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Oral History Interview with Susie Jones by William Chafe


Date: circa 1978

Interviewee: Susie Jones

Biographical abstract: Susie Williams Jones (1892-1984) served as registrar of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, during her husband David's tenure as president of the college from 1926 to 1956.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This oral history interview conducted by William Chafe circa 1978 with Susie Williams Jones primarily documents Ms. Jones’ memories of Bennett College, desegregation, and Greensboro, North Carolina, during the forties and fifties. Jones recalls her first experience with discrimination when Berea College was segregated; moving to Greensboro; her husband’s appointment to the school board; the lack of racial violence in Greensboro; the election of Dr. William Hampton to city council and its effects; the role of the Greensboro Community Fellowship; community education initiatives preceding school desegregation; the formation of the Susie B. Dudley YWCA; the YWCA’s missed opportunities; reasons why she left the board; and competition between the Dudley and Davie Street YWCAs.

Jones also recalls her husband, David Jones, hiring only black bricklayers to construct a dormitory, educating them in bricklaying techniques instead of laying them off; his encouraging Bennett students to only spend their money where they were treated well; Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to Bennett and the controversy of inviting black and white school children to attend; Bennett's voter registration drive through Operation Door Knock; the roles of faculty members Edwin Edmonds, Hobart Jarret, and Elizabeth Laizner; Bennett students' protest of films which portrayed only black stereotypes; and the arrest of students during the sit-ins.

Other topics include: unification of the Methodist church; Methodist women’s involvement in school desegregation; the Cone family; School Board Superintendent Ben Smith; John and Betsy Taylor; the South’s ability to change compared to the North’s; the Quakers’ presence in Greensboro; and Henry Wallace’s visit to Durham.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.659

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 Susie Jones by William Chafe

Susie Jones:

And my first racial experience was when they put the Negro students out of Berea College. And I was quite young when this happened, but I can remember the discussions at my house. The president at that time was a man by the name of [William Goodell] Frost. But both my mother and father graduated from Berea—from the college department. They knew Dr. [John G.] Fee and Dr. [Edward] Fairchild, who was president at the time.

And I will tell you, my youngest son, who went to [Phillips Academy] Andover, when he got to Andover, he was asked by his Latin teacher who had taught him Latin. And he told him that he didn't study it in school, but his grandmother had taught him. And he said, “Well, you're the best prepared person [unclear].” But we have meant a great deal to them.

This was my first racial experience, and I can remember sitting up on the stairway listening at these heated discussions that went on downstairs.

William Chafe:

And when would that have been? Around 1915 or '20?

SJ:

Oh, it was—oh, much, much earlier.

WC:

Earlier than that?

SJ:

Because, you see, I—this year, I'll be eighty-six, and so this was much earlier than that.

WC:

Yeah.

SJ:

Well, now, this is Mr. [David D.] Jones' home, Greensboro is. And we came here when they changed Bennett [College] from a co-ed college—or a co-ed institution, because they didn't have too much college—to a women's college, and that's when we came here. And I had four children when we came. The college was just a very drab situation, and so I have—the first years, you know, took all of my time to take care of these children and to help as I could. So this is my endeavors at—I came here with the college, and then my experience dates to the church and the women's work of the church, which I was very active in at the time of the union of the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Protestant, and the Methodist Church. So in addition to that, I saw Mr. Jones work in this community, and so I think some of the things I hope I can remember by the actual incidents that shows you the cross-currency of the community.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

And then, I myself, after the children grew up—well, Mr. Jones was ill for a year before he died, and I just cut off all my activities because I focused on what my responsibilities were in the home. And I have not been very active since that time because I also have lost my oldest son, and all of this has, you know, been very difficult at this age.

WC:

Right, certainly.

SJ:

So that—what I—what—my answers may be kind of fragmented, but I'll do the best I can. [laughs]

WC:

Right, great. Actually, maybe you can start by not necessarily going—maybe we can jump around a little bit.

SJ:

Okay.

