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Oral history interview with Arnold Schiffman Sr. by Eugene Pfaff


Date: April 11, 1979

Interviewee: Arnold A. Schiffman, Sr.

Biographical abstract: Arnold A. Schiffman Sr. (1899-1995), owner of Schiffman’s Jewelry, served on the Greensboro Human Relations Commission during the 1960s.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of an April 11, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Arnold Schiffman Sr., Schiffman compares details of the sit-ins of 1960 with the demonstrations of 1963 in Greensboro. Specific topics include his participation with and the activities of the mayor’s committee in 1960 and the Human Relations Committee in 1963, the role of the media and boycotts, and the long-term effects of the downtown demonstrations.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.572

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 Arnold Schiffman Sr. by Eugene Pfaff

Eugene Pfaff:

This is a segment of the oral history program with the Greensboro Public Library, in which we are interviewing Mr. Arnold A. Schiffman Sr. in his store, Schiffman's, Incorporated, on Elm Street, on April 11, 1979.

Mr. Schiffman, I would like to begin by asking when you first became aware of the sit-ins at Woolworth's in February of 1960.

Arnold Schiffman:

I think we were all aware of the disturbance amongst the students at A&T College [North Carolina A&T State University] some three months before the sit-ins actually took place. They were not quite the bombshell that one might think it was in the community, but they did engender a lot of publicity, a lot of comment.

EP:

What sort of incidents three months prior to the sit-ins made you aware that there was discontent among A&T students?

AS:

There were parades on the street, and there were many comments in the newspapers and other modes of publicity to the effect that the blacks were unhappy with their situation, which had been traditional for a century or so because they were brought here. And they felt that it was a duty on the whites to rectify the wrongs or the mistakes of the century or so before.

EP:

Was there much integration in the downtown shopping area at this time?

AS:

Very little, although in our particular business we had, for the past seventy years, had many fine customers who were not whites. We were careful—my father particularly, all his life—never to make a difference. And we felt that there should be no difference in the way a person was treated in any store because they were black or because they were white.

EP:

Did you serve in any official capacity in the business community, either in the Chamber of Commerce or the Merchants' Association at this time?

AS:

Those were my chief modes of enterprise. However, I was a member of the Rotary Club and was active there from the year 1924 on. So, yes, that was of great interest to me.

EP:

How did you first become aware of the sit-ins?

AS:

Of course, the publicity and the commotions on the street, on Elm Street, were the first things that drew my attention [telephone rings] to the fact that there was a sit-in.

EP:

Were there large crowds on the street?

AS:

Crowds did tend to gather. In the light of today's population they were not large crowds, but they were crowds of sufficient import to be noticeable.

EP:

Did this interfere with your business in any fashion?

AS:

No, it did not interfere. We continued on and had no upset.

EP:

Were you contacted by Mayor [George] Roach to serve in a capacity to try to resolve the integration issue of the lunch counter?

AS:

I was appointed on the committee or commission to solve, to help solve the problem. And, as you know, that committee was chairmanned [sic] by Mr. Ed Zane, who, I must say, did a masterful performance in handling the people, and [dealing] with its consultations with the blacks in bringing the matter to a final conclusion that was happy and successful.

EP:

Do you recall the first meeting of the mayor's committee?

AS:

I believe it was held in the upstairs over the Woolworth building at the corner of Washington—not Washington—Sycamore and Elm Street.

EP:

What took place in that meeting?

AS:

The problem was presented by Mr. Zane, and all of us were aware of the problem at that time. We discussed it. We discussed ways and means to solve the problem peacefully.

EP:

Were individual members of the committee assigned different tasks or duties?

AS:

I think not. It's possible that a sub-committee at different times did investigate different angles and talked to the owners of the—or the operators of the five and ten cent stores where the problem had come to a head.

EP:

Did you serve on one of these sub-committees?

AS:

I don't think so.

EP:

Did the mayor's committee meet frequently?

AS:

I do not know how often we met. I would say that we met possibly every week or ten days over the given period of time.

EP:

Were the meetings held at various places or always the same place?

AS:

Chiefly, in the same place. It was central and was close to the problem.

EP:

Did you find a spirit of cooperation with the students, or were they intransigent in their demands?

