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Oral History Interview with William Jackson by William Chafe


Date: July 12, 1977

Interviewee: William H. Jackson

Biographical abstract: William Jackson (1915-1993), former captain of the Greensboro Police Department, served on the force from 1946 to 1976.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This July 12, 1977, oral history interview conducted by William Chafe with William Jackson documents Jackson’s participation in and recollections of significant local civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s as a captain in the Greensboro Police Department. Jackson provides an overview of his career and responsibilities with the police department, and notes his role as commanding officer of the juvenile division during the 1957 school desegregation and the February 1960 sit-ins, in which his major activity was protecting the demonstrators from white teenagers.

Jackson discusses the events of 1962-1963 at length, including the roles of Jesse Jackson, William Thomas, Ezell Blair, John Marshall Stevenson Kilimanjaro, and James Farmer; his impression of Bennett College and Willa Player; NC A&T State University students, faculty, and administrators; the local CORE chapter; mass marches in 1963; the sit-down in Jefferson Square; arresting 1,400 protesters; arresting Jesse Jackson; and conferencing with students and march leaders.

Of the November 1969 incident at Dudley High School and A&T, he Jackson describes attending a rally at the Dudley gym; a staged wreck in front of the school; being removed from the situation by his superiors; and attending a conference with faculty at A&T. Other topics include local Ku Klux Klan presence in the late 1950s and his surveillance of a Klan member, and the influence of communist faculty at Bennett and A&T.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.649

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 William Jackson by William Chafe

William Chafe:

Is it Captain Jackson? Is that right?

William Jackson:

Yes.

WC:

Capt. Jackson, how long have you worked for the Greensboro Police Department?

WJ:

Thirty-six years.

WC:

So you started back in—

WJ:

Nineteen forty. The very beginning of 1940.

WC:

Had you grown up in Greensboro?

WJ:

Well, practically; I moved here when I was about nine years old.

WC:

Where did you grow up? In North Carolina?

WJ:

In North Carolina and South Carolina. Well, in fact, the first nine years, pretty much over the country. Then after I was nine years old, I moved to Greensboro and stayed here.

WC:

So you have seen a lot of changes take place in Greensboro in that period.

WJ:

Oh, yes, quite a few.

WC:

At what point did—when you were captain of the department, what were your special responsibilities?

WJ:

Let's see, commanding officer of the detective division. That was my primary duty, and anything that might come along, quite naturally.

WC:

Was that through most of this time? When did you become the commanding officer of the detectives?

WJ:

I became commanding officer of the detective division in 1961, I believe it was. Prior to that, I was a captain in the uniform division for about six months. Prior to that, for four years I was the commanding officer of the juvenile division, from about 1956. Prior to that, I was head of the training—personnel and training division. I've worked in every phase of the police department of the City of Greensboro.

WC:

Were there black police in Greensboro during most of this time?

WJ:

We had a black police team in Greensboro first about 1946, if I recall correctly.

WC:

And were they assigned primarily to the black area of town?

WJ:

Yes, at that particular time they were, although they had jurisdiction the same as anyone else. But their assignment was there. Practically all of us at that time had assignments in certain areas, and we worked in those areas. And they were assigned to the black area, which at that time was East Market Street was predominate and Ashe Street, which those streets and that type of neighborhood doesn't exist here any longer.

WC:

Were you involved at all in the period in the middle-fifties, particularly '57 when they desegregated the schools, Gillespie [Park Elementary] School and Grimsely [High School]? Were you involved in any of those days?

WJ:

Yes, I was. At that time I was head of the juvenile division and the responsibilities, as you know, there—a juvenile in the state of North Carolina is any child between the age of seven and sixteen, and we had to be involved in that quite a bit.

WC:

Do you remember there being a lot of trouble at that time?

WJ:

No, there wasn't lots of trouble. That's the thing about it. Integration of the schools in the city of Greensboro, I think we fooled the nation. They thought we were going to have trouble, and we had no trouble. I saw Ku Klux Klansmen standing on the sidewalk crying because there wasn't any trouble.

For instance, in the school known as Gillespie Park, which is located on Asheboro Street, was a predominately—in fact, was all white. It was a white neighborhood. This is where we thought it would happen. Well, there was no trouble. National news media was here, and they were very, very disappointed because we didn't have trouble.

WC:

Did you have a sense of there being, or do you know that there was much of a Klan presence in Greensboro?

WJ:

Oh, yes, we were sensitive to that. We knew what was going on. We knew where the leaders were and who they were and what to expect. But they were people with their own ideas, and they were not actually wanting trouble carrying on. In fact, some of the kids that I grew up with were in the Klan, people who I knew and still know today and who consider my friends even today. We got along fine. They knew where I stood, and I knew where they stood. The result was we got along without any trouble. They didn't give us any trouble. They weren't looking actually for trouble. They didn't want the integration, of course, but they weren't looking for whole lots of trouble either.

WC:

How about when Superintendent [Benjamin] Smith had a cross burning on his lawn, and I think there were some rocks thrown at [school board] chairman John Foster's house. Did you have information that that was the Klan that was doing that?

WJ:

Well, we knew that they were involved in this, yes. The majority of the Klan that gave us trouble back then were people that were not natives of this community, and people who had come in here who are now—for instance, there is one young man here—a young man at that time, middle-aged now—he is still living in Greensboro. He actually went to prison for his activities in that. He and a more couple of others more, in my opinion, were responsible for that than the local and the leadership.

WC:

So these people came in from out of town?

WJ:

Yeah, they had moved into Greensboro and became involved in this thing. They were the ones that gave the trouble, not the local people so much.

WC:

Do you remember their names by any chance?

WJ:

Me and names don't get along too well. I recall some of their names, but several of these people are dead today, too. Some of them I see every once in a while now. There's one man—I'm trying to think of his name right now. I can't recall off hand. I see him quite frequently now. We speak, shake hands, [unclear] and I've put him in jail on several occasions. But he was a man that didn't—wasn't reared around this part of the country, and he was more or less the troublemaker.

WC:

John Casper[?]—John Casper, was that his name?

