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Oral History Interview with Vance Chavis by William Chafe


Date: May 20, 1973

Interviewee: Vance H. Chavis

Biographical abstract: Vance H. Chavis (1906-1998) was a teacher and administrator in Greensboro, N.C., schools from 1929 to 1969. He was also an active member of the NAACP, Greensboro Citizens Association, Democratic Party, City Council, and Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This May 20, 1973, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with Vance Chavis primarily documents Chavis’ efforts to fight segregation in Greensboro schools, especially while teaching at Dudley High School and serving on the Greensboro City Council. Chavis also focuses on Greensboro in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, providing a background for the events that occurred following the Brown decision. Topics include the 1932 presidential election; voter registration efforts and voting rights in Greensboro; the history, role, and activities of the local NAACP chapter, the potential consequences of membership, and the Youth Council.

Chavis also discusses in detail the process of token desegregation in Greensboro schools. Topics include discrimination in local school facilities and teacher pay; affluent black families who sent children to white schools; why school desegregation was delayed; Josephine Boyd’s experience; the position of white and black community leaders; and specific school board members and administrators. Other subjects include the Greensboro Citizens Association (GCA) and its role in local city council campaigns, including Dr. William Hampton’s; the city council and local politics; Chavis' participation in the initiative to get segregated water fountain signs removed; his personal boycott of segregated movie theaters and public transportation; and the Patriots.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.632

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 Vance Chavis by William Chafe

Note: This transcript is an edited version of an original transcript for which only a small portion of the audio recording was available. Therefore, CRG cannot guarantee that this transcript is an exact representation of the interview.

Vance Chavis:

—1929 and this was the [President Herbert] Hoover period.

William Chafe:

Yeah.

VC:

And the Depression followed somewhat after. Of course, all the salaries of the teachers were reduced. And the main election—[the one after?] Hoover of course was [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt. And I don't recall who was running against Roosevelt on the Republican ticket, but I know Norman Thomas was running at that time. And even in school at that time we had students, you know, who had marked political inventions. And we would talk about these different candidates. [And usually I had particular make this normal?] But at the time I was for Norman Thomas, who was of course Socialist, which is different, in my point of view, than Communist. There were certain things that he wanted to do that—of course that Roosevelt eventually adopted in his period—wage an hour law. I think we had minimum wage, but certainly we made a lot of progress under him, as far as management and labor, in that area, and became more liberal, of course, in welfare, and we did more to help the masses of people. Personally, I thought—and I was wrong—[that] Roosevelt, being such a rich man, that I had the opinion that the rich man didn't know how a poor man felt. But thankfully he did move us in a new trend. Of course, subsequently I voted him. I was registered then as an independent. But I found out if I couldn't vote in the primaries in North Carolina, then I had no input really in influence in the election, because since at that time North Carolina was predominately Democratic—and really you made your choices for all the members of the [North Carolina] General Assembly. There was governor and lieutenant governor and what have you, the council of state, in the primary. So I immediately changed and registered as a Democrat, and I have been a Democratic since then.

WC:

Where do you come from, Mr. Chavis?

VC:

I'm from Wadesboro. You mentioned the women's suffrage law [Nineteenth Amendment]. I don't know when this [unclear] passed, but my mother voted in the first election when it became eligible. And although Wadesboro is a plantation, a former plantation area [of our city and where they have the slaves?], which is not true of Wadesboro. They have two different backgrounds of the two places. But there were people who were interested enough—that is, white people [unclear] to encourage some Negroes to vote. And of course, she was always interested. Although she was not even a high school graduate, she read a lot. And she was particularly interested in politics.

Incidentally, John C. Dancy once ate at our home. We used to have a big day on the [anniversary of the] Emancipation Proclamation, which was New Year's [Day], the first [of January], and he came there once as a speaker. And during the Republicans' days—you know, [President William Howard] Taft and Roosevelt always made a black man register of deeds. This was about the main thing they got, except there were some people in Georgia and Alabama, Mississippi, I believe. Perry[?] and somebody who got several jobs with the state got the money, but no one else benefited much from it much.

WC:

Right.

VC:

But he did. I just showing you how my—I was interested in political affairs, primarily. In the schools I think my main thrust—and that of Ms. [Nell] Coley and one or two others—was encouraging the students to get their parents to vote. You see, now in Greensboro we have not had many obstacles placed in our way in regard to voting, although we were under court order to admit everybody to vote, whether [or not] they were literate. But I've never had any trouble. Everyone had to go in and swear an oath. But I was never required to read. I remember the Constitution. I've taken lots of people in to vote, but I've never seen anyone required to do that, as has been done, I know, in some places I studied. Even school teachers could not qualify, as you know. But this was not true in Greensboro. But my main interest was to get more Negroes to participate in elections. And of course by doing this, I was hoping that I would inculcate this same interest in the students, so that the next generation—and I've taught [them], too—that they would be more conscious of their right to vote and their privilege to vote. And I guess that I've had some success, when I think of people like Dr. Archie Hargraves that I taught. Randolph—

WC:

Dr. Hargraves?

VC:

He was in my first class.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And James Hargett. I don't know whether you've come across him or not. He's connected with the United Church of Christ. He works out in New York. [As a former?]—not a student, but he was in the school where I was working on the Supreme Court of the State of New York—John Sanford[?]. And we've had people working, I think, and interested in government. [unclear] who had become interested, and I think I had some input there.

Now, prior to '54—I might add this, because I do think it's significant in this sense—the present generation, I'm of the opinion, sometimes does not appreciate what was done by those who came before them to make things possible. I think even in the case of the sit-ins, it couldn't have happened in many places because the cops would have beaten their head and this would have been all of it. So somebody had to bring about an environment which was conducive for the behavior of these students.

But I hope I'm not rambling. But let's get back into the thirties now. I've been a member of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. That's what I'm saying about setting the background for the present freedom that we have. In the thirties, the NAACP probably could be equated with the Black Panthers of today. And I know teachers who work with me who would not join. I know teachers and principals who have lost their job because they were members. I've known teachers who, when they were interviewed, they would be asked by the superintendent, “Are you a member of the NAACP?”

WC:

Was it in Greensboro?

VC:

Well, no, in the state of North Carolina. Not in Greensboro, because I always felt that I was free. And I guess I was fool-hearted in some instances, because I was not only a member and have been a member since my graduation, but I was also an officer for a long time. I was secretary of this chapter here. And I knew a lot of the people [unclear], which we don't seem to remember now, who was executive secretary of NAACP for many years. And sometimes people look [unclear] to folks of mixed blood now, too. But, you see, it was due to his ability to pass as a white that he was able to get so much information in the South in regard to lynching and trying to find sometimes the people who were involved. But he did a great job. And I worked not only with the local organization; I worked with the state organization. I remember one project that we worked on. It's when they were first going to establish the school at North Carolina College [for Negroes, now North Carolina Central University] with a masters degree. It was the opinion of the NAACP at that time, [that] it would be an inferior school, and it was just being set up to prevent us from going to Carolina [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]. And so we opposed it. I think history will show though that it has done very well because of the fact that they have been able to involve the faculty from both Carolina and Duke [University].

