the kids—you know, they figured it would end in the summer when all the college kids went home. They forgot about the Bill Thomas's and the high school kids. We thought about all those things. We had no intentions of letting it drop.

WC:

There seems to be—I mean in terms of the chronology of the thing, there's the week of demonstrations, and then there's really, from around February 6 into April, you or the Student Executive Committee or the Student Coordinating Committee—

JM:

The Student Executive Committee for Justice or something like that?

WC:

Something like that, yeah. You were refraining from demonstrating to give the Zane committee time to negotiate with you and other people.

JM:

Remember, we were young at this, too. We don't have five or ten years of experience in negotiating and finding out how these things go, so we don't have very much to recall.

WC:

Yeah. And then the Zane committee failed, basically, and then for the first time there were the arrests. That comes in April.

JM:

The [blackman riots?], and that's when McKissick and his boys come in, and that's when you really start solidifying our community support. I guess there're a couple of theories on the arrests. One was that it was something the community didn't want to do. We had pretty good communications with the community. We talked to the police chief; we informed him of what we were doing. If we were going to have pickets down, we would tell him how many. If we were going to have a major thing. He had his own sources how he would find out anyway. It did us no harm to communicate with him. I still don't know for sure if he was a friend or a foe, but he pretty much did a job. Not necessarily a good job all the time, but a job. So we communicated well in terms of the arrests and all that and in controlling the violence. We never really had an out-and-out violent scene, except on one occasion we had—we came close to having really massive violence, a moment of weakness.

WC:

That was during the first—was that during the first week?

JM:

I can't remember if it was during the first year, or second year. You lose your perspective totally.

WC:

Yeah, I know. The football team was involved at one point.

JM:

Yes, that was when we were picketing theaters. Certainly at the stores we were super contained. I'm sure that there may be those who were inspired by Gandhi or call it what you may. I always had the feeling that if somebody attacked me on the picket line, I was going to take them with me. I didn't have a weapon, I just felt that I had powers within me, the superhuman strength which would come forward at the time, and I would just—It's amazing to me. I guess when you're young, you have a different view of martyrdom.

WC:

Yeah, it's interesting.

JM:

But most of us were prepared to, you know, to meet whatever challenge there was. We certainly had no martyr complex.

WC:

Right, but you had something to overcome that fear.

JM:

Some type of—I'm not a religious type and I was not then—some super inner strength. For some, I'm sure it was religion. On a personal basis, I don't know. I'm not that non-religious. I have a strong religious background. From a power perspective, I really—when you sit back and talk about it, the Zanes, the police, how we organized that Student Executive Committee and called upon various power resources within our community, we—I say we again—had the support of the churches, the teachers, and everybody—how other members of the community came forward, the Guilford College students and the others—

I was down one day, the day we came close to violence, and we had pickets out in front of the store. And one of our pickets was attacked by a couple of rowdies with hydrogen sulfide or stink bombs or something. Low and behold, this big redhead Scotsman comes out of nowhere [and] takes off after these guys. I take off after them, too, because I'm getting close to this violence thing too, after—you know, we all came close. We go into some department store that's adjacent right across the street. And by the time I get in it, he's coming down the escalator with these two guys by the collar. He went to court with us and testified. His point was that, “I knew, I had a feeling that it was not you folks who were being violent.”

Little instances like that just strengthen your faith in the entire human thing. It was certainly not a black effort by any means—I mean a total black effort. It was again a community effort. You always were sort of curious as what was also going on on the other side.

WC:

Right, right.

JM:

You know, I'm certain they have experiences there, too, how they viewed us and their reactions.

WC:

My sense is that during those first sit-ins, I think that there was—they were afraid of what potentially might happen, but I think there was less fear or anger than there was during the second sit-ins, when I think they really—my own interpretation is that the first sit-ins were a necessary way of communicating, because the white community was not listening to the black community, but that after the first sit-ins, they still really weren't listening. And it took the second sit-ins to make sure that they paid attention, and that they would know this was not a one shot thing or a minor thing or a thing representing only a few students.

JM:

I guess that's—from what I see today, that perhaps falls within what I perceive as the mode of not necessarily black thinking per se, but societal thinking. Help the downtrodden initially, I guess that's the way it first went into view, basically, with some legitimacy. And it's not a threat, it's probably something that's new. The second one becomes more threatening and menacing because you perceive a certain power. You're not just helping somebody who's powerless anymore, now you're starting to deal with somebody who's talking about an equal.

WC:

And is not—

JM:

We didn't have any governmental programs back then.

WC:

The war on poverty or civil rights legislation hadn't passed.

JM:

That's true.

WC:

Yeah. It always struck me that—I guess the economic boycott seemed to have been crucial in finally getting the five and ten [stores] to open up.

JM:

Yes, I contend that it was not done out of heart. Businesses don't make moral commitments voluntarily.

