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Oral History Interview with David Richmond by William Chafe


Date: circa 1975

Interviewee: David Richmond

Biographical abstract: David Richmond (1914-1990) of Greensboro, North Carolina, was one of the "Greensboro Four" who participated in the sit-in at Woolworth’s on February 1, 1960.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This transcript of a oral history interview conducted by William Chafe circa 1975 with David Richmond primarily documents Richmond’s participation in the sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina, during the 1960s. Richmond recalls early influences, including black WWII veterans' complaints, that generation’s failure to act, becoming aware of racial inequalities, the impact of being bused out of his neighborhood, and influential teachers. He describes meeting Jibreel Khazan, Frank McCain, and Joseph McNeil and the sit-in movement they started. Topics include Ralph Johns' role, informing Jo Spivey and George Simkins before they went to Woolworth's, researching North Carolina laws, organizing the growing numbers at Woolworth’s, participants from the other local colleges, Warmouth Gibbs' response, working with Edward Zane, and community members aiding in students' transportation.

Richmond also discuses the resurgence of the sit-in movement in 1963, the role of the Chamber of Commerce, his relationship with Hal Sieber, sensitivity sessions, Lewis Brandon and Nelson Johnson, Willie Grimes' murder, and riots after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Other topics include being remembered for the sit-ins, community unity during the sit-ins, the deterioration of the gains made by the civil rights movement, class divisions in the black community, and the difficulties in his personal life caused by his involvement in the movement.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.672

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 David Richmond by William Chafe

William Chafe:

Yeah, when you say 1945, you'd just been born in—

David Richmond:

[Nineteen] forty-one.

WC:

You were born in '41, yeah.

DR:

With the—you know, with the return of the black veterans that had been overseas, exposed, seen things, and they came back and talked about it. And they talked for fourteen, fifteen years. And as children, we were very protected, you know, in those days. And they used to sit around and talk and talk and never do anything about it. I can remember why my father was so passive. Because he had a job to protect, he wouldn't speak out. And t took me years to understand why, because he wanted his kids to grow. And then it came our time, you know. Heard it all this time and when a chance came, you know, just moved to be done.

WC:

Had your father grown up in Greensboro?

DR:

Yes.

WC:

Where did he work?

DR:

He worked at Cone Mills and then he worked with the City of Greensboro. He retired from the City of Greensboro this past July 1. And I really appreciate him for protecting us, you know, that he gave us.

And then for that—I'm a firm believer that the time is right. If it hadn't happened in Greensboro, it would have happened somewhere else.

WC:

Yeah.

DR:

It would have been somebody else other than us. And the type of communities that we grew up in, they were not just black down the street. There were whites, and we had white friends. But there's always a bad apple in the bush, and there are good and bad. And I was never exposed to anything until I became a teenager and started to venture out of my community. Because I was bused out. We'd see the separate but equal systems. And you could see it and knew it wasn't right, once you were able to evaluate. I'd prefer you ask some questions and then I—so I won't.

WC:

Sure, sure. Did you go to Lincoln [Junior High School] and Dudley [High School]?

DR:

Yes.

WC:

And where had you gone to elementary school?

DR:

Jonesboro.

WC:

So how long—there was a fairly long bus ride for you to get to Lincoln.

DR:

Right.

WC:

And was your father working for the city at that point, or did he go to the city after?

DR:

He was at the city.

WC:

Was his sense—I don't want you to talk for him—but as you grew up, did you have the sense that there was pretty widespread prejudice within the city, city government and the city employees and stuff like that, or was it better than most places?

DR:

It existed, but it was sort of an intangible thing you couldn't put your hand on. For an example, I can recall two police officers in Greensboro. I think the first two—Sam Penn[?] and—

WC:

Palsey[?]

DR:

I think so. They could not arrest a white man. You've heard that before, I'm sure. These things were known to the youth in the community. That was one example of—There still existed the white color water fountains. I can recall those in my time, and drive-in restaurants' back window, back of the bus, balcony of the theatre. Those are things you could put your hand on. Well, the job situation was something different. The menial jobs were always what you got.

But in those days there was a sense of togetherness. We were very—in my community, particularly—we were very personal. If there were trouble in a household, the entire community chipped in and helped. We've grown very impersonal now. In fact, the whole society has. We give less than a damn what happens to the next fellow.

But it existed also a guilt among the white youth that I can recall, and through discussions and fighting—we used to fight and always make up. All of this was growing together. The blacks on one side—the youth, right—the young whites with that guilt complex, and I think all of this intermingled to trigger everything, you know, from my vantage point.