WC:

You're mentioning—I know your husband was on the school board when the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision came down—

SJ:

That's right.

WC:

—and I remember reading one of his comments, which was that Greensboro had the chance to lead the South and the nation. I wondered whether he felt reasonably confident about the school board at that point.

SJ:

Well, let me go back a little bit.

WC:

Please.

SJ:

You know—and this is what social changes I remember very early—Dr. [Walter Clinton] Jackson, who was chancellor at the Woman's College [now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro], said that we go from here to here, but we don't know what takes us here in some circumstances. And I think that it's interesting to know where the work has been done in a community like this.

Now, we had a young doctor who came here, Dr. [William] Hampton. I know you've heard his name.

WC:

Yes, yes.

SJ:

And he was very civic-minded, and he worked very hard. But prior to Dr. Hampton's activities, there was a judge here by the name of York[?]—that's York—and he was on the Bennett board of trustees. And he told David at one time, he said, “You know, I just don't make any campaign, but I just—wherever I am, I just drop a word and say, 'You know, I think we—Greensboro ought to have a Negro on the city council.' And I just drop the word. I don't go into any reason, but I consciously do this, and I just say it over and over again.”

Now, I considered that part of the seeds that were sewn so that when Dr. Hampton ran for the council, seem he had this great white support in the community. He became a member of the council. And then he came to my husband, David, and said to him, “If—” now, he said, “You know, in politics, you do a lot of trading, and I've been helping a lot of the members, doing favors for them. But if you are asked to serve on the school board, will you serve?”

And David said, “Yes.” But he also said, “Now, you know, it's not going to be one of these things that'll take time, but when the time comes, I will have earned enough to say to the members of the council that this is what I want you to support.” And so this is what happened in regard to this.

Now, there were two very wonderful people on that school board. One was the chairman. And this is purely aside, but you know my youngest son has been made a director of Burlington Industries, and they—the first annual meeting he attended was just last week—

WC:

Really?

SJ:

And the—one of the men he sat by, and one of the men who spoke to him first to say how glad he was to meet him, was the president of the Greensboro school board. And he said, “You know, I worked with your father, and I had great admiration for him.”

WC:

Yes.

SJ:

And the other person was a woman, Mrs. Sarah Mendenhall Brown. And so Greensboro was one of the first cities.

WC:

Yeah. Was this other man Dr.—Mr. [Edward] Hudgins?

SJ:

Yes.

WC:

Yes, right, right. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

SJ:

Well, now, that is that. You know, we were never able to understand Greensboro. You would think that nothing was going on. Negro housing was terrific. And you'd think there was nothing going on, and you'd get so discouraged. But if you came to a crisis of any kind, and people felt that something terrible was going to happen—I can remember—and I don't remember the details on this—but there was a rape or something or robbery. They pinned it on a Negro, and they were talking about lynching and all of that. But, you know, it just never happens. There is something here that just—you can be disappointed in the progress, but there is something here that is just so fundamental that it never, it never goes overboard.

WC:

So that it—the thing that's here keeps the bad things from happening.

SJ:

That is right.

WC:

But does it make the good things happen?

SJ:

It doesn't always. You know, you can get—you can think, well now, my dear, this is a community. But when we came here, you know, there was this Dr. Knight, who was at university, and he used to say that North Carolinians were twilight storytellers, you know. They had all these images in their mind. But at the same time, there was a—

And I thought Mr. Jones had many instances, got away with a lot of things that you would have thought he would've never gotten away with. I can remember they banked at a certain bank, and—of course, the money had to be carried down there. And he asked—he found out that the bank furnished satchels for this, and so he requested a satchel. Now, you know, in the early days, Bennett was very, very poor, very meager. He requested a satchel, and they hemmed and hawed. See, just something simple like that, they hemmed and hawed. And he said, “That's all right. I'll just move the account.” And Mr. Calhoun was president of the bank then. That afternoon he came out himself with a satchel. [laughs]

And then I can remember when we got our first money to build buildings. There was one clause in all the contracts, and that clause was that Negro labor would be hired as long as—Negro labor was to be given the preference.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

Well, this was a dormitory that's right here, close to the house. And the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce met—several representatives did-and told him they thought he was making a terrible mistake, that the unions were strong, you know, in construction, and they thought he was making a terrible mistake. And he said to them, “Well, then I'm in the wrong place,” he said, “because I'm not building buildings; I'm building a college. And I'll send the money back to the people who gave it if I can't have Negroes doing the kind of work they did.” And this was the end of it.

