Civil Rights Greensboro

UNCG Home > The University Libraries > Civil Rights Greensboro Home > Oral history interview with Jim Schlosser by Kathleen Hoke

Oral history interview with Jim Schlosser by Kathleen Hoke


Date: January 30, 1990

Interviewee: Jim Schlosser

Biographical abstract: Jim Scholosser (1943- ), a reporter and editor for the Greensboro News and Record since 1967, covered political rallies and school integration during the 1960s and 1970s.

Interviewer: Kathleen Hoke

Description:

In this transcript of a January 30, 1990, oral history interview conducted by Kathleen Hoke with Jim Schlosser, Schlosser primarily discusses the segregated racial climate he experienced growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and later during the desegregation of local schools and businesses in the late 1960s. He also discusses his work for the Greensboro News and Record, the role of area Black Panthers and Malcolm X University, and racial aspects of local politics and education in the 1980s.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.573

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 Jim Schlosser by Kathleen Hoke

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

KATHY HOKE:

This is January 30, 1990. I'm talking with Jim Schlosser, and this is Kathy Hoke. We're in one of the little offices at the Greensboro News and Record. [laughs] Okay, I did my song and dance. [laughs] Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about when you were born and where you went to school here in Greensboro and how you came into, you know, being a newspaper reporter.

JIM SCHLOSSER:

I was born in January 5, 1943. I grew up Westover Terrace, first eight years of my life, right across from Grimsley High School. Went to school and started in 1949 at old Central Junior High School, which was really grades one through nine, which is now the site of the Weaver Education Center. They tore the old school down and built Weaver some years ago. And that was also the site of the old Greensboro High School up until 1929. That's where all the kids went to high school downtown—all the white kids.

And then the next year, I went to Brooks School, which is on Westover Terrace, which would have been right across the street from our house, but they had the school renovated so we went into a church, Westover Presbyterian Church, and went half days and divided up, and we only went to school for two and a half hours in the second grade. And the next year we moved down onto Cornwallis Drive so I went to Aycock Junior High School, which was also grades one through nine, and I went from the third through the ninth grade there.

And then in 1958 they opened Page High School, and I was in the first class ever to go to Page. I went to all schools, only segregated schools. I grew up in the era of segregation in Greensboro and did not encounter any black students until I got to Guilford College, and those black students were from Kenya, Africa. I think there was one black student from Winston-Salem, I think.

KH:

What made you choose Guilford College?

JS:

Well, it's a round about story. Actually, when I got out of high school, I was not a good student at all, so I went to a military academy down in Gainesville, Georgia, for about three months. And I had a little girlfriend up here, you know, so I quit that and worked.

At that time, Guilford College had a downtown division. It's right across from old Central Junior High School; it's now owned by Guilford Technical Institute, but back then it was owned by Guilford College. It had basically an open admissions policy, the downtown campus, which was really geared to night students. And I took three courses there in the second spring semester, and one of them was under the director of the downtown division, Dr. Grady Love. And I asked him after the end of that course if he would write me a letter to get me in on—he said I could get in on campus, which had different standards out there, on campus.

And so luckily, Guilford was expanding their enrollment—just, I think doubling their enrollment that next fall, because they had gotten money for two new dormitories which were completed. So I got in, on probation, and I would not be able to get in out there today. It's amazing how things changed. But I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

So I got in out there and that's why I went. I'm really glad I did. I moved in on—although I lived in Greensboro—my parents lived in Greensboro—I lived on campus. And you know, Guilford was a little village out from the city, and so you felt like you were in a another town. It was a nice atmosphere. I wasn't a good student again, but I played on the golf team. Had a lot of fun.

KH:

Were you at Guilford in 1960?

JS:

No, I got there in '61. I was in high school still 1960. February '60, I was a junior at Page. Well, let's see—yeah, a junior at Page.

KH:

Oh, okay, okay. And then you graduated from Page in—

JS:

January, I mean in June of '61.

KH:

So what do you remember about February 1, 1960?

JS:

Well, I just vaguely remember the furor, the talk about town.

KH:

What was the talk about town?

JS:

Well, it was basically—it wasn't where you had whites saying, “Oh, that's awful. Those blacks shouldn't be doing that.” It was—you heard some understanding from whites, saying “Yeah, you know, I think they probably had the right.” But then you heard some say, “No, they didn't have the right,” but it was not where people were—never heard any talk about somebody getting a gang up and going downtown and bashing heads or anything like that.

Greensboro was a funny place. It was very, very segregated all while I was growing up. I can remember going to the city hall, which was on Greene Street, where the Jefferson Standard is now building a parking garage. And if you went over Greene—it was called Gaston Street then, it's called Friendly Avenue now—you went in on that side, you immediately encountered two water fountains, one of them was green and one of them was white. And that one was for the blacks—the green was for the black people and white was for the whites.

And I remember going to the Sears Mail Order Store out on Lawndale Drive; it's still there; it's just at a different spot in the building. They had four sets of bathrooms down the hall there: white women, white men; black women, black men. And you saw that often around town.