WC:

Right. They make moral noises, but not moral commitments. [laughs]

JM:

Yes, I've seen that in the corporate structure today with our urban programs and all that garbage. It's pretty much a façade. So I'm certain that it was an economic factor. But, you know, it is difficult for me now. Like if I had the ability to look at financial statements, I'd be sort of interested in going back over that period time and looking at the bottom line, if it really did.

WC:

Yeah. I guess I've heard that Woolworth's revenues went down 26 percent during that time.

JM:

Is that right?

WC:

Yeah.

JM:

That's dramatic.

WC:

And that was certainly one of—obviously a decisive area which would cause them to change.

JM:

Well, you know, that is a factor. Then the other factor is the adverse reaction from their corporate neighbors, the churches. I guess—what is it, the World Council of Churches or whatever these guys—even if they weren't making the noises that they make now, there were probably some people who exercised some leverage.

WC:

Do you remember who was putting together the boycott? I mean, would the—

JM:

Labor? You mean in the North?

WC:

No, no. In Greensboro itself, the economic boycott in Greensboro of the downtown area, of the stores that—

JM:

We essentially organized that.

WC:

So you were, what?—put out leaflets and go into the community and stuff like that?

JM:

We passed leaflets out when we were downtown. You know it was a touchy thing because you know if you say boycott, now that fringes on something—that's a fringe legal thing. And so within the confines of legality, we had a selective buying campaign.

WC:

Right, right. [laughing] Right. Yeah. Did you go to the first SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] meeting in April?

JM:

Junior Blair went. That's where—

WC:

[unclear]

WC:

Blair.

JM:

That's where you started to see the so called personality emergences. You start seeing people on TV. And I have to look with pride on our little thing back there, because we avoided most of that.

WC:

Yeah.

JM:

I still think it's a super approach to solving community things. People tend to dislike personalities after a while.

WC:

At least they got—

JM:

It's amazing; we always rotated our leadership thing, too. I mean after the first year, maybe even during the first year, somebody else was in—the president of the Student Executive Committee for Justice or whatever. The idea was for everybody to make a damn contribution, and there were those out there with those capacities, so that no one would suffer academically or whatever.

Boy and the females, now that's a power source that no one ever imagined, incredible. They were truly steadfast. They would-this is the thing, when you talk about patience. I don't think that any of us appreciated it, the patience of those females, and they really hung in there. I mean there were times when you would only be able to get twelve people on a picket line; of those twelve, nine would be females.

WC:

From Bennett [College]?

JM:

A&T.

WC:

And A&T, both?

JM:

Yes. Maybe from Woman's College once or twice in the waning moments. They would always be in there.

WC:

That's interesting, it really is. Did you ever have any contact with a man named Carl [Wesley] Matthews in Winston-Salem? Does that name ring a bell at all?

JM:

Was he a minister or something?

WC:

No he was a veteran.

JM:

Oh, yeah.

WC:

Twenty-eight years old.

JM:

I think we read something in the papers about him, but we never—well, we probably communicated with in the initial stages, but not on a sustained basis.

WC:

One of the things that—one of the theories that you hear a lot about, and that some people would like to believe in, is that there was a conspiracy, that you all had it planned out in advance, you know, and that—

JM:

The old communist conspiracy thing.

WC:

Yeah. Only now—in fact, some of the people who would like to believe this now are—well, these people I'm thinking of are black students who want to believe that there was that kind of organization.

JM:

You know, the weird thing about the whole communist thing is that probably out of all of those of us who participated in that thing, in the leadership structure in the early days, the army ROTC and the air force, all of us were in Vietnam, 95 percent of us had top secret clearances. The whole goddamn thing was a smokescreen. Brighter minds than us came up with that one.

WC:

Yeah. It was—did not start as a Maoist revolution.

JM:

No.

WC:

[laughs] That's for sure. You graduated from A&T in what year, '64?

JM:

[Nineteen] sixty-three.

WC:

So you were also there for—

JM:

For Jesse's—

WC:

That whole period.

JM:

As a matter of fact, a week before my graduation, I think Jesse [Jackson] and the troops were at S&W [Cafeteria]. It was one of the last bastions. They always said they were going to be the last to do anything—never, not last, but never [laughs], to infinity.

WC:

Right, right.

JM:

I got swept up in the moment. I started seeing people get arrested and going on buses. I, you know, “I'm a body. Put me in there, too.” And I guess a week later or whatever I was commissioned and graduated, or two weeks or whatever it was. I had no plans of getting arrested at that stage.

WC:

Did they send you out to the polio hospital?

JM:

[It was a spiritual type thing?] Huh?

WC:

Was it—

JM:

Yeah, that's right. I guess they had tons of us out there. You see, the thing was starting to take on a different complexion. We always felt that a weapon was that we'd fill the goddamn jail, and that was a very real weapon. We—I think were damn committed to doing that. We were willing to pay the price for, again, principles. It's not something that, you know, we run away. I'm not particularly an anti-war resistor or anything like that, and I'm not critical of those guys, but they make a commitment, but they weren't willing to pay the price. The laws were lib—

[End of Interview]