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Oral history interview with George H. Evans by Eugene Pfaff


Date: April 27, 1979

Interviewee: George H. Evans

Biographical abstract: Dr. George H. Evans (1907- ) was a local physician appointed to serve as chairman of the Mayor’s Special Committee on Human Rights in the spring and summer of 1963.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of an April 27, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with George H. Evans, Evans discusses his role as chairman of the Special Committee on Human Rights and as a member the Greensboro Citizens Association during the civil rights demonstrations in 1963. He describes negotiations with the business owners, city council, and demonstrators regarding desegregation of downtown businesses, and comments on the accomplishments of the civil rights movement and the growth of economic opportunity for African-Americans.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.508

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 George H. Evans by Eugene Pfaff

EUGENE PFAFF:

I'm speaking with Dr. George H. Evans, distinguished physician and chairman of the Mayor's Special Committee on Human Rights in the spring and summer of 1963 during the daily civil rights marches in Greensboro, which lasted from May until July of that year.

Dr. Evans, I'd like to ask, how did you become a member of the Mayor's Special Committee on Human Rights?

GEORGE EVANS:

Mayor David Schenck decided, during the height of the demonstrations of that year, that he should appoint a special committee to work on the problem of all of the young arrests. And the committee was appointed by the mayor himself and was composed of sixteen people, half white, half black, and I was chosen by the mayor. But beyond that, I can't say why he chose me.

EP:

What was the context of the informal meeting in Mayor Schenck's office on May twenty-second, immediately prior to the announcement of such a committee?

GE:

The context was simply that the demonstrations had created a great deal of unrest. And it was felt that negotiations between the demonstrating groups and the mayor, and between the demonstrating groups and members of the [Greensboro] City Council, had not been very productive in solving some of the problems that were being brought out. And the mayor apparently felt, as he stated to us, that a special committee appointed by him to work directly on these problems with the powers that be, as well as with the demonstrators, could perhaps get closer to the crux of the problem than the council itself could. And he felt that a committee designated to do just that job, and that alone, would probably come closer to being the answer to the problems.

EP:

The mayor is quoted subsequently in the newspaper as saying that he wanted to make it clear to the national news media covering these marches that such a committee concerned with human rights or human relations had been already in operation. Are you aware of any such committee?

GE:

Only vaguely. I had no relationship with such a committee, and I do not really know much about their work. But I think it did not go very far and did not last very long. And I think that, perhaps, is one of the reasons for his appointing this special committee.

EP:

What events led up to the mass demonstrations that occurred after May eleventh? Had there been smaller demonstrations all along? I'm thinking in terms of 1962, the early spring of 1963.

GE:

I don't recall any actual demonstrations having occurred prior to that time, certainly not in any numbers. I do recall, however, that there was quite a bit of protesting done by several smaller groups in the community who felt that something should be done about the problems of segregated facilities all over the city, and that this pattern had lasted long enough.

But the actual beginning of widespread demonstrations and protests did not begin until the spring of the year, at which time these large mass demonstrations took place, following several meetings of the citizens of southeast Greensboro in some of the local churches where the demonstrations were organized, and from which they proceeded to march through the downtown section on a number of occasions, protesting segregated patterns.

EP:

Were you a member of any black organizations or civil rights organizations concerned with the desegregation of Greensboro businesses?

GE:

I was and still am a member—always have been—of the NAACP and of the Greensboro Citizens Association, of which I was the first president when this organization was first set up.

EP:

Was the Greens—

GE:

But that was long before the demonstrations, however.

EP:

Was the Greensboro Citizens Association involved in trying to effect some sort of compromise with the managers of various restaurants, theatres and other businesses in desegregating?

GE:

I think they were not involved separately. But the Citizens Association, as well as the NAACP and other local groups, church groups, fraternity groups, sorority groups and so forth, pooled their efforts. And all of it was directed through the leaders of the demonstrations themselves. It was not a separate effort by any of the organizations, but it was one organized effort by a number of different ones.

EP:

CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, seems to have been the spearhead of the demonstrations here in Greensboro. Why was the NAACP so little involved in the demonstrations in Greensboro?

GE:

I cannot speak for the NAACP, because I was not an officer and had nothing to do with that policymaking. But if I had to hazard a guess about the reason for it, I would say that it was because CORE was a much more militant organization than the NAACP. And the demonstrations were of such a nature that I think personally that they needed a little bit more militancy in the leadership of the demonstrations than any other organization at that time would have given it.

EP:

Am I to judge that from your response that the NAACP or various members and leaders of the black community supported the demonstrations but just felt this was not the role of the NAACP, but supported it being taken over by some other organization, such as CORE?

GE:

I feel that's essentially the case, yes.

EP:

What meetings did your committee or you as an individual have with the CORE leadership and other demonstration leaders, members of the business community, the managers of the theatres and cafés that were targeted by the members of CORE for desegregation efforts?

GE:

Let's stop for a moment.

[Recorder turned off, then back on]

GE:

I think the answer to that would be that the entire committee, of which I was chairman, did not at any time meet with the leaders of the various groups involved in the demonstrations, but on a basis of one-to-one meetings, or subcommittees, or two or three members of my committee with some of the representatives of the protesting groups. We met, for example, on more than one occasion with Bill Thomas, with Reverend [A. Knighton] Stanley, and with a Reverend [Richard L.] Hicks, who has long since moved away from here, in an effort to try to get some sort of an agreement between the two sides in the controversy. In other words, we were sort of a liaison group.

And likewise, I would dare say that 95 percent of the work on my committee was done by subcommittees, rather than by the chairman or by the committee as a whole. We had a number of subcommittees which met with the leaders in the restaurant businesses about the city, with the movie houses and with the management of hotels and motels, trying to get some kind of a compromise by which we could get them to open their doors to anybody in the community who wanted to attend their places of business.

The work of the subcommittees, I feel like, was perhaps more responsible for what we like to think of a success of our efforts than the committee as a whole, by any means.

EP:

But you did not directly participate in any of these subcommittee discussions?

