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Oral History Interview with A. Knighton "Tony" Stanley by William Chafe


Date: circa October 13, 1977

Interviewee: A. Knighton Stanley

Biographical abstract: A. Knighton "Tony" Stanley (b. 1937) a minister in the Congregational United Church of Christ, served as Director of the Southern Christian Fellowship Foundation at North Carolina A&T State University from 1962 to 1964 and on the faculty of Bennett College from 1964 to 1968.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This transcript of an October 13, 1977, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with A. Knighton "Tony" Stanley primarily documents Stanley’s involvement in the civil rights movement in Greensboro, particularly during the 1963 sit-ins. Topics include police captain William Jackson; Jesse Jackson’s leadership; Stanley's relationship with Bill Thomas; Stanley's role as a strategist and personal dislike of protest; prayer at protests; the generation gap; the lack of frontline action by established blacks; poor planning of the sit-down in the square; James Farmer; the mass arrests and overcrowding in Greensboro prisons; and Dr. Willa Player's actions following the arrest of Bennett students.

Stanley also discusses his opinions of Armistead Sapp, McNeill Smith, Dr. Lewis Dowdy, Dr. Samuel Proctor, George Simkins and Otis Hairston, local newspaper reporters, the power structure in Greensboro, the Greensboro Community Fellowship, and Edward Zane. Other topics include Stanley's experiences as a youth in Greensboro, including segregation in neighborhoods; Dudley High School's feeling of community; influential teachers Vance Chavis and Nell Coley; his membership in the NAACP youth group; and his thoughts on class consciousness and white privilege.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.681

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 A. Knighton "Tony" Stanley by William Chafe

Reverend Tony Stanley:

—a tremendous memory for conversations and impressions. Names I do fairly well with, too, but dates—I don’t know what today is. [laughter] Honest to God, I don’t know what today is. I can tell you if I count it from Sunday, because I operate from Sunday to Sunday, you know? I’m bad with dates, but I can deal with years and seasons.

William H. Chafe:

Okay, terrific. Now you came to Greensboro [North Carolina]—well, first of all, you grew up in Greensboro.

TS:

Yeah.

WC:

Did you go to high school there?

TS:

Is it on?

WC:

Yeah, it’s on.

TS:

Okay. Yeah, I did all of my public school education in Greensboro, first through high school, no kindergarten. Very progressive community. The methodology in the school was not particularly good, now that I know something about methodology. But Greensboro schoolchildren—in the black community especially—were given a sense of direction. There was never any question—of course, I came from, quote, a middle-class family—that’s middle-class territorial orientation rather than the amount of money we had. My dad had a big job, nothing too supportive in terms of finances. Never any question about where I was going. I never raised the question, “Am I going to college?” I always knew that. I knew I was going to grad[uate] school, always knew that. And I knew most of my life that I was going into ministry. There were times that I had doubts and acted upon those doubts, but that’s what I was going to do.

There’s also a tremendous sense of awe and respect for schoolteachers. [They were] placed on a pedestal. One reason for that was that these were the—that was the largest professional class. Although I remember very vividly Afro—the Journal and Guide, which was a black weekly out of Norfolk, Virginia, reported through a cartoon—when I was in the fourth grade, when I first started understanding cartoons—they had a cab driver and a teacher with grocery baskets. The cab driver’s grocery basket was substantially larger than the black schoolteacher’s in the state of North Carolina. They were people who looked good, they smelled good, and they had dignity. There was never any question, and they were an inspiration. I was with—I was in Greensboro recently this past summer, and my first grade teacher was in a congregation where I spoke along with my first grade teacher. I spoke at my high school alumni thing, you know. That part of it is black, although the high school is now white.

But I have nothing but the best memories of that city. In the black community, we had a big house, a tremendous house. It would be a mansion in Washington, D.C. Our house would cost two hundred thousand dollars on today’s market in Washington, D.C. But it was right across the street from the slums. And these were not ghetto people. These were our friends. I was never aware of class consciousness. I had to go to college and read sociology to know what a slum was. These were not, you know, ghetto people. These were our friends. And that’s what—

WC:

Where was your house?

TS:

On McConnell Road. No zoning.

WC:

And did you go to—which grammar school did you go to?

TS:

I went to Washington Street School—old Washington Street was the first school for blacks built in the city and since then has been torn down, but the first black public school. The original building was there. My brothers and sisters had been a part of the system, and there were expectations of me, you know, “You’re not doing as well as Joy did,” you know, in school, and that kind of thing.

We liked our white people. You know, they were nice for white people. We never had much contact. One of the impressions that I had, of course, in dealing with whites—and I think I got this from my mother as much as anything else—is that any white person is a person in power. You know, he could be the—well, they didn’t have white trash men—but he could be the local sweet shop operator, but he was a person in power. [I’ve] since learned that that’s absolutely not the case. [They were] perhaps more powerless than we were.

We had a sense of general wellbeing in that city. I remember when one guy who was in high school with my sister was arrested for smoking reefer. It was the sin of the century. Pregnancy among girls were—that was rare, but, you know, everybody all over town knew it. And it was that kind of thing. We felt that we talked better than most Southerners, and we attributed a lot of that to the two black colleges there: Bennett [College] and [North Carolina] A&T [State University]. [We had] a general sense of well-being. We didn’t feel that we would be insulted [assaulted] downtown and that kind of thing. We had some white friends, but they were across town.

One of the things that, when I return to Greensboro, makes me remember that I used to wonder where white people lived. And I couldn’t imagine—I guess at that time when I was growing up, the black population was 15 to 20 percent [of] the total population. Now in Greensboro, with integration—or at least they’re following the northern pattern with blacks pushing out into the city and whites moving in to other areas—you go into areas to see black friends that have been there. I never knew they were there. Over near the mill section, I never knew those places were there. But on the other hand, I had the same impression of Detroit when I lived there in 1966 or so—35 percent black population. And I said, “These folk are lying. I never see white people.” But they do live there. It’s just that you’re not brought up in that part of the city. Well, I’ve rambled enough.

WC:

[laughs] No, that’s very interesting. Let me just ask when you were born and what years these were that you were spending—

TS:

Okay. All right, I was born 1937 down in Wayne County, North Carolina. My father, who has an interesting story, a Howard [University] grad and, you know, just by the grace of God that he was minister of a rural parish, which became a model parish, and he was kind of the director of a region of rural parishes. He became what they called in those days a superintendant of the black Congregational churches in the South. They were few in number, never more than two hundred and fifty or so, but he served a region from Virginia to Texas. That was the area he covered—by car, by the way.

He moved to Greensboro out of eastern North Carolina because Greensboro was really the gate city in those days, one of them, from the northeast. You could catch a train going to Atlanta or Texas. He could drive to Virginia easily. And we moved to Greensboro when I was six years old, so that was 1943. The war was still going on. We black people in Greensboro were very much involved in the whole war mentality and economy. I still refer to savings bonds as “war bonds” because we bought war bonds. We—schoolchildren would take their dimes and you’d get a little stamp, a war stamp, to go in your little book and so forth. We carried tin cans to school and that kind of thing.

I graduated from high school, Dudley High School, in 1955. Dudley High School, of course, was the only black high school in the city, and also served a part of the county. Now, one of the things—and this bothers me about Greensboro now. Not “bother” in the negative sense, but when people ask me do I know this family, that’s when I know. In those days, we knew everybody, everybody who had a child high school age. My brother finished Dudley High School in ’45—my oldest brother. That means that for a whole decade some of us were in that high school. I knew everybody in that whole decade of students, and in fact for a period of thirteen years, because some of them were there when I graduated.

WC:

Yeah, right.

TS:

So through ’45 through ’58, if you called a family name that had a kid in high school during that whole generation, I knew them. I don’t know that anymore.

WC:

Yeah. And it was a very proud school.

TS:

Very proud school. We won everything. We were not elitist. We just had a feeling for who we were.

WC:

Who were the teachers that you remember most from Dudley?

TS:

Oh, Dudley High School. Vance Chavis, Nell Coley, Barbara Wells, Mrs. Humphrey, Mrs. [Winnie] Robinson—she was an excellent teacher—the principal, of course, James [sic—John A.] Tarpley, Mr. Maconson[?], who was in auto mechanics. I’m forgetting some of them.

WC:

Do you have any particular recollections of—I guess the people I’ve talked with have been primarily—I’ve spoken a couple of times with Nell Coley and Vance Chavis, and I’m—one of the things that’s always intrigued me is that almost everyone I’ve talked with who grew up in Greensboro has mentioned those two in particular as being inspirations.

TS:

Yes, tremendous.

WC:

And I just—since I’ve heard that so many times, I ask whether there are any anecdotes that you—just leap to your mind when you think of those two?

TS:

With the two of them?

WC:

Those two or the others, too.

