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Oral History Interview with Louise Smith by William Chafe


Date: February 9, 1973

Interviewee: Louise Covington Smith

Biographical abstract: Louise C. Smith (1904-1992) was a high school teacher in Greensboro, N.C. during the 1950s.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This February 9, 1973, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with Louise Smith primarily documents Ms. Smith’s involvement in school desegregation in Greensboro, North Carolina. Topics include her expectations for school desegregation; her friends’ thoughts on desegregation; educating blacks about freedom of choice assignment plans; Josephine Boyd’s attendance of Greensboro Senior High; the state of local black schools; and the loss of the initial hope after the Brown decision.

Smith also discusses what makes Greensboro different from other North Carolina cities; the YWCA’s involvement in the community; the leadership role of women in the movement; the protests of segregated city pools; her impression of the '60 and '63 sit-ins; pastors Charlie Bowles and Harold Hipps; her husband hiring a black secretary; business powers in Greensboro; and the role of the newspaper.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.677

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 Louise Smith by William Chafe

William Chafe:

—what was happening in Greensboro in 1954, and how you felt about the meaning of the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision and what hopes you had for Greensboro at that period and things like that.

Louise Smith:

Well, I was very proud of Ed Hudgins and the board at that time. And I thought that they were going to proceed to do what the Brown decision said they should do right away. And I think really Greensboro would have if they had been independent of the rest of the state. But I forget now exactly what all of the provisions of the Pearsall Plan were, and maybe you know better than I. But this was proposed and adopted and stopped whatever Greensboro or other cities—I'm not sure that any other city was of the inclination that Greensboro was. We may have been the only place in the state ready to do something about it.

I do think that Greensboro has been fortunate in having maybe better relationships between the races than many other places. This is true not only with the blacks, but with the Jews. We’ve had, you know, great acceptance of the Jewish community here, which is not true in many other cities in the state.

WC:

Why do you think that's true?

LS:

Well, because—I think it’s because it’s a new town. For one thing it does not go back to the colonial period, and it doesn’t have the drag of the sort of status that—and it’s had more of the middle class than places like Winston-Salem and Durham, which were either very wealthy—well, the people were either very wealthy or very poor. And Greensboro and Charlotte, I suppose, are more alike than other communities in the state in that they’ve had a large transient population and they’re sort of a middleman’s realm of salesmen and home offices. And I suppose the Jewish situation developed because they actually owned the mills and a great deal of the land, and they were awfully nice people, besides.

WC:

Do you think that in a sense, Greensboro was ready?

LS:

Goldsboro had somewhat the same situation because they had very outstanding Jewish people there. But that’s been true in lots of other places where they weren’t accepted in the country clubs and what not, and still aren’t, for instance, in High Point, and I don't know whether it’s true in Wilmington. It used to be. So Greensboro has had a background, it seems to me, of openness that didn’t exist in other places, certainly not where I grew up. Although in Fayetteville, the only PhD was a black man who ran the Fayetteville State Teacher’s College [now Fayetteville State University]. But that didn't cut any ice, as far as really—

WC:

The rest of the community.

LS:

—the rest of the community was concerned. They didn't really care much for PhD’s anyway.

WC: So you think that the city of Greensboro, had it had its own druthers, had it operated on its own impulses—?
LS:I had that feeling. I mean this may have not been true at all. There may have been lots of drags that I didn't know about because I was, of course, very eager to see this go that way. And I certainly felt that Ed Hudgins provided the kind of leadership that would have gone ahead, and I think John Foster, too. They would have been willing to do it.

WC:

What do you think the decision meant—the Brown decision? How did you think it would be translated?

LS:

Well, at the time I think I just thought it meant that the blacks should be free to go to the white schools. I really didn’t envision what has come about at the time. I really didn’t envision that they would try to balance.

WC:

So you saw it more in terms of freedom of choice?

LS:

That’s right. I really did.

WC:

But you didn’t see it as little as—

LS:

Token.

WC:

—token?

LS:

No, no.

WC:

You saw it as something which was more than that?

LS:

Yes, much more than that.

WC:

Do you think that opinion was widely shared here?

LS:

No. No, not widely accepted, certainly.

WC:

So in other words, would your friends also have found that this meant freedom of choice, or do you think that they would have been perhaps—

LS:

[cough] I have a real bad cold. I’m sorry.

WC:

—more on the other side of sort of token of desegregation?

LS:

Probably token desegregation. And I think most people would have done like the rest of the state and fought it every inch of the way, which is what they ended up doing.

WC:

You mean most people in Greensboro?

