Civil Rights Greensboro

UNCG Home > The University Libraries > Civil Rights Greensboro Home > Oral History Interview with Jibreel Khazan by William Chafe

Oral History Interview with Jibreel Khazan by William Chafe


Date: November 27, 1974

Interviewee: Jibreel Khazan

Biographical abstract: Jibreel Khazan (1941- ) of Greensboro, North Carolina, was one of four students from North Carolina A&T State University to stage a sit-in for desegregation at the F. W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This transcript of a November 27, 1974, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with Jibreel Khazan primarily documents Khazan’s participation in the 1960 sit-ins at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Khazan recalls his membership in the NAACP Youth Council; meeting the Little Rock Nine; and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Bennett College. He shares who his influences in the community were, including Otis Hairston and Dr. William Hampton. He talks about growing up in Warnersville; influential teachers; and attending Dudley High School. He discusses Dr. John Tarpley; interactions with Greensboro Senior High School students; and meeting Langston Hughes. He recalls his friendships with David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil. He talks about Ralph Johns’ influence on their decision to sit-in, and discussing the plan with his father the night before. He says that they challenged one another’s strength as a way to push themselves to sit-in. He talks about Edward Zane and the Greensboro City Council’s Human Relations Commission; the YMCA; opportunities for black children in Greensboro; and racism in the city.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.691

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 Jibreel Khazan by William Chafe

Note: This transcript is an edited version of an original transcript for which no audio recording was available. Therefore, CRG cannot guarantee that this transcript is an exact representation of the interview.

Jibreel Khazan:

Do I get a copy of this?

William Chafe:

Yes, absolutely.

JK:

I have to keep this for my records. Whenever I talk to people—I'm trying to develop an oral history section at my house for my kids.

WC:

Yeah, that's a great idea.

JK:

Daddy wasn't always a loafer. [laughs]

WC:

I'm talking to Jibreel Khazan, who was one of the leaders of the first sit-in demonstrations in Greensboro.

JK:

It's all right. If you want to say Jibreel Khazan, go ahead. I'm known by many names in many places.

WC:

I sort of want to talk about a lot of things which proceed February 1, 1960. I was talking to—I saw Ed Edmonds in New Haven [Connecticut] for about an hour and a half, and he want me to say hello to you, and I told him that you would want me to say hello to him for you. He was telling me that you used to go the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] Youth Council meeting.

JK:

True.

WC:

Tell me about when you started doing that.

JK:

Well, as a young person, you see, I grew up in a home where I had a father [Ezell Blair Sr.] who was very strong on the issue of civil rights. I must say my daddy has always been—some people may call him militant, but he just wanted to have equal manhood rights. And I heard his talk and his conversation ever since I was growing up, and if anyone did him wrong, he—someone commit bias against him because of his race or his color—he spoke up. And he was a member of the NAACP. And, quite naturally, being in household with him, these things naturally rubbed off on me. Of course, we have different personalities, but I guess that's where I first started getting my love for equal rights.

At the time, when Dr. Edmonds was in Greensboro, North Carolina, I guess it was around '56 or '57, and that's when I started going to some of the meetings that he would have. But I never did really commit myself on anything. I was just like a greenhorn kid, just there listening, you know.

WC:

What would go on at those meetings?

JK:

Well, I think in 1956 they were discussing the issue of whether or not blacks or Negroes—as they were called at that time—or colored people should be admitted to the public library. That was one of the big issues. I think another issue was equal voting rights, and of course, I think these things I picked up in the back of my mind. I always wanted to really take a part, you know, to do something maybe dramatic, as the people would say, to bring about equal rights in Greensboro, but I never knew what.

WC:

Did he start that Youth Council?

JK:

I don't know; he may have. I think when he came to Greensboro that's when the Youth Council really picked up. I think he was the one who initiated the organizing. During that same year we had the Little Rock situation [desegregation of Little Rock Central High School], and that year the Little Rock [Nine] came from Little Rock.

WC:

They came to Greensboro?

JK:

Around '56 or '57, and I was just a sophomore in high school in '56. They had some influence upon us too. And at that meeting that night with them, I met the original Little Rock Nine, including a brother named Richard [sic—Ernest] Green, who is now the head of the organization in New York [A. Philip Randolph Institute] that our program runs out of now—is related to us—called RTP, Recruitment and Training Program.. And I remember meeting Richard Green that night and one of the other sisters, Minnijean Brown[-Trickey]. I met her. And they were all—they had a little choir. They came from Little Rock to Greensboro, North Carolina.