AS:

I think there was little cooperation with the students. I think as much as anything else they wanted to make a loud noise and be heard.

EP:

Was there any flexibility in the position of the managers of Woolworth's and Kress's.

AS:

Yes, there was. And I would say complete cooperation with the committee to work out the problem.

EP:

As I recall, Mr. [H.E.] Hogate was the manager of Kress, and I don't recall the name, name of the manager of Woolworth's—

AS:

Can't think of his name, but I can see him right now. And he was very active and very helpful.

EP:

What was their official position in not desegregating immediately?

AS:

As I recall it, they felt that they should express in their action the feeling of the community. And it was their expression, I believe, that they wanted to do what was best for the people of the community. After all, they were national chains, and their business life here depended on how well they were regarded in the community.

EP:

Mr. C.L. Harris was the [manager of Woolworth's]—

AS:

Mr. Harris, that's right, a real nice fellow. And he was very serious, and he's quite a religious fellow. And he meant to, to do the best in his own light that he could see was right for everybody. He had some hard choices to make, and he cooperated 100 percent with us.

EP:

There's some question in the newspaper reporting at the time that—concerning where ultimate authority lay for making the decision for desegregating. The—Mr. Harris and Mr. Hogate said, “It's up to our national offices or at least our regional offices in Atlanta”—certainly for Woolworth's. And people who were—individuals in the community who contacted the national offices said [the national offices replied], on the contrary, “We were leaving it up to the discretion of our local managers.” Was there any resolution of this inconsistency?

AS:

I think this was a defensive gesture on the part of the local executive at the moment, and knowing that it was unwise to make a, an unpopular decision in a hurry, [they knew] that it needed to be tempered with time and thorough consideration—in which they were essentially right, because it worked out that way.

EP:

What were some of the suggestions for resolving this issue that were periodically made, of course, over the six months of the sit-ins?

AS:

I cannot remember the specific suggestions. I do remember the discussions, that if the blacks were allowed to come in and sit down at the lunch counter, would Woolworth and Kress lose all of their white customers on that score? And if they did, how important would it be to the life in the community? But this we did not make any decision on. We preferred to temper the matter and continue discussions and to find a way.

EP:

I recall Mr. Harris and Mr. Hogate said that they thought it was unfair that they would be asked to take this risk, business risk, in the community, whereas the other eating establishments were not either going to go along or were not being singled out. So—

AS:

This is true. They did bring that point up. And I can readily see, as we see it today, it would have been unfair. But, at the moment, the pressure was on these two institutions, and it was not on the other eating plants, and that question had not seriously been raised by the blacks of the community.

EP:

Were there any representatives of businesses that would have been eating places—? In other words, were there representatives of eating establishment chains on the mayor's committee? Or, perhaps—

AS:

No, there were not. There were not—I recall none that were on the committee, and I don't think that any of them expected that it would seriously affect them in a hurry. However, I did keep in mind that the cafeterias would be next.

[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]

EP:

Were there any representatives of businesses that were integrated at that time—in other words, serving both white and black patrons?

AS:

I think all of the retail stores of any importance in the community did have mixed or integrated customers, yes. I know we did.

EP:

But their challenge to their businesses were not currently at issue.

AS:

No, they were not, and I had never known of any disruption on this score.

EP:

Did you make any informal or individual suggestions to other members of the committee, either in the formal sessions or just in informal discussions with them?

AS:

Yes. I had one constant plea, you might say, or a statement to make which I made a number of times. That, “Yes, we have the power to open the door, but the blacks cannot enjoy this privilege until they earn it in their behavior.”

EP:

Was there some question as to what would constitute blacks earning this privilege or right?

AS:

I think there was little discussion on that score. We did not try to define a level of behavior or appearance or cleanliness. But we did—or we were conscious of the fact that if they came into an eating establishment or a store and were as loud-mouthed and vociferous as they were on the streets that it would deleterious to them.

EP:

By loud mouth and boisterous on the street, do you mean specifically the demonstrators, or just blacks in general?

AS:

We were referring then to the demonstrators. And really a normal citizenship raised here in this community, not influenced by the rabble-rousers, were well-behaved and we didn't have this problem.

