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Oral history interview with Vance H. Chavis by William Link


Date: March 3, 1989

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: William Link

Description:

In this transcript of a May 3, 1989, oral history interview conducted by William Link with Vance H. Chavis, Chavis primarily discusses his experiences as an African-American educator in Greensboro. Specific topics include the effects of school segregation on students and teachers, such as inequalities of funding and salaries; the desegregation of Greensboro schools and its aftermath; and the roles and perspectives of school board members. He also discusses segregation of other public facilities, civil rights activities of students in the 1960s, and the support provided by the adult black and white communities. Other topics include Chavis’ tenure on the city council and local issues of interest in the 1980s.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.501

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 William Link

WILLIAM LINK:

This is William Link and the date is March 3, 1989. I'm here in the home of Mr. Vance Chavis. We talked a couple of months ago, and what I'd like to do is kind of follow up on what we talked about before. And I think what we didn't talk about last time was—one of the things we didn't talk about—was your experiences as a school administrator. And you were a school principal, is that right?

VANCE CHAVIS:

Yes, I was a school principal. I went over to Lincoln from Dudley High School. I went over first as an assistant principal. Incidentally, I was the first assistant principal in Greensboro, because we had a peculiar situation at Lincoln. The gentleman there had gotten old, he was getting weak in some of the, his performance. And, so, [superintendent] Mr. Ben L. Smith asked me to go over there as assistant principal. So I assisted him until, for three years.

There was some question at that time, too, about his age. I think he was much older than I was. But he was a very fine person. But, as you know, a lot of people don't like to retire. And at that time you didn't get too much. In fact, you didn't get too much when you were working, because the average salary, as I was reading the paper this week or last week, is about twice as much as what I got as a principal. There were sixty-odd teachers and fourteen hundred students, fourteen hundred plus. At that same school now, I don't think they have seven hundred.

WL:

So this, the principal was on the way toward retirement, and being appointed assistant principal was a way to ease you into the principal position?

VC:

Ease me into the principal position. I was doing a lot of the work that he would do ordinarily. For instance, he wouldn't get to school until maybe ten o'clock. Of course, someone had to be there, because from the time school opened, with the junior high age teenagers, something has happened, believe me [laughs]. So you need someone there with some kind of authority. But he'd gotten a little careless about coming to school on time.

And the school board and the superintendent were very tolerant of him. And the school board as a whole, and the superintendents that I know, they have been very kind to people that the public isn't aware of. For example, I had a friend who was a principal and died in '69. But he was out ill for months, I guess, on a cumulative basis. Sometimes he would stay out a month or six weeks at a time, but he always got a full check. Mr. [Phil] Weaver [former superintendent] would say, “Well, we didn't get a substitute for you, so you get your full check,” which meant a lot. But so many people, I'm sure, would deduct the days that you were absent, regardless.

WL:

So they had sort of a kindly attitude, they took care of their people in the administration?

VC:

Yes.

WL:

Did, what was the name of the principal that you succeeded? Do you remember?

VC:

Wally L. Jones.

WL:

And he had been the principal for a long time, I suppose?

VC:

Yeah, I think, yeah, he was principal when I came here at the Washington Elementary School, and I came here in '29. So he had been principal a long time.

WL:

What kind of school was Lincoln in those days?

VC:

Well, I think Lincoln was a good school. And in spite of Mr. Jones, they had a lot of good teachers over there. They had a good secretary who helped him operate the school, who later became a teacher. And I promoted her to a teacher because she was, shall I say, smart, intelligent. And I had taught her, so I knew something about her ability. But then after that, of course, I never got any secretaries who could touch her.But back to the school, they did have some very, very competent teachers.

WL:

Did—this was 1959 you started out—

VC:

Fifty-nine, yeah.

WL:

—you started out as principal. This is right in the middle of the period—you served until '69? Ten years there?

VC:

Till '69, yes.

WL:

A period of a lot of change in the full school system. The school system was on the verge of trying to segregate, at least.

VC:

Yes. I think it was 1954, with the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision. And after that, we had some difficulties. Before then, I guess, we were more or less accepted. I say more or less because there were a lot of differences, I think, in operating schools based on race, and—

WL:

Such as?

VC:

It was more difficult to get the per capita expenditure, say, in black schools. And that might very well have been in the schools, in the system—the way it was operated. A lot of times it depended upon the principal and his personality, and his perseverance. And as I have indicated, although I was in dramatics in school, I was never much to hide my feelings. And not to the point of being indiscreet, but, I mean, at the same time not being hypocritical. So I don't know how well that served me [laughs].

WL:

What, what kind of situation did you find in 1959 and after? Was there—was this changing? Was there increasing equality in terms of resources?

VC:

Well, before then, I think, prior to the integration—first with teachers, white teachers at Lincoln—we had an excellent school. I'll give you an example. You know, while I was there, we had [an] accreditation visiting committee from the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges [sic]. And we rated very high. And we had about 60 percent of the teachers with a master's degree. Now some people will wonder about that. There's a reason for that.

The average black teacher was in the teaching as a profession. They intended to stay there, even though most women were married. But in our race, both families—or both parts of the family had to work anyway, both the husband and the wife. So it wasn't a matter of waiting till I got married. But they were in it for life, until retirement. And in view of that, most of them aspired to pursue a master's degree, because that increased their salaries as well as the prestige and desirability in the school system. So we had quite a few people who had their master's degree at that time, which meant that we rated very high.

Another advantage that we had was—I've forgotten the word that you use for that—but the teachers had been there for a long period of time, which is a factor in rating schools, too. Most of them hadn't worked any place else. So that was a favorable situation for us.

The most unfavorable thing, maybe, was the size, class size. But in spite of that, we operated on a very good schedule, and very efficiently and effectively. And we had a lot of handicaps because—well, we had no auditorium, but as a principal, I felt that we ought to get together, bring the children together, and let them witness some programs carried out with student participation. We should bring in some leaders from the community, and even from wider than the local community at times, so that they could experience that. Sometimes we probably had a movie. Not movies to make money now, but something that was educational that they should see. And in order to have the chapel service we'd have to set up fourteen hundred chairs, which was, would disrupt your program and disrupt the physical ed[ucation] and would disrupt the other programs. Because you had to put a lot of time in setting up for the, for the auditorium, and you spent a lot taking them down.

Wherein over across the street, over at Dudley, they just had an exercise and they'd come to the auditorium, because it was there. But we felt that those experiences were valuable enough to go through all this trouble and work, in order that the students may get that experience. I don't think they have that now, because I don't know how the principal talks to all the students except over the PA [public address] system, which isn't as effective as just facing them. And I dare say that we had better decorum [laughs]. I would bet on that, at the time.