At the Memorial Stadium, where the old Greensboro Patriots, and for awhile, the Greensboro Yankees, they called them, played, it was a little special section behind first base that was reserved for blacks; that's where they had to sit. And back in the thirties, I wasn't alive then, but the white politicians—blacks were always voting for those in Greensboro, as far as I know, it was at least in this century. The white politicians used to have a black guy to go out and stand before those bleachers and make speeches between innings and say, “Vote for so-and-so,” they'd hold up signs and so forth.

But yet during the fifties you had these situations, the schools were segregated, you had a separate downtown for blacks—although the blacks came up town, they couldn't eat in the restaurants, and they couldn't do this, and they couldn't do that. So that they had special balcony, a third balcony at the Carolina Theatre, which you can still see; you can still see that old entrance off to the left.

But if you went through the underpass, go down to this building and go through that old railroad pass, you went into a different city. And it had its own main street, had its own theater called the Palace, stores up and down the street. It was really—I don't know how prosperous it was, but it seemed to be a thriving black business community. And as soon as segregation ended, they bulldozed that area through redevelopment.

Redevelopment and the end of segregation sort of coincided, and you can barely find a trace of the old, down East Market Street community anymore. There's, I think, maybe a few businesses survived but a lot of black businessmen, you know, went out of business. Of course, blacks were no longer having to eat at those restaurants anymore, they went up town to eat. And they did. They were going to enjoy that new freedom that they got. So it was funny going to the S&W and the Mayfair [cafeterias] and places that they had been excluded from. So, other than that—

But also, there was one funny thing about Greensboro, it did—you know, black politicians got elected sometime in I think it was in '52—you'll have to double-check my dates—the first black city councilman, the late Dr. [William] Hampton, got elected [in 1951]. And Waldo Falkener came in after him. I think Hampton served two terms and then he went on the city school board. He felt like he probably did a little bit more in that area because schools were getting ready to integrate. And so, then Waldo Falkener, who's still alive, came in. Dr. [George] Simkins's father ran for the city council as early as the 1930s—he didn't win, but so they had enough nerve to think they could win, and so they ran. And this was without a ward system, too.

KH:

Back to 1960 and the first sit-ins, can you describe the talk in a little more detail, the talk that was going on among white folks, and people that you knew, and students especially—

JS:

I can't remember—

KH:

—in high school.

JS:

—too much talk among students in high school. We were sort of a world apart and we weren't that socially conscious. We were more interested in partying, and, you know, playing sports and stuff like that. So I can remember very little talk about it at Page. I'm sure we did talk about it, but I don't remember talking about it in the classroom, and any teacher saying, “Well let's talk about what's going on in downtown Greensboro.” I think that was just something you didn't talk about.

Let me give you a little anecdote about how far removed we were from the black community. When I got to Page in 1958, I think we were in the ninth grade at Aycock, and two schools would feed Page, Aycock and Proximity, which is now called McIver School, it's no longer a Junior High School. But, they asked the students at Aycock and Page to choose the school colors and to choose the nickname for the school. So we took a vote, and the nickname chosen was Panthers, the Page Panthers, and so the school went ahead and ordered all this stuff with P's on it and so forth.

And then when we got to Page, they made an announcement one day that there was already a school in Greensboro with the nickname Panthers and we were going to have to come up with a different name, because the principal was talking about the Dudley High School Panthers. And that had been their name since 1929 when the school opened. But you know, we just weren't conscious of that type of thing, so there was no interaction that I know of. I think some of our football players and basketball players did meet some black kids at a park on Sundays and play some ball, but there was no games between Dudley and Page; that was taboo. Black schools and white schools did not play sports together. And so I doubt if we ever talked about it in school, but it was basically hearing grown people talk about it.

KH:

Did they express surprise?

JS:

My grandfather was just outraged by it. He was born in the 1880s, up in Virginia, and I'm sure he hung around general stores listening to old Civil War veterans talk about how they didn't like blacks, and all that kind of stuff, reaction to the Civil War. He just did not believe in any type of mixing of the races. He was pretty vocal about it. I don't know particularly about February 1, [1960] but things in general that way. I'm sure he was outraged by it. He died in '68.

But my parents, they were, I feel like, they seemed to be more understanding. We were not allowed to say "nigger" or anything like that at our house, or use any racial epithets or anything like that. And so I just have to—it seems to me that nobody involved in my immediate family appeared mad about it. I don't know of anybody real happy about it. There were some liberal whites, McNeill Smith being one lawyer who pushed it, and the Taylor family. You might want to talk to a guy named Rusty Taylor, John R. Taylor Jr. His family during the sixties opened the first two Holiday Inns in Greensboro, and they insisted that they be integrated. And that was very unusual.

But they didn't get a lot of publicity about that. It just opened and they didn't make any announcement about it. And it was so—there was no furor about it. But blacks could stay there. There were two of them. One of them is still in existence but they're no longer Holiday Inns. And they had also been involved in the interracial groups that discussed such matters. But the sit-ins themselves, I don't remember going downtown. I might have gone through downtown and seen some. I think I did go downtown one time for something else, and there was activity in front of Woolworth. You know, people on the streets and so forth. I can vaguely remember that. And the next—let's see, the Christmas of '62 I worked downtown. I remember more about the demonstrations of '63 than I do '60.

KH:

The silent marches in '62, is that right?

