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Oral history interview with George Leverett by Eugene Pfaff


Date: April 30, 1979

Interviewee: George H. Leverett

Biographical abstract: Capt. George H. Leverett directed the field operations of the High Point Police Department during the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of an April 30, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with George Leverett, Leverett discusses his role as police officer during the early 1960s in High Point. He explains the tactics of demonstrators and the responses from the police. He also discusses the expectations of the department and how this affected their responses to the initial demonstrations.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.543

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 Leverett by Eugene Pfaff

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

EUGENE PFAFF:

This is a segment of the Greensboro Public Library Oral History program. I'm speaking today with Captain George T. Leverett at the High Point Police Department on April 30, 1979. Captain Leverett, I'd like to ask you when the demonstrations began here in High Point.

GEORGE LEVERETT:

Well, they, they began in the spring of the year, primarily with the old Paramount Theatre, Kress's on Main Street. And then, of course, as they progressed, they, they went into such places as Everett's Restaurant, which was on Main Street, the Center Theatre, A&W Root Beer, places like that. Generally it was the same trend that you found everywhere, with people across the country trying to express their rights and to achieve the right of going into places where everybody else had a right to go and had been going for years.

EP:

What group was primarily responsible for the demonstrations here in High Point?

GL:

The Southern Christian Leadership [SCLC]. Let's see, there was another one. SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], I believe it was.

EP:

Was CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] involved?

GL:

CORE was involved. Reverend B. Elton Cox. There was an attorney, [John] Langford. The Mitchells, man and wife, were involved, and just numerous others. They basically were the leadership of the groups' activities in that period of time.

EP:

Were they mostly students, or adult members of the black community that demonstrated?

GL:

Well, the leadership, the leadership was adults. Most of the demonstrators—

[recorder paused]

GL:

Let's see. We were talking about leadership. Most of the leadership was adults, with school-age students from William Penn High School forming the bulk or the body of the demonstrators. [Buzzer sounds] These people formed the bulk of the demonstrators. The leadership was adult, and the children performed the body of the demonstrators, even though at times, during certain demonstrations or certain marches, there were a great number of church-related people—adults who took part in the demonstrations.

EP:

What was your rank at this time?

GL:

I was captain at the time, in charge of patrol division.

EP:

Who was the officer in charge on the scene?

>
GL:

I was the officer that was responsible for the field operations at that time. The chief of police was J. Roy Teague, who was chief until 1966 when he retired. He has since died.

EP:

What were your instructions at this time?

GL:

My instructions were to protect the rights of all the people, to prevent any type of disorder that would cause injury to persons or property, regardless of race, creed, or color. And that's the policy the department followed throughout the, the demonstrations.

EP:

Were these instructions to your men, or did you have any additional ones?

GL:

No. The, the basic philosophy of the department was arrived at with the chief, with the commanding officers of the department at that time, John Staley, J.D. Wade, people like that, who developed the basic philosophy of the department. And all the people, all the men were instructed from the very first what our basic philosophy was going to be. And if any of them felt like that they couldn't adhere to this policy and carry it out to the letter, that they would tell us right then and there, and we would assign them to such duties that they would not be a part of the total operation of the department. We had nobody that said they couldn't live with that type of philosophy. And we went out in the street and carried it out.

EP:

Do you remember when the demonstrations began?

GL:

Well, originally, the very first demonstrations was at Kress's and Walgreen's in '60, because Chief Stoker was still here.

EP:

Those were the sit-ins, I—

GL:

Right. Those were, those were sit-ins.

EP:

Did they continue throughout until 1963, or did things settle down?

GL:

Spasmodically they did, because you had a series at the Paramount Theatre, which was really separate and apart from the basic civil rights movement in 1963, or the forerunner of it. And then you had some at the Center Theatre, and then a big civil rights push in '63. It wasn't a continuous thing.

Now in '63, to the best of my recollection, it started in the spring of the year and went pretty steady throughout the summer, and ended the first or second week in September, to the point where the issues were resolved to, more or less, to everyone's satisfaction.

EP:

Did they occur daily?

GL:

Toward—throughout probably July and August were the heaviest periods of time. And toward the last, yeah, they were appearing daily, sometimes two and three times a day. You would have demonstrated marches two or three times a day.

EP:

Were they mostly during the day or at night?

GL:

In the evening. The biggest part of them were in the evening. Now, there were several on a Sunday where a demonstration would take place after church. The marchers would come uptown or around the courthouse building. The old courthouse then, across the street here, where we were at that time, was the scene of some of that. And—but, most of it was in the evening, in the evening hours, on into the dark.

EP:

Did you witness any violence at that time?

GL:

The only violence that we had was—I don't ever remember any violence on the part of the blacks toward the whites. I remember an assault that took place at the A&W Root Beer where B. Elton Cox was assaulted by a white in an automobile.

EP:

Now how did this occur?

