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Oral history interview with Willa Player by Eugene Pfaff


Date: December 3, 1979

Interviewee: Willa B. Player

Biographical abstract: Willa Beatrice Player (1909-2003) served on the faculty and administration of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, from 1930 to 1966, including as president from 1956 to 1966.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a December 3, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Willa Player, Player discusses race relations in Greensboro in the 1950s and early 1960s, including the role of specific African-Americans and white citizens. She describes the participation of Bennett College students in demonstrations in 1960 and 1963, her support of students incarcerated at the polio hospital, the position of Dr. Lewis Dowdy and other area university administrators and faculty, and her participation in particular marches and boycotts. Other notable topics include the visits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. to campus.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.568

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 Willa Player by Eugene Pfaff

Eugene Pfaff:

Dr. Player, I would like to ask you if you could provide me with some brief biographical information concerning the date and place of your birth, the schools you attended, degrees you received, and the places you taught prior to coming to Greensboro.

Willa Player:

You want that now?

EP:

Yes ma'am.

WP:

Well, I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1909, and my family moved to Akron, Ohio, when I was quite young—as a matter of fact, I was in grade school. So all of my public school education has been in Akron, Ohio, where I went to elementary school and high school. After high school, I went on to Ohio Wesleyan, where I graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1929, then went on to Oberlin and graduated with a master's in 1930.

Shortly after that, I took my first teaching assignment, which was to teach Latin and French at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. I went from there, that particular position—I went to the administration at Bennett, serving as admissions director—I believe that was quite early, after about three or four years of just plain teaching experience. I moved from there to acting dean of instruction, and from that position to coordinator of instruction. Then from there—well, in the meantime, I had received a doctor's degree from Teacher's College at Columbia University—I believe that was in 1948—and then in '55—'54, I believe it was, I was elected vice president of Bennett College after having served for a number of years as coordinator of instruction, which was new terminology for a dean's position.

And then in 1955, I was elected to the presidency of Bennett College. I served there from '55 to '66 as college president, leaving in 1966 to go, to take up a position as director of the Division of Institutional Development with the Bureau of Higher Education in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare [HEW]. I served as director of this program from 1966 to 1977, when I retired. This program was a grants program to developing institutions which were small colleges across the country.

EP:

Thank you very much. I'd like to ask now what were the conditions or state of race relations in Greensboro from the time that you first came to Greensboro up through the sit-ins of 1960?

WP:

Actually, when I first went to Greensboro, the city was pretty tightly segregated. We were having problems—the women in the community were having problems with being called by their first names, the restaurants were—well, really no one was allowed to eat in the restaurants in the department stores or the downtown stores when I first went there. The drinking fountains were marked “white” and “colored.” The station had a white waiting room and a colored waiting room.

But, oddly enough, during all of that period when I traveled from Ohio to North Carolina, there was a person in the railroad station with whom the president of Bennett College at that time, Dr. David D. Jones, had good rapport, so that we never had to go in and out of Greensboro on segregated railroad cars. We always rode on Pullmans, although when we got into the dining area of the Pullman car, we had to wait until everybody else was served. And later on, of course, there came the period when they put the curtains up and had a segregated section. But the buses were segregated; we had to ride in the back of the buses and it was a pretty segregated situation.

EP:

Was this by tradition, or were there laws on the city ordinances prohibiting this?

EP:

No this is pretty legal. It was all legal.

EP:

Greensboro has frequently given voice to itself as a genuinely progressive, liberal city, particularly in terms of race relations. Would you characterize it as a genuinely progressive and liberal city, or did it disguise racism and maintain a conservative adherence to the status quo under the cloak of the term “moderation”?

WP:

Well, I think that it was erroneous to think of Greensboro as a liberal city. It wasn't—it was really not a liberal city, but it did just enough to appear to the outside community to be less segregated than other cities in North Carolina. For example, with the colleges, we were invited to a tea at the University [of North Carolina] at Chapel Hill, an afternoon tea and discussion. There were just enough of these things to have one feel that the city was pretty genuine and pretty liberal, but it remained pretty conservative for a good while. I believe that it was not until the fifties that we began to see Greensboro really branching out as a more liberal city. I think it was even in this period that I received, as the first black person in the community, the award that was given by the National Conference of Christians and Jews [NCCJ] in the city of Greensboro. I don't remember what year that was, but—

EP:

To what would you attribute this change of attitude in the 1950s?

WP:

Well, I think it came about because there were people in the community—among the black community, especially—who were pretty courageous and pretty upstanding people. There were people in the professions, there were ministers who were really hard at work with the city fathers on getting some of the situations changed in Greensboro. They were backed up pretty largely by faculties who were at A&T [North Carolina A&T State University] College and at Bennett College, and a particularly forthright president at Bennett College in David D. Jones who just dared to do a number of things that were unheard of in the community.

EP:

Could you cite some examples?

WP:

Well, one comes to me especially, which was pretty difficult, during the administration of David D. Jones when Mrs. Roosevelt was invited to the campus with—I think Dr. Jones was introduced by way of Mary McCloud Bethune, who was the President of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. And she was working with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and it was through her that Mrs. Roosevelt decided to make a visit and to speak at Bennett College.

At that time, this was so unusual that Dr. Jones put in the paper that the school children were invited to attend. And right away, there was this great pressure because the school children of the white schools wanted to come to the Bennett College campus to see and to hear Mrs. Roosevelt. And there was a great deal of pressure put on Dr. Jones to cancel this and to put a notice correcting this invitation, by saying that it was only the black school children. He refused to do this, and the program went on as scheduled.

EP:

Did white school children attend?

WP:

And there were some white school children who came. It was things like this that went on in Greensboro that I think made the city realize that they had to make a change.

Now, another thing was that Bennett College had a number—it was a Methodist school and it was supported by the northern church at first, and so there were a number of white women on the board of trustees of that college. And these women helped by bringing meetings to the campus of people from all over the country, so that it was never—it could never be said that this campus was isolated from exposure to other races and other groups. These mainly came about, I think, through the association of that college as a private institution with the national Methodist Church.

EP:

Were there any avenues of effective communication between the white power structure and the black community?

WP:

I did not know of any communication which took place before we—I got into the activities with the sit-ins. That's when I think I knew most about it. But at the time there were—before that time, there were some outstanding people, like Mrs. Julius W. Cone, who sat on the board of trustees at Bennett College, and I think some members of the Cone family who were behind the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association], effort in Greensboro. And then there was the Burlington Industries people, and the Babcock people who I think had lines of communication between the black community and white community.

EP:

When you say the “Burlington Industries people,” whom are you thinking of in particular?