WC:

Right. Now you went to Shiloh [Baptist Church] growing up?

DR:

No, I went to East White Oak Baptist, and then I further went to the Methodist church. Because in my community, it was so small they alternated. One Sunday was Baptist, the next Sunday it was the Methodist. And then I had two uncles and an uncle—two uncles, rather, and what would my sister's son be called?

WC:

Cousin? [sic—nephew]

DR:

Cousin. Okay. They were in Lutheran seminary. This—you probably don't need this—it was a theological school. And out of that, two Lutheran ministers came out, and then I joined the Lutheran church. And there's nothing like a Baptist minister. You know Sunday was the day to come out, and it goes way back. And you hear all the talk. You go to church early in the morning, Sunday school, and end up ten, eleven o'clock at night on Sundays.

And then there were other little things you pick up as you grow up. The insurance man [said] “Moselle,” you know—that's my mother's name—not “Mrs. Richmond.” This is my mother you're talking about. And then finally one day I realized that he was giving my mother not honor but disrespect. And I told him, “That's Mrs. Richmond. If you ever come back to this house and call her Moselle again, you'll have to reckon with me.” I've never been any size, but his whole attitude changed. I guess nobody had ever spoken up. I didn't get scolded, but mouths were open.

WC:

And that was when you were still a—

DR:

Fourteen.

WC:

Fourteen, fifteen years old. That's interesting.

DR:

Bus-riding the buses and going to schools and the teachers were talking, you know, and the histories—and nothing ever mentioned black history. I don't think anybody thought about it until say '54 when they started the school things.

WC:

And you went to high school in, what? You would have gone in '55 and graduated in '59?

DR:

Yes.

WC:

Tell me about what Dudley was like at that point. And were there teachers who inspired you?

DR:

Well, I think I got my most inspiration in the fifth grade and the ninth grade. I guess the high school—at that point the teachers were sort of impersonal. I got a lot of inspiration from Chester Bradley, who was the football coach.

Dr. [John] Tarpley ruled Dudley with a fatherly image like, “Do this and do that.” And everything stopped with him. If he said it, it went that way. I used to rebel and get sent home occasionally.

And then his wife, Mrs. Tarpley, was my ninth grade teacher at Lincoln. And on my way home, I'd always talk to her and wind up back in school without my parents finding out. Mrs. Foster of Greensboro was outstanding. Mrs. Jones at Jonesboro was outstanding. Mrs. Carpenter at Dudley was—I would signal her out as the most influential on me the whole time I was in high school.

WC:

Did you ever have—now was Vance Chavis principal of Lincoln at that point?

DR:

No, he was at Dudley when I was at Lincoln and then he became principal when I went to Dudley.

WC:

How would these teachers be an inspiration? What kinds of messages did you get from them?

DR:

I was very energetic. I wanted to be motivated, you know. A lot of the time I was bored. But the only—the one teacher that really motivated me was George Dent[?]—he was in math—because he had a way of teaching everybody at the same time and he would use different ways of doing it. I don't remember how, but he would teach four or five different methods at the same time.

One other person that really impressed me, too, because he was so articulate [was] Chuck, he's a principal now in Greensboro. I can't think of his name it's been so long. Wow. He taught physics at Dudley and then he was the announcer for football games and he had the PA [public address] club—Chuck Wallace, very articulate. In those days it was unheard of, you know. He could just rap on and on and on and on.

WC:

Was there ever kind of a political message, even if a subtle one, that said, “Don't take any—don't take any crap from the society. Stand up for yourself”?

DR:

In those days I think students were programmed, you know, just like the “Walk/Don't Walk” signs. Like this sidewalk goes this way, when you know crossing the grass is the shortest route. The school systems—and I'm speaking in my day and time—they didn't teach you to think. You memorized, okay. But the funny thing about it, though, the reason they were able to maintain discipline in those days was because if you got a whipping in school, you got one at home. That was allowed. But they were done not with a lot of forcefulness. It was like punishment, they didn't hurt you. I think that's one of the things that is hurting the public school system now.

WC:

Were you a part of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] Youth Group that came together in the fifties—it was before that, but before you went to [North Carolina] A&T [State University]?

DR:

No, because I lived in rural, you know, and bused into the city until I was able to make way for myself like getting, catching a bus, and making friends in town, getting transportation back and forth. But in those days, when I was in school, there were like Southside, Mount Zion, White Oak, The Court. And if you lived in either one of those sections, you better not venture into somebody else's place unless you knew somebody. And once you broke the territory with a friend, then you were protected. And all of this—everything came into play when we all met at Dudley and got to know people, got to talking, and built friendships. And then all of that broke down.