WJ:

John Casper—well, now John Casper was out of Tennessee, I believe. He was in here. He was called in here. I remember one particular morning, the chief of police called me into his office and told me that John Casper was having breakfast with a redheaded man in the dining room of the King Cotton Hotel, and he wanted me to go down there and let him know that I was there and stay with him until he got away from here. I said, “All right.” I went down to the dining room of the hotel, and I saw him over in the corner with a redheaded fellow, and let him know that I was looking at him, and I stepped out, because in that dining room there was only one way to come out of the place unless you went through the kitchen. And I waited till he came out, and while I was outside [George] Dorsett, whose name you probably have heard—

WC:

Yes.

WJ:

—involved in it. He and I were kids together. We worked together as kids, went to school together. He was out there and he went into a bookstore or a record shop thing just below the hotel. And then Casper came out, and I looked at Casper and I said, “You looking for Dorsett?” He said, “Yes.”

WC:

[laughs]

WJ:

I said, “Well, he's just gone next door.”

So he went over and found Dorsett, and they came out and they got in Dorsett's car. Well, I had parked behind Dorsett's car. And they went out South Elm Street to [U.S. Route] 220 and to [N.C. Highway] 62 and pulled over in a fellow's filling station there that I have known who had lived here for years and years. I'd arrested him for running gambling situations the year before. And they parked at his lot, and I think they may have parked there to try to get rid of me. Well, I parked in there. They went in and got a Coca-Cola, and I went in and got a Coca-Cola. And Dorsett didn't say anything at that time. They came back by and turned around and came back into town, and they went by Dorsett's house, which is near the [Greensboro] Coliseum here. And they went in and pulled around in his back yard, and I just parked in front of his house. In a few minutes Dorsett came out of the house with his camera, and I was reading the newspaper.

And he said, “Bill!”

And I looked around and I said, “Wait just a minute. Let me get straight.”

WC:

[laughs]

WJ:

And he snapped my picture. In a few minutes they came out from behind the house in the car, and I turned around and got behind them. They went out onto High Point Road. They went the old way into High Point on old [N.C. Highway] 78, which is now—went on out and went over to [Interstate] 85 and stopped. And when they stopped over there, they was talking a little bit, and I got out and stood beside my car across the road from them. And Casper started off in his car then by himself, and I started behind him.

And when I did Dorsett hollered, “Hey, Bill, he's not going away. He's going home.”

And I just threw my hand up to Dorsett and went on. And by the time I got to Lexington, the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] came by and throwed their hand up at me, and I knew what they were doing. They were relieving me of my surveillance. And they carried him on up to somewhere, Henderson somewhere, and they lost him. And the next time I heard from him, it was several months later. They had found him somewhere back in Tennessee, and John Casper went to prison. But that's the biggest portion of Casper around here. He never bothered us any.

WC:

Did you know at the time that Dorsett was an informer for the FBI?

WJ:

I'd rather not answer that question.

WC:

Okay, okay. It's just—

WJ:

I'm going to put something off the record, too, here now.

WC:

Okay.

[Off-the-record comments regarding the FBI redacted]

WC:

It's only been a couple of years since it has been known that Dorsett was an—

WJ:

It isn't known now.

WC:

It's known now.

WJ:

Where is it known?

WC:

I thought it was in the paper.

WJ:

Hell, the paper puts lots of stuff in there sometimes.

WC:

[laughs] Okay. So in that period of school desegregation, you did not really feel that the local Klan was a major threat.

WJ:

Not to a great deal, no, I didn't. They were a threat to the point that we knew that we had to keep abreast of them and know where they were and what they were doing, attend their meetings. Hell, I've attended a many one of their meetings. They didn't know I was there, some of them. Then again, some of them there were aware. And I got admitted to one over near the college one night, and Dorsett recognized me in the dark. And what did he say?

“Jim, that's Bill Jackson standing over there. He's a police officer.”

Well, the meeting broke up. But I've attended lots of them.

WC:

Were you involved at all in the activities surrounding the first sit-ins in 1960?

WJ:

In Woolworth's?

WC:

Yes, when the four A&T [now North Carolina A&T State University]—

WJ:

Yes, I was in the juvenile division at the time there, and we had lots of kids involved in it. At that time the biggest thing there on that was there was a Junior Ku Klux Klan, and they were trying to get some of the kids started. And it really never—in my opinion, never really got off the ground. I knew who was involved in that. And the sit-ins with these A&T students at Woolworth's, [I was] involved in that but not as great as it was a little later on after I came out of the juvenile division, because my primary duties then were involved with the children. I took care of the children.

For instance, in front of Kress's, which was a block—half a block south of Woolworth's on Elm Street at that time. And at that time, if you recall, remember now, Greensboro's business, 98 percent of it was on Elm Street, and it was all downtown. And Woolworth—Kress's was a big, big place. And they had a demonstration marching in front of them. And there was a young man in there that was fifteen years old, and they were trying to get him to be the leader of these Junior Ku Klux Klans. And he was in there, and I joined the march. And before he realized what was out, I had him out of there and going on up in here. And I think by getting him out of there, we averted trouble on that particular day with them, because it was beginning to get a little bit nasty. And we just eased him out of the line. What we did, I just walked in the line with him, and when we got to the end we just continued to walk.

WC:

Did you have your arm around him or something like that?

WJ:

What?

WC:

Did you have your arm around him and sort of guide him?

WJ:

No, I just bumped up beside him and told him who I was, “Just keep on walking.” I always believed that the easy way was the best way, if you could possibly do it. But it didn't amount to anything; they never got off the ground to amount to anything.

WC:

So at that point, at least in terms of your responsibilities in the juvenile division, most of your problem then was with the white teenagers.

WJ:

Yes. In regards to the Klan stuff, yes, it was.

WC:

Did you feel that at the end of that or during that first week of sit-ins in 1960 that there was a real danger of violence? Do you recall that situation?

WJ:

A danger of eruption to a degree, but not great. There was a potential situation in there. You'd see grown people in there crying over the situation; I mean actual tears coming out of their eyes. Men, under the circumstances, seeing what was taking place in there. But it worked out and to the point where it wasn't a whole bunch of trouble. I saw a time there one time within the store itself, and it looked like it was going to be very explosive, but we were able to get in there and get these that were kicking up and ease them out without a whole lot of trouble and got it over with.

And in that particular thing, too, we had people shipped in here. There were people shipped in here for that particular thing, to do this. There was one young lady who was arrested in this store, and I carried her to the police station myself. Now she was college age, and the first thing she did was call an official in the state of New York. We had them shipped in here for this.