WP:

I can't remember, I think, the name of the president of Burlington Industries—

EP:

Spencer Love?

WP:

Spencer Love. Yes.

EP:

There has been a recent article written on the sit-ins, in which went into the background of race relations in Greensboro in the 1940s and 1950s that suggest that in the school desegregation of 1954, the reason that the school board did not move more forthrightly in immediate desegregation of Greensboro schools was the absence of support by such industrialists as Spencer Love and the Cones and several others. How would you characterize this? Would you agree or disagree with that?

WP:

I really don't believe that I have enough knowledge about that to comment on it.

EP:

I would like to get a picture, an idea of the black community and the time of the 1940s and 1950s prior to the sit-ins. For instance, could you characterize the income and occupational level of the average black citizen of Greensboro at this time?

WP:

I don't have enough knowledge about that to do it. I just—

EP:

Would it be fairly menial, low-paying jobs which were characteristic of the south at that time, also including a wage differential for the same type of job between a white and black worker? Was it largely that the blacks worked in the black community and the whites worked in the white community and not much intermingling? This is more or less the kind of the general information I was after.

WP:

I don't believe that I know enough about that. I just knew that black people worked in white homes in the city. I know that the Cone family, for example, had a number of black people who worked in the Cone residences. But I really only knew that there was this differential in the salaries of the teachers and the teachers were not—the black teachers were not making as much as the white teachers. And there was in the public school community a battle, a struggle, to get black teachers to go north to universities to get master's degrees, which they did in large numbers. And it was on the basis of this kind of strength that they got equal salaries with the white teachers.

EP:

But they were able to get equal salaries with the teachers.

WP:

Yes, they were.

EP:

Do you know who spearheaded that drive?

WP:

No, I do not.

EP:

Was there a very strong black middle class in Greensboro?

WP:

I would say that there was, yes, because so many of the people in those schools—the segregated school systems, and with the colleges there, were in the teaching profession. And that was a pretty large group, and when you combine that with the ministers in the black churches and the physicians, the dentists and the doctors, I think I would say that it was a pretty solid middle-class community.

EP:

Did these black professionals function only in the black community, or did they have white clients as well?

WP:

No, a number of them had white clients.

EP:

So there was interaction of the races to some extent on a professional level?

WP:

Yes.

EP:

Were there many blacks registered to vote and pay taxes, property owners—in other words somewhat at least of the beginnings of political clout through that way?

WP:

Before—you mean before the sit-ins?

EP:

Yes ma'am.

WP:

I don't think so. I know that at one time—I don't remember the year now—Bennett College conducted a drive after the Civil Rights Act where numbers of people were registered to vote. And it was at this time that I think people like Dr. [William] Hampton, who was a physician at that time, was very much on the political scene and I believe he was elected—if not the first, certainly among the first [black] councilmen in the city of Greensboro.

EP:

Are you familiar with the origin of the Greensboro Citizens Association?

WP:

No, I'm not.

EP:

It has been mentioned several times in several articles, books, and several people I've interviewed, that it was a fairly common practice in the l940s and 1950s for money to be provided by political candidates to be spread throughout the black community to in effect buy votes. And that there were members of the black community who would take this money and then try to sway the votes on the behalf of the person who provided them with money. Are you aware of anything like that that went on?

WP:

I never heard that at all.

EP:

I see. Did you work closely with Dr. Hobart Jarrett?

WP:

Yes, I did.

EP:

Could you characterize Dr. Jarrett's efforts in race relations or drive for civil rights in Greensboro?

WP:

Yes, I think that Dr. Jarrett was a very thoughtful, forthright, levelheaded person in his dealings with the white community in Greensboro. He was always, I think, very able to articulate the reasons for activities which took place in the community and was I thought highly respected by the community itself. He certainly was highly respected on the Bennett College campus, where he was I believe head of the Humanities Division at that time.

EP:

Can you think of any specific actions that he participated in that would serve as examples of this activity you've just described?

WP:

I would be afraid to do that—I don't think I can pinpoint anything specific, outside of—I really don't think I can think of anything at the time being.

EP:

Did you work with Dr. George Simkins on any projects or activities?

WP:

No, I didn't. I didn't. I know that Dr. George Simkins was very active with the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], but I didn't work with him, myself.

EP:

Dr. Player, there are a few major activities from which I've culled from the Greensboro papers which serve as examples of a protest in the black community against segregation in the 1940s and 1950s. And I was wondering if I could mention a few of these and ask you if you have any personal knowledge or recollection of them or how the black community reacted.

WP:

All right.

EP:

The first is the time in 1960, when you and other members of the black community turned in your charge cards at Meyer's until they agreed to desegregate the Tea Room. Could you describe that activity?

WP:

I don't know that there's anything especially to describe, except the fact that—I don't know who spearheaded that now even, but I was in that group that wrote a letter to the management of Meyer's Department Store, indicating that I was closing my account because of their segregated policies in the Meyer's Tea Room I believe it was.

EP:

Did you mail in your card or present it in person?

WP:

I think I mailed my card.

EP:

Did you receive any kind of response from Meyer's?

WP:

No, I didn't.

EP:

Did you subsequently obtain a new card and begin trading there again after they desegregated the Tea Room or did you ever purchase items there again?

WP:

Yes, I did.

EP:

But there was no special effort on the part of the management of Meyer's to contact you and—

WP:

No.

EP:

I see. Are you familiar with the example when Dr. Simkins and five other men, members of the black community, attempted to play golf or did indeed play golf at Gillespie in 1955, and were subsequently arrested?

WP:

I heard about that, yes.

EP:

But you have no personal knowledge on it?

WP:

No.

EP:

I see. By the same token do you have any personal knowledge of the controversy surrounding the attempted desegregation of Lindley Swimming Pool, and it subsequently being sold by the city in 1957?

WP:

No.

EP:

I'd like to turn now and focus attention on the school desegregation efforts in Greensboro following the Brown decision in May of 1954. Were you involved in that in any way?

WP:

No, I wasn't.

EP:

Could you describe its impact on the black community? How did the black community react to the Brown decision?

WP:

Well, at that time I was on leave from the college when that decision broke, so I did not know too much about it until two years later. But I do remember that the women of the community were very valiant in their efforts to support desegregation by doing a great deal of volunteer work in transportation and things of this sort, in order to try to help with the desegregation effort.

EP:

What sort of things do you mean [by] “transportation”?

WP:

They had carpools, I believe, to transport children across to schools where they were trying to get black children into the white schools.

EP:

Why was their such a—why was the black community so strongly motivated about public school desegregation in Greensboro?