GE:

Oh, yes I did. I did because I was a—well, I made myself an ex officio member of more than one of the committees. But the actual legwork was done by the chairmen of various subcommittees.

EP:

What sort of discussions did you directly participate in?

GE:

Well, I met, for example, with a representative of the Alsanet[?] Hotel chain, who at that time controlled the O. Henry Hotel. They had a representative from Chicago here with whom we met and outlined the problems in the community. And asked him, on behalf of the organization, to talk with their board of directors or whoever was in charge of their operations and tell them our story and see if we couldn't get them to cooperate in opening the doors of their hotel to anybody who wanted to use the hotel.

I also was in on some discussions with a representative whom I don't remember now by name, but who came here from Buffalo, New York, and who had some official connection with the restaurant chain, K&W and S&W restaurants. And they were receptive to what we talked about, the individuals were.

And we think they must have carried a right good message back to their headquarters. Because these negotiations led directly and indirectly, I think, to some solution of the problem that we were trying to solve.

So that I was in on quite a bit of it. But I left the actual legwork, for the most part, to the chairmen of the subcommittees, of which there were several.

EP:

These representatives of the national chain, did they indicate that the national chain would seek to comply with the wishes of the demonstrators on a local basis? Or did they leave it up to the discretion of the local managers?

GE:

I don't recall that they felt that they were in any position to leave it up to the discretion of the local managers. I think they indicated that their boards of directors would like to listen to the position of the local management. But they would not commit themselves one way or another about whether they would leave it up to the local board. However, I think they felt that they would have to wait until their return to their headquarters and acquaint the management and owners with the problems, and then the decision would be made later at their headquarters rather than here on the spot.

EP:

Did you ever speak with any of the local managers of the various businesses targeted by the demonstrators: Boyd Morris of the Mayfair, for instance; Neil McGill, manager of the Carolina Theatre; James Bellows, manager of the Center Theatre?

GE:

Yes. I did not have any direct communication myself with Boyd Morris, but some of the subcommittee work was done with him.

As far as I'm concerned personally, I had quite a bit of communication with Neil McGill. And I might add that they were very pleasant communications. And I think Mr. McGill indicated a spirit of cooperation in wanting to do something to quiet things down.

And he brought a regional representative of the organization here from another city. I don't recall his name now. But we met also with him and along with Mr. McGill. And I think that helped to lead to some of the solution to the problems.

I also met with Mr. Eugene Street, who was interested in the same problems because he was at that time the manager of the Cinema Theatre on Tate Street. And he was rather helpful with carrying on the work that we were attempting to do.

EP:

What was the position of these managers?

GE:

The position of the managers, for the most part, took this turn. I recall particularly two of the people involved who indicated that as far as they were concerned personally, they felt that the places of business, the restaurants, the movie houses, the hotels and motels, should open their doors to the black people of the community. And they were receptive to our communication with them.

The only reservations—not the only reservations—but some of their reservations taking this position—they were afraid of opening their doors wide open in the beginning, because, as at least two of them expressed to me—they said, “Well, Doctor, we would be willing to open the doors except for the fact that we fear what would happen to our businesses if we open the doors wide and a whole mass of students, for example, from A&T College [North Carolina A&T State University] or Bennett College should come in and demand entrance to the Carolina Theatre, for example. They might take up all the spaces in the place so that the regular patrons would not have anywhere to come in and sit down.”

EP:

Do you think this is rationalizing their reluctance to be pioneers and going against traditional local social mores?

GE:

I don't think it was all a matter of rationalization. I think some of it was a real genuine concern that they would be overrun.

But the members of my committee, including me, hastened to tell them that there was one factor that I think they were overlooking. And that was the fact that not that many students could afford the price of admission to the Carolina Theatre or to rent rooms in motels and hotels, or to buy a decent meal at three, four, five dollars, so that there wouldn't be any great influx of people all at one time, to the exclusion of their regular patrons. They were reluctant to believe that at first, but I think we finally convinced them.

EP:

There was a joint statement issued by the managers of the National Theatre, the Center Theatre, the Carolina Theatre and the Cinema Theatre, that was issued on June second, stating that they were going to desegregate and that the specifics of exactly how this would occur were going to be a subject of ongoing negotiations with your committee. Could you discuss how this communiqué came about?

GE:

Yes, I think I can. After several sessions of negotiating, this group of theatre managers agreed finally that they would open their doors on a limited basis to certain small groups of black people to begin with and then increase the size of the groups if the matter proceeded without any great amount of trouble. To this end, they had issued a number of tickets, which I and my committee controlled, to be issued to any persons in the black community that the committee thought would be good persons to represent the community in attending these newly opened businesses. And I can't recall the specific number of tickets that were given out in the beginning. But it was something like—say ten tickets to the Carolina Theatre, ten tickets to the National Theatre, ten passes to enter into the S&W restaurant, and so forth.

And then, as things proceeded, there was no problem with this at all. So it didn't take very long for them to realize that this opening of their doors was not going to be the problem that they thought it was going to be.

And for that reason, some of these management people eventually said to me in more or less private conversations, said, “Well, Doctor, if we had had any idea that it was going to run this smoothly we wouldn't have hesitated as long as we did.” But when we proved to them that it worked, that it could work without any great amount of difficulty, why, there was no further problem in those areas.

EP:

Were the members of the community primarily adult members of the community, or did you extend this to all age groups?

GE:

You're speaking about the people to whom these tickets were issued?

EP:

Yes.

GE:

Well, we did not give any to any young children, of course, to start with. But there was a mixture of people who did receive the tickets. Some of them were adult members of the community; some of them were college students. So there was a mixture like that, but all of them were adults to begin with.

That matter of issuing tickets did not last very long, though, because as soon as management found out that they were not going to have any severe problems, then the tickets were discontinued and the doors were open to anybody who wanted to come along.

EP:

You've mentioned that the bulk of the work of the committee was done by the chairmen of the subcommittees.

GE:

Right.

EP:

Does any one individual or group of individuals stand out in your mind as doing much of this legwork you could discuss?