EP:

The newspaper made the point several times that the black sit-in demonstrators were well-dressed, coat and tie, frequently brought their books to study, and that the violence seemed to come pretty much from one direction, that is, white spectators or counter-demonstrators. Did you find this to be an accurate—?

AS:

I don't—no, there was no violence that I recall, no physical violence. Yes, there were people who were unwilling to consider the problem rationally and who simply voiced their personal feelings, whether they were whites or blacks. But you're quite right that those who came in and sat down were well behaved, did bring their books and simply occupied seats. Opponents did taunt them at times, and I think this is what we're talking about.

EP:

Do you think this made a favorable impression on the general community and on your members of the mayor's committee?

AS:

Do you mean the taunting of the blacks or the fact that they were polite and well-behaved?

EP:

The fact that they were polite and well-behaved.

AS:

Yes, it made an impression, and I think it gave us some of the keys that we needed to solve the problem in the long run.

EP:

What is your feeling about the media coverage—very quickly—the national media who came to Greensboro?

AS:

Well, I think you know and I know that the media are always looking for the sensational. They always magnify it out of proportion.

EP:

Do you think this hampered in any way [the] resolution of the issue?

AS:

I don't think it made any real difference. I think that we were calm enough in our considerations not to be influenced by national coverage or, really, by anything on the outside.

EP:

Does the fact that these sit-in demonstrations, within a matter of week, spread to a number of other cities in North Carolina and surrounding states, and eventually across the country, place any particular pressure on the Greensboro community to resolve the issue? [Did it lead to] an early resolution because the national attention had been focused upon Greensboro as being the site of the first sit-in?

AS:

I don't think that had any effect on us. I do think it was the fault of the media blowing up what was happening here and making—to the point that it would become national. In so doing, they probably defeated their own purpose.

EP:

In what way?

AS:

If they did not believe that this kind of thing should take place elsewhere, then they were causing it to take place elsewhere. Whoever knows what the media really wants to do when they write up something and expand it beyond a reasonable reporting?

EP:

There was a period after the first week, particularly after the bomb threat to Woolworth's on Saturday, February sixth, where the students at A&T agreed to a cessation of demonstrations which eventually extended to a truce of nine weeks ending on April 1. Was the committee instrumental in arranging this truce?

AS:

Yes.

EP:

Who, specifically?

AS:

Ed Zane.

EP:

Did he function as an individual in this capacity?

AS:

He functioned as chairman of the committee.

EP:

I see. But it was brought before the committee and it was voted on—?

AS:

It was discussed. It was discussed. And we never had any real conflict in the committee. We were all working for the same end.

EP:

Did the committee members, all of the committee members, meet periodically? In other words, was it a majority of the committee that met each time or just a small number of individuals?

AS:

We had a pretty solid attendance. And, of course, there are a few who always drop away, but, by and large, most of the committee was there. I do, do think I served on one of the special, small committees.

EP:

Do you recall which one?

AS:

No, I don't.

EP:

Do any of the student leaders stand out in your mind?

AS:

I don't remember their names. The fact is, I didn't want to remember their names.

EP:

And why was that?

AS:

I just didn't want personalities to control my thinking.

EP:

One of the original four demonstrators who continued in a leadership capacity was Ezell Blair, Jr. At any rate, he was frequently quoted in the newspaper and in Miles Wolff's book Lunch at the 5 & 10. Do you recall talking with any of the students personally?

AS:

No. I don't think I had a personal conversation with any of them.

EP:

Do you recall any of their comments during the committee meetings? [telephone rings]

AS:

No. I don't remember him or any other individual appearing before the committee.

EP:

There were—there was at least one meeting, on Friday evening I believe, at the YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association], within the first week of February—that would have been the evening of February the fifth—in which Dr. Gordon Blackwell, Chancellor of Woman's College, attended, the president of Greensboro College, and Dr. [Lewis] Dowdy or one of the administrative officials of A&T and Bennett College. In other words, [they were from] the principal colleges in which students were involved.

AS:

Yeah. Dowdy was not there. I think it was [Warmoth] Gibbs.

EP:

Dr. Gibbs, then president of A&T. Did you attend that meeting?