TS:

Yeah. Vance Chavis I have a great impression of. He taught me physics. He was also my homeroom teacher my sophomore year in high school. I worked with him with an organization he called the AVACS. I can’t remember what it—the Audiovisual Aide Club, it was. Vance Chavis taught physics. [He was an] awful teacher, never taught anything. Honest to God he never taught anything, but he taught you about life, which was more important than physics. He really gave you a sense of direction, values. One of the things that Vance Chavis used to talk about was “the tail swinging the dog.” He never liked for the tail to swing the dog. He was always disturbed that we started rehearsing for commencement so early. He said, “You know, it seems that when spring comes, you’re out. Instead of being in class, you’re out marching, trying to get [things together?].” Tremendous guy. He liked us. He wanted us to go places, you know. He always talked in terms of us making it. “You can go where you want to go, do what you want to do.”

Nell Coley was a teacher par excellence. I have learned to appreciate her spirit and what she tried to do for us more after I came through the process. She was a very rigid teacher. She put up with absolutely no foolishness. She got her message across not in the jovial manner that Vance Chavis did, but with a sternness. The thing that I remember most out of all her classes is a statement that she made one day, and that was that she said, “You know, we talk about the percentage of people in the population who have to be institutionalized because of psychiatric disorders.” And she said, “You know, people say—are saying that more people are going crazy now than ever before.” She said, “I don’t know if that’s the case.” She said, “When I grew up there were a lot of crazy people walking around.” She said, “I guess we’ve discovered a better means of detecting insanity.” [laughs] The other thing that she said, but it’s interesting—I don’t remember if she was actually teaching, but one of the remarks she made was in regard to hair texture. One day, she said, “People talk about ‘good hair,’ you know? What do they mean?” She said, “All hair is good—as long as it covers your head.” [laughter] I’ve always remembered that. But they were two very dynamic people.

Mrs. Smith, Angeline Smith, tremendous person. Tarpley had a dignity I’ve never seen in a high school principal before or since. You would’ve thought that he was a president of a university.

WC:

He seems to have conveyed that to everybody. Yeah.

TS:

Absolutely. You have a sense of what it looked like to be a leader. He was genuine with it. He always had tremendous dignity. He had his problems. There were whispers we’d hear about from time to time, but you were impressed by the man.

WC:

Yeah. Were you in the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] youth group?

TS:

Yes, I was. [King Sheik?] and I were in that together. We—in those days we were raising memberships for the most part. We had a little—we were going to crown Miss NAACP one night, and it was a complete bust. I’m trying to remember who got us involved in the NAACP, but I remember once we went to the state convention. I think it was in Charlotte. Seems to me it was. Clarence Mitchell—Lee Clarence Mitchell here in Washington, Parren Mitchell’s brother—who’s called the fifty-first senator of the United States—spoke. And he turned me on to a concept that I always refer to because it was revolutionary. He raised a rhetorical question. He said, “People ask, ‘What is it that black people want?’” And he said, “The response to that is, ‘Nothing special.’ We don’t want our special restrooms, water fountains, waiting rooms. We want just what every other American has.” I had never heard that before.

When I write a biographical sketch of myself—when people ask you for various reasons for you to tell about your pilgrimage, you know, and what got you straight—that’s one of the things I always refer to. I was in that group. We didn’t do a heck of a lot. [We] did some voter registration, that kind of thing.

WC:

You would’ve been in that in high school?

TS:

Yes.

WC:

So ’52 to ’55, something like that?

TS:

That’s right.

WC:

Had Revered Edmonds come by that time?

TS:

Who?

WC:

Reverend Edwin Edmonds?

TS:

Oh, yes. Yeah. That’s who was involved then. I’ve gotten to know him better subsequently. Edmonds had come. He’s, of course, in New Haven [Connecticut] now. [He is] a dynamic leader, some thought too progressive. Black folks have always had a sense of the fact—or a sense of—a feeling that—it’s not a fact—that whenever you make a move toward racial progress, that you’re disturbing the peace. That’s still true. It’s very true. My Greensboro impressions of Edwin are limited.

WC:

Did you leave there after high school?

TS:

Yes, I did. I went down to Alabama. That’s where I thought the problem was, by the way, in Alabama. That’s why I was affiliated with the NAACP. Aside from voter registration, there wasn’t really a problem. I’ll tell you something, though. In 1954, spring of—the spring of the historic [U.S.] Supreme Court decision in 1954 [Brown v. Board of Education], I remember some of the teachers pulled some of us brighter students together to discuss which ones of us were to go to [Greensboro] Senior High School [now Grimsley] the next fall.

WC:

Really?

TS:

None of us really wanted to go, but yet the feeling was a sense of commitment to represent the race. And I often think about that because the integration process was such a slow one.

WC:

Yeah. Do you remember who the teachers were?

TS:

Seems to me Nell Coley was involved. Mrs. Robinson, Winnie Robinson, was involved. Seems to me that Angeline Smith was involved. Vance Chavis had to be in it.

WC:

Yeah, right. I’d never heard that story before. That’s very, very interesting. So you had—was Ezell Blair Jr. [now Jibreel Khazan] or David Richmond in the group when you were in it?

TS:

No, they’re younger than I am.

WC:

Right, they would have come along and been in it afterward. How about Randolph Blackwell? Did you know him at all?

TS:

Randy Blackwell. No. Interesting. I did not.

WC:

Well, he was earlier than—certainly earlier than that. But just in terms of your speaking about your family’s spread in the high school, I just thought that maybe at some point that he was—

TS:

I knew him. I know the name Randy Blackwell.

WC:

Right.

TS:

One of the things that’s very interesting: when the Freedom Train came through just after the war, James Cheek, who’s now the president of Howard [University], he and my sister were contemporaries. He’s three or four years older than I am, which seemed like a great distance in age in those days, at that stage of the game.

But I remember we went down to the old Union Station in Greensboro, and rather than going through the black waiting room, we went through the white waiting room. We were looked at, [noise] but not disturbed.

WC:

And certainly your parents voted, and most of their friends—

TS:

Oh, yeah.

WC:

—took active part in the—

TS:

They would not think of not voting. They would not think of not voting. [noise] Cut that thing—

[Recording paused]

WC:

So you came back into Greensboro in ’62?

TS:

Yes.

WC:

And this is the third—

TS:

Fall of.

WC:

—the third church into which you had been sent as a college chaplain?

TS:

No.

WC:

Oh.

TS:

That was my first job—

WC:

I see.

TS:

[chuckles] —out of seminary.

WC:

I see.

TS:

I had been at Yale [University]. That’s an interesting story too, because—well, I was down in Alabama, eighty miles from Martin Luther King, when Rosa Parks did her thing [Montgomery Bus Boycott]. I was involved in that. Arthurine Lucy, the first black student to be admitted [to the University of Alabama]—this is a gal who [Governor of Alabama] George Wallace stood in the door—Arthurine Lucy came to Talladega in one of the interims that she was expelled from the University of Alabama, which created havoc in that little town, Talladega, where I went to school.

At Yale, I was involved in student protests and so forth—sympathetic protests. That’s where I met Will Strickland—northern student movement. They were mostly sympathetic protests because we really hadn’t gotten to the crux of where racism in America acts itself out: employment, education, in the power structure. We were looking at the most conspicuous aspects of racism, and that’s the segregation of public accommodations. We thought that was the problem. At Yale that was not a day where black was very heavy. Blackness had not surfaced. Stokely Carmichael and Adam Clayton Powell hadn’t even coined the expression “Black Power.” I was conscious of blackness because I think I was pretty well grounded, but I acted out my consciousness of blackness in a different way. I related to the black community. That was my base. I knew that was home for me. I had friends on campus, of course, but in terms of emotional support, I wasn’t dependent on that. I knew people in the black community.

Well, anyhow, I remember once riding with a social ethics professor. He’s now at the University of Chicago, [James M.] Jim Gustafson, who is a good man in Christian social ethics, one of the top in the country. I was very close to Gustafson. He understood me. The reason he did, he came from the Midwest farm community. When he came to Yale as a student, it was predicted that he would never make it because his background was so doggone limited. But he’s one of the most brilliant men in the field of social ethics in the country. So we had a good relationship. I was writing. I was doing an honors project. I told him once, I said, “You know, the thing that bothers me,”—and I was very serious about it. I was almost tearful about it. I said, “You know, here I am in the North, the nice, beautiful North, and my people are fighting this revolution.” I said, “You know, the thing that bothers me is the revolution will be over [laughs] when I get back to North Carolina. And I want to drop out.”

He laughed at me. He said, “Look, if you stay in school for a hundred years, the revolution will not be over.” And that has stuck with me too, because it really didn’t sink in what he was saying. He was quite right because really the heavy part of the protest in Greensboro did not come forward until ’62 and beyond.

Greensboro. I went back to Greensboro. I went to Greensboro because my family was up there. I had a job possibility there, and my fiancée was at Bennett, so I went back. Some of the bourgeois upbringing that I received here has really worn off on me. My fiancée, who’s now my wife, very dedicated person. She was a member of CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]. They did some things. They would picket here, there, and everywhere occasionally.