WL:

Was there much perception that—in the late fifties and sixties—that the Brown decision was going to have much effect, and what kind of effect did people expect it to have?

VC:

Well, I'm sure you've heard this before, but right after the Brown decision, Mr. Ben L. Smith, who was the superintendent at that time, and a Mr. [Edward] Hudgins, who was chairman of the school board—he worked for Jefferson Standard [Life Insurance Company]—and the school board, mostly—because I knew Mrs. Brown, and a Reverend Smith—I think he worked the Methodist college [Greensboro College?] over here—they were all fine people.

And so they agreed after the [Brown v. Board of Education] decision was made that they would abide by it. Greensboro would abide by it, the Supreme Court decision, and from henceforth it would be law. But they ran into some snags. And soon after that, there was an organization, and that comes in at a right nice time, now, as I think about this down in Louisiana—but they found an organization called the Patriarchs. And these Patriarchs, if you research it, were made up of the, some of the leading industrialists in Greensboro.

WL:

Was that fairly well known?

VC:

Yes, very well known. They was in the paper. And very outstanding people, I mean, financially. A lot of them I wouldn't have suspected. One I did, because he often wrote the letters criticizing Mr. Smith. I forgot his name, but he owned an investment company here, deals with stocks and bonds. And the man who headed the Dillard Paper Company, I think, Tom Dillard, was one; one who headed up a plumbing company, and one other person I can't remember now. Of course, many others. But they formed the nucleus for this organization. But they were primarily the ones who wanted to hold the clock back, to state it nicely.

WL:

But they came from the sort of established leadership circle?

VC:

Yeah, but not the total leadership. This was just, I guess, a segment of Greensboro, because if you read the book Civil and Civilities in Greensboro [Civilities and Civil Rights by William Chafe], we've always had a group who wanted Greensboro to give a very positive appearance to the universe, as it were. But this represented a segment. But they were powerful enough to intimidate and antagonize, and to criticize, and to delay any positive action in the integration of the school. So as a result—let's see, from '54—there wasn't much done from '54 until '69, because at the time that I retired, I was just getting some white teachers. After I left—that was in '69—they began to integrate students into the school. So that tells you how long it took.

I had this experience with Mr. Weaver. And Mr. Weaver was a fine man, and a good man. But there're some who would say that integration probably was a factor in his early death. If you'll recall, he died while listening, I think, to a basketball game, maybe this season of the year, on a Saturday, of a heart attack. But I liked him. He—I don't think he was totally agreeable, not as much so as Mr. Smith, who proceeded him, to the integration in the school.

Greensboro fought integration. In fact, we had to have a suit. The NAACP [National Association of the Advancement of Colored People] here, and [Julius L.] Chambers, who was in Charlotte, who is now in Washington, was the representative and the attorney in the case. And I would suppose, I think they're still operating under that decision. But that's what we had to do. In other words, we didn't do it freely. We didn't do it freely, as Mr. Smith wanted it.

I remember once, in one of the meetings with the principals—and we'd have a principals' meeting monthly—in one of the meetings, as Mr. Weaver was wont to do, he was criticizing HEW [United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare]. And one of the white female principals said, “Well, Mr. Weaver, do you mean they will have to bus children all the way from Claxton over to Bluford?” Do you know where these schools are located?

WL: Yes, right.
VC:

And so he said, “Yes, that's one of the things we'll have to do.” And so I just couldn't hold it in any longer, although I had some butterflies, I'll have to admit, to making this a question. I said, “Mr. Weaver, may I make an observation?” I said, “You know, I worked over at Dudley High School for twenty-five years.” I said, “And we bused children all over Guilford County.” I said, “Is it too much to bus these children within the city if integration means anything?” He was cool, and he said, “Well, Mr. Chambers said two wrongs don't make a right.” And that's the answer that I got.

But I got a little irritated and annoyed by it, because we kept dragging our feet as it were and everything, until it went to the court and we finally had to integrate. Unfortunately, now it looks like we're trying to go back to where we were, to neighborhood schools. We call them magnet schools. But as I see it, it's just another way of desegregating. Is that right? [laughs] Or re-segregation, in a way.

WL:

Yeah, there is a lot of feeling bitter about that.

VC:

Yeah. Yeah, it's everywhere. Just this week in Boston they were trying to do the same thing. Which was, in fact, they'd—and this is what we had—what, the choice, what do you call that?

WL:

Freedom of choice?

VC:

Freedom of choice. And that's what they want in Boston. That's what we went on. That's what we thought we would do. But freedom of choice has never worked, because the white people aren't going to volunteer to go to a black school if they don't want to go now that it's legal. And they're— well, I said, encouraged to do so. They are assigned, but they do everything that they can, use every kind of ruse to get out of attending the school in a black neighborhood.

WL:

Of course, even the freedom of choice, the so-called freedom of choice system here did not work that well, did it?

VC:

No it didn't work.

WL:

Just a few students wanted to, a few white students—

VC:

Yeah, and mostly it was a one way thing, where one or two blacks wanted to cross the line. And I recall a young lady named Dungie [Josephine Boyd?]—I taught her mother—went over to Grimsley High School. And she had a hard time. In fact, all of the students all over the state, down in the Charlotte—they would spit on them and insult them verbally, and this was just a rough situation. And so they weren't encouraged. But then, on the other hand, this was a one way street. No whites, not in Greensboro, wanted to come to a black school.

Of course, you have this perception, and we still have this perception, that the black schools are inferior. If you observe closely, you still discern that in the newspaper. Because in the basketball, or athletics, or other activities at the black school, they don't get the same kind of publicity as Grimsley and Page. Even Smith does not get quite as much it seems. But, there's just this trend.

WL:

Since you brought that up, I was curious about—I gather you read the newspaper regularly, and you've read it for a while here in Greensboro. I wonder how's the newspaper treated the subject of race or the black community over time? Especially this period, let's say, the forties and fifties?

VC:

I think the Greensboro Daily News generally has been one of the best papers in the south, and they've made an attempt. They've never been racist. They didn't do all that they could do. And—because sometimes that depends upon the people, you know, at the lower level. Sometimes it was hard to get the obituary. And I was reading the paper the other day in the Public Pulse [newspaper column], and something had happened, but they didn't [it] bring out. And folks hadn't come to me, or gone to folk who lived here and born here. And sometimes people who come here since certain things happened. But we had to fight to get the Greensboro paper to capitalize N when we call ourselves Negro.