WC:

Now were these white or black?

WJ:

This was a white girl.

WC:

White girl. Was she with the sit-ins?

WJ:

Yes, sir, right there in the midst of them. Yes, sir.

WC:

This was in 1960?

WJ:

Yes, the first sit-in.

WC:

First sit-in.

WJ:

First sit-in. Now they classified the Woolworth's thing here as the first sit-in in the country, I'm told. What was the Indian head of the United Nations for so long? What was his name? I can't remember his name right offhand. I've got an autographed cigarette lighter—and which I don't smoke—in there that he gave me. Anyhow, I forget what that gentleman's name was, but I admired him very much. He died not too long after he began office. He was here, and I was assigned to him [for] security reasons. And I talked with him at length.

And he said, “Well, you know, we had sit-ins at the United Nations prior to this.”

So there were sit-ins prior, but this type with students and stuff, I think this was the first one.

WC:

Now your major involvement, of course, was—or at least one of your major involvements was—during '62-'63-was with the A&T demonstrations, the students coming downtown to demand service at the theatres and the cafeterias. Mayfair and S&W, right, were the primary ones [cafeterias]?

WJ:

They were the only two here then. They were the only two here.

WC:

Tell me about that period, if you would. What kind of memories stand out in your mind as you think back over that period and your own involvement in it?

WJ:

That was created and started by the students at A&T, and at that time Jesse Jackson was a student there and president of the student body. And there were several professors at the college that, I believe in my opinion, were very instrumental in the direction of Jesse Jackson. Jesse has come forward tremendously. Now I've set and talked with Jesse many, many times, and had many a conference with him. I've arrested him several times. I arrested him on the steps of the church down there one day. I could have gone in and got him out of there, but I, in respect to what he was doing, I waited till he came out.

And we never had any trouble. And like I say, I'd tell him what I wanted. I'd tell him if he was going to come downtown, and he'd tell me what he was going to do. And I'd say, “You can't do that. If you do, we're going to have to arrest you, or you can do it this way.” And we had an understanding. The dialogue between us was very good. But he had some of the professors there and people that were backing him. There was one national figure in the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] at that time, and I'm trying to think of his name. I want to say Freeman, but I don't believe that's quite right.

WC:

In the NAACP? There was a Foreman—

WJ:

CORE [Congress of Racial Equality], CORE, CORE. I didn't mean to say—

WC:

Not [Floyd] McKissick.

WJ:

No, I knew McKissick. He's out of Durham. McKissick represented the first few people we arrested down yonder over here. No, I know McKissick. I know it wasn't McKissick. This was a field man that was with CORE, I believe. He had a white secretary. It is alleged that he—

WC:

[James] Farmer?

WJ:

Farmer, Farmer, Farmer, Farmer, Farmer. You're acquainted with Farmer. After I said “alleged” [laughs], something hit you there, too. Well Farmer could come down through here, and I've set and talked with Farmer myself. Now Farmer directed him quite a bit. And Farmer came down through here one time and got all their money, is my understanding, and after he got a hold of all the money they had, he never came back.

That was the same way with Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King visited Greensboro once, and he was in the Coliseum, and the take wasn't good. And I made a remark at that time in regards to King that he'd never be back, and he didn't come back. King was supposed to have, during these bad times, made the graduation address at Bennett College.

And if you're familiar with Bennett College, Bennett College, as far as I'm concerned, is a very honorable school. They turned out—they turn out some—in other words, they give diplomas that are earned, in my opinion. And the president of the school down there was a very good friend of mine, and we worked together and got along good.

WC:

Was that Mrs. [Willa] Player?

WJ:

Player, yes. The last I heard of her she had a national position somewhere.

WC:

In Washington [D.C.], yes.

WJ:

Yes, she's a very, very capable woman and a fine individual. I enjoyed knowing her, to be frank with you. Just like the president of A&T. Good friends of mine. The present one, and the one that proceeded too. But they—but they worked it in a way, and they were led. And Farmer came and got their money. He left. He never came back.

WC:

He was here more than once, wasn't he?

WJ:

Farmer?

WC:

Farmer was here—

WJ:

Oh, no. Oh, gosh. Farmer was here numbers of times. But Martin Luther King came into the Coliseum and made a speech one night. He didn't have a very big crowd, and they passed the sand buckets to take up a collection. And when it was over with, they stood outside the door and begged, and they didn't hardly cover the bottom of the buckets. And he never came back. And he was supposed to make the graduation address at Bennett College, and he didn't come in for that. And he said there was plane trouble in Atlanta. Well, I contacted Atlanta, and there was no plane trouble. He didn't come in. Player made the talk herself, and I was there, and Mrs. Holmes[?] was going to be with Martin Luther King doing this thing was there with him. And he didn't come in. Now his wife came back later to A&T. He didn't come. And as far as I recall, this was the only time she ever came in here.

WC:

Do you remember what year that was that he was supposed to come and speak at Bennett?

WJ:

It was the year of 1963.

WC:

[Nineteen] sixty-three?

WJ:

Yeah.

WC:

In the middle of the sit-ins.

WJ:

Right in the middle. Right up there where they were beginning to ease off a little bit there. Yes, that's when it was, 1963. And he was to come here and make that. The president over there at Bennett College was a fine individual, fine individual, and well qualified for what she was assigned to, as far as I'm personally concerned.

WC:

Now you were saying that the students at A&T were being pushed by Farmer on the one hand and by some professors at A&T on the other hand.

WJ:

Yes. Now there was a William Thomas. He was black, very intelligent, very smooth, knew where he was going and knew where he had been, was in there. He lived on Market Street just beyond A&T College, and he had a brother [Alvin], and he also had a sister [Antoinette]. His sister taught school at Virginia, a very fine individual who knew what's what. And they were kind of heading CORE, and they were in it, and Jesse Jackson had the students. And they worked together. They didn't fuss; they didn't get in a fight. But CORE and the students didn't always agree on what was going. And Farmer was directing William. I understand William, I believe now has some good position in New York. I'm not sure.

WC:

Do you know what company he's with, by any chance?

WJ:

No, I don't. I asked questions. I knew his mother. I visited, went into their home, had conferences in his home with him. I'd go in and sit with him, talk with him.

WC:

Is she still here?