AS:

Yes. It seems to me that was before the committee that I served on was appointed. I think that was the beginning.

EP:

Do you recall what was discussed at that meeting?

AS:

The whole problem was discussed, but as for remembering the detailed position of different people, I do not.

EP:

What was the attitude of the administrative officials of the different colleges involved?

AS:

Well, I remember Dr. Blackwell was very much concerned. And his view was brought. Beyond that I don't recall. I don't remember the position of any of those men particularly. I knew Gordon Blackwell well, and I knew that he had a broad mind, a broad view.

EP:

Did the committee urge the various presidents and—well, Chancellor Blackwell—to prevent the students from coming downstairs—downtown and sitting in at Woolworth's and Kress?

AS:

I do not remember any such effort.

EP:

Are you aware of any overt or covert pressure on the committee from the outside members of the community, or city officials, or some special-interest groups?

AS:

Certainly not city officials. I, I was—In thinking about it now, I'm surprised that none of the religious leaders of the community, none of the ministers that I recall had any active part.

EP:

You mean white and black?

AS:

Yes, but I may be wrong on that.

EP:

So, to the best of your recollection, they had no input into the sit-ins whatsoever?

AS:

I'm sure they did, but I cannot recall it. I believe Murphy Williams did, and he was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant out on Walker Avenue.

EP:

Do you recall the efforts of Mayor Roach and City Manager Townsend during this crisis?

AS:

Other than appointing a committee and turning it over to us, I do not.

EP:

Did they meet frequently with the committee?

AS:

I think George Roach met with us several times. I don't remember Jim Townsend meeting with us.

EP:

Did he express an opinion or his wishes for a certain course of action?

AS:

Not that I recall.

EP:

Did the community continue to meet during this truce period of which I have spoken?

AS:

Yes. We met several times during that period. And then, there seems to me, there was several weeks that we did not meet. That's difficult for me to remember—

EP:

Certainly.

AS:

—after all these years.

EP:

Was there—? It appears that there was no resolution as to a course of action with the committee at the end of each of these meetings. Does that then mean that it was just an exchange of ideas and points of view?

AS:

Chiefly. And [there was] exploration of different thoughts of what could be done, what could not be done.

EP:

With the resumption of sit-in demonstrations after April first, and the publication of the committee's report to the mayor, there was allegation by the Greensboro Daily News that Mr. Zane and another committee member had, more or less, charged that the managers of the stores were the stumbling block in not reaching a resolution, that more or less blamed them for the continued stalemate. Do you recall this controversy?

AS:

No, I do not.

EP:

Do you know whom the paper would have suggested as being the other committee member besides Mr. Zane?

AS:

No.

EP:

This was immediately denied by Mr. Zane. And—

AS:

Yeah. I'm sure that was untrue. There was no such thing.

EP:

In the committee meetings and his reports of his individual efforts, do you recall what Mr. Zane thought to elicit from the store managers? Was his position that they desegregate?

AS:

I'm sure his position was not that they should immediately desegregate. I, I know that he saw the value of waiting until tempers had cooled down and people could meet together with more equability, could think straight. When you're angry you don't think straight.

EP:

Could you describe the situation, on a day-to-day basis, on the street in front of these stores?

AS:

In front of Kress and in front of Woolworth there was usually a gathering of blacks who were backing up those who were inside. At the same time, there were some whites who would gather to try and taunt them. As I think about it, it's amazing that physical problems didn't come up, that there was no real violence.

EP:

To what do you attribute the absence of violence?

AS:

Number one, the police were there and had a calming influence. The city administration was calm in its attitude. And by and large, we all wanted peace. And we, those of us who would really think about it, were bound to understand that it wasn't right for a person to come downtown and work downtown and not be able to buy something to eat and eat it in comfort.

EP:

As a member of the committee, what was your stand, and as an individual businessman, what was your stand on the resolution of this issue?

AS:

Well, the one position, as I've said a few minutes ago, that I took from beginning to end, was, “Yes, we can open the door, but they cannot enjoy it until they earn it.”

EP:

And was this to be at the discretion of the individual businessman as to who would be allowed in and served?