LS:

Yes, even here. But I think that if there had been strong leadership—I think this is the difference in leadership and not having any. If there had been strong leadership, and if the whole state hadn’t moved in this other direction, it might have been possible, even though most people—and they still don’t. You know, they say now that they would be happy with freedom of choice, and they would be happy with blacks being free to go where they wanted to go, but they weren't then. They really weren't. They didn't want it at all. They didn't want it much more than they want busing now.

WC:

Would you characterize these people who would have followed if they had their own way, would they be mostly working-class people?

LS:

No.

WC:

They would be middle-class people as well?

LS:

Yes.

WC:

And people who would be a part of the churches?

LS:

Oh, yes.

WC:

So in that sense, it was a minority of middle-class people who were—

LS:

Who would have been willing to go along. Oh, yeah.

WC:

But they would’ve been represented in the leadership?

LS:

Yes. And the colleges, you see, make a big difference. We have about five colleges. And some of them, I think, their faculties would have helped a great deal. But it ended up being the business community that actually probably did more than anybody else to make it acceptable. After the boycotts and they realized the kind of disruption that we might have, people like Oscar Burnett—Have you talked to his wife?

WC:

I haven’t yet.

LS:

Or to anybody?

WC:

No. I have spent a fair amount of time with Ed Zane.

LS:

Well, that’s good.

WC:

I do have a list of other people who were [unclear] at that time [unclear]. I haven’t quite gotten down to the list to see how many of them are still alive.

LS:

That’s right.

WC:

—or how many of their families are still in the area that I could talk to.

LS:

I’m sorry you missed talking to Oscar. He would have—of course, Mr. Zane might be able to give you the same kind of information. Of course, the situation I'm most familiar with is the one I think you mainly came to me on the account of, which is our school situation, and that, of course, didn't happen in the beginning at all. This was many years later, after some of us—Have you talked to Warren Ashby?
 
WC: No, I haven't. Not yet.

LS:

Some of us were interested in trying to get the school board at that time—which wasn't Ed Hudgins school board. It had changed to a different leadership. I think Mr. [Richard] Hunter was the chairman then. To get—to even tell blacks that they were then free to go—this was after they did have freedom of choice. They didn't really tell them that they had it, you know, for a good while. I forget how many years there was a lag in there. It was during this period that Warren and Mr. Charles Davis—who's with the [American] Friends Service Committee [AFSC]—and Mrs. [Susie] Jones—whose husband had been president of Bennett [College]—Mrs. David Jones. Have you talked to her?

WC:

No, not yet.

LS:

And Anita Kurland, Mrs. Jordan Kurland—who now lives in Washington, I think, and whose husband was at the University [of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)], which was then, I guess, Woman’s College still. We tried to get this little pocket of blacks between Warren Street and Walker Avenue—are you familiar enough with this neighborhood enough to know what I'm talking about?

WC:

No, I don't know Warren. I don’t know those street names.

LS:

You know where the university is, or Woman’s College?

WC:

Yeah.

LS:

Well, just beyond there there’s just a little settlement that I suppose has been there from the time that that was countryside. And those children were being carried across town, and we thought that they should know that they were free to come to Lindley Elementary if they wanted to. It was a matter of choice, but that they would be welcome there. And it was with this group that we mainly worked. And it was after they were free—after the school board had a policy—I don’t even remember what the technicalities were that made this possible. Maybe this was part of the Pearsall Plan. I just don't even remember. Do you know?

WC:

The freedom of choice thing didn’t really—they didn’t start really practicing that until after ‘62—

LS:

After ’62, yeah.

WC:

—or ’63, I think. And up to that point, it was a question of individuals having to apply for reassignment—

LS:

Well, they did that a lot.

WC:

—and the board having the absolute, total control over it—

LS:

That’s right.

WC:

—and no freedom of choice. The board could turn down applications—

LS:

The board could turn down anybody.

WC:

—without reason.

LS:

When Josephine Boyd went to [Greensboro] Senior High School [now Grimsley High School] in 1957, for instance, that was during this period when the board could agree to—that was purely token, absolutely token, and miserable for the individuals involved. We had a German girl living with us that year. She and the daughter of the librarian at the university and the daughter of one of the professors in the political science department, history, Franklin Parker, they were about the only friends that she had. And it interested us that here this German girl was much more—of course, she no problem with the blacks. But, anyway, she had no prejudices apparently as bad as ours, and was willing to risk what little security she had as a foreigner to be friendly to this girl. But she was supported by these good friends in this neighborhood—Julia Adams and Ginger Parker and a couple of other young people.

WC:

You said Julia Adams?

LS:

Yes. She’s now Mrs. Robert Moseley.

WC:

Is that the same Moseley that was training for the school board?

LS:

Yes, his son.

WC:

His son. That’s interesting. [laughs]

LS:

I don’t know where he was during all this time. He may have been older.