WC:

Yeah.

SJ:

No more—no more discussion. And I can remember one time, in this very building, the man who was the head of the construction said to him one weekend, said, “Well, the bricklayers we'll have to lay off next week”—see, all Negroes—“because they don't know how to make jack arches.” You know what jack arches are? Over windows, you know, they have a way of spraying the bricks? Well, those are jack arches.

WC:

I see.

SJ:

He said, “The men don't know how to make the jack arches, so we'll have to lay them off.”

Well, there was a huge Negro who was head of the bricklayers. And so David went to him and said to him, “You don't know how to make jack arches?”

And he said, “You know, Mr. Jones, we get so little work. We just—the men just—” Now, they kept the plumb line on them, and the wall was just perfect.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

But he said, “We don't know how to make jack arches.” Well, David had a friend who was at Virginia State [College], vice president, and they had industries that they taught their students. So he called him up, and he sent the teacher down here, and those Negroes worked all weekend to learn how to make these jack arches. So the next morning, Monday, when they started to work, they just started the jack arches and nothing was ever said about it again. But the irony of that was that when they made the next—when the built the next building, they had all these jack arches cut at the brickyards, and this is what you could do. Because you see, some of the bricks have to be [unclear], and they did. They just cut them all at the brickyard. But, see, these things were never talked about.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

When he moved on them, they knew he meant what he said.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

So this was it. So during our early days, he would tell the girls, “You do not have to spend your money where they are not polite to you”—just that simple—“in the stores. So just go to a store, and they will—you don't have to make any to do about it, but just leave and go to a store where people are courteous to you.” And so I can remember the time the business bureau said the best paying group in Greensboro was the Bennett College group. They could always tell a Bennett girl when she came to town. And the teachers took care of their responsibilities, so that this was a kind of undergirding, you see.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

But there were always people in the community that understood what he was trying to do. And, you know, this is an amazing thing to me about the South. You know, there was never a slave that escape that some white planter didn't aid and abet it. And you know the story about Harriet Tubman is—and this happens all the time.

Now, one of the most valued members—and I'll put this in here for fear I'll forget it, but I'll come back after—one of our most valued members was Mrs. Julius Cone [Laura]. And I can remember the first time I ever saw her. We used to attend the meetings of the Americans for Democratic Action, wasn't it? And they were held at the courthouse. And I can remember seeing this very distinguished woman with her husband marching right down to the front seat. [laughs] And I found out it was Mr. and Mrs. Julius Cone. Well, I said to her one day, I said, “Where did you get your ideas about race and economics?”

And she said to me, “Do you know the eastern part of this state?”

And I said, “Oh, yes.”

And she said, “Well, I grew up in the eastern part of this state. And I can remember as a child I was very fond of the laundress, and I called her a lady. And the children”—and you know, this is so sad to me—“the children went to my mother and told her that I had called the laundress a lady. And my mother called me and she said, 'Laura, you never speak as a Negro woman—about a Negro woman—as a lady.'” But she said, “You know, it didn't make any difference to me what my mother said, because I still thought she was a lady.”