AS:

I, I did not want to judge that. I did think that it had to be an agreement between the commission and [go from] there to the city council and [then to] the participants. And, as it finally worked out, after the rabble-rousers had gone home and our own local people could control, both in the colleges and in the city, that it could work out peacefully, [then] it did.

EP:

Mayor Roach has said that in July—by rabble-rousers, I assume you are referring to the students—Mayor Roach said that on July twenty-fifth he was in the lobby of the Carolina Theatre and Mr. Harris came up to him and urged him to do something. And Mr.—Mayor Roach said “It is up to you to do something.” At which point the—Mr. Harris announced that they would desegregate, but that it would be his own employees who would be served first, and that there would be limited numbers served on a continuing basis. Did he reach this position independently, or did he discuss this beforehand with the committee?

AS:

I'm sure it was discussed with the committee, and particularly with Mr. Zane.

EP:

Given the fact that it was not until the students had gone home that [the] resolution was reached, the desegregation did occur, do you feel it was the position of the store managers that they would not, under any circumstances, give in to student demands?

AS:

I can't say that they would have given in to student demands if it had not been the wish of the community represented by the commission, the committee.

EP:

Did you have any inkling prior to Mr. Harris's announcement that this would be the course of action he would follow and he would desegregate?

AS:

Yes.

EP:

How did this come about?

AS:

I don't remember.

EP:

[Bell ringing] But at any rate, it was through the efforts of the committee, and the committee was aware that this would be his course of action before it was publicly announced?

AS:

[Bell continues, telephone rings] This was worked out between Mr. Zane and the student control, or the leaders in the black community, and Mr. Harris and the Kress management. In my opinion, this was—that's my recollection.

EP:

Did you as an individual or as a committee member have any discussion with the older adult members of the black community?

AS:

I did not.

EP:

But you appear to indicate that it was their more mature calming influence that facilitated the eventual desegregation.

AS:

Yes. And we've always had excellent relations with the upper echelon there, who really govern the area.

EP:

By upper echelon of the black community, [bell continues] to whom are you referring?

AS:

The better-educated people who were the leaders.

EP:

[You mean] ministers, doctors, professionals?

AS:

Yes.

EP:

[Bell continues] Once this announcement of desegregation was made, were there any further demonstrations, or did it just seem to die away?

AS:

It seemed to be of public notice for some few weeks and just died away when nobody thought any more about it.

EP:

Did—

AS:

They got used to it. It worked peacefully and beautifully.

EP:

Did crowds gather after the announcement?

AS:

No.

EP:

There were no crowds gathering after the—

AS:

Not that I recall.

EP:

Once the college students went home at the end of May or early June, who continued the picketing and the sit-ins?

AS:

I—as I recall it, from that time on when they were allowed to come down, there was no picketing. It just died away, and they walked in as do people today.

EP:

Kress's and Woolworth desegregated. Did any of the other stores who were not immediate targets desegregate at this time?

AS:

I do not think so. When you say stores, of course, that's a little different inflection, because the stores were already desegregated, but when it comes to eating establishments—and I think that's what you refer to—I'd say no.

EP:

I'd like to turn now to another area. Did your—and that is, specifically the 1963 demonstrations—did your membership on this committee end with the resolution of the sit-ins, or did you continue in this capacity?

AS:

I think—I continued in the committee of the Chamber of Commerce I believe it was, for community betterment. I've forgotten the exact title. I was interested in the human side of it.

EP:

Did they meet regularly or only as a crisis developed?

AS:

Spasmodically, maybe as a crisis developed or as someone had a theory of something that would be beneficial.

EP:

Do you remember any demonstrations by blacks or whites in the community between the period of 19—summer of 1960, when Woolworth and Kress desegregated, and the beginning of the marches in May of 1963?

AS:

I remember a little of that area until the marches stopped.

EP:

The paper indicates there were periodic picketing or marches in, principally, '62—the fall of '62, not four [?].

AS:

I think that's—I think that's true, but I interrelate that there were actually marches, you see. Sixty-three was the sit-down. The marches took place in '62 and maybe in '61, but I don't think so.

EP:

The 1960 demonstration seemed to be radical in terms of the court action of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People][unclear]. Did you see it that way? Did you see it as a radical departure of civil rights agitation or movement?

