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Oral history interview with Vance H. Chavis by Eugene Pfaff


Date: November 21, 1979

Interviewee: Vance H. Chavis

Biographical abstract: Vance H. Chavis (1906-1998) was a teacher and administrator in Greensboro, N.C., schools from 1929 to 1969. He was also an active member of the NAACP, Greensboro Citizens Association, Democratic Party, City Council, and Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a November 21, 1979 oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Vance H. Chavis, Chavis discusses his memories of race relations in Greensboro, communication between the black and white communities, and his support of the local civil rights movement. He describes segregrated Greensboro facilities such as the train station, movie theaters, and pool, as well as the integration of the police department and YMCA. Other subjects include Chavis' work with local organizations and his experiences as teacher at Dudley High School, especially the inequity in funding for black schools like Dudley. Chavis also talks about African-Americans' voting behavior, inability to receive equal pay, and reaction to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.499

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 Vance H. Chavis by Eugene Pfaff

EUGENE PFAFF:

I'm speaking with Mr. Vance H. Chavis for the Greensboro Public Library Oral History Program. Mr. Chavis is a former principal of Dudley High School and city councilman. I'd like to ask you, Mr. Chavis—yes sir?

VANCE CHAVIS:

Go ahead, I had started to say that I was principal at Lincoln Junior High School.

EP:

Lincoln Junior High School—

VC:

—and I taught at Dudley for twenty-five years.

EP:

Are you a native of Greensboro?

VC:

No, I'm not. I am a North Carolinian. My home is in Wadesboro. That's fifty miles east of Charlotte. Since it's a small town I'll try to locate it for you; it's near the South Carolina line.

EP:

When did you come to Greensboro?

VC:

Well, I came to Greensboro in the fall of 1929. I came here immediately after getting a degree—bachelor's degree at Johnson C. Smith University where I attended college. I also went to four years high school there, because at that time they had a prep school. So, I was there for eight years, not trying to finish college however.

EP:

What sort of work did you do in Greensboro?

VC:

Well, I came to Greensboro as a teacher of science at Dudley High School. Dudley High School was less than a year old at that time. In fact, they had just moved in, in January of 1929. And the first year I taught only general science, and as time moved by I moved into physics, and I taught that the entire time I was there, with one year of chemistry—teaching chemistry; I should say I held a class because it was abominable. Although I had majored in chemistry, chemistry changed so much in all those years I didn't feel that I did a good job at that. I also taught biology. One semester I even taught a course in civics, notwithstanding that I had only history during my college career, because most of my undergraduate training was in science.

EP:

How would you characterize black schools in Greensboro at that time?

VC:

I feel that Dudley High School, along with [Simon G.] Atkins High School [Winston-Salem], and one or two others, were comparable to the best high schools in North Carolina. Dudley had an excellent structure; it was comparable to the best in '29 and '30 and '40. We had very good facilities. It was not equal to what was Greensboro High School then. A lot of the science equipment I found there came from the abandoned high school which was on Cedar Street, prior to their moving to Grimsley. So we had a lot of old equipment, some of it wouldn't work, but some of it would work today if it's still there. But I think the faculty was excellent. At that time, you didn't have too many people from North Carolina even teaching at Dudley. Dudley had a great variety in its faculty; we had people who had finished at the University of Pennsylvania; we had people who came from Howard University, Lincoln University in Lincoln, Pennsylvania; and we had a teacher from Morehouse. I was the only one from Johnson C. Smith, but we had two Fisk graduates. So, you see that our faculty came from all over the United States. We had a teacher that at one time came from Southern California.

To expand on that, you might wonder, well why did these people come from the north and the west? But it was very difficult for black people then to get a job in Philadelphia and New York City or Boston or Los Angeles; even today, you would find very few black principals in the larger eastern cities or the large metropolitan areas of this country.

EP:

Even amongst black schools?

VC:

Even amongst black schools. If you go to New York or if you watch television, you see, in most instances, the principal is Caucasian.

EP:

Frequently, [VC clears throat] cited—and discussing black education at the time you're talking about, 1920s, 1930s, blacks with advanced degrees did have to teach in the secondary, even primary schools. Was this the case at Lincoln and Dudley?

VC:

Well, in the early thirties—and this is the time of the Depression also—most of the people had only bachelor's degrees. But in the forties, as things got better, many of them did study for advanced degrees. And they, of course, could't go to the white universities—the only universities we really had in North Carolina—so they went to Columbia, Michigan, Ohio State, and other schools primarily in the Midwest and the Northeastern part of the United States, and—which I think that gave us an edge, because the black teacher at that time didn't see any opportunities, so they didn't plan to get out of the field of education. They were going to make that their career. Hence, they, I think, had a little better preparation.

EP:

You've mentioned that the facilities at Dudley were good but not comparable to the Greensboro High School, which was built at the same time on Westover Terrace. Was there great disparity between these two schools?

VC:

I wouldn't call it a great disparity. There was quite a difference, but not a great disparity. Their science labs were larger and better equipped. Their library, which is very important, had more volumes and it was larger than the one that we had. The main strength, though, I think, at Dudley High School was the preparation of the teacher, the dedication of the teacher, and the organization of the school by the principal. In many schools, for instance, if I had gone to some places in North Carolina, I could have been doing physical education or teaching anything, but the principal at Dudley saw to it that you got in the field in which you were prepared; and believe you me, that makes a lot of difference.

EP:

Who was the principal at that time?

VC:

Dr. John A. Tarpley.

EP:

He later become superintendent of the black schools, did he not?

VC:

Well—

EP:

Prior to 1954?

VC:

That wasn't exactly his title; he was called the Negro Supervisor, and he was also the principal at the same time. Prior to him, they had a man named Mr. W.B. Windsor, for whom the Windsor Community Center is named. He had the job of the Negro Supervisor, and that was the only job that he had. And incidentally, he was the person who brought me to Greensboro to teach.

EP:

Then Dudley was the only senior high school for black students?

VC:

That's right. And I guess the only one in Anson—I mean Guilford County.

EP:

Were there a number of lower preparatory schools, such as elementary and junior high schools for blacks?

VC:

In the city of Greensboro?

EP:

The city and Guilford county.

VC:

Well, they had a few in the county. I can remember actually when they had a one-teacher school in Guilford County. And Jonesboro and Charles H. Moore probably were the smaller schools in the city system, but we had an adequate number of elementary schools.

EP:

So White Oak and Lincoln came later?

VC:

Yeah, well White Oak didn't—wasn't in the city at first. I think it was operated by the Cone Mills Corporation. The same thing was true of a school which I forgot at Terra Cotta, which was operated by the Pomona Mills. They came into the city system later.

EP:

One source by William Chafe, in his article on the Greensboro sit-ins in Southern Exposure, has stated that there were two points of view of the racial situation in Greensboro: one, primarily from the white point of view, that it was a modern, progressive, enlightened city in terms of race relations in the South; the other point of view, from [the] dominantly black point of view, was that this progressivism merely disguised a traditional racism and refusal to change the status quo of segregation. What is your opinion of the state of race relations in Greensboro going back from the time you first came here up through the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision in 1954?

VC:

Well, I would say that Greensboro was a typical Southern city, if you could call Greensboro a city at that time. I have only lived in Charlotte, Wadesboro, and Greensboro in North Carolina—well, I've lived in Durham for a while. But, in comparison with these other cities, I believe that Greensboro probably would rank first. But I hate to say only Greensboro, because as many people—[Gunnar] Myrdal and many others have said and still say, that in this country we have a racist society. And I'm still convinced that there is a lot of racist ideas—and that is a strong word, as we have learned recently—but, let us say that there are a lot of narrow-minded, prejudiced people who have not yet emerged from the slave society, who cannot recognize the blacks as equals because of the system in which they have been reared, and what they have experienced.

EP:

In the thirties and the forties and right up through the early fifties, was there much communication between the black and the white communities?