A teacher that worked with me at Dudley High School, I recall she wrote a letter on the subject, but they didn't do it. They rationalized about why they didn't capitalize it. One reason was you didn't capitalize W in white when you referred to the white race. But they finally came around.

But what I am saying [is] nothing comes easy, even with the paper. Although, overall, they weren't nasty. It was more of a sin of omission [laughs] on their part about some things. It's hard to get articles in the paper about what was happening in the black communities, schools, anything else. And then you almost had to go up there and beg somebody. You know, "Won't you please print this?" And of course that has changed.

Now, getting back to the editorial policy. Presently, if you read all the people who write on the editorial page and op[inion] page, it seems to me sometimes it's not quite as good. But I don't understand their policy. As I read it and look at the outside columnists that they bring in, so often they don't agree with Alexander's [?] or Ms. Yardley's editorial—I presume they're writing them—on the editorial page. There seems to be more agreement with this fellow that comes on almost daily, and I think his column is vitriolic, anti-black, anti-democratic. That's with a small "d" and capital "d" as well. And anti—what's his name?

WL:

Giles Lambertson?

VC:

Yeah.

WL:

He's the only local person on the paper.

VC:

Yeah, but I read—go to the library to read the Winston[-Salem] paper, the Charlotte Observer, and I like the Raleigh News and Observer. But they don't have a similar columnist in their papers. And I don't know why they do keep him there. And if you read the paper, you see someone is writing there all the time that he has irritated and antagonized. Just this week there was one or two letters, but they keep him there.

WL:

That could have happened in the merger of the [Greensboro] Record, when they merged the Record and the [Greensboro] News.

VC:

Yeah [unclear].

WL:

You know, they merged the evening and the morning paper.

VC:

Yeah, that's probably—

WL:

Lambertson came with the evening paper. The evening paper had people like him.

VC:

But they've had someone to play that part, because Eastland was here before Lambertson. You remember Eastland?

WL:

Yeah. Terry Eastland.

VC:

Yeah, Terry Eastland. A very smart man, I understand, naturally, from the positions he's held. But he, he was, as I recall, similar to Lambertson. I don't read him that much, but now and then I read it. And once in a blue moon, I agree with what he's saying, but not—[laughs] most infrequently.

But, getting back to the paper, overall the Greensboro Daily News has had, I'd say, a favorable record and has been good in regard to race relations. They've tried to help. But sometimes, you know, people don't—you know, I mentioned Mr. Weaver. Now Mr. Weaver—and I could understand his behavior. As someone say, we're the product of our environment. Now, his father was a Methodist minister. And he'd come up and come up in a world where the blacks had nothing, the whites had everything. And unknowingly, a lot of times, they probably had some prejudices and not aware of it, and think they're doing the correct thing.

WL:

Yeah. Yeah. Did—getting back to what we were saying earlier about the white citizen council effort, I guess it was, in the fifties. Would you say there was sort of a consistent effort to, on the part of the school board, perhaps, school administration, to put the brakes on integration?

VC:

Yes, definitely. Because, now, I heard Hudgins say, if my memory serves me correctly, that a lot of his friends, close friends, didn't speak to him after this announcement was made. So you can see what effect that had on change in attitudes. And then as soon as they could, there were other appointments to the school board. But generally, we've had a first-class school board, I would say that, generally. We had nobody on the school board that you might say is like Chuck Forrester [city council member]. Nobody since I've been here. The people who're probably conservative normally get along. But no one openly—

WL:

Racist—

VC:

—racist. And I use that word carefully [laughs]. I wouldn't call Jessie Helms a racist. I don't know what else he is, but I don't like to use that word. But you had no racists on that. In fact, the school board generally has been criticized by the ultraconservative element in the city.

WL:

What kind of—what we've been talking about, really, is the effect of the Brown decision on white opinion, which is to, maybe at least in the beginning, to frighten people. What about the black community? What kind of effect did Brown have on, say, over the long term or short term, in the black community?

VC:

Well, I think, as a whole, the black community wanted to, to move. But, on the other hand, I think the masses weren't too—what is the proper word, exercise [unclear]?

WL:

Mobilized?

VC:

Yeah, they were mobilized. I think they had the attitude that it'll work out eventually, and we'll leave it to the NAACP and they'll get it done. But there was no great effort. And I guess that was due to the fact that in Greensboro, at least we had some of the best black schools in the nation.

WL:

I see.

VC:

I think Dudley High would compare with Crispus Attucks in Indianapolis, or Booker T. Washington, I believe that is in Atlanta, or Dunbar in Washington—which, I think, is probably one of our best high schools, not now, but in the earlier time, before the integration.

WL:

So, there wasn't a—

VC:

Great climate.

WL:

Yeah, great climate, there wasn't a feeling that things would change.

VC:

No great climate to change, but there was a desire for it. And there were a few people who probably didn't want it, even blacks. And there are a few people, now, who wouldn't care if we went back to, to segregation. The problem is not so much the co-mingling of the whites and blacks as it is having equal facilities and equal opportunities. And the thing about it, as I said, that you can always tell—just like you can always tell when you get to the black part of the city—you can generally tell when you came to a black school. The faculty here, at least in Greensboro, though, was always comparable, if not better, as I indicated before. Because as a rule—not always—a lot of young white girls would go into teaching until they could marry that lawyer or that dentist, and then they start having a family. They're through with teaching. Then they don't go back, if their husband is successful. But see, in our case, it was a career they intended from the very beginning. Now if you're at UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro], lots of times they may not have the high IQ, or they may not do the kind of work. But in spite of that, and although they finished a black school, many of them went to Columbia and Ohio State, Wisconsin [universities], and got their master's degree.

Now it has been thought that some have said that the teachers were a little light on them. I don't know. I went to Wisconsin, and I never thought that I was real bright. In the middle somewhere, maybe. But I was able to measure up. I wasn't nearly as smart as one boy there who had finished Wisconsin and knew his way around, and several others. But I took one course there that didn't have but about ten people in it, but I made an A, so that's about as well as I could have done. And I made some Bs, and this was my first experience at the graduate level. But, so, I don't know about the others. I presume that I'm the average person, and most of these people who finished these other schools are average.

WL:

So there was not a great clamor for change, but there was an expectation, I guess, that bought—

VC:

Yes, well, everyone was happy when the decision was made. Because we thought it would improve the situation and people would get along. Now, I probably am a little different from others. I wanted integration because of one—

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Side B]

WL:

Okay, we were talking about the reaction to Brown, and you mentioned—

VC:

[clears throat] I was saying that most people think that equal facilities probably would be the most important thing. But, personally, I think integration of people will help. One philosopher said once, said, “I don't like you because I don't know you, and I don't know you because I don't like you.” So if we don't have this social intercourse between different ethnic groups, we never will know you, and we'll always believe these things that we've read, been indoctrinated by our parents. So I feel if people come together and see each other, they'll begin to appreciate each other more.