And another instance—well, getting back to NAACP—I can't place the people in eras. But when Randolph Blackwell was a student, I know Ms. Coley and I had a student chapter of the NAACP. And we couldn't meet at the school, but we met regularly at the YMCA. And both of us, I think, would [dictate?], and I might add I guess it took some courage. And I think we had the courage to work with these people and to inspire them to work towards some of the things that we have today—that is, the elimination of segregation and discrimination, which has always been the fundamental basis and philosophy of the NAACP since it started, and still is. And, of course, we worked with these young people.

I'd like to tell you something else too about me prior to '54. We had what is found in lots of places now. I was reading a statement by Ms. Short[?] this weekend, where she said there was a group in Durham which usually endorsed candidates. And of course those candidates usually got the black vote. Now, we had a group of people here in Greensboro who called themselves our leaders. And what they were doing, they would [go] down to the candidates—let's say the courthouse square—and they would tell the candidates that they could deliver the black votes, and they would collect so much money to maybe send out cars to something else. But it was my opinion that many of them were doing this to benefit themselves financially, and that they were not the leaders. But they would send out cars, and unfortunately there are a lot of people, white and black, who don't keep up with the political issues, much less the various candidates, and they don't know them. So I was instrumental in organizing what is called here the Greensboro Citizens Association. I haven't read the constitution lately, but I know one of the purposes—I'm certain of this, because I was instrumental in getting the group together and helping to write this constitution—but one of the purposes was to counteract the effectiveness, if not to eliminate altogether, these political parasites, I guess we could call them, who were selling the vote.

And so we organized this group, and everyone in the city—every club, every church, every individual—was asked to join in the constitution—every group, club, or church to join as an individual or as a group. And the whole purpose in setting up this structure was to get all these people involved. For a while we were successful in getting quite a few people to attend the meetings. But we established such a prestige that even as of today we still send out a program, a list of candidates which we select, which sometimes cross party lines. Mostly they are Democratic, but we Democrats, we do cross party lines.

And generally, without exception, we have carried at least the black community. We have not always won, but this is not the primary purpose. This has been the fault, I think, through the years. People like to get with a winner. Now if I was betting on a race, I would certainly at the present date bet on Secretariat [race horse]. But we felt that we should try to choose the man who was best, first of all for the total community, and for the blacks. And this is what we've done.

I'd like to mention the first success that we had was in the election of Governor Scott. This is the first Governor Scott, Kerr Scott. At that time, prior to then, there was a machine state of North Carolina, and if you've been following the history, you probably heard of this. The governor was elected two or three terms ahead of time that this was done. And so he running against a man named [Charles] Johnson, and it was a foregone conclusion that he was to be the next governor, as they stressed from the east to the west. This is how we got [Oliver] Gardner and [Angus] McLean, [Clyde] Hoey and all those people were part of the machine—[John] Ehringhaus. But Scott organized the farmer—I believe they called them the Branch[head] Boys. But not withstanding advice from some, even of our black friends, that Scott couldn't win, we put him on our ticket and he won.

We also worked very hard. And we did not ask for money, but we gave money to the Graham—Frank [Porter] Graham campaign. And we worked very hard for him. I don't recall; I think he did carry Greensboro at the time, because this was an instance, too, where prior to '54 we worked with a lot of white people—I guess I can use the word liberal—but certainly a lot of people, particularly those people who had known him and had gone to school at Carolina and people that admired him because he was a great man. But we lost that ballot, but we still worked very hard for him.

Again this Greensboro Citizens Association was instrumental in getting elected [the] first black man to the Greensboro City Council, Dr. William Hampton. And he was president of the Citizens Association. I believe he was our first president. And of course, this gave him a lot of exposure to the community—to the white and the black community. And he was the first one that was chosen. Prior to that, we'd had two candidates—two [unclear] candidates. The first one to run as I recall was a Reverend R[obert] C. Sharp, and he was never successful, so we had a Dr. George Simkins Sr.—because there's a Dr. Simkins now who is very outstanding in this community. This was his father, and he ran and he of course failed, too. But Dr. Hampton was successful. And not only was he elected in the primary, on the second time he ran, I think he led the ticket. Everyone was talking that he wanted to be mayor. Of course he indicated that he didn't want to be mayor. And the second time around I don't think he led the ticket. Of course some people got to fighting and they didn't want a black man. But he was such a capable man and such a likable man, such a personable person. Because I mean just seeing him on television, he had that kind of magnetic personality, and his expression showed oneness and fairness as it were.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And he was very successful. And of course I think he would tell you—or his wife would tell you, or anyone else around here—that the Greensboro Citizens Association helped that in this election. And we are still existing, and it's still a powerful organization. I myself, being on the council, could not have won without their support.

But [we] had an award system here which we have fought for—the Citizens Association has fought for. A person running for the city council, of course, has to in a way walk a tight wire because you got to attract , shall I say, from both sides of the railroad tracks or from the total community.

WC:

Right.

VC:

And I won't go into that. I'm getting ahead of my story because that brings up the present time. I could comment on that further, but I think all of this gives you a background of '54.

WC:

Right.

VC:

Because we have always had an active chapter of NAACP here. We've always supported, and then the Greensboro Citizens Association, all these things were working toward bringing about—trying to bring about equality, trying to eliminate segregation, and trying to eliminate discrimination. There's another group I belong to. And although it's a civic club and you might say made up of the affluent people—mostly professional people from the community and teachers from the two colleges here—we have been interested in civic affairs, and it was this group which worked very hard to get some things done. And I have copies of the letter. If I had the history of this organization, I could show you the various things which we have done, where we have appeared before the city council, where we written letters. And the main thing was getting the first black cop in Greensboro. Now this may be significant because when we first began to appeal to get some black policemen, the chief of police said he would quit before he would hire a black man.

WC:

Do you remember when this was?

VC:

No, I wish I could. I'm terrible about dates. When I took history I never could remember dates. This must have been in the forties. It must have been in the forties, just prior to the fifties. I'm trying to think of the chief of police at this time. But anyway, he said he wouldn't do it. You see how things are related to it, as we were able to get more blacks to vote, and as we could determine who would be elected, to some extent partly. Then, of course, we were able to get the city manager to say that we would have some blacks. And interestingly enough, the chief did not quit till he retired.

WC:

[unclear]

VC:

Yeah, that's right.

WC:

Well, you've given a marvelous background. There are three or four areas here that I'd like to pursue further. In this period between 1929 to 1950, you mentioned having always been a member of the NAACP. Was it a sizable chapter in Greensboro in the 1930s?

VC:

Well, so far as membership it was normal. You see, we don't have millions of them in the United States.

WC:

Right.