WC:

How long did they stay, just for that one day?

JK:

They just stayed for one day, but it was like a tremendous event because there was rivalry going on, but at the same time there was, like, inspiration.

WC:

Rivalry between—?

JK:

Our youth group. See, I used to sing in a vocal group and we—

WC:

I see.

JK:

And we had to compete against this vocal group from Little Rock, and I think our vocal group got sung out.

WC:

[laughs]

JK:

We did our own; they just had so much heart and spirit, really.

WC:

So it was really an inspirational kind of thing you would remember all your life?

JK:

Yeah, right.

WC:

Could you talk much about the Montgomery [Bus] Boycott? Do you remember what that—the kind of things that you would discuss in meeting?

JK:

Yeah, the Montgomery Boycott led by Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] sort of was like it was like the rock, you know, of most of the discussions, because King—as he still is now, even though he is not alive, physically—it was like a catalyst. It started a lot of things rolling. And I can remember at the same time that Dr. King came to Greensboro, North Carolina. I think that was in 1955 or 1956. I remember hearing the man speak, and his words were such that the vibrations that came over the microphone, over the loudspeaker. I was in another room. I wasn't in the main auditorium where he spoke at. He spoke Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was so strong I could feel my heart palpitating. It brought tears to my eyes, and I was only about fourteen or fifteen then. I never did forget that.

And then I remember—well, this goes to 1960 when I first met him in person. I walked up and I asked him some questions. He didn't know who I was, but this was the beginning of the organization of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, during Easter of 1960. And I walked up to Dr. King and I looked at the man, but when I walked into his presence, it was like he had an electric aura around him. I went—I was like dizzy. I became dizzy. I walked in about two feet of him, you know. He had that kind of charisma, as we say, vibration. It wasn't the last time I felt it. I ran into him again. Every time I walked into him, I felt this sort of like that, electrical. Of course, everybody won't say that, but that's what I felt. I don't think I was ever the same after that. Like, “Hey, I've met one of the great ones! I met the great one!”

WC:

These meetings would take place on Sunday afternoons? How many people would be there?

JK:

There must have been at least about fifteen or twenty at all the meetings.

WC:

And you were at Dudley then?

JK:

I was at Dudley High School in Greensboro.

WC:

Would most of the other people have been at Dudley, or would some of them have been from [North Carolina] A&T [State University]?

JK:

Some of the students came from A&T and Bennett. I'd say there were more than twenty of us at these meetings, because this was one of the first times that the young people of Greensboro were given a chance to really get involved in helping [the] community progress. We—at this time, they didn't have anything but the picketing in Greensboro. But I sort of think my early meeting at the NAACP Youth Council had a lot to do later on in my development; but it didn't start then. It started way back when I was a kid in the church programs, in schools, elementary, primary, to be always be involved with programs, you know, talent shows, things of this nature.

WC:

You were born in what, 1941?

JK:

[unclear]

WC:

And you went to Shiloh Baptist Church.

JK:

Yes, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Before I went to Shiloh, I went to New Zion [Missionary Baptist Church]. That's the one that my great-great grandfather built. It was about a block from me, from my neighborhood, and I've always been close—I guess some people would say religious-wise—to the Lord. But there times when I wanted to develop myself [unclear]. That's why I'm where I am right now. I never have left it. It's just that I sort of evolve on a higher level.

WC:

Reverend [J.T.] Hairston , he was the—I guess the father of the Rev. [Otis] Hairston that's there now.

JK:

Yes.

WC:

What was he like? Was he an important influence on your life?

JK:

Yeah, he was somewhat like a godfather to me. He was like a grandfather to me. He impressed me that way. He reminded me a lot of my great-great grandmother. Her name was [unclear] Headen and she was the wife of Noah, Noah Headen. He was the one who built New Zion Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. And I attended that church up until I was about six or seven years of age, and then that's when my father decided the family would go and become members of Shiloh Baptist Church. I don't know what happened; maybe there was some differences between him and some of the people in New Zion Baptist Church, but that's when our family left and went to Shiloh. I think it was because my grandmother [unclear]. She had gone to Shiloh earlier, but my mother was still sending me—my father was still sending me to New Zion. But Hairston was a man—I think he was somewhat in the mode of Dr. King. He was well known, well loved throughout the city and the state of North Carolina, by blacks as well as whites alike. And when he spoke, people would listen. And plus that, he was a short man, you know, he was about like [unclear], and he had a lot of influence upon me.