And I think that is seen among athletes, and even more so among musicians. You see, musicians have always seemed to get along, going back to Benny Goodman and those people, where they were coming in for the jam sessions and all. And they didn't think so much of race. And now the athletes apparently get along. Sometimes not as well as I think, because they still go their separate ways. There's not much socializing, but at least they get along.

But I feel that there's something in the different ethnic groups having—living together, being together. Like they, for instance, if they know you, they can accept integrated neighborhoods. Now, I won't go into that. You know what generally has happened. When a black moves into a neighborhood, the others move out, which occurs under the shyster real estate [laughs]. But that hasn't been done too much in Greensboro. Now we've had our problems, but presently we're doing fine.

Now, you don't know about my experience on the city council, if I can digress and bring that in. When I was on the council for the first two years, Jack Elam was the mayor. And prior to his election, the former council didn't want to pass a resolution approving equal access to living and to homes. But we passed the resolution because it was already the law of the land, but it had to be carried out. But we passed the resolution, though it didn't have any authority. But it gave to the neighborhood, the community, the understanding of how the people on the council felt. Of course at that time, the council was supposed to be your leadership.

We also had some people who owned a lot of real estate who went along with us. And they agreed, of course, to have open housing. And since that time, I haven't read or heard of any real mean incidences so far as people moving in the neighborhood. Because in Greensboro, you'll find blacks all over the place, except in Irving Park. And I think some of them own some comparable homes in some of these newer developments as Irving Park, and the new Irving Park and the people out there. So there's not much problem there on open housing. But the council, of course, helped there. Of course, living in the community sometimes doesn't mean that you're having, drinking tea together [laughs] or cocktails together. And sometimes it does. I had a friend who moved into a white neighborhood—the young man died recently, taught with me—but those people were very nice. Very nice. And I remember when my niece moved into a white neighborhood in Ohio. She was the first, and the people came down and helped them move. Nobody in this neighborhood helped me when I moved down here [laughs]. So it's hard to judge sometimes, just hard to judge. Not only that, the other thing is—what's the word, it's peculiar time, race relations.

I remember my sister down in a place of Wadesboro [North Carolina]. That used to be plantation country, and they had slavery down there. And that brings me back again, if I can bring it in here. Someone's writing about Greensboro, the plantation of Greensboro. Now Greensboro wasn't a plantation. Guilford County, this is where the people came to go to the North, slip them in. But I haven't seen a plantation here, so I don't know what they're talking about. But Wadesboro was.

Well, when my sister died, the white people brought in more food and things than my people. I have to give credit, you know, where credit is due, because some people will say about me like they are saying about Oprah [Winfrey], that she likes white people [laughs]. But I mean, that's the fact, and I like to speak the truth. So often that is the case. And I guess it boils down to individuals.

I saw a program the other day about white people, and white people marrying—intermarriage. And this black man saying he couldn't marry black women, they were evil or something. Sometimes I find them that way when I check out or coming up waiting on me [sentence unclear]. That's the whole error in our judgment. We can't go by just one instance, but two or three, or make these generalizations. Because there's good and bad in all groups.

WL:

Let me ask you about—back to Brown—ask you about the impact of the Brown decision, not just on the schools—we can move away from the schools a little bit—but on the expectation that segregated buses, and segregated theatres, and segregated everything was going to be abolished. What kind of affect did it have in terms of breaking down Jim Crow, or the perceptions of Jim Crow? Any ideas?

VC:

Well, I think after that decision that the blacks in general, and the leadership in particular, thought that we were on our way to a real democratic system—a real Judeo-Christian system, if that means anything anymore—and that there would be a general improvement. And with Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, we felt that that gave us a lot of weight as well, and we were being represented where the big decisions were being made. And with the [Earl] Warren Court, too, we felt that we would be making continued progress toward real equality and democracy, which we'd never had, and I guess we still don't have. Unfortunately, with the—in the eighties, we've gone backwards. I don't know how you feel, but I feel that with the Reagan era we definitely went back in a lot of instances.

WL:

You're right about that. Was there a connection between the activism that Greensboro's so well-known for—in the sixties with the Woolworth sit-ins and the street marches in 1963—was there sort of a rising expectation that fed into this event, do you think?

VC:

Well, I think so. And I think as people got more freedom they got bolder. For instance, you wouldn't have had the sit-ins ten years prior to when it did happen. And maybe I've told you this before, you wouldn't have the sit-ins in Wilmington at that same time, or some other city. But the atmosphere here was more capricious, if that's the word, or favorable toward such acts.

Because, there again, even though policemen had been vilified, we've never had in Greensboro the kind of police I've seen in Nashville or down in Dallas, Texas. I mean, just one or two, I've had some bad experience with policemen here. But, I mean, as a rule, the policemen been a little better. I'm not saying they were too nice or anything. But in measure, the brutality on their part, we haven't had the degree of it that has been experienced in some other places, in some other cities in the South. You notice I choose my words carefully, because, there again, one place in the South may be better than another. And I don't know whether you picked it up or not, because in comparing the schools and places, I found little difference anywhere in America. People talk about the South. In my experience, I haven't seen very much difference. It's a little more subtle, as someone has said, like [David] Duke [Ku Klux Klan member] down in Louisiana: he's taken off his hood and his robe and he's dressed up. But there's a lot of people who feel as he does and votes as he does, but they're always in a, what, pinstriped suit and vest or what have you. So you can't judge people by their looks or where they are. The only time I've been in jail, I don't know whether I should recall this, was in New Jersey.

WL:

Oh, really?

VC:

Yes. Long story.

WL:

Go ahead. If you—

VC:

Well, a lot of implications in it to me. This is my last year before my senior year. We were in a place called Ocean Grove, in a great big hotel, working. I was a waiter. Ocean Grove still is the headquarters for the Methodist Church.

WL:

Yeah, I know.

VC:

You know that?

WL:

I know that. I've been there.

VC:

All right. People there couldn't get a telegram on Sunday. That's how Christian it was. All right.

WL:

Camp meetings.

VC:

Yeah, camp meetings. But there was no place, no facility on the beach in Ocean Grove for blacks to swim. Right next to it, at Asbury Park, there was kind of a dirty hole where they went in. But the three of us wanted to go swimming. So we went down to a place called Bradley. But the difficulty in getting to Bradley, we had to pass through another borough where you had to be dressed. In Bradley, you could walk to the beach in your bathing suit. So we had to dress. I had some white duck pants—I was a cheerleader in college—so I had these white duck pants and a sweater with my bathing suit underneath.