VC:

But and many people never go to the meetings, but they join and they support it morally, even though they are not members, you see. But there again I guess felt that they didn't have the money, some didn't have enough feeling of racial respect or race consciousness, and some really were probably intimidated. They were afraid. Because of lot of people joined, and sometimes they would not want to list their name. They would give anonymously because sometimes, when you go back and look back, you might not get a job—if he didn't lose his present job. So it was, I guess—well, it was a powerful organization. We go back, and I presume you know that there were a lot of people who were working at Howard University at the law school, which turned out Thurgood Marshall, Charles Houston, and any number of lawyers who were really—started with this matter of going to the courts.

And you see, the NAACP has always gone through the legal channels, through the courts, starting with elimination of segregation on employment cards. And the next problem was eating in the dining car. Then of course we had the curtain as we got into the dining car, and then we had to fight that to get the curtains removed. All of this was before '54.

WC:

Right.

VC:

These were the people, and they were getting things done, of course, through the courts. Another big thing that they did, of course, was getting Negroes I believe at the University of Oklahoma. They fought this [unclear] in Detroit on—in housing, and they were involved. And one thing that benefited me I guess most is that they got the salaries of black teachers and white teachers equalized. Because, you see, I gave the state a lot of money all those years, when I worked at about two-thirds or one-half of what the white teacher got. So the NAACP was instrumental in that. So, you see, it was not an organization that the power structure would embrace.

They have not gone into industry as such, as I recall. But these are some of the things that they did. And I think they did generate some fear on the part of elected officials in the power structure, because of what they did. But the interesting about it is that they did it through the courts.

WC:

Right. So you would say that even though, perhaps, that the attendance at meetings in Greensboro would not have been that great, there was a lot of support in the community, moral support?

VC:

That's right.

WC:

So the community was behind the NAACP, even if that was not necessarily visible to the outside observer?

VC:

That's right. [unclear] and 50% of Negroes don't belong. There again, it was my duty each year to go around to all the teachers in the school—I was at Dudley—and get their memberships.

WC:

And what would happen when you did that?

VC:

Some teachers, for instance, right here wouldn't permit that. Some principals right here in this school wouldn't do that.

WC:

Some black principals?

VC:

Some black principals. But my principal was fairly—well, he's a fighter. He didn't do it himself. But you see, it's kind of maybe like—since this is a tape, I won't mention the president. He knew what was going on. I was doing it and he knew it, you see. So I go around each year and solicit the memberships to this.

WC:

Yeah. I heard a number of stories which actually confirm what you just said, that, for example, a large number of teachers would support the NAACP and pay their dues, but would not want their names recorded as having paid their dues.

VC:

Yeah.

WC:

Indeed, one of the things that Randolph Blackwell said to me was that you and Ms. Coley were ranked so high in his esteem because you were very forthright about your commitments to the NAACP, while other teachers may have supported it on the side but were not up front the way you and Ms. Coley were.

VC:

Well, that's the way I feel. I mean I always thought that if I had health I could make a living. And I've done just about everything in making an honest living. But I always felt that I could make a living and I wouldn't sell my soul. I won't say that I didn't have butterflies or some anxiety at times, but still I had this great desire to do something to bring about change and better living conditions.

WC:

And who would the NAACP members be? Would they be primarily professional people, teachers?

VC:

Yes, and a lot of common people, believe it or not. A lot of common people who out there you would catch at the churches or something. And they may not be educated, but a lot of them are very dedicated to the cause.

WC:

How about the churches in this whole—the one you—for example, doing membership drives for the NAA, would the churches be cooperative? Would the minister be cooperative?

VC:

Well, there again some would and some wouldn't. Some would never join. Some ministers take the attitude that they are there to preach the gospel, and it's white and black. And in my opinion, some of them are there to get as much as they can into their pocket. I find some ministers—and this is very hard to say—I think sometimes religious leaders exploit their flock. But overall, a lot of the members did take the lead. A lot of them were—my own minister was president of the NAACP for a while. He's now retired.

WC:

[unclear] Douglas?

VC:

Yeah, Reverend [Julius] Douglas. He was a fighter himself. Has been in the forefront. Now we have some other younger ones. Another young man that I taught who's a minister here—

WC:

Right.

VC:

And [unclear] is active, and Reverend [Cecil] Bishop [unclear]. And I mention them as leaders. We've had others.

WC:

Yes.

VC:

We've had others. But there's some who have been—I guess the best word for it is just probably apathetic. That's using a nice word.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

Condemning them, but I might say they were apathetic.

WC:

Mr. [Ezell] Blair told me—he said there came a time, he said, in the late fifties that—“When we had to put our preachers up on the alter to make them—”

VC:

Well, some of them—one in particular, very good members told him, “You better be seen.” This about when we were marching.

WC:

Well, that's getting ahead of my story, too. Do you recall, in the thirties—

VC:

Let me mention one thing here, because we're talking about before the thirties. And this is significant. We had an organization called the Guilford County or Greensboro Interracial Commission. In reality it was not a commission, but it was set up by someone—of course, as some said, maybe to keep us quiet—and thought that the conservative whites or the liberal whites and conservative Negroes took the leadership. They met regularly, but rarely did they do anything. But I got involved in it on invitation. About the same time there was a Dr. Bardolph, Richard Bardolph, at UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro]. You know him?

WC:

Yes.

VC:

Because he's done a lot of work. He's a historian here. You know John Hope Franklin?

WC:

I don't know him personally. I know I've read his books. I have met Dr. Bardolph.

VC:

Bardolph, of course, wrote Negro Vanguard, and he's done a lot of research on that. But he and I were in there the same time, and we talked a lot. And we met and we discussed a lot of the problems. But there was one tangible thing, one concrete thing that we accomplished at this time. And this was during the war [World War II], as I recall. There were in Greensboro both municipal and private enterprises—stores, court house, what have you—two fountains, white water and colored water. And Bardolph and a Ms. Angeline Smith, [her husband] S. C. Smith, and Mrs. Raymond [Mary Taft] Smith, a white person, the four of us went around to Woolworth's, Kress', Duke Power Company. I went to the court house. Carson Bain was a friend of mine; [he] was on—county commissioner then. And I don't know who went to city hall. I don't recall. But I went to the A&P [supermarket] and several places. And we had all these signs removed gradually, with no publicity. And a lot of people don't know that, but this was done prior to '54.

Now, we had Vanstory's here, a big [clothing] store, and Meyers [Tea Room]—locally owned stores which never had it, which gave me the opinion that most of our headquarters for, you know, many of the things were at Charlotte or Atlanta. And I think the architect who probably does those plans in Atlanta did what was pervasive in the South at that time, because we had—we didn't have too much trouble. Now, at the court house I talked to Carson Bain and he said, “Well, Vance, don't say anything and don't come to the commissioners.” He said “But we're going to paint this,” and we just paint both signs. I went to an A&P and the man said, “Oh, yeah. I know those people. I used to have a store down there in that community, and they're just as good as everyone else.” And he said, “Just give me a little time and I'll paint the sign out.” And gradually the signs began to disappear.

[And after it wasn't workable?] you take a child, he comes up and drinks that colored water. And I told them myself, I said, “Well, you know, I don't like colored water unless it's got bourbon in it.”