So there were people like that, that I think you see. And she was chairman of buildings and grounds. She would pick up lamp bases in Europe. She would carry them all down here, because she understood Mr. Jones' idea that everything around the college educates, and that you couldn't teach girls principles of design, or you couldn't teach them good nutrition and not have the dormitories and the dining hall exemplify what you were teaching.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

Now, her interest came from Dr. [Walter Clinton] Jackson [chancellor of Woman's College, now UNCG]. And you know that he originated at—during his time—these courses on race relationship, and she was one of his students. And I can remember when Judge York had to give up his position on the board of education—on the Bennett board. Why, David went to Dr. Jackson, who was on the board, and said, “You know, I would love to get a Southern woman on the board.”

And Dr. Jackson said, “Well, I have the name of the woman for you, but whether she will serve or not, you'll have to find out.”

And so I think, you see, that this was another source of this underground that—and, you know, a great testing time of this was when Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt visited us.

WC:

Yes, I'd like to hear about that.

SJ:

Well, when Mrs. Roosevelt visited us, Mrs. Cone entertained. And David sent an invitation to Ben Smith, who was then superintendent of schools, for the children to come and see it. And it was just to be an outdoor campus thing, you know. She would speak from the front of the chapel and, you know, as many children who wanted to could come. Well, we were taking everything in stride and thought we had all arrangements made and things were moving long all right, and then suddenly, Dr. Jackson—well, don't let me use the name because I'm not quite certain about that—suddenly, somebody called David and said, “You know, you've created a great furor in the city, and you have put Ben Smith in an awful position by inviting all of the children to come and meet Mrs. Roosevelt.”

And David said to him, “I have had no feelings about this. I was trying to give the schoolchildren a chance to meet the wife—to see the wife of the President of the United States. And if I have embarrassed Mr. Smith, I will call him and withdraw the invitation or apologize to him, because I had no desire.”

Well, we had a hard time getting Mr. Smith that day because he was in meetings. David finally got him. And he said, “Now, Mr. Jones, you know what Elbert Herbert[?] said: There's no use to explain. Your friends don't need it, and your enemies won't believe it.” And he said, “You go right ahead with your plans. Mrs. Smith and I will be there tonight to sit on the platform.” So, you see, it's very interesting.

Now, one of Dr. Jackson's favorite quotes was, “The gods bring threads to a web begun.” And, you know, it—there were always these people in the community who were not necessarily crusaders, but who had a great commitment. They must have had, because, you see, these were things that were not traditional. And that night, of course, the mayor—Dr. Jackson presided, and the audit—the chapel was crowded, and people who came—who wanted to see her came, and those who didn't, they weren't missed. There was no—there never has been any discrimination in seating. Everybody who came through the years—through the early years—just sat wherever, so that nobody expected to be taken special care of.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

But this is what I'm talking about, this undergirding.

WC:

Yes, yes.

SJ:

And even though he had great support from the school because—and this is a little bit ahead, maybe—but, you know, he was the Negro who protested the central jurisdiction when the churches united. And this was also a great—a great furor because there were people who said—at the conference—said he wasn't fit to be president of a Methodist college. And some of our trustees, even, you know, did not go along with this. But, you know, life is very strange. We saw every one—now, this is the white group—we saw every one of them feeling they had wished that unification had never happened, but they never felt until it affected them. And then when it affected them and their prestige, they—because the woman who was head of the Women's Home Missionary Society—which was one of the organizations that founded the college—said, “You know, if I could vote against unification, I—four times. If I had four votes, I'd cast each one of them against unification.” But never really began to affect her, see. So that when—and I'm talking about the support of the Negro group—when it came to the conference here, our annual conference—because each annual conference happened—the bishop, who was a Bishop Brown[?], would not take a voice vote. He demanded that the men stand up and be counted. You see, that was terribly intimidating, but they said, “No.” They voted against it.

But when they came to the celebration of the unification thing—see, Greensboro was one place where you had all three of the Methodists. You had Methodist Protestant, Methodist, and then you had Methodist Episcopal, because the Holston Conference from Tennessee was in this area. They sent him way out here to a Presbyterian church out on [chuckles]—not even—didn't even give him an assignment in a Methodist church. And that afternoon, mid-afternoon—now, we knew they were in town—mid-afternoon, our doorbell rang, and here were Bishop and Mrs. Brown. [laughs]

WC:

Wow.