WC:

Would he preach—would he get involved in protest activities?

JK:

Well—

WC:

A lot of black ministers wouldn't get involved in that kind of thing, a lot of them would. What was he?

JK:

Well, he was sort of like a man when he saw the right, he spoke it and he didn't care where the chips fell, you see, in the congregation. If he saw the guys gambling in the pool hall—which is like a block down the street—he would walk in there one Sunday morning and say, “I come down here—” and everybody would sort of tremble because, “Here comes the preacher,” you know. They say, “Here comes the judge. Here comes Rev. Hairston. Rev.—he's watching us.” He'd walk in the pool hall and tell the guys, you know, “Look, the day is Sunday.” He'd say, “I'd like to see some of you young men up to the church.” He'd say, “You give your time here playing pool.” He said, “Give your time to the Lord,” you know. This is the kind of man he was. Now at that time there was no demonstrations taking place that I can remember picket-wise, but when anything went down in Warnersville, my community, he would call in, you see, because that's how much people respected him.

WC:

Who would call him in? People in the neighborhood?

JK:

People in the neighborhood, the community, the city fathers and the leaders, I guess. You mainly look at it like this: the black ministers—or the Negro ministers as they called them at that time—he represented the most powerful person in our community. He had that position, whereby in the other communities like in the larger communities, the business, the mayor would be the official representative. Politicians in the city council would be the top men, power-wise. The only powerful ones in our community out there was the minister, and next to him was the doctors like Dr. Hampton.

And Dr. Hampton was an inspiration to me because he was my doctor, the late Dr. William Hampton. I admired him because he was a gentle man, you know, he was a doctor per se. He would get up and come to people's aid any time, day or night. Rev. Hairston would do the same thing. And Dr. Hampton was loved. You talk about men who are politicians; he was one of those rare men that whites and blacks both loved him. In fact, he was elected mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1954, you see, before this whole thing of blacks starting becoming mayors of southern cities. He had enough votes to become elected mayor, he was the mayor pro tem[pore], but he didn't take it because at the time—he got more votes than the mayor, who was a white fellow, and the reason why he didn't take it was at the time he was also wise enough to know that for him to take that position would really cause up-rest, unrest in the community, and that wasn't his role, you see. He was easy, gentle-going, but when he opened his mouth—

WC:

And that was all right?

JK:

When he would open up his mouth, he had something to say and everybody listened. See, one was a physical doctor and the other one a spiritual doctor.

WC:

Yeah. Did you go to Lincoln?

JK:

No, I didn't go to Lincoln Junior High. I went to J. C. Price Jr. High School. That's in Warnersville, in my community. Many of my friends—David Richmond, who was with us in the sit-ins, he attended Lincoln Jr. High. David lived in East White Oak Community. His community, like mine, was considered by many of the people to be a poor community, whereas Warnersville is one of the oldest of the black communities in Greensboro. People left Warnersville after it was developed around 1880-1890, and it gradually moved over into what we now call Benbow Park, the area we have Dudley High School, that became known as the well-to-do black neighborhood, you know, the upper-class. And I always wonder why, you know. I'd say I'm in this particular community—you see, there was a class line that was drawn many times. The young people on my side of town felt that because the people sort of always considered us to be those people who were on the bottom, you know, economically.

WC:

So Warnersville—kids growing up in Warnersville as opposed to kids growing up in Benbow Park would feel—?

JK:

They were somewhat—we were made to feel by many people that we were different, you know, although our teachers in Warnersville always told us that we could achieve what we wanted to. But you have to realize, in the black community—and it may still be going on—you have the same class type of structure you have in a white community, because we are a part of the society too and we can't escape it. So you had your well-to-do and you had your not so well-to-do, but we all [unclear] gracefully, peacefully together, you know. And, of course, there was rivalry between my junior high school and Lincoln Jr. High School.