I was going back and forth to your university, Duke, giving lectures on, you know—I remember one that I gave was the concept of freedom of the segregated society. It’s a kind of a heavy philosophical and theological statement on what freedom means in a segregated society from a black perspective. I remember one night I was driving back from Duke, and I heard on the radio that that very day, a student was in Greensboro at A&T and at Bennett College and had been arrested. And I said, “Oh, my God. Bea’s in jail.” I knew it. Just knew it. I knew she was in jail. And I felt very guilty because I said, you know, to myself—I was over at the, whatever the united campus ministry house is. It’s a very nice place. [coughs] I said, “Here I am, you know, over here drinking tea with the white folks and discussing this issue, and these kids are really giving their bodies.”

One of the interesting things, interesting parts of this story, is that I was the conservative. I had attended CORE meetings. I guess I was the conservative, always cautioned about the proper way to do things. Not conservative in terms of the objective, but there’s a way to do things. One of the principles of CORE in those days was that you picketed, sat in, only when you had exhausted all other remedies. And I was—that makes sense. Plus, Greensboro white people were good. I’d always been taught that. You know, I grew up with that.

A guy named [Reverend John] Hatchett at Bennett College was a professor over there—well, he taught and he was on staff—and a guy named [Reverend James] Bush, both of them were ordained ministers. They taught religion and philosophy at Bennett. Oh, they were very militant, you know, literally militant, which was way out in those days. They would maybe look more conservative in the immediate past. But we came back. We went to—The very next day, [William A.] Bill Thomas—you’ve run across his name—Robert Patterson, and I went to McDonald’s on Summit Avenue, asked for service, and we were refused service; we were refused food [we refused to move?]. We went in the back room, the manager’s office, when the police came, to negotiate how the arrest must take place so that it would hold, and they obliged us.

Went to jail—and jail is an awful experience, and Greensboro wasn’t too bad, but just going to a place. And you’re less than a man in jail. You have no rights. One of the great nightmares of my life is to wake up one morning in jail wrongly accused. There’s not much recourse. You’re really at the mercy of so many things beyond your control. One of the things I had planned to do—I thought I was very brilliant in those days—was to fight my own court case, and I asked for law books. You know, what are law books? There was a guy in jail that night who was a drunk black guy—the jail was segregated—and we were singing, and he joined in. And after a while, he said, “What are you guys”—he was arrested for drinking—he said, “Why are you guys in here?” We told him we were fighting for our freedom and tried to convert him to the cause, and after he finished, he shook his head and he said, “Drunk, drunk, all of you are drunk.” [laughter] [cough]

There was a captain on the police force, detective division, Captain [William H.] Jackson.

WC:

I talked to him.

TS:

He’s a great guy, a great guy. I have nothing but the highest regard for the man. Parenthetically, there was also an FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] agent in the city of Greensboro whose name was Frye [Dargan Frierson?]. I don’t know if you’ve run across it, the name was Frye. Frye was apparently a very honest guy. He followed us very closely. In all of my dealings with things that have required security checks on me with the federal government, civil service and that kind of thing, my FBI record is as clear as a whistle. I always wondered about Frye, because he looked like the typical FBI guy with the trench coat and all, peeking behind buildings and that kind of thing.

Jackson was something. We used to negotiate with him how we would protest, the direction of the demonstration, as much as we wanted to tell him. He always concurred with that. You know, we’d give a little. There were some things that we didn’t want to tell him, and we’d tell him that, “There are some things we’re not going to tell you that we’re going to do.” The only time that we really—oh, by the way. I always had the feeling that Capt. Jackson, in testifying against students, really thinned the truth out in terms of what the law was, which is to say he never wanted those kids to go to jail. Now, the thing that was frustrating about that was that we wanted those kids to go to jail.

WC:

Right, right, right. Yeah.

TS:

In Greensboro, and the record bears this out, at one given time, we had more kids in jail than any other locale in the South at any time during the whole struggle. They had to rent space in Gibsonville [North Carolina]. That’s when we broke the back of the whole damned thing. The polio hospital, the facilities there, they were taking the kids out to the—

WC:

[Greensboro] Coliseum?

TS:

—Coliseum. My only conflict with Jackson was one night, we had a thing—it was a—we would always tell students, “Look, you follow the directions of your leader.” And that’s the way we maintained a disciplined group. Can you believe that [when] we used to protest, we used to insist that the young men had on ties? Girls had to be dressed up.

I remember one night we were in front of the old Center Theatre on Elm Street in Greensboro, and we had this group of kids sitting all in the little entry there. And Capt. Jackson—they weren’t reading rights in those days, but he told them that, “If you do not choose to move, I will have to arrest you.” And so they said they refused to move. Then he told them, he said, “All right. I want you to get up now and get in this paddy wagon so we can take you to be booked.” And when they started up, I was standing to the side of Capt. Jackson and I told them to sit down. Capt. Jackson threw me in the paddy wagon and he told me that he was going to book me on at least five counts that he riddled out. Those kids refused to move, and he knew that he was going to have to drag them off that sidewalk. So he said, “Reverend, get out here, and tell them to get up.” So I got out and told them to get up. And much to my dismay and continuing guilt, after he got the last one in there, I was getting ready to jump in, and he says, “You don’t have to go.” And it was done so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to act upon a conviction. That’s one of the lingering things that bothers me, because I have a feeling of having betrayed those kids. Well, that’s past.

WC:

He tells the same story. I haven’t seen it transcribed yet, but he told me exactly that story.

TS:

I didn’t know he would remember it.

WC:

Yes. So it’s a moment that he remembers very well.

TS:

Yeah.

WC:

That’s interesting. He tells it a little bit differently, but I can’t recall exactly what the difference is. I’ll send it to you.

TS:

He was a good guy. I have high regard for him, very fond feelings of him. [Armistead] Sapp, the attorney, Sapp’s a good man. He’s dramatic. We used to go to [John “Mac”] McNeill Smith’s after protests, after the game was over for the day. We used to go to McNeill Smith’s house and have a few cocktails and discuss things.

WC:

Who would do that?

TS:

McNeill Smith, Sapp, and I. McNeill Smith—I got in with Mac, with McNeill Smith, through Jim Turner, who is an associate—or was, I don’t know if he’s still with—

WC:

It’s Cornell [University], isn’t it?

TS:

He’s Yale.

WC:

Isn’t he at Cornell? Oh, Yale.

TS:

He’s a Yale man. Jim is about my age. We finished Yale the same year. I didn’t know him there. But we’d go and talk. [We] had some interesting conversations.

WC:

Now this is back at Smith’s house?

TS:

Yes.

WC:

How would Sapp—Sapp was—he was the other side, right?

TS:

We liked each other.

WC:

Yes.

TS:

He was making a living. We knew that.

WC:

And—

TS:

[unclear]

WC:

—he thrived on this exchange?

TS:

Of course he would thrive on it. He had to—one night when we were there he had to confess that—he said, you know, this is—always his argument was that this was—that public accommodations are private property. I said, “No way.” I said, “The government regulates just about everything in them: the quality of the food, the sanitation, the water supply, everything in there. And therefore, these are public accommodations. You can’t keep us out.”

He said, “I’ll have to confess that’s true.”

Scott Jarrett over at WFMY-TV, Scott had a knack for posing the news. [chuckles] He’s very much with us. He would pose the news, of course, which is what they all do, by the way, except people with large budgets do it in a different way. CBS, for example, will tape you for one hour to get one minute, and in that period of time, they’re going to say what—you’re going to say at least what they had planned for you to say before they came; they had written the story. But Sapp and I did a thing with WFMY. It was a kind of a debate conversation, although we were very decent to each other, and it lasted about three or four minutes on TV. But Scott Jarrett let the whole reel run out while Sapp and I debated. I often wondered what happened to that. It would be a good record.

WC:

Yes. It’s probably still there.

TS:

It would be a good record.

WC:

Yeah. How did you get to—how did McNeill Smith get involved in this? How did you meet McNeill Smith?

TS:

I met McNeill Smith through John R. Taylor and the Greensboro Council on Human Rights. No, the Greensboro Community Fellowship. John R. Taylor, who had the two Holiday Inns, north and south, or north and south, was the chairperson. He wouldn’t even let us eat in the back room in those days, and I met McNeill Smith through that group. I was invited to that group by Cleo McCoy, a chaplain over at A&T College. I had the sneaking suspicion that the reason that I was invited was so that there would be some input from responsible folk to this group of radical kids.

WC:

Right, right.

TS:

And it went right well. They would give us a lot of advice on how to protest, which we did or did not use, depending on the medium. McNeill Smith was also related to—he had a pipeline into Terry Sanford. I have great regard for Terry Sanford. I had limited contact with him when I was in the state of North Carolina, although he started what they called the North Carolina—

WC:

Good Neighbor Councils?