WC:

I’m interested—you used the phrase “willing to risk whatever security she had.” Because I think that in some ways gets to the heart of the issue, in terms of what are you willing to risk and what are you willing to accept in the way of consequences for any change that automatically involves this kind of a gain and loss.

LS:

Well, one thing that really interested me about all these young people was that they were big and strong, and they were physically able to cope with whatever the whites might have done to them. All of them were taller than average, and maybe bigger and stronger than average. I don't know what other resources they had, except moral and—but this did interest me.

WC:

How much communication was taking place in that period after the Brown decision, or how would you characterize the communication between blacks and whites?

LS:

Well, there was some. There had always been some for years and years in the YWCA [Young Women’s Christian Association], which was one group I was interested in. It was always open, since—well, it had been only one association since about 1946, right after the war, I think. They shucked the relationship they’d had with the Susie B. Dudley branch and became one YWCA, on which blacks and whites served together on the board. Well, this just about got them out of the United Fund [now United Way of Greater Greensboro], you know. That just burned everybody to the ground. Betsy Taylor, Mrs. John R. Taylor, may be in Florida. She certainly is somebody you ought to talk to, and her husband was very active. But they were staunch, and so was old Polly Ellis[?], who lives right over here. She’s another interesting woman. They stuck by it and there was just never any question that this was something that somebody in Greensboro needed to do, was to make a point about the races being able to get along. And they always had a big dinner at least once a year that was the World Fellowship Dinner, at which the blacks and whites sat down together. And the YWCA was the only place, as far as I know, where you could serve a meal to blacks and whites, except in the churches.

Also another group—which was much more active then, really, than it is now, and I guess it’s because its need was greater—was the [United] Council of Church Women—United Church Women [sic—Church Women United], I think it is now—which was sort of an outgrowth, really, of the national YWCA. And they had meals together and services together and visited each other’s churches. And this was good not only for blacks and whites, but across denominational lines. So these things were going along that I know about.
Now, I'm sure there were many others in the business world. I just don't know about that. There must have been. And certainly [North Carolina] A&T [State University] had a big influence, and Bennett [College], which was always a very outstanding school.

WC:

Now, there was this communication that was going on in the Y and the Council of Church Women and perhaps elsewhere. Was it communication which could be characterized as honest or based upon—

LS:Some of it was very honest and based upon real friendship. Yes, I think there were very good friendships developed with a few people, anyway. Mrs. David Jones, there was a Mrs. Hughes, and another woman that I remember that was on the World Fellowship Committee, the very first committee that I ever served on. There were many women that I think became friends across racial lines. I don't mean by that that there was a whole lot of visiting back and forth to their homes; there wasn't. But they were good friends when they met. Mrs. Simkins was somebody—George's mother—that I got to like very well later on. This was long after this period.

WC:

Now would you, in those—would you, in those moments, talk about how to deal with the problems, what steps you could take to break down the [unclear]?

LS:Within the organization, yes. There wasn't a whole lot of maneuvering, you know, in the beginning with the rest of the community. This didn't really begin until the Brown decision made it possible.

WC:

So you would be sharing a common concern, but not necessarily be able to—

LS:

We were—of course, everybody hoped that this pattern for living would project itself somewhere else, and I wish she was still compos mentis, but Mrs. Ethel Troy, who is really out of it now, was a retired YWCA secretary, and she came back and served on numerous committees. She was the kind of person who would visit personally the managers of the food stores where they still had black and white water, you know. And she would say, “You know, this is just not necessary. Why don't you take these signs down?” And she got a lot of them to do this. It was a sort of individual drive to remove the stigmas, anyway. And as I say, I wish she could talk to you, but she’s really unable now to make any sense at all.

WC:

When the Brown decision came down, was there a sense of tension? Was there a sense of blacks pushing more than they had in the past? Do you recall?

LS:

My feeling was that in the beginning, that there really wasn't a whole lot of that except for a few—and I’m not sure exactly what influenced Josephine Boyd to want to go to Grimsley. I mean this is something I know nothing about. It was Greensboro High School in those days. I know her father very well. Kay Troxler is someone you ought to talk to—knows her mother very well. The mother and the father didn’t see eye to eye about this. I think that Robert had a little business establishment that was burned down sort of in retaliation for Josephine. I just don't really know. I think he was terribly proud of her, but I don't think he was of the nature to have pushed this kind of thing himself.

WC:

But the mother was?

LS:

The mother was.

WC:

One of the things that I did notice with the school board minutes was in the two or three years after the Brown decision, there seemed to be an enormous increase in the number of visitations to the school board by the Dudley [High School] PTA [Parent Teacher Association], by the Lincoln PTA, not necessarily to push for integration, but to make sure that they were getting their own.