WC:

Are there some teachers in particular that you remember as being, you know, really influential and sort of models of strengths in terms of—?

JK:

Yes, I would say my primary school teachers. They had a lot to do with shaping my ideas. One was named Mrs. Brown. She was a very gentle teacher. Everybody loved her, but she was a disciplinarian. Many days she did not spoil the child and spare the rod. [laughs] I went to school during the time whereby if a child did wrong, the teacher was given permission to chastise with rulers in the palm of the hands, even with straps on one's buttocks, you know, if they didn't do right. And I'd be a witness that—I received that several times.

I was an active kid in school. Sometimes they may call me mischievous, but that was because I've always had nervous energy. On my first grade report card, my teacher wrote, “Jibreel”—or at that time it was Ezell—“Ezell is a good boy. However,”—that was my first report I received—“if we had chains, we would chain him in his seat.” [laughter] The next report was, “He is improving. If he had wings he would fly.” [laughter] So I don't know whether the teacher meant that. My parents laughed at it, and I laughed at it, but I don't know whether they were happy because of the report or whether they were angry, you know, or whether they were upset. [unclear] “All you're doing is running around,” you know, “He talks all the time.”

WC:

Are you older than your sister?

JK:

Yes.

WC:

You have two sisters, right?

JK:

Yes. Another teacher that influenced me a lot was Mrs. Tillman. Her husband is Mr. Tillman who is the past ex-principal at the—I think its Charles H. Moore Elementary School. They lived in Greensboro. And another was Mrs. Wise, I used to call her. Mrs. Wise, you think of the wise old owl. These are the people who shaped my life. Most of my teachers were female teachers up until around the sixth or seventh grade. And, of course, there is one teacher that really shaped my mind. Her name Mrs. Fisher, my fourth grade teacher. Mrs. Humphrey, she's not here. God rest her soul, she passed. My fifth grade teacher Mrs. McCollock, she lives here in [unclear]. Her name is now Mrs. Reynolds, and I haven't seen her. But I have to [unclear], because in the sixth grade, a big change started coming over me. That was the age, I think, where I was developing into a teenager, in leading what they call adolescent stage. And she was a stern woman, but she had the gift of gab, and she could read tales greater than any of the, I would say, some of the great storytellers, you know. And she had a way of doing that, and she influenced me a lot. And then there was one man named Mr. Wilson. He's not alive; he passed about ten years ago. But he was a math instructor. And Mr. Wilson was a disciplinarian. He was nice, but he was a disciplinarian. And he used to make me do my math, and if I didn't do my math, I received a punishment.

WC:

Were any of these teachers—do you recall ever any of these teachers—in addition to being strong teachers, would they in class draw parallels between like, say between, let's say, the reading you were doing and the experience of black people in Greensboro and sort of encouraged students to fight back to not accept intimidation, stuff like that?

JK:

Yes, they taught it to us in an American civics class. All of my teachers told us, “We're preparing you for the day when you will have equal rights.” One of them specifically was Mrs. McCullough. Mrs. Reynolds, Mrs. Butler—Mrs. Butler, she's still at J.C. Price now, I think. She is a civics teacher. She laid it on us, you know.

WC:

Is Mrs. McCullough Vincent McCullough's mother by any chance?

JK:

Oh, no. No, Mrs. McCullough is my father's sister—well, we say his half-sister because his father and her father are not the same; [their] mother is the same but—this sort of came down the line through Vincent too, see. He lived in Raleigh. We didn't see each other that much, but we had—he had a grandmother there. My father's mother was there. I guess it runs—it was in the blood, you know, of course.

One other teacher influenced me a lot was Mr. C.C. Miller[?]. He was the man in charge of shop class. And Mr. Miller would be one of these people who would—who cared for us. He was the first male teacher I remember having in all of my schooling from first grade to the ninth, and I had to get adjusted to having a male for a teacher. But he used to play a game of golf, I may say.

Like punishment is put in here, but these are teachers who only used chastisement, physical chastisement, when we got out of hand. They always gave us a warning, you know, but some of us, we were just playful, and that was meant to keep our minds on our studies, you see, not really to hurt us. Whereby we would, you know—they punished us. It wasn't meant to do that, you know. It was meant as an overall, I guess, understanding that this is so that you will be brought up right, you will be a good citizen, a good person, and you will have responsibility. I still remember that. I'm thankful for them swatting me a couple of times.