WP:

Well, I don't know why they were particularly motivated about it except that they wanted to see that—the Supreme Court decision was such a landmark, historically, for blacks—that it had every promise of being the breakdown of the last stronghold of segregation, you know. As such, it was hailed as the big opportunity to bring the races together, because it was felt that this could be done at the level of the young people, rather than working at it at the level of old people, where patterns of segregation were so fixed.

EP:

Did many black parents want to send their children to white schools?

WP:

Yes, they did.

EP:

Were there any who did not want to?

WP:

Not that I know of. Because you see, in Greensboro there wasn't the violence connected with school desegregation that existed in other communities. In very recent months has it seemed that Greensboro is showing a different kind of reaction to race relations than it showed in those beginning days.

EP:

Could you expand on that thought—how did it react in those beginning days? You mean negatively?

WP:

No, I thought it was pretty positive. What happened, that I knew about, was that in this effort they found that the students who were educated in the black colleges were some of the most successful teachers in teaching in the integrated school situation. This did a great deal to bring about desegregation peacefully and all, because the teachers were so well-prepared who went from the black schools into the public schools that were being integrated.

EP:

You mentioned that only in recent years has there been a change of attitude. By that do you mean if the previous attitude was positive are you now saying that it tends to be a negative attitude?

WP:

It seems to me that this recent episode in Greensboro for example, in the foot-dragging that has taken place in the colleges and universities on desegregating their faculties and all, it seems that the pace toward integration has considerably slowed in recent years in Greensboro.

EP:

In terms of foot dragging, there seems to be the case in 1954—for instance, the night after the Supreme Court decision—on a motion by Superintendent of Schools, Ben L. Smith and chairman of the school board D. [Edward] Hudgins—a six to nothing resolution of the school board to attempt to honor the intent of the Brown decision, not attempt to thwart it, but that subsequently, things seemed to slow down a great deal. For instance, it was three years before any black child attended a public school in Greensboro—and at that, it was at Gillespie and the police had to come there, the Klan was there, there was a great deal of ill feeling, a potential for violence. Also, Josephine Boyd was the only black school child to attend Greensboro Senior High School from 1957 until 1971—or in the 1960s, rather. If feeling was so positive, why was there this delay?

WP:

Well, the only thing that I can say on that was that there was—I guess I really shouldn't be saying this without being able to document it, but there was in Greensboro a behind the scenes power structure that kept some things from happening that would have happened under ordinary circumstances.

EP:

Would you characterize this power structure?

WP:

Well, I think it was just a group of five or six people in Greensboro that were—they were adamant on toeing the mark.

EP:

Do you know who these individuals were?

WP:

No, I don't.

EP:

Now again, a recent article on the school desegregation effort in Greensboro has suggested that despite this very positive initial attitude which was highly praised in the national press in 1954, that the school board went very slowly in terms of approving the applications of black school children to attend white schools. In fact there were nine applications—well, there were repeated applications made and turned down in those three years, from 1954 to 1957. And in the fall of 1957, when integration finally occurred, there were nine applications of which only six were approved.

I was wondering about this enthusiasm you talk about on the part of the black community and yet the fact that there were, one, so few applications made and, [two], an even smaller number approved. Does this not suggest some contradiction between the stated intent of the school board and the practice of the members in actually trying to achieve desegregation?

WP:

Well, I think there is a contradiction there, but I don't know enough about it to know who was actually responsible for slowing the pace.

EP:

Are you familiar with the effect of the Pearsall Plan and the pupil assignment law of North Carolina and how—what its effect was on the black community in Greensboro?

WP:

I just can't recall that at all. I remember the Pearsall Plan, but I wasn't that much involved in public school education to know anything about its effect. It's too far away from me now.

EP:

You mentioned the election of Dr. William Hampton to city council in 1951. And it was—he received the largest number of votes of any member on the council. In effect, he could have been mayor of the city by the tradition, and he of course chose not to for I guess, gather, obvious reasons. How do you account for the fact that obviously a large number of whites must've voted for the first black city council member not only in Greensboro but in the South, or certainly one of the first?

WP:

Yes. Well, you know Greensboro was a rather ambivalent community. I think it was a city that wanted to be known for being liberal, on the one hand, and cautious on the other, in terms of how far they really wanted to go. And I think that there was great respect for Dr. Hampton. There was also a feeling that Dr. Hampton would be poised enough in a difficult situation to be able to influence the black community. I don't think I would say that he was elected because he was “safe.” I think he was elected because the Greensboro community felt that the time had come for them to demonstrate on a political level that Greensboro really had a better face than some people at the time were saying that it did have.

EP:

Concerning Dr. Jones's appointment to the school board in 1952, do you consider that in any way to be—smack of tokenism?

WP:

No, I don't think I thought that at all.

EP:

How would you characterize the work of Dr. Hampton on the city council and Dr. Jones on the school board in terms of trying to affect improvement in the black community and facilitate integration?

WP:

I think they both worked hard at it and courageously at it. I don't think that Dr. Jones was ever anybody to do anything in the community but what he thought was right and forthright, and he had the courage to do that. And I think the community would listen to Dr. Jones and Dr. Hampton when they wouldn't listen to anybody else in the community.

EP:

Do you think that—did the black community look to each of these gentlemen to present the voice of the black community before the city and to fight for the causes of the black community?

WP:

Yes, they did.

EP:

Do you think that these men fulfilled that role?

WP:

Yes, I do.

EP:

When Dr. Jones died and Dr. Hampton was appointed to the school board, do you think that this was an attempt to try to remove Dr. Hampton from the city council and remove him as an influence on the council?

WP:

No, I don't.

EP:

The reason I'm asking these questions along this line is Dr. William Chafe of the history faculty of Duke, who's author of this article to which I've eluded several times, and who has written a book on the state of race relations in Greensboro from 1940 through 1975 [Civilities and Civil Rights], suggests that while each of these men he highly praises and believes that they were honest and sincere and very effective, that the way they were perceived by their white colleagues on the school board and on the city council was that they were to be more or less the token figurehead—or not using those terms, suggesting that,“ All right now you've complained that the blacks do not participate in the decision-making process [but now] Dr. Hampton is on the city council; Dr. Jones is on the school board.”

But that also, further, he [Chafe] has suggested through quotes—or implying from quotes from members of the school board and city council, that each of these men were looked upon by their white colleagues to more or less handle more radical members of the black community, those who were pushing for a faster pace of integration, who wanted really meaningful desegregation of schools and public facilities. Do you think that the white power structure looked to these men in this role?

WP:

I didn't think so, because I didn't think that those were two men that they would've elected for those positions if they had looked to them to play that kind of role. I don't agree that that's what they were expected to do by the white power structure.