WJ:

His mother?

WC:

Yeah.

WJ:

I don't believe that they are living in the same place, and I say this for this reason. I pass by it occasionally now, and every time I pass by I notice it. And it isn't in the same repair and kept as it was when his mother was there. When his mother was there, it was immaculate. You couldn't have wanted a nicer place to go and sit, you know. And they were nice children; they were reared kids. They weren't born and thrown over in a corner. And they were nice kids.

WC:

Do you know what church they went to?

WJ:

No, I don't. No, I don't know what church they went to.

WC:

I was just wondering what the connection was there.

WJ:

No, I don't know.

WC:

Wasn't CORE primarily on campus, though, or was it off campus, too?

WJ:

It was off campus, also. You had lots of off-campus in CORE, stuck in there.

WC:

Older people or younger people?

WJ:

Yes, we had some older people in here with CORE that were involved with it also.

WC:

What kinds of people? Ministers?

WJ:

Ministers, teachers, schoolteachers. We had one local schoolteacher here that was very much involved in it. He had a son that was off-campus at that time, the high school was getting into everything. And the schoolteacher, he later ended up in trouble buying stolen property and stuff, got in whole lots of trouble. But at that time, he was one of the leaders. He was a teacher in the public schools.

WC:

Schoolteacher?

WJ:

Yeah.

WC:

You don't remember the name, do you?

WJ:

It'll come to me in a minute.

WC:

It wasn't Blair, was it?

WJ:

Blair, yes, Ezell Blair [Sr.].

WC:

Ezell Blair.

WJ:

Ezell Blair.

WC:

So he was active in CORE as well as the NAACP?

WJ:

I'm pretty sure. I'm pretty sure he was involved in it. He was involved—they were all entangled in the thing. Ezell Blair—the first night that we arrested anyone here, Ezell Blair and others, and we had to put them in—some of the people, when we put them under arrest, they'd lay down. And our men drug them to the car, and that's exactly what they should have done. If a man doesn't want to stand up, drag him on over there. Now I don't believe in being bad nor hurt anybody. But it was always my belief to treat people like I wanted to be treated as long as they would let me. And when they wouldn't, then I would treat them the way they wanted to be treated. And when a man lays down, I feel he wants to be drug. And Ezell Blair and some others—and I don't remember who else was in there—came to me and wanted a conference with me. It was three o'clock in the morning, and I had a conference with them in my office. And they didn't like it because we drug—some of the people we arrested, some of the people we drug, were girls, were women.

And I told them, I said, “All right, I tell you what we'll do. You tell your people, when they're placed under arrest, to go quietly with that officer and they'll never be harmed. As long as they stand on their feet and walk, they'll never be drug.”

He says, “Okay.”

And that was the last ones we had to drag. We came to an understanding between us, and this is the good part about it. And this is where we fooled the world right here in the City of Greensboro: by having an understanding with these people, being able to talk with them, sit down and talk. I went anywhere any time of day or night they wanted to sit and have a conference talk. I went to A&T State University campus where my superiors begged me to never go for fear of my life. But I was a police officer; this was part of my duties for my community, and this is why I did it. I was never bothered, never hurt, never touched, never harmed. Sure I was booed and I was called “Pig.” I was called this, that, and the other, anything that came along, but this doesn't make any difference. And we got along this way. We understood what was going on.

WC:

Do you remember who else was at that meeting with Blair in '63?

WJ:

I can't remember. There were three or four of them. I can't remember. I do remember Ezell, because he was the spokesman. He was the leader.

WC:

Was [Dr. George] Simkins there?

WJ:

Simkins. No, Simkins wasn't there. I don't believe Simkins was there. Simkins stayed in the background. Dr. Simkins you're talking about?

WC:

Yes.

WJ:

He stayed in the background. I went to Simkins' house on occasions. I went to his office on occasion to talk with him. Simkins stands in the background.

WC:

How about [Vance] Chavis? Would Chavis have been there?

WJ:

Chavis was principal of the junior—the school.

WC:

Was he there?

WJ:

He was—no, I don't believe he was in there. No, Mr. Chavis and I were very good friends. I've known him quite well. Back when I was in the juvenile division and he was principal of junior—Lincoln Junior High School, I visited that school, and I've been to his home and set down there. And during these things, I went to Mr. Chavis' home and had meetings in his home with him about what we thought was going on. Chavis is a good, solid individual.

WC:

But Blair's the only one you remember offhand right now.

WJ:

I can't recall exactly who all it was, to be frank with you.

WC:

Sure. Now the demonstrations went on for a long time, didn't they?

WJ:

Oh, yes, for a month.

WC:

A month?

WJ:

Yes, I think it was.

WC:

This is mostly in '73.

WJ:

[Nineteen] sixty-three.

WC:

Sixty-three. I'm so sorry. [laughs]

WJ:

In '63.

WC:

My mind is—

WJ:

Seventy-three we had some little stuff [unclear]. That was a part of A&T, but nothing like this at all.

WC:

So you would have—how many people would march downtown?

WJ:

Come again now.

WC:

How many people would march downtown?

WJ:

We've had as many as eighteen hundred, two thousand.

WC:

Ordinarily, when they would come down?

WJ:

In excess of a thousand.

WC:

An excess of a thousand. Now would these be almost all students?

WJ:

Students, townspeople. When you're referring to students now, were you speaking of A&T and Bennett students, or the high school and public school students and all?

WC:

All of them.

WJ:

We had all of them, and then housewives and labor people and business people, too. They all joined in.

WC:

Now were they all there at the beginning, or was it mostly young people at the beginning? I guess what I'm trying to get at is was there a change at some point?

WJ:

At the beginning it was the college-age student who came [unclear].

WC:

And what would happen? Jesse would be in the front?

WJ:

Jesse would usually lead them, yes.

WC:

And he'd have—they'd march in the street or on the sidewalk?

WJ:

On the sidewalk. Always on the sidewalk.

WC:

Down Market Street.

WJ:

Come down Market Street. They would come down Market Street. They'd usually come on the north side of East Market Street to the underpass of [Forebush?] Street which is now Church Street, on in there, and then switch over to the south side. And that was the side the cafeteria was on.

And there were several preachers in here who'd do that. I remember one preacher. I can't recall his name. He's still around; I still see him every once in a while and chat with him.