GE:

Yes. I think I can say yes to that. I should be a little reluctant to specify any one subcommittee chairman because it might sound like the other committees did not do as much. But that is not the case.

However, I think if I had to single out any one subcommittee chairman who I think perhaps did more than anybody else on the committee, including the chairman, to get things going, it would have to be Oscar Burnett, who was my vice chairman. He was very instrumental in making the necessary contacts and negotiating with people that we thought a white member of our committee might be able to begin negotiations with better than a black member could.

And then, as things progressed, we had more or less mixed groups to meet with the management of the various places that we were trying to open. And in that way, we think it was rather successful.

EP:

But you never sat around a conference table with the representatives of these different businesses and organizations in a large body; it was always on a small, personal one-to-one basis?

GE:

One-to-one basis largely because we felt like we could deal with them individually better than we could in a group, and particularly, since there were different kinds of businesses involved.

Some of the businesses were eating places, some of them were hotels, some of them were movie houses. And they had different types of management and different types of programs.

EP:

How did the negotiations proceed with the restaurants, particularly after this initial success with the theatres? Were they more intransigent?

GE:

I think I'd have to say yes to that. You probably know that Mr. Morris never really agreed to open the Mayfair Cafeteria, for example. And Mr. Sherrill, the owner of the S&W Cafeteria, was not very amenable to negotiating. There was perhaps more success with smaller eating establishments than with the larger ones.

There's one place in particular on Eugene Street just across from the old Sears Roebuck store. I can't recall the name of the place. It's still in operation, by the way.

EP:

The Garden Restaurant?

GE:

No, it was not that. That is not it. I can't recall it. They were more amenable to early opening than some of the larger establishments were.

EP:

I know that in 1960 in the demonstrations, the targets of the demonstrations—Kress and Woolworth's—were reluctant to be the first to go along or to be singled out. Their statement was that, “Well, let's do it all together,” much like the theatres did. Was there much of this feeling on the part of the management of the restaurants in 1963?

GE:

I did not detect any such thing as that in the contact that I had with them through my subcommittee.

EP:

Were the managers of the restaurants seeking some kind of compromise or feasible plan, or were they just adamant in their statement, “we are not going to integrate our patrons”?

GE:

For the most part, I think they were rather adamant. As far as I knew, they did not seek any settlement on a graduated basis such as the theatres did. They were much more adamant.

EP:

Did they ever explain their position, their point of view, why they were taking this stand?

GE:

Not to my knowledge, unless they said something like that to Mr. Burnett or maybe Mr. [Edward] Zane or some of the people who did most of the negotiating with them directly. I don't know of any statement that they made that would explain their position. Apparently, as I look back upon it now after all these years, it appears to me that it was just a matter of their being afraid of what would happen to their businesses if they opened their doors.

EP:

Well, eventually the S&W did integrate. The Mayfair never did. And Mr. Morris subsequently sold his business and left town. Was your committee's negotiations responsible for the desegregation of the S&W?

GE:

We think so, although I think most of that credit should perhaps go to the demonstrators, because they are the ones who started the process, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who at that time was a student at A&T, and who led the demonstrators for the most part.

EP:

I want to ask you about Jesse Jackson's participation. The paper mentions there was a compromise—a truce worked out—or negotiated between the demonstrators and the businesses following the large silent march on May twenty-fifth. And that there were no more demonstrations until June second, at which time Jesse Jackson was quoted as saying that CORE did not control, or could not call the shots for the demonstrations. Did your committee interpret this as a breach of faith, a breakdown in negotiations that demonstrations had started once again?

You were quoted in the paper as not having been aware of these demonstrations, that the demonstrators had not contacted you that they were going to begin massive demonstrations once again.

GE:

That's quite true. They did not contact me or our committee at all, so that it came about without our knowledge.

As far as Jesse Jackson's concerned, at that time, as you know, he was the president of the student body at A&T. And in that capacity, he led much of the demonstrations. And they did this, however, without contacting our organization at all.

EP:

Did they not seek to work through your committee? Did they want to just work or confront directly the managers of these businesses? Or did they want to work with your committee?

GE:

They didn't offer any cooperation with my committee, as I recall, at all. We had no direct contact with them on any official basis. The only contact probably would have been some unofficial contacts. But for the most part, they went on their own in conducting the demonstrations.

However, I should add that most of the members of my committee, particularly I'm talking now about the black members of the committee, were not opposed to what the demonstrators were doing. And, in fact, a number of the members of my committee, including my wife and me, joined the demonstrations in their marches on several occasions.

EP:

I was going to ask you, did you directly participate in any of the demonstrations?

GE:

Oh, yes.

EP:

Was this seen as a conflict of interest as your role as a negotiator?

GE:

[I] didn't feel like there was any conflict at all. It was just a matter of different groups, different organizations trying to achieve the same goal, just going about it separately but also agreeing with the ultimate aim of all of the organizations.

EP:

Did you and your wife participate as individuals or representatives of an organization?

GE:

Individuals. We didn't represent anybody but ourselves.

EP:

Were you ever involved in any of the demonstrations in which a number of people were arrested?

GE:

No, I was not in those. On a couple of evenings when that did take place, my committee was meeting, so that I couldn't be at both places at the same time. I think had it not been for that, I probably would have been.

EP:

There seems to be a series of tactics that were used by the demonstrators. In some cases, there were silent marches where there were no attempts to actually enter the buildings, wanting to be arrested, or at least only token attempts.

In other words, one of the leaders, Jesse Jackson, or another leader of the demonstration would go up and say, “May I purchase a ticket?” And when they were refused, then they went on. At other times there were very—well, as the paper described them, hand clapping, chanting of slogans, [and] singing of freedom songs.

Was there any clear decision about which form the demonstrations would take?

GE:

As far as I know, there was not. And, I think, perhaps, if any decision was made about which way to conduct the demonstrations, it was done by the leaders of the demonstrations, and without the knowledge of those who participated in the marches.

Those in which my wife and I participated were more or less silent demonstrations. For example, we left the Trinity AME Church on a couple of evenings and marched silently from there right on down Market Street to Elm [Street] and so on around the downtown area.