VC:

There was, between some people, a very small group, I think, were able to communicate. But let me get back though, if I could, because I think this is significant— and this was in the thirties. There was a motion picture shown at the Carolina Theatre, and in it, it had Eddie Cantor and some black girl named [Jeni] LeGon, and they were dancing together, and she did not have the usual handkerchief-head role of grinning and dancing along, and they cut this from the movie. This gives you an idea of how people felt then.

And of course we had to sit up in the peanut gallery, as you might call it, at that time. But, due to that, several of the [black] people, and I was one of the leaders in it, boycotted the two white theatres at that time—the National and the Carolina Theatre. The National subsequently brought Fats Waller here, and a lot of people went back. But I, along with maybe—people maybe I can count on one hand, never did go back. We refused to pay our money, and then go upstairs and be segregated. I think this was kind of an insult to us which we didn't realize up until that time. But this was the beginning, maybe, of the feeling, because in my classes, I often teased the students about going; I'd say, “You going to see that picture, you going upstairs, walk up all those four or five flights of stairs and sit in there and pay to be segregated?” Some of them, I think, got the message, but the bulk of the people did go back to the theatres. This again will show you the feeling in Greensboro at this time. That was in the thirties.

Now in the fifties I think—well, when did World War II start—about '40, '41—we had a group of people, we had an organization called the, I think it's called the Guilford County Race Relations Commission, which had no status; they just called it “Commission.” But there were a few people we will call “liberals,” for lack of any other word, that met. We had Dr. Wilson who was the retired minister at one of the United Churches of Christ, we had in there [UNCG history professor] Dr. [Richard] Bardolph, we had the Bensons, and we had several other people, and one lady particularly who died recently, a white lady who was really more avant-garde than I was, and that's getting way out, but she insisted on seeing that things were better. Then we had another group here—

EP:

What was her name, do you remember?

VC:

I can't recall just now, it may come to me before we finish. But anyway, they had a home out there on Mendenhall Street where there's been some discussion now about the bicycle trail all up in there at the university. We also had a group that used to meet called the Southern Brethren [Organization of Southern Churchmen], something similar to that, and we used to have dinners at the old YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association] because that was the only place at that time that integrated groups could eat. And then we used to meet there, also, just for talk sessions, or for lectures, or for various discussions. But, I guess the YWCA should get credit for permitting this and serving blacks, long before any other organization. But we met there.

One other thing I should tell you though about, I think, from this Race Relations Commission—and I can't tell exactly when this happened, but it was long before the sit-ins. There were four people, one was Mrs. Raymond Smith, another was a Mrs. Angeline Smith [teacher at Dudley], Dr. Bardolph, and I. We went to all of the stores in Greensboro that had black and white water [fountains], because some of us became so indignant when we saw it that we refused to drink “colored” water, and we were, surprisingly, very successful. Carson Bain, at that time, was on the [Guilford] County Commissioners, and they had dual water fountains there, and he told me, he said, “Well Vance, we're going to paint this place in one or two weeks, and we aren't going to bring it to the commissioners, but when we paint it, we'll just paint it out.” I went to the A&P [grocery] stores and we got the same kind of reception. We went to the ten cents stores and they agreed.

EP:

This was Woolworth's and Kress's—

VC:

Woolworth's and Kress's at that time, and to Duke Power, they had one. So we were able to get all of the signs moved from the water fountains in Greensboro simply by going around talking to the managers or the owners. Incidentally, places like Woolworth's and Kress's, I think, usually have their headquarters in Atlanta for their businesses, and I would surmise that the architects were there, because at Meyer's and Vanstory's [both local, non-chain establishments], they didn't have but one fountain. But I'm thinking this was done because there are many places in the South this was required, but this was not required [in Greensboro]. We had a study on the laws of segregation in North Carolina; Dr. Bardolph made a very intensive study and reported it to our commission.

EP:

Was this Dr. Richard or Dr. Dorothy?

VC:

Richard, Dr. Richard Bardolph. But he brought us a very excellent paper on the segregation laws in North Carolina. It'd be interesting, but it would take too long—but it did not require separate water fountains.

EP:

It's very interesting. In the studies of the sit-ins, there is the suggestion that these laws were not on the books, that they were more tradition. But that if blacks did challenge the tradition, that they could be arrested for trespassing. Were there any laws on the books that—what were earlier called “Jim Crow” laws—were they still on the books or had they been removed by this time?

VC:

I—my memory doesn't serve me too well at this time, but I do know from this report that North Carolina had very few segregation laws. I do recall that if a black person was nursing a white child, he—or had on a white uniform or some type of uniform, he was able to go in the theatre or sit in the front of the bus or train or what have you in North Carolina, simply by being a servant. But the others were usually relegated to the rear or to the front, or whichever was the worst position in the vehicle.

EP:

Was there much communication between the city council, city administration, and the black community?

VC:

I can't say there was a great deal of Communication. We knew each other. There were a few people who were interested in seeing that we got the best people to represent us on the city council, and this included the, the candidates. And they, of course, communicated, because, although blacks had not voted in large numbers, they had been significant in the election of the city council and, more importantly, I guess, in the passing of most of the bond issues. The ABC [liquor] stores, for instance, needed the black vote, and several other bond issues for streets. And otherwise, if they had not received the block black vote, many of these things which we have would not have passed in Greensboro.

EP:

In the 1930s and the 1940s there had been several statements that it was not an uncommon practice for white politicians to go down into the black community and attempt to buy black votes. Do you have any knowledge of this?

VC:

I think I have a lot of knowledge on that, because we observed this, and I talked with some of the white candidates who had worked with these people. I don't like to call names, but we had several ministers—one was outstanding—and we had a gentleman, I guess, who called himself an entrepreneur, but he was very clever and he did hardly anything else; he had no visible vocation. He was always busy at election time, and he was able to go downtown or uptown and convince various candidates that he could help them. Of course, before doing that, he had some idea about the winners, so generally he got on the bandwagon rather than on principle. He went with the winners.

But, I felt that the black people in the community had been done a great injustice, and sometimes the candidates, because many of those people collected money and didn't do anything. On one occasion, they found a minister who was giving out a lot of cards, and he was working for one man, and went to the precinct and found Mike giving out cards for his opponent. So, that's how bad it was. And this is how—and I don't want to talk too long—but this is how the [Greensboro] Citizens Association came into being which is associated with Dr. [George] Simkins and Herman Fox.

EP:

I'd like to move to that, but before getting onto that I'd like to ask how were these political vote salesmen in the black community able to deliver the vote? Or were they, in fact, able to deliver large number of black votes to a particular candidate?

VC:

Well, I think, primarily, they could deliver some. I'm thinking of a minister, and I'm thinking of another individual, the one who I told you that this was his vocation. He had some followers because he was able to give them some money to work for them and he did have some followers. The minister I had did work, but in a small area, and he did deliver a few votes.

The whole idea that many of us didn't like was that these few people were collecting the money regardless of the philosophy or the principles involved by the candidates. And then a lot of—I've had some candidates that tell me, “Well, Vance, we can buy our votes,” hence they never bothered to bring out any improvements, because in a situation like this, if you pay somebody to deliver you the votes, after you are elected, you are finished, you don't owe them anything. You've paid them in money, rather than in improvements.

EP:

Were these direct bribes, or were they given under the guise of campaign costs, that kind of thing?

VC:

Well, no one ever knows how much they got under the table. But, a lot of it was given to them, and it stopped there with the person who received it. Now, in all honesty, they did get people, precinct workers, maybe, and gave them five dollars to stand at the precinct and give out cards at the black precincts.

EP:

How did the Greensboro Citizens Association come into existence?

VC:

Well, I probably will sound immodest in making this statement, but I know that it was due to my own feeling about the individuals who were selling votes, that we should have an organization representing the best people and all of the people in Greensboro if possible. So, I went around to two or three people: Mrs. Esther Jenkins, who has passed, and Mrs. Grace Lewis here, Dr. [William] Hampton, Dr. [George] Evans, Dr. Miller, Attorney [J.] Kenneth Lee, and several others, and we were able to get some of the real leaders. And I don't know that we had any ministers in it at that time, but we were able to get the real leaders together, and we formed what is called the [Greensboro] Citizens Association. It was open for membership to every individual, every club, every fraternity, and every church, and there was a small fee for the affiliation.