TS:

No, it was a student council on human rights or something like that. Jesse Jackson was involved. I’ll tell you about him later. But he appointed Capus Waynick as his troubleshooter for civil rights. Capus was a very southern talking guy. You know, you became suspect when you came into his presence because of his heavy southern drawl. It was the drawl of a southern gentleman.

How are we doing?

WC:

We’re fine.

TS:

Okay. And your time?

WC:

Oh, I’m—yeah. We have five minutes more on this side.

TS:

I see. But Capus Waynick. I’ve forgotten where he told us. Oh, I had a couple of impressions of Capus Waynick. He was an ambassador of the Organization of American States for a while. I’ve forgotten under whose administration—probably Truman’s. But he was an old guy. He told us once when one of the students—we were over in the governor’s office, in fact, in Raleigh, talking with him—we were involved then with McKissick. Floyd McKissick. One of the students raised a question about his sincerity in the whole thing, “Where are you?”

So he said, “I’m straight.” [You know, that’s not exactly what he said?] But he said, “And I wouldn’t have taken this job unless we’re going to resolve this problem.” And he said, “When I took this job, the governor called and he asked me to take it. And he said, “I said to him, ‘Governor, I must know your philosophy in regard to this thing before I take this job. And, of course, what that meant was that I’ve got to know you want this thing settled, and that we’re going to come out on the side of justice for black people in terms of the opening up of public accommodations.’” Well, that was pretty satisfying.

I went over to the Unitarians in Winston-Salem [North Carolina] just to have a little forum on Sunday evenings. They got me over one Sunday evening [for] this great debate between A. Knighton Stanley and Capus Waynick. Capus Waynick went first, and he laid it on. Oh, he was right on target with everything. I was supposed to follow him and I said, “There’s nothing I could say. This man has said it all and more. We have no problem with each other. It’s just a matter of how we’re going to do it and what the time frame is.” So I have good impressions about that.

But McNeill Smith—it became apparent to me, by the way, that the governor of the state of North Carolina was in contact with the major entrepreneurs in the state. He could call whoever it was who had the controlling interest in a S&W Cafeteria and tell them, “Look. You’ve got to give a little bit. You’ve got to do this, that, and the other,” because it would happen that way. Just happen that way. And McNeill Smith would sometimes give the indication that it was going to happen that way.

WC:

So had the person who owned the building that S&W might be in would—

TS:

And it usually had a quid pro quo. He never quite understood that you can’t build with quid pro quos with mass movements and keep your credibility.

WC:

Terry or McNeill?

TS:

McNeill Smith. “If you don’t protest this evening, we’ll open it up in a week.”

“Mac, I’ll do everything I can, but you know I can’t guarantee that.”

Well, Willa B. Player, [president of] Bennett College—tremendous gal. She’s not the way she gets described. She’s one of the most delightful and warm people I know. She’s instinctively lovely. I remember once when we had the gals—she was out of the city of New York begging money, as she had to do—we had just about two hundred out of six hundred girls over in the polio hospital in jail. And she came in and she was—she came to the polio hospital, flew back from New York, and she was very upset, obviously upset. She passed me in the little lobby in one of those polio barracks and she hardly spoke. I knew she was hot. I knew she was mad. And you know, at this point in time, I know what she was angry about. She wasn’t angry because these girls were protesting for justice, or that they were even in jail, but in those days, a president of a small college, nobody did anything unless they said, “Do it.” And you have committed the unpardonable sin: you have placed two hundred of my girls in jail. She went into the barracks, and the girls looked at her almost like hungry birds. You know, what are you going to say about this. What are you really made of?

And she said, “Mr. Stanley,” when she came out. “I want you to get every girl’s name in here, and I will send a wire to all of their parents this evening telling them they’re here and they’re safe, and that I’m going to stick with them and they need not worry.” She also—it’s very moving—she also wired her trustee board, which was a mixed bag of people, and she stood by her judgment on that whole thing.

[End Tape 1, Side 1—Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

TS:

This is a story about Willa B. Player. Bill Thomas and I rode to the coliseum, and Capt. Jackson said, “By George, we’re going to let these kids go. We can’t book them. You know, we’re tired of this. We don’t have anywhere to put them. We’re going to send them home.” Plus, they had learned by that time that the purpose of our being down there was to be in jail.

WC:

Right.

TS:

You know.

WC:

Yeah.

TS:

So he was sending the girls home. We picked up my fiancée—she was then—a girl that Bill was going with, and we brought them on home. And a girl from old Woman’s College [now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)], a black girl who was a student over there, and who was having some difficult problems with a dorm matron, so we brought her over. And the night watchman, who didn’t particularly like Bill and me, was just a rigid kind of a guy. We had done the unforgiveable sin, riding Bennett girls in a car, to begin with, and then to come on the campus at three o’clock in the morning. We were taking them to their dormitories. So he comes over to the car, makes us stop the car, and he says, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“We’re going to take these ladies home. They’re just getting out of jail.”

He said, “Well, you take them over to Dr. Player’s house.”

He was very surprised that we did it. He wanted to hassle us, but I said, “Okay.” I have great faith in Dr. Player. We took them over, and I rang the doorbell—this was 3:00 a.m. And she was in an upstairs room, and she opened the window and said, “Yes? Who is it?”

I said, “It’s Stanley, Dr. Player.”

She said, “I’ll be right down.”

She came down. She was dressed not in clothes that she would wear to work, but she had on a blue skirt, white blouse, and bedroom shoes that were not terribly flashy. Every piece of hair was in place. And she said—she looked at us, and she had to make a judgment as to whether or not she was going to act like the Bennett College president or like a human being. And she looked at us, you know, “What the hell is this?” You know, like, “My girls out 3:00 a.m. in the morning. Why are you standing here with—.” And she smiled. And she said, “What’s the problem?”

So I told her. I said, “Ms. Player, the”—I never went into our specific problem, that is, the night watchman sent us over here. [laughs] So I said, “Ms. Player, they’re not booking those kids at the coliseum. They’re letting them out.”

And she was disturbed at that. And she said, “Mr. Stanley, the first thing in the morning, I want you to get your lawyer and tell him to get all of these girls back in jail.” [laughter] I’ve never known—I’m sure that would confuse most lawyers as to how do you go about getting a person back into—back into a jail?

WC:

Now, when she came back and sent the telegram to all the parents that their daughters were in the polio hospital, that they were all right and she was standing by them, was there a lot of publicity about that, or was that something which—

TS:

No. We had some good, fairly decent press folk in those days. The editorial policy of both of those doggone papers was horrible.

WC:

Right. Still is.

TS:

Oh, it was a horrible editorial policy. But the reporters were good: Jo Spivey [of the Greensboro Record]. Jo Spivey was a great gal. Although, Jo Spivey used to—I don’t even remember who the reporter was for the Greensboro Daily News; I didn’t have much contact with whoever was reporting on us there. But things that were derogatory with regard to the movement that Jo turned up, I knew full well that she turned over to the Greensboro Daily News. But she was an excellent reporter, fair. I don’t remember the Greensboro Daily News reporter very much.

WC:

Why would she do that instead of publishing it herself?

TS:

All of them do it. All of your friends at the press do that. They turn it over to somebody else, all of your dirty laundry and that kind of thing. She didn’t do it much, but I know she did it. [chuckles] I know she did it.

WC:

Where is Bill Thomas now? Do you know?

TS:

Bill Thomas is in New Jersey. He has a law degree, doing very well. Rutgers [University].

WC:

Is he at—teaching at Rutgers, or—

TS:

No, he’s in private practice, and also in business for himself.

WC:

But he’s in New Brunswick? Good. Okay. I can get hold of him there.

TS:

Let’s talk about [A&T president Lewis C.] Dowdy for a while.

WC:

Okay. I just want you to do whatever [laughs]—you’re such an incredible source of information, whatever you want to talk about.

TS:

Oh, Dowdy. Dowdy was a good man. My office was right up under his, by the way. Good man. Dowdy was trying to maintain a budget at A&T College, so his public profile was not a very good one. He had to go to the state legislature, and that was during the time—what was the state legislature trying to do? Cut off funds for every college that did something. But he was trying to overcome that. But he was with us all the way, with us all the way. It’s a sad thing, though, to see a man who has to say one thing publicly when he means another. You’d look at him and he’d almost want to cry.

WC:

Because didn’t at one point he say that demonstrators would be punished?

TS:

Yes. He said that before the state of North Carolina. In fact, what Dowdy did—I don’t know if he did it intentionally; I hope he did—he gave a long dissertation that was nonsensical, just nonsensical, and that’s one of the things that he said in that strange mix of words. It was really doubletalk. I don’t know if it had to do with being raked over the coals or if it was intentional. If it were intentional, it was a masterpiece.

WC:

And then he just turned around and did the exact opposite?