LS:

Well, you know, I think this was true. And one of the most interesting people that was here during some of this time was a woman named Gladys Royal, who was certainly difficult to live with, but she had a lot of really creative ideas. And one of hers that I certainly agreed with was that the black schools needed somebody white to just come down there and see what they were like. They needed white supervisors or they needed some kind of visiting teachers or somebody, just—And what she knew was what the rest of us found out later: how really terrible the schools were. And she felt, in those days, that if there could just be white faculty, this would help a great deal.

WC:

And she was white herself?

LS:

She was black.

WC:

She was black.

LS:

She was black. And we had a great brouhaha with her in the YWCA, but I really couldn't blame her entirely for that. It was sort of violation of sort of an allegiance to the group. She put a letter in the paper that should not have gone to the paper before it came to the board, you know, that kind of thing. And of course, everybody's nerves were sensitive, and theirs probably more than ours. And we were not always conscious of the things that upset them. I think the white people have learned a great deal, just like the people have learned in dealing with the blind or anybody, that they are irritated by things that we think might be helpful.

WC:

So you think that this may well have been an idea which was a conscious sort of desire to—

LS:

Improve those schools.

WC:

Yeah, and to accentuate the situation, to make the board more aware of this kind of thing. You began in ’54 with a sense of hopefulness and optimism.

LS:

It didn't last very long.

WC:

How long did it last?

LS:

Oh, just a few months. It really didn't last very long at all. Maybe not even that long.

WC:

What was crucial in breaking the spirit?

LS:

The state, the rest of the state.

WC:

Anyone in particular?

LS:

No. It was just that for a little while there, it looked like Greensboro was going to, you know, just go ahead and do something, and then it just all collapsed.

WC:

That’s a good sentence. [laughs] That’s the kind of things I can see in print.

LS:

Well, I can’t see it! I'm sure maybe you got some of this from talking to Ed. I don't know. Maybe he was not as hopeful as some of us on the outside were, who were just, you know—but there was really at that time, I guess, a very small group of people who were really eager to have anything happen. And these people had a background, if not in the Y, in something that had given them an interracial experience. They were either college people who had traveled, or you know, they just had been with intelligent blacks. And most people had not.

WC:

I think he was fairly hopeful. [clears throat]

LS:

And then there was this group that Warren was interested in, and I really can't remember who all else. You know, the years they just fade away. And I never was terribly active in it, except that I did talk with Bill Weaver once and he said, “Well, do you want your children to go to Dudley?” Well, I really didn't care whether my children went to Dudley if there were enough—if it had been as it is now; if there were enough so that they wouldn't have been in physical peril. I would not have wanted to do what Josephine did.

WC:

Yeah. On what occasion did he ask you that?

LS:

When I was calling him and asking him why the school board didn't go ahead and let blacks know that they were free to go wherever they wanted. And I don't know how we got to talking about this [pause] and why the Dudley thing would have been crucial at that time, because if it was all going to be coming from there to here, you know, from the east to the west, I can't see how that would have made very much difference if it was just integrating the white schools. But maybe they were thinking then of having to integrate the black schools or do away with them. I guess they were worried about what would happen to them. Of course, the blacks never had enough transportation, unless they were going to be carried by bus. There weren’t allowed to be that many: it sort of just skimmed off the cream to integrate schools that way, except where there were little pockets, like this with our school.

WC:

Do you get the feeling that, in response to the state situation, that there was not only a—well, there was a change of mood in the school board, a sense of pulling back from—

LS:

Well, I think there was.

WC:

Does that ring a bell in your mind with any—

LS:

Ben Smith was the superintendent then.

WC:

Yeah. Do you think that his retirement had—

LS:

I do. I do. I think he was probably was—Well, I just felt that he was more open to this than it was later. And I do think his retirement had something to do with it.

WC:

I must say that I personally get the feeling, going through the minutes, that [with] Smith and Hudgins and Foster and Smith, there was at the time [LS blowing nose] a substantially greater [appeal?] than there was at a later point when Foster retired and Ben Smith retired. It just was a question of staying power and a willingness perhaps to resist—
 
LS: That’s right. To really lead. I think there was a change. I've been trying to remember that. That’s what it was, too. It was Ben Smith.

WC:

Now you've been involved in the Y a long time. How long have you been in Greensboro?

LS:

Well, we came to Greensboro—[McNeill] “Mac” [Smith] came to Greensboro in 1940—let’s see, Jean was born in ’44, and he came in ’45. And Jean and I actually came in the spring of 1946 because there was nowhere for us to come to. There were no apartments, rooms, or anything. So we came—Except for visits, I had not really come until the spring of ’46. Mac had been here for about six months.