So we went to Bradley and took off our clothes, and folded them nicely and put them back there on the beach, way in the back on the sand. And we went into the surf. When we came back—there were three of us—when we came back, the police were standing over our clothes and took us to whatever they had there. But anyway, we were put in a cell. And this was about four o'clock, and we had to serve dinner, the three of us. And they called, at least they called the hotel and all. And it seemed as though someone in the hotel, and the head waiter, knew them, had a connection with the magistrate or someone in authority in Bradley. So they let us out of jail. You see the implications I'm saying?

WL:

Yes. Yes.

VC:

Now, in Connecticut, I worked at the club in Connecticut just outside of Stanford. We worked a place called—what's the name of that place? Sound Beach. We weren't far from Greenwich. I know you know about Greenwich. About six miles from Greenwich on the Long Island Sound.

“So we, sometimes we'd walk up to a drug store, a place where people went to sit down, and drink soft drinks, and ice cream. And we could go in there, but we couldn't sit down. This was in Connecticut. We could buy ice cream or whatnot and walk out. Well, I could do the same thing in Wadesboro, this bad place I was telling you about. On Sundays, we'd often go up to the drug store, buy an ice cream cone, and walk out. We couldn't sit down and eat it. This man used to say—he was from Charlotte—“As long as you could stand up, you had integration.” But we didn't stay in there after we bought our cone. But, you know, there were some places they wouldn't even wait on you. That's another thing that made it so difficult on the black man.”

I went to Charlotte once and carried cheerleaders from Dudley. We stopped at the Dairy Queen. They wouldn't serve us. But, now, you could go out to Guilford Dairy here, I guess the Dairy Queen too, and buy something and go. But I had an experience coming from the auditorium, a little place out here. I wrote a letter [to the] Daily News. I drove up there after we'd been to the auditorium for a show. It's on Lee Street, it's still there. And they wouldn't serve us. I mean, even out of the car. We couldn't even buy it to go. So this made it difficult, because so often, you could at least go, but you don't know when you're going to be rejected.

WL:

There didn't have signs or anything. You just had to go up and find out—

VC:

Then you see that sign, “White only.”

WL:

Yeah.

VC:

I remember in Virginia once, I drove, and my wife just loves hot dogs. I almost got run over, turning around and going back to where it said, “hot dogs.” And when I drove in there, there was a big sign across the screen door, “For Whites Only.” And about the only place that—it's still there, where you buy pecans and things on the highway—we always stopped there. And you could buy hot dogs, and candy, and soft drinks. They usually had a place outside you could eat. And we tended to stop there because we knew we could get it.

WL:

So you had to plan your trips carefully, I guess.

VC:

Oh, yes. And then when you leave, you just take your lunch, and we'd eat it outside a restaurant, park outside of Richmond. I guess it was all right for us to go in. We always went in there, and sat down and ate our dinner there. Then we went on to New York or wherever we was going. Now, comparing the areas again, there was no place for us to eat between here and New York, unless you stopped and walked somewhere, and found the black community. But I mean, so far as being on the highway, except those places I told you about. Now when they opened the Jersey Turnpike, you could go into those Howard Johnsons places. They served everybody. But before then, we went up old [Interstate] 40. There was no place a black person could stop. But wait, when you got to New York, you had to go to Harlem. You didn't eat, you didn't eat downtown.

WL:

New York was segregated, too.

VC:

Yeah, sure it was. You couldn't get in a hotel. In Atlantic City—I worked there, and when you go to the theatre, you were segregated just like you were in Greensboro. Either you went in the balcony or you were on the right side. One side for other people, the middle aisle in the middle, and the other side if there were three areas. So, it's like I was saying about being prejudice and being bad, it depends upon the individual. And the North is no better than the South, except that you knew it in the South, you know. You didn't attempt to do it, but in so much of the North, they didn't do it.

WL:

It is your impression, comparing Greensboro with all these other places, that it's a pretty reasonable place, putting it in that kind of context?

VC:

Yeah. Yeah.

WL:

All these things were the same way in most places, anyway.

VC:

That's true. That's true.

WL:

What kind of effect do you think the sit-ins and demonstrations had in the black community? The students in Woolworth's received very strong support, I gather.

VC:

Yes, they did. They received tremendous support. And I think even in the white community they got some support. People were afraid to come out, you know, and raise their hand and make themselves known. But, I mean, there was a lot of support from the white community. A lot of people had never thought about it, you know. Once they realized that these people can't even go to Woolworth's and eat—I mean, anybody who calls themselves a Democrat and a real Christian, if it means anything, this would be abhorrent. They were pleased, I think, that they found that people were trying to get their self-justice—and that's not the proper word—at least opportunities that all the other people got.

WL:

Was there broad-based support for the demonstrations for your students?

VC:

Yes, very broad. Because I guess the church is about the biggest auditorium we had for congregating or assembling, and we'd have these mass meetings, and the crowd was overflowing each time, which was a follow-up to the sit-in. And so many people thought that the seniors, not senior citizens, but the elderly or mature grown people, adults, wouldn't support the students.

WL:

Would not?

VC:

Would not. A lot of the white people thought we wouldn't. In fact, I was in a group where I was called to meet with one of the mayors to talk about it. And I think he was shocked when he found out that we were in total agreement with the students and told him it had been too long getting here.And some of the physicians—I remember Dr. [Milton] Barnes, he's dead now—but a lot of the people who had the money put up the bonds for these kids. And I think that helped them too, because they didn't split the community. It was almost total agreement with what they did.

Some people didn't have the nerve enough to do it, you know. “I'm glad you did it. I'm happy you did it.” Because I remember when we marched, we'd generally break after the conclusion of the assembly of the churches, then several times we marched up town and marched back to the church. I know one friend who was in the education profession like I was, but he did not have guts enough—and he's my friend too—to march. But he was in his car watching, going around. He was interested in it. Kind of like the people, “I'll give you this rock, you throw it at them” [laughs]. But he was for it, but fine, too [unclear]. But I think you have people—you work with them, too— where they seem to live in fear of losing their jobs, or something, if they act like a total man or express themselves as they really feel when the opportunity arises.

But going back again, the total community—I don't remember hearing anybody saying, “Those boys are crazy. They shouldn't have done that. I wonder why they would do that.” And I say that, keeping in mind that I've heard people criticize the NAACP. I had a teacher to tell me once, said, “Well, you know, Chavis, they'll never pay black and white teachers the same thing.” Today this fellow is a big, he calls himself a big civic leader. But I remember him telling me that. At that time, we were fighting to get equal salaries. See, the state still owes me, because we got, I guess, maybe about 70 percent of what the white teachers were getting for doing the same thing for a long time, or less. Because we started increasing salaries gradually. But the NAACP did it.