TS:

Absolutely. In fact, he wanted to assure us where he stood. There were some people there, like Dean [Glenn F.] Rankin, you never quite knew where he stood. He was kind of a nonplussed guy. Interestingly enough, though, we had established a right good relationship at the Hot Shoppe in Greensboro, one that’s closed. By the way, the corporate—I know the [J. Willard] Marriotts, [owners of the Hot Shoppes chain], and have worked with them—the corporate vice president. In fact, the chair you’re sitting in belongs to the Marriotts; they gave me this stuff. But I stand to point to let you know that I’ve come a long way, see, [laughter] since I used to try to get in their establishment. [laughter] But I remember about Rankin, who was dean of students then, never gave us much support. He never said anything much. But it was interesting, the first week that the Hot Shoppe was open, Bill Thomas and I went over and had a sandwich. The manager came and talked with us. He was very congenial. And in walks Rankin. We thought it was a strange sort of a thing, you know, that he should even come into the place, given his commitment or what we expected it was.

[Dowdy’s predecessor, Dr. Samuel] Proctor was a different kind of person. Proctor was very transitional then. Proctor—I think it’s common knowledge—went through a series of very rapid job changes over a period of five or six years. He’s more settled now. In fact, he’s deeply rooted. But he was there during the [fight?] while I was there. My board was composed of black ministers, white ministers, and a businessman downtown named Mr. Horton. Horton was an attorney at law in Greensboro, a Presbyterian out at Second Presbyterian Church—[Dr. John] Redhead’s church it was in those days. Horton was a good guy who really wanted to help niggers. He’d been on the board at Palmer Memorial Institute, and—but social advance of black folks was just too much for him, and he came once with his board to try to get Proctor to tell this boy—meaning me—to stop this foolishness. [unclear] And it seems to me there was a man with him named Campbell. But Proctor told them, after they’d given him a long dissertation on why this shouldn’t be done—they were sure that he’d understand—he told them, he said, “Look,” —and they threatened me in terms of my job. He said, “I don’t blame this man.” He said, “I would have to act upon my conscience no matter what happened,” and he said, “I admire this.” And he said, “I’ll do that now.” He said, “I don’t worry about a job. I’m sure he’s not, either. He’s living with his parents.” He said, “You know, one of the things I take satisfaction in,” he said, “My mother and father are still living in Norfolk, Virginia, and they’re eating three good meals every day. And I worry about nothing.”

They shook their heads and left, and I remember the man that I believe his name was Campbell shook his head and said, “One day, you’ll learn. You’ll learn.” That’s all he had to say.

Now there was a tremendous amount of respect for me in the city of Greensboro. Palmer Memorial Institute they thought was still a [ghost?] show, subsequently closed. Horton’s son inherited—of course, some of my friends tease me and say I killed Horton. He died of a heart attack, but I don’t think it had anything to do with that. But Horton’s son, who was a more soft spoken and gentle kind of person, inherited his position on the trustee board at Palmer Memorial Institute. This was in 1966. I had accepted a position in Detroit, Michigan, and he called me all the way in Detroit—I had just gotten there—Horton’s son, to ask me if I would come instead there. I did not. I don’t have any regrets about it, but I had a good feeling about it. I’m sure that his father had shared my—[chuckles] our relationship, but I had good feelings about that. There was tremendous, tremendous respect for us there.

Jesse Jackson. Jesse Jackson was a football player. He’s always been a good looking guy. Jesse was trying to decide which way the whole movement was going: if the white folks were going to win [laughs], or if the black folks were going to win, or if the college was going to win. He was very concerned about what Proctor and Dowdy both had to say. We needed Jesse, though. As a football player, the girls loved him. He was president of the student council. Jesse was living over in Cumberland Courts. I went over, and we woke Jesse up and told him to come and protest with us, and he’s been protesting ever since. I think he’s gained a great deal of integrity since that time.

I remember once Jesse, because he spoke to a group that sat down in front of a courthouse, was arrested for—[pause] it was a heavy charge. I’ve forgotten what he was arrested for, but he was arrested the second day. One of Capt. Jackson’s misconceptions was that Jesse was the backbone of the movement. Jesse was very photogenic. If there were a camera hidden anywhere in this room and Jesse was outdoors, he would be the focus of the photo. And this was when Capt. Jackson was still trying to find a way to put a stop to this thing. It was his job. They came and arrested him at the Episcopal Church. That’s another time of negotiating with Capt. Jackson. I don’t know if he remembers this. We had provided sanctuary for Jesse Jackson—an old boy from Durham who had worked with McKissick as a field representative. We’d place him in the church, the Episcopal Church. And I don’t know if there’s a sanctuary law in the state of North Carolina, but I’ve got a soft spot for Capt. Jackson because he was awfully kind to us. I never had any fear for the physical well-being of any people with whom we demonstrated, never. We owed him something. Capt. Jackson came and sat down. He asked the folk in the yard, “Where’s Jesse?”

And this other little boy, Bruce somebody, said, “They’re inside.”

So he tried to talk with them and they wouldn’t give, so he sent for me and he said, “Can you get him out here?”

And I had a soft spot for Capt. Jackson because he had protected the well-being, the personal well-being, and I said, “Yeah, okay. Damn it, I’ll get him out.”

So I went in. The TV folk had come by then, so I’m sure I didn’t use those words because “media events” is a word that has been invented since that.

WC:

Right, right.

TS:

But I convinced them. I said, “Look. It’ll be the greatest thing in the world. We’ll make this a media event. Let’s bring Jesse and Bruce out of the church, and they can be arrested right before the TV cameras.” Oh, it was a tremendous idea. Everybody went for it.

One of the things that I—one of the other—I was growing very weary. It was late in the summer. Students were—no, it wasn’t—It was not late in the summer. It was early in the summer, but late in the school year. And the students would be leaving in a few days, and of course we had to threaten to continue protesting, but we really didn’t have [WC coughs]. Plus, we could not control the community types who would demonstrate with us, because these were low-income people. We had so few of the middle- and moderate-income people in the city of Greensboro in any of those lines. It was clearly a student movement. But yet we did have some people who protested with us.

One night—I didn’t plan strategy on this. I did most of the strategy for protests because I have an instinctive knack for what is appropriate in terms of symbolizing what it is you want to do. What is the social context? Now let’s do a demonstration that speaks to the social context. I didn’t do the strategy that evening. I was burnt out. What they did was to send folk in the city of Greensboro to what we call “the square,” where Market Street and Elm Street cross, had them sit in the middle of the street. And we were sitting in the Episcopal Church [of the Redeemer?] on Market Street, and I heard this noise. I said, “What is that?”

And the folk in the room with me laughed. There were about four of us there. And they said, “Those niggers are sitting in the middle of the square. And they must be—they’re arresting them now.”

And I went up in smoke, you know. This is the most irresponsible thing, if it’s the thing to do. And that’s not what I questioned. Why the hell are we here? You know, I could envision some nut going berserk and running through the whole crowd. And it was the only time when there was kind of a roughing up of protesters, because there were community people there, and I’m sure they were not disciplined. There was no leadership there, so to speak. I’ve always had bad feelings about that.

WC:

Was that something that Jesse had done on his own, without—

TS:

No, Jesse hadn’t done that.

WC:

Jesse had not? Okay.

TS:

No, he hadn’t contrived that. I’m not sure if he was there. I think maybe he was, or he may have been in jail at that point, I think. He had been arrested at the church, and he was not there, so all of the really disciplined leadership was not with the group that evening, and here we sat. I had bad feelings about that. That’s one of the things that’s kind of left hanging with me. In response to the roughing up, the community folk who got on—they took them away that evening in Duke Power buses, public transportation. They ripped up some seats with knives and that kind of thing. I didn’t particularly like that.

We had a discussion about it later with the Greensboro Community Fellowship, the John R. Taylor group. McNeill Smith thought that we should pay for it, and there was a lady there from UNCG. She said, “No, don’t pay for a thing. Admit guilt.” So we didn’t. We didn’t have anything to pay for it with. People thought that we had billions of dollars, that we were raising billions of dollars. But at our mass meetings, we had school kids, and they give the same way that college kids give in offerings in chapels.

WC:

Right.

TS:

We were dealing with pennies. There was a guy there by the name [Conrad L.] Raiford.

WC:

Connie Raiford.

TS:

Connie Raiford. A pissy little guy. [He was] the kind of person who always hangs around that kind of thing as if they be the friend of it, but he betrays it at every point. There’s no other way to describe it. Little pissy little guy. I remember once he spread the word that Jim Farmer had come to Greensboro and had taken away bags and bags of money. We never had bags and bags of money. Our petty cash was operated out of a big gallon jug. Most of it was pennies. This is what we had to deal with. But I remember that night at the—he had spread this among the kids and they were tiring anyhow. They were ready to rebel. I gave—I don’t know what I said, but I gave one of the best speeches that I will perhaps make in my life because it pulled all of that together. And I do remember one of the things I said that, “If this is true about Farmer, then you can count on me to run him out of town myself.” Pissy little guy. It bothers me that people in that position—and almost every good thing that you try to do—betray something that they call themselves a friend of at every point.