WC:

And had you yourself gotten involved immediately with the Y?

LS:

Not right away, but it wasn't very long. I can't remember exactly when it was. I had been active in the Y in college, and I think this is really—at the University [of North Carolina] at Chapel Hill—and I had gone to summer training. They called it the [President's?] School, in those days, at Union Theological.

WC:

In New York?

LS:

Yes.

WC:

I went a year to New York?

LS:

Did you go?

WC:

Yeah.

LS:

I just loved it. If I just had enough strength to have lived through that six weeks with everything, you know, all my powers intact. But we had to work. We had this little scholarship job so that we had to either work in the refectory or the library or the bookstore or somewhere to help pay our way. And we had to take classes in the mornings, and we had marvelous professors like Richard [unclear]. And then in the evenings sometimes we would have lectures by Henry Pitney Van Dusen. [laughter] I mean, you know, we just we had the most wonderful leadership. And then we would go out and see Father Divine half the night or go—we were always just dead, just literally, physically. And this was just six weeks. I don't know how in the world we did it all.

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

LS:

—when we were in college. Whatever you did was interdenominational.

WC:

But the Y experience in college clearly had something to do with—

LS:Oh, definitely.

WC:

—your later interest and probably—Did you get into the Y, at least partially in Greensboro, because of social consciousness or social concern?

LS:

Well, yeah. I guess I had always been conscious of the inequities of the race situation. Where I lived and grew up was on the edge of town, and there was a little black community just across the field. And one of my favorite people was—well, he really wasn’t black; he was almost white. He was a leader in the colored church. And he had a daughter named Blanche, and she really was just about white. And I don't know who his ancestors were, but they were evidently good blood lines because he was very intelligent, and so were his children, and I'm sure the children went on to do very well. But he had an old horse he used to let me ride. But this little black community had such a terrible time, and we couldn't help knowing this because we lived, you know, right at them. And my father was a doctor, and the children were always drinking lye or something. And they did people’s laundry. And you couldn't help being conscious of the poverty because you were right there at it. And I think this is one reason that my whole generation didn’t know anything about it, because it didn't live there.

WC:

That’s right. This was in Fayetteville?

LS:

Yes.

WC:

After this sort of sense of disillusionment, which came maybe six or eight months after the Brown decision, what did you feel had to be done? Did you feel that you could do anything or the people that you were associated with could do anything?

LS:

Well, I don't think we felt that we could do very much about the schools for a while. I mean the people just kept on doing what they had been doing through groups like the Y, if they cared enough to do anything at all. I really can't remember when Mr. Davis came with the Friends Service Committee.

And I remember being very upset at the time that the professor from Bennett came out and swam at the pool that they had just built out here at Lindley, because I felt that this was a mistake; that the blacks should have concentrated on the school situation and left the pools alone, because the pools were, I thought, unimportant compared to the schools. And they should just not have raised that issue. And I know Mr. Davis was terribly put out with me and felt I was really a reactionary because I expressed this inone of our committee meetings. But I did feel it, and I still do, that I wish they hadn't. That was sort of a diversion that just didn't need to be brought up at the time. But I can understand why they did it. I don't hold it against anybody for having done it. I just thought it was tactically bad.

WC:

This was happening at the same time the golf course was being shut down?

LS:

Yeah. I suppose. I don't remember the dates. I really don’t. I just know that George and his group pushed all the time, and you just couldn't help admiring them.

WC:

George Simkins?

LS:

Yeah. Because they just had this sort of—well, he's always had a sort of gallant way about it, you know. He did never let it get him down or bother him at all or take it too seriously or be self-righteous about it. He just went ahead and did things he thought he should be entitled to. [chuckles] And it was just—You just couldn't help admiring his sort of really elegant way of handling the situation.

WC:

A good leader?

LS:

Yeah.

WC:

Do you think he had a fair amount of support in the black community?

LS:

Well, I think he has. I don't know whether this has eroded with the Muslim movement and all these other things.

WC:

Was there cooperation among black leadership institutions such as the churches, CORE [Congress of Racial Equality], NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]?

LS:

You have to talk to somebody that knows more about that. But I really don't know.

WC:

Okay. Again it’s a question of, I guess, some of what people thought at the time.

LS:

I don't think it’s ever been really solidified behind George Simkins or anybody else, because they’ve always—I remember too being sort of provoked that frequently they would run two people—I don't think they ever really ran three—for the city council. And I thought, “Wouldn't it be great if they could just get together and run one? They would have so much better chance of having that one elected.” There must have been enough division within the black community, or enough individuals, anyway, who wanted to run for the city council, they may not have had anybody behind them; I don't know. But the white community couldn't tell.