GL:

The white offered to shake hands with B. Elton, and B. Elton went up to shake hands with him. And the black—the white stuck his left hand out to, to shake hands. And when, when Reverend Cox went to shake hands with him, he struck him with his right hand. He was arrested for that. Violence—no.

EP:

Were there large crowds of spectators?

GL:

Oh, there were times at night from the Center Theatre to A&W Root Beer—

[recorder malfunction.]

GL:

No. The only counter-demonstrations you had were primarily by white groups of teenagers. You had some activity by the KKK [Ku Klux Klan]. Most of their activities were up on the north end of town around the K-Mart parking lot, places like that. I remember one night where a group of whites, probably two or three hundred, was going to stage a counter-march into the, at that time, the predominantly black section of East Washington Street. And the police put up a block at the intersection of Centennial and Washington Streets and stopped them at that point, so that they didn't march on into the black section at that time.

I think the thing that characterized that series of demonstrations in High Point—and I can't speak for elsewhere—was a lack of violence, a lack of destruction of property, which there wasn't any destruction of property. Tear gas was used one time to control an unruly mob of, unruly group of whites at the corner of Green and Wrenn Street[s]. When the demonstrators were coming through that point and the crowd of whites began to throw rocks and stuff at the blacks, tear gas was implemented, and the crowd was dispersed. And I think the police suffered from that more than anyone else, because most of them didn't have gas masks in those days. It drifted back north, where a lot of our men were stationed and, and they all complained about the tears and so forth.

EP:

There was one night that appeared—was reported in the Greensboro Daily NewsRecord, Greensboro Record, and it was the night of May twenty-ninth. And the reporter said there was a crowd of at least three thousand whites, and that there was a highway patrolman, a double line of highway patrolmen on the street. And that fortunately, no black demonstrators marched down the street, thus avoiding trouble, but that it was expected. And that several of the policemen involved said that was the only reason there wasn't trouble. Do you remember that particular night?

GL:

I remember it very, very graphically. The—it was when the demonstration was supposed to take place at the 100 block of South Main Street, and that would involve the Center Theatre at that particular time. And there were, the best I remember, there were fifty highway patrolmen came in. They all parked out on the lot. That was at, that was toward the beginning of the demonstrations. And the impact was such that, to the best of my recollection, we never used the highway patrol again. The impression was, or the impact was, that they were lined up ever so many feet down in the 100 block of South Main Street.

EP:

Who requested the highway patrol?

GL:

At that time, the department was just going into preparedness for the civil rights demonstrations. And I think in haste, or uncertainty, the administration asked for additional help, not being sure what it faced. And after that, it became apparent that you weren't facing the same situation in High Point you did in a lot of places, that the local police could, and did, handle it adequately. And then, the best I remember, you never had that situation again, where you called for outside resources.

EP:

Were the black demonstrators urged not to march that night, or were they ever urged to not march a particular night?

GL:

No. I think that there was good communication and rapport between the leadership of the demonstrators and the police department. And I think John Staley was responsible for the biggest part of that, because he kept up a constant rapport with Reverend Cox, with the Mitchells, with Langford and other leadership people. And they kept him pretty well informed about what they planned to do. And of course, he informed—he, in turn, kept the department informed.

And there was times when, I'm sure, that the recommendation was don't march tonight, or don't do this tonight. But you were dealing with a group of people who were committed to what they thought, and apparently was, an effective technique. And they marched when they desired to march.

There was occasions when I remember that Mr. Cox, and Langford, and the Mitchells, and the rest of the leadership, merely by raising their hands, averted what could have been tragedy. That I think, I think it—Reverend Cox had an innate knowledge of psychology, particularly crowd psychology. And he knew when things were really getting so-called “squeaky.” And I can remember several instances where just by raising his hand, he quieted his group, which he had under complete ironclad control, and the trouble disappeared.

You know, there wasn't the provocation that a lot of people thought. And I think you can attribute that to the leadership and to the discipline of the kids involved.

EP:

Were there ever any mass arrests for trespassing?

GL:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. One night in front of the Center Theatre, let's see, there was five hundred and—five hundred and thirty-some. I don't remember the exact number. I've got the figures somewhere. But they were all in front of the Center Theatre. They, they had packed themselves into the two front doors. And [it was] one of those situations where things were rather tight, with the whites across the street jeering and so forth. And the command was, or the order was given to arrest them. Well, you know, that's a hopeless situation for a police department then about the size of seventy-five or eighty people, fielding that many people, to say you're going to arrest five hundred and, and twenty or thirty-some people.

So I walked up to Reverend Cox and told him the situation I faced, that, you know, we want to carry this out as peacefully as possible. And he said, “Well, suppose you just lead us around to the police station, and we'll follow.” And which, he did. I started off across the street, and he was right behind me. And he motioned for the rest. In single file they followed me around to the police station. All of them submitted to arrest. We processed all—the whole group. By eight o'clock the next morning, we had processed everybody and most of them had been released.