AS:

I thought it was a radical approach and not in their best interests. I thought a quiet approach would have accomplished more and better with less acrimony.

EP:

The '60 sit-ins seemed to take the country by surprise because of the radical or very dramatic change of tactics, and the fact that the NAACP appeared to play such a role in it. But in between that time and the '63 marches in Greensboro, there had occurred the freedom rides of 1962 and the incident in Birmingham in 1963 with the dogs and the hoses. Do you think Greensboro, as a result of these actions, anticipated a more radical expression of civil rights demonstration?

AS:

Well, we knew it could be had. It could happen. We wanted to make sure that it didn't happen, and we thought calm consideration on all scores would help prevent it for the benefit of all.

EP:

An effective tactic in both the '60 sit-ins and the 1963 marches, at least as expressed by the press, was the boycott of the black community. Do you think that was indeed the determining factor in reaching a resolution, the loss of the black economic power?

AS:

I don't think it was [anything] other than a temporary pressure. I don't think it was the cause of the solution. I think we realized, by that time, that the solution had to come. The question was how to bring it about with the least stress on all concerned.

EP:

By stating that the solution had to come, was that because of the trend of civil rights in the country, the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1960 and the Voting Rights Act in '63?

AS:

Those were all implements. No one of them accomplished it, but they all indicated what was in the offing. We realized that they were trying to accomplish in one great jump what should take years of progressive thinking and progress to bring about.

EP:

If you say that it wasn't so much the black business boycott or the economic boycott, and it wasn't the effect of national legislation, to what are you saying was the cause of the resolution?

AS:

I didn't say that national laws did not have effect because they did point the direction that [the resolution] had to go, but all of these factors combined together were strong indicators of what had to come, and that it was coming. It was bringing [it] to a head fast, which those of us who were more temperate felt that it should be slowed down and come progressively. [coughs]

EP:

You've mentioned you were on the committee, maintained your membership on the committee from the Chamber of Commerce. Was there one human relations committee or a series of them?

AS:

There was one.

EP:

There was one.

AS:

Yeah, I think it was the Chamber of Commerce Human Relations Committee. It may not have been. [coughs]

EP:

You served on this committee as well?

AS:

Yes. It may have been a city appointment. I don't remember.

EP:

Did you continue membership in this committee throughout the disturbances in the spring of 1963?

AS:

To the best of my recollection, yes.

EP:

Now, Mr. Zane was also on the committee at that time, but it's my understanding he did not serve as chairman of this particular—

AS:

That's right.

EP:

Do you know who the chairman was?

AS:

No, I don't.

EP:

I know that eventually Mr. W.O. Conrad was a member of the committee—chairman of the committee. Do you recall his input?

AS:

Nope. I remember him, but I do not recall his, his input. I—Nor do I know what became of him.

EP:

Do you recall what was discussed at the meetings of the Human Relations Committee during this period?

AS:

Not specifically. I know we talked about all of the conditions in the community and what was best for all concerned. How to accomplish what was best was what we had to take step by step.

EP:

The difference between this situation and 1960, it seems to me, is that from the very beginning, the older, more—

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

EP:

—'63 demonstrations, or sixty—

AS:

Beginning in '60 and right on through '63.

EP:

Do you recall having any discussions with members of the black community?

AS:

Personally?

EP:

Yes.

AS:

No.

EP:

Not even in '63?

AS:

No.

EP:

Do you recall speaking with the managers or owners of the principal targets of the '63 demonstrations? By that, I mean Mr. Boyd Morris of the Mayfair cafeteria, Mr. Neil McGill of the—manager of the Carolina Theatre.

AS:

I talked with Neil McGill at that time, yes. [Bell ringing] And I was pleased that he would try—If we [could] cut that off [tape recorder] and let me take this phone.

[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]

AS:

I lost my train of thought there.

EP:

We discussed your feelings as a member of the Zane committee in 1960. What were your feelings regarding the demonstrations in 1963?

AS:

Well, I thought the demonstrations were unnecessary, that these matters could be and should be considered in a calm manner and [that we should] listen to the problems and find a solution. Demonstrations do no good excepting to raise tempers, and that's never good.