There was another fellow that I knew, went to school with him. And he became a principal in Wadesboro. And all I'll say to you—and I think you'll get the point—it took him five years to get out of college but he became a principal down there. But, he said to me right here in Greensboro once—he was attending summer school—he had the nerve enough to criticize, “Don't you think that NAACP is going too fast.” So you had a few people like that. But getting back to the original question, the black community was totally behind the young men and the A&T [North Carolina A&T State University] people and all the actions that they took.

WL:

Yeah. There was none of that kind of [unclear, both talking at once]?

VC:

No, none of it. That is, by all the people.

WL:

What was the role of the churches. I gather, most black churches—

VC:

Churches? Totally for it, totally for it. Which is unusual, since you asked that, because I just read recently where Reverend Martin Luther King and all these Baptist preachers, mostly Baptist, all the preachers were in the movement and marching. But the head of the biggest black group in the country, [Joseph H.] Jackson, I believe his name is, he didn't go along with it at all. He wasn't friendly with Martin Luther King at all. But he headed up the National Baptist Convention for a long time. Have you ever heard of him?

WL:

I believe so, yes.

VC:

But he was conservative. But he didn't go along with—he thought Martin Luther King was moving too fast. That's when all the action started with the, just make them move back on the bus. But he thought they were just too aggressive, as it were.

WL:

The churches in Greensboro, were, I gather, were organizing through centers?

VC:

Yes, all the ministers were in it. Some ministers were more aggressive than others: Reverend [Julius] Douglas; Reverend [Otis] Hairston; Reverend [Cecil] Bishop, who was here then. He's a bishop at this time [laughs]. But he was here. But all of them were in it. And Reverend Anderson, bless his heart. He never did get involved in things. He felt his church was his mission and his calling. He did permit us to meet once in his church. But he was never one out in front in this kind of action. And I guess a few others, but mostly—and then too, those who weren't, they wanted to join the crowd. Once they see which way the water's going, they'll come in anyway and feel they're protected. I mean, they'd never gotten out alone by themselves in actions of this type. But after they saw which way the wind was blowing, they would say, “Well, I want to be a part of this.” I knew of no one, really, in my contacts—and I talked to a lot of people and teachers. But they were all gung-ho for the action. Even those afraid to go would give money.

WL:

Nineteen sixty-three, of course—while this was taking place, there were marches every day for a long time.

VC:

Yeah.

WL:

Do you remember what the daily sort of ritual would be, in terms of—or group of the marches? They started out in churches, you said? Organized in mass meetings, and then from there?

VC:

Mass meetings, and then they would parade through the city. Of course, they'd have to get a permit. Incidentally, how do these people do currently, where they storm in, Washington and New York? They don't take time to get a permit. But every time a black man marches, after the first one he always has to get a permit, which meant you had two or three days in there and couldn't be spontaneous. Are you following me? [laughs]

WL:

Yeah. Well, it wasn't stopping marches, was it? The whole permit idea?

VC:

Yeah, you'd have to get a permit. But anyway, so many of them were just spontaneous, just like being in church and you get [claps] religion, and you're happy [claps], and you get out, “Let's march.” But see, I think they got tired of that. And then some people would get in the middle of the street and stop the traffic. I didn't go along with that, as long as they permitted us to march and asked us not to stop the traffic. Because the policemen protected the marches. All along the policemen were there. And generally they were nice to the students, even after they put hundreds of them in jail somewhere. They didn't have enough room uptown. They had to put them up here where it used to be a place for people who had paralysis.

WL:

Polio.

VC:

Polio. They carried them out there. I don't know of any instances where they were nasty. I heard a lot of talk about it. Now, I know Jesse Jackson and one of the boys who he hated, who sat in, was the president of our student council when I was at Lincoln and when he was at Lincoln. But the one that lives here, I can't recall his name now. And [Ezell] Blair, he's got a different name now [Jibreel Khazan], he's Muslim. But, I taught his daddy [Ezell Blair, Sr.].

And that brings up something else. I think—of course, his daddy has always been what some would say radical, but one who was outspoken, and one who's tolerance of segregation and discrimination wasn't as great as some others. So the boy got it at home, then he got it at Dudley. Because a lot of the attitudes of the part from the students, they got it in the high schools, in a subtle way. It can be done, just like Frank Graham did it at Carolina. These things—just like people know about President Reagan—they know the atmosphere. They know whether people will condone certain things. So, I mean, so the kids at Dudley, I think they picked up they way we felt.

WL:

And you felt, as teachers, that you were training, sort of, or imbuing them with certain values?

VC:

Yes, because we all felt it. If we had no feeling at all—of course, I think sometimes the more education you got maybe the more sensitive you were to it. So the teachers felt it. And they just hadn't expressed it. As I've told you, I told you I felt it. I quit going to the movies, I quit riding the bus. There was never any concerted action by any group, but it was always there, dormant, as it were. But the feeling was always there.

WL:

What was the role of Jesse Jackson in Greensboro—

VC:

Jesse Jackson was more less like all the other students at A&T. One thing, he was an athlete. And then he was president, I think, of the student council, so that gave him a leadership role. So I guess he had a lot to do with the decision making over at A&T.

WL:

And emerged as a sort of leader.

VC:

As a leader, yes.

WL:

What role was there for other organizations in 1963? For example, I think particularly CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]—did it play that big of a role in Greensboro? Did you notice it that much?

VC:

I don't know about CORE.

WL:

Any relations or dealings with the NAACP that you know of?

VC:

There must have been some, but I don't think they played as significant a role as they did some other places. Now, the man who headed it at that time came here, I remember, spoke on several—one or two occasions, so they were involved. But the NAACP in Greensboro is such an old organization. It's been here, and active, for so long. And though not too many people associated with it, they still feel, you know, feel a part of it. Because anytime someone got in trouble or something, they would always go to George Simkins, who was the NAACP. Because you know he helped to integrate the golf course, the hospitals, and a lot of other things, so the NAACP—

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

WL:

—experience on city council.

VC:

Yeah, I'm saying I ran. And speaking of the superintendent, Mr. Weaver, before he died I went to him to get his approval. I was still a principal. And, of course, time was involved. It would be taking away from school. And so, he very readily said, “Yes, you run. Quite all right with me.” He said, “I'll vote for you.” So, that's how it started, because a lot of people said I wouldn't be free, being in the education profession. But I was encouraged by him. And I ran. But they had seven members of the council then, but I came in eighth. And before the summer was gone, after which I had retired, one of the members died. And so, letters and calls went in saying that since I was next in line, that they should choose me. And so the council selected me. So I wasn't elected but selected to succeed a Mr. Pope[?] who had passed.