[laughs] One of the things that’s always interesting about this kind of thing is it’s a pity how intelligent people get so sidetracked in terms of the contribution they can make. We had tried to convince them that whenever you’re protesting, everything opens up. If you’re protesting to get into a five and dime store, you can negotiate jobs at the bank, and we tried to tell the professionals that. But we had all these PhDs from A&T College and Bennett College running around the city and trying to get toothpaste and Kotex and that kind of stuff. This was their contribution, you know, little common things, so the kids would not suffer. We said, “We don’t care. They’re in jail. They know they’re supposed to suffer. They’re trained to suffer.” But nobody ever negotiated these things.

This is the summer of ’63 we’re talking about. The students had gone. Bill Thomas and I had been threatening to protest, and everybody wasn’t buying it. Even Capt. Jackson, he didn’t know where we were going to get people. But we had always been honest. We warned him we were coming. “If you don’t do this, we’re coming.” We had nobody to protest with. Jesse Jackson was still around. He was working with Ralph Johns. I was there. Bill was there. Just a handful of students, some high school students, but you couldn’t do a whole lot of protesting with high school students. You can’t discipline them as well, and you have other kinds of concerns. So we made a great press release about what we were about to do and we took off. We went to New York. Just R&R [rest and relaxation], a leave.

We came back and Julius Douglas, Presbyterian minister, fine person, but for whatever reason, he had called the whole damn thing off. We hadn’t seen him in months. “There will be no more protesting.” I guess he had heard that we had—I never asked him about that. I let him die without checking that out, but it bothered me a great deal that he would do that. We knew full well in the summer of ’63 that [pause] we were revolutionaries without a cause that we could handle so well. It was a sad time. We were physically exhausted. We could go anywhere in Greensboro, but we wanted to go. But we were already raising the question, you know, what the hell? If people can’t afford food on their table at home, it matters not that they can eat at—there are no fancy restaurants in Greensboro. Is that on?

WC:

Yes.

TS:

Why were we even concerned? [laughter]

WC:

The Garden Room [restaurant]?

TS:

Yeah, right, the Garden Room or whatever. But, you know, you open up public libraries. People can’t read and have jobs. And that’s the hard part of the movement.

WC:

Yeah.

TS:

The hard part of the movement is opening that up, and the hard part of the movement is getting people’s heads straight. I’m getting ready to start a movement in Washington with youths. That’s what I’m going to be working with: getting the heads of black youth straight [coughs] so they know, you know, that you’ve got to be twice as good to get in. You’ve got to be twice as good to do it. I believe that.

WC:

[unclear]

TS:

Yeah. You better believe it. But the white community is not going to share it. They don’t give a—

WC:

It’s probably true. It is true, not probably.

TS:

I have this theory. I was pushing a theory of integration awhile back, that is that integration should work the other way. White folks should move into what is black. Black schools, black church groups, have been open since day one. But whites will tell you right away, “I would do it, but my children. My kids, what about them?” It’s the white man’s burden, but the black man has to carry it. And he can’t.

[Recording paused]

WC:

Can I ask you a few questions about—

TS:

Sure.

WC:

—that year or that two years or—[pause] We really haven’t talked too much about Bill Thomas yet and what kind of role he played. My—I guess my understanding up till now has been that he was kind of—If you were the strategist and the coordinator in the general sense, he was the field marshal, and Jesse Jackson was the one who went out front. Is that—

TS:

Okay. Jesse comes at a later time. When the movement really gets going, Jesse—in walks Jesse. Bill and I had no concern about that.

WC:

About?

TS:

Jesse, you know, his being conspicuous in the movement.

Bill Thomas. [pause] A very honest person. [pause] How can I speak about him in ways that we understand? Bill Thomas was my guts. You know, every time I’d go in the street, I did not want to be there. I despised protest. He was my gut. I was his brain. It’s as simple as that. When I needed gut, that’s what he was. When he needed brain—

WC:

The two of you would spend an awful lot of time together.

TS:

Night and day.

WC:

Was there anyone else like him? Was there any other relationship like that [coughs] in the movement?

TS:

Pat Patterson was close to us, Robert Patterson, who is a vice president at Wachovia [Bank] now. Pat’s role was to keep Bill and me together—also Lewis Brandon—their role was to keep Bill and me together when we really got sick of each other because we had to be together so doggone much. And to keep the relationship going—I’m not sure—I had never thought really aloud what it was until just this moment, but that’s precisely what it was. They knew that Bill and I had to stay together. We were not at each other a lot. In fact, we were good friends. But there’s a time when you just get sick of each other, and when you’ve got to be with each other in tense situations, you are likely say, “Well, you know, let’s forget it. Let’s split. Let’s go our ways.”

Robert Patterson and Lewis Brandon—plus Lewis was very philosophical, very calm kind of guy. He had gotten into some Quaker retreats and that kind of thing. He was a very calm, very seasoned person. He kept us calm. The problem with Bill and me was that I would—[pause] in the tenseness of the situation, you might lose your greatest talent. Mine was rationality. Bill was guts, but his loss of gut would mean something else. Instead of losing gut, he would—he became all gut, without, you know, placing his gut into a rational kind of situation. That young man [tapping] and I bore that whole damn movement on our shoulders, every bit of it, the whole weight of that thing. You know your whole reputation for integrity and whatever is squarely on the line in a situation where you’re just walking a tightrope. I have nothing but the highest regard for him. The reason I didn’t mention him is that the “we” that I was talking about, well, that’s a very strange combination.

WC:

Yeah.

TS:

Bill was my gut. I hated protest. In those days, I hated to argue with anybody. I hated to disturb the peace among those white folk that I—you know, whoever they were. I didn’t know them by name. They were nice white folks.

WC:

Did you pray a lot in the movement in ‘63? Was prayer an important—or religion? Either one.

TS:

Yeah. Yeah, we prayed a lot. That was ceremonial. But one’s whole—my—I understand it better now that I’m forty. My whole religious thing is a lifestyle. We were firmly grounded in faith, firmly grounded in faith. I think that’s what keeps you decent in that kind of a setting. If you’re asking me did I get on my knees at night and pray, no.

WC:

No?

TS:

No. We didn’t do that. Ceremonially we did a lot, but it was more pep rally at that particular point. I think the most religious moments were moments of being out there—this is all of us—trying to maintain dignity, determine what the hell all of this is about. You know, what does the future hold? You know, where am I going and what will this mean? You’re also thinking about—I had no children then. You know, what does the record read like? Where do I come out in history, in terms of my own fate and faithfulness? Not in terms of prayers that I gave.

WC:

Right, right.

TS:

In fact, ceremonially I did very little religious stuff. I did very little speaking. It wasn’t my job to speak. My job was to think.

WC:

You didn’t really necessarily want people to know that you were behind the strategizing and the thinking, or did you? I mean, were you constantly trying to adopt a kind of behind-the-scenes posture?

TS:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m the kind of guy—I’ve lived in Washington, for example, ten years, and I know every damn body there is to know in this city. I’ve met them one at a time. That’s an overstatement, as you know.

WC:

Yeah.

TS:

I sit here and I do what I call “minding my business,” you know, and I try to do that well. My business interest includes a whole lot of things. I’m mentioned for the chairman of the council of this city. I was out of the city over the weekend, mentioned then. I’ve been mentioned as the mayor, you know, as a possible candidate. I don’t seek any of that. I have no interest, to tell you the truth. My thing is—I used to interpret it in terms of psychology. Now I do it religiously. I don’t do anything except what the Lord tells me to do, and he hasn’t told to run for the mayor. He told me what to do in Greensboro, but that was in psychological terms. I didn’t want to be out there, but I had to be. Bill, as a college student, had been carrying that thing in the days when it was hard to sustain a group, because nothing—not a great deal was happening with Bill’s job. He trusted me. Kids still do. I had a kid come in the other day who wants me to backstop his movement. I won’t do that. There came a time when I had to step out there. But I had no problems with it, with myself, or with Bill, or anybody else, because they knew I had to step out.

WC:

Bill was operating or running a CORE chapter when you got there?

TS:

Oh, yeah.

WC:

So the movement was in existence, and the overt form of the struggle started that night you were coming back from Duke?

TS:

Yeah, yeah.

WC:

Did Bill and your wife know each other at that time?

TS:

Yes.

WC:

Would there have been as much involvement—I guess there must have been. In fact, I guess I’ve had some people tell me that Bennett was more involved than A&T.

TS:

Absolutely. No question.

WC:

So the students would have been—

TS:

Not only in the percentage of students, but in actual numbers.

WC:

On an average morning during the height of the struggle, who would be in a room where you would be thinking about what to do that day, or who would you touch base with?