WC:

When you went to Dudley, were the people at Dudley like that?

JK:

Yes, there were still teachers like that at Dudley. Sometimes I felt that there were teachers who said, “I have mine, you have yours to get.” You see, however, I had my sophomore year there. I had a teacher named Ms. Nina Falken[?]; she's married now. She was my homeroom teacher.

There was a period of adjustment for me having coming from Warnersville and coming to Dudley High School. Dudley High School was a big thing, you know. We didn't think of ourselves as being inferior because everybody wanted to go to Dudley. Even when they integrated the schools later on, there was this old feeling for Dudley High. It's not like it used to be. Our teachers instilled within us a sense of pride that we were human beings, that we had equal rights, and they had—somehow there was a feeling we knew they were preparing us for something higher. They, any of them, could have held top positions in every school in the city. Most of our teachers had master's degrees, even in elementary school. Some of them were working on doctorates. These people you had. It was like a junior college, you understand, on a high school level, and this is the way they treated us. And such guys as attorney Walter Johnson in Greensboro now, David Dansby—Dudley High School gave us the outlet in which to prepare ourselves for these various careers. Attorney Dansby was the top musician there at the school, Dudley.

WC:

You went to school with—

JK:

Yeah, with David. David graduated in 1957. I finished up in 1956. Walter Johnson was in his class, too, was in David Dansby's class. Freddie [“Curly”] Neal of the [Harlem] Globetrotters [was] in my class. He's a good friend of mine, along with David Richmond and myself, we were in the same class together. And then behind us came guys like Charlie Sanders, who was two years behind us in the class of '61, and Lou Hudson. They were in the same class. Charlie plays for the Detroit Lions now and Lou Hudson plays for the [Atlanta Hawks]. We were part, I guess, of that bumper crop of babies, World War II babies, that, you know—freshly on the college scene in the early sixties. You know, we were not satisfied with things being as they were. We wanted a change.

WC:

How about [Dr. John] Tarpley? Did Tarpley—what did you think of Tarpley?

JK:

I thought Dr. Tarpley—this was my personal opinion of Dr. Tarpley—I had a fear for him and a great respect. A fear for him not of—that he would hurt me or, but a fear that, you know, this was a strong individual. You give him respect. And he was one of the inspirations because every week he would lecture to us. He would approach the rostrum as if he was speaking to a congress of United Nations, see. I think he could have won hands down many awards for his extemporaneous speeches. And he was somewhat like the king at the school, and everybody throughout the city respected him. We called him Big John. [laughter] I guess he earned that name because where he went to school in Texas. He was a heck of an athlete and a scholar. The rumors followed him, and before I got to Dudley, even down in elementary school, fourth and fifth grade, I heard of Big John Tarpley from my cousin who went there before me. He'd say, “Big John, man, he don't stand for no mess,” if I can use that term. Of course, my mother would probably say, “You're not speaking good English,” but that's the way—

WC:

[laughs]

JK:

That's the way we would say it. You see, Big John, he's tough. And he gave us many lectures on citizenship and acquiring equal rights.

I remember when we—the first time Dudley had a chance to play at the all-white, then, Greensboro Senior High School [now Grimsley High School]. At the time, I think Dudley High School had won the basketball championship of the state—the black basketball championship of the state. That was in 1957-58, when Freddie Neal was on the team and something. Our gym was being built, the new gym that was at Dudley, and the old gym we couldn't use, and so we had to use Senior High School's gym. And, of course, I remember all our teachers and parents saying, “We'll go out there and we'll be nice. Anybody wants to be violent won't be violent. You see, we'll go out there and we'll have seats, and we'll go and we'll leave.” That was the first experiment in going to—even to a white community to play any type of sports, and, of course, there was a lot of tension in the city or discussion about this, and it worked out okay. And then later on after Dudley won the championship, someone had spoken of a game between Dudley High School basketball team and Greensboro Senior High, but it never did come off. But the guys who went to Dudley High School and Greensboro Senior High School, they used to play each other, you know, sandlot basketball, but that was like after hours. Nobody really knew it, but that was going on.

WC:

Did you have Nell Coley in class?