EP:

Did the booking and processing continue through the night?

GL:

All through the night. It took all night to—the best I remember, it was, I don't know, 10:00, 10:30 at night when this took place. And you know, there was never, there was never the feeling in '63 that you found in some instances in '68, during the Martin Luther King thing. The attitude at that time, basically, on the part of all the blacks I encountered and most of the whites, was the fact that they were committed to this, this philosophy, this technique, this tactic to gain their rights. They did not want trouble. I think they realized, like everybody else did, if trouble started, they were the ones that were going to get hurt. And most whites appreciated that. There was a lot of people in the crowds—white crowds—who were there merely out of curiosity. And, you know, they worked with—blacks and whites worked together. They knew each other.

And I think in High Point, you had a completely different attitude than you had in other places. The whites, those who objected strenuously, had their right, or their say. Never one, never one time do I remember the blacks precipitating any type of problem. As I say, numerous occasions Mr. Cox, or Langford or, or the Mitchells could have very easily precipitated a riot, and they didn't. They didn't. They had such control over their people, that didn't happen. It didn't happen.

EP:

What was the usual procedure for a march by the demonstrators?

GL:

Normally, they'd start out down about the 700 block of East Washington Street. They would march up Washington to Main, and depending upon where the protest was going to be, they'd come down south on Main Street to the Center Theatre, to Everett's or the Elwood Hotel—Biltmore Hotel. And then they would march on to Green Street, and east on Green to Wrenn, and back up Wrenn Street to Washington Street, and back down to Washington Street. Or, if they were going north, up toward A&W, it'd be the same way. They'd march in a group with normally B. Elton or one of the leaders leading them. And they would sing, and they would chant, and they'd go on about their way.

EP:

Did the police march along with them?

GL:

Oh, yes. We always—normally, we would pick the procession up at Washington and Centennial. And, of course, we had men on the route. Once the route became pretty well established, then you could pretty well set up your plans to, to protect the route or to have your people where you thought you was going to need them, where the majority of the crowds might be, where the conflict might be.

EP:

You say there were seventy-five to eighty members of the police force. And were they all involved in the arrest?

GL:

Oh, yes. All our people was involved, all our people was involved.

EP:

Were you ever involved in any of these meetings or discussions with demonstration leaders and city officials—

GL:

Oh yeah.

EP:

—or members of the stores?

GL:

Let's see. I believe a Mr. Coltrane was at that time chairman of the governor's Human Relations Committee, or something to that effect. Charles Dunn was a part of his group at that time. And we attended several meetings with the city government. We made reports, after the demonstrations was over, to the city manager. And a lot of times the mayor was here and wanted to know how things had went, or what we thought about the potentials. And, you know, it was a cooperative venture. Everyone who had to make decisions was in on the process, because it affected the welfare of the total city and everyone in it. Naturally it had to be handled that way.

EP:

You've mentioned this one mass arrest where the demonstrators followed you. Were the arrests as routine and nonviolent as that?

GL:

Yeah. You never had any problem with the demonstrators. And as a field commander and the one that was out there in charge, or responsible, I implemented a whole lot of the arrests. Now, there was one time, the best I recollect, the first time we made arrests at the Center Theatre, the group of demonstrators came in. There was, oh, perhaps twenty or twenty-five of them. And they sat down or laid down in the entrances to the lobby of the theatre. And there was a person who was assigned to help us from another agency that had not been instructed as our people had. And he grabbed someone by the feet and started dragging them across the sidewalk. At that point, several of our people started to do the same thing. And they were quickly stopped, because they had been told and they had been trained in the proper technique of picking up people who were supine on the street, or laying down, and how to properly carry them.

EP:

And what was that, by the way?

GL:

To carry?

EP:

Yes.

GL:

You had two people, you know. You put your arms behind the back and one under the knees, and just pick them up and carry them into the paddy wagon or whatever transportation you had. That was the only time where you had a situation that could have developed into an unpleasant situation.

The thing, I think, that we were gratified by—of course, the fact being that there was no one injured here and there was no property damage—it was also the fact that there was no federal investigations at that time of the way this department conducted itself in dealing with the civil rights movement here. And I think that was not only a credit to the department, but to all the people of High Point.

EP:

Did the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] and the SBI [State Bureau of Investigation] have observers here?

GL:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. The FBI had observers here continuously. The SBI had the same way.

EP:

What was their role?

GL:

As observers. As observers. They never took any active part in the, in the controlling of the situation. Now, the Guilford County Sheriff's Department did at that time. They were—they were just great, great, great help to us in providing transportation for people arrested, providing support in any way they could. I don't know how many times they fed our people after—you know, when they were here day and night, how many times they, they took it upon themselves to feed our people. But they offered any kind of support they could.

EP:

Advice, that kind of thing.

GL:

Well, advice. They offered vehicles. They offered men. When we were all committed to the downtown station, their people were patrolling, answering calls that normally we would have had to answer and didn't have the people to answer. But they, they took up slack any way they could. And it was just great help.