JS:

Well, '63 was the year, after '60, after the sit-ins— the sit-ins only accomplished two things, they integrated Woolworth and Kress. Everything else remained segregated. These demonstrations in 1963 picked up where the sit-ins left off.

A lot of people think that Jesse Jackson was involved with the sit-ins of '60. I really don't even think Jesse was on [North Carolina A&T State University] campus then; I think he was still at the University of Illinois. But in '63 he was definitely the leader, the student body president, and he led the marchers up town. I was at Guilford College then. I didn't go downtown, but some Guilford College students did and joined in. And I do remember then that one guy caught some flack from some other students who didn't think he should be doing things like that. I think this guy got arrested, too, there, while he was there. But '63 was really bigger than '60; I mean '60 is quote the "big nail," but when you—in sheer numbers, '63 was—you had hundreds of students that were for the blacks.

KH:

And then older people, I mean it was intergenerational.

JS:

It was much more dramatic too, because they would start at—on the A&T, they would form on the A&T campus at night and march. I think they had torches or lights or something and marched all the way up Market Street in single file. And one night they sat down in the middle of Jefferson Square up here and occupied the square—Jesse Jackson. And the cops had to go in one by one and pull them out. And they put Jesse Jackson in jail, and there was a big vigil around the city jail, which was on Greene Street, and Jesse would look down from his cell, and, you know, it was very, very dramatic.

But there was no violence, there was no violence, at either of these two dramatic, you know, confrontations between this white establishment and young blacks. And you know, there's the whole story about Jesse Jackson and Captain William Jackson, a white police officer that did the arresting, and they're good friends today. That's the irony of this whole thing going on at Woolworth's now, and I was down there last week with David Richmond, hugging all these people that used to be the enemy, just like it never happened. And this—and David Richmond is very high on Greensboro, you know, couldn't have happened better—if you had to pick a place, this was the place where you wanted to do it, because you knew you weren't gonna get hurt. Yeah, there's some people that tell you—George Simkins will say “No, this town's tough. You have to fight for every inch of progress.” He's been a real fighter himself, and I think he gets overlooked. We think of the sit-ins as the first time the blacks had challenged the system here. Simkins did it in '55 or '57 when he showed up at Gillespie Park Golf Course and said, “I want to play golf.” He had three friends with him and they said, “No, you're not going to play here.” He said, “Well, we ain't leaving.”

KH:

Well, it definitely wasn't the first time the system was challenged—

JS:

No, not the first time.

KH:

—but would you say it was a different form of challenge?

JS:

Yeah, well, Simkins, if you looked at it, he really wasn't successful. He got arrested and the city closed down that golf course; they weren't going to integrate. But the sit-ins were successful. I got a letter on my desk from a guy who wrote the editor [saying] “Why do you y'all keep saying Greensboro had the first sit-ins, when we had one in Durham during here in 1957? NC Central [University] students refused to leave the black waiting room at the bus station.” And that's true. But it was an isolated event and it wasn't successful. They got arrested in the black—it remained a black waiting room.

Here, they not only, you know, they integrated, but the movement spread to other towns. And that is why Greensboro—and a lot of people miss that point. They keep saying, “Well, I thought we had one in Illinois or we had one in somewhere else,” but this was the one that started it all. That's why it's—and it didn't take long. This is not—the sit-in anniversaries are not something that just started happening in the last ten years. By the mid-sixties—this city is very proud of the sit-ins. The Chamber of Commerce, David Richmond said they were asking him, and he made talks at the request of the Chamber of Commerce.

So it was not a violent thing, it just went off. You couldn't have asked for anything better. There were some hecklers, a few white hecklers down there, but nothing— there might have been a little shoving here and there, but nothing like you saw in Birmingham. It couldn't have happened down in Birmingham without somebody getting hurt.

KH:

Now in 1963 you were still at Guilford College. Can you tell me when you started working for the Greensboro Record?

JS:

Sixty-seven. After I finished at Guilford I went to [The University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill for a year, as a special student [in the] school of journalism, because I wanted to do some journalism and I took nine courses there. Then I went in the Marine Corps Reserve, six months active duty and finally had to do some reserve duty in Greensboro while I worked at the paper.

KH:

What was your first beat at the paper?

JS:

The first beat was what they called "The Inside Beat" for the Record. I was on the afternoon paper. And that's when you stayed inside and you did obit[uarie]s, you did the weather report, you did little one paragraph and have people call in “my Greensboro Rotary Club is going to meet at 12:30,” write that up, who the speaker is. I covered several civic clubs. If they had a speaker, I'd call the speaker up and because I worked on the afternoon paper and then they'd would be speaking at the time of my deadline. And I'd call them up and asked what they were saying in advance, write a little story, any remarks prepared for the Greensboro Rotary club today, so-and-so said this. And see, just odds and ends.

And then in the afternoons after deadlines, they'd assign me a feature to do and so I'd start work on that. Really, a good way to break me in because see, I had no experience, I'd never even been in a newsroom before, even in journalism school. I think we went to the Durham Sun one day on a tour. That's the only time I had ever been in a newspaper, until I got here. So I had no, virtually no experience; never worked on the high school paper or a college paper, so I had to just start from slow, and I did that for about a year, and then went on the Hot Line for a while. And I didn't like Hot Line. I just liked the good paragraph answers.