WL:

And what was your perception of the operation of city council? This is a fairly interesting time, I suppose, to be on the city council.

VC:

Well, we were involved with some of the problems. Because at that time a fellow around here named Nelson Johnson and they were still active. And this was just after the National Guard had pelleted one of the dormitories over at A&T [May 1969]. So it was kind of a crucial period.

It wasn't easy being a black councilman, because people expected you to do more. And incidentally, this was the first time they had two blacks on the council. In fact, the first time I think they'd had any blacks on there. Because there was a big period in there—and that's why some of the people who voted for Jimmie Barber and for me—because they felt, there again, with this spirit of civility and all, that the blacks ought to be represented. So both of us got a lot of votes from the white community. And, of course, as a rule, it generally will start as a little split with some people between Jimmy and me, because they felt there wouldn't be two. And so there was a little division. Never between Jimmy and me, because we never discussed it. We always got along.

But we were there, but some of the things we couldn't do. And frankly, some of the things I didn't want to do. And I think some of the people on the board, I don't want to call them radicals, but some of the people, let's see, to the left of me wanted some things done and wanted me to act as kind of a puppet to tell me what to do. So I think I antagonized a few because I always wanted to be my own man. I didn't want people telling me what to think and what to do. And because I remember one occasion something was written out for me and given to me by one of the attorneys in the city, but I didn't use it.

But that is one of the negative parts of it you know, because I wanted to represent them. And at the same time, whether I was wrong or right, I wanted to represent all of the people, because I was elected by all of the people. And I wanted to do what's right, anyway, by all the people. Because I've seen a lot of zoning that's been done since I've been on there—and mostly in the white communities—that I wouldn't agree to, because as it effects homeowners, et cetera, et cetera, and fairness. But we won't get into that.

WL:

How well do you think the city government, how responsive was it in those days, the sixties, to southeast Greensboro? Do you think—

VC:

Well, I think they were at least aware of it, they were sensitive to it. But there was still some resistance in some of the progress that we'd made. And I've mentioned already that we voted on open housing. And until then, until our realm or our period of lawmaking, as it were, there's never been but one member on the school board, black member. So we put two on there.

WL:

They were appointed at that point?

VC:

Appointed at that time. There's never been a black on the Guilford County Health Board, and the city had an appointment there. So we put the first black on that board. There was some other boards that we were able to get blacks on they'd never been on there before, and some where we had two. And I dare say that it's no better today than—even though they've got the district—but they still only have two members. And if you look out at it proportionately, they don't have quite as much representation, because we had two out of seven. They've got two out of nine or ten.

Anyway, still, you've got to, what shall I say, as I see it, you've got to use persuasion and intelligence in trying to get any type of legislation. And if you're in the minority, the small minority, that's the only access you've got, because you can't intimidate, you can't force action on the part of the majority. In other words, you've got to use the carrot stick. As my mother always said, “You catch more flies with sugar than you do with vinegar.” That may be antique philosophy, but I think it's fairly good philosophy, and that's what, well, just call it my modus operandi. I mean, try to get along.

And the next thing, you can't win every case. And on some minor causes, you may go along. But if something is of vital importance, then you fight it to the point where maybe you'll be the only one to vote for it. Like Senator Jesse Helms, different kind of people I hope [laughs]. But on one or two occasions, I was the only one to vote in a certain way, whether it was yea or nay, because I had to vote my conviction and be true to myself. But that's all I could do.

WL:

What about the movement to a ward plan, or changing the arrangement of city government to make it more—

VC:

We were involved in that. We were involved in that. And I recall that I didn't have too much sympathy for the man who headed the coliseum. Because he came in there [to] one of our meetings, and he made a report, and as a rule they wanted more money. And I had been going out to some of the fairs, and I never saw anything but white youths selling the peanuts or popcorn or drinks around there. And I asked him when could we get some integration of the people who worked in there. And so he—if you knew him, ever saw him or heard him, he was good at saying a lot and using a lot of big words, but you don't know what he said when he's finished. So he was I guess kind of talking down to me. But when he was finished, I said, “Well, I didn't ask you all of that.” I said, “I just want to know when you are going to get some salt and pepper among your employees.” But that was the beginning of it.

But each month while I was there, we worked on integrating the staff at the, within the bureaucracy. We tried to get blacks in each department, one or more. And when we left that particular council, when the term was over, we had blacks in every department except the legal department. Well, now, you ask why. Well, they didn't have but three in there. And they tried to get a young man to come there to work who just finished the law school and passed. But he didn't want the job, you see. He felt he could make more money than working for the city. So we weren't able to get him. And I don't think they've integrated that department yet. But all of the others are integrated.

WL:

Was the police department?

VC:

Yeah. And I stayed on the chief. I say I did, because we worked on it, and I stayed on the thing to get more blacks in the police department and in the fire department. And about, I believe it was monthly, we got a report from the city manager, and the city manager didn't go along with it too much. He was John Turner. But we got those reports. I don't know whether we have any copies—I should have kept some—but we got them each time, showing how many people had come into the department and supervisory duties. Of course, the percentage looked very favorable, because, you see, 90 percent of the people at that time in the sanitation department were black, so that made it look good.

WL:

Overall.

VC:

Overall. But there was improvement, and we worked towards that. And I think that's probably, if I made any contribution—there's some that wasn't in the paper. And I didn't do a lot of the filibustering or talking about it, except for in the council meetings, I talked sometimes. The reporters never reported it. It didn't get a lot of exposure. But at every opportunity, I spoke upon getting all of the departments integrated.

WL:

And this took place about that time.

VC:

Yes, before I left, we even had a black girl working with the city clerk, an assistant to her. She's still—she's not working at that capacity, she had to stop to have a baby—but she's still working with the city. So a lot of progress was made there. Progress was made in the streets.

But the main thing is that you had to have someone present there to represent the black community. Many times they were amenable. Sometimes you had opposition. But many times they were willing to do these things. But unless someone was there to point out these inequities, it would be passed over, you see. Nobody would ever [unclear] you've forgotten about—that is for streets and everything else. You've got to have somebody there to, to holler. They say the child that cries gets the attention. But if nobody's there to cry about this, and complain, then they're ignored.

But we, as a council, we got along very well. Many times we'd have a little debate. I had to debate with some people. I remember once we wanted to improve, make some improvements down here on the library. Well, the fact of it is, the attendance isn't too great.