EP:

How did the police department handle the large crowds? You've mentioned blocking off the streets, to traffic I assume.

GL:

Yeah. A lot of times, traffic was blocked off. When you were confined from Washington Street to primarily Commerce Street, on both sides of those two blocks you're talking about one, two—you're talking about an area two blocks long with a bridge in the middle. And normally, traffic would be cut out of that area, blocked out of that area. And the normal procedure was for the whites to take the east side of the street, which was opposite the Center Theatre and Everett's CafĂ©. And they would come early. I can remember seeing and thinking—people sitting on the curbs hour, hour and a half before the demonstration was due to arrive, with their babies, with their children, feeding their babies out of bottles, and—like a family outing, you know. [clears throat]

And basically, what we would do, we would have a group of people who would pick up the demonstration at Washington Street. And they would be dispersed on both sides of the moving columns. And then we had other people dispersed in the area, primarily in the middle of the street or on—along the curb lines. And the really amazing thing of it was that as spread as we were, we never really encountered that situation where force would have made any difference in the reaction of the people. Neither side ever committed those acts which were so overt that there was a real present danger of mass injury or destruction of property.

EP:

Never a riot situation?

GL:

No. No. You had isolated instances where a group of whites, a small group of whites would start something on the edge of what was going on downtown. And, of course, we had people who were mobilized to handle these type situations, and they did very quickly. But when you, when you talk about the great group of people involved, as spectators, as demonstrators—and these people, we never saw, I didn't see the type of animosity that would cause a real, real imminent threat of great bodily harm or damage to the people. I never saw that.

EP:

Were there ever any large number of arrests of whites?

GL:

Never, never large numbers, no. There was isolated situations where you was arresting two or three. In front of the Center Theatre, you made several arrests of whites who would run through the crowd and try to hit one of the demonstrators, or something like that. On the line of march, you would pick up one once in a while. Never no large-scale arrests, never.

EP:

Was there any resistance to arrest when these people were arrested?

GL:

In isolated cases, depending upon who you were arresting. You had some people that you knew that was a source of trouble in the past, and they were being sources of trouble now. And these were people who had resisting arrest records, and certainly you expect it of them. And that was part of it.

EP:

What steps were taken to incarcerate these large numbers of people arrested? Were they ever held in any place such as the Greensboro riots? They were held in the old polio hospital and Memorial Coliseum.

GL:

There was—now, I'm not going to say—the great bulk of the five hundred we're talking about was processed and released. There was very few, very few of those people kept in jail. Other arrests were at the Center, at Everett's, at the Biltmore Hotel—Elwood Hotel, A&W Root Beer. I don't recollect any group being taken to Greensboro. I remember one time the sheriff had brought the bus over here that he had—that he had used in Greensboro to transport prisoners to, I believe what you said, it was the polio hospital or something, where there was an area to confine people.

EP:

What I'm asking is in High Point, was there any place where a large number of demonstrators were held?

GL:

No. We kept them in the—the group that we arrested that night, we kept in the two courtrooms in the county building. We separated, the best I remember, the males from the females. And we kept them in the two courtrooms and brought them down in groups to process them, to make out arrest cards and write warrants, and so forth.

The best I remember, we had set up a procedure, and we had clerical help doing this. Certain ones was making out arrest cards, others was typing warrants. Photographs were taken in groups of three or four, and they were identified by number. And then they were allowed to make bond or recognized back on their own recognizance.

EP:

Other than this cooperation with the Guilford County Sheriff's Department you've mentioned, did you coordinate with any of the police departments in any of the surrounding cities like Greensboro, Winston-Salem?

GL:

Well, we had communications with Greensboro, with Winston. And on a couple of occasions, we sent observers to both places, and they sent observers here, depending upon the situation in their own city at that particular time. The thing you have to remember about it is that in 1963, there were a very, very few departments in the South who were capable—by training, or by instinct, or by tradition—who were capable of handling that type of demonstration.

I think the attitude in North Carolina was that, that this is a just cause, that these people are protesting for their rights. And that the position of law enforcement is going to have to be that we're protecting the rights of all the people, regardless of who they are. I think that was the basic philosophy in North Carolina, which helped North Carolina considerably.

But there wasn't a department in the state that had been trained in that type of crowd control, who really understood what it was all about. And it was a, a step-by-step process. And when one department would have an experience, other departments was trying to learn from that experience.

I remember when I had the situation in Lexington where a news reporter was shot. Everybody went there, you know, trying to find out what happened, what could have been prevented. And that's the kind of spirit you had here, each trying to learn from the other, to the best way to handle a situation.

EP:

Was he shot in connection with civil rights?

GL:

Yeah. It was a civil rights demonstration. And I think it had turned out, ultimately, that he was shot by another white. He was in—he was there covering the story, taking pictures and so forth, and he was hit by gunfire. We didn't have that problem here.