KH:

I didn't know you did Hot Line.

JS:

Yeah, I did Hot Line. And then I had to go back to—

KH:

I'll tell Nancy that.

JS:

I went back to obits until a beat came open, and then the court beat, the court sheriff's department beat came open, so I covered that. And then I got to cover the legislature in '60. And did some politically reporting in '68 on Governor [Robert] Scott. Bob Scott was running against Jim Gardner, and so I covered some of that and then went to the legislature. But, I came at a good time, '67—here we're talking about how everything was so calm racially.

KH:

Yeah, tell me about the differences in '67.

JS:

The decades were really—the first half versus the second half was a totally different ball game. The first half very peaceful, nonviolent, the second half very violent. In '68, they had a, Martin Luther King and the riots and the aftermath of that. And really, there's, you see, there's two in all, there's one in '68-'69, so I might have some of the events transposed here. But '68, that was when I think Willie Grimes was killed at A&T.

KH:

In May of '68.

JS:

Yeah. He got caught in the cross fire, and to this day—

KH:

That was also the— just after the student at Dudley High School was—

JS:

Well, I think that's '69.

KH:

Oh, that's '69?

JS:

'69, yeah.

KH:

Well, Willie Grimes followed that Dudley incident.

JS:

Okay. That was probably '69 then. '68 was the key thing in that the students were getting ready to seems like—let's see, that was—what's the date?

KH:

April 12.

JS:

It was right before Easter, because they were getting ready to leave for vacation, and that kind of—I think that they finally did leave, so things sort of settled down. But they had to bring in the National Guard. The next year, [cough] if I'm not mistaken, was the, it must have been—it was. Sixty-nine was the Dudley thing, because I interviewed Nelson Johnson ten years later on the anniversary of that. And that was just right before the Klan/Nazi thing. Sixty-nine was the Paul Barnes thing at Dudley—

KH:

That's right.

JS:

And they, the A&T students went with Nelson Johnson and went over to help Paul [sic-Claude] Barnes and the next thing you know, there's fighting and rioting at the corner of Dudley and Market Street. They pelted a police car, and the next thing you know the National Guard was back, and the city was in a curfew.

I remembered David Richmond; he said that he got caught one night in that curfew. He was just coming back from being out with some friends and walking home and it was on Murrow Boulevard. He knew it was past curfew and he was dodging cars, you know, and he was making sure that— finally a cop finally saw him and caught him. It was only one of the few times that being David Richmond helped him because the cops recognized him, so, [they said] “you shouldn't be out here, get on out of here,” you know. So they told him “You shouldn't be out helping quell this thing.” They let him go, because they recognized him from the sit-ins of the sixties. But that was a very violent time, scary. We had special passes where we could, you know, where we could stay out, but to go home at night and the streets were just empty, and you see military vehicles going up and down the street. It was a very scary time.

I had to cover something at one of the black churches and the students were—there were Dudley and A&T students there, and they were meeting with the Greensboro Human Relations Commission. And I remember standing out in the hall talking to Kay Young, who was with Channel 2 then. She had been at Duke University. And we got to talking about something else and we smiled and laughed about something that didn't have anything to do with that, and some students saw us and got real mad at us, you know, and “Do you think this is funny?” and all that sort of stuff, so you could really feel the heat. And the Commission felt the heat. Students were shouting at them, and they were no longer being courteous about this. These were adult people—twenty, thirty, and forty years older than they were. And you could just feel the tension. And I was actually scared because the students were so angry and were acting real rude. The church fellowship hall [was] jammed with people, and so I was glad to get out of there, I mean, because you just didn't know what was going to happen. And there was violence taking place in Greensboro and there was fighting and people getting hurt. So they went away, and it really hadn't happened like that since then.

KH:

But meanwhile the schools were basically still segregated.

JS:

Well, basically, although not like they were when I went to school. Integration really started in '57 in Gillespie School on Asheboro Street, which was in an area that used to be a very prominent white area and had gone black, or was starting to go black, the neighborhood. Gillespie remained all-white just so they—but there were enough blacks pushing on the fringe of the neighborhood— but that's where the black George Simpkins group decided they would try to integrate. So they had four or five black students entered Gillespie in '57. Their names used to be pretty well known, I used to could recite you the names but I can't now.

KH:

Well, that's the point. There are only a few whose names you could cite but basically the schools were still segregated.

JS:

Right. And then there was Josephine Boyd. You ought to talk to her, if you can get up with her. She—

KH:

We already have, yeah.

JS:

She went to Grimsley for a year, and then either she graduated or she went back to Dudley, I can't remember exactly. There's some great pictures of her, you know, her being sort of isolated over there. One of her best friends—Pat Smith got a letter from one of her best friends, a German exchange student, a friend of hers over there, [unclear]. It goes back to her observations on the situation in Germany; she's a pharmacist [unclear].

But, so it was basically Gillespie remained the only integrated schools. But by '64, three years after I left Page, the first blacks were there. By the mid-sixties, many blacks were going to Smith High School, which was founded as a white school in about '62 or something like that. And you started seeing sports between whites and black high schools.