WC:

[laughs]

VC:

But anyway, I think this was unique because it was done without legislation, and this was done through persuasion and through a friendly approach to these people, convincing them that this was wrong.

WC:

Right.

VC:

But this is one of the achievements I think of the, what was then called the Greensboro Interracial Commission, which was not a commission, because nobody got [unclear] to the commission.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

Of course, now we have the Human Rights Commission, which is under the supervision of the City of Greensboro. This came about after the sit-ins.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

You know about those.

WC:

Do you recall any kind of substantial support for the Garvey Movement in Greensboro during the thirties?

VC:

No, I don't. I don't think there's much interest in it. Frankly, it is my opinion that the majority of people are not very anxious to die, to go to heaven or hell either, or to go back to Africa. I don't know what you found in talking to others, but there are some who talk to us. And I'm sure the majority of us would like to see the liberation of the rest of these Africans, particularly in Rhodesia and South Africa. But I don't think there's a great desire on the part of the people to go to Africa.

I could cut this off. My home is here more so than yours, because my great-grandmother was a Cherokee Indian. And I'm an all-American. So—but once you have this—we say a drop of blood—but anytime you got these genes, these people—scientifically these black genes, then you're a black man. And I came up as a black. I felt as a black, and I've had all of the discriminations that all other blacks have felt, so I would say I'm black in totality.

WC:

The only reason I ask is because one other person has told me that, in the early thirties at least, that there was a strong band of followers of the Garvey Movement, who later became active in the NAACP after Garvey was deported.

VC:

Now, let me see, I was here in '29, and what was the period of Garvey?

WC:

Well, he was most active during the twenties, but there was a residue of the Garvey Movement in the thirties still.

VC:

Well, I was in college then. And when I was in high school, I still was in college because we had—I had to go to prep school to Johnson C. Smith [University]. So I was in the area, but I can't recall any great interest in the Garvey Movement. I remember it.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

I remember reading about Garvey, and I remember the NAACP. This is where I first got my interest in the NAACP. And I shouldn't say first either. But when I was a junior in college, a black man killed a policeman. He [the policeman] came into his home and broke down the door and he was running in the room. And I attended every session of that court. And it was NAACP at that time, and one of my professors was the head of it. And so you see how I got a little infection there. But anyway, [I was?] there to more or less win in this case, because at that time he would have been electrocuted. I believe this is the way they worked, killing them at that time. But he only got about three years, because the lawyer brought out that a man's home is his castle. Even though he had a rented room, this was his castle and he should have been protected. And the policeman had no right to come in without a warrant and break down his door. It's interesting that the treasury department or the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigations] is doing that now.

WC:

Right. You commented that—a little earlier—that you had never found any great difficulty in registering to vote or in black people in Greensboro registering to vote.

VC:

Not to my knowledge. Their fault had been their apathy and their failure themselves to register to vote, because we used to put on a lot of registration campaigns, go around to pick up people. Now a lot is being said now about no education, but I was chairman of the board of education with the Citizens Association. The person who's doing that, of course, now, worked with the NAACP. He has a lot more exposure. But I was the one back there then. And you'd be surprised, even in my classroom we wrote the letters and got out the ticket. And I got the students to address them right there in my classroom. This was during Randolph's period.

WC:

Yeah, in the forties.

VC:

And we were able to do that, which was totally wrong. We shouldn't do that even now, whereas as partisan, we could encourage people to vote. And I mean to register and to vote, but not for any particular candidate. But this is what I did.

WC:

How could you characterize the feeling of the black community about white Greensboro, during this period, the thirties and forties? How did you think about the attitudes of the white leadership in Greensboro?

VC:

Well, I think it was traditionally—as you go back into the history of Greensboro, as I have already indicated, Greensboro was settled by Scotch Presbyterians and Quakers. That's why we have Guilford College up here. And I shouldn't be saying this to you. You know about [Vestal] Coffin who worked at the Underground Railroad here.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

Incidentally, we have nothing, very little, named [unclear] in this city, no streets and things. But this is the background. And Greensboro started off with about five hundred—some people, I believe, in about 1806, when it was chartered. But we have had a tremendous growth, particularly since World War II, I think, which means we have brought people from everywhere, blacks and whites. And which means that we've brought people in of all types of backgrounds, and they just come more or less like most cities. And we've made the mistake, so many of us, that if a person is Catholic, he's fair; if he's not, poor Negro. Or if he belongs to another ethnic group or nationality, he's fair. Now this religion, he's fair, but this, I think is wrong. Every individual had to be judged on his own, because you find some bad people, prejudiced people, some people with [unclear] in every group.

And I might say that Greensboro became like the normal city, but Greensboro has always had the history of being a fair place. I came here from Charlotte to Greensboro. At least I thought it was a little more permissive here. A black man could get along better. And I don't think anyone's ever called me to my face “nigger” here. And I recall in Charlotte driving a car around at night, have this [unclear]. Greensboro, I think, had a little better atmosphere. And North Carolina as a whole has had a little better atmosphere. They have not been the first to lay the old aside, yet they haven't been the last.

For instance, you take this matter of teachers' salaries. We didn't have to have a court to—but once they had it in Norfolk, Virginia, and in Florida, we saw the way the wind was blowing and then we began. I believe it was Governor [unclear] “Well, we will eliminate this inequality in the salaries and all, but we'll do it gradually,” which pleased the power structure in the North Carolina Teachers Association, and it was accepted. But see, we never had to go to court, so we didn't have to bear this on us.

WC:

Right.

VC:

But we didn't do it necessarily on a voluntary basis, if you follow me. There was pressure, see, because they saw the way the wind was blowing. Now, on the other hand, coming back to 1954, Mr. [Benjamin] Smith, who was my superintendant, and Mr. [Edward] Hudgins, who was the chairman of the board, agreed we'll go right ahead with it. But, now, Mr. Smith was [unclear], and he would have probably lived a little longer.

And then there was at the same time, the richest men in this town formed I believe what they call the Patriots. It wasn't like the citizens association [White Citizens' Council] like they had in Alabama and all. But they were made up again of Episcopalians and the very richest people. I won't call names, but their names were published in the paper, and some of them are still living today.

WC:

Mr. [unclear] and people like that.

VC:

Peirce Rucker and Dillard, Stark Dillard. And he had a son who is Episcopal priest and who's most liberal. That's why, again, sometimes you can't judge by a family. But those were some of the people in which really stopped the integration in the tracks. Then we began to change school board. Now, Dr. Raymond Smith was on the school board, and I knew most of the people. Mr. Hudgins got off, and Mr. Hudgins told me himself that he had friends, lifetime friends, who stopped speaking to him.

WC:

Right.