EP:

Did you coordinate activities with the press?

GL:

Yes. We had no problems with local news media. They knew us. We knew them. We grew up together. We had no problem with Greensboro people, or Winston-Salem people, our own people. We had no problem with those people. We did have some close encounters with national news media.

EP:

What do you mean by close encounters?

GL:

Well, we couldn't understand their attitude. And I'm sure they couldn't understand ours, that we were concerned with—

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

EP:

—difficulty with the national news media.

GL:

[coughs] I think the basic incompatibility with our operation at that time—the national news—was that they were looking for sensationalism. They were looking for something to attract national attention. And, of course, we were trying, we were trying to avert that type of thing.

But I can remember several occasions where there were arrests made and the officers were in the process of carrying out the arrests. And one night in particular, there was a couple of plane loads came in, and they had all their gear and equipment, and they was over everybody. They were impeding what we were trying to do. From, from our perspective, they were impeding. I'm sure they felt like they was trying to get the proper pictures and descriptions of what was taking place. We felt like they were impeding. We felt like they was interfering with what we were trying to do. And we had some discussion about it, which I'm sure at that time they didn't, they didn't understand my feelings or the department's feelings on it. Just like we didn't, probably didn't understand theirs.

At a later date and a later time, perhaps there would have been a different type of communication between the two. I think that as we went along, we came to realize that we were a part of the national scene, and that we had to deal with national news media. And we began to do that. Up to that time, we hadn't had to do it. We hadn't had the occasion. And, you know, the fellows at the [High Point] Enterprise we knew. From Greensboro, we knew. All these other people we knew and worked with every day. And they were people we knew and understood.

But when you suddenly bring in a goodly number of folks we didn't know—and I think we thought, well, they're Yankees anyway, and they got no business down here in our problems [laughs]. But as we went along we began to realize that, yes, it's a national interest. We're in the national spotlight, the way we conduct ourselves, the way we handle the situation.

And I think we were always proud that we handled it the way we did, that we didn't get the, the adverse publicity that some Southern cities [did]. Atlanta—I don't think any city in this area received that type of adverse publicity, whatever you want to call it.

EP:

What makes the cities of Greensboro—the reaction of the police department and the city administration—so different from a place like Birmingham and other cities in the Deep South at that time?

GL:

Well, I would like to say enlightenment did. But I think you find in North Carolina, in this particular area, I think there was an awareness, a long time before 1963, that you had a segment of your society who was not achieving, or who was not receiving the same basic liberties that other people in the community enjoyed. And I think there was a lot of people who was concerned about that lack—who wouldn't openly support the civil rights movement, but who nevertheless felt kindly toward it.

I think it, that you had—I know in the High Point Police Department, Chief Stoker and Chief Teague both were what I would call good Christian men, besides being police officials. And they had a compassion, and a love, and understanding for their fellow man. And they decided, since they were cast in the role of leadership at that time, that they were going to do what their conscience told them to do.

And I think that the department on a whole was fortunate in having people who agreed that, yes, this is the right thing to do, and this is what we're going to do. And we did. I think you had the same thing in Greensboro, same thing in other cities in North Carolina. We made some mistakes, no question about that. We made some mistakes.

EP:

What sort of mistakes do you think you made?

GL:

—I think we, I think we were overly apprehensive to begin with. I think we got overly tight. I think we didn't read correctly the true feelings of our community that—here again, 1963, I'd been policing since 1946. What's that, twenty, twenty-three years? Yeah. About twenty-three years I'd been policing. You know, all these people I knew. I had grew up with the white and the black community, had friends in both communities. And I think we all allowed ourselves to be apprehensive about the problem, and about how our community would react to it.

And I think once we found out that our basic belief and trust in the races in our community was what they were, we relaxed, and we did a better job. We did a better job. I think had we started out with that basic trust that we should have known, I think what mistakes we made and what tension was built up to start with would have been averted, which would have been good for the whole community.

EP:

You're saying you thought at first you misread the will of the community. What did you think it was initially?

GL:

Well, we were apprehensive of the fact—when there were so many other cities in the South where they was having wholesale disorder, all kinds of problems. We were afraid that minority elements within the community might use a situation, as had been done in other areas, to ferment trouble here that this community could never live down. There was always that possibility, in dealing with two groups over such an emotional issue. But the real emotional impact that we feared wasn't really there. The people didn't really reject it that strongly. You know, they—well, they, like the rest of us, they had grown up here, too, and this was home, and this was our place. And we would all learn to live together.

EP:

You said that the demonstrations lasted until September. What was the result of the demonstrations? Were most of the places that they wanted desegregated in this area?

GL:

Yeah. Yeah. They were all desegregated. Everything was just—I can only remember one business that went out of business that would not integrate, that is no longer in business. Of course, A&W's not, but I think it went out of business for different reasons. But this other man just—typical Lester Maddox [Georgia segregationist] attitude. And he closed his business rather than serve blacks. But everywhere else and in everything else, integration took place. It wasn't the problems that everybody anticipated.