But we started as a small group, but we became successful, I think, in the very first election, because the powers-that-be in North Carolina and these people who were selling votes went along with the man who was named Johnson. Now you're a young man, but in North Carolina, usually they picked the next governor; Governor [Clyde R.] Hoey, Governor [Oliver M.] Gardener and [Governor Cameron] Morrison—there was a machine and they were all picked, and this fellow [Charles M.] Johnson was picked to be governor, and Kerr Scott said he wanted to be governor. People told us that he couldn't win, but we went along with Kerr Scott because we thought he was the better of the two, and to everyone's surprise, he won, which showed again that sometimes you don't go with the person who is going to pay you more, or the most popular man—you've got to stick to what you think is right, even if you lose.

We also worked very diligently, very hard. And instead of asking for money, these people that I have named to you—John S. Leary, I think I left his name out—and many others—we gave money to the campaign of Frank Graham. And we sat up there at the Hayes-Taylor YMCA when they had to count the votes by hand up until two or three o'clock the night of the voting, working and counting the ballots for Frank Graham.

EP:

Was the Greensboro Citizens Association interracial or was it strictly a black organization?

VC:

At the beginning, it was strictly a black organization, yes.

EP:

So you worked in the campaign of Dr. [William] Hampton in 1951, '52?

VC:

Yes, and he was president [of the Greensboro Citizens Association] and, of course, that gave him the leadership in the community. Being a physician, you know how busy they are, but he took his time and took interest in community affairs, but he was president of the Citizens Association. So when he ran, he got the support of most of the blacks, and a lot of the whites. He had to, of course, to win.

EP:

Well, it's very interesting that he had the—he was one of the first blacks to be elected on a city council in the South as I understand.

VC:

Right, in Greensboro anyway, I know.

EP:

And that he did get one of the largest majorities ever in the city council elections, according to the newspaper.

VC:

Well, he came out first in one of the primaries, but in the run-off he wasn't first. But, he came out first, just as Jimmie Barber did this year, but I mean I think that [was because of] the block voting and Dr. Hampton was a very capable man, he was a very personable man, and the kind of person that everyone liked. He spoke for what he thought was right, but he was able to do so without antagonizing other people. Some people had that gift, I wish I had it.

EP:

To what do you attribute the large number of white votes he managed to get?

VC:

Well, I think, as I told you, he was personable, he was honest, he had no intemperate habits, and he was able to express himself and stand up for those things that should be done without antagonizing people. In other words, he could disagree without becoming disagreeable.

EP:

Does this reflect in the white community at large, that they weren't that upset at having a black man on the city council?

VC:

I think so. I think most of them were pleased with it, particularly what we might call the “power structure.”

EP:

Also, wasn't Dr. David Jones on the school board in 1952?

VC:

Well I don't recall dates so well, I never did well in history, but I think this is the era at which time he was on the city council—I mean on the—yes, that is exactly correct. He was on the school board and he was the first [black] member of the school board and I think this came through the influence of Dr. Hampton, since the city council appointed members to the school board.

EP:

Coming once again to William Chafe's article, he suggests that, although Dr. Hampton and Dr. Jones were very capable individuals and did stand up for and argued for—on the school board and the city council—for the needs of the black community, that men such as these two men—black men in the South—were under a particular strain in that they had to, in order to be a voice for the black community, appear to be “accomodationists”, that is, to go along with the prevailing view of the white power structure. Do you think that they were indeed under this kind of pressure, and how effectively did they function in this role?

VC:

Well, we have to look back at the time that they served. Now, I think that I have been opposed to segregation all of my life. I belonged to the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] since I first arrived in Greensboro because my family belonged to it and received The Crisis [NAACP magazine] in our home, but I didn't anticipate the 1964 civil rights laws. I never thought that I would live when everything would be open to blacks.

Now I said all that to say this, if we go back to the time in which they lived, and I think they had to probably do some accommodation, but I knew both of them well, and Dr. David Jones was more fiery even than Dr. Hampton and I might say that he had been—he traveled more widely in the United States. And some said that he was hot-headed, but I know him well enough to know that he would not agree to something that was against his own philosophy of thinking.

In order, sometimes, maybe to get a half loaf, both of them, maybe, did some accommodating, but a half loaf is better than no bread, and I feel that in both instances they were able to make some achievements for the people they represented. I'm certain of that. By no means can anyone say that there was any vestige of being an Uncle Tom, in either personality. I'm definitely certain of that. I'm not denying that, you know, all of us, sometimes, have to accommodate ourselves. I probably did a little of that on the city council, occasionally. Of course, most of the time I expressed my own opinion and voted by myself, and maybe they did too, I can't recall because you'd have to go through the records at the school board. But most of the time the action of a council is published.

EP:

Dr. Chafe further states that there was a feeling amongst the whites on the school board that Dr. Jones, and then later Dr. Hampton, could be counted on to “handle” the more activist individuals in the black community for school integration and integration of public—places of public accommodation. Do you think that there was this feeling on the school board? Was this the role—in fairness of Dr. Chafe, he does not say this is the role they did indeed serve but that this is the white perception. Do you think this was the white perception of their role on the city council and the school board?

VC:

Well, I hesitate to answer that. I couldn't know definitely about how the establishment felt about them. But the two of them belonged to the Greensboro Men's Club, along with most of the [black] leadership in this city and nearly all of it at that time; but notwithstanding, both of them had their enemies and they were criticized by the black people in the community, but, personally, I don't think that they would go against their principles.

I may add further, at that time, integration was not a problem. What they were trying to do, more or less, was trying to get back to the Plessy [v. Ferguson] decision, that is, equal facilities. So Dr. Jones was more or less interested in seeing that Dudley or the other [black] schools got their proportionate share of whatever expenditures were made by the city schools. And I know Dr. Hampton was primarily interested in the streets on the southeast side [of Greensboro], and other problems we had at that time in improving the city of Greensboro.

EP:

Was there really any genuine understanding or perception of the needs of the black community by the white community, and specifically the city council and the other centers of power, white power structure?

VC:

I doubt that there was because, you see, they lived on their side and we lived over here. Personally, I know I would get in my car and I'd drive many days through Irving Park and Sunset Hills. This is when Greensboro was small, we didn't have many suburban areas. But you see the white man never came into our area, except the sheriff or the police. Occasionally maybe, a candidate might come into the area, but during that period when they were just paying these people off uptown, they didn't see the black people, so they weren't aware. Now, if some lady from Irving Park was bringing her cook home or her maid, then probably she could see sometimes the conditions in the black community. Just like this problem of the sewage disposal plant, the odor is out here on this side.

EP:

On Buffalo Creek—

VC:

So it's no—from Buffalo, South Buffalo Sewage Disposal Plant. But see it's not a problem in the southwest or the northwest because they don't know it exists. We had fertilizer plants, which on certain days when there was an atmospheric conversion, we would get all these, I guess, acidic, at least noxious odors and you would inhale that in this community, but it wasn't their problem.

One time on Lindsay Street—what is now Murrow Boulevard—they had the city abattoir and of course they burned things and you know how meats smelled when they're burned but usually with the prevailing westerlies, all the odors came east. And so they weren't aware of the problems, and I guess for most people, if it doesn't concern them, they are not bothered with the problem. And if they didn't have to do anything, they didn't. I have found out in my many years of living, that you get very little unless you ask for it, and if you have no power behind your request, you still get very little. You got to have some kind of weight to throw around, and the best I think is in the way—in the amount of votes that you can deliver. I think this is where the power comes from.

EP:

Once these issues were brought up to the city council, was there any trouble in getting action on them? Like getting the city to come out here to pave a street or put up street lights or to do something about the sewage and water, and that kind of thing?