One of our reporters, named Dave Richard Benton, during that period, he played on the baseball team at Grimsley in '64, and they were the first—he thinks that his baseball team was the first team to play Dudley in baseball. And the football teams started playing in '65 or '66. That was the big thing when Grimsley and Dudley played for the first time. Because they had been the two old schools, both founded in '29. One was black, one was white, no interaction. They played football in '66 for the first time. And Dudley beat them 13-6.

But by the sixties, people here—I thought of the schools as integrated, because you went to a Page-Smith game—Page had a few blacks in 1966. Grimsley was very slow. The first black player to play for Grimsley was the janitor, the son of the janitor. He had been the janitor for thirty years at Grimsley. His son played for Bob. The janitor always wanted his son to play for Bob Jamieson, he was legendary coach there, so he played for him. I might be wrong about that but that's my memory.

But Page and Grimsley had the least number of black students. Smith had the most. [KH coughs]. But Page had some, and they played. But you thought of the schools as integrated by then. If you hadn't—we thought if you had twenty, or thirty, or forty blacks, then the school was integrated, even though you might have two thousand whites. That's just the way we thought then. And that's why busing was hard to take, we said "well, white schools are already integrated. Why—?" You know, so busing came along in '71.

And I covered that. I covered the day that Dudley opened. And some angry parents, you know, they didn't want their kids to go to Dudley. I didn't cover some of the elementary schools where some parents would bus their kids from Irving Park over to the southeast side of town. But I was at Dudley, and there was some fighting out there.

KH:

Can you describe it?

JS:

I can't rightly remember. I just remember being there—

KH:

Students, parents?

JS:

Students, if I'm not mistaken. There was some pushing and shoving, and there might have been some parents causing a disturbance, but I—by the time I got there, it was broken up, but there were police cars were all over the campus. And Owen Lewis, you might want to check with Owen Lewis. He got criticized for some remarks, and he's a very liberal guy; his heart's in the right place; he couldn't do anything. But apparently there was some criticism over what he had said over there, I just can't remember, but he figures in—

KH:

Owen Lewis, that name is familiar.

JS:

Yes, he is the director of public relations for the city schools. He left the reportership here to go to the city schools. And he left that later on, went to Salem College or something, I'm not sure what he did after that, but he's back in town. I think he's a real estate agent. But you might want to ask him about that. He was right there in the thick of that.

But Dudley was the only place that I remember where there was any problems. It could have been some at something like Bluford School, which was on the same campus, because Bluford was paired, I think, with Claxton School, which is out here off of Westridge Road [unclear]. And I'm sure there was some—I think the parents took it pretty well overall, but at Dudley it was the toughest one, because you're dealing with teenagers. White parents raising teenagers who were of dating age, socializing type thing, and I think some parents did not want their daughters and sons to go over there with the black students at Dudley. Also, just the stigma of being a black school just bothered some of the white parents. And I think there was some black parents upset about the fact—they were worried that Dudley was going to lose its identity.

Because I think when they integrated, Dudley had, must of had 40 or 50 percent of white students for the first couple of years. And it did happen—I mean, Dudley, it has lost its identity some, but its still back to now 90-10 or something like that, 90 percent black, 10 percent are white, and some people still think of it as the black school. But so many black kids go to Page and Grimsley and Smith now so you don't—nobody thinks of Dudley just as the black high school anymore, because they don't have those old traditions they used to have.

I think busing is probably—it worked, it accomplished its purpose, I don't know if it still is working. It seems like the schools are becoming more segregated again. I think its now 52 black, 48 percent white, I think citywide. So I guess they're going to have to take a look at that again, that's what they're doing now. But every time they take a look at it and you redistrict, you end up—you have the white flight again. So I don't know what the answer is. They tried all the approaches.

I get, I am pretty discouraged about race relations in Greensboro. I thought during the seventies we were making some progress, but I don't know if we are or not now. Things happening at Page right now kind of bothers me. I don't know, you know, who's at fault. I think that—have you been reading about that?

KH:

Yeah. Not closely.

JS:

I think the school newspaper staff is trying to make, do a very positive thing on race relations and using satire to show, cartoons to show stereotypes and it backfired on them. Maybe they didn't do it quite sensitive enough, I don't know. We run hard quotes for people in our paper that, you know people, criticize. You know, you see letters to the editor where somebody is criticizing a black for doing thus, and that was what was happening there. It just didn't work.

KH:

Tell me about the Record back in the late sixties. What was it like? Were there any black reporters at the time?

JS:

When I first came, there were not. It was an all-black staff—I'm sorry, all-white staff, copy desk and reporting.

KH:

And the Record at that time was separate from the Daily News?

JS:

Yeah. But we were all owned by the same company. We were all in the same building and we had separate newsrooms. We were on Davie Street up here, the first, one hundred block of North Davie up on the third floor. We had a very small newsroom, wood floors—everybody stamped their cigarettes out on the floor—old beat up typewriters, pasted our copy up.

But we were, we had liberals on our staff. We were very much—Jo Spivey was the city hall reporter and she was the reporter at the sit-ins. And she—we did not ignore the black community at all. A lot of people think, “Oh, back then everybody just didn't act like they existed.” They had, they had already dropped, if I'm not mistaken, they had dropped that old usage of “Negro” after anybody who was arrested, “Joe Blow, Negro, was arrested.” That was no longer there.