WC:

Yeah. The white community needed cues, and it wasn’t getting them.

LS:

And they didn’t know.

WC:

Yeah. That’s interesting. Again I guess of how people look at—what different things they bring to what they’re looking at.

LS:

That’s right. And dome white people may have known—but certainly not very many—which black to vote for.

WC:

What was—who initiated and what was some of the things that were involved in starting that group, which I gather is a luncheon group, at the YWCA, which involved, I think,  the people that you mentioned earlier?

LS:

Charles Davis and them.

WC:

And Mrs. Simkins—

LS:I don’t know whether—

WC:

—and Mrs. Troxler?

LS:

Yeah. And [Carter Delafield?] was active then, who now teaches English at Guilford [College]. You know, I don't know if it was the AFSC or whether it was Kay. There was a kindergarten over at Bennett that Kay and some of the others worked with it for several summers. It was the first effort to bring little children together. And I don’t—and this group had something to do with that, but I never was active in it. My daughter worked out there one summer, but I never really did. And Kay could tell you a whole lot. She could tell you everything you need to know about that.

WC:

I'm interested in—it was mostly women, wasn’t it?

LS:

Yes.

WC:

Mrs. Simkins mentioned something about a desire to do something avoid another Little Rock.

LS:

Yeah.

WC:

To examine the situation and to try to provide programs of easing the transition in the white schools and also—

LS:

Well, I'm sure that they were much more logical about their planning for this kind of thing than I ever was, because I never really participated at that level much and was mainly involved in this situation over here. Then there were several public meetings with this group that Warren was sort of chairman of, if there was a chairman. And I suppose John Taylor.

WC:

Is Warren Ashby still here?

LS:

Oh, yeah. He's at UNCG.

WC:

That's right. Philosophy department?

LS:

Philosophy. And he runs the—what do you call that thing—the [Residential] College—it’s a special college that they have within the university. He's very much there. And he could tell you a whole lot, and he could tell you a whole lot of relationships with Phil Weaver of the school board on trying to get them to open up this opportunity, which was there long before they really notified the blacks in any way that they were free to attend any school they wanted to. I just don't think Mr. Smith or the old school board would have delayed that at all. They would have gone right ahead.

WC:

What were some of your feelings about the way in which the institutions in the community were responding during this period: churches, [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce, some of the lawyers as group, and things like that? Were they—do you recall having any kinds of—

LS:

Well, the churches—except, here again, for the Council for Church Women, which was sort of for its own thing and didn't really involve the denominations, except maybe once a year for May Fellowship [Day] they would sometimes entertain the black women, and they seemed to cooperate with this very well and this didn't seem to shake anybody. But the funny thing to me was that when I was on the board of my own church and we were having something to which we were going to invite, say, St. Francis [Episcopal Church] and St. Andrews [Episcopal Church]. And I said “Well, aren’t we going to ask the [Episcopal] Church of the Redeemer?” They weren’t going to do that. And this was within our own denomination. Now that changed—

WC:

This is this Episcopal?

LS:

Yeah—a few years later, but it was certainly no great effort. There were a few people like Dr. Charlie Bowles at West Market [Street Methodist Church] and Harold Hipps, who was at the time, to try to help their congregations understand the kind of change they were facing and that they had some responsibility about it. Oh, they were really just made miserable by their position, and I think that was one reason that Dr. Bowles left.

WC:

Do you know where he went?

LS:

Well, I don't know. Mrs. Bowles is still here. She lives here. And, of course, she could tell you a whole lot about his feelings. All we saw was that Harold went to Nashville with the national Methodist Church.

WC:

What was Harold's last name?

LS:

Hipps—H-i-p-p-p-s. Dr. Charlie later left, and they had both been very outspoken and tried to support people like Kay Troxler, who were within the church and who were trying to be active in this area.

WC:

So we’re really talking about a situation where people are crying out for some kind of institutional support and not necessarily getting it?

LS:

Well, yeah. I mean people like Kay and Reba Benbow, who lives up here on Scott Avenue. I don't think Reba was really so much involved at that time as later. Mrs. Raymond Smith has always been active in a lot of these things, but she's mainly been in the peace movement. Of course, Kay has been active in that, too. But long before that she was more active in this kind of thing. She could tell you the members at West Market who really worked with her. And Mrs. Bowles, I suppose, is the best person who could tell you what affect this would have had on Dr. Bowles. But you remember—what was it—Boyd Morris, did he refuse Mayfair Cafeteria?

WC:

Yes.

LS:

Well, it seems to me that Harold or Dr. Charlie preached a sermon sometime after this [pause] that got them in a lot of hot water. Of course, they had one of the most reactionary people on earth in the congregation, and that was Eugene Hood. Was that his name?