VC:

Well, I don't know. I think so. I think when it came to paving streets, we were maybe the result of benign neglect. And I recall when they paved the streets—some streets around A&T College [North Carolina A&T State University], they allowed them to stay half-done, unfinished, through the entire winter, and the people couldn't get in there for the mud. I know another instance, and I think—I don't know, I believe Dr. Hampton was on the council then—in this same area, they wanted to build a housing project, not a public-housing project, but some of them wanted to develop—build some homes similar to those around the Bessemer Shopping Center. And a group of us went up and protested, and I think there was a split vote, and they were accustomed then—usually it was thought that they had made up the decision before they came to the chamber [of commerce]. But we made such a protest along with Reverend J. W. Tines, who was Pastor of the Providence Baptist Church—an eloquent speaker—and some others that spoke to the council. And on that day they asked to hear [it] again in two weeks. They couldn't make a decision. But we were able to prevent the rezoning of that property, and today it is the only section on this side that if you look at your zoning map that is comparable to the highest zoning in Greensboro. But that is a fight that we won because we went down and protested to the council. Ben Cone was the mayor at that time.

EP:

Do you think he was responsive to the needs of the black community or not?

VC:

I can't say that he was too responsive.

EP:

Was there a deep-seated resentment in the black community for this kind of neglect?

VC:

Well, not too much. You see, in Greensboro—and the same thing is true of North Carolina—I think we've had it a little better than the blacks in Mississippi. In Greensboro, we had it better than most places than North Carolina, to the extent that the antagonisms weren't there. People were eating and they were living, and some of them had nice homes, but the point hadn't been driven to them because they hadn't had to suffer; they had the vote. You see, now, if you study the voting in Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina, you'll probably see more black legislators than you do in North Carolina because those people are voting in a larger percentage than we are because they know what it is not to have the vote. But Greensboro—people who could read, I don't think, and tried never had any trouble in registering as they'd have with some other people.

EP:

Why do you think conditions were better in Greensboro for blacks?

VC:

Well I think, primarily, it was the influence of the kind—the people who settled here in the beginning. You see, I'm from Anson County, and for a long time in driving in Anson County, you can see the large homes owned by the plantation owners, and the large farms; some of them existed when I was a little boy. A lot of the people were still tenant farmers and were practically in slavery then. But now Guilford County, as I understand it, did not have these large plantations or a large number of slaves, and related to that was the Quakers.

And I think you heard me say once before we had an Underground Railroad here. And a man—one of the leaders in it was named Coffin. You don't hear too much about him—that's [Levi] Coffin I think, but you don't hear too much about him. But they had this underground railroad here, and I think the Presbyterian Church probably brought about a very good influence, which was at that time, I think, where the Greensboro Historical Museum is. But I think the people in that church were the leaders, some of the leaders in this town. I think that the attitudes were different than they were in—down east in North Carolina, in Wadesboro which was in the southern part. Now, [in] Asheville, you might find a similar situation, because I understand that during the Civil War, some of those people up there fought on the side of the Yankees.

EP:

So, you are saying that this idea of a “moderate” climate [in race relations] in Greensboro has some validity to it?

VC:

I think so. That's been my experience. I've never had too many racial epithets hurled at me since I have lived here. And I can't say the same about Charlotte; I'm not saying that Charlotte is a bad place. I've found, the policemen, in most instances courteous. I've had about three incidents that I resented.

EP:

So you're saying that there was example of racism in Greensboro and in that extent it was like the South, but there were differences that made Greensboro different from the rest of the South?

VC:

Yes, and although you had racial hatred, it was submerged more. And in dealing with the black population, I think, it was a little more subtle, just like a lot of people support the Klan, but they don't come out. A lot of people supported George Wallace for president, and at that time, you know, he was a red flag to the black people of America. But on the other hand you see, if people watch the precincts and watch how people vote, you can see how people vote and how they feel in various areas of this community. They don't go around wearing hoods like the Klan, but they don't vehemently disapprove of them; and I can't say that they support them, but sometimes silence gives consent. If they don't come out and criticize them, then of course, these radical organizations are allowed to prosper and grow.

EP:

You mentioned the—

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

EP:

You had mentioned that you wanted to go back and discuss an incident from the earlier period.

VC:

Yeah, I think it's worth mentioning that we have sought many things and it took quite a while for us to accomplish some of the things that we wanted in the community. And often overlooked is the period when we were trying to get black policemen in Greensboro—I don't know if Dr. Chafe has mentioned this or not but—and I'm trying to recall the name of the chief of police—it's [Luther L.] Jarvis, so we can find out when he was the chief [1937-1951]. But a group of black people met with him down in the old Carnegie Library on the Bennett College campus and this group was Dr. [John] Tarpley, and I think Mr. [W.B.] Windsor, and Reverend Weatherby and they've been dead a long time but that shows you how long that people have been interested; I was not in that group. And some of these same people were instrumental in getting Windsor Community Center—this was during the Roosevelt period and WPA [Works Progress Administration].

But going back, they made several meetings with Police Chief Jarvis trying to get some black people on the police force. As I think of it now, this must have been long before places in the South had black policemen, and I recall that Chief Jarvis said that we would never have a black policeman, or else it would be over his dead body. But as the Citizens Association became stronger, and as time passed, Chief Jarvis did appoint a negro, he appointed two I think, or three. I remember Penn and Raeford, but he did make the appointments. And this probably is significant. Once the powers that be and when the political machine says that certain things are going to be, then we'll have them.

We had the same thing when they started integrating employees in stores. During the sit-ins and all, a lot of people said, “Well, we'll lose all of our white patronage,” and they also made very pessimistic statements as to what would happen if people were bused to school. But so many of these things have never happened and to me, all of these things have brought about positive results; at least it brought people together and they have learned to live together.

EP:

Was there much black patronage of white stores in downtown Greensboro prior to 1960?

VC:

Oh, yes, very much so. In fact, there was hardly any other place to go. And then, unlike Winston-Salem and Durham, Greensboro has never had too many first-class black establishments. You know Charlotte is in the same situation we are, but Durham has stood out and Winston-Salem also. They've had—[of] course in Durham and Winston, you have two large insurance companies owned by blacks primarily.

EP:

So you're saying there was a certain amount of integration, at least in terms of blacks as customers to the downtown stores?

VC:

Yes. And women in most places could try on clothes, which wasn't true all over the South. And in some instances, they could bring them home and try them on and then return them. There is one store that didn't wait on blacks, and that was Montaldos [luxury women's apparel]; they didn't wait on blacks I don't think until about '64, after it was required.

EP:

So you're saying there was never—for that reason, there was never a particularly strong black business community?

VC:

I should think so, because I never had any trouble. I mean, people welcomed [you], if you paid your bill. And the leading stores—men's stores, of course, were Vanstory and Yance Duvall [?]. Vanstory is now Frankenberger's.

EP:

Was there a strong black middle class prior to 1960?

VC:

Uh—[pause]

EP:

Professional class: doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers?

VC:

Yes, because you see—because of A&T and Bennett College being here, and good public schools, I think we've always had maybe a larger proportion of middle-class and intelligent—and I shouldn't say intelligent, maybe, but college-trained [black] people in this area. More so than in most cities in North Carolina.

EP:

In some of the more—larger urban areas of the North, there are complaints in the black community that once the more affluent middle class blacks become fairly well-to-do, then they turn their back on the rest of the black community and try to live the good life, so to speak, in the white community. Did the black community in Greensboro become—middle class—become leaders of the black community or did they follow this pattern that I have described in the North?

VC:

It is my opinion that the black community stuck with the black community—the poor and otherwise. Let us take Dr. Simkins, for example: if ever a black man was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he was. His father was a dentist before him, and his father was well thought of and was once a candidate for the city council. Dr. Simkins himself is a dentist. He doesn't have to become involved with the NAACP. And the Greensboro Men's Club, made up of professional people, most of them physicians and doctors and teachers and businessmen, and they have always supported the black community. As I told you they were instrumental in the fight. I have letters still left on hand—we [Greensboro Men's Club] are writing our history, showing you some of the things that we did. If there is a middle-class black group, I think you'd find them in the Greensboro Men's Club. And they have always supported the causes for the blacks, sometimes by farther than those who are poor because sometimes—you take a lot of people who are poor and they don't bother to vote. I think they're at fault, sometimes, for their conditions, because they accept it, and then, too, they've been sold on class hatred to a certain extent—there's jealousy. And maybe this is not just peculiar to the black group, but maybe there is a kind of a jealousy that exists between people who are successful and those who are not.