JK:

Oh, yes. She never—I didn't have her as a homeroom teacher, and I don't think she really taught me any subjects, but Mrs. Coley—you have to understand, our teachers were our models, you see, like Mr. Charles Wallace[?]. He's now, I think, the principal of Gillespie Park [Elementary] School. He was my history instructor. Mrs. Laughlin[?] was my sophomore teacher. I think she is retired now. Her husband is Mr. Laughlin[?]. [He] used to be my sociology professor at A&T, and he inspired me a lot too. But the thing about it is is that Mrs. Coley—they call her Nell—she was an English teacher, and she made sure that all of her students who came in the classroom learned the five rudiments of The King's English. And when I first saw her, I didn't—well, I rarely saw her smile because she meant business. Our teachers didn't let us slide at all. They gave it to us if we made, and if we didn't, we didn't, because they knew the challenge we would have to face when we got out. I'm trying to think of some other people.

Mr. Bradley—his name is William [Chester] Bradley—he was a football—he was like the assistant football coach. He may be the principal now of Dudley High School; I'm not sure. But he taught biology, and I had him in the tenth grade. And he was quite a witty man, but some people looked at him, you know, because he liked to sing. He had a beautiful tenor voice. And some people may have looked at him and said, “Oh, he was a dainty soul.” Behind all of that, his glasses, his bow tie, you know, and his intellectualism and wit, was a strong man, and he would [unclear] to those guys if they got out of hand, you see. They looked at him his appearance and said he must be a weak man because he sings tenor, but he was a man, you know. He'd jack them up just like he would if they were on a football field and I also was impressed by him. There were a lot of people, you know, that helped to shape my ideas about things. But another one, Mr. Bill [unclear] he's now teaching at Greensboro Senior High School. And you know, maybe I'm getting somewhat sentimental, but we had some of the cream of the crop for teachers. We had people that had ten, twenty years experience behind them. They were teaching us and they were preparing us for this time. And now if you go to Dudley High School, you don't see any of these people. Many of them have retired.

Another was Mrs. [Ida Freeman] Jenkins, called her Ma Jenkins. I think that's her name, Mrs. Jenkins. Her husband used to work at the A&T—I think its A&T College. But Mrs. Jenkins was from Alabama, and I had her for a couple of—and another teacher, her name was Mrs. Carpenter[?]. I think her name now is Mrs. Medlin. She taught me English in the eleventh grade, and she made me learn “I know rivers, ancient gusty rivers, my soul flows deep like a river.” That's by Langston Hughes [“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”].

And I had the good fortunate of meeting Langston later on. I remember that poem by heart in her eleventh grade class, and little did I realize that I would run into Langston Hughes in April of 1960. He made a visit to A&T College, and I talked with him personally like I'm talking to you now. And I didn't know it until about five years ago, but the day we started the sit-in movement was on his birthday, February 1, and he didn't tell us. It was only after I started teaching my American history at OIC about five years ago. I looked on the calendar about three years [ago]: Langston Hughes' birthday, February 1. Then I began to think “Uh-huh.” It was his book that we read our first three years in school, called Great Black Men or Great Men of Color. I think that was the name of it—Great Negroes of the Past [probably Famous American Negroes] written by Langston Hughes, and inspired before us. We read a book about the mutiny by [unclear] on the boat. We read about Jackie Robinson and Ralph Bunche, [W.E.B.] DuBois and a lot of people we had never heard of before, Toussaint L'Overture. These discussions were going on in our freshmen dormitory rooms and—

WC:

And he was the author of the book in your freshman course?

JK:

Yes, and we started the movement on his birthday. Later on he wrote me and sent me an autograph copy of a book he wrote. I don't know where it is now. But he says, “This is one of the first copies, and I'm giving it to you.”

WC:

That's great.

JK:

And I never did get a chance to write him back, but he took time out to write me my freshman year, and it really inspired me a lot.

WC:

Was Dave Richmond and [Joseph “Jo-Jo”] McNeil, were they in your NAACP Youth Council?

JK:

Well, I don't know. David may—I think David was during his sophomore and junior year. I can't recall, but I think David was there. At Dudley High school, we had—it was three of us attending Dudley High School: David, Frank[lin] McCain, and myself. Frank came from Washington, D.C., but he was living with his relatives in Monticello [North Carolina]. And I think during our senior—freshman year—senior year in high school, our freshman year at A&T College, Frank [unclear]. So all three of us came from Greensboro. But Jo-Jo, he became affiliated with the—I think with the NAACP Youth Council during our freshman year in college.