EP:

Do you think that the churches, the white churches in Greensboro played any kind of positive role in terms of school desegregation in 1954 and later in the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins?

WP:

The white churches?

EP:

Yes.

WP:

No.

EP:

So they did not exert their influence—

WP:

No. I don't think the white churches were helpful at all.

EP:

Dr. Chafe again has suggested there's a tradition of educational, economic self-improvement in the black community in Greensboro. Would you say that this was true and that there was more or less a continuous, ever-increasing level of protest in the black community over this twenty year period that we're talking about?

WP:

I don't quite get your question—

EP:

I was wondering if—you know, we have talked about individual instances where members of black community protested, for instance the Greensboro Citizens Association in ending this corruption in the electoral process, the move by the Interracial Commission to remove separate signs of water fountains and restrooms, the school desegregation in 1954. Do you see this as a continuous process of protest in the black community or just intermittent?

WP:

I think it was pretty continuous.

EP:

Were there any elements in the black community that discouraged activism? For instance, were there any principals in the public schools that tried to interfere with the soliciting NAACP memberships and membership dues? For instance, Dr. [Ferdinand D.] Bluford of A&T has been cited as an example of when he discouraged protest on the campus and participation in the NAACP.

WP:

That never came clear to me, although I know that that was said about Dr. Bluford and it was also said about [Dudley High School principal] Dr. [John A.] Tarpley, I believe, in the community. But I didn't have enough information to know that this is a fact.

EP:

Were you ever aware of any members or organizations in the black community that advocated a more militant, perhaps even violent approach toward desegregation at this time?

WP:

No. I didn't.

EP:

How would you characterize the role of the press in Greensboro during this time? Do you think that they were sympathetic to black demands or do you think they followed the lead of the conservative city council and this same group of individuals that you said were adamant in preserving the status quo of segregation?

WP:

I don't think the papers were particularly out in front in terms of promoting desegregation. I think the press was pretty conservative.

EP:

So they did not act as a leader of public opinion?

WP:

No. I wouldn't say that they did.

EP:

Were you ever aware of any coercion of black activists during this time? Were they ever intimidated for their activism?

WP:

No, no. I don't know of any that were.

EP:

Dr. Chafe cites the example of Reverend Edward Edmonds.

WP:

Oh yes, there was-yes, yes, that's right. Dr. Edmonds, sociology, was a teacher at Bennett College. I think there was a cross burning on his lawn once for his activism in civil rights.

EP:

Well, Dr. Chafe goes on to further suggest that he left Bennett in 1959 because he stirred up too much trouble as the head of the NAACP by powerful white elements and their allies in the black community. What's your opinion on this?

WP:

Well, I think Dr. Edmonds left Bennett at that time, but I don't think he was—he left because he was forced to leave or that he left under tension. I think Dr. Edmonds was—he was a scholar and he was impatient for change, social change, and I think that he didn't see himself being able to bring that about in the Greensboro community and so he decided to leave.

[End of Tape 1, Side A; Begin Side B]

EP:

Was there a combination of assertiveness and caution necessary for blacks to observe in dealing with the white power structure?

WP:

Yes, I think so.

EP:

How did this manifest itself? What was the punishment of blacks who were too assertive?

WP:

What was their punishment?

EP:

In other words, was it overt punishment by the loss of their—

WP:

Jobs.

EP:

—jobs, or was it more subtle?

WP:

I think it was just a subtle sort of trying to talk about what problems might emerge and a request for a backing off. I think it was that kind of thing rather than any kind of punishment or loss of jobs or whatever.

EP:

One source has said that—again Dr. Chafe's article is the source I'm quoting—“blacks of Greensboro could only achieve positions of eminence by seeming to accept prevailing white assumptions.” What is your attitude on this quote? Would you agree or disagree?

WP:

I don't know what he means by “positions of eminence.”

EP:

I gather what he's talking about is Dr. Jones's appointment to the school board, Dr. Hampton's election to the city council, and any other time that a black would be appointed to a position of authority in the community.

WP:

I don't agree with that.

EP:

In other words, what he is all getting around to in his article, and even more strongly in his book, is he's taking this term “moderation,” which the white power structure mentioned frequently, in very proud, positive terms, and he's saying that's not really it at all—that by “moderation” they mean a go-slow or even a do-nothing attitude on race relations and equal opportunity under the guise of moderation—that this was a cleverly devised technique whereby very little was done but that it was more subtle than the massive resistance of Senator Harry Byrd in Virginia, for instance.

WP:

Well, I guess I would say it was probably more subtle, but I don't think that I would attach everything that was done in the Greensboro community—I don't think that I would classify it within this kind of setting.

EP:

In other words, you think that there were members of the white community who were sincere in trying to—

WP:

Yes, I think there were.

EP:

Could you mention any of these individuals as—for example?

WP:

I think that Mrs. Julius Cone was sincere. I think Mrs. Spencer Love was sincere. I think that—who was the president of Duke University at that time?

EP:

I'm afraid I do not know.

WP:

—he's dead now, let's see. He was head of the Babcock Foundation, name begins with an “E” [A. Hollis Edens]—I can't quite recall it now. But I think there were people who were in the community who were sincerely trying to help their community to rise. I don't think everything was within that frame of reference of “moderation,” but more subtly trying to hold back. I don't quite agree with that.

EP:

Who would you cite as the leaders of the black community during the 1940s and 1950s?

WP:

Well, the names sort of escape me but I think Dr. [Julius T.] Douglas, who was minister of the [St. James] Presbyterian Church, I think Dr. [W. Lloyd T.] Miller, who is still a permanent dentist there in—

EP:

May I ask his first name please?

WP:

Dr. Miller?

EP:

Yes.

WP:

W. L. T. [Miller], I believe it is.

EP:

I know that Dr. Tarpley is frequently cited as a leader of the black community during this time.

WP:

Well, I don't—well, Dr. Tarpley to my way [of thinking] was a moderate. I don't think that he was one of the people who were out in front.

EP:

Would there be any other people that you could recall at this time?

WP:

Mr. [Jerald M.] Marteena, [dean of engineering at A&T], who's deceased at this time, was out in front—

EP:

May I ask his name again please?

WP:

Marteena—Let me see. I don't remember his first name.

EP:

I was wondering—I'm having trouble, could you spell that for me?

WP:

Yes, M-a-r-t-e-e-n-a.

EP:

I see. I'd like to turn now to the 1960 sit-ins. I'd like to ask you what was—how did you first learn of it and what was your reaction to the participation about Bennett girls or Bennett students?