EP:

Was this that famous silent march on Sunday afternoon in which there were anywhere from two to five thousand participants?

GE:

I believe not. Because those in which we participated were evening marches, took place at night. I was not in the Sunday afternoon marching at all.

EP:

Was there an effective line of communication from the leaders of these demonstrations down through the individual participants about where they were going to do and what they were going to do once they were there?

GE:

Well, I think the leaders of the demonstrations, including some of those we've already named: Jesse Jackson, Bill Thomas, Tony Stanley, and Reverend Hicks. They probably mapped out the strategy themselves for they and their committee, if they had such a committee, and simply announced at the end of some of the community meetings at the churches which way the marching would go and that they wanted it done peaceably, because they had the cooperation of some of the law enforcement officers in seeing that the demonstrators would not be molested. So that on those occasions, there was a rather silent marching—no noise except singing freedom songs, as you indicated, particularly the song, We Shall Overcome. That was sort of a theme song, I think, for most of it.

EP:

Did you agree with all of the tactics of the demonstrations, or were there some reservations on individual instances—for instance, when the large number of people sat down on Greene Street or in Jefferson Square on the evenings of June fifth and sixth?

GE:

I can't say that I wholly agreed with some of the methods that were used. And yet, it's pretty hard to argue against what was done in the light of the results that they helped produce.

You know that many stressful situations are resolved only after some pretty forceful protesting, not necessarily including violence. But I think that if this protesting had not been done on a rather prominent and very definite note, that we might not have reached the solutions that we did reach.

In other words, my philosophy has been ever since those days, that when you're confronted with problems such as we were confronted with during those days, that I don't think either of two methods of approaching the problem— like protest marches and demonstrations on the one hand, and negotiations on the other hand—could have solved the problems or brought this to the conclusion that it came to. My personal feeling is that a mixture of both approaches is a much more successful approach to the problem than either one alone.

EP:

In other words, you're saying that as a negotiator, you could see that if there wasn't the pressure of the mass demonstrations, there wouldn't have been any pressure for the members of the white power structure to compromise.

GE:

Exactly.

EP:

Did the resumption of the mass demonstrations hamper in any way your negotiation efforts?

GE:

I don't think it did.

EP:

It didn't make the managers of these businesses or the city officials more intransigent?

GE:

They might have been more intransigent to some degree, but not to any great extent. And certainly, not to the extent where that intransigence, if there was some, interfered with their willingness to go ahead and do something about the situation.

I think they had reached the point where they felt that something had to be done to resolve the problems, or else we might be subjected to some more violence than there was. So I think they were anxious to get something done to solve it.

EP:

Did you conduct many negotiations with city officials? For instance, one constant statement of theory of CORE was that the city, if it wanted to, through the city council, could pass an ordinance requiring desegregation. And the members of the council being businessmen, including Mayor Schenck, did not move on this, saying that theirs was purely a role in trying to facilitate an atmosphere of compromise. Did the city administration enter the negotiations in any form?

GE:

Not directly as a council. The mayor himself, I guess, was the main contact that we had with the council or with the city fathers. And some of the white members of our committee, including Mr. Zane particularly, and Mr. Burnett, did have much more contact with members of the council than I had. I guess largely because they felt that they would be able to get a little further toward some resolution of the problem than I could. So their contact was made with members of the council, not necessarily on an official basis, but more or less unofficially.

EP:

Do you think that Mayor Schenck sought compromise, or was he somewhat of a hardliner?

GE:

Mayor Schenck gave the appearance of wanting some kind of compromise. But at the same time, I think he was a little bit recalcitrant, not because of any desire on his part personally, but I think he was perhaps wary of the reaction of the business community and city hierarchy and his own friends and neighbors in his community to his going too far afield in trying to get things opened up.

I think if it had been left to him personally, without having to think about the reaction of others in the community, he might have moved a little bit faster. This is just a personal opinion.

EP:

What was the feeling of your committee and members of the black community in general about the lack of action from the [Greensboro] City Council?

GE:

We felt that the city council dragged its feet a great deal more than they should have. We thought all along that they could have done a great deal more to facilitate the solution of the problem if they had been willing to do so.

EP:

In what form?

GE:

Well, by taking an active role in urging some of these businesses that we had talked about to go ahead with the opening of their doors and welcoming anybody in the community into their businesses. But the city council did not at any time, to my knowledge, take any official position on trying to influence these business people. If they did it, it was done without it being made an official act.

EP:

Was it feasible to expect council to pass such an ordinance as requested by CORE?

GE:

I like to think it was feasible. Yes. At the same time, I can appreciate the position of the council in going very slowly with it because of fear of reaction from the people who were leading businesspeople in the community. But in the light of the unrest that was going on and the threat of more unrest and perhaps some violence down the way, I feel, and I felt then, that the city council could have, and should have, acted more vigorously in trying to bring things to conclusion, regardless of the reaction of businesses.

EP:

I asked that in view of the fact that the majority of the members of the council were businessmen, and that this was asking for local legislation which did not exist at that time on national legislation. What is your reaction to the behavior of the [Greensboro] Police Department during the demonstrations and how they handled the situation?

GE:

For the most part, I think the police department was somewhat restrained in its handling [of] situations. Those in which I was involved—the marches for example—were handled rather well. Members of the law enforcement agencies were on hand, and they saw to it that the marches went off undisturbed.

When it came to the matter of the more vigorous demonstrations, such as sitting down in the streets and so forth, I was not present at any of those. And I don't believe I'm qualified to say what kind of rating I could give the police officers for their behavior during those times, because I heard such conflicting reports about it.

Some people felt that they did a good job of handling it, and there were some others who felt that the police did not do half of what they could have done. So that with conflicting opinions depending on the person's point of view, I'm really not in a position to say much.

EP:

For those who criticize the police, it sounds like still what you're saying is—could have done in terms of crowd control—or were they suggesting that there was direct police brutality?