EP:

There have been—once again in Dr. Chafe's article there was a mention of the fact that Dr. [Ferdinand Douglass] Bluford, for instance, at A&T [president, 1925-1955], would not allow soliciting of funds or membership drives for the NAACP on the campus, and yet he recalls—Dr. Chafe recalls an incident where Randolph Blackwell, an A&T student who was running for the state legislature in 1948, was called into Dr. Bluford's office and Dr. Bluford said, “Yes you can use the auditorium, but you must—for your campaign speech—but you must never ask my permission. So that therefore, if I am asked by the [A&T] Board of Trustees, I can say truthfully I did not give my permission.” Was he and other black administrators of the school system, both at the college and secondary level, that much against the growth of NAACP membership in the black community?

VC:

I can't truthfully say too much about Dr. Bluford, because I did not attend A&T and I'm not too aware of what went on internally at the college. But I was just talking to someone yesterday, there was a man who stayed over there as the treasurer and he seemed to have made all the decisions, more so than Mr. Bluford, and I can't say that Dr. Bluford was ever involved in all these other instances that I mentioned to you. He was not a member of the Greensboro Men's Club and he never put himself out in front. I can say that. Now, what he did on the inside or what he discouraged, I'm not certain, but I would guess that this is true.

But getting back to Randolph Blackwell and the community, Mrs. Coley, Nell Coley, whom you know, and I worked with Randolph Blackwell and his contemporaries at Dudley High School to form the Youth Chapter of the NAACP. Now we did not meet at Dudley; we met at the [Hayes-Taylor] YMCA. But these students would meet with us and we were their advisors, and I think this is how we instilled in them some of the attitudes that people like Blackwell probably have today.

EP:

So you, as a teacher, never felt this kind of pressure from the administrators of the school in which you taught?

VC:

I never felt it, but sometimes I think that I was fool-hearted and maybe lucky, because I had plenty of friends, black friends, who were afraid to join the NAACP in this state. I had one schoolmate, who worked down in Wadesboro, that even went so far as to criticize the NAACP. Now the fact that he couldn't join—I don't think he should have criticized it. But I never had any fear.

This was my role at Dudley High School. Every year I went around to the teachers and canvassed them to collect their membership fees. Dr. Tarpley was principal and he didn't do it, but he had to know that I was doing it, and I was never discouraged from doing it. So there was this kind of attitude in the schools. Now, this wasn't done in all of the schools, because I don't think some of the principals and some of the teachers were—I started to say courageous, but maybe they weren't as stupid as I was.

EP:

Were they afraid of losing their jobs from their own administrators, or were they afraid of losing city and state funds if it became—

VC:

I don't think that they were afraid of any state funds; they must have been afraid that they—just afraid period. A lot of people just don't have any guts, to state it in the common way, and they're afraid of many things. I can recall talking to some of the teachers when we were trying to fight for equal salaries. And one of the fellows who worked with me at Dudley said, “Well Vance, we'll never get equal salaries.”

EP:

You mean comparable to white teachers?

VC:

Comparable to white teachers. See we had wage differential, a salary differential for a long time. The state still owes me for those days—[laughs] those years. He didn't believe it, and we even had a black principal to write to the paper saying that it didn't take as much for us to live as it did for white people.

EP:

Do you think—

VC:

I recall that I answered—I wrote a letter to the Daily News on the same subject, because I was paying the same thing for food at the A&P and clothes at Vanstory as the rest of the people. Nobody ever said, “Well, you are a poor school teacher, and black at that, I'm going to give you a discount.” To tell the truth, in many instances, you paid more. But he wrote this letter—

EP:

You mean they charge you more because you are black patron?

VC:

Something—no, I mean when it comes to rent and what you actually get, or food when you buy from the local store, you don't get fresh food, you don't get the best food. And in many instances, in the smaller stores, you pay more for the item. So actually, I think sometimes it costs more for the black man to live, then he has to get a lot of credit.

EP:

When was—what time period would this have been?

VC:

This must have been—this was prior to World War II, so it had to be in the thirties—thirties and forties, back then.

EP:

Were you successful in getting a more balanced wage differential?

VC:

Oh yes. I mean because some of it had to be done through accommodation. Governor [J. Melville] Broughton was governor [1941-1945]. I must say this it came through the NAACP, who went to the courts, as the NAACP has always done, and they won some suits, one in Florida and one in Virginia. So North Carolina didn't do it on its own, you see. That's we—there again, we get this good name, but they saw which way the wind was blowing. They didn't want a suit in North Carolina. And I was working with the North Carolina Teachers Association at that time, and Dr. Tarpley was way up high on the echelon in the [N.C.] Teachers Association, and a group of them, and a fellow named James Taylor from Durham, they went to Governor Broughton so an agreement was made that they would gradually bring this [the salaries] up. It took several years before we actually reached equality; it was done on steps.

EP:

Was the state teachers association integrated at that time?

VC:

No, no.

EP:

You're talking about it was parallel—

VC:

I'm talking about—yeah, the North Carolina Teachers Association was parallel. Yes, it was definitely separate.

EP:

I'd like to mention—

VC:

You were asking—let me add this, because you were asking about people being afraid—but we've always had a good [local NAACP] chapter. Now, in the thirties as a teacher, I was secretary of the NAACP, but we didn't have more than about ten people in it. [Of] course, we didn't—Bennett [College] was small and A&T was small, but most of the leadership then came from the schools, and oftentimes I hear criticism about the middle class not being members of the NAACP. I heard Dr. Martin Luther King say that over at Bennett College Chapel [in 1958], and it didn't please me at all because I had been working all my life, since I have graduated, trying to get people to become members and involved, and most of them, as I told you, were teachers. They have supported the NAACP.

EP:

Do you know how long the NAACP chapter has been in existence here in Greensboro?

VC:

[pauses]

EP:

Was it not—well, that national organization was founded in—

VC:

I think it was founded in the year I was born, 1906 or '07. That is the NAACP as such, it had some forerunners and organizations but in Greensboro I think they've had it—I think I found it here when I came here. It was inactive you see, and I think a Professor Nelson, who was working for North Carolina Mutual [Insurance Company] was the president. I should know because I had to send all these reports in. But there was a gentleman, Dr. Farison [?], from North Carolina Central [University], now retired, he was also active in it, he was teaching at Bennett, and Dr. Simkins Sr., I can recall those. And then Mr. Gregg came here—N.L. Gregg—he worked with North Carolina Mutual—he was the manager of this district and he was president for a long time, but working with insurance and seeing a lot of people and being concerned, it began to grow. And the start—I guess the spurt of growth really started with the administration of N.L. Gregg. That was—he was—came before Dr. Simkins.

EP:

I'd like to go over a number of individual things that took place in the forties and fifties which Dr. Chafe in his article and Miles Wolff in his book Lunch at the Five and Ten suggest was an increasing—Dr. Chafe's article much more so than Mr. Wolff's book—an increasing level of activism and protest in the black community. First of all, would you agree with this premise? Would you agree that leading up to the 1960 sit-ins, there was an ever-increasing activism in the black community during the, say, twenty years prior to 1960?

VC:

Well, I think this was true everywhere in the black community; there was frustration. And that—starting with Roosevelt, I think people were made conscious that there was an opportunity for a better living, and there was an opportunity for political involvement. And I would agree that there had been this gradual activism.

EP:

In 1955, Dr. Simkins and a group of black professional men went to play golf at Gillespie [Park Golf Course] and were that evening arrested for trespass, and it went on through the appellate courts for several years. Do you have any personal knowledge of this incident?