EP:

Did you notice any leaders of the demonstrations that were from obviously outside the community?

GL:

We had two when the situation at the Paramount first started, two young white men—and for the love of me, I can't tell you their names any more—that were providing the basic leadership at that time. One of them was providing—one of them was a local boy. He provided leadership on up through the Center Theatre in '63, and then left the United States after that, I understood.

But most of the leadership was, more or less, homegrown talent. I think, I think Reverend Cox was from out of town, had been here a short time when the civil rights movement started. Langford [was] born and raised here, practiced law here, still does. The Mitchells had been here for a good little while before the demonstrations started, and I understand they've since left. But the rest of it was hometown people.

EP:

In Greensboro, the typical tactic of the demonstrators was to line up on the sidewalk, but not to be blocking, and to circle outside a business. And then periodically, one or more would go up to the door. And then if they were not—did not leave, they were arrested. Was there any similar repeated pattern like that in High Point?

GL:

I think, I think the same basic pattern that was used in Greensboro was used here. I think, I think it all began in Greensboro. And I think the patterns basically were the same. You got the impression that when a business was approached, that there were certain ones who had already been designated to lead the group, and to go in and request service. And, of course, when they were ordered to leave, they—no doubt in my mind, they expected to be arrested, knew they were going to be arrested. And they had volunteered for that, for that job.

The only time that you ever had entrances blocked was, best I remember, at the Center Theatre. And that was, of course, to force a point. The rest of the time it was, they were moving demonstrations. They would—I can remember at the A&W—they'd marched up to the A&W. They'd stand along the sidewalk three or four wide, and strung out wherever the group was. And they would sing. One would—one or two would go forward and request service. When they was arrested, then the rest of the group would turn around and march back downtown.

EP:

Just a few token attempts?

GL:

Yeah. Yeah.

EP:

So were there just infrequent arrests? There weren't arrests every time there was a demonstration?

GL:

No. Now toward the last, probably in August or somewhere around in there, arrests were more or less a continuous thing. They were either being arrested at the Center, at Everett's, Elwood Hotel, or places like that. Never many, perhaps three or four in a group. I can remember one day there was a group up at the Elwood Hotel, which at that time had a restaurant. And every one of them was ministers. Everyone in the group was ministers. And I arrested that group. One of the gentlemen in the crowd wasn't a minister, but he later became a presidential assistant. And he's the only one that ever invited me to dinner in the White House. And I had—[laughs]

EP:

What was his name?

GL:

Bob Brown. Bob was a presidential assistant under the Nixon administration. And I was up there in Washington, I believe it was in '71. And he invited—we stopped by to see him. And he invited us to have lunch with him in the White House dining room. And I thought that was quite a deal.

But, you know, that was one thing that always impressed me. Through those months, and through all the tension and strain that we went through, there was no situation that happened that left people bitter enemies. There just weren't any. The young generation that did all the singing in those days, and most of the marching, have since grown up. They're adults now.

EP:

Have they stayed in the community?

GL:

Most of them have, yeah. I think most of them have. I think there's probably more in that group that have received college, or further learning or education, than probably any group previous to that time. And I think they are the leaders of today and tomorrow.

EP:

What was the reaction of the members of the police department on a day-by-day basis as the demonstrations continued? Did the—was there any strain that began to wear on the men?

GL:

Well, the thing that began to tell on them, after a while, was the hours that we had to work, and the—just the constant wearing down. You know, we, we would try to have somebody in each group that we knew was level-headed, that was bearing up under pressure well, that was supposed to bear up under pressure well, to keep such close watch on their people that they could start detecting if someone was getting uptight, if someone was getting a little bit irritated or a little bit weary. Okay, we'd move him out that night. We'd put him somewhere where he could relax, and, you know, sort of move him away from where the point of conflict was going to be, or the point of action.

And in the process, we all survived. We all got—we got tired. We got weary. You know, the sheer—we would be here probably at ten, eleven o'clock in the morning. We would be committed till midnight or later. Some nights we slept right in the building. We'd put cots in the building and just stay right there. Other nights, you know, they'd go home. And here again, I think there was a tacit understanding between black leadership and the police department. Bruce Staley, he'd say, “Look, the guys are getting real pooped. They need a little rest. How about nothing else tonight. Let's go home and get a good night's rest.” And we'd all agree that we were going to go home and get a good night's rest. And we did.

EP:

What was your opinion of how the demonstrations were handled?

GL:

On the part of, what, the police agency?

EP:

Yes.

GL:

Well, I always felt proud about the way the agency handled the situation. Like I said a while ago, I think there were times at the very start where we made mistakes by overreacting. It was before we took a real long hard look at ourselves and what our job was, what our obligation was. And we were too apprehensive.