GE:

I didn't hear anything of any direct police brutality, no. But I'm thinking about such things as arresting large masses of demonstrators and putting them in the—what was then, I believe, called the county home [Central Carolina Rehabilitation Hospital] or some place like that and keeping them there sometimes overnight, [and] the place being cold and without enough sanitary facilities, without enough sleeping facilities, without adequate provision for food, and so forth. So that it was felt that that was sort of—I don't know what the word is I want to use but—

EP:

Insensitive?

GE:

Insensitive may be a good word, yes. Those things could have been handled on a better basis we thought.

EP:

Then Mayor Schenck formed a new committee by sending out letters to other prominent members of the community on June seventh, and then yet another committee on July eleventh. Did these committees conflict with yours? Did they hamper the process of negotiation by your committee, in that there seemed to be now three committees going on at various levels of negotiation rather than the one committee that had been negotiating all along since early May—or late May, rather?

GE:

I think the answer to that boils down to this: that the committee of which I was chairman was the first committee appointed by the mayor to try to work out some of these problems. And that after we were able to get something done towards getting to the bottom of the problems, the mayor and the council decided that the work of this committee should be made a permanent thing rather than just having a temporary committee to work on the thing in an ad hoc manner. So that, as time went on and the demonstrations cooled and some progress was seen in the manner of opening up facilities to anybody in the community who wanted to participate, then the mayor began to make some overtures toward forming a permanent Human Relations Commission.

EP:

Had you any desire to serve on this—

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

GE:

—for several reasons. I suppose the first one is that I felt that our committee had done its work and had gone about as far as was necessary to go in a manner of direct negotiation and opening of doors. And that if there was going to be a permanent commission appointed, that it would probably be better handled by a different group of people. And I think that was the position that the mayor took after I talked with him about it to some degree.

From my own personal point of view, during the approximately two months—or maybe a little over two months—that we worked on this situation, I did very little of my own personal work of practicing medicine. I had to give most of time to this work. And I felt that it was time for some new blood. And I still feel that that was a good decision, because I felt that we had at least started the ball rolling in the right direction, and that any other good citizen, or group of citizens, could have come into the picture and continued the work which we had tried to start. So that, I was willing and happy to see the mayor appoint the special—or rather a permanent Human Relations Commission.

And I think that the present Human Relations Commission is considered a direct outgrowth of the special committee of which I was chairman. And their work now is more or less routine work and does not call for as much concentrated effort as we had to put out there in that period.

EP:

But had the mayor contacted you about the dissolution or dissolving of your committee? Or did this initiate from on your side?

GE:

I think that when the committee was first organized, the mayor indicated then that this committee that he was appointing was expected to take over the work of trying to work out a satisfactory peaceful solution to the problems that the community faced. And that once that work was accomplished, the committee would not meet to be continuing its work.

I don't know that Mayor Schenck ever directly decided on a date when the committee could be dissolved. But I think the committee itself, when it felt like it accomplished most of its purposes, sort of faded away.

And then as chairman I made a final oral report to the city council on what we had attempted to do. And immediately after that, the permanent commission was appointed.

EP:

What had you attempted to do, and what do you feel you achieved?

GE:

We attempted, in summary, to influence the business people of the community that it was only right and fair that they should serve all members of the community without regard to race, which was the question in everybody's mind at the time. It was only right and fair. And that, to a large extent, much of the business of the downtown merchants—clothing stores and food stores and whatever—was dependent on the black community for a lot of its business, and that they owed it to everybody in the community to give some of this back by accommodating anybody who wanted to participate in their businesses, whatever those businesses were.

So we felt that our mission was to influence them that this was the thing to do. And that the matter of segregated facilities and refusal to accommodate black people was something that should be outlawed. And that, as was said by other people in other areas are protesting, it was a matter of our feeling that the time had come for change, and that there was no better time to make a change than at that period, when so much protesting was being done that it was disrupting everything about the community. And that everybody stood to suffer, including the downtown merchants, if something wasn't done to get things quieted down.

EP:

CORE leaders talked about the strength of the boycott of black patrons to downtown businesses. Do you think that that was an effective protest instrument?

GE:

Yes, I do.

EP:

There was that significant amount of black patronage of businesses downtown?

GE:

We think so. Yes, indeed.

EP:

Do you feel this was a significant factor in the compromises that were worked out?

GE:

I believe so. In fact, I know quite a few people who left Greensboro to go to close by places—High Point, Kernersville, Burlington, Reidsville—to do some of the shopping that they normally would have done right here in the city, including the chairman.

EP:

What were the accomplishments that you feel your committee effected?

GE:

We feel that we were successful, through negotiation, in getting a peaceful settlement to many of the longstanding situations in the community that were being protested, such as refusal to serve our people at restaurant counters, refused to let them into the movie houses except way up in the balcony three floors up—which at times had been rat-infested and which were not kept very clean at times. And we felt that we were able to get people to see that there were lots and lots of black people in the community who were not criminals, and that opening the doors to these people was not going to ruin their businesses as they feared.

So that all in all, we felt that we were able to do a lot of changing of the climate that had been persistent through the community all through the years—a climate of standoffishness that was demonstrated by lots of merchants who did not want to listen at all to reason when it came to the matter of accommodating negro patrons.

So that—without any bragging at all—we felt that the committee was able to accomplish quite a little bit in this regard and to quiet the situation that probably would have led to a lot of violence if something hadn't been done to get it resolved.

EP:

The theatres had been desegregated. Had the S&W been desegregated prior to the dissolution of the committee?

GE:

That's a little bit hazy. I cannot answer definitely. I think it had, but I'm not positive on that point.

EP:

The paper continually mentions the primary targets as being Carolina and Center Theatres, the Mayfair and the S&W cafeterias. And yet, you have also mentioned the O. Henry Hotel. Were there other secondary targets of the demonstrations, and what was the result of these activities?

GE:

I think the major point of the efforts were directed at those businesses that you mentioned, because they were the leading businesses of the community in those areas.

The King Cotton Hotel was mentioned also in some of the protests. But the major effort toward opening up the hotels and motels was directed at the O. Henry because it was the leading hotel. And some effort was made toward motels, particularly Plantation Club on the High Point Road, mainly because these were the leaders.