VC:

Well, I was not involved and all I know is what I, of course, saw in the paper, and what was related to all of us in the Greensboro Men's Club by George. And most of these people I don't think were professional people. Some of them, again, were just people; people who worked in service. I believe one man was a—shined shoes. So, it was a conglomeration of citizens, not particularly the professional people involved. But I don't know any of the details; I know that it did bring about the closing of this—the golf course. The same thing was true when we asked to integrate the swimming pools. They closed up the Windsor Community Center—no, not the center, they filled up the swimming pool at Windsor because people had asked it to be integrated.

Now, all of these things happened before the sit-ins, and I think this is significant. And George Simkins also entered a suit against the hospitals, because the hospitals weren't integrated. So maybe we should think more of him because these things were taking place and these young people could see it. So, this is the activism that preceded the sit-ins.

And let me add, too, that I don't believe that the sit-ins could have taken place in Wilmington, Greenville, or maybe Raleigh. You see, this was the propitious moment and the propitious location because of what had been done and the leadership that we had in Greensboro, and let us say—and also the attitude of the whites who would tolerate more from black activists than some other parts of the South and some other parts of North Carolina. I hope you see my point there.

EP:

The Lindley Pool was sold to a private interest—

VC:

Yes.

EP:

—in 1957 in to order to avoid integration. Why was the Windsor Pool, which was a black pool, also closed? Was it—

VC:

That was part of the same problem; and they just filled up the pool. See, as long as the city was going out of the pool business—you see, they didn't have but two, so they sold Lindley, and—because you couldn't afford to have a black swimming pool and not have a white public swimming pool, so they filled up this pool. There probably were other reasons, but this is the meat of it, this is the real reason.

EP:

Two singular incidents occurred in the late fifties. One was the controversy that arose over when the YWCA hired a black secretary receptionist and also began holding integrated functions. Do you remember the controversy that arose over that? That would have been in 1957, according to my notes.

VC:

I recall it, but not too much in detail. I know that it happened. I can verify that.

EP:

Herman Cone—Caesar Cone [of Cone Mills] rather, approached the black YWCA and offered to build them a pool if they joined with the [black] YMCA [Hayes-Taylor]. Mr. Cone has said that he offered this and that he thought it was unnecessary duplication of effort to have a black YWCA pool and a black YMCA pool. Now, Dr. Chafe says this was an attempt to prevent integration of the YWCA, but now their board was already integrated. Which—you, as a member of the black community—which do you think was more likely the case?

VC:

I, again, can't make a definite statement about that. I was on the board of the Hayes-Taylor YMCA, and I remember this proposal. I recall that the Hayes-Taylor turned down the proposal, which was difficult because Caesar Cone is one of the biggest contributors and the original contributor to Hayes-Taylor YMCA, but it must have been due to the scuttlebutt and the discussions involved concerning combining the two at that time.

EP:

Would it be possible to say that it was indeed the suspicion that it was to try to prevent more integration of the YWCA and that, therefore, that is the reason why it was rejected? Or were there other factors involved?

VC:

I don't know. It would be best for me to just stick to the facts because—as to what he wanted, it is difficult to say and—

EP:

But he did want to combine the swimming facilities—

VC:

Yes, and he might have been honest in his convictions. You see, I disagree with a lot of people about the wards system, but I think they have honest convictions, see, because the ward system isn't wholly good. It has some negative features, but—and I don't fall out with my white friends because they don't want It, because they may be honest in their convictions and Caesar Cone may have been honest in his convictions that it would have been more economical and they could have had a bigger facility at Hayes-Taylor. And the so-called “black Y” is closed now anyway and it has been closed, so I don't know whether that was it or not.

EP:

In 1958, the Guilford County Interracial Commission was asked to leave the United Fund Drive Campaign because there was the suggestion that contributions weren't coming in because of objections to the activities of that group. It was pointed out in the newspaper at that time that the overall budget—annual budget for the United Fund was $759,000, and that the Interracial Commission asked only for $250, the implication clearly being that they—this was not a legitimate reason for asking them to leave, given the size of the budget, and that this was just clearly a way to punish them for their promotion of integration. Would you agree or disagree with this assessment?

VC:

Well, I more or less agree with it. I mentioned the Interracial Commission. When I first came here and when they had this commission it was made up—at least it was the opinion in the black community—that it was made up of most of the “yes people” in the black community, and they were there to agree; they were far from being militant. They were satisfied in meeting with these people, and they were there to help solve the problem and to keep any problems from arising. Now this is opinion, I know some of the people who were there but this is opinion of the Interracial Commission and people my age and at that time had very little respect for the Interracial Commission. So it is possible that this is true, because during the period that I got in there, and the people who became involved in the Interracial Commission, we certainly presented a different picture to the community than the earlier members in the beginning of this Interracial Commission.

EP:

So you are saying earlier you had no respect for it, but later you did—

VC:

That's right.

EP:

—because of their activities?

VC:

Because of, yes. More or less, I can't think of the word now, but I mean they didn't do anything; they met and they discussed, and they were pacifiers, more or less. They were there to stop anything from happening, I think, more or less, than trying to instigate change. They believed in the status quo and this is what they stuck with. Of course, being young, I maybe, probably was radical and didn't see the thing as well, but I do know that the members during the latter days of that [organization] were very, very progressive people; I'm thinking of McKibben Lane and his wife. They were active in this Interracial Commission.

EP:

The racial situation in Greensboro seems to be highly ambiguous. On the one hand, you have admitted that there were these groups like the Interracial Commission that got away with—did away with the separate water fountains; there was this integration, to a limited degree, of the YWCA. The bus—the city buses, the police force, the libraries, and the airport terminal all in the fifties were integrated. And that you said that there was a great deal of black patronage, with the exception of eating establishments and theatres downtown.

VC:

There was a lot of black patronage at the theatres. The majority of the students particularly. They would fill up the theatres here.

EP:

So are you saying—was there a lot of integration in Greensboro prior to 1960, or only a limited amount of integration?

VC:

Well, I don't recall that the library was integrated. The only thing I remember as integrated was the YWCA. The airport, maybe, but not the railroad station, and not the bus station.

EP:

Blacks could not ride on the city buses?

VC:

They could ride, but they had to sit in the back. I didn't—incidentally, I didn't ride the buses; in the hottest part of the summer, I walked uptown from where I lived rather than get on the bus. I have a peculiar philosophy and maybe it's wrong, but I believe that as long as it is legal and is the law, then I should abide by the law, but I should fight these laws which are objectionable until they can be changed. But the bus law was on the books, we had to fill in from the rear, but rather than be involved in that, I walked when I didn't have a car.

EP:

You say the train station was not integrated.

VC:

No.

EP:

How did blacks travel by train from out of Greensboro?

VC:

Yes.

EP:

If the station was not integrated, how did they travel?

VC:

Well, if you go by the station, it's still there. You have an area on the west side and one on the east side, and you have separate entrances. The main entrance was where the white people went in, the black people entered over on the west side, and there was a waiting room on the west side. The only time you probably got close enough to touch the white people was when you went down this viaduct going up to board the train at the upper level.

EP:

Were there, what were called separate Jim Crow, Jim Crow cars on the trains?

VC:

Yes, definitely, and the black man—porter would see that you got on the white train in many instances. [laughter]

EP:

Were there much instance of hate groups like the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] in evidence in Greensboro, or was there an absence of overt racial violence?

VC:

I think there was more or less an absence of any overt violence until the period in which Kenneth Lee was active in the NAACP and became very active, and at that time I think the Ku Klux Klan raised its head in Greensboro. Now whether they'd been here or not, I don't know, but they did have some marches; I think they came by Benbow Road once. Personally, I have never seen a hooded Klan in my life; I just haven't been in the right places, I guess. But they did become active, and it's in the paper. I guess I can verify, I think, that there was some man who was a leader called Webster here. Have you come across his name?

EP:

Occasionally.

VC:

Yeah, but this came when—maybe during the sit-ins or prior to that. But we hadn't—you couldn't by any means say this is Ku Klux land, like they have down in Johnston County when you see [the sign saying] “You are now entering Ku Klux Land.” And I think that there is a lot of good in Greensboro and maybe they haven't been encouraged too much.