KH:

That was dropped, do you remember about what year that was dropped?

JS:

Probably the early sixties, if I had to guess. I'm just about certain that it was not there when I got there. Because Jo would have protested that [KH coughs] pretty well I'm sure. Dot Benjamin was there. She was, she had covered the integration of the schools.

KH:

That's the integration of the schools in the early sixties?

JS:

Yeah, early sixties or the late fifties. She covered the—she did, I remember she did a first-person piece recounting the school board's decision in about '57 to integrate Gillespie School. Great drama at this old city school board office on Simpson Street. I think it was a hot summer night and tempers flared, and some great decisions were made by some people you wouldn't have expected to make. I think this was Ed Hudgins, who was corporate executive in Greensboro, who was the chairman of the school—I might be wrong about this, but I think he was. He made a pretty dramatic decision, you know, sort of went against the grain of the establishment thought here.

But the Record, the first black reporter came on the Woman's—when they had a Woman's Department back then. She worked in our newsroom. They had their little office across the hall. And it was Flatina [?] Miller, who was—her husband just died a number of weeks ago. And she was the first black reporter, and she worked with Pals Vaughn and Phyllis McLeod. The Woman's Department was really merged—they were one department, but it seemed like Phyllis McLeod wrote exclusively for the Record and Tina might have, too. Back then the Sports Department and the, well, the Sports Department was separate, too. The Photo Department was to serve both papers, and I thought the Woman's Department—I'm not sure about that.

But she was the first black, and not too long after she came, we had a black woman come from Iowa. And she had left, she and her husband had left Iowa [KH coughs] since they were the only black couple in that town, and the town didn't want them to go; they wanted to have a black couple there, but they came to North Carolina. I think her husband was going to attend UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro] or North Carolina A&T, one of those two schools—and she came to work for us and stayed—a real good reporter. Imogene Jones was her name, I think that was her name.

But the TV station wanted her, after about a year here, and see the TV station was owned by the newspaper at that time, WFMY-TV, so they didn't have any black—maybe Sandra Hughes was there, I'm not sure—but they needed, they wanted a black reporter, so she left and went to the TV station and later moved from here to another—well, she's gone on. I don't know where she is now. She's probably well up in some big city. And since then we've had a steady number of black reporters, probably more today than we've ever had. We, the company made a pretty conscientious effort to get them; it's a criticism we did not get them into management fast enough. But they don't stay long, I mean, they're in demand. Ruthelle Howard just left to go directly to the Washington Post.

KH:

Do you recall talk in the newsroom about the Black Panthers, when the Black Panthers were getting started?

JS:

Well, now, we talked about them and we covered them. There wasn't a, in Greensboro, there wasn't a great deal of Black Panther activity. Most of it was in Winston-Salem—Larry Little. [KH coughs]. And I went over to interview him the other day, he had an ambulance service or something in Winston-Salem that served the black community; that was one of the Black Panther projects. And I went and interviewed them, they were very cordial and non-threatening. I—nothing stands out about it, except, you know, you're a little—you know, you read about Huey Newton, and Oakland, and violence, I get the perception the Black Panthers didn't like whites. So I was a little, you know, you're always tentative when you're going over to Winston-Salem and meet Larry Little but, you know. I went to a house on the east side of Winston and talked to him. I think it was Larry I talked to; it was one of the Black Panther leaders, and it was very calm, very nice. I think I got a pretty good story out of it.

But, you know, in the newsroom there was no—you never heard—you know, people like to think that newspapers were white-oriented, and they were white-oriented, but—it might have been racist, but you never heard [KH coughs] somebody cursing the Black Panthers. You didn't hear any—very few racial slurs. There was one person up here that was an old editor who did make racial slurs. He—I remember one time asking him for a file on—don't print, you can figure out who this is, the person is still alive but—you know, if you asked for a file on Henry Frye, he'd say, “Well, what's that nigger up to now?” or something like that. He was—if anything, there was a great sympathy to the black cause in the sixties when I came here. We had just, the reporters were basically fairly liberal on that issue.

KH:

The reason why I asked about the Black Panthers is the FBI was very concerned about Black Panthers in Greensboro, and they were doing a lot of infiltration and just—they were watching, they were very concerned about the Black Panthers. And I was wondering if FBI agents like Dargan Frierson or maybe some other law enforcement people were talking to reporters about how they were concerned about the Black Panthers.

JS:

Dargan Frierson didn't talk to me about it or Art Lea—Art Lea was another agent, but he might have talked to Ken Irons. Ken had very close—he was the police reporter—he had good connections with the police and the FBI. I talked to Dargan Frierson later, not about that, but, you know, when he ran, he was on the city council, and I talked to him. But he was an old school type conservative. I don't know if he's a racist. I don't know about that. I, and you know, he's still alive; you can ask him.

KH:

I interviewed him not too long ago, yeah. He's definitely still alive.

JS:

Have you talk to Art Lea? He was the head of the FBI. Art Lea lives over near Jamestown.

KH:

Oh, maybe we should talk to him.

JS:

I think he was the head FBI agent.