SJ:

But, you know, there's all of this—well, you know, I think we have to learn to use all of the tools—

WC:

—tools that are available?

SJ:

Yeah.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

But it could get terribly disheartening at times.

WC:

I'm sure it must have frequently gotten that way. Just going back to the Dr. Jackson and Eleanor Roosevelt story, what is Dr. Jackson's first name?

SJ:

W.C. Walter C.

WC:

Walter C. Jackson.

SJ:

Walter Clinton Jackson.

WC:

Okay. And do you remember what year that was? Was that '39 or '40 that she came?

SJ:

I'm so poor on years.

WC:

Okay. I can check it out.

SJ:

I can find out definitely for you.

WC:

Okay.

SJ:

If you'll make a list of the dates when they come—dates—

WC:

Okay. Fine.

SJ:

—I will—I can find out definitely for you.

WC:

Okay. That would be good. That would be great. So did the schoolchildren ever come that day?

SJ:

Oh, yes.

WC:

They did? Good, good.

SJ:

All of them came, you know, white and colored.

WC:

Right, right.

SJ:

And how—what could happen to them standing up on the campus, no seats or anything? And everybody was happy about the visit. Now, you know, not everybody, because, you see, North Carolina was very ugly to Mrs. Roosevelt.

WC:

Yes.

SJ:

But nevertheless, it was a happy occasion, you know. [laughs] The papers carried a byline: The Negroes and the Jews had a big evening with the wife of the president.

WC:

Oh, dear.

SJ:

But, you know, at this time, the Jews were very popular. I mean the Cone family was very popular.

WC:

I need to someday see a family tree on that family because I keep on running into about eight different Cones.

SJ:

Yes.

WC:

And I don't know what the relationship is to each other, but I need to someday find that out.

SJ:

Well, I tell you, the family is a fascinating family. Now, they are all—they've got this division in interests. Some of them are interested in business, but they have this highly aesthetic stream in the family. And you know, it was their sister, Elizabeth—I'm talking about in the first generation—their sisters, Etta and Claribel Cone who, you know, collected all of the art of the early impressionistic paintings.

WC:

I didn't know that.

SJ:

And they lived in Baltimore, so when they died, they not only left this valuable collection, but they also left money to build an addition to the museum there to house it.

WC:

I see. I didn't know that.

SJ:

And in the next generation, for instance, Mrs. Julius Cone's son is in music, and there's another nephew that's in music. They're just kind of divided that way.

WC:

Right. That's very interesting. So I take it then that both you and your husband felt that Ben Smith was a friend.

SJ:

Oh, yes.

WC:

And did—when the school board voted after the Brown decision to comply, and when Dr. Jones made his comment about Greensboro having a chance to lead the South, did he have doubts about some members of the board, or did he think that it was really going to go through?

SJ:

No. If he had any doubts, they weren't enough to—you know, he said to me one time—very interesting thing about Mr. Smith. Now, Mr. Smith was very warm and very sensitive, and I don't think David was alone in feeling a great admiration for him. But I think the other Negroes realized that he worked a great—against great handicaps—I mean great obstacles—but that, you know, his heart and his desires—and I can remember before he died, they had the first meeting—see, this is after desegregation-had the first meeting of white and Negro teachers. And I can remember the friends telling me his opening remarks was to this effect, you know: “It feels so wonderful to be here this morning. It's just like it ought to be,” he said.

So that to the end—and then, you know, he named a school for Mr. Jones, before Mr. Jones died. And this was an unusual thing because they were naming schools—you know, they generally name schools after people who are gone. But he was a great friend, and he was a great supporter. And David used to say to him, you know, “I sit there in the board meetings and watch him,” and says, “He's just like a bulldog. He just won't let go. He just keeps on until he gets his ideas over.” And in this situation—I don't know how you have found it—somebody's got to be willing to offer the leadership.