WC:

But you wouldn't have had any contact with Reverend [Edwin] Edmonds—

DR:

No.

WC:

—at Bennett [College].

DR:

No, I didn't have any contact with him. Let me see, my first contact at Bennett—I can't think. He came after Rev. Edmonds. Dr. [Willa] Player was president when I was in high school at Bennett, and she was still there when I was in college.

WC:

Right. There was another minister who took Edmond's place. I can't remember his name either. John was his first name, but I can't remember his last name [Hatchett?]. So you—but you had known—in high school, had you known Ezell Blair Jr. [now Jibreel Khazan]?

DR:

Ezell and I—okay, Ezell and I went to school together. He came from Southside and I was from the country. And we met. Okay, our junior year, Frank McCain came to Dudley for a year. His senior year he left. And we all met our freshman year at A&T during orientation, during the elections of freshmen officers. And, you know, you couldn't choose a roommate during those days; you're just assigned your roommates. Ezell and Joe McNeil were roommates. And we all majored in math, mathematical courses, physics, ME [mechanical engineering]; biology was Frank's course. By them being roommates, Frank lived on campus and I was staying at home then. Then eventually Frank moved off campus and stayed with my parents, and Joe and Ezell remained on campus. And every day we just got together because we had three or four classes together. Then we started rapping about everything.

During that time, well, Montgomery [bus boycott] had happened already, Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] was doing some things, and we read everything other than what we were supposed to. And we were discussing a book—I can't even remember the name of it—it was The New Negro.

WC:

Yeah. Logan's book, I think. [sic—Alain Locke]

DR:

But prior to that—and I was unaware that Joe had met Ralph Johns. And Ralph's reputation in Greensboro foreshadows the four freshmen at A&T. And one evening in the room, we start talking about something should be done. Something should be done, but how can you fight a system? You know, this is one of the things I had against the violence that occurred: you can't fight a tank with a rock, and there are other alternatives. And what happened was no new innovations had come about because people quit thinking. You know, there were the things that happened in New York to break down some of the things like paying your light bill in all pennies and tying up time, because time is money. And that's about the only way you can break a system or get a mass of people dissatisfied. That's when changes come. And I think that's what happened in the latter part of the sixties when they went to “burn baby, burn.”

And then I think an ego thing came into play because, “Look at all this exposure that I'm getting. I am number one.” That was when the deterioration of the civil rights movement started, because the NAACP, SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], the Urban League said, “I speak for the mass.” Nobody speaks for me. I'm a firm believer in the majority rule. But the majority can be one. And I guess that's why I enjoy being secluded. I can always be right, as long as I'm by myself. [laughter]

WC:

Right, right.

DR:

But with this new wife I'm not necessarily right all the time. [laughter] In fact, never.

WC:

Oh, dear. So after—I guess the decision to sit-in was one that came from a whole variety of forces. Maybe Joe's contact with Ralph Johns, and I guess his experience with that Trailways bus terminal, your reading and discussions and stuff like that. My understanding is that before you went down there, there were about three people who knew about it: [Greensboro Record reporter] Jo Spivey—

DR:

Ralph.

WC:

—Dr. [George] Simkins—

DR:

And Ralph.

WC:

—and Ralph. Those were the three. Somebody told me [African American dentist] Dr. [Milton] Barnes knew about it, too, but I'm not sure.

DR:

He may have, but I doubt it. But after, we got to Lauren Scales[?], who was Mrs. [N.E.?] Hargett, and Barnes. We were trying to make sure we had bail. We anticipated arrests. But that came much later. Initially, to my understanding, it was just the three.

WC:

Were you surprised at the way this—what happened?

DR:

Well, we—

WC:

It went from four to sixteen hundred in a week.

DR:

Well, the funny thing [was] we went down—we even went to the library and checked on some of the statutes in the North Carolina law book about this. And we realized that we weren't breaking a law. Civil disobedience, that was all. In fact, when the police came down, they didn't know what to do. They just stood there. Scared, I was.

I forgot what you said.