See, when we started the sit-in movement, there was a man named Ralph Johns had—was active with the NAACP, and there was Dr. George Simkins. The night before we went down—I think it was Sunday, January 31, 1960—I talked with my father about it and the—and I also talked to Ralph Johns about it that Monday, February 1, 1960. Joe and I and David and Frank went by Ralph Johns' clothing store on East Market Street.

And Ralph, as I found out, had been trying to get some fellows, someone, to do something, to get the college students involved in the civil rights movement, because the A&T students, a few of them were participating in the NAACP Youth Council, and Bennett College women were interested, but nobody was really doing anything. So when Jo-Jo had the idea back in December of '59 of going down to Woolworth's—originally he spoke of a Greyhound—a Trailways we call it—because his mother lived in New York. Jo-Jo went to New York, and on his return trip to Greensboro, he couldn't get anything to eat at the local Trailways bus station in Greensboro. So he suggested that we ought to have—“Let's have a boycott.” He said during his senior year in high school, the local Coca-Cola company had a talent show and none of the black kids won anything, so they all decided not to drink Coca-Cola, and as a result of that, they had another show and they got the awards, you see. [laughter] So he said, “Well, we ought to do the same thing with Trailways.” And then he was looking for a job also, so he went to talk to Ralph Johns. I told him, I said, “Why don't you go talk to Ralph M. Johns?” So he and Johns evidently talked it over, and Ralph had had other students interested in his idea [unclear] going on for about ten years, as I understand it, but no students at A&T would even sit down and rap with him about it until we came along, you see.

WC:

When you went home that night, what did you say to your parents the night before?

JK:

I talked with my dad, I can recall, and some of the things are not to clear, but I remember talking with him. Frank and I talked David—

WC:

Did you feel that you should tell him before you did it?

JK:

Well, he's like this—I had a lot of respect for my father and he was like—he's like an authoritarian. See, that's the kind of home I was raised up in. And sometimes [he] caused me to shake a little bit in my boots because he was a very strong man, you see. And I started talking to him about it before I went and did anything. [The] only thing he could say, you know, “If you do anything, do it right. Don't go out there and raise a lot of [unclear] hell for nothing.” So he said, “Go ahead.” We were just feeling him out to see what he thought about it and then—

WC:

That must have been an incredible. You'd already decided by that point to do it?

JK:

I think so. Yeah, we had, but I was nervous. I got butterflies in my stomach, my heart was beating very fast, and just nervous tension. I've always been sort of a nervous person anyway, as a kid, so I wouldn't answer, wouldn't even think about it. If he had said no, I don't know what I would have done. I would have thought twice before I did it. But on the other hand, I was outnumbered three to one. So that night before we went down—Joe, Frank, and I, and David—they said, “Are you chicken?” They said, “You chicken if you don't go. You aren't chicken are you?”

I said, “No, no.”

They said, “Look at here man, we don't want you to get—to chicken out on us. We're going to have to get you man, you know.”

So it was a matter of—and especially we challenged the big guy Frank McCain. He's about 6'4" so we asked him, “Are you chicken, Cain?”

He said, “Me? No. You guys better not chicken out on me, right?”

They looked at me especially, because they figured I was going to be the one to back out. I said, “Hey, man, let's do this thing some other time.” We all had reservations about it, but we went.

WC:

I want to ask you a couple more questions and I'd like maybe—I'm going to come up again in the spring. I'm going to be here at a convention. Maybe we can continue it then. Did you trust Ed[ward] Zane?

JK:

Yeah.

WC:

Why?