Once we had, once we had come up with a clear policy that we intended to follow throughout the demonstrations, then we began to relax. And I think we did a good job. I think the proof of it is that no one was hurt, no one was killed. We didn't have any raging infernos, or riots, or anything else. We settled our own differences and got it over with.

EP:

How about on the part of the city administration?

GL:

I don't think you could have asked for any better support on the administration. In 1963—this department approached 1963, perhaps, as most typical Southern police departments. We did not have equipment. We did not have walkie-talkies—I think we had two. There was a lot of things we just didn't have. We didn't have hard hats. We didn't have all that stuff that was considered to be necessary for crowd control.

The city government backed us. They purchased things for us that we needed as quick as they could. They got things that we had to have to function in the field. And they backed us all the way. We couldn't have—we couldn't have functioned without their backing. You know I think the city government took the same attitude that the police department had, or one influenced the other. It was bound to have been. That—the city government is controlled by local people. They said—they decided we're going to live together. We're not going to have this problem everybody else is having. And we didn't have.

EP:

Did you see—was there a special mayor's committee set up similar to the one in Greensboro, for further negotiations?

GL:

Oh, they had a constant—they set up the Human Relations Committee along that time. That's when Coltrane came here from the governor's office and relayed about how this should be approached and what should be done. This was done. You had negotiations going on all the time.

EP:

You mentioned that this was the situation—the lack of violence, and understanding between the demonstrators and police—was different from the situation in 1968. How did that situation differ?

GL:

Well, in 1968 you did not have, you did not have the wide-scale demonstrations that you had. You, you had riots in Watts. You had riots in other places that were bad, and widespread damage was done. Perhaps the department overreacted in 1968.

EP:

What sort of things happened in 1968 in High Point?

GL:

Well, you, you came up with the concept of teams that was going to—it was something, the forerunner of the SWAT team or something to that effect. That all your people were armed with shotguns, and you commanded the tops of all the buildings, and you were very conspicuous in your patrol. You were very conspicuous with the, with the amount of force that you were ready to implement. And that threat never existed. That threat never existed.

EP:

Did you not have incidents of shooting or—

GL:

We had a fire.

EP:

—breaking into stores?

GL:

We had a fire. We had a man set a fire over here at Haley's Transfer. He was seen by one of the observers when the fire was started. He was picked up in less than two blocks. I don't know, something had happened to the total philosophy in that time. And I'm not really qualified to, to talk about that, because perhaps I was too personally involved in what went on that year.

EP:

How were you personally involved?

GL:

Well, there was personality conflicts. And perhaps I'm just not really qualified to discuss that objectively. Looking back over it, nine or ten, eleven years later, I'd say we overreacted to the situation then. We tried to show more muscle than was necessary. We were dealing with the same people we had dealt with in 1963.

EP:

Was their behavior any different?

GL:

No.

EP:

In other words, there weren't—the situation in Greensboro, where at A&T [North Carolina A&T State University], for instance, where the police came under gunfire and there was a—

GL:

No. We didn't have that.

EP:

—siege situation.

GL:

We never had that. The only shootout situation we had here was with a group of alleged Black Panthers on February 10, 1971, down at six—what was it—608, 608 or 610 Holder Street. That's the only time we've had any shootouts with anybody. We had one officer injured seriously down there. We had two hit by so-called “punkin balls.”

EP:

What's a punkin ball?

GL:

That's a 12 gauge slug. I think those were 16 gauge slugs. Just a solid ball of lead. But neither one of those was even injured. They had flak vests on. There was one of the alleged Panthers wounded slightly. The rest of them—everybody was arrested. But we didn't have that type of situation in 1968. We didn't have people shooting at each other.

EP:

Did you have mass demonstrations in the street?

GL:

No, no. We didn't have that either. No.

EP:

What was the reason for the confrontation with the Black Panthers?

GL:

Oh, that was on an eviction. They were living down there. They were under surveillance. They were seen in the process of sandbagging the house and putting up wires and stuff. The property owner finally went and got eviction papers for them. And the sheriff's department was to serve the eviction notice. It turned out that the police department went and served the eviction notice.

There was a shot fired which wounded an ex-lieutenant who was here at that time. General shooting started at that time. As I said, two of the men were hit with slugs and both of them knocked down. No injuries to either one because the flak vests stopped that. And then the people inside, one of them was wounded in the upstairs room. And tear gas was finally got in through the windows and they surrendered. And that was the extent of that.

EP:

After the 1963 demonstrations, was there a large amount of integration in High Point, or did it come slowly? How extensive was it?

GL:

Well, it was like any other movement, in my opinion. There was not the great movement to integrate that everybody thought there would be, I didn't think. I went to the same places I'd always went to, my family did. I didn't notice any undue effort on anybody's part to overshadow anybody else, or to float anybody else. To me there was—once the goals and objectives had been realized, there was a gradual, individual realization of those rights, and people went on about their business. And that was it.

EP:

Is there any way to account for the seeming increase in militancy from the peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations of 1963 to the arming of the Black Panthers by 1971?