VC:

So this is something, of course, that—probably didn't know how they were vilified, how they were called at night or what they were called. But we got a school board that I think took the attitude that we were going to mark time, or we would move forward with [all deliberate?] speed, which wasn't interpreted at the time to mean what it eventually meant. But this is what we did in the schools. And we went to the courts, as you know. And we moved more slowly than a lot of places. I think the school situation in Greensboro now is as fine as any place that I visited, better than Detroit and New York City. And we've had less trouble than they've had in Mecklenburg or Wilmington or Winston-Salem and Forsyth system. We've gotten along, once we said we were going to do it.

WC:

But it took an awful long time to do it.

VC:

Well, you see, everything doesn't show on the surface.

WC:

Right.

VC:

And since we've had two black people on the council, we've got two black members on the school board. And we've got another person, who's a friend of mine; I've called his name, he's on there. And it's a person on that board that was appointed by him when he was mayor of the city. And of course they've had some input. Two people as a rule don't like the two of us on the council. We can't do anything unless we get two others. And a lot of my black brothers don't understand that, because two people can't—

WC:

Back once again to the—well, if I might just paraphrase and see if you agree with this. Your feeling about the white leadership of Greensboro, in the period up to '54, was that—

VC:

Well, I didn't answer your question.

WC:

—if they were pushed a little bit, they would go, but they weren't voluntary?

VC:

Well, it would be my opinion that the power structure of Greensboro, including the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce and the others, would like to give the impression that this is a liberal community, that we are fair. On the other hand, sometimes it takes a lot of urging, and not compulsion, to get them to do what is right and what should be done. I guess that's a good a way as I can state it. I don't think they volunteered, but in some instances, of course, they had.

When the sit-ins first started, the present mayor at that time called a friend of mine, who is now dead, Charlie Fairley, and made to his office that it was his intention, as we found out later, that probably we would call off the dogs. But we immediately let him know that we were with him.

WC:

Mayor Schenck or—

VC:

Mayor Schenck.

WC:

David Schenck, yeah.

VC:

David Schenck.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And that we agreed with what they were doing, that this was a kind of clandestine. Of course now, we met a lot. There was a committee here. I don't know whether Hobart Jarrett—who is now teaching at Brooklyn College—he was president of the Citizens Association at that time. That shows you again the input—that he was a leader. I was not asked or appointed by the mayor to be on any of those committees, but later on I was called in and met with some of the power structure at Burlington Mills [now Burlington Industries]. We met over Woolworth's with the manager there. We met with the manager—who was from Minnesota I believe—of Meyer's to try to get that tea room open. And first they wanted to open one downstairs. Some didn't want to go all the way. And Jarrett was here just two weeks ago, and he says he can always remember I told him the truth in what we wanted. “We want half-way.”

But we stuck with the students, and so did the Greensboro Men's Club. Because there again, you're working with young people in college, and many of them have to look to the Greensboro Men's Club. But we have this class struggle, too. And they figure, “Well, they are affluent people. They are not interested in this.” But see, we helped put up bonds for some of those people who were down there, and some of us marched. I marched. I know I was the only school principal that marched. But Dr. [George] Evans was on the school board, and he was marching. I say if he can march, I can march. So I marched up town too, on one or two occasions. But I was for it totally. But I think some of the people in power thought that maybe the older people are conservative people, probably would [kind of cold waters?] at times.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

Let me tell you another story, if I may. And this happened in the thirties. Our theaters of course were segregated. They brought a motion picture here with [Jeni LeGon?], I believe. Jeni LeGon or something—and Eddie Cantor, and they danced together. And this man may still be here. He was head—worked with the Boy Scouts, which I got out of for a while because they segregated. But anyway, he thought that Negroes should not be in movies on a social basis with the white person. And this came out in the paper, and he cut this scene out, and we started a boycott. Well, they did everything they could to get to the black power structure—I guess usually educators, at that time—we met up at Bennett College. I met with the students and Dr. [unclear], who was a great liberal. But she came and halfway tried to encourage us to go back and call off the boycott.

But eventually the national theater brought Fats Waller here. And a lot of Negroes came in from Danville and all around, and so this defeated the boycott and people started going back. I never did go back. I guess about four of us in the city—but I never did go back. And I always told the students that I didn't go, and I would ridicule. I say, “You're going to have to pay to have to go up all them steps and go in the back way, and pay for segregation.”

“Well Mr. Chavis, you haven't seen the movie. You don't know what's going on.”

I say, “Well, I like movies. When I go to New York, sometimes I see two shows a day.” I said, “But when I come back home, I get out of the habit.”

And the only time I went to the theater was during—I went there for a civil defense meeting. But I sat downstairs with everybody else. But this thing—it was drilled to me—was paying to be segregated, and I was losing my own self respect, and sacrificing a movie wouldn't be too much. As a result, I've haven't been to a movie this year. I want to see Sounder and some of these other things. I've never been to any of these R rated movies. As a councilman I ought to see them, they tell me, so I'll know what's going on. My wife isn't too well, and she doesn't go with me. And I have so many meetings, so usually when I'm free stay here and I watch the television, because [unclear] you don't watch television. I do too, some of the programs.

WC:

So do I, all the time.

VC:

Yeah, that's what I'm trying to say. They don't even own them, but you can learn a lot on them.

WC:

That's right.

VC:

But I thought that was significant, because there again, the students who were in school here at that time, we worked together. And I talked with them there at the school and encouraged them to take part in the boycott. There's a fellow working with me there at Dudley at this time named Bogart[?]. He was very active and he's now at the Morehouse [College] as the dean of men—dean of instruction or something. But he was very active. And I don't know. I imagine Ms. Coley—a lot of them went back, but I never did go back. I don't think some of the few of the students probably got enough from it that they didn't go. But this again is started in Greensboro, and this will show you why maybe the duplicity or maybe the hypocrisy. You see, not everyone that says “Lord, Lord” [of my name?] you know, believes in the Lord [paraphrasing Matthew 7:21]. And sometimes there were maybe sheep, or wolves in sheep clothes. So it's very difficult to determine till you get down to what we call today the nitty-gritty. When you get down to the real issues, then I think some of our liberal leaders even have backed away.

WC:

Right. I have sort of gathered that in the late forties there was a rather sharp increase in political activity in the black community in Greensboro. You've mentioned the council [unclear] campaigns of Dr. Simkins prior to Dr. Hampton's race. And Randolph Blackwell seemed to indicate, let's say—from '45 to '50 there was a large increase in voter registration activity. Does that conform to your recollections of that period?

VC:

In '45—let's see, World War II ended in '45. Well, I'm sure there must have been a lot of activity. But I think we had a lot of activity prior to—

WC:

Before that, too. Yeah.

VC:

There were people working with it trying to get—

WC:

Now, had there been black candidates for citywide office before then? Do you recall?

VC:

Yes, before '45. I mentioned R. C. Sharp and [Dr.?] Simkins. I believe a fellow here named F. A. Mayfield used to run. We didn't take him seriously though because I think he paid five dollars a candidate, and some people say you can get a lot of advertising with that. I don't know. He's a member of our club. But these other candidates were serious candidates. Rev. Douglas ran, too. But there were some people who probably thought that he was to “radical” because he was very outspoken. And he wasn't as suave as some of the others. But then sometimes you can express your position, and if you can express it without too much emotion, you get a little different point of view. Because as I said, I—getting back to my own campaign—I got a lot of white folks. But I worked with so many organizations, and in each organization I think I never failed to express my opinion when I had the opportunity. I don' t think that anyone could say that I was an Uncle Tom. I think on occasions I have made some compromises, but not on the basic principle.