WC:

Well, were you surprised at what happened and how—

DR:

Oh. When we went down, it caught the six o'clock news. So we went back on campus and we didn't know, the students, so we got in touch with—Ezell got in touch with all the local people that he knew, and I did. And when we went back down that next day, first thing that morning, I guess there was about thirty. Then that afternoon everybody came. And then we realized what was going to happen, so we contacted every organizations' president on A&T's campus—that was our first stop—and created a committee to handle things that we foresaw that would happen with this many people, because we were supposed to be passive, non-resistance. And we met and organized, and I think DuBose[?] was president of the student council and he chaired the committee. Then we realized that we were excluding Bennett College. And then come to find out that Woman's College—that was UNCG now—so we had representatives from three campuses. Then there was Greensboro College, also. I don't want to forget anybody. So that next day, I guess there were about six or seven hundred students.

And we were planning. We—I don't know if we frightened the administration at A&T or not, but they gave us the use of their auditorium [unclear]. But at that time [Warmouth] Gibbs was president. And I think somebody must have told him to put a stop to it. And he made the statement that “These are young adults, and as long as they don't cut their classes, then they were in their rights to exhibit, as long as they were in a mannerly way, any way they wanted to.” And that's when the coordination had to come about. We had people for transportation, rehearsing how to act, what to do in case, because we anticipated everything imaginable. How to protect the women, stuff like that.

But it was funny, we had support up until that Thursday from Greensboro College and UNCG, and later on we found out that they were pressured not to participate anymore.

WC:

By their chancellor.

DR:

Yeah. And it came to a height that Saturday when the people from the rural came in and everybody was off work, and the bomb threat.

WC:

Do you know who made the bomb threat?

DR:

No, I never found out.

WC:

I don't know either. I just wondered if anyone knew.

DR:

And then the march from Woolworth to A&T, I'd never seen anything like it.

WC:

And you felt like you'd won?

DR:

Not really. I didn't, because I know Greensboro. I can remember having to have to use the latrine and would have to make it to Ralph's store or hit the railroad tracks. That was the way Greensboro was. And then the employees, you know, we got more hostile remarks from the waiters behind the counter than we did the management. They said nothing. Then after they closed the stores, then we had to organize further picketing, et cetera, getting everything together.

WC:

You know, one of the things that puzzles me is you were asked by, I guess, Blackburn—is that his name, Blackburn? The guy from UNCG, Woman's College, the chancellor, [Gordon] Blackwell? One of those names—to have a moratorium. And you had the meeting on Saturday morning which turned that down. But then after the after the stores were closed, then the moratorium was accepted. I think it was either the same day or the next day. I think it was Saturday night that the students voted to accept the moratorium. Now my understanding is that Blackwell got together with Gibbs and met with some of you. I'm not sure whether he met with you or not. I guess that's one of the things I'd like to find out.

DR:

See, Ed Zane—Ed Zane is—was the most influential figure, as far as the coordination of what took place. We had already, after we received the moratorium, and then we started talking economics, we said, “We'll let them do whatever. We'll accept it, but then we're going to hit them where it hurts.” And we started the boycott. And it lasted and lasted. I didn't anticipate it ending as quick as it did.

But that didn't get the whole city of Greensboro. There were still places that—after the six months, I think it was, when Woolworth's opened their counters up again, there came another moratorium. That's the best way to make the transition—take a few, do it any kind of way you want to, as long as—you know, we had won that. Then we move to—this was the year that this first committee was together. We moved out to some of the smaller places. No incidents after the downtown area changed. They just automatically [desegregated]. But you still had the large S&W [Cafeteria], the latter part of it, and the theatres.

WC:

Right.

DR:

We didn't—in fact, I don't think the theatres were [important as] the eating establishments—the public, you know, the large ones. But you'd have been—they could choose to serve whoever they wanted to, which still occurs now at the country clubs [unclear]. But any place that the public can purchase articles here but can't here, then you have something to fight for.

WC:

Tell me about why it is—I mean one of the things that has impressed me is how—what seems to be a large amount of trust that you and Ezell—I call him Ezell; I know now that [he goes by] Jibreel, but I'll call him Ezell for—and the other students, the trust you had in Ed Zane, I'm just interested in why it was you felt that way, if you felt that way.

DR:

You had to have somebody, and usually the person that's unsolicited and the first to come is someone you could trust. He wasn't appointed by nobody. [phone rings]

[Recording paused]

WC:

—Ed Zane coming unsolicited.

DR:

And he just presented himself in a way that you could trust. But he was tested, and he came [through?] with his promises. His first promise, I can't remember exactly what it was. And then there was another person that we didn't trust on Bessemer. Oscar—

WC:

Burnett?

DR:

Blumenthal, something like that.

WC:

Oscar Burnett, I think.