WP:

Well, I think I first learned of it, I suppose, when we were all called downtown and heard the A&T student present his case before the members of the community, who were trying really to get a hold of what was actually happening. I first learned about it when I saw a couple of Bennett girls' pictures on the front page of the New York Times Magazine sitting in at the [lunch] counter.

EP:

You mean you had not known that they were participating prior to this?

WP:

I didn't know that they were participating.

EP:

What was your reaction?

WP:

Well, at first I thought what do we do in a situation like this, because you certainly aren't going to keep the girls from participating. So my reaction was to let it ride until I could sense from the most reliable members of the faculty how they viewed the whole thing.

EP:

Who would these members of the faculty be?

WP:

They were people like Mrs. Louise Street, who lives in the community now, Dr. George Breathett, Dr. Chauncey Winston, Dr. J. Henry Sayles, Dr. Francis Grandison. These were members of the Bennett faculty who were long term teachers—they just weren't—they lived in the community and had been there for some time. And so my first reaction was to see how they felt about it. And so I called them in a meeting and told them what was happening.

EP:

And what was discussed in this meeting?

WP:

And the reaction was that these—we went back to the purposes of a liberal arts college. And in defining those and what the girls were doing, we decided that they were carrying out the tenants of what a liberal education was all about, so they should be allowed to continue.

EP:

Could you summarize what you meant by these tenants of a liberal arts education at that time?

WP:

Well, it was freedom of expression. It was living up to your ideals, building a quality of life in the community that was acceptable to all. It was respect for human dignity and personality. And it was a recognition of values that applied to all persons as equals and all persons who deserved a chance in a democratic society to express their beliefs.

EP:

Did you speak with any of the students who participated in the sit-ins or any of the student leaders?

WP:

At that time you mean?

EP:

Yes.

WP:

Well, yes. We spoke to the president of the student senate, and we told her how the faculty felt, and that we were planning to cooperate with the girls. And the only thing we requested of them was that they would give us a daily report on what they intended to do for that particular day.

EP:

And did they honor this?

WP:

And they did.

EP:

Ezell Blair Jr. [now known as Jibreel Khazan], who was one of the four original sit-inners, told me that you attended a meeting on Friday night at Woolworth's on February fifth in which there were representatives of Woolworth's and Kress, members of the faculty or administration of WC UNC [Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, now UNCG] and A&T College. Do you recall that meeting?

WP:

Yes I think I do.

EP:

Could you tell me what occurred in that meeting?

WP:

As far as I can remember, Ezell Blair was asked to defend his actions, which he did admirably, as I remember. Then we were saying, it seemed to me, whether or not we could support the students in what they were doing. And I believe at that time, Greensboro College did not express any positive thrust of participation, and I believe Woman's College did not either, if I remember correctly.

EP:

Do you recall who was present at that meeting?

WP:

No, I don't. I can't remember who were the presidents at that time. It seems like to me, [Gordon W.] Blackwell was the president of Woman's College—

EP:

Yes.

WP:

—and was at the meeting at that time.

EP:

Do you know who represented A&T administration at that meeting?

WP:

I don't think Dr. [Lewis C.] Dowdy was there—I don't remember.

EP:

Mr. Blair says that you defended the students. As a matter of fact, he quotes you as saying that “The students are doing nothing more than acting upon the rights of citizenship as taught as being contained in the Constitution.” Do you recall your defense of the students.

WP:

Yes, I do.

EP:

Could you characterize your defense?

WP:

Well, I think it was pretty much what I said to the faculty, that here were students who were realizing that as citizens and as students of a liberal arts college, they were being denied their equal rights, both under the law and under their constitutional beliefs, and freedom of expression. And that—and I defended them. And I said what they were doing was not inconsistent with this, and that I supported it.

EP:

Do you recall who put this question to you, or who asked you to defend the students?

WP:

No. I don't know that anybody did. I think that we were just all expressing ourselves about how we reacted to the situation, but I don't recall who was there at that particular meeting.

EP:

Did you get a sense of any pressure from the managers of the stores or members of the city administration to try to prevent students from participating?

WP:

Well, I think they were telling, you know, saying the same old things about the students going too fast—Woolworth's Store, whoever he was there who was speaking for Woolworth's. And I think at the time even Governor [Terry] Sanford was pretty conservative on this point and tried to get the students to cease the demonstrations.

EP:

Did you ever meet with any city officials or members of these stores or participate in any further meetings on the sit-ins?

WP:

Yes, let's see. I think that we had a meeting at the governor's mansion in Raleigh at one time—

EP:

Was this while the sit-ins were going on?

WP:

I don't believe—I think this was after the sit-ins, though. Seems like to me—I don't know. [laughs]

EP:

Do you recall when that meeting would have been?

WP:

No, I don't. That meeting is very vague to me but I remember that we went there, I remember we had a meeting on the campus of the Woman's College, and then we had a meeting at the YMCA, and then there was a meeting over—just with me and the CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] director and one of the Greensboro citizens—

EP:

Could you—

WP:

—Warren Ashby, I think, over on the Bennett College.

EP:

Could you characterize that meeting? That sounds very interesting.

WP:

The meetings were all to try to get us to pull out and stop the demonstrations, stop our students from demonstrating.

EP:

You've mentioned Dr. Ashby, what role did he play in this?

WP:

Well, Dr. Ashby was disappointingly, to me, very quiet during the whole thing. And I distinctly remember Dr. Ashby with Dr. Farmer from CORE meeting—asking for a meeting with me, quietly, on the Bennett campus to ask me if I would be willing to pull in the Bennett College students, because the A&T students were being pulled in because the governor had written a letter to President Dowdy telling him that he should have his students stop the demonstrations. And I—of course, I refused to do it.

EP:

I'm very interested in this point. I want to proceed chronologically but since you have mentioned this, I'd like to pursue this at greater length. In nineteen—in the spring of 1963, when there were over 900 students being held at the old polio hospital, the National Guard Armory, the High Point and Greensboro city jails, they were released into the custody of Bennett and A&T, and the release was affected very late at night, after midnight, I believe. There was a suggestion that a deal or an agreement had been worked out with the presidents of Bennett and A&T and the governor's office and the mayor's office. Was there ever any such agreement in which you participated with one or more of these individuals for a release of the Bennett students into the custody of the college?

WP:

No, the Bennett students were never released into the custody of the college.

EP:

So—

WP:

The A&T students were released into the custody of the college at the request of Governor Sanford, who wrote a letter to Dr. Dowdy. And so all of the A&T students were released into the custody of A&T. Well, that left the Bennett students there by themselves and they began to get disturbed. I had an anonymous call from downtown, I don't know who it was who called, they said they were a friend of the college, and that the Bennett students had been placed in the polio hospital without its inspection, which was against the law.