WL:

The southeast branch?

VC:

Yeah. And unfortunately, we hadn't learned to read as much as we should, as a group. And the criticism was correct that the lady made. But there was one outstanding thing there at this library down here—that they had a wonderful program, reading program for children and activities program for children. They'd come in, they'd see a film and all that. So we needed this extra room. So it took a little convincing—I won't say arguing, but convincing—on the part of one councilman for me to, for us to get that in the act when they made the other improvements. And I couldn't say anything about that, because if it's not going to be utilized, then there's no need to spend any money, you see. If it's not going to be used, then spend it some other place. But it's being used now.

WL:

Were you in favor of the change in city government, the ward plan?

VC:

Yes. I was always for it. Although we weren't as bad as some people think, because I think occasionally they speak despairingly of the council before the district [system]. But as I've indicated to you, we had two, we had a bigger proportion than they have now. And the two there, as we found out, they don't win on every call. Fortunately, they have some people there again that believe in doing the right thing, like Ms. [Dorothy] Bardolph, and sometimes the mayors kind of make sense[?] now. They're better off than the county commissioners. They have a decent group up there, and they get a lot of things done. And I want them to get it done.

But I still say that I don't know whether their achievement is any greater now than it was with the two of us on there. But now, there was a long period when they didn't have any blacks, which indicates that if we'd had a district, we wouldn't have had that period of time when we weren't represented. So that's why I was always for the district. A ward is a ward, you can call it whatever you want to. It's just like taxes, enhancements rather, enhancements. [laughs] But it still looks like a duck, walks like a duck.

WL:

Why do you suppose it took so long to get it passed or to get it changed?

VC:

Because, well, one of the main people against it was one of the most powerful men, number one man, according to the paper in this city—Jim Melvin. Because Jim said to me one day, “Vance, you don't want no ward system.” [He] said, “You were elected by all the people.” And I said, “Yes, and I appreciate it.” I said, “But this may not always be true.” I said, “You may not—,” facetiously I said, “You may not have the character of person that I am who's running.” [laughs] But a lot of times a lot of good people wouldn't run, because they felt they were losing time and wasting money. So they didn't run. I was one of those fools who said, “Well, I'm going to try.” And I thought I had enough contacts, because I've been on enough boards and things.

And it sounds egotistic, but I was the first black on the Family Service board. And that was back there, I guess, in the fifties, I remember [unclear]. And I was the first black on the Guilford Technical College [ Guilford Technical Institute, now Guilford Technical Community College] board. I was the first black, maybe in America, on the Greensboro Redevelopment Commission, and was on it for twelve or thirteen years. And there were some other things. I've worked in the YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association]. And I worked with some of the people who were truly Christian people who wanted to do the right thing, integrated groups. And we could eat at the YWCA when we couldn't eat anywhere else as a mixed group. And we could meet there. So I was involved with all these things prior to the sit-in or prior to the '64 and '54 decisions where people were trying to work together.

So I thought that I knew a lot of these people, and some of them, you know, knew somebody else who would say, “Well, Vance is a pretty nice fellow,” you know. And it proved that way. Because I felt, after having taught at Dudley High School, there were a lot of adults out there that I had taught I hoped would feel favorable to me. But I found out just like Senator [unclear], that everybody didn't like me. [laughs] There's opposition out there.

WL:

I've got one more question for you.

VC:

Okay.

WL:

I wonder if you have any general observations about the biggest and most important changes taking place in relations between white people and black people since you've been in Greensboro—say, since the, well, twenties. Is that when you first came here?

VC:

Say what?

VC:

You first came to Greensboro in—?

VC:

Nineteen twenty-nine.

WL:

In 1929, yeah. So sixty years.

VC:

Yeah, because I go back to college in May for my sixtieth class reunion.

Well, I don't know. I think—I can't say what the most important thing is, but I believe if we look at it overall, the 1964 decision [Civil Rights Act], when Johnson was president, I think brought about more changes than anything else, because that made it possible for us to eat in all of the eating establishments, to live in the hotels, and have generally more freedom of movement. It meant there was more open housing. And though we didn't have affirmative action right away, there were more job opportunities for blacks. And due to these opportunities, I think that brought about a greater appreciation of African American people—as we call ourselves now—than we had hitherto.

And there was a greater respect, I think, from the white man for the status of the black man. And while we experienced a lot of antagonism, there was a more favorable environment between the people of all kinds here in Greensboro. In the meantime, the fight for the school was going on, and this was one of the sores still observed in our city and took a long time, maybe, to bring about anything else. I've forgotten when this decision was made from Chambers, there's a name to it because it started down in Charlotte, I think.

WL:

Oh yeah, the Swann decision [Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education].

VC:

Yeah, Swann. He finished our schools down there, in Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith. Yeah, the Swann decision. But since then, I think the atmosphere has been better. On the other hand, one of the worse things I think that's happened in Greensboro—it wasn't exactly, well, it was racial, too. It gave the city a real black mark—was the assassination, if that's the proper word, of these people down here at Morningside Homes [1979 shootout between the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Workers Party]. They call them Communists and socialists, whatever they were. But I think that's probably one of the worst things that happened. And then as a follow-up to that, the exoneration of all these people who participated. You see, if I went out there and shot a squirrel in my yard, they'd get me for cruelty to animals and for firing arms in the city. I just read in the paper where someone was given a fine for firing firearms in the city. So I think that so far as Greensboro—and as I talk to people outside of Greensboro—they still remember Greensboro from that.

And that didn't help race relations either, because black people were involved. I don't know, it probably didn't help with the Jewish relations, because so many of those people were smart people. When you stop and think about it, it—I can't think of my words, my choice of words—but a pity to see people who could've done so much for the human race's position in another area to be killed as they were, simply because they had some ideas different from other people. But I think that's one of the worst things that ever happened here in recent years.

WL:

It's a very mixed bag.

VC:

Yeah, it's kind of a mixed bag.

WL:

In terms of some things getting better, some things—

VC:

Then you wonder, too, after all this happened, how could they be cleared, you see. And you're wondering, as things have come out, you're still wondering if [there] wasn't some chicanery or something done somewhere. How did it happen? I can't understand how they came clear. I wasn't there when they gave the evidence, but I never will understand it.

WL:

A lot of questions about the role of the city.

VC:

Yeah, who was involved, and how they were able to get the best lawyers in this town. They weren't I don't think any of them were rich people, but they got the best lawyers in town. And the other people, I don't know what kind of lawyer they had. But at least the people were pointing out some weaknesses in the prosecution.

[End of Interview]