And I think it was felt generally that if we could get the leading businesses to open their doors, then smaller businesses would not be so recalcitrant. And that they would probably fall in line more readily if they saw what the leading businesses were doing. So that we did not have any confrontation—I mean my committee did not—with many of the smaller businesses, because we didn't feel like it was necessary.

EP:

Intermittently to the press you released statements or were quoted as saying that negotiations were going on on a local private basis, and that they were proceeding slowly. Was there any sense of frustration at the pace of the negotiations from any element in the community, black and white?

GE:

Oh, yes, yes, particularly the black community. Before I answer that directly, I should say this, that the work on my committee was done, as you implied earlier, in sort of a private, quiet manner. And for the most part, neither the press nor the business community knew very much about what went on in our committee meetings, and—because the work of the committee was not publicized very much.

And we held our committee meetings without any public pronouncement that they were going to come off, because we didn't want any reporters present. We didn't have any reporters. So that the only news that came out about the committee meetings was what came from us as a committee. I think that was the proper way to handle it.

We felt that way at the time, and we—of the committee, because we felt that if too much publicity was given to what we were attempting to do, that it might sabotage some of the work that we were trying to do. So that we negotiated quietly, and we didn't make much public pronouncement about what we were doing or what we did until after some of this was accomplished.

Now, of course, you asked me something about whether the people in the community felt that the negotiations were proceeding too slowly. Of course, the answer to that is yes, because many of the people in the community felt that these were things that should be done right now, as you would expect. And while we thought, as more mature citizens, that it perhaps could not be done right now, we felt that it certainly should progress more rapidly than it did at times.

As a result of this protest, I, as chairman, received quite a bit of flack because of the fact that we were not working hard enough and fast enough, and—

EP:

What form would this flack take?

GE:

Letters, telephone calls, telephone ringing all hours of the night, nobody answering on the other end at times.

EP:

So there were implied threats or intimidation as well as overt complaints?

GE:

Yes. I suppose anybody who is in the public eye expects to receive some protests, because there's no way to do anything that's going to satisfy everybody in the community. So that—I didn't let that disturb me too much, because I took the position that I was doing what I thought was the right thing to do, and in the right manner. And if there were those who didn't approve of it, why that's all, that's their right to protest. I didn't appreciate waking me up at all hours of the night and not having anything to say, but that happened quite a little bit.

EP:

Did you receive any overt threats?

GE:

No, no real threats, no, no. Just a matter of indicating that they didn't approve of the way my committee was handling things. That's all. But no threats involved.

EP:

Did you continue to play a role in civil rights negotiations or demonstrations?

GE:

Not directly. As I said earlier in our conversation, my membership has continued right on through the years with NAACP and with the Citizens Association, so that through these organizations, I suppose I should say that I have continued with some civil rights efforts. But not any official capacity such as I was at the time of the demonstrations.

EP:

You were quoted in the newspaper on June sixth— Greensboro Record—as saying that you're disappointed that Greensboro so far has not seen fit to take the lead or to fall in line with other major cities in the state in lowering barriers of segregation. “This fact points out all the more vividly the need for our entire city's leadership to wield all of its influence to hasten the time when we can join this crusade for justice and dignity for all citizens.” And you further stated that the image which generally has been created of Greensboro as being a fair and just city can still be preserved if we act without further delay.

First of all, do you think that the city, entire city's leadership, did wield any, or as much, influence as it should have in this capacity? And, secondly, do you think that this image that you spoke of later in the quote I just read was preserved? Or was it somewhat tarnished or damaged?

GE:

To answer the first—the second question first, I think the matter, the manner of answering that depends upon whose point of view you're talking about. There are still a number of people in the community who feel that the city's image was tarnished way back in 1963 by their not moving as rapidly and as quickly as they might have in these matters of protesting. But there are a good number of others who feel that the job was accomplished perhaps in as good a manner as it could have been accomplished, although not as rapidly.

Statements such as you read there I felt at the time, and I still feel like they were appropriate for me to say. I feel not only are they appropriate because of the fact that those situations existed, but I also feel that by making such statements as that, I was hopeful at the time that making such statements would help to spur or accelerate the efforts of the city fathers towards getting something more done than was being done. So that was my position, and I did not change it, because I felt that we needed to do a whole lot more than we were doing at the time.

EP:

Do you think the city's fathers did extend the kind of effort you had hoped they would make?

GE:

[long pause] Not as rapidly or as forcefully as I think they might have. I think they could have done more except for the same reaction from the community that I think they perhaps were afraid of.

EP:

What was the result of Mayor Schenck's announcement urging desegregation at a press conference on June eighth and a subsequent meeting with leaders of the black community at the Hayes-Taylor YMCA to discuss the specifics of his announcement?

For instance, Jesse Jackson posted bond and was released from prison, although—or jail—although he had said he would not do so at the time of his arrest. And that Reverend Stanley reconsidered his resignation from CORE and other offices that he had.

Why was it a strong reaction to something that amounted to little more than a statement of intent and which subsequent events showed that they did not materially increase the pace of desegregation?

GE:

At the time, I think I remember hearing expressions from some people in the community that the mayor's statement at the time was one that was prompted by the fear of further violence if something did not come from the city fathers, and that perhaps it was made with a sense of frustration at the lack of speed with which things had been opening, and with the hope that the members of the black community to whom he was talking would perhaps feel that the city fathers were making more of an effort to do something about it than had been apparent up until that time.

EP:

Apparently, as a result of this announcement, there were no further mass demonstrations, the boycott was called off. In other words, it seemed like the black community ceased the more visible pressures on the businesses and the city administration after this. Did the city administration and the businesses with which such organizations as your committee were negotiating respond as favorably as the black community had, or do you think that the black community went that extra mile?

GE:

I think they perhaps went the extra mile, as you call it. I believe they did, in that they were willing to give the mayor with this statement that he made a chance to prove that they were more sincere than the community had believed earlier that they were.