I made a personal visit myself down to the library and I read this code. I then went to visit Captain [William] Jackson and told him about the danger if he did not remove the girls from that polio hospital, because it had not been properly inspected and this was the law, and the community could be in trouble.

EP:

What was his reaction?

WP:

Well, he was very cordial about this. He wondered where I had gotten this information and I didn't tell him where I got the information, but I quoted the book from which I read the information. And then I told him that-so, we were in the position of A&T students having left and him having the Bennett girls in this place, the polio hospital, and unless they agreed to lift the charges from the Bennett girls, that they were going to stay out there and I was going to pursue this other thing. Then I went out there and I told this story to the Bennett girls and I said, “Now, you just stay here.”

EP:

So you urged them to stay there?

WP:

And I urged them to stay there because I said, “Bennett College is not a jail and we will not accept [students] released into our custody until the chief of police lifts your sentences,” and this is what happened.

EP:

Were the charges actually withdrawn or were they just released for a later trial date?

WP:

No, they were withdrawn.

EP:

Were you ever under any pressure by either the mayor or the governor to accept this deal or to try to stop the girls from demonstrating?

WP:

No, they never asked me to.

EP:

The reason why I asked this is that Reverend [Otis L.] Hairston says he was in a meeting once in Mayor [David] Schenck's office in which Mayor Schenck alluded to the possibility that it was in his power to shut off the water and power to A&T and Bennett Colleges, if they did not try to use their influence to stop the students from demonstrating every night in the streets and marching. And that at this point, Reverend Hairston says he and another member of that committee said, “Well, if you do that then we'll have five thousand people in the streets tomorrow night and we'll keep them out there.” And that was the last he heard of this alluded threat. Was there ever any either overt or subtle threat of this from the governor of the mayor's office to you?

WP:

I never had a single threat through the whole thing.

EP:

I see. Did you communicate—how did you first become aware of the CORE chapter at Bennett and the pickets that they conducted in the fall of 1962 and in the spring of '63?

WP:

How did I become aware of it?

EP:

Yes, ma'am.

WP:

I think those were the days when the student leaders from both A&T and Bennett used to meet on each others' campuses.

EP:

So you were aware of the CORE chapter and the activism of the Bennett students?

WP:

Yes.

EP:

Did you ever try to control this activism?

WP:

No, I didn't. You see, I—

EP:

Did it have your tacit approval?

WP:

Well, not my tacit approval, it just had my approval. Because it was so clear to me that what these people were struggling for was within their rights and that I never equivocated on it at all. And because of that, the students were very cooperative, and they would always come to me first to tell me what they were going to do, or what they were planning, or what it was all about, and they would ask me if I had any suggestions. And so it was a communication and a give-and-take that was so open that the students never did anything behind your back, or feeling that it was something that you did not approve of or holding back what they were going to do.

EP:

Did you have any misgivings about members of your faculty such as Dr. Elizabeth Laizner or Mr. James McMillan being advisors or participants in CORE?

WP:

No, I didn't have any misgivings. I think Dr. Laizner was perhaps an illustration of an over-enthusiastic person to bring about change, but I didn't think that she had anything vicious behind it.

EP:

So you never attempted to discourage their participation?

WP:

No.

EP:

Did you have many conversations with either of these two individuals concerning the street demonstrations in the spring of 1963?

WP:

You mean the marches?

EP:

Yes, ma'am.

WP:

No, I marched with the people.

EP:

Do you recall on which march this was?

WP:

This was the march that went down from the Student Union Building down Elm Street.

EP:

Is this the one that was mentioned in the paper as being the first time that the adult members of the black community participated, the Sunday march when there were several thousands of marchers?

WP:

I think that was the march, but I don't think that it was the first time that the adult members had participated. I think they had participated pretty much, maybe just a sprinkling, but maybe this was more of the adult members than at any other time.

EP:

Was there ever any feeling on your part that any question whether or not you should participate actively in this march, given the fact that you were president of a college.

WP:

It seems to me that somebody said that it was not wise—it was a mistake. Somebody like the president of the Security National Bank called and said that it was a mistake, but it was so orderly he couldn't criticize it.

EP:

Could you describe this march, how it began, where it formed from, where you marched and what happened subsequently?

WP:

It formed from the Student Union Building on the Bennett Campus and fanned out I think into Elm Street, where it met all the rest of the group, and passed by one of the churches, too, and then went down Elm Street to Greene Street, and seems to me terminated where the old Post Office was.

EP:

Did you then march back to campus or did it break up there, downtown?

WP:

It pretty much broke up there.

EP:

Do you recall any—the behavior of the marchers or the behavior of the white spectators? Do you recall any heckling?

WP:

No.

EP:

What was the behavior of the police?

WP:

Just the tacit observation.

EP:

Did you ever march again?

WP:

Did I march again?

EP:

Yes.

WP:

Yes, I think I marched again when—it kind of escapes me, but it seems like to me—was it after this that they had the Selma, Alabama, thing with Martin Luther King?

EP:

I believe that Selma was 1965.

WP:

Well, that was—at any rate, that was the second march. I marched twice.

EP:

You marched in Greensboro with Selma?

WP:

No, I marched in Greensboro when they had the march in sympathy for Selma.

EP:

I see. Mr. McMillan related to me a story that he marched—and I think this is during the week when they had the first massive arrests—and that he said his role was liaison with the students and with CORE and that his major responsibility was trying to find out where the students were being incarcerated. And he said that when he got home I think he said about nine, nine-thirty, ten o'clock [p.m.] he said he received a call from you, requesting that you find out where Dr. Laizner was being incarcerated. Do you recall this incident?

WP:

I don't recall it, but I think clearly, I could've done that.

EP:

What was your role during the time that these students—

WP:

I went to visit them in the jail.

EP:

—and this time you told them to stay there until it was clear that the charges—

WP:

No, no, that was with the students in the polio hospital. But I think, if I'm not mistaken, that Dr. Laizner was put in the downtown jail.

EP:

Yes.

WP:

And that's where I went to visit.

EP:

Do you recall what you said to her at this time?

WP:

Well, I told her not to worry, we were going to see her through. And that—I don't remember anymore of the conversation, except I just wanted her to know that she had my good will.

EP:

Were you responsible with getting her or any other faculty or students out of jail?

WP:

No, there I worked through Mr. McMillan.

EP:

Did you—

WP:

I think he was instrumental in bringing about her release.

EP:

I see. Could you describe the conditions in the polio hospital in which the Bennett girls were housed?

WP:

Well, it was just a whole lot of great big rooms, and they had mattresses down on the floor, and blankets. So they were sleeping on the floor, and they didn't have adequate restrooms for that big a crowd of students. So that was pretty rough for them to go through that.