WC:

Yeah. I’ve seen his letters.

LS:

Oh, gosh. He just—their lives must have been miserable. But they were two great souls and would have, I think, liked to have done something. It was just that these things move so slowly.

Now, as far as the business community, of course, the people—the church women—and the woman who wrote the letter was one of the most conservative people, I suppose, and yet she saw her Christian duty at the time and wrote a letter in support of the sit-ins to Mr. [Clarence “Curly”] Harris at Woolworth's. That was Ruth Hunt, who was then the president of the Church Women, Mrs. Lynn Hunt. Mr. Harris’ argument was that he was following the policy of Woolworth's, which was to follow whatever the custom was of the place where you were, and the custom here was to segregation, so they were segregated. And that's one little thing that I remember that some of us did do to try to support the sit-ins, at least that much.

I think the chamber of commerce has been remarkable, really.

WC:

I think that has been true. Was it true earlier on, or did it come after the sit-ins?

LS:

It came after Hal Sieber more than anything, and their willingness to accept Hal Sieber. I mean, you know, if he had been in some—most any church, he wouldn't have lasted six months. So, I mean, you’ve got to give Bill Little and John Paramore and the members of the chamber themselves credit for accepting this and seeing the need for it and taking the blacks in. But I don't remember—this comes much later, of course, than the period you are talking about.

WC:

This comes after the ‘63 sit-ins.

LS:

That's right. And I can't remember when they took Henry Frye and Kenneth Lee into the [Greensboro] Bar [Association], but that was much later. I don't really know anything about the medical societies. I know that the women's medical society accepted black women before the [Greensboro] Legal Auxiliary, which didn't get around to it until this year. It took until this year—maybe it was last year, ‘72, not ‘73.

WC:

I must say that—I've just written a book on women's history from 1920-1970, and ever since I've been doing this study, I've just been absolutely fascinated by how often it is the women who are on the front lines.

LS:

Well, you see, the women don't have as much to lose, really. Of course, they can hurt their husbands, and many women are stopped by this. If their husbands say don't do, they don't. So the husbands have got to be secure enough to let the women be free. But it has been the women. I don't think that there's any doubt in Greensboro that the women led. Because for twenty years the YWCA was the only thing which was integrated.

WC:

And the Council of Church Women would be the other organization?

LS:

That's right. They are practically the same thing.

WC:

And this group that you are talking about, the luncheon group?

LS:

Yes, that operated through the Y. And, of course, the AFSC, which has been a helpful influence in this area all along. I don't think there’s any doubt about that, because the one little group of men that ever met to discuss always had one or two blacks in it. And that was started by Tartt Bell, just as a conversation group of people like Ed Hudgins, and I think Mr. Moseley was in it—just to talk about things. And they always had one or two blacks. Dr.—

WC:

Dr. [David] Jones?

LS:

Dr.—well, now, he was already dead, I think. Dr. Jones was already dead before it was ever organized. It would have been Dr. [Milton] Barnes probably, or Dr.—well, anyway, they’ve always had a few. So that was one male thing, but it met at the YWCA, and as far as I know, still does. Mac has been unable to attend very much, so I don't know how regular—I suppose it’s still meeting regularly.

WC:

When did he first go to the [North Carolina] legislature?

LS:

Oh, this is his second time. This is very new to him.

WC:

Was he active in politics before that?

LS:

No, no.

WC:

But he has been active on this issue?

LS:

Yes.

WC:

How did that activity take place?

LS:

Very quietly. I mean he never was really, you know, just gung-ho about it.

WC:

Of course, he was—

LS:

It’s just when the thing confronted him, he’d make decisions that would be favorable to the races working together. I mean this was his whole philosophy. And he hired a black girl, oh, years ago, and this precipitated a crisis in his firm because the other secretaries didn’t like it, and the others lawyers didn’t like it, and she actually had to work after hours, on Saturdays.

WC:

How long ago was that?

LS:

Oh, I don't know. That was a long time ago. But now here again, Burlington Industries had hired black secretaries. Ike English—who was a member of West Market—this was a girl that had been his secretary or maybe still was, and she was just moonlighting for Mac. But he felt so strongly that he should have a black girl. Now in his firm some of the secretaries are saying, “Why don't we hire a black girl?” You see, this has come a long way. But they weren't saying that whenever this was. I don't know what the year was. He would know.

WC:

This Ike English from Burlington [Industries], he’s an executive from—?

LS:

He's an executive from Burlington. Burlington had already adopted a policy of hiring blacks. So here was an industry that was big enough and was already so international, I guess, it just didn't make sense for them not to try.