EP:

Did this prove to be the case? Were there substantive changes as a result of the statement?

GE:

Well, I'm not sure that I can answer directly, because that's been so long ago. But it was not too long after that before things began to open up on a wider basis. And whether that opening up can be ascribed to his statement or to the work of CORE or to the work of the special committee, or to a combination of all of these things, is hard to judge at this period in time. It may be that it is a result of an accumulation of work of all of these different groups.

EP:

What was the shift of emphasis in the civil rights movement after the end of the mass demonstrations on June seventh in Greensboro?

GE:

I suspect that there are people in the community who are more qualified to answer that than I am, such as the leaders of the Citizens Association and the leaders of the NAACP. I believe that I would prefer that you ask them, because they were more in direct contact than I was.

But I think, in a general sense, the efforts from that point on were directed toward not so much opening doors to businesses like theatres and so on, but perhaps to opening doors of employment to qualified black people in various capacities where the doors had not been opened to them previously. For example, bank tellers, secretaries of—in the larger business organizations downtown, white-collar jobs in some industries, rather than just janitorial jobs. So the emphasis was toward economic matters, I think, rather than simply opening doors and businesses to people who wanted to eat something or wanted to see a movie.

EP:

Nationally, this also seems to be a time when there was more emphasis on voter registration drives—

GE:

Yes, that's true, yes.

EP:

And the initial legislation which eventually became the 1965 Voter Rights Act was going on. So I assume this was the shift—more through legal channels?

GE:

Yes. That's right. I did not mention voter registration. I was talking about economics but voter registration was and still is a large part of that push, not only to voter registration but with efforts following the registration of voters to get them to go to the polls and vote.

There's quite a bit of apathy, not just in the black community but in the voters generally, toward going to the polls for election—for voting instead of just registering and then forgetting it.

EP:

W. O. Conrad, who became chairman of the Department of Human Relations Commission, which was formed on July eleventh, was quoted several times in the newspaper as criticizing the desegregation of restaurants, theatres and businesses being more or less window dressing or superficial or relating more to the ego than really changes in substantive social and economic circumstances. He was quoted, instead, as emphasizing improving black schools and job training for blacks.

Do you regard this as ignoring the demand for basic civil rights that the black community was striving for at that time and trying to rationalize the resistance to desegregation in the business community by reinforcing a stereotypical image of blacks of “proving themselves worthy of equality before seeking it”?

GE:

I feel that certainly, ultimately some serious consideration had to be given to opening other doors besides the voting process, restaurants, and motels and movie houses. I think that some consideration needed to be given to better employment opportunities, training opportunities, in order that people could prepare themselves for better employment. But I believe also that the approach to these problems probably was more successful by starting slowly and starting as we did with these businesses, merchants and so forth. And that that in turn, opened some eyes and opened some doors to let people see that a number of people in the black community were capable of handling other than menial jobs if they were given the opportunity to do so.

Now when it comes to the matter of them proving themselves qualified to do these jobs, they had had no opportunities much to prove themselves. So that somebody had to take the lead in giving them an opportunity to train for preparing for these jobs.

An example of this is—and I know personally of some efforts that were made to get one or two of the local bank—banks and bank leaders to employ black personnel in other than janitorial capacities. And they were told that the officials at the head of some of the bank organizations could not find qualified black people to serve as secretaries in the offices, tellers in the bank.

The same thing was said about efforts to get operator positions in the local telephone company office. They couldn't find anybody qualified to fill these positions. Well, that was because no efforts had been made to find anybody.

Once they decided that they would open the doors, they found all the people they wanted, without any problem, to do the same jobs that had been denied them all along. So that now, and not only now, but for some years since those years of the demonstrations, you can see, and you have seen, I'm sure, numbers of black people as telephone operators, bank tellers, bank executives. I know of one or two instances of vice presidents of the local branches of large chain banks with black people. And these people had been trained, in theory at least, in some of these business administration positions, but they hadn't had the opportunity to prove themselves until somebody decided to give them the opportunity.

And there's where I think Mr. Conrad's position is a very strong statement that, “Well, we need to give these people better working opportunities, better schools and better facilities at the schools,” something that even now is being protested a great deal. But I feel that the gradual approach to it, which started with the work of our committee, was the thing that led up to the opening of other doors farther down the line, as Mr. Conrad was indicating should be done.

I don't know that it could have been done on an instant basis. I don't think it could have. But I think it evolved in a natural manner as a result of concerted efforts on some key people in the community. And the result of it has been rather good.

EP:

A question I forgot to ask earlier was you indicated that the majority of the work was done through these subcommittees.

GE:

Right.

EP:

Would they then come back and report to the committee as a whole?

GE:

Yes.

EP:

How frequently did your committee meet?

GE:

We didn't have any regularly scheduled meetings. I think I could answer that by saying that the meetings were held, more or less, on a call basis, depending on what we felt was the need for holding meetings or to have reports from these committees and to decide what the next step should be in our efforts.

In the very beginning, I think perhaps we did meet more regularly than we did later on, maybe once a week or thereabouts. But after the initial phase of the efforts were being organized, it was felt that it was not necessary to have a meeting every week, for example, but meet as the need arose for meetings.

EP:

Do you remember any of the conflict proposals put forth in the meeting of the committee as a whole about the next step on which to proceed?

GE:

Well, one example of that revolves around what I had said earlier about opening the doors of the local theatres.

Negotiations were held with the managers of the local theatres some two or three times. And then the matter of this approach by issuing tickets to a limited number of people to come into the theatres was proposed. And the committee accepted the proposal and this was done. This is one of the proposals that I recall very vividly.

EP:

The paper also mentions that at one time you were negotiating with or carrying discussions on with as many as twenty owners or managers of restaurants. And yet, you mentioned that the focus of the activity was the larger restaurants and theatres in the community. Do you recall whether or not you were successful in some of the smaller businesses and getting them to desegregate earlier than the larger businesses, and what effect did this have on the process of negotiations?

GE:

Well, I think, as I recall now, most of the other eating facilities that were talked with were eating facilities that were connected with motels and hotels.