DR:

I think. Yeah, okay. And all communications and everything was done through Ed Zane and Jo Spivey. And those news releases and everything, they got those, whatever we planned to do.

WC:

How about David Morehead?

DR:

At the initial point, there was no involvement.

WC:

Now after the moratorium takes place and after the city council committee is set up with Zane at its head, did you have pretty frequent contact with that committee, or did its work take place pretty much separate from the students and then somebody would come back and report to you?

DR:

No, we had so many committees. See, the leadership in the movement was not entirely four freshmen. We were freshmen. We could not muster the support that the upper class—they claimed 70 percent of the decision making [unclear]. We were very well informed of everything that took place. We even resumed communications out of Atlanta with Woolworth's about what was happening. We had some guy [communicate?] tell, say—they even told us how much Woolworth's in the downtown area was losing on a day to day basis because we were down there. Well, we'd usually say, “Well, just keep on. Let's keep picketing. Let's keep picketing.” Finally it happened.

WC:

The boycott made a big difference.

DR:

Let me see. Dr. [William] Hampton, I think, was on city council.

WC:

Yeah, but he died one week after the sit-ins started. And then Mr. Falkener, Waldo Falkener was on the committee, but I'm not sure how much of a role he played.

DR:

To my knowledge, not too much.

WC:

Dr. Hampton was a much more stronger figure in the community.

DR:

Definitely.

WC:

But with his death, that made a difference. So that you had a feeling at least that the school administration was behind you. Even if they didn't come out and endorse what you were doing, they were at least supporting your right to do it.

DR:

They didn't hamper us at all. I mean they didn't hinder or hamper us, I'll put it that way. But we were told we had—if you cut so many classes, you're dropped from the roll. Can you imagine trying to keep say fifty to a hundred picketers downtown and everybody in classes? The community at large helped with the transportation problem. All a student had to do was to walk to the corner downtown and was returned back to campus. They couldn't get us that way.

I still get back to the dollar thing. That's what really broke it. And then after that, the transition was unnoticed, you know. And the right to do it was primary. You know, I don't think I ate at Woolworth's until we went back for a reunion.

WC:

Right, right. Yeah. You were—you stayed in Greensboro. I guess Ezell left—

DR:

Ezell?

WC:

—three years later, at least. And Joe and Frank, too, I guess. But you stayed in Greensboro through to 1970, wasn't it'69?

DR:

I stayed there until '68 and left a year and came back.

WC:

So you really were there during some of these other periods of great stress. I guess that Ezell—I guess you all were there during the '63 demonstrations. Were you surprised at how—what was your response when once again these massive demonstrations took place with all these people going to jail and everything.

DR:

Well, I knew all the barriers were not broken and that it would resurge. It's like once the first step is taken, you're not afraid to take that second. I think that's what the first sit-ins in Greensboro did. It introduced the masses of people to a tactic. They were successful, but it should have been some sort of deviation from the first sort of thing. And this is what is happened, and that's what happened during the whole time, until they couldn't come up with anything else to—another tactic. And then that's when Congress and everybody stepped in and broke the intangibles and not implemented anything. I think more implementation occurred under the [President Lyndon] Johnson administration than when the laws were written under the [President John F.] Kennedy administration.

WC:

Right. Were you close to people like Bill Thomas?

DR:

Bill was in high school our freshman year and he came to A&T. But his other brother Alvin Thomas—very close to his whole family.

WC:

He's a fascinating guy, a terrific guy.

DR:

Is he still in New York, Bill?

WC:

He's in New Jersey.

DR:

New Jersey.

WC:

Yeah.

DR:

And Al is still working with the labor?

WC:

I think so.

DR:

See, I've been away, here in seclusion. They took over—let's see, Bill took over the summer program with the high school students when the colleges closed during the summer.

WC:

And that was pretty important, too, wasn't it, because that kept the momentum up.

DR:

Yeah, we had to keep the momentum up because most of the population of Greensboro, I would imagine, dwindled about fifteen thousand during the summer months because of the colleges. And I think that played an important factor, too, in change. Greensboro has to be progressive.

WC:

Yeah, that's right, because of the image they want to maintain, yeah. So they do what they—they did the minimum they had to do with—I mean they had to do it because of economics and because other cities had already lead the way.

DR:

And then another thing really came into play, too, under the leadership of Al Lineberry and the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce and the Human Relations Commission, but it all started with the chamber. And they had a dynamic guy there in charge of human relations. I worked with him for four years, Hal Sieber. Dynamic. And they tried to run him out of town, and I think they succeeded.