EP:

Were there any behind-the-scenes meetings in which you participated at this time?

AS:

No, I don't recall any.

EP:

The demonstrations appear to have lasted from May eleventh through June seventh, in other words, a much shorter period of time than the sit-ins of 1960. Do you recall—what was the result of these demonstrations? Did it result in desegregation of the theatres and the restaurants?

AS:

Eventually, but not in any hurry.

EP:

It's my understanding that Mr. Boyd Morris sold out his—or, at least, resigned his position as manager of the Mayfair. Did this occur immediately, or some time in the future after the demonstrations ceased?

AS:

I don't remember the timing. I, I do think there were other factors that caused Mr. Morris to give up his business at that time.

EP:

Unrelated to the demonstrations? [no response] Do you recall any decisions on the part of the theatre managers and the restaurant managers and owners as to how to handle the situation?

AS:

I, I do not recall how those decisions were made. I had no part in making those decisions. I was very friendly with Neil McGill, and I knew he was struggling with the matter and trying to find a calm and sensible way to solve it.

EP:

What were his objections to desegregating immediately?

AS:

I think he felt that the public wouldn't stand for it, and that his white patronage would drop away very rapidly if it were not done over a period of time and calmly.

EP:

Once the stores did desegregate, do you think there was much loss of white patronage by any of the stores or restaurants that did desegregate?

AS:

Practically none.

EP:

So, in essence, these fears were—

AS:

The public needed to get used to it.

EP:

Would you say then that the fears of the managers and owners of these establishments then was proved groundless?

AS:

I wouldn't say they were groundless, but I would say they're dwindled away.

EP:

Do you recall any incidents of violence during this period?

AS:

No.

EP:

The essential difference in the two demonstrations, it appears to me—besides the fact that the sit-ins occurred during the day at peak customer hours whereas the marches in '63 occurred mostly at night when most of the stores were closed—

AS:

—And when people who were marching were not employed.

EP:

Does—Is that a significant difference in the numbers that turned out, do you think?

AS:

Oh, yes.

EP:

What other differences between the two demonstrations occurred?

AS:

We must remember that at that time of day there were not near as many people downtown to observe it, and those who did come down to see them came out of curiosity.

EP:

Do you think they came more out of curiosity than a desire to prevent the demonstrations or to interfere with the demonstrations?

AS:

Definitely curiosity.

EP:

Another essential difference, it seems to me, is that the massive number of arrests and the incumbent difficulties in incarcerating them at that time—do you remember your thoughts or feelings at that time as to this change in tactics?

AS:

I don't think I was in total agreement that they should make those arrests, as long as they were not doing anything violent and not destroying property.

EP:

In other words, they shouldn't have been arrested for trespassing or blocking fire exits?

AS:

Well, trespassing is another story, but blocking the traffic or exits—of course, you don't want the entrance to your business blocked, but this dwindled away.

EP:

Did the committee on which you served serve as positive a role in reaching a resolution as it did in the 1960 demonstrations?

AS:

Our positive work was on the desegregation for the eating places, period. After that time, there was nothing for us to do, really, other than observe.

EP:

Did you put any pressure on the managers or owners of these establishments to desegregate?

AS:

No.

EP:

In other words, your function was merely to give voice to the various sides.

AS:

Right, and to listen, hopefully with intelligence, and to be able to reason with all concerned to find the right solution.

EP:

As I recall, the Center Theatre, the Carolina Theatre, the Cinema Theatre on Tate Street, and the National Theatre agreed to desegregate rather early during the demonstrations. Do you recall any conversations or input as an individual or as a member of the committee with these managers of these theatres to desegregate?

AS:

[racket in background] Only as Neil McGill and I would walk down the street together and exchange ideas, and [with] certainly no pressure, but just reasoning together, “What's the right thing to do and when.”

EP:

What were your suggestions for him at this time?

AS:

I go back to the same thing that we could open the door, but they couldn't enjoy it until they earned it with their actions and their way of life.

EP:

The demonstrations ended June seventh and discussions continued. And as we've said, the theatres desegregated while this was—demonstrations were still in progress. Do you recall when the other main targets of these demonstrations desegregated, specifically the Mayfair and the S&W and—?