Like I recall once that I wanted to go out to UNCG, and I was working with this same group, interracial council, in which there were teachers there from UNCG. They said, “Well, if you want to see the place, we can have some [unclear].”

And I said, “Well thank you.” I said, “I just want to go like everybody else.”

So I mean, I think most people know how I feel, even if I do it in a subtle way. I worked for the Greensboro Daily News as a business manager, district manager. See, I handle this area and worked with some white [unclear]. And I went up there once and my car was in the garage, and I was telling this clerk back there, who's white, I said, “You know it's so [unclear], that walk back home.” I said, “Well, my car's in the garage.”

She said, “Well, why don't you catch the bus?”

I said, “Well, you know, I haven't ridden the bus in twenty years.” And I said, “They tell me where to sit.” I said, “I want to be free.” But I mean I said it in a way that she got the point.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

But I've been hurt so much. But I mean I didn't ride that bus. I declared I wasn't going to sit in the back. I'd ride the train, but had to drive a car. Because a year before my wife and I married, we came to New York on a bus. It stopped up in Virginia, above South Boston. I can't think of the place; I ought to. That's where I got married, too. But anyway, when we got out, this is a [unclear] place, and the colored people asked to go to the kitchen. You had to go down a ravine and come up some steps equivalent to two stories. And we refused to go, and we hadn't eaten that day. We went to the drug store and bought us some Nabs and ice cream and some milk. I mean even if I'm hungry, I felt I could live, but this has been my conviction. And I tried to tell young people what I'd done without trying to generate hatred as such, but pride in selves.

WC:

Yeah. Well, when the [NAACP] Youth Council was formed, I guess in '43, and Randolph was there at the time, was there a lot of support for that among the students? And you mentioned that the school authorities wouldn't let you meet in the school. Was there opposition from the administration?

VC:

Well, we didn't ask that. We didn't ask that. We thought it wouldn't be, well, really legal or it wouldn't be discrete, so we didn't ask for it. We met with the students. We thought it would be better to meet with them outside of the school. But we were never denied.

WC:

Was there any indication—

VC:

We didn't want to embarrass anybody by asking, so I don't know that there was any opposition, because we just—

WC:

Was there any indication from anyone that there's opposition to your sponsoring the Youth Council?

VC:

I don't recall. No one spoke up.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

They might not have been a part of it, but I think probably more admiration than opposition. But you know, a lot of people don't get involved. And a lot of people are with you, but still they—well, I guess it's just apathy. It's not opposition. And then too some people, you've got to kick them to get them to see a point. You can't tell them that his mother ran under the bed and barked, you see. But it's too subtle for them to see. See, it's an insult, but you've got to be very blunt before they can see the implication, you see. This—like I talked about the theater, they couldn't see the implication that I'm losing my self-respect and I'm paying just to go see the movie. I mean it hadn't been brought to him until the sixties.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

What some of these things—

WC:

Yeah, yeah. Was there division within the black community in the period immediately preceding Dr. Hampton's election? That is, were there a number of opposing candidates running for office at that time? Do you recall?

VC:

I don't know. You always have a few people who would run. I mean there were a lot running against me. I might say—well, in a way against me, but they were running. Some people who didn't have [unclear] chance, others did. And I said me and [Jimmie] Barber, because we took the black vote and we took the white vote. But they got factual. But I don't know if anyone opposed our candidate. I thought we were more or less solid. We were criticized, but as I recall—

WC:

I guess that I've heard from a couple of sources that in '48—this is before Dr. Hampton ran—that there was what was described to me as a conflict between street candidates and establishment candidates, and that this in some ways had a divisive effect upon—

VC:

The only thing I recall is the same people that I mentioned [to] you used to sell the votes. They would still get our ticket with a lot of white on it. And lots would tell you, you got the bullet, you see.

WC:

Right.

VC:

But they would, which was a form of opposition. But if they can collect from six candidates—But I don't know when they left his name off the ticket. Of course, they didn't help him when they put his name on the ticket and six other candidates, because the white person gets nearly all of the white votes, and you scattering yours, you see, makes it very ineffective.

WC:

Right.

VC:

But certainly he had his enemies, and he had people who said that he didn't accomplish anything.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And in today's time he might have been called conservative. But he worked in his era and he accomplished things.

WC:

Within the context he had to operate.

VC:

Yeah. And number two, he had something at that time that you don't have now. They had [unclear] or they had two [cliques?] on the council, and he was the swing man. But now anyone who would look at our record of voting in combination, you will [shown two dice?]. Sometimes people vote by themselves, you get combination of two here, you get the combination of two, and different combinations. I told Ms. [Mary Frances Powell] Seymour the other day, I say, “You know, we disagree, but we agree a lot, because the two of us voted and all the others voted in the opposite way on the issues last time.”

So often I go a different direction on many occasions, though most of the time we're unanimous. But what I'm trying to say [is] that that was no clique there as he had, which meant that he betrayed and we can't trade. You can say now, “Well, if you do this for me, I'll go along with you on that issue.” But we don't have to trade, contrary to what people believe about politicians. Stand them down next to the [second hand card deal?], maybe the [unclear] Watergate. We rarely ever discuss how we're going to vote.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And until last week we had the advantage of seeing which way the wind was blowing. But now we got an electronic voter machine, and we all push our vote in not knowing how the other's going to vote. Some issues sometimes it would help you if you—

WC:

Right, right, right.

VC:

Of course, now there's been some issues that, again, that I voted my conviction, and I think I was next to the last one. I voted no, and it turned out I was the only one that voted. But this is the way I felt.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And generally no one questions you. No one on the council questions you as to why you voted some way.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

We respect each other.

WC:

Coming up to the '54 decision, I wonder if you could describe who were the people in the white community who you felt you could trust or you felt were allies. And who were those who were less likely to be allies?

VC:

I don't know. I can name Dr. and. Mrs. Raymond Smith and Mr. Hudgins and Carson Bain, I think. And maybe a Mr. Wesson[?], who is retired, called up the Christian church. And Ms. Sarah Brown, who was on the school board, got off pretty soon [unclear]. I think that maybe the—I think the newspapers were with us. Richard Bardolph and Mrs. Bardolph, I would think. But you see, that was such a hot issue, people didn't express themselves.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

See, they didn't want to be vilified, even if they felt that way.

WC:

Were there liberal private groups in town that were not necessarily involved in the school board or the city council?