WC:

They eventually did succeed.

DR:

Because he was too overbearing. He wanted it now. He accomplished a lot.

WC:

Yeah. Hal—I've talked to Hal a couple times. I've talked to Lineberry. Hal speaks very warmly of you and your help to him at some crucial points.

DR:

See, but I'm a very easy-going, quite type of guy. I'd rather be thought a fool than open my mouth and let it be known. Rather than do a lot of talking, I do a lot of looking. And when I have something to say, I say it, vocalize a lot.

WC:

How did you first meet him?

DR:

Hal?

WC:

Yes.

DR:

They used to have—the chamber used to have the coffee hours and they used to have the luncheons at Hayes-Taylor Y[MCA]. I can't recall. But I'm glad it happened, because he was a tremendous help to me because I was down. I never speak of myself. It was very difficult for me to get a job. See, I was married during all of this. And he was very instrumental in introducing me to people for interviews. And finally I got a job with EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], with the manpower programs. And I worked with them for nine years until I left and came up here.

And then we got—I got involved with him with the sensitivity things. They were—before you can—attitudes had to change before they would be accepted. We used to hold sensitivity sessions, just rap sessions with a cross-section of community, ranging from teenagers to the aged. And out of these meetings a lot of good dialogue came out, especially the sensitivity sessions. I could see a lot of people crying because it would make them feel guilty.

WC:

When you went to those sessions, did you help to organize those sessions? Were you a resource person in those?

DR:

I was sort of a resource person.

WC:

Would you have gone to a lot of them?

DR:

Yes, I participated in a hundred, hundred and fifty.

WC:

And how would that emotion get drawn out? I mean would there be someone there who kind of would be trying to evoke it, trying to make it happen?

DR:

Okay, it's evoked, and then you have to respond. And then you're attacked, and then you have to reply. “Why do you feel that way?” And then somebody comes to your defense and says, “Yeah, I can understand how you feel.” But then, “I don't know why you should feel that way.” And then the dialogue would continue and you'd have to have an agitator to do something else, and then somebody else would respond. Finally the basics would come out.

WC:

Now, was most of—were those difficult for you as well as for—?

DR:

Very difficult.

WC:

I mean even though you went to a lot of them, they were always—

DR:

Every one was different because you had different people. And a lot of people will say, “I'm liberal” or “[I'm] conservative. I'm not prejudice.” But hell, everyone is prejudiced. But you have to learn to deal with them.

WC:

Now obviously there were a lot of things going on in Greensboro at that point and there was a—were you—did you have much contact with people like Lewis Brandon or Nelson Johnson?

DR:

Lewis—Lewis [is] a dynamic person. He was involved. He was at A&T. He was very—his leadership was unquestionable in the sit-ins. Lewis was very brainy. He had a lot going on upstairs. And that's when—I can't recall the names—Nelson came into play with the YOBU, Youth—

WC:

Youth Organized for Black Unity [YOBU].

DR:

I didn't have much to do with that until I had a roommate. This was during the time of my separation. [unclear] They did a lot of good things, like the [RIF?] program for black kids, clothing program. They did a lot of things in Greensboro.

WC:

They were also, it seems, in some ways—

[End of Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B. Recording quality reduced]

DR:

The only thing that I didn't have too much respect for Nelson for: he—you can't go to the discussion argumentative. It just kills communication and rapport. And that was one of, I think, one of his weaknesses. He could have accomplished a lot more. He made enemies instead of friends, and you've got to have a lot of those.

WC:

So that he was intent really on provoking the confrontation rather than working through it.

DR:

There's always a left and a right, but between those two there's a middle, and that's where peace is.

WC:

And so I know that Nelson and Lewis Brandon think of Sieber in very negative terms.

DR:

Those terms are an old myth: white man, black woman. See, I know it from a different perspective. They had gone by hearsay; I'm going by what I know. You had to have a complete cross-section. You had to have contacts, and he had a lot of contacts: white, black, old, young. [He] had to have those to get the feel of the community, to get the sensitivity sessions going, to get people involved. That's their opinion. I'm quite sure they were—I know so.

WC:

Someone like John Marshall Stevenson [now Kilimanjaro], did you have much contact with him?

DR:

Well, he was teaching at A&T, and my contact was sort of vague with people that, you know, came after the '63, because I was working and trying to take care of my family. But my participation was, you know, like talking to the kids finishing high schools, meeting with some of the leaders of Greensboro that wanted to get a feel of the community. This came when my work started with the chamber. On a volunteer basis, I was solicited.