WC:

That's right. Take the burden and move.

SJ:

Yes.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

This is right. And while there was no attachment of “radical” to him, he knew what he wanted, and he worked on it, see.

WC:

Right. Yeah. Go ahead. You were going to say something else.

SJ:

Well, I was going to tell you-do you want me to talk about what we did to get ready for the desegregation?

WC:

Yes. I would like it very much. Let me just check my machine here and see if it's—yeah, it's fine. Go ahead.

SJ:

Well, when we got—now, there was an organization in Greensboro called the Greensboro [Community] Fellowship, and this was an attempt to—we realized we were facing, and this organization grew out of an attempt to get white and colored at least together in one area.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

I can remember a meeting we had down to the Y[WCA] that was, you know, pointing to this. So that we had this kind of a meeting, and we used to meet once a month for lunch. And Mr. and Mrs. John Taylor—he seemed very interesting. He was the son of a missionary, you know, just like Henry Luce's father was a missionary. And, you know, they said when Henry Luce's father came to this country, after Luce had come, he said, “I fear for him, because that's too much power.” But, you know, they do have certain backgrounds—

WC:

Right.

SJ:

—that they can't get away from. So John Taylor was in real estate. Now, his wife, I think, got her ideas in the YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association], because she came along at the time when the YWCA was a great frontier, you know. But he opened his—he owned Holiday Inn North, and he opened it for these luncheons. And then I found out something that I also later had to emphasize in working with Methodist women: The South moves more easily when laws are passed. And so in this fellowship, John Taylor kept saying, “If we could get a law on public accommodations, then everybody would open up. If we could get a law on open housing, then everybody would feel supportive.”

Now, I don't think the North is that way about laws. I may be wrong. But I think in the South, see, they have—this gives them a background. Of course, you know, this thing is so highly emotional, and I've often thought that the law kept them from clarifying their old thinking—you understand what I mean—and they could just say, “This is what the law is.”

WC:

That's right. We have to do it, so let's—

SJ:

Yes.

WC:

—not ask the other questions.

SJ:

That is it.

WC:

Right, right.

SJ:

So after the—we found out the schools were going to be desegregated, these women got together—Negro and white—largely out of this interest in the Fellowship. And I thought they did a magnificent job. We visited families that were going to have children that were going into these schools, and we—the women took the mother and the child to register where the mother seemed too timid.

And then we also had a kindergarten that summer for children—black and white, but mostly black—where we worked with children, you know, on the basic things, you know, keeping in line and your behavior and things like that. And I thought that kindergarten was—now, it never was evaluated, but I thought it made a great success.

WC:

And that was at Bennett, too, wasn't it?

SJ:

Yes, the kindergarten was at Bennett.

WC:

Didn't that kindergarten—right, right.

SJ:

Mrs.—oh, and this is where Methodist women played a great part. They had the organization. Methodist women had been working on these problems for years. And while they never did what it was hoped to be done, because they had the organization—see, really I think people had hoped that the church would be the bumper—

WC:

Right.

SJ:

—in this situation. They never did that, but there were always individuals among the Methodist women who knew what this was all about, and who took the nitty-gritty things to do. Now, there was a very smart Jewish girl, young woman, Joanne Bluethenthal.

WC:

Yes, right.

SJ:

And she, I thought, did a tremendous thing, because she is very able, and she is very bright. And she not only worked, but she found the resources to have the sensitivity sessions that gave parents and teachers and students a chance to get off in a way and talk about things. So that I felt that—now, let me go back to this. You know, Greensboro immediately adopted this, but, you see, the state held them back.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

And so this is a thing that, when you're talking about the Greensboro situation, that you can't—you must remember that they didn't move on from this start because the state held them back and said they must move as a state. And so this—but nevertheless, when school opened, why, there had been all this work done in the community to make the transition and changes as easy as possible.