WC:

Hairston?

WJ:

Who?

WC:

Hairston?

WJ:

No, it wasn't Mr. Hairston, Otis Hairston. No, I know him real well. This was an older preacher. And he didn't have a church comparable to Mr. Hairston's [unclear]. Anyhow, he had his group, and they were up in front of the cafeteria there having a prayer session. And at that time in the City of Greensboro—and it probably still is—you had to have a permit to preach on the sidewalk. And I was sent up there to—I asked him to leave, and he wouldn't leave.

He said, “We're going to have a prayer.”

So I stood over to the side, and he had his prayer, and when he completed his prayer, I arrested him.

WC:

It wasn't [Cleo] McCoy, was it?

WJ:

No, no, no. McCoy was the chaplain at A&T. No, it wasn't McCoy. No, I know him real well, too. I believe he's still at A&T.

WC:

Yeah, he is. Yeah.

WJ:

This was an older man, and he was gray—white-headed, very nice.

WC:

Not Douglas.

WJ:

No. Douglas was—I believe he's a Lutheran.

WC:

Presbyterian, St. James [Presbyterian Church].

WJ:

I know him, too. I can't just remember who this man's name was.

WC:

So they would come down, and initially these would be all students, A&T students, and Jesse Jackson would be in the front, and then there'd be this minister. Would the same thing happen every time?

WJ:

No, Jesse—the minister wouldn't always be with them, but it would be one in there. There was a young black minister.

WC:

Tony Stanley?

WJ:

I knew Tony Stanley, but he's not the one I'm thinking about. He left and he went up north. I used to hear from him. [He] was in there and helped them—right now I can't think of his name right offhand. Now he would come, and one of the ways we began to get things under hand and keep them where we didn't have trouble with them. In front of the Center Theatre one night, we had a bunch of trouble there. And he told them to sit down, and when he told them to sit down, I throwed his buddy in the paddy wagon, put him under arrest. In a few minutes he called me over to the paddy wagon, and he said, “Captain, I'm a preacher, and I don't want an arrest record, and I don't want to go to jail on this, and I'd appreciate it if you can help me.”

I said, “Well, you want some help, I want some help. You get out of here and you tell your students to get up from there, or my men will tell them to get in that wagon.”

He said, “Yes, sir.”

And he got out of there and he went. I turned him loose. He went on over there, and everything came out, worked out all right. He was a—I can't remember—he was a fine-looking young man, but I can't remember his name.

WC:

Did he have a church here, or was he on campus?

WJ:

He was connected with the campus, and I think he also has a church. I won't say for sure, but he was in there.

WC:

But he was a young man?

WJ:

Yes, he was a young man.

WC:

And it wasn't Stanley?

WJ:

I don't believe it was Stanley. I don't believe that's the name. That doesn't sound right. It doesn't sound right.

WC:

Okay.

WJ:

I can't remember his name right offhand.

WC:

Would Jesse Jackson call you beforehand and tell you what was going to happen?

WJ:

When I would request it, and he would call or I'd go to see him. And if something happened and I didn't get him, I'd meet him on the way and march on at the head of the line with him, and we'd hold our conversation. I'd find out what was going to happen, and we'd come on up.

WC:

You were pretty much in charge of this whole thing, weren't you?

WJ:

Yes, I had charge of the police detail on this.

WC:

During the first part of the demonstrations, these were young people, students. Do you remember at what point it became either younger or older, I mean the high school kids getting involved and the older people?

WJ:

The latter part of it, the older people began to come in. If you recall in your research in there when they all sat down on the square, that particular instance, that time, there was a schoolteacher there who had been a former police officer, and he was involved in it. And these were lots of older people in this, and students in there, too. I mean townspeople. We referred to them as townspeople, not students, in this group, grown people.

WC:

The name of the teacher who was a former police officer, that's not Cundiff[?], is it?

WJ:

No, not Cundiff. I can't think of his name. I know his name, but I can't think of it right now.

WC:

I think I've read it somewhere. He was one of the first black policemen in Greensboro.

WJ:

That's right.

WC:

Back in the late forties.

WJ:

Yes, I think he came—I think he came in the second group of black police officers that were hired. The first two we hired were Sam Penn and John Montgomery. Then we got one who was a bondsman here. We called him “The Hawk.”

WC:

[Conrad] Connie Raiford.

WJ:

Connie Raiford. Yeah, he came. And I believe this fellow and Connie came about the same time. Connie was—he's a good individual, but he's a rabble rouser. [chuckles] He's a good individual. I get along with him fine. But he doesn't know what the hell he wants.

WC:

He's rabble rousing. So by the end of the demonstrations, toward the end of them, you had up to two thousand marchers.

WJ:

Oh, yes.

WC:

And they would really be the black establishment as well as the black students.

WJ:

At one time towards the end there, we had fourteen hundred locked up at one time.

WC:

You just mass arrested them.

WJ:

Yes, sir.

WC:

As soon as they came downtown.

WJ:

No, sir, not until they made a violation.

WC:

Okay. When they sat down in the square.

WJ:

When they sat down in that street—I stepped on the bumper of an automobile—and told them prior to that not to do it. And when they sat down in that street, I stood on the bumper of an automobile and told them they were under arrest, and my people surrounded them and we put them in jail.

WC:

Take them up on buses.

WJ:

Yes, sir.

WC:

Where did you take them?

WJ:

Came to the Coliseum and booked them out there.

WC:

What happened in most of those cases?

WJ:

Most of them fell down, fell out.

WC:

So that the—

WJ:

Some of them went over to Superior Court, and in the Superior Court [unclear], and some went on to the Supreme Court and were upheld, the convictions on them.

WC:

Were you involved in the negotiations which brought an end to the sit-ins? Would you have been involved in those discussions?

WJ:

You mean with the merchants?

WC:

Yes.

WJ:

No, no. Sitting down across the table with them, no.

WC:

But you would have been familiar with what was going on.

WJ:

Yes.

WC:

Who do you think was most important in creating the settlement?

WJ:

Who do I think?

WC:

Yeah.

WJ:

I really don't—wouldn't know, to be frank with you, at that particular time. It was several business people here in town. The management of the S&W Cafeteria and all sit down and was willing to come over it. Other people in town who were in business did not and have not accepted it as of yet. And some of them here are now that was involved in it, it actually broke them, financially broke them. But the S&W, when it came in I think it went. The theaters came down and sat down when it come to that. And all of them got together, the business people.