And I think through those coffee hours and those luncheons, a lot of things occurred. You had to pay for your luncheons, but the coffee hours were free. Participation in them increased from about ten until the last meeting there were two or three hundred people at the luncheons, and the coffee hours had to be moved several times because of the increase, because the dialogue was very important. You had city government, the clergy, [phone rings] you just had everybody there.

[Recording paused]

WC:

—what happened in '68 and '69 and Nelson and Lewis Brandon. One of the things that I remember reading about your involvement in the sensitivity groups—and especially after Dr. [Martin Luther] King was killed—you were very active in trying to—excuse me—bring people together after that. Did you get any pressure?

DR:

I've always had pressure from friends of mine telling me that I'm too passive. On the night that Dr. King was killed, I was working third shift at Cone Mills, and a police car came to the door and said, “You should come downtown.” I thought they were going to arrest me. And I was told what was happening, and I got on a—what do you call those, megaphones? And rode around trying to stop some of them, the rioting and looting.

The other incident was the Willie Grimes incident at A&T. It just caused a lot of destruction. That's not the way to deal with it. And then the voter registration thing I thought was important. And in Greensboro it has had some effect. One of the best things that happened to Greensboro was Jim Melvin becoming mayor. But then, another negative thing was this black boy killing his father. And he still, to my opinion, exhibited a lot of humanity not to be hostile. I know the hell I would.

WC:

Yeah. I haven't talked to Melvin. I guess mostly because I'm stopping at '71 with the aftermath of the A&T and then school desegregation in '71, the end of the sensitivity groups, things like that. The Willie Grimes situation, though, now that—from all I can gather, that seems pretty clearly—if it wasn't the police who did it, it was someone, you know, who they were covering up for, I think.

DR:

I don't know exactly what—

WC:

That was—of course, the whole thing was tragic. Did you ever meet a man named Harold Avent or Harold Nunding?

DR:

Who was he with?

WC:

Well, he was—he called—he talked of himself as being a [Black] Panther, and he was there in the spring of '69 for about three months, four months. He lived at Nelson Johnson's house. I just didn't know if you might have had any contact with him. Big tall guy.

DR:

I met one guy. I can't think of—I called him Bryant.

WC:

Doc Bryant, Yeah.

DR:

Tall? Short. This is short.

WC:

This guy was—yeah, different guys. Bryant was the first one to run the Hoover bookstore. Or it wasn't called the Hoover at that point. It was called something else.

DR:

Yeah, it was right on the corner of Market [Street] and Benbow [Road].

WC:

Yeah. And he left town at some point. I think he—

DR:

But he was the type that you could talk to. We all have different [ideology?]—I can't even talk—ideas, and at least he would discuss them with you intelligently.

WC:

So you must have felt really kind of—trying to find a solution between two really antagonistic forces, and that's a hard thing to do. That puts a tremendous amount of—well, it's just hard to do. [laughs]

DR:

Well, the only thing you can do is try. And then after you've done all you can, you just do like I did: retreat and just sit back and read, try to make a better life. I never thought of myself until just now, and then I come to realize that my kids are almost grown. I'm still not thinking about myself, I'm concerned about them. They seem to be doing pretty good. It creates hardship on me with two families.

WC:

Sure. Yeah, trying to keep in touch with both. Yeah. Did—at what point did you start—didn't Reverend [Otis] Hairston become your pastor at some point?

DR:

Yes.

WC:

But that would have been after the sit-ins?

DR:

This was after the sit-ins, because my first wife was a member of his church. My kids are also, so I used to go to church with them.

[Conversation about Richmond's first marriage redacted]

DR:

And during that time I was in school, too. And I worked third shift, class at eight, and then from four until eight in meetings, and then two hours of sleep—weekends, all day meetings, Sunday, all—day meetings.

WC:

It was too much.

DR:

Well, see, here's the funny thing. I used to talk to classic leadership, and every definition I've heard is all wrong. The leader is not to lead. He's supposed to get solutions and motivate people and let them make the decisions, let them act, and remain in the background. And that's why all leaders are killed, because they want to be out front. It would be very difficult to kill a thousand people. You can always kill one and then forces are gone. See, nobody knows who the leader is. The leader would still be [there?].

WC:

That's an interesting thought.

DR:

Educate, et cetera.

WC:

Yeah, organize.

DR:

Organize and move on.

WC:

Yeah, but that's so hard to do and not have that visibility of being out front. I don't know. Do you ever regret any of the activism you've had? Do you ever regret that you were one of the four who started the sit-in movement?