EP:

Did you think that the conditions, given the fact that there were a large number of students arrested, made the police claim they had nowhere at that time to house them other than a place like that? Did you think the conditions were unusually severe given that situation, or was it just the situation where the city was suddenly swamped with a lot of people and had not been prepared for this large number of arrests?

WP:

Yes, it was completely inadequate, they just couldn't handle that number of arrests.

EP:

Did you blame the city for this?

WP:

Yes, the city should not have arrested them if they didn't have suitable places.

EP:

Dr. Laizner, in characterizing your role as president at Bennett, says that you had to be careful, that you could not give overt encouragement of the students publicly, that your encouragement had to be very subtle through private conversations with the students and members of the faculty such as yourself. Do you think that she has accurately characterized your role at that time or not?

WP: [laughs] No, I don't think so. I don't think I would have gone to see the chief of police and I don't think I would have gone to the jail to visit the faculty. And the one thing that I did was every night I met that same group of faculty people to say, “what shall we do for tomorrow,” so that I would always be sure that the faculty was with me.

Then the faculty, of course, had agreed to—well, we set it up—since it was so bad, we set it up something like an army camp. So we had a mail call, and we took the girls extra food—chicken and all of that, and then the faculty delivered their assignments. The girls got their assignments every day, so that they didn't get behind in their work, because it was at a time when they were going to come up on school closing. And I don't know whether Dr. Laizner interpreted my meeting of the faculty as being a quiet gesture or not, but I know that we proceeded on a strictly educational front. It was to be an educational experience, and that's what we turned it into. And Dr. Laizner was so emotional, she may not have understood that.

EP:

There was some question in the paper as to what the policy would be of the A&T and Bennett administration concerning exams. What was your position if the students were not released in time to take their regularly scheduled exams?

WP:

If they had not been released?

EP:

Well—

WP:

They were released in time.

EP:

Yes. My question is, had they not been released, if they were still incarcerated, what was your attitude on their taking exams? Would they be expected to appear for exams or would they be given the opportunity to make up the exams at a later date?

WP:

Well, we had two alternatives; we said that if the students did not get released—because they were up on their assignments, you see, because the teachers sent them their assignments about every day, and whatever they had to write out or study or anything they did out there while they were in the polio hospital. But, we had two alternatives established; one was that the student could go home if she wanted to and come back; she could stay over, or she could accept incompletes and take the examinations when she returned in the fall.

EP:

Did you ever feel under any pressure, implied or overt, from the city, the state, or the board of trustees?

WP:

Any pressure to?

EP:

To tell the students.

WP:

No. There was one faculty, I mean one trustee—I think this was Dr. Tarpley—who called because he didn't understand why I didn't have the girls come home at the same time that A&T took their students out. And I explained this to him. He just asked me if I thought I was able to handle this, and I said yes, that I thought I was.

EP:

I was wondering if I could ask you to again clarify your position on why you advised the girls to stay in there?

WP:

Well, I told them—I told the girls why—about the letter that A&T and Bennett had received—the president of A&T had received from the governor. I told them that this [A&T] was a public institution, and the difference in a public institution and a private institution was that private institution could not be dictated to by the state. And that if they came back to a liberal arts college and they were under arrest, they would be transferring the concept of a jail from the polio hospital, where they were incarcerated, to the liberal arts college, and the college was not prepared to be a jail to anyone. And they were to stay there, because I had also information that this hospital was not properly equipped to take care of them legally, and they would have to trust me that I would do the best for them in terms of this situation. And they remained, and they said they had no intention of leaving.

EP:

Do you think that this was the point upon which the students were released, the fact that you pointed out that it was illegal for the city to hold them there, since the hospital had not be inspected for that purpose?

WP:

I think that had a great deal to do with it, yes.

EP:

In light of what you have just said, what is your assessment of the charge that was made at the time against Dr. Dowdy by some of the members of the adult black community. I'm thinking specifically of Mr. Ezell Blair Sr., who was president of the Alumni Association or an officer of the Alumni Association at that time, that Dr. Dowdy had knuckled under to pressure from the state?

WP:

What was—now what was your question?

EP:

I'm wondering what is your assessment of that charge? Do you think that Dr. Dowdy did indeed knuckle under to the power of the state, was he under tremendous pressure, what is your attitude?

WP:

Dr. Dowdy was after all the president of a public institution, and he was under tremendous pressure. And in my view, Dr. Dowdy had either to pull the students in or to resign his position. It was as clear to me as that.

EP:

Given the fact that once the students did return to campus, they did again participate in marches and picketing activities and many of them were arrested again, do you think that Dr. Dowdy did not seriously try to restrict them from participating in these activities?

WP:

Publicly, I think he did what he was asked to do, and I don't see that he could've done any more except resign his position.

EP:

I was wondering about his legal position in this. Did he have to respond immediately to a direct order from the governor, or was it more the fact that if he did not then he could face loss of funds from the next meeting of the state legislature?

WP:

You know, I think I saw that letter, and I think it was a direct order. If I remember that.

EP:

So it was not the—

WP:

There wasn't anything about any funds from the state.

EP:

In other words, he, as a state employee, was told to—

WP:

—was told, yes.

EP:

What exactly was he told by the letter? To accept the students into the custody of A&T, to prevent them from demonstrating? What exactly was the direct—

WP:

I think if I remember correctly it was a direct order to pull the students out of the demonstrations.

EP:

So in effect, what he did was—in compliance with the letter—was to receive the students in custody of A&T.

WP:

That's right.

EP:

But the fact that they did indeed again participate in demonstrations means that he did not actively try to enforce the letter of the letter, or the letter of the law, in keeping them on the campus?

WP:

No, he couldn't do it—he couldn't do it. The atmosphere was such that if he had tried, he wouldn't have been successful. I think at that point, Dr. Dowdy was just powerless.

EP:

Do you think it was unfair for the critics of Dr. Dowdy to level that criticism against him?

WP:

Well, in terms of—I really don't know how to answer that question, except to say that at the time I knew that if I had been in Dr. Dowdy's position, my first impulse would've been to resign.

EP:

Rather than—

WP:

Rather than carry out that order.

EP:

Did you participate in any meetings with the city officials, the Evans Committee [Mayor's Special Committee on Human Rights], and then later the permanent Human Relations Committee that was set up after the demonstrations and marches ceased?

WP:

I think I went to one meeting.

EP.

Do you recall which meeting this was?

WP:

No, I really don't.

EP:

Did you continue to function in this role of attending meetings with subsequent civil rights demonstrations in Greensboro?