EP:

What—excuse me—

VC:

Sure.

EP:

What was the feeling in the black community when the 1954 [Brown v. Board of Education] decision was announced and also the unanimous resolution of the school board to abide by the '54 decision?

VC:

The decision in the black community was a great satisfaction, almost euphoria. I never saw anyone that was in opposition to it; they felt that it was a long time coming, maybe too long, but I never heard any opposition at that time.

EP:

Were there a lot of black parents who wanted to make application for their children to attend white schools?

VC:

I don't feel, maybe, that we could say there was a large number, because if you recall the experience of those who did go over here at Gillespie [Junior High School] and the young lady [Josephine Boyd] who went to Grimsley [High School], and what they had to experience, why you can see the children did not want to subject themselves to that kind of embarrassment. Of course, it happened all over the country—Little Rock. I know that a little girl—she is a grown lady now down in Charlotte—that they spat upon when she tried to go to the high school there. And, so, with all of these things in the paper, the people did not care, and maybe, there was a little fear. They feared for their lives.

EP:

Well, on the one hand, you say there was euphoria in the black community—

VC:

When it first happened.

EP:

—and then they were—but they were afraid to actually send their children [to white schools] because they were afraid that their children would be abused physically and verbally?

EP:

Yeah, and molested. And what I think the people were more or less looking for was for what we have today. This goes back to the freedom of choice plan, which the black community never agreed with.

EP:

That came out of the Pearsall Plan, didn't it?

VC:

Yes, freedom of choice.

EP:

Do you think that the school board actively tried to implement the decision or the intent of the Supreme Court, or do you think, as Dr. Chafe had suggested in his article, that what they were really trying to do was find a way around any kind of meaningful desegregation through the North Carolina school—or pupil assignment law and the Pearsall Plan which took on the form of “freedom of choice” in Greensboro?

VC:

You know, it is difficult, again, for me to evaluate the thinking on the part of the board members. I do know this: at the time, there was lady on that board, Mrs. Clarence Brown, I think—she's still living—one of the finest people in this city, and she was one of the few whites who I ate with at the YWCA. On the same board there was a Dr. Raymond Smith who stayed on there a long time and he—he's a Methodist minister, and if there's a good man, I think he was a good man.

Also, on that board, as you know, [was] the chairman Mr. [Edward] Hudgins, and he was a courageous man. And I can't recall the names of the others, but I believe these people were sincere. I worked with Mr. [Benjamin] Smith, the superintendent, and I talked with him on many occasions. I remember making a talk once up at the YWCA on four reasons why segregation was wrong and he asked for my cards because he said he wanted to make use of some of these notes that I had. And I believe Mr. Ben Smith was an honest man, and I somehow believe that the board was sincere. I may be naïve in my thinking, but knowing the superintendent and knowing these people, I somehow think that they meant it.

EP:

But then there was their unanimous decision to abide by the—

VC:

Supreme Court decision—

EP:

—right, the Supreme—in '54, but it was three years before any black student attended a white school in Greensboro. And that various members in the black community had mentioned that it was much more difficult for black parents to fill out a very complicated application that had to be reviewed by the school board to have their children entered into a white school, whereas white pupil assignments and transfers were handled automatically. Doesn't this suggest a kind of dichotomy here? On the one hand, a liberal intent on these good-hearted people that you have mentioned, and yet the fact that there were only nine applications in Greensboro and of those—that were considered by the board—and of those, only six were approved, and it took three years to effect this change?

VC:

Well, maybe I should ask you a question. Can you realize the change of attitude and the criticism and the vilification of these people that I have mentioned after they made this decision? I wish you would talk with Mr. Hudgins. I have talked with him once since then, and I think that he would verify that. I understand that he had some of his long-time personal friends who didn't speak to him. Now, I said all that to say this: that the pressure was brought on the school board and possibly the superintendent because, after all, he was an employee that delayed and confused many of these decisions. And if you go back, you'll find out that most of these people that I mentioned were not reappointed to the school board again. I don't know how soon after '54 they got off of the school board, but the composition of the school board was changed entirely.

EP:

So you are saying that it is unfair to criticize these people as deliberately trying to slow down the process of integration?

VC:

I believe it was due to the pressure that was put on them more so than their own deliberations. I believe that they wanted to do what was right. That was the law of the land.

EP:

From whence did this pressure come on them?

VC:

From the people in the community. Let's say the power structure, if there be such.

EP:

And in this you must be including the city council, since the city council appoints the school board, and you said most of these people were not reappointed.

VC:

Whatever the power structure of Greensboro is; that may be the city council, the chamber of commerce—

[recorder malfunction]

VC:

—fill it up, when it comes—is that off?

EP:

It's on, but I cut it off. What would—did you have a role or a function in the desegregation issue from 1954 to 1957, when the first actual integration took place? Did you have any—participate in any either individual or court action to try to effect integration.

VC:

No I didn't. My only participation came through my affiliation with the NAACP and its encouragement. I've always believed in them, I've always—because of the work that the black lawyers, and some whites, have done through the courts. The NAACP helped me to get an equal salary, the NAACP enabled me to sleep on the Pullman car, and to eat on the dining car on the railroad, and to sit where I wanted to in the buses, the interstate buses as well as intrastate. So I have always supported them, because I have always wanted what they wanted.

EP:

Incidentally, the Greens—the first freedom rides in 1948 came through Greensboro; do you remember them at all?

VC:

No, I don't remember them, and I didn't participate in the marches of that type. I remember one group came through here, and they assembled out at the [Greensboro] Coliseum. I did go out there. I don't know what date that was. It couldn't have been 1948 though.

EP:

Was there any—we've mentioned the integration of Gillespie and Greensboro Senior High School in 1957, and then there doesn't seem to be any activity in terms of integration until the sit-ins. Was there a period where there was not much active demands for integration of public facilities or for school integration during that time?

VC:

Well, I think there was discouragement, because you had so few people who wanted to attend the predominately white schools, and those who did experienced such difficulty living in that environment, and as this message spread in the community and as people read the paper or saw on television what was happening, this discouraged a lot of people from even attempting.

And, I might add secondarily, that we felt that we had pretty good black schools. I know that we did at Lincoln Junior High School because that year—one year I was there they evaluated all the junior highs, and we had over 60 percent of the people [teachers] then with master's degrees. I made their schedules, and I tried to see that each person worked in his field of specialization. And in addition to that in rating schools, we had a large—anyway, the experience ratio which was very high compared to a lot of other schools, because people usually came and stayed. So, we had good schools and there was no great clamor to get into these other schools, and most of the people who did, I think in this instance, were the affluent.

EP:

Do you recall how you first heard of the sit-ins?

VC:

No, I can't. It must have been on television. I don't remember hearing in school that day. It must have—I must have seen it on television.

EP:

Did you ever go down to witness the sit-ins at either Woolworth's or Kress's?

VC:

No, I didn't, because I was working. See, that was during the lunch period, and I was working at that time.

EP:

The students at Dudley, in particular, Bill Thomas, his brother Alvin, his sister Antoinette, were very—also Gloria [Jean] Blair, were very active in continuing the sit-ins particularly in the summer after the A&T students went home. Do you recall the participation of the Dudley students in that in the summer—in the spring and the summer?

VC:

No, I don't, and I wasn't at Dudley at that time. All of the students remained, except the Blair young lady, came through Lincoln, and I know them very well. But I don't recall at this time.

EP:

Did you ever serve on any committee, such as the Zane Committee, or sit in on any of the meetings between the mayor's committee, the managers of Woolworth's and Kress, and the students at A&T and Bennett?

VC:

I don't know that I was on any committee per se, but I was called in to some of the meetings and I will mention the meetings I was asked to attend. First of all, during the period that Mayor [David] Schenck had left town, Mayor Pro Tem [William] Trotter met with—

[End Tape One, side 2—Begin Tape Two, side 1]

EP:

—meetings in Burlington Industries in Mr. [Edward] Zane's office was this in 1960?