VC:

Well, there were some groups, and I've forgotten the name, and I belong to that group. We used to meet at the YWCA. That was the only place that we could meet [unclear]. Bill Alexander [unclear] says again you can't tell what a person is by the way he's from or how he looks. [unclear] We had people there from the community, a few from UNCG, one or two from Greensboro College, and quite a few from Guilford. And some of those people I haven't seen much since. Things got a little tough. We stopped meeting. John R. Taylor and his wife, I don't want to fail to mention him. Because I think if there was anyone that ever wanted to do anything fair on this—courage, he has it, because he used to invite groups out to his country home, and we use to swim together there in his pool and have picnics out there. And he was in this group I was trying to tell you. I can't think of it now. It's loosely organized.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

But we got together, whites and blacks.

WC:

Would you say there were more white women than there were white men in that group?

VC:

Yes.

WC:

Just one of the things that struck me doing this research is that—

VC:

Well, I've found that the women are usually more liberal, because I go around in different meetings, which I'm privileged to attend now. I find that the women are a little more communicative than the men.

WC:

What was your perception of Dr. Benjamin Smith?

VC:

Well, Dr. Smith, when he came to Greensboro from Shelby, I thought was a small town, narrow-minded person. But as I worked with him and talked with him, I learned to hold him in high esteem because of his courage and because of his attitude. I had occasion to talk with him about racial issues before I was a principal. I think I was assistant principal. I went in to talk with him once and told him that I had been in the system so long and I was still teaching and I wanted advancement, but we would get off on the race issue.

And the biggest surprise, I spoke once at a luncheon meeting—I called her name. She was Ms. Sarah Brown. She was chairman of this group, and Ms. John R. Taylor was involved. But I was a luncheon speaker that day, and I spoke on segregation being wrong. And I took it [unclear] and I took it on the basis of the Bible or religion of what Paul said and had three points. I had my cards there. And Mr. Smith wanted to speak after I got through. I never did get them back, but he asked for it. And I wasn't afraid, but I was surprised and wondered why he wanted it. But he took all these cards that I had and says, “I wanted to keep that.” And it was then and I was beginning to know Mr. Smith.

And I guess one could say that he grew. But it wasn't easy because I think he was definitely in the minority, in his thinking and his philosophy. But at first I didn't have this impression. But he grew to be a man of tremendous stature and fairness. Of course, there are some things he couldn't do [unclear] although the superintendant usually takes a lead in working with the board. But he couldn't [unclear]. He couldn't go faster than the community. He proved that, you see, in '54.

WC:

What do you think happened in '54?

VC:

Well, I think the main thing happened was the formation of this group. Do you recall what the name was? Was it Patriots?

WC:

Yes.

VC:

And this group scared a lot of people. I think this is what happened. I think this [unclear] because these were made up of powerful people, rich people, influential to some extent. There's another man here. He's still living—McDaniel Lewis. He's vicious. He wrote letters to the paper criticizing Mr. Smith, and they were in the same church, [West] Market Street [United] Methodist Church. He wrote some vicious letters, and he used to write some nasty letters to the paper. But this formed a nucleus [unclear]. Now, on the other hand, you see, if they had gone the other way, and if the chamber of commerce—and they made up, I'm sure, by the chamber of commerce, because it got behind this—it probably would have been different.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

[unclear] you can't fight the press, and it's pretty powerful group.

WC:

Are you saying that there was a period when things were hanging in the balance, and if the right people had gone along with Dr. Smith and Mr. Hudgins, it wouldn't have happened?

VC:

Yeah.

WC:

Well, that dissipates my next question. But did you think when the school board voted the night after the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision to proceed with desegregation, did you think they meant it at that time?

VC:

Yes, I did. I was naïve enough to believe that they meant it and that some such degree [unclear] Now, a lot had been made over the fact that—you go back and read the history of Greensboro—that we did integrate. But this was nothing, and it was a one-way street. We had one girl out there at [Greensboro] Senior High [now Grimsley High School]. She [Josephine Boyd] was vilified and spat upon. But her mother had a lot of courage—and I talked to her mother—to send this child there. And then, as the school system began to open, what happened was the affluent Negro, those who had cars to take children there, or those who were able to give their children cars, were going to high school. And this was a brain drainer on the other black school. And I know that myself, because we established at Lincoln [Junior High School] I believe the first [National] Junior Honor Society in the black school. But as this began to happen, I could see that we didn't have the number of “A” students that we had prior to that, because they were going—not all blacks could stop the [unclear]. And there was a president before him. You must have heard of him. He's nationally known.

WC:

Dr. [Warmouth] Gibbs?

VC:

No, the man who heads the [unclear] Baptist church now. He was at Rutgers, several jobs, worked in Africa and worked—

WC:

[Samuel] Proctor.

VC:

Yeah. Proctor sent his children to all-black school. On the other hand, some felt that they ought to be there and get more. On the other hand, there was some who jumped at the idea, you know, and they would send their child to a black school because they had the opinion that the white schools were superior. Of course they had superior physical equipment, but I don't know whether they got any better instruction.

WC:

Yeah. It's interesting because I just got through writing a brief paper on the desegregation process in Greensboro, and I have said in that paper that the '57 action really represented defeat rather than triumph, for I think the same reasons that you just said—that it was really, I think, primarily a means of giving the impression of change while keeping the lid on.

VC:

That's true. I think your observations are correct—just give you a little token.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

If ever there was the word we use properly, that was it: token integration.

WC:

Yeah. And yet it was blown up all over the country as being a marvelous step forward.

VC:

That's right.

WC:

And the national news magazines said that it was a bold advance.

VC:

Well, it was a shrewd way of getting around the complete integration of the school.

WC:

Right.

VC:

And these few students who went to these white schools sometimes had it pretty rough. My wife had a nephew at [unclear]. There was a boy there who had been in trouble [unclear]. And the principal eventually tried to put some pressure on the boy, because his father didn't live here, and the boy had always lived with his grandparents, and brought up the issue of tuition, and the boy was very intelligent and calm but he was very nervous. He finished Howard [University], but the school [unclear] but he had it rough. He was well liked there, too, because he played the trombone in the band. But this again was just a little group. The principal is still there, but I don't think the principal did what he should have done.

WC:

Well, you mentioned the Patriots, and you said that in '54, when the Hudgins-Smith resolution went through, that you did think something was going to happen.

VC:

To tell you the truth, I thought it was going to happen everywhere. That was the law.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And I can see now—I mean, people talk about this respect for law and the students in the school, but I think a lot of this disrespectable. The law started when the—when our elders and our leaders said, “We're going to defy the law.” And we brought out all these [unclear]. I can remember the terms they used, you know, in Mississippi and Georgia to nullify the law. And I think this is when we really started this disrespectable law and order. It wasn't the Negro in the streets. This is the beginning of it, as I see it. I've heard anyone else relate this to disrespectable law and order. But, you see, if a child can see his father disrespect the law, then this same thing is going to be a part of the child.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

His mother gets on a train or an airplane and says, “This boy is eight years old,” to get a ticket for half fare and the boy knows he's twelve, then the boy going to grow up to be dishonest.

WC:

What point do you think the black community became bitter or disillusioned or angry at the white school establishment?