TS:

Bill, Robert Patterson. When we really got down to the nitty-gritty, the decisions, a guy named Ike [Reynolds], who was a CORE field person. Lewis Brandon was usually there. Dick [Ramsey]—what was Dick’s name? He was with the American Friends [Service Committee]. White guy. I can’t remember Dick’s name. His father was an old union man in Pennsylvania. Dick was usually there. That was about it. We had dropped the nuts in the height of the protest. The nuts were Hatchett and Bush. There was a girl there named Lois Lucas. These were all very militant talkers, but they resented when we really went into action. We had dropped them at that point. There was a lady, Elizabeth Laizner, who was a very good friend of ours. She was kind of a den mother to the group, except she was very intense. She was an Austrian Jew. Suffered in the—

WC:

From Bennett?

TS:

Yeah. She worked at Bennett. I think she’s still in Charlotte. But she’d suffered under Nazi persecution and had some real deep feelings about human justice. She would often be there. We paid her very little attention. She talked a lot. But she was a den—she loved us dearly. She was kind of a den mother of the whole group, and also she was the person who’d provide us with liquid refreshments at the end of the day [laughs], which was always quite nice. But those were the decision makers. We let the group vote on it, but we gave them no alternative. [chuckles]

WC:

How much contact was there, and how important was the coordinating committee?

TS:

Must not have been very important because I don’t even remember it.

WC:

[Rev. Otis L.] Hairston? [Dr. George S.] Simkins? The group of people who represented the [Greensboro] Citizens Association, the NAACP, the Greensboro—

TS:

We never trusted it, because we thought they would negotiate before it was time. I had even forgotten, but I do recall it now, but I don’t recall any of the meetings. My role in that kind of a thing was—I never talked very much in those meetings because I could not agree from our perspective, and my job was to keep the peace and the channels open. I never talked a great deal in those kinds of meetings.

WC:

Who would represent? Would Bill Thomas be the person who would speak for—

TS:

No. We would send the nuts into that, as I recall, which shows how seriously we took it. And of course, the nuts wouldn’t bend on anything. Of course, the council was going on before we came. It didn’t have a great deal of clout. One of the problems with the—

WC:

Council?

TS:

The coordinating—

WC:

Coordinating. Okay. Coordinating council. Yeah.

TS:

That was going on—It’s coming back to me now. We used to meet over at the Y [YMCA or YWCA] with that group. What would happen with them is that they would get a white person to come in who would say that, “We’ll fix it up if you stop demonstrating.”

And we would send the nuts in on that and they’d say, “No way.”

We never took it very seriously. We had high regard for all those folks. George Simkins—George Simkins had been out there a long time. Hairston—Otis Hairston was still out there. But there was a generation gap. Young students—and I was more closely aligned with Hairston and that generation. Kids had no trust for white folk, what they said. And I was kind of in between, you know, somewhere in between those generations. I had more trust than they did. But no. “No. No way. We don’t believe what you’re saying. If you will stop—If you will open this place up if we stop protesting, then open it up now while we’re protesting.” [pause]

They were very supportive. George Simkins, as I remember his kind of personal position in the matter, George was very much with us, but he couldn’t deal with protest.

WC:

Of that kind.

TS:

You always had the feeling that he would, you know, really knock somebody over the head or something.

WC:

Yeah, yeah.

TS:

There are a lot of people like that. Of course, some use that as an excuse, but I genuinely believe that about George, because he is a very aggressive man. Otis Hairston—good guy.

WC:

Yeah. The reason I asked that was because not only have I heard from some of those people how important they were during this period, but also because of your comment earlier about the absence on the streets of middle-class and professional business people. And was that the kind of issue—I mean, was it ever dealt with openly? Did it ever get resolved? Was there ever a time when—

TS:

No. We never knocked it too much. Don’t forget this was close to the time when—you know, I’ve described early on that in Greensboro, everybody knew everybody else, and I wouldn’t want anyone to insult my mother for not being on the line. And we didn’t.

WC:

Yeah.

TS:

We didn’t attack anybody too much. We never dealt with that openly. Otis Hairston’s position on that was very pastoral. He would always stick around and say to us he understood our position. He was very pastoral.

WC:

Let me tell you a story I’ve heard and see whether it rings any truth at all, rings a bell with you or—The story is that McNeill Smith served as an interesting intermediary between the white power structure and the black community. And what you’ve said so far tends to certainly corroborate that. But that one of the things that McNeill Smith would bring back to the members of the black establishment was that the white establishment did not believe that this thing was for real because it represented only students, it represented outside agitators, and that there was not a significant base within Greensboro’s black community for this movement. Consequently, they were just going to wait it out.

And the story then goes that the purpose of telling it, of McNeill Smith saying that, was that the black quote-unquote responsible adult leadership should assert itself, which it then supposedly did. But that was not enough, Smith said, because they thought that was pro forma. And then it was finally—is one of the culminating marches, a march in which every single member of the black establishment did take part, and the message finally got delivered downtown that in fact this was a movement of the entire community and not just a few students at A&T.

TS:

Well, there was certainly that kind of give and take. I don’t—I don’t question. I think McNeill Smith played a role that was really—I don’t question his integrity. A large part of that has to do with the fact that I’m a gentleman. [chuckles]

WC:

I should say I didn’t hear that from him.

TS:

Okay. [chuckles] The question is where could—where else was there for black people to stand on that—

[End Tape 1, Side 2—Begin tape 2, Side 1]

TS:

McNeill Smith—no, we were talking about the black community. I think I ought to make it clear that at no time did we ever feel that we did not have all but total concurrence on the objective. There was a difference in the methodology. There was a generation gap in terms of the credulousness of young blacks and older blacks. Older blacks were more prone to believe that things would be all right.

McNeill Smith, as I recall—and this was more impressionistic than actual memory of speeches that he gave—would convey those very strange kinds of messages. [pause] There were occasions when we had significant blacks demonstrating with us. Blacks were mostly involved in rallying with us. The older blacks were involved in rallies with us. Not strategy rallies, the kinds of fight rallies when you’re getting ready to go but, you know, you’d have a rally occasionally with a speaker on occasions. There was no question in my mind whether they stood with us. I certainly didn’t expect—I think my father, who’s now eighty, he must have been sixty-five or so then. I detected some feelings of guilt on his part about not being out there, but I never felt that he wasn’t with it. My mother [was] the same way. We disagreed on strategy sometimes, but not very articulately. I never had the feeling that the carpet would be pulled under us by even blacks who didn’t understand.

Bill Thomas’ mother, a very plain person, genuine person, fed us to death. I don’t see where she found the food. We always ate at her house. I mean throes of people. There were at least six or seven of us there who ate almost daily at her house. She wouldn’t talk about the movement. His Aunt Ora never talked about it. She used to straighten us out on other things like religion and whatever occurred to her, but she was with us. She loved us. There was no teacher on the college campus who I believe was not for us. There were some who were conspicuously silent. I don’t remember a march where you had the big time blacks. [chuckles]

WC:

Well, I guess what I referred to as the night George Evans and Vance Chavis and, I think, J.D. Tarpley—maybe not Tarpley. I’m not sure—and [pause] the ministers, all the ministers, [pause] practically every single school teacher, all took part on a Sunday night. And I’m not for sure whether it was the same march as you’ve referred to as the silent march.

TS:

We had a silent march one evening.

WC:

Because they both tend to be—

TS:

This is a march. It seems like we had some candles or something. Oh, yes. I remember that march. We had—but that was early on. That was not what broke the back of the—I can’t get time perspective in terms of when McNeill came with his reports, which I am not sure that I remember. The only way that I certify what you say is that it was a kind of reporting that he did. I can’t remember that specific.

WC:

Right, right.

TS:

We went to—as I recall, we went to the square then we went over to the—I forget how small Greensboro is. We went over to the square, Market and Elm, over to the court house, and we’d have people kneel silently as they’d pass by the little stone wall there. The person I remember most [phone rings] because I least expected her to be there, was—we’ll let that go; it’s a direct line. [phone rings] [pause] The minister’s wife of the church I attended, Mrs. [Hargett?]. So we did have some substantial blacks in that march. [phone rings] I don’t recall that it was Sunday. It may have been because that sounds like some symbolism that we would have done on a Sunday, but it didn’t break the—

WC:

Well, I mean—

TS:

There was—now let me tell you this. You know, we remember history the way that we want it played back to us. I’m sure I’m doing a lot of that. There was a—the tension, it seems to me, in that coordinating council and in dealing with established blacks in the community was that—[doorbell buzzes] Oh, god.