And our town didn't want this. The majority of the people here didn't want it. I mean we didn't want the trouble that we were having and were willing to accept it. We knew that we were going to. It wasn't like a situation once when I was at the University of Michigan, a conference, and there was a black from the Housing Authority of St. Louis. And I believe the Housing Authority there in St. Louis had had a tremendous amount of trouble, more trouble than we ever thought about having. He stood up and asked the gentleman who was one of the head psychologists in the [Nuremberg?] Trials, the speaker there, and he asked him the question, “When is the South going to be made to observe the rulings handed down?”

And he answered him this: “The South has enjoyed their way of life for many years, and they will accept it in their own good time in their own good way.”

And I think this is exactly what Greensboro did. Greensboro saw that things had to take place, things were going to be a change, and they accepted them.

WC:

Was there ever any kind of pressure on the police from anyone in the community to act in a certain way?

WJ:

No, sir. No, sir.

WC:

So your way of handling this was essentially your way of doing it. No one—

WJ:

I'll say this: the city authorities, the city fathers, the business people, never one—never once did anyone ever come to me and tell me, “You should do it this way.” But I've had lots of them say, “How do you tolerate it? How do you get along? How can you stand all of it?” Well, I knew they were sympathizing, but they weren't trying to tell me to change my way of going. No, no one ever did that. The chief of Police never told me what I had to do. He had enough faith in me to go ahead, and the rest of the people there, too.

I had a black officer come to me one day, and he's still with the police department. He said, “Let me go up front with you tonight. Let me so up in front.”

I said, “You might have to get on one of them's head.”

He said, “That's okay. I'll get on their damn head.”

And he would have. What he was saying, he'd take his stick and bust their head if it was necessary. I didn't want no heads busted. [I] didn't want to see nobody get hurt. I mean, we wouldn't have that sort of thing. No, no one dictated to me. I reckon I'm created a little bit of a funny individual, I reckon. I never believed in having anything but my own, what I earned. And people never tried to dictate to me or tell me what to do. I reckon one of the greatest compliments I ever had, one of my men and I were having lunch in the K&W cafeteria one day, and we sat down with a friend of mine who was a former bootlegger. When I say “a friend of mine,” he was a friend of mine, and he was a friend of mine when he was bootlegging. I caught lots of his cars, confiscated them, took his liquor. Never been able to catch him; I caught his men.

WC:

[laughs]

WJ:

And I knew he was paying off some of the people. And I asked him when this friend of mine and I were sitting there, I said, “Why is it I never got offered any bribe money?”

He said “Who the hell wants to go to jail?”

WC:

[laughs]

WJ:

As far as I was concerned, that was one of the greatest compliments he could pay me.

WC:

That's right.

WJ:

And that's the way it was with this discord. [noise]

WC:

We're winding down here a little bit. I've just got to be aware of when to change the tape of the other side.

Would most of your conferences with Jesse Jackson take place either on the phone or on the street? Did you ever sit down for an hour or two at headquarters or in his room?

WJ:

I've gone to the—he didn't have anything except down at the college. I saw him at the college campus down at this church. I have talked with him in our office. On the streets, mostly. And in a meeting at William Thomas's house; I believe he was at one of the meetings down there one time when Farmer was there. And I talked with him. And in jail, gosh, I had conversation after conversation after conversations with him there.

WC:

How many times was he arrested?

WJ:

Oh, four or five or six; I don't know.

WC:

Yeah. I've heard that Thomas was kind of the field general, and Jackson was kind of the public leader.

WJ:

Yes.

WC:

Thomas didn't really make many speeches. He didn't really—he wasn't a charismatic person.

WJ:

In my opinion, Thomas had more on the ball than Jesse.

WC:

So he was really the organize—

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

WJ:

What I call [unclear].

WC:

You said there were some professors at A&T who would have been encouraging Jackson and the students. Do you remember any of their names?

WJ:

John Marshall Stevenson was one.

WC:

Anybody beside him?

WJ:

What?

WC:

Anybody else?

WJ:

[unclear] We had an influx of visiting professors. They weren't a help to our cause.

WC:

Right around this time or later on?

WJ:

Along that time, but more so later on. We had people down there that were actually teaching in the universities and schools here that were actually communists.

WC:

And why do you think they were here?

WJ:

They were planted here, in my opinion, to disrupt. A&T had a glory of them. [unclear] figure it would be right if I was to tell you not less than five from one other university in this country was on the A&T campus, and one that was here under the federal grant in the engineering situation was there.

WC:

From one university?

WJ:

[University of] Wisconsin[-Madison].

WC:

And you thought—these people, you thought, were agitating.

WJ:

I know they were.

WC:

Or you knew they were agitating.

WJ:

I know they were. I know they were.

WC:

Would that have been after '63?

WJ:

Yes, yes.

WC:

That would be later in the sixties, '68, '69?

WJ:

Yes. Somewhere along in there, yeah. In '63 we had [unclear] here, had a white woman named [Elizabeth] Laizner. And along in this time when I was checking on her, there was another one, a Russian here, who was teaching in the university, he and his wife [Victor and Alice Jerome?]. And that's when I first found out that our native son O. Henry was admired greatly by the Russians. And I called on this professor down there to get a little information. I was talking to him then, and he told me what he was doing. He was a poet and all this.

I said, “Well, you know, we had quite a noted poet from here once.”

He said, “Who was this?”

I said, “O. Henry.”

He said, “Oh, yes. We think much of O. Henry.”

That's when I first realized that O. Henry was [laughter] admired by those people [unclear]. But I'm not very much of a literary man, as you've probably gathered.

WC:

I'm not, either. [laughs]

WJ:

A damned poor student.

WC:

Besides Stevenson, whom I knew about, I didn't get the impression that early on, there were that many activist professors.

WJ:

You had some of them. Right in that particular time there weren't too awfully many.

There were some that set back, and Stevenson set back. He didn't come out. But it is my opinion John Marshall Stevenson directed Jesse Jackson.

WC:

Inspired him?

WJ:

And I'll always believe this.

WC:

Yes, yes. He's an inspiring man from all I hear.

WJ:

What is he called? [unclear]

WC:

Kilimanjaro. He changed his name to Kilimanjaro.