For example, I mentioned earlier the Plantation Club out on the High Point Road; Fred Koury[?] was manager and owner at the time. The same thing was done in relationship to the local Holiday Inn restaurants. And, to a lesser degree, with the one Howard Johnson that was present in this area at the time, out on the High Point Road, also. Other smaller eating establishments—I don't recall specific ones.

EP:

Did you have any success with the businesses that you just mentioned?

GE:

The smaller eating establishments or—

EP:

Well, also the Howard Johnson's, the Holiday Inn, these larger motel-related restaurants.

GE:

Well, through some of the members of our committee, I recall directly that Plantation Club was willing to open its doors, perhaps earlier than any of the others did.

The next in line perhaps was the Holiday Inns. At that time the man who held the franchise for the Holiday Inn was very receptive to what we were doing. And I think the Holiday Inn North, as it was called at that time, was probably one of the earliest of those eating facilities to open its doors. And later the Holiday Inn South opened its doors, and so on down the line.

EP:

What do you regard as the long- and short-term results of the demonstrations? You've mentioned that a number of these businesses were desegregated, and that certainly, the avenues of communication had been opened and established. Do you think that the goals of the demonstration leaders were accomplished?

GE:

Well, the short-term results, as you call them, were the opening of doors at the time, which we've already discussed in quite a bit of detail. Long-range results, I think, are evident now in terms of more and better employment opportunities for black people in many of the industries in the area.

I can mention, in particular, Cone Mills, Burlington Industries, Gilbarco, perhaps some others, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. We have white-collar workers in all of those industries now. Western Electric is another I should have named.

And I want to believe that the opportunities that have been given to black people to participate in the work of these large organizations perhaps would not have come along this early had it not been for the work of the people, all of whom participated in the opening of doors, opening up of polls to voter registration and to voting, and to economic opportunities in general. And this has been fostered a great deal by better educational opportunities.

For example, by admission of a lot of black kids to some of the larger institutions of learning where they could not attend before that time, they've had opportunities to get into fields of training, education—that were not available in the predominantly black schools prior to the demonstration days. So that the long-range objectives have been things of that kind: better educational opportunities or more widespread educational opportunities, better industry-related positions of white-collar nature.

EP:

The culmination of the mass nonviolent demonstrations appears to be the March on Washington which occurred during summer of 1963 and the large voter registration drives, particularly at Selma, in 1965. But after 1963, with the exception of one or two large mass drives in Chicago and in Selma, nonviolent mass demonstration seemed to decline as a tactic of civil rights movement to desegregation. Why do you think this is so?

GE:

I think those had declined because it's felt by most of the members of the black community that I've heard express themselves that those demonstrations served their purpose, that is, as a kind of a catalyst to broader opportunities in higher fields of endeavor besides just sitting down in a restaurant or in a theatre. And that now, the push is to more voter participation in the elections and the election of people who voters believe are more amenable to suggestions of more opportunities for political participation and thereby better economic status generally. And demonstrations, it is believed now, are not the way to opening such doors as those, not nearly so much.

EP:

More through the avenue of negotiations.

GE:

More through the avenue of negotiations and better training and wider opportunities for participation in things other than just eating in a restaurant that's supposed to be open to the public.

For example, we got people now who have the opportunity to get into positions where they can earn, say, twenty thousand dollars a year instead of five thousand dollars a year. Why, I say more power to them. And this has come about largely as a result of the beginning of door-opening through demonstrations. But now it goes down to a matter of better education, better preparation and more opportunities for participation in these higher-level things than we had earlier.

EP:

What do you think brought about the change from peaceful nonviolent demonstrations to the more militant violent techniques of such groups as the Black Panthers?

GE:

I believe that that changeover perhaps is a direct result of the belief in some quarters that things just were not moving as rapidly as a lot of people thought they should.

EP:

Do you feel that the social climate interaction between the races was improved in 1963 in Greensboro as a result of the demonstrations?

GE:

Not immediately, because the immediate after-effect was perhaps a widening of some of the feelings between races, because there were so many people in the community who didn't agree with the objectives of the demonstrations. But I think in the long run, relationships were improved quite a bit.

EP:

Had there been much interaction between the races in Greensboro prior to the mass demonstrations? For instance, you mentioned that black patronage was a significant part of the patronage downtown. Or did the two races exist side by side but separate in the community?

GE:

I think it was much more side by side but separately.

I would like to add that it's easy to see how patronage of downtown businesses was given a big push by the black community from the very fact that the population of Greensboro roughly stays around 27 or 28 percent, which is more than a fourth of the population. It was more than a fourth of the population needing to buy clothing, automobiles, television sets, radios, whatever. You can see how that constitutes quite a little bit of—a big chunk of the income of downtown businesses, because there were no other businesses of size where they could go unless they went out of the city.

EP:

In conclusion, Dr. Evans, I'd like to ask your opinion of the current HEW [Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] [and] UNC [system] controversy on the merging of the programs between A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in particular. Do you see this as beneficial to predominantly black schools such as A&T, or do you think that they should, as many of the students are requesting, maintain their own separate black identities?

GE:

That's a loaded question. [laughs] It has ramifications of all kinds. My personal belief is that I realize that there isn't any way for sixteen members of the university system to be equal in every respect such has been talked about. However, I believe, also, that some of the larger institutions which have better facilities—I'm talking now mainly about black institutions—should be preserved and for whatever fields of endeavor that they participate in as a major thrust should be continued and upgraded and facilities and equipment and trained faculty to push these efforts forward should be maintained.

I'm afraid, as so many of us are, that if there's a merger, then many identities will be lost, many job opportunities will be lost. And I think there is room for both institutions. And I feel, as the new chancellor at UNCG has said in the press this morning, that there's plenty of room for more cooperation and communication and exchange of facilities and programs without necessarily merging.

EP:

So more support for black schools but maintaining separate identities.

GE:

Separate identities, yes. I believe that firmly. The same thing is true, in my opinion, of the local public schools. You may or may not—

[End of Interview]