KH:

When did he retire?

JS:

Art's been retired probably ten years or so now.

KH:

Okay, he left after Frierson then. Frierson left in '71 or '72.

JS:

They both left about the same time. [KH coughs] Art Lea used to live on the Guilford-Jamestown Road I think.

KH:

So he was Frierson's boss?

JS:

I think so. He was the head of the local FBI office. It wasn't big. It might have been just two of them back then; there's more than that now. But I don't remember, you know, anything, I'm sure they did infiltrate the FBI, the Panthers. But I just don't remember much Panther activity around here. I remember more of the Malcolm X types here with Howard Lee, who had the Malcolm X Civil Liberation University [KH coughs] on Baxter[?] Street, and we covered that.

I talked to Howard Lee [Fuller] every now and then. Howard Lee is now—goes by a different name. I think he lives in Milwaukee. But he was one of the civil rights activists back in the fifties and the early sixties, then he became a Muslim and founded the school here; it didn't do very well. They moved it from Durham to Greensboro and then it just sort of folded. In fact the building caught on fire the other day. They had fire damage with the whole building. So I remember him more than—I just don't remember much Black Panther activity in Greensboro, it could have been but I just—it didn't really hit me in the head as being important. Howard Lee, got more—in fact, I took his clip files back to him [?] and that was—he got more ink than the Black Panthers did in Greensboro.

The sixties, I really consider that a very progressive time in Greensboro. Even the riots, you know, people didn't go away angry, they tried to resolve things with committees being formed to study these issues and to work out recommendations. I think it was a good faith effort on both sides. You know, I'm sure George Simkins might disagree with me on that, because he sees a different side than I do. But just from my perspective, there were people very, very concerned about issues that blacks raised; they just didn't dismiss them saying “that's a bunch of crap,” you know. They said “Well, we've got look at this and talk to them about it and work out something.”

People really did want an integrated society when I was coming along in the sixties. They dreamed of this colorblind society—that's what you heard a lot—where, you know, everybody—nobody paid any attention to anybody's skin color, that it came natural. That you didn't—nobody thought that, you know, they thought that the police department would someday would be integrated, not because you had to have a quota or—it just happened, it naturally happened. So, you know, there's been some disappointments along that line, later, you know, where you—that's why I think, you know, maybe race relations are a little tentative again, and you hear comments about affirmative action and things, people get good jobs because of that. Nobody would stand for it if something like that happened. Nobody was pressuring us to hire blacks, I don't think, in the sixties, they just wanted to.

KH:

You've read William Chafe's book Civilities and Civil Rights. What do you think of his thesis or theme that there was a sense of progressive mystique in Greensboro that allowed exchange of ideas? A lot of people would talk, but on another level, thwarted any real change. That there's a civility, but not any commitment to civil rights, or not a firm commitment to civil rights, that this progressive mystique foster an idea that Greensboro was progressive.

JS:

I see where he's coming from, but I still think it depends how you define the word progressive. Being—lack of meanness can mean it's progressive in a way, and we were not a mean city. We were not a Birmingham or Selma or Montgomery, and there were some decent people that—Ed Zane, I mean, you just got to give those guys credit that went out of their way to correct the system. The Taylors— and Chafe, you know, acknowledges all these people.

You know, I don't know any other way we could have done it where it could have come off better. In the best scenario [KH coughs] you would have had in 1930, somebody saying, “Hey, all this is awful, we've got to have a—just break down all barriers.” It just didn't work that way. But they did, the barriers did fall peacefully, everyone of them. You know, it took—yes, I agree with George saying it took a fight, you had to press them up to a wall, but they did it. And you know, sometimes they did get pressed to the wall and fought back [KH coughs]. And there were a couple of incidences where—they closed that Gillespie Golf, I as mentioned, in 1957—that was a stupid thing to do, and they reopened it. By the time reopened it though, the interstate had taken up half more than nine holes so you only entered on the back nine and the city garage would also be built on one hole and so forth. [KH coughs] But everything else, they closed the swimming pool briefly, but reopened it.

And so, I really, I disagree with it, but I see where they come from—they might be right and I might be wrong, it's just a matter of perspective. I can see where Simkins says “You've got to fight for every inch in Greensboro,” because he's had to go to jail, he's dealt with them, with the white establishment, but he still gets along. This is, where [unclear] something he told me one time, it was a confidential thing that, but it was a—he has good access with some of the city leaders, that you'd be surprised the people he talks to and they talked to him, and he knows what is going on.

I think that we have been a fairly progressive city. People say, “Well, look at this at-large system, you now, we had that's not very progressive.” And yet it still did elect a black every time except for that one time in 1982, all-white council got elected, and that's what brought an end to the at-large system. Up until then, it always—Jimmie I. Barber had been elected, Vance Chavis had been elected after the first three were appointed. Waldo Falkener—are y'all going to be talking to Waldo?

KH:

I think he's on our list, but I'll write it down.

JS:

He's tough, he's pretty tough to talk to now. But he's alert—Waldo's got awful health. He's lost both legs and he's got sort of a—if you ever talk to somebody whose had a stroke, they have, you know, the voice is not quite strong enough, but he could talk. I talked with him when I called his wife. His wife is very active in the Preservations Society stuff. He lives on Dudley Street, right across from Dudley High School, at the old family homestead there, a former bail bondsman. His father was very prominent in Greensboro, too, but he was the second black elected to the city council.