WJ:

I haven't seen him lately.

WC:

Now [Samuel] Proctor was president [of A&T] at that time. What did you think of Proctor? Was Proctor—would you go to Proctor and talk to Proctor about the students and the whole thing?

WJ:

Yes.

WC:

And what was his kind of response? Has he hanging back or was he in there or what?

WJ:

Proctor, I would say, was right down the middle. He was right down the middle.

WC:

He wasn't encouraging the students, but he wasn't discouraging them.

WJ:

He was staying right where he ought to be in his position, in my opinion. If I wanted information, I got it. As far as can think right offhand, Proctor never hedged. The same way with Dr. [Lewis C.] Dowdy, who's there now, in later years.

WC:

So they would be cooperative with you—

WJ:

I can't—as far as faulting those two gentlemen, no. No. And there were others in the administration down there that were outstanding, as far as I'm concerned, who are still there.

WC:

Who would they be, [William H.] Gamble?

WJ:

I'd rather not call their names.

WC:

Okay, okay. But you thought they were good.

WJ:

I know they were. I know they were. I know they were. And I'll tell you a man who didn't hide anything he did down—there was a great factor in helping control these students at a later date, the latter part, Coach [Bill] Bell. In my opinion, he is a great handler of young people. He's a fine individual.

WC:

The football coach?

WJ:

Yes. He's now the athletic director, I believe, down there. He quit, and I hated to see him give up his coaching [unclear].

WC:

Did Jesse play football?

WJ:

I believe he did.

WC:

I think he did.

WJ:

I believe he did. I believe he was captain of the team [unclear] outstanding. I don't think no [laughs] New York Giants or nobody grabbed hold of him and wanted him, but nevertheless, I think he played. I don't know much about college football. The last time I saw a college football game was when Duke [University] and [University of] Pitt[sburgh] played in a snowstorm in 1937 or '38.

WC:

Wow. [laughs]

WJ:

That was the last time I set down in the stands and saw college football. I was going to see [University of North] Carolina and Duke, maybe it was, here a few years ago. My daughter and her husband were living over in Chapel Hill, and her husband was doing his residency at Memorial Hospital there, and she was pregnant, and they had season tickets to the football games. And she said, “Daddy, if you'll come down, we'll go to this football game.” And this was just a short time before the baby was expected.

I said, “All right. We'll come, and we'll go. What if you get pain while we're there?”

She said, “There'll be plenty of doctors there.” [laughter]

WJ:

I said, “All right.” [laughter]

WC:

That's the truth.

WJ:

So the baby came on Wednesday when we were going to the football game on the Saturday, and it knocked me out of seeing my football game.

WC:

That's too bad. Those are good games, especially the Carolina-Duke games. They're a lot of fun.

Well, after the '63 demonstrations, things were pretty quiet for a while, weren't they?

WJ:

Yes, there were a few years there that were very quiet, I remember.

WC:

And Jesse Jackson was still there.

WJ:

No, no.

WC:

Didn't he stay through '64?

WJ:

Sixty-four? Well, now, Jesse, he hung around here, but I believe Jesse graduated in '63.

WC:

Oh, he did?

WJ:

I believe that's right. He wasn't a great factor in there.

WC:

Didn't he go to work for Governor [Terry] Sanford?

WJ:

He may have; I don't know. He was going to go—he was supposed to have gotten a scholarship to the divinity school at Duke, and that never materialized or something and he didn't go. [unclear] I knew Jesse's granddaddy who used to sell peanuts in a little steam thing on East Market Street years ago.

WC:

No kidding.

WJ:

A fine old gentleman, fine old gentleman. Had a little peanut stand.

WC:

So Jesse grew up in Greensboro?

WJ:

Yes, his people—he was originally from here. He was reared, I think, over in Greenville, South Carolina, mostly, but his people were from here.

WC:

I didn't know that. So things were pretty quiet for three or four years, and then they heated up again.

WJ:

Yes, then they heated up again down there in the schools, in the public schools and in the colleges. [There was] lots of trouble [unclear].

WC:

Were you involved in the Dudley High School fracas in—well, before we get to that, let's talk about after Dr. King was assassinated. There was some trouble then.

WJ:

We had some demonstrations there, but there was not any trouble; it was very minor compared to these others along in there. We kind of expected the day Dr. King was assassinated—he was assassinated somewhere around three or four o'clock in the afternoon, and we thought we was going to have something that night. We did have some demonstrations, but not enough to really get upset about. And it calmed down.

WC:

It didn't last that long.

WJ:

No.

WC:

So the next year was really the big blow-up.

WJ:

The next year we had—it was in the school, Dudley High School. I went in down there one day, and the public relations man for the city schools was with me, Owen—

WC:

Lewis?

WJ:

Lewis.

WC:

Yeah.

WJ:

Lewis, Owen. Owen Lewis. The first time in my life I ever walked away from a man who kicked my butt. And it was in a situation in that school—I went in there and moved around, and one of the A&T students was in there. And I turned around and he kicked me in the butt, but I just kept on going, because under the circumstances at that time, it would not have been wise or sensible in any way, shape, or form to become riled, and I continued to walk.

WC:

So you went into the school with Owen Lewis.

WJ:

He was with me [unclear]. He followed along with me. Owen went right along in there.

WC:

And the students were outside or inside protesting?

WJ:

This was in the gymnasium.

WC:

In the gymnasium.

WJ:

And they were in there trying to make a speech and carrying on. And they were standing up on the tables and all this.

WC:

Now these were the A&T students?

WJ:

A&T students [unclear].

WC:

Vincent McCullough, I know. Mr. [Nelson] Johnson—

WJ:

Vincent McCullough was involved in that.

WC:

I think Johnson—

WJ:

Vincent McCullough, I didn't know who he was at that particular time, and I didn't see him anymore and couldn't identify him until later one morning bright and early, on the A&T campus. He crossed the street in front of me, and we saw him, found out who he was, issued a warrant for him, and arrested him. Now Vincent, I don't know where he is now; he's probably in a penitentiary somewhere.

WC:

He's not around here.

WJ:

He's not around here. And there was a warrant on him, and he was in Louisiana, supposedly in school, law school.

WC:

What was he wanted for?

WJ:

He and some money orders got mixed up. I wouldn't doubt if Vincent McCullough was in a penitentiary.