WP:

No.

EP:

So then after the end of these demonstrations you more or less returned full-time duty as president of Bennett?

WP:

Yes, until I resigned in '66.

EP:

Do you recall the circumstances of Dr. Laizner's arrest and subsequent trial in Orange County [North Carolina] as a result of her activities in Chapel Hill?

WP:

No, I don't know about that.

EP:

Both she—

WP:

I went to see her one time, but she was not there, she was in Chapel Hill, and I never was able to see her after that, so I didn't know what happened.

EP:

Did you have a particularly close relationship with Dr. Laizner, or was it more or less a formal administrator-faculty member relationship?

WP:

Formal, faculty member relationship.

EP:

Both she and Mr. McMillan have told me that it was at this trial that the charge was labeled against her of communist, which has stuck with her throughout the years— it was put on her passport—or that she was being investigated by the immigration service. Are you aware of how this came about?

WP:

No, I don't know about that.

EP:

Did you have any further involvement with your faculty members who were involved with CORE or subsequent civil rights demonstrations?

WP:

After that?

EP:

Yes.

WP:

No.

EP:

Well, I want to thank you very much for your participation in the Greensboro Public Library Oral History Program, Dr. Player.

WP:

Well some of it is kind of hazy for me but there was one thing that you didn't ask me about.

EP:

What was that?

WP:

That was the time that Bennett College had to open—was the only place where Martin Luther King could deliver his address in Greensboro.

EP:

Oh yes, could you tell me about that?

WP:

Did you have anything on that?

EP:

Did he—was this the address he gave in 1958?

WP:

At Bennett.

EP:

Could you describe that for me please.

WP:

Yes, he had been invited, you know, and he was to speak—I don't know where he was—no, there wasn't any place where there was a white auditorium—

[End of Tape 1 Side B; Begin Tape 2 Side A]

EP:

—which Dr. King spoke at the Bennett campus?

WP:

Oh yes. He was to speak at the Dudley High School. And then the message came through that he couldn't speak there, so—

EP:

Did this come through the school board?

WP:

Yes. And so there was no place where Dr. King could speak, and so they came to us. And I said, “Well, yes, Dr. King could speak at the chapel, in the Bennett Chapel.” And it wasn't large enough. So they said, “Well, what shall we do?” I said, “Well, we'll allow Dr. King to speak, he has to speak. So he'll speak in the chapel.” So we set up in all of the assembly room loudspeakers in all the rest of the buildings, and the students were encouraged to go to the buildings as far as possible, except the seniors I think. The seniors were to come to the auditorium.

Well, we put the loudspeakers in the [unclear] Theater, the loudspeakers in the assembly room in the [Henry Pfeiffer] Science Hall, the library. And then I said that the other thing we'll do is to get a police—whatever you call it—a police guard to surround the campus, and we'll take care of that, and Dr. King shall speak. And that's what we did. And the campus was circled with police during the time of his address to protect—I thought I had to do that to protect the students.

EP:

Was there ever any trouble?

WP:

Not at all.

EP:

Did you speak personally with Dr. King at this time?

WP:

Yes, I did.

EP:

Well what was your impressions of him at that time?

WP:

Well, I thought that this was a person who had achieved such greatness and who was so courageous and he had a message for American young people and he had to be heard. And so it was—he was just a man of stature and was so unusual in his fervor and yet in his ability to articulate very honestly what the civil rights struggle was all about that there wasn't any harm that could come from presenting him to the community.

EP:

Did you get to speak with him personally?

WP:

Yes, I did.

EP:

How would you characterize him on a personal, informal basis?

WP:

Well, he was, I thought, a very warm, friendly person who had a deep commitment and a deep concern that he would have an opportunity in his lifetime to fulfill that commitment which he called his dream for all of us.

EP:

Do you recall who had originally invited him to speak?

WP:

No I don't.

EP:

It was my understanding that he had been invited to speak at the commencement of Bennett College in spring of 1963 and that at the last minute he was unable to attend.

WP:

That's right.

EP:

Do you recall—

WP:

That was another occasion.

EP:

Yes. I was wondering do you recall why he was unable to attend?

WP:

Well, it seems that—I really don't know what had happened to him, because the only reasons we got was a running commentary on—first, it was the weather, and then the planes couldn't get through, and then he was coming on a private plane. We had first one reason like that and another, and I never knew whether that was the real reason or whether something had happened that made it—endangered him, that he couldn't feel like he could meet that commitment. I never was quite sure. But at any rate, it was put on the weather and the plane and the inability to charter a plane to get to the service.

EP:

There was some mention of the fact that at—I assume the 1958 time in which Dr. King spoke—that money was, or the hat was actually passed among the audience to pay for his speech. Is this something that's totally erroneous, taken out of context, or was is this—

WP:

[laughs] Yes, there was no hat passed.

EP:

In other words there was no question—

WP:

There was no collection for that speech.

EP:

I see. Was there ever any charge leveled that the reason he didn't show up was that a fee could not be adequately negotiated for a speaker's fee.

WP:

Oh no.

EP:

It's my understanding that Captain Jackson was on the stage at the time that Dr. King was to deliver the address, the commencement address. Do you recall that?

WP:

I don't recall it, but it's clearly possible, because I think after we had the—was this before or after the sit-ins?

EP:

This, as I understand was in the spring of 1963, the occasion at which he was unable to come.

WP:

Commencement.

EP:

Yes.

WP:

Yes, it's clearly possible because I had faculty committees, people like that to pick out persons for platform guests and everything, and after I had a controversial meeting which Captain Jackson, he was one of my best friends in Greensboro. [laughs]

EP:

Do you recall who was substituted for Dr. King to give the commencement address?

WP:

I did it myself.

EP:

I see. Was this a rather impromptu speech or something you had planned?

WP:

Well, at each commencement, what we did after the commencement address and after the girls received their degrees, then the president made a charge to the class. And so what we did was to award the degrees, and I turned the charge to the class to a charge both to the class and the community, and broadened the speech. Rather impromptu, I guess. I don't know what got me through it, but I got through it.

EP:

When you say “charge to the class,” what exactly do you mean by that term?

WP:

Well, a lifting up of their responsibilities to improve the quality of life in our race, because they have had the opportunity to graduate from a college. And so they're charged to go out, to help the poor, to help the elderly, to teach the children, to raise the families and home and family life, things of this sort.

EP:

Are there any other incidents that you recall or would like to relate that I have not touched upon?

WP:

No, I think that was really the most outstanding one.

EP:

Well, thank you once again, Dr. Player. I—

WP:

Thank you. I hope I've helped a little bit.

EP:

You certainly have.

[End of Interview]