JK:

First of all, let me explain it to you. When Mr. Zane came to us, I studied him. While he was talking, I was always watching him. I watched the way he moved. And he was the counselor for Burlington Industries. I think he represented Mr. Ceasar Cone, who was the power-head. Because the Jewish people in Greensboro have had many setbacks, as many as the blacks, and when many blacks did not did get jobs, they worked in Burlington Industries, Burlington Mills. [I] had many of my friends whose parents worked there. They worked hard. But I used to go there sometimes when they had the Christmas party. I never will forget that. That was when I was eight or nine years old, and Mr. Zane, I thought he was Jewish. I always sent him a [Passover?] card and [unclear] and come to find out, a couple of months ago—I think it was about six months ago—he wrote me a card and he said, “Passover—thank you for sending me those Passover cards, but I happen to be a Christian.” [laughter] He said, “I want to know who you are.” But I thought he was Jewish, and maybe this is stereotype of many Jewish people, but we have been told and from reading the Bible and everything that there has always been people for justice, and of course now all people may have different attitudes about it, but at the time I believed that and I trusted him. But more so than that, I believed that he would do what was right. I watched him the way he was. He negotiated with us. He negotiated with the mayor and the city officials and the businessmen, and then we all came together and we discussed certain things. And he was always cool and had a level head about him, and I liked the way he did business.

WC:

How did he come to you the first time?

JK:

I think he came through—I might be wrong—through the Ministerial Alliance and through the representatives of the NAACP. I think at that time it was Dr. George Simkins, Ralph Johns, Mr. David Morehead—oh, I forget him, Mr. David Morehead of the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association]—and Mr. Estell Harper—oh, he was one guy. He taught us in the [grade?] Y in junior high school. That was one of my first experiences with a male teacher. I forgot all about him. [I] don't know what he is doing now, but he was at one time director of Windsor Community Center, and when he first came to Greensboro he did a lot of work with the grade Y, high Y.

WC:

This is not Dave Morehead?

JK:

Not Dave Morehead, this is Mr. Estell Harper. Mr. Morehead was the head of Hayes-Taylor YMCA, strong supporter. He was another man truly I knew because he used to come around organizing the Friendly Indians. Little did I realize then that the Friendly Indians would prepare me for something like this.

WC:

What was the friendly Indians?

JK:

Well, the Friendly Indians was a club that was set up by the YMCA. They had the Friendly Indians, then they had the Junior Y, Junior High Y, and then they had the High Y. Now the Friendly Indians was the group for the fellows in it the first through the sixth [grade], and from the sixth grade on up there was the Junior High Y, and then for the guys in high school there was the High Y. Now through the Friendly Indians Club [unclear]. Little did I realize that that would carry me to another part of my history on that side [unclear]. But right now, the Friendly Indians Club laid the foundation for what we might call, for some of my concepts that I teach, [one of the?] many spokes in the wheel, because through these organizations that was set up and the different institutions in our schools, we were given a chance to develop leadership capacity to speak, to perform.

Then there were things like the show wagon that would come through the community every summer in Greensboro, and all of the kids from local playgrounds, they could get up and display their talent, you see. We had these outlets. We had choices. Things were not so bleak. There was like black society [that] was highly developed in Greensboro, you know, the community. Greensboro was considered by the most European Americans, white folks, they'd be saying, “You know, Greensboro is a regular community. You know, it's better than South Carolina. And Greensboro is different from Winston-Salem and Durham, Raleigh. We're sort of like the elite of the southern states. We're the northern part of the South. We are”—one time they said that Greensboro had no discrimination. You could ride anywhere on the buses or anywhere like that. That was back along in the 1880s, 1890. And before the Reconstruction and up until around 1920, there were a couple of blacks that had stores downtown right where Walter Johnson's office is today. There is a man who lives behind A&T College—I don't know whether he is still alive—but he would tell you he used to own a business downtown.

WC:

Did you ever think that was true about Greensboro?

JK:

I'd like to believe it, yes, but deep down I saw everyday experiences of racism. Like when I was five years old, I seen a lady thrown off the bus, you know, because she didn't have the proper money, something like that. A black woman and a white woman was thrown off the bus. She got in a dispute with the bus driver, and he threw her off the bus. That was a black woman. Well, it happened in more than one; black and white he threw them off the bus. And that was the big talk of the town. I was there, I saw it.

WC:

So you didn't grow up thinking that Greensboro was a great liberal city?

JK:

No, I didn't. I knew it was a nice town, but I always tried to be what they called a good kid, a good boy, and that's the way my parents raised me. My grandmother did—she would tell old history. That's why we have a long history, because when I was a kid she used to tell me stories of times when her people just out of slavery, and I know little bits and pieces of history about Greensboro and what Warnersville was like, some of the old families that have been dead now for over a half of century.

[Discussion of Headen family genealogy redacted]

[End of Interview]