[Recording paused]

TS:

[unclear] about all she could establish at the time. She owned property, but she was a younger person. She was about five years older than I am. [pause] She was very supportive of the movement. I can’t recall a time that she demonstrated with us. That was the student-specific contribution to this thing. Part of the tension was—and people should have known that—who’s going to control the city, and to whom do the spoils go? The whole opening up of that stuff was the gift of students to the city of Greensboro, but yet there was tension in terms of who calls the plays. And a part of it was, “This is our town.” That’s where I didn’t fit into the mold because I was neither fish nor fowl. This was my town. I grew up here. You know, and I’m working here. I’m earning money. They didn’t know quite how to—I think I—they didn’t quite know how to deal with me on that one. “But we ought to be telling you what to do. Don’t you go and do it independently.” There was always that kind of that kind of feeling. Interesting that I don’t recall the—

WC:

Well, I need to be able to specify that and to find out which march it is that those people are referring to who talk about it. But I’ve heard it talked about by Vance Chavis and Otis Hairston and Nell Coley, all, and they seem to be referring to the same event, and I just need to find out more about when it happened, which one it was.

TS:

Well, we know that this—I don’t dispute that. It may have been. Who the hell knows what—did any of it? It’s kind of like, you know, when I was in Detroit. I was there in ’66. The whole city was on fire. They sent the National Guard out. I mean, this was not just a few troops but armored cars. Federal troops were brought into the city of Detroit. Blacks would take a police station. I mean this was a war. People say that the federal troops put the riots down. Not so. Some strange chemistry that made the rioters give up. They could be waging war on Detroit until this day. Look at South—or North Vietnam.

WC:

Right.

TS:

You see what I mean? Guerilla warfare, how do you stop it? We govern by the concern for the governed. And what I’m saying is look, who am I to say what did it?

WC:

Right, right.

TS:

There have been—I doubt it. I think there were a whole lot of things. People were tired, weary, some of the guys. I got the impression some of them wanted an excuse to open those old places. There were some diehards, of course, but most of the people we dealt with were not foaming at the mouth segregationists.

WC:

Was David Schenck a person who had power in his own right, or was he in large part an instrument of whatever power structure existed?

TS:

Schenck was not worth a damn. I hardly remembered who you were—being mayor of Greensboro is being nothing. And he was not worth a damn. He had no personal backbone, and apparently he didn’t control very much. I don’t recall even meeting the guy.

WC:

Yeah. So what we’re really talking about is—are those [pause] institutions, personalities who represented the institutions, who are the Jefferson Standards and the Cone Mills and the Burlington Industries.

TS:

Folks I have never seen in my life.

WC:

But they’re the ones who were pulling—

TS:

McNeill Smith knew who they were. Let us not forget that McNeill Smith is a lawyer. I often had the feeling that the stories that he was telling—McNeill Smith had to maintain his own personal credibility, and I had the feeling that some of his rhetoric was buying time. I—[pause] I mean, what the hell difference does it make? You know, look, here the people saying that these are outsiders, now you all prove that you want—and they knew black folk wanted those places opened. You know if he said that, he’s buying time. It doesn’t make sense. Who would say that except to buy time?

WC:

Was Edward Zane ever—

TS:

Zane.

WC:

—someone you—

TS:

Yes, Edward Zane. He was a little dumpy man. Seems to me he was in Burlington Mills. We never trusted Zane. We had more trust for a guy out at the [pause] Western Electric [W.O. Conrad?]. And I’ve forgotten what role they played. Zane was in all those coordinating council meetings. Nothing was really happening there except [pause] we were doing what we middle-age folks do, is we talk.

You know, it’s a peculiar thing now. I got the impression—well, this is in retrospect, but I can identify with an older generation of blacks. That’s my business to do that. It was very impressive for some of those guys to sit down and talk to Mr. Zane. And the problem is solved with Mr. Zane is sitting here talking about it. Although, as I remember it, Mr. Zane always sat at the head table.

WC:

One of the interesting, I think, anecdotes is, or not anecdote, is that the students in the 1960s sit-ins did trust Zane. I’m convinced on the basis of what they’ve said and the record. But I can also understand perfectly well why in ‘63—

TS:

We did not trust him.

WC:

—you would not trust him.

TS:

No, we did not trust Zane. I don’t remember anything he said that was accepted. He soon went off the scene. I think that Zane had—I remember this about Zane. Zane, my first meeting with him, he went through a long—a lot of details about what he had done in the early sixties to establish his credibility. I was very impressed with, you know, he did this and that and everybody knows. And the nuts in the group, they played a role. The nuts played a role. They said, “No, we don’t believe anything that you say. We don’t trust you. We don’t believe anything that you say.” And he folded up and went home. That’s the last impression I got of Zane. He disappeared from the scene.

WC:

Can I ask you one more question?

TS:

Yes.

WC:

To what, if any, extent did James Farmer play a decisive role in ’63?

TS:

In the sense that he was our big gun and he knew that. He was a person of great integrity. People were afraid as hell of Farmer, but he was one of the most gentle people I know. He was a national man. You know, it’s kind of like the kid on the block saying, “I’m going to get my big brother if you people don’t behave.” You know, “We’re going to bring Farmer in.” I remember one of my impressions of Farmer that I must have gotten at that interracial group at John R. Taylor’s Holiday Inn: he’s not a bad guy. One of the things we refused to do with Farmer, though, is to let him go—they wanted to invite—“We ought to have Farmer in this meeting.” This is the interracial group. I said, “No, Farmer’s such a nice guy it would blow all their illusions about this big bad fellow.”

[laughter] Farmer would—Farmer, we were in charge of that movement. Farmer would caution us even against using protocol with the national leader and putting him on the stage if we thought that it was not in the best interests of that movement to have him there. People were always pleased to hear Farmer speak. Farmer’s a minister by training. He’s a good speaker. I learned a lot from Farmer, not the least of which is when you’re before a TV camera, you don’t do what Martin Luther—Martin Luther King used to send people into a lull because he talked so damn slow. Farmer could say everything he wanted to say. His eyes were flashing, you know, and he would say it very well in a very brief period of time. I learned that from Farmer.

Farmer never imposed himself upon the movement. He never carried bags of money away. In fact, he spent more coming to us than we actually gave. He forgave us of whatever the percentage was we were supposed to turn into the national of what we raised. He always forgave that. He never had us under any obligation. Martin Luther King wanted to come into Greensboro to get that report once, and they voted him down. “Hell no, this is our movement.” It wasn’t a democratic movement except that we would rally folk to death and they would get into kind of a mass psychology of things and kind of rubber stamp what we had already planned.

WC:

Who would speak at the rallies? Who would—I mean there were a whole lot of them, so who would mobilize the troops?

TS:

Jesse and later days Bill Thomas. There were some good speakers among students whose names I don’t remember. But they could get up and give a little, “We’re going down with this thing,” that kind of little speech almost voluntarily. We always had folk who could lead songs. I addressed one of those things only once. I had no desire to give out the strategy because I never wanted anybody to know that I did it. The reason for that was that I—how can I say. I didn’t want to—[pause] my public role in that thing was a kind of an in-between man. Some folk would call me; I can’t remember in particular. “Get the students not to do this.” I remember once they didn’t want them to sing. There was an editorial in the Greensboro Daily News, “Just don’t let them make noise. Don’t let them sing.” “I’ll see what I can do.” But it was my strategy to tell them to sing, you know, let them sing. [coughs]

WC:

That’s right. The Greensboro Daily News wrote an editorial after the first sit-ins, sometime in the middle of March 1960, called “Of Civil Rights and Civilities.”

TS:

Yes, yes. They were very concerned about civility.

WC:

Which is to this day, and long since been, the Greensboro Daily News’ abiding obsession. It is perhaps the most revealing editorial ever written.

TS:

Yes, yes.

WC:

Well, I know that you have to—I just have taken up so much of your time. And I’ve appreciate it enormously.

TS:

I think there are no gaps in—and of course, people remember these things from their personal perspective. My father, for example, would [pause] remember the good things he did for me personally. He came to jail two or three hours after I was in there—he was a sight for sore eyes, I tell you—to bring me whatever personal stuff that I needed. You know, that keeps you going.

WC:

Right.

TS:

You know, who did it? [chuckles] You don’t know nobody, but everybody did it in their own way. The times had a hell of a lot to do with it. You know, just the times had a lot to do with it. What was happening nationally had a lot to do with it. The students—[Mahatma] Gandhi once said, also, that the nonviolence worked and that he could use it as a strategy and as a way of life because of the basic decency of the British people. [laughs]

WC:

Yes, right.

TS:

There’s a lot of truth to that. You know, your Capt. Jacksons, I don’t know yet where he stood. He liked me. I don’t know where he stood. You know, I don’t give a damn. I really don’t. It’s not important. I liked Sapp. I liked old Frye, especially when I learned he didn’t mess up my FBI record.

WC:

Well, you did one hell of a job.

TS:

[chuckles]

WC:

You really did.

TS:

The difficult part is now, but I’ve determined that I can do it. I’m going to deal with the values of black kids in this nation’s capital. I’m going to deal with that. I reread Booker T. Washington recently. He’s been a scandal in the black community for years. The old man was acrid though. You know why black people didn’t like him? He aired dirty racial linen where white folk could see it. It’s one of the greatest sins that can be committed in the black community, one of the greatest sins that can be committed to one another.

[End of Interview]