VC:

Well, I think maybe there's some bitter all along from '54 on. They didn't carry out the [unclear]. I know I was working in the school and I felt it.

WC:

Yeah. Do you think that—very little was written about Josephine Boyd's experiences at the time in the press, but do you think that was pretty widely known in the black community what she was going through?

VC:

I don't believe it was. I don't know that I know. Of course, I've talked to Mr. Abraham Peeler. The girl came through his school, which was a private school. A lot happened there that I didn't know, because he said he wouldn't want his child to go through it. He wouldn't want somebody else to go through what she had to go through. But her mother could tell you about it.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

She had it rougher than I know.

WC:

Yeah, yeah. You mentioned that the nature of the school board changed when Dr. Raymond Smith got off of it and Ms. Brown—

VC:

And Mr. Hudgins. That's three.

WC:

And Dr. Smith of course resigned or retired.

VC:

Retired. He'd been on there a long time and he was an elderly man. And I'm not sure that Ms. Brown was reappointed, but Mr. Hudgins got off, I guess because—I think—I imagine he volunteered to step down, because at that time you could stay on there almost forever. And we have a policy in the city now that after two terms you won't be reappointed. This is for all boards.

WC:

Do you recall any particular feeling about Mr. Foster?

VC:

What Foster?

WC:

John Foster.

VC:

No.

WC:

Chairman during this period, '56 I guess.

VC:

No. But I think he was more—just stated gently, I think he was more conservative than Mr. Hudgins.

WC:

Yeah. I've heard a number of people say that the shift became visible when Dr. Benjamin Smith retired and Mr. [Phil] Weaver took over, that that was when it became clear that it was a change. Maybe you think that it came earlier than that. I'm not sure.

VC:

Well, I knew Mr. Smith, and I admired all the superintendants I worked with. And Mr. Weaver and the school board chairman seemed to work very closely together. And frankly it did appear as though they didn't make any progress.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And it was surprising. But there again maybe Mr. Weaver had to go along with his board. I don't know. He was always nice to me.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

That's all I can say. On a personal basis, he was always—I was a member of the redeveloprnent commission, and I would leave school to go to the meeting. I could leave to go to luncheons. He would excuse me to go to Johnson C. Smith to a trustee board meeting. He let me go for a week once to Denver to represent my church at the general assembly. And I was on the executive committee of the Democratic Party. Occasionally I would have to go on Thursday down to Raleigh to meet. And he never once said no, or never once acted like he didn't want me to go. But I never thought he wanted to move too [fast?] in the schools.

And even though I respect him, I had a lot of hardships with the principal out there, but I was never able to do much about it. They got about seven hundred out there now—had fourteen hundred when I was principal, with one assistant. A man now has two assistants. And I had to play chess to make a schedule. And for the class size I had to keep them down to about thirty. I had to cut every few classes, partly so they'd have somewhere to meet.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

But he always tried to encourage me about it. Of course, I think it's obvious that Dudley didn't have the things that [unclear] had in some of theirs. There was basically discrimination. Now, on the other hand, as I always tried to point out, you always had some white schools which were older and more dilapidated and maybe in a comparable position.

WC:

One of the things I noticed, in going through the school board minutes, was it seemed to me that in the period '54 to '56, there was enormous—there was an enormous increase in activity by the Lincoln and Dudley PTAs [Parent Teacher Associations], in terms of pressing with urgency and with assertiveness—not militancy, but assertiveness.

VC:

What area was this?

WC:

Lincoln and Dudley. Well, the issues had to do with streets being—

VC:

What era?

WC:

Period from '54 to '56.

VC:

'54 to '56.

WC:

Yeah. And I didn't know if there was any kind of story to that behind the scenes, in terms of—well, it seemed to me that perhaps the—this is more than a coincidence that greater willingness to demand, and to go back again and again and again to the school board—

VC:

I think one issue there was opening of Lincoln Street when Dr. Miller was in there, and W[alter] T. Johnson, as I recall, Senior. And I went to Lincoln in '55. There was—but both of those men with courage, and they had children then, and there was a more feeling of assertiveness. There were people who probably had courage but had always been dominated. But I think the '54 decision gave impetus, you know, to people to come out and express how they felt more. There's a lot of—I won't call it deceit, but deception I guess is the same word. But a lot of black people sometimes have a way of answering you the way they thought you wanted to hear. They didn't tell it like it is, but they gave you the answer which they thought you expected. And this was done I guess to get along. They didn't want to fight the authorities as it were. But I remember that period.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

Then there was a trend there to get a new gymnasium and playing field—all came up at that time—a larger cafeteria at Dudley. And, of course, we had to get—during that period we had to get another cafeteria. We didn't have enough room. We had to get an annex. They built six rooms. Before they were finished, we had to build six more. And they had three libraries at Lincoln [Junior High]. They built one and it was too small, there wasn't any room in it. Finally they built a new cafeteria, and we converted the old cafeteria into a library.

But the trend here, though, was—I guess as it was, I may say nationwide. Here's the problem, and I faced this problem constantly. The blacks come into the inner-city, New York Negroes in Harlem. Harlem is an old section of New York. They inherited, you might say, the schools which were already old and dilapidated, no playground. The affluent people—and maybe not all of them are affluent because you get this white flight, so they moved to the suburb. So a lot of our money, as in other places, had gone to build the ranch-type schools, the modern schools, on the suburbs, and the black schools, being in the inner-city, suffered. Black education as a result suffered. And as long as you have separation, you're going to have discrimination. I guess that's a strong statement.

But this is where I disagree with some of the thinking of the few blacks that we want self-determination and we want our own schools and our own superintendents. But as long as the white people are predominate and we're in minority—or even you may be in the majority, as in the case of Newark, or in the case of Gary, Indiana. [coughs] Something happens when the blacks take over. The tax base lessens, so you still can't get it. So I don't know what the solution is, except through living together and seeing that everything is different. When the whites moved out here to these schools, we got more. But long as we were separate, we wouldn't get it, you see. And all the schools would become equal.

Let me hasten and say this about Greensboro, which I think is unique: we still have Lincoln; we still have Dudley. And in many areas—and Dudley is still named for a black man. But in many cities, the black schools have been completely done away with. So I think this is one of the favorable features of our school system.

And there were some of us who worked, too, after they integrated the schools and said they're going to get a racial balance. There was a group that met with the superintendent and some of his functionaries up there, insisting that we get that same ratio of black teachers, and also that some be promoted. Now, we haven't been able to get this done with the Greensboro police department. We'll talk about that in our next meeting. [laughs] But I think this vanished. We don't—I don't know what proportion they have up there in leadership as directors and assistants and assistant superintendent. And he's doing—he's not the audio-visual man. He's not the man taking care of the new supplies, as has happened in some places, either. So in that respect we're doing pretty well.

WC:

Yeah, yeah.

VC:

And we have some black principals in white communities, as well as some whites over in our area.

WC:

Yeah.

VC:

And they're more or less balanced. Of course, I mean this—

[End of Interview]