AS:

I do not recall, but I know the Mayfair did not desegregate until long after S&W.

EP:

But the S&W did desegregate much earlier?

AS:

Yes, and I don't think the Mayfair desegregated as long as Boyd Morris had it.

EP:

The focus of attention very quickly became more national, and shortly after this [was] the march on Washington with Martin Luther King, the larger demonstrations in other areas of the country, the assassination of President Kennedy. Did this situation seem to repeat the conditions in 1960, in that it just seemed to fade away, as you mentioned earlier?

AS:

I think it did just fade away. Whether our experience had any influence on that or not I do not know.

EP:

Did the pressures from the adult black community lessen after this time, or did they maintain a pressure against the business community to desegregate further?

AS:

I don't think that the higher echelon of the black community ever put real pressure on business. I think that they—some of them did have to take public stands or did take public stands; one or two I [can] think of, but as for a boycott of retail business—nothing.

EP:

Do you think that the black boycott at this time had any adverse effect on the business community downtown?

AS:

No.

EP:

As a member of the business community in the downtown sector of Greensboro, what do you think is the overall result of the desegregation efforts of the early 1960s?

AS:

[Loud conversation in background for several minutes] Of the desegregation? Well, I think it, it had to come. I'm glad that we got it early and were able to solve it calmly, and I think it's to the advantage of all concerned that everybody had the same rights.

EP:

What do you see as the short-term and the long-term results of these demonstrations?

AS:

I think it's a progress about civilization, and that it's only right that a person has a right to go into any establishment and spend his dollars, which are just as good to the merchant as somebody else's, and be treated exactly the same. And I think it's going the right way.

EP:

What was the overall result on the business community downtown in subsequent years?

AS:

Well, I think the desegregation in the long run was good in the sense that the black community could come downtown in comfort and spend their dollars just like anybody else.

EP:

The fact that the number of retail businesses—in fact, the majority of retail businesses—have left the downtown area and been replaced by predominantly black patronage, do you attribute any of this directly or indirectly to the demonstrations?

AS:

No.

EP:

You think it was a combination of other factors?

AS:

Very definitely. It's unfortunate that there is, abroad, some feeling that there are more—many more blacks are on the street than whites, which is a fact on the weekends. It's unfortunate that some of those people misbehave in the remarks that they make to other people on the street and are loud-mouthed. But who, who's here to say that you can't shout while I talk calmly? [chuckling]

EP:

So, you do not feel that the demonstrations had any undue weight in the decline of retail business in [the] Greensboro downtown sector?

AS:

No, sir. I think that the major factor in the decline of business downtown is not enough people are employed downtown, so the customers are not there. And we talk about the shopping centers have ruined downtown. If you didn't have the shopping centers, there's no way you could accommodate all that traffic downtown. It had to be siphoned off. The facilities were not here.

EP:

Do you agree or disagree with my earlier contention that the majority of the patronage downtown is now black?

AS:

I—We do not find it that way, but if you go on the street and count the number of people, you'll see more blacks. A large percentage of our own customers that come to our establishment park behind us and come in our back door and never go out on the street.

EP:

Do you recall any other demonstrations involving [the] desegregation issue downtown, or did they, more or less, cease with the 1963 demonstrations?

AS:

It dwindled on off from that time on.

EP:

[Loud laughing in background] Has your position as a retail merchant downtown—was it ever materially affected in any way by the demonstrations?

AS:

I think not. If so, it was very temporary.

EP:

Did you maintain your membership on the committees in which you served in 1960 and 1963?

AS:

I do not remember when those committees ceased. I think I stayed with them as long as they existed.

EP:

Do you think you—the creation of these committees to meet these various crises resulted in the permanent Human Relations Committee being established in subsequent years?

AS:

Yes, and I think it's an excellent thing.

EP:

Do you think it serves a vital—?

AS:

Vital role?

EP:

Function in the community?

AS:

Yes. We need to be able to exchange ideas to eliminate friction and to make life happier for all concerned.

EP:

I want to thank you for participating in our oral history program, Mr. Schiffman.

AS:

And I hope that I will not have made too many errors. [Laughs] I'd be interested to hear it before it's published. I tell you—

[End of Interview]