WC:

What's your—if you had to—what’s your impression of who or what are the most influential powers in Greensboro?

LS:

Well, certainly that's one of them.

WC:

Burlington.

LS:

Burlington.

WC:

And that’s been true all along?

LS:

And the Cones.

WC:

Do they exercise their influence directly at all?

LS:

Well, Ben Cone was mayor for a long time, and a good one. I suppose, yes, they do, in that Cone Mills, seems to me, nearly always they had somebody on the city council. I don't know about Burlington. But they have people who are free to give themselves to a great deal of public service, like George Norman, and they run the drives—they use to YES [Youth Educational Services] and the [United] Arts Fund.

WC:

Is there a political structure which is independent of those—

LS:

Yes, I would think so, in the sense that I don't think there's any group in Greensboro that can say, as the hierarchy in Winston-Salem apparently said, “We're not going to have any racial trouble in Winston-Salem.” Now when they get ready to move, they can dictate what it’s going to be because they control the town. I'm not sure that there's any—that there’s that kind of control in Greensboro. I think that there are enough independent little people. It’s why Greensboro always takes so long to get anything done. [laughs] Because you have to really sell whatever it is to a whole lot of people instead of just having a concentration of power to say, “This is how it’s going to be.” And I really think that's better.

WC:

How about the newspaper? I know it’s a well liked newspaper, but do you think it’s an influential newspaper? It’s hard to—that’s a hard question.

LS:

That's hard to say. All those people are my good friends. [chuckles] I wish sometimes they were—you know, they did take a more forthright, more cutting, stand in the way that The [Raleigh] News & Observer does sometimes. They never have quite the edge.

WC:

That’s right, The News & Observer does have an edge sometimes, but it’s fun [hard?] to see. [laughs]

LS:

But they are more philosophical types. I mean they see both sides to everything. I do think they are influential, yes, and I think their influence is good. And I thoroughly enjoy reading the paper. I enjoy both papers. I think the evening paper the editorial page has improved a lot.

WC:

This gets into a whole other ball game, but what feelings did you have at the time or do you have now about the sit-ins and the results of the sit-ins of both ‘60 and ’63? It’s an open ended question, but—

LS:

Well, of course I thought it was just terribly exciting. I was really thrilled by the whole thing. I thought it was an idea that was long overdue, and that those young people were very brave to do what they did. I thought—I'm trying to remember whether this was ’60. It must have been ’60 when they were all put out of the old Carolina Convalescent Hospital. You remember? They were all arrested—

WC:

In ’63.

LS:

Was that ‘63?

WC:

Yeah.

LS:

Well, that was not as clean a thing, it seems to me, as the first ones were. They got messier. And was this after a lot of the riots elsewhere?

WC:

No, it was before them, but there was—it was certainly after a lot of the more violent demonstrations in the South.

LS:

Yeah. Well, there were a lot more young people arrested, and they put them all out there and they tore the place up. And I remember Margaret Falkener made an appeal to the Y board to—I don't know whether it was to get them out of there or that they shouldn't have been punished at all. Anyway, the board could not agree that they shouldn't have been arrested. That is, if they broke the law and the law says they shouldn't do this, then they had to be arrested. But that didn't mean that the law was a good law. I remember the board decided not to more or less ask that these people—well, it’s all like the Vietnam boys that take off to Canada. What she wanted was more than amnesty, and we would have been glad to have maybe granted them that, but not to have said that they hadn't broken the law, because the law—they had broken the law, and the police had no choice except to arrest them, and they should not have torn up the hospital. They had no right to do that. And this was where it got messy, it seemed to me. That they were not in control themselves, and it seemed to me in the earlier demonstrations they had been.

WC:

The earlier demonstrations were moderate in every way and they didn't last very long.

LS:

Would you like a cup of coffee?

WC:

I’d love one.

LS:

Let me go see if I can’t scare up some.

WC:

[chuckles] Okay. Thank you.

[Recording paused]

LS:

The only reason that they ever got anywhere—if they had started out with what they ended up with, they would have never gotten anywhere. That it was this beautiful discipline of being able to take it that humiliated the white community into realizing what an awful thing they had done. If you are going to depend on your moral righteousness, then you have got to be moral.

WC:

I would take it that—I’m probably just repeating something which—you think these were necessary demonstrations, probably, in terms of Greensboro’s history?

LS:

I do. I don't know how they would have—I don’t know how they would have ever broken through without something like this.

WC:

Yeah. I would think so, that you needed a jolt to make people conscious and aware of just what was happening and what had happened.

LS:

I mean somebody a lot like Mrs. Ethel could run around for another twenty years trying to take down the signs and to plead with the Woolworth's to serve these people, and they would get nowhere.

[End of Interview]