DR:

Not really. It's had some harmful effects on my life, but yet and still, I'd like to be remembered for something. A lot of people are not remembered for anything.

WC:

That's a pretty important thing to be remembered for.

DR:

And the funny thing about it, it's so frightening once you look back on it. At that time I was afraid, but yet and still, I didn't know the repercussions would be this bad.

WC:

I guess I can't imagine—there's no way I could imagine being in the same situation that you were in. But the fear, I know that I would have been just—the only time I was ever in a situation even remotely like that was when I was in Alabama at the time of the—just before Selma, and I was doing some work down there with a student movement, and I was scared to death. But by then, of course, there was—you weren't—you weren't the first ones doing it. There had been thousands and hundreds of thousands before you, whereas you guys were the first. So it's through those kinds of acts that come from people acting from below, not in response to some national leader, that I think change really does happen. It's when people like yourselves act at the moment in history when people are ready to respond that things get set in motion.

DR:

Immediately after the chain reaction started nationally, CORE, James Farmer—I can't think of the guy from NAACP. I think it was about five or six different field rep[resentative]s from these different organizations wanted to get in and said, “We have had experience with things like this.” And students said, “No, we don't need your leadership. This is a learning experience for all of us,” which it was. Because I guess the committee was twenty-six at first, and I think it got up to fifty-five or six, and then it got so large we had to break it down into subcommittees and then had elected people to run the thing doing different things. But this is the first time that I've seen Greensboro together, the whole black community I can speak for, together on one issue. I mean the whole city supported it.

WC:

And that same thing happened in '63.

DR:

Yeah, and haven't been together on anything since.

WC:

Since that summer, yeah. Never in the same way at least. And that's one of the things that—that's one of the losses of the late sixties. Whatever gains that were made, that was one of the losses. That's a hard loss to compensate for.

DR:

And they're slowly, slowly deteriorating. The gains that were accomplished, they're deteriorating. I guess it's because of my complacency and the complacency of a lot of other people. There are different priorities, I would imagine.

WC:

Well, I think it's that, but there are also a lot of interesting—I don't know. I think that one of the losses that comes with desegregation is the loss of black institutions, which—just like the institutions of any minority group. If all Jews were put into a situation where they were a minority—where they were dominated by Gentiles, and you didn't have a synagogue anymore and you didn't have a Hebrew school and you didn't have a Jewish theater and a Jewish newspaper, they would be a tremendous loss because there would no longer be a rallying point for Jewish identity. And I really think that one of the things that has happened negatively is that the process of desegregation has destroyed too many black institutions which previously were rallying points, were cores of strength for the whole growing—up process. And I don't know. I'm not sure how one deals with that without getting back into—because some people could make that an argument for re-segregation, which, you know, would be equally tragic, but more so. But there's got to be some kind of way of, I think, preserving some of those strengths without sacrificing some of the gains that have been made.

DR:

I would hate to see it go back in retrospect. That's a point to ponder. I hadn't thought of it exactly in that way.

WC:

One of the other interesting things—I'll just say one more thing—is that I think that one of the other things that has happened in the last five or six years is that the class division within the black community has become much more pronounced. And that too is a product of, to some extent, a byproduct of desegregation. So that the solidarity is not there are much as it was not only for political reasons but also because of economic class divisions.

DR:

And the changes that took place in the early sixties have been responsible for the positions they're in now, and they're forgetting where they came from, you know. And that's been a problem with blacks. I can remember a college professor at A&T. “I've got mine. You've got yours to get.” He left that first quarter. We stoned him, I mean rocked him. And that type of attitude does exist [unclear].

WC:

Well, it's human. I mean that's [laughs] every group of people in the world has that attitude—some part of every group has that attitude. But the horror is what it does to those who have nothing and have no power and no leverage and no access to the kinds of things that are needed to bring about change. And I think this is true across racial lines. I think the class problem in our society, which is getting much, much worse because you have such a massive number of people, the vast majority of them white, who are not in any way plugged into the mainstream of society and don't have the education or technical skills to even begin to deal in that mainstream, and they're being moved farther and farther away from people who are middle class, not to mention upper class. At some point that's got to explode.

DR:

It definitely has.

WC:

I don't know. It's—it is nice to talk about this with the mountains out there to look at. I find some reassurance that there will be something that'll last. [laughs]

DR:

Oh, yeah. I believe we're going to get some more rain.

WC:

Well, I'm not—I'll shut this thing off. I don't really have—

[End of Interview]