GL:

Well, I think that the total philosophy had changed. You got involved in the late sixties, or toward the late sixties and early seventies, with the idea of the general dissatisfaction with, with the so-called establishment. The police represented the establishment. I think in that period of time, you found more freedom of expression, more freedom of diversity of philosophy than you'd ever found in this country before.

I think for the first time, in the late sixties and the seventies, on the colleges and universities, you found that these people had achieved the right to teach different philosophies, and they started doing it. And I think, too, that there was a general searching of self, or whatever you want to call it. And a lot of it was misconstrued. A lot of, a lot of—or not a lot of people, but some people arrived at the misconception that the establishment was against them, that the establishment was going to try to crush them. It had became a totalitarian police-oriented state, and it had to be violently overthrown. And I think in their own way, they made an effort to do that. And then when they grew up, they found out that this wasn't so. That most of the establishment was for their good and benefit, and they learned to live with it.

EP:

Did that—the knowledge of that kind of change of attitude affect the attitude of the police officers?

GL:

Oh, sure, sure.

EP:

Did they become more defensive, more—

GL:

We did for a time. We did for a time. I can remember when LEEP [Law Enforcement Executive Program] started educational process through Guilford College. I started, I was in the first class, 1969. And at that time, they separated us from the campus. They put us in the downtown, downtown campus for Guilford College. And we were confined to law enforcement or adult education people. They didn't want us on the campus. They didn't want us in uniform. No guns.

But now, I'm still going to Guilford College. In class the other night, there was three officers from Greensboro in class, in uniform, with weapons, and nobody paid them any attention. You know, the—once the police got over their anxiety, and once the academic institution got over theirs, and found out we could live together, we've been living together ever since. And it benefited us all, I think. We all learned to look at the other man's perspective. And of course, to me, going to school was the best thing that ever happened to me as a police officer. I wouldn't take nothing for my educational process.

EP:

I'd like to turn and talk, if I may, about the sit-ins of the 1960s. Was it very extensive here in High Point?

GL:

No. The sit-ins primarily took place at, let's see, it was Kress's and Walgreen's—counter situation, where you had eight or ten or twelve stools. The protestors would come in, take what seats were open. As soon as others were opened, they'd move in. And they would just sit there, waiting, waiting to be served.

EP:

Was there any violent white counter-reaction?

GL:

No. You had groups of hecklers who would stand around and want to, would want to jeer and talk. But you didn't have that problem. Stoker was here then. Stoker was chief. He didn't retire till January '61. Teague became chief after that. And, but Stoker was here then, and you just didn't have that problem.

EP:

Were you on the scene—

GL:

Yeah.

EP:

—at any of those?

GL:

Yeah. I was captain at that time. I'd made captain in '53. And I was Stoker's man on the street in, during those times.

EP:

How long did the sit-ins last?

GL:

Let's see. The best I remember, they started sometime in '60, and on into '61, but not too much after that.

EP:

Did they—that result in the desegregation of the lunch counters, as it did in Greensboro and High Point, and Durham, and Raleigh, and so forth?

GL:

Yes. What they did, I think—what I think they finally did at Kress's was take out all seating arrangements. And you just went up and ordered your food, and carried it off with you, something to that extent. No. I worked, I worked labor strikes at places like Highland Cotton Mill, and Pickett Cotton Mill, Adams-Millis and others, where the situation was a whole lot worse than the sit-ins in '60, or the demonstrations in '63. Tempers were a whole lot higher than they were, a whole lot more danger, I thought. I perceived it to be such. Maybe it was because of my youth in those days. I don't know.

EP:

Were there large numbers of demonstrators and spectators similar to the 1963 situation?

GL:

What, in '60?

EP:

In 1960.

GL:

No. No. No. You never had that kind of—no. You never had that type of accumulation of people.

EP:

Was there ever any incidence of violence?

GL:

Nothing more than a fist fight, [clears throat] or some jeering or some hollering, or something like that.

EP:

Were the demonstrators who were sitting in arrested for trespass or other charges?

GL:

I don't want to say now, I'm not sure. I think at that time you weren't, you wasn't as quick to arrest as perhaps you may have been later. I'm sure there was some arrests. I know there was some arrests for frays and for, for assaults. But nothing, nothing as widespread as twenty or thirty people at a time, or certainly not five hundred and some people at a time. No, it wasn't that widespread.

EP:

Was the police department prepared for that situation? And as a result of that situation, were they more prepared for the demonstrations of '63?

GL:

I think, I think the '60 experience—it started becoming obvious to law enforcement—not just in High Point, but everywhere else—that they had better start mending their fences and preparing themselves for what took place in '63. I think more than, more than a training technique, it was an emotional technique. It was an emotional adjustment that had to be made, rather than a physical adjustment. They had to change their thinking about the way things had traditionally been done in the past and what was faced in the future.

[End of Interview]