VC:

This was following the sit-ins. It was during the period of discussion. And at this time I think the white leadership was in hopes of convincing the elderly black leadership that we should move slowly, and this could not be done. In a word, I think they wanted to put a quietus or discourage the young people in this effort that they'd started.

EP:

Was Mr. Zane a part of this, or was he not a part of it?

VC:

I, I—

EP:

The attempt to get it to go through slowly?

VC:

There again, it was so long ago. But as I recall, in talking with my group, we felt that Mr. Zane probably would be the most receptive or more favorable of the people that we talked with.

EP:

In 1963, Reverend [Otis L.] Hairston has also mentioned to me this meeting that occurred at the Baptist church with—the Church of the Redeemer—with Mayor Pro Tem Trotter. Do you recall what occurred at that meeting?

VC:

I do not recall the exact questions. Of course all of them were focused on the sit-ins and what they wanted and what we wanted. I recall generally that Mayor Trotter was more receptive to our ideas than we had found in the mayor at that time. He seemed to have been more tolerant of some of the requests that were being made and of our attitude toward the total situation.

EP:

Do you remember the nature of the requests that were made?

VC:

Well, I don't remember, I can't specify, but I know that the whole gist of it was that we wanted what the students wanted. We wanted Woolworth to integrate; we wanted Kress to integrate. And I think in the beginning, it was a kind of a gradual thing; we worked more or less with the five and ten cent stores rather than the department stores or the cafeterias. But as you've mentioned already, I think when the Thomases and Jesse Jackson and all those people got involved, then we wanted to integrate the Mayflower—I believe that was the name of it—

EP:

Mayfair—

VC:

Mayfair [Cafeteria] [laughs] and all of the places in town. This was how I got involved. I remember meeting with the management of both Kress and Woolworth's and Meyer's. Meyer's was later named another store, but today, but Meyer's was downtown there in this vacant building but we met twice with the manager of Meyer's. In the meantime, they had sent a new manager down here because the one that was there in the beginning failed to cooperate at all.

EP:

Did you continue to play a role in subsequent negotiations and meetings?

VC:

I don't know exactly what you mean, but I continued to meet with these groups and their discussions and the last meeting I recall was the second meeting we had at Meyer's when we asked them to open up all of their facilities for serving food. In the beginning, we agreed to accept just one, but we went back to the students and all and they didn't accept it, and we had to ask for another conference, and I recall his saying, “Well, you told us that you only wanted to open the Tea Room,” or whatever it was.

Then I said, “Yes, we did,” I said, “but we've changed our minds, and we want more.” So, through these constant conferences we were able to get these facilities open.

It might interest you to know, too, and I've mentioned the Citizen's Association and we've talked about the affluent blacks, but the Greensboro Men's Club gave its support to these students totally. They gave its support to Dr. [Warmouth] Gibbs, who was the president of A&T who was a member. We encouraged him, because you can imagine what kind of butterflies he was having at this time, but we gave him our moral support and we also gave our financial support to the students and Dr. Barnes, who was a member, I know went on the bonds for several of these students without the fees paid by regular bondsman. So we gave assistance there in encouraging them, and getting food to them. We did everything we could to encourage them, because I think the total black community wanted what they did.

EP:

Did you participate in any marches yourself?

VC:

Yes I did. I remember marching from Trinity AME Zion Church, which was on Washington Street at that time. We marched uptown and back to the church—all the way uptown on Washington Street, and over to Market [Street] and back down to Trinity. I even know the people who were there marching with us. I was an assistant principal at that time, because I know some others who rode around and watched, but I was just so much for it and I just felt that even though I was a teacher, I was a man, and I believed in the cause, so I joined along with the others as we left the church.

EP:

Did you—was that the only time that you marched, or did you march subsequently?

VC:

I believe that was the only time that I marched, but—because they began to arrest people, and I don't necessarily want to put this on record, but this is the truth: I found out that I was following the leadership of a lot of well-intentioned juveniles, and I didn't want to be in a position where “Simon says stoop” and “Simon says stand.” So, I refrained from marching. Some did get arrested because they had been asked to not block the traffic. So, subsequently, they marched and they made a circle in the square, and some of them were arrested.

EP:

Do you think that the police behaved with restraint?

VC:

Well I wasn't up there that night, but from the [Greensboro] Record, I think they must have. I don't—I knew Captain [William] Jackson very well and he worked with the group, and he—had conferences with him, too, because we had mutual respect for each other, and I thought he handled it very well.

EP:

Did you participate in these conferences and negotiations as an individual or as a representative of a group?

VC:

I guess in most of my participation, it was more or less as a representative of the Citizens Association. See Dr. [Hobert] Jarrett would bring me in, because he was president at that time, and we were close friends. He knew how I felt and how I thought and he brought me in on some of these meetings. I was not appointed by the mayor on any of those committees. So, that's how I got in normally.

[tape turned off, then restarted]

EP:

You were talking about that you were called in a conference with Mayor Schenck with Mr.—what was the individual's name?

VC:

John Leary and Charles Fairley. He knew Charles Fairley and Leary through his church; they were all Episcopalians. But I had known the mayor and I had worked for him when he was up for election, and we had a pretty good rapport. At the time I was on the Redevelopment Commission of the city. Soon after the sit-ins—I think history will note this—Mayor Schenck became pretty much excited and disturbed by the sit-ins, and so he called the three of us to his office to talk about it, and as I see it now, was to try to discourage the students in this effort and I think it was an awakening to him when he found out that we, too, went along 100 percent with what the students were asking for. We sat with him for about I guess forty-five minutes, not in the mayor's office but at his office at his insurance business, and this was off the record. But I think that he felt that we probably would go along with his opinion. No doubt, he was disappointed in us on that particular day. But I think that many people in Greensboro were surprised that the total black community wanted to eat in all of the establishments and not have to stand up or be segregated.

EP:

Do you remember the date of this meeting with Mayor Schenck?

VC:

No; it was soon after the sit-ins. I don't remember the date. This is why he wanted to meet with us. This was before he went away, though, on his trip to the mountains.

EP:

Do you remember how specifically he encouraged you to discourage the students?

VC:

No, I don't. I do remember that he called us in and it was his thinking that this was not the right thing to do nor the time to do it. And we didn't give him much support in his thinking. Because I think as you read papers and books that others have written and the newspaper you will find out that, in the beginning, he was totally against the whole idea and did not support the students in any way.

EP:

Apart from this meeting with Mayor Pro Tem Trotter and with [the] meeting with Mayor Schenck you've just described, did you ever participate in any other meetings?

VC:

Not any of any significance, except I went to nearly all of the mass meetings at the Institutional Baptist Church and Trinity; that's where they were held mostly.

EP:

But then you did not then go out with the marchers?

VC:

Only once. Only once. I was not a leader and I was not called in to do any talking or anything at the mass meetings. And then, too, I guess—well, there was no role for me except they asked me to do, and I did everything that I was asked to do. And although I was a teacher and again pretty fool-hearted to get into a march or even involved, but I believed so much in the cause that I did march, and I was seen always at the meetings—the mass meetings that is.

EP:

Did you ever eat in any—or go to any of the movies in any of the places that were subsequently desegregated?

VC:

I don't know that—yes, I went to the South S and—

EP:

S&W [Cafeteria]?

VC:

S&W, yeah. I went to the S&W. I went there quite often when they were uptown, before they closed. I ate there. Of course you know the Mayfair closed, and I never ate at the Mayfair. I've eaten at Meyer's, I forgot that, I ate at Meyer's—on several times had lunch in there. Sometimes I'd be meeting uptown with a group and the whole group would go there to lunch.

EP:

Did you have any personal knowledge of when [Bennett College president] Dr. Willa Player and others—individuals in the black community turned in their charge cards until Meyer's agreed to desegregate the Tea Room?

VC:

No, I don't recall that; I'm sure it happened. But I don't recall that.

EP:

Thank you, Mr. Chavis.

[End of Interview]