WC:

So you went in, and McCullough was there, and I think Johnson was there, too, in the gymnasium at that time.

WJ:

He probably was; I'm not sure now.

WC:

And they were having a rally of some sort?

WJ:

They were trying to coordinate the students within the school, trying to get the students, the high school students, to [unclear].

WC:

There were some students outside already, weren't there, picketing? Did you see what happened when the police came, when the picketers were there? Because you have different accounts: one account says that some of the students were hit by the police.

WJ:

No students there, to my knowledge, were hit, and I was there most all the time. There was a staged wreck.

WC:

A staged wreck?

WJ:

Yes. And John Marshall Stevenson—I'm pretty sure—I'm pretty sure in my own mind that that wreck was being staged—the wreck that was being staged was to involve me, and somebody else just happened to come by.

WC:

Outside.

WJ:

Yes, on the street.

WC:

In the street.

WJ:

John Marshall Stevenson and I were talking, and if it hadn't been for John Marshall Stevenson saying something to me, it would have come off like I think it was intended to have me involved in it.

WC:

Would the car be driven by a black?

WJ:

John Marshall Stevenson and I have always been friendly. I haven't anything against him, not anything in this world. But he was always [unclear]. In the latter part, he was close by. He had his little newspaper, you know. I don't know if he's still with the college or not.

WC:

I think he is, yes. So there was the demonstration outside, and some of the students were arrested, right? I think they were.

WJ:

They probably were.

WC:

The young people. They probably would have been arrested by the juvenile division, and then they wouldn't have been booked, probably, but whatever happens when—. And then later on it moved over to A&T. Could you just talk about how that developed at A&T as you perceived it? I mean—

WJ:

At this point, when this [unclear] A&T and it came in over to that part, I was eased away.

WC:

You were eased away?

WJ:

I was eased away.

WC:

By your superiors?

WJ:

Yes. And I was never informed, kept informed as to activities and things that were going on over there. You are getting to the area now where the young man [Willie Grimes] was killed over there on the campus and where the officers were shot. At this particular point I was not informed. I was not being kept informed. I was not in charge of those details. Someone else took it over.

WC:

Who took it over? Do you remember the man's name?

WJ:

Members of the police department.

WC:

Members of the police department, okay.

WJ:

And then I was not informed. I was kind of like a bastard at a family reunion. When the young man was killed down there, I was called to do some checking, and I went and talked with his family in Greenville, North Carolina. Another one was shot down there by someone other than a police officer, a student walking down the sidewalk. And he's still around here. I can't—he's a fine individual, a fine young man. I talked to him in the infirmary there [unclear]. And that type of thing, they would put to me. But the other part of it, they didn't. When the National Guard was getting ready to go in there, I knew about it when I happened to bump into them in front of the old stadium on Bagley Street, which is behind the school, as they were getting ready to go in. That's when I knew about it. I didn't know anything about it. And they had kind of relieved me of my situation.

In the meantime, I had been called to A&T campus by some of the faculty and some of the student body and some of the organizations to sit in conference with them. And that's where I told you a while ago I went there when some of my people actually were afraid for me to go. But I went anyhow, because I thought it was my duty. And I brought back the information that I had and passed it on, and I was still pushed back. There's a little jealousy everywhere you go, and this is what, in my opinion, what caused it.

WC:

Who called you to go to that meeting, Dowdy?

WJ:

No, no, no. Bell called me.

WC:

Coach Bell. And the students there were leaders of the A&T student government?

WJ:

Yes, sir. Yes, sir. The athletic association, those boys had crept in and were controlling lots of stuff, helping hold it down.

WC:

There were professors there, too?

WJ:

Yes, and they were working to try to get the thing calmed down.

WC:

And were the leaders of the movement there, the student government? Would Johnson or McCullough have been there?

WJ:

No, neither one of them was there. Johnson was a student in name only. He enrolled, and he also was enrolled at UNCG to take a course over there, and merely to be able to get on the campus. This is all he was doing there. Vince McCullough was the president of the student body at A&T. He was supposed to have been a student there. Living off campus, living right behind the old Greensboro Daily News office on what's now Trinity Avenue. But these were mostly the athletes, a good kind of people, a nice bunch of people. I set down and talked with them.

And the night the shooting took place down there, I didn't go on the campus until I went in and picked those three officers up that got shot.

WC:

You picked them up. You hadn't been there before that?

WJ:

No, I hadn't been on the campus.

WC:

And you think it was just jealousy that resulted in your being pulled away?

WJ:

This is something I'd rather not be quoted on.

WC:

Sure, let me shut this off.

[Recording paused]

WC:

After the '69 demonstrations, there were also things like the cafeteria workers' strike, the sanitation strike, things like that. Would you have been involved in any of that kind of—

WJ:

Well, The sanitation business was not to amount to anything, no trouble over there. And the cafeteria workers never did amount to a whole lot. And as far as talking with people, that was all I did on that work. It really didn't amount to anything.

WC:

Would you have been involved in all of the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce's activities during these years when it was trying to promote better relations in the community?

WJ:

I would talk with the members of the chamber and the staff over there. They had some people over there that were very instrumental in this thing. We had-one guy that was over there with the chamber of commerce at that time had a black wife. And he didn't last too long after that. He left. He's gone on [unclear].

WC:

It wasn't [Hal] Sieber was it?

WJ:

Who?

WC:

Sieber.

WJ:

Sieber.

WC:

Is that the name?

WJ:

Yes.

WC:

He didn't have a black wife.

WJ:

She's not white. She might be Oriental.

WC:

Yes. She's not black.

WJ:

She's not black.

WC:

But did you—

WJ:

Sieber was a—[pause].

[Recording paused]

WC:

One of the things that was written about at least in some of the newspapers was this whole question of promotion of black officers within the department, and there were some resignations of black police from the police department, and one of the claims was that there was not enough encouragement given to black officers to be promoted beyond the rank of sergeant. Do you have any feelings about that issue or any recollections about those stories?

WJ:

I'm not going to comment on that.

WC:

Okay.

WJ:

If you'd like to talk man-to-man sometime, I'll be glad to tell you.

WC:

Okay, I think we'll just shut this off.

[Recording paused]

[Chafe's notes on Jackson's off-the-records statements are redacted]

[End of interview]