But there always—at one point in the at-large system, which was a seven member council, had two blacks, Jimmie Barber and Vance Chavis. Vance is still alive. Jimmie I. Barber is dead. And then, see, I just, you know, the at-large system was not a racist system. It was not founded because of that. Greensboro had a ward system back at the turn of the century, but apparently it just got messy, so they switched to a commission system where you had three elected people and they ran the city. And then that didn't work, so they went to an at-large system. And it was not that to disenfranchise blacks; I don't think that anybody's ever claimed that, but it just became apparent, you know, in the seventies that—I guess, I guess the beef about it was the blacks couldn't elect the blacks they wanted, maybe, and you had to go, whoever the black candidate was had to go before the white community and win their votes in order to get it. And that's why some of the people didn't like Jimmie I. Barber. They thought he was too much of an “Uncle Tom” type I guess, and I think that might have been unfair to him because he seemed—he wasn't a threatening type of person, he wasn't real assertive, but—

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

JS:

—and, but they're the two that the black community wants, and the white community has no say so about that. Some people say that's bad; in an ideal world everybody, you know, you would want everybody to vote for everybody, and you should have to please the whole electorate to get elected. But it's not an ideal world. And the ward system is an old concept, and that's not a racial thing either, because white cities all over the country have had ward systems, you know, for years, not because, to keep blacks elected, but the idea of representing small areas, I guess, is pretty good.

I guess it's worked all right. It's enlarged the council. I still think the mayor should be elected—and the mayor pro tem—should be people that are, who do have to run citywide, and so, see there's some conflict that's getting to rise because Earl Jones wants to be mayor pro tem and says that he should have gotten it this time because he's a senior member of the council, but he doesn't run—he only runs in one small district. And so they gave it to Carolyn Allen, who ran as an at-large candidate and won citywide.

KH:

Yeah, just last year.

JS:

Yeah. And this is her first term on the council, but she was still the top—the rule was the top vote-getter of the at-large candidates would be mayor pro tem, because they ran at-large citywide, and that makes sense to me. So black candidates [say] “Well, we don't have a chance of ever being mayor pro tem because we can't get elected citywide”—I don't know about that though. I don't accept that premise when you see Harvey Gantt and people like that get elected mayor of Charlotte. I think a mayor—I'm not persecuting an elected [?] mayor of Greensboro. I don't think it ought to be Earl Jones though or Alma Adams because they make people mad.

And that's just, that's not racist, that's the nature of politics. Once you've made somebody mad, they're not going to vote for you, if, you know, they don't agree with you. And so I really think that there—somebody like Henry Frye could have been elected mayor of Greensboro. he constantly led the ticket in the at-large system for the state Senate and for the state House. And he's not some “Uncle Tom” by any means either. I covered him in the legislature, he is just a hard working type guy that will stand up to Boggs[?] and also doesn't threaten people.

KH:

Jim, I think we'll stop here, unless there's something else you wanted to say about maybe about the early seventies, and the aftermath of integration, the events that came up along after 1971 in the schools. I guess—what was your beat at that time?

JS:

It was politics, covering politics for the Record, as well as being a feature, general assignments writer.

KH:

So you weren't really covering schools at that time?

JS:

No, I never really covered the school beat. But I'd be sent out to them when there was something going on. Since '71, there hasn't been—since busing, there's—it seems like in the late sixties, there was a lot of tension in the schools that ended with busing. This thing at Page is something that hasn't happened in a while when you have black students walking out. But there was some in the sixties before busing came in. I think busings did help calm the situation here for a while. But it also gave rise to the Greensboro Day School, although they claimed they would have started that anyway, it started about '71, and they got a—that's a big school out there now, and a lot of white kids go there, and a lot of white kids are going to county schools that live in the city. So Page and Grimsley are still sort of like they were. They still got a pretty large black population, but they're still dominated by whites, and they're still the acceptable schools to go to by middle-class whites in Greensboro, but I don't know about the others.

KH:

Dudley and Smith aren't so desirable to a lot of white parents?

JS:

You can go out in the Westridge Road area and ask some parents where they want their kids to go school, see, that's where they'd like, but this redistricting might send kids in that neighborhood to Smith. And there's great fear that property values will go down. The fact they're in a Page neighborhood increases the property value.

Well, I mean, it's you know, it's just a—God, it's a difficult situation. I think racism is the most vexing thing, you now, that I've ever encountered. It's just, you know, you just don't know how to solve the problem. How do you rid the world of racism and the city of racism? I mean, there are people that would just wave, they would wave a wand to get rid of it, you know, and somebody would do it. I don't know. It's something that was talked about when I got here in '67 and still, you know, talked about it, and I don't know how many series we've done on it, and so I don't know how to solve it.

KH:

The problem of the twentieth century is the color line?

JS:

Yeah, I don't know if it will ever be solved. I just, you know, I just don't know. I wish I had an answer.

KH:

Okay Jim, I think we'll stop here. I appreciate it.

JS:

Thank you, sure.

[End of Interview]