WC:

One of the things that—I've done a fair amount of work now in that immediate period of the late fifties, and then again in the activities that Mrs. Bluethenthal was involved in. And I guess one of the things—I do think that Governor [Luther] Hodges was a disaster and that he did more than anybody else to destroy the possibilities for effective change. But I guess I also think that Greensboro—that the white power structure of Greensboro did not come through either.

SJ:

No.

WC:

That even given what Hodges had done, if Spencer Love, if the Cones, if other people who really had the power in Greensboro had come out solidly behind the school board and Ben Smith, a lot of things could've been different.

SJ:

Well, you see, this is what I mean when I say it's disappointing.

WC:

Yes.

SJ:

Because you feel like all of the essentials are here. Now I have never heard anybody describe this so that it answers my questions, but I am quite sure—now, you know, there's a—and when you said “Populism,” I was very interested in this because, you know, the [W.J.] Cash book [The Mind of the South], you know.

WC:

Yes.

SJ:

And I think North Carolina, see, was very different from Virginia and from South Carolina. And I think—you know, I think we're still going through that struggle. Look at the struggle the unions are going through right now. And I don't think the unions are going to let up, you know.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

I can remember when we came here in '26, oh, the terrific struggle that was going on around Gastonia, you know, people getting killed and all. And the organizers were trying to show that the poor whites and the Negroes, that their plight was—

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

SJ:

—a story about the Cones. Now you know they married—The Cone men married, in many instances, their secretaries and things like that. So one of them had gone to Wrightsville Beach, and she called her husband and told him that they wouldn't give her her reservation. Now see she was she was gentile. They wouldn't give her her reservation and what should she do except get on the train and come home? So you see these waves of anti-Semitism. And whether this produces a kind of basic insecurity, I'm not sure.

Now the Quakers are interesting here, but you know Guilford [College] was the last of the colleges that admitted Negro students. I can remember my introduction to the Quakers was Dr. [Raymond] Binford, who was president before Dr. [Clyde] Milner, explaining that there were Northern Quakers and Southern Quakers. And you see, although Guilford was a station of the Underground Railroad, all of that, see, you have this accommodation with the—with the prevailing power.

WC:

Right, right. Do you remember when Dr. [Herbert] Aptheker came here?

SJ:

I just remember vaguely.

WC:

He said he stayed at your house, I think he said, or he stayed at Dr. [Ferdinand] Bluford's [president at North Carolina A&T College] house, one of the two.

SJ:

Yes.

WC:

But it seemed that he came here in the middle of that red scare thing, and I was surprised that there had been, I guess—I was surprised that there hadn't been more opposition to his being here, or that he had been here in the first place. I guess I was surprised at that.

SJ:

Well, I don't remember the visit, and it may be that he stayed with Dr. Bluford. But I must tell you that you know there're just loads of stories. There's a Mr. Logan[?] that lives in Durham. And you know Frank [Porter] Graham formed this organization that sort of took the place of an interracial committee, you know. And there were great many people that were very interested in that organization. And so they were in it, and we literally saw the communists take over.

So when [Henry A.] Wallace ran the second time—And it's so funny; this is when my age shows. I can't remember this girl's name. She was very prominent in this organization, and really ran for governor. She's one of a family that lives in Reids[ville]—that had come out of Reidsville. Her brother edited a paper, and her sister was supposed to be secretary of Drew Pearson. She was supposed to be the one who writes [unclear].

And when he came, when Wallace came to this state, it was a very dangerous procedure and visit. And when he got to Durham, they did not know what was the best house—Now he came through here. He just spoke here and went on to Durham. And Mr. Logan, this Negro man, who was a man of some means, said he would entertain him. And I have talked with Mr. Logan about this. He sat up all night in his attic window with a shotgun. And the next morning he found out that there were also all these boys behind the bushes in his yard [laughs], so that nothing would happen to Mr. Wallace. So that there are all of these forces at work.

WC:

At the same time, yeah. That's interesting. That's really interesting. That was in the '48 election of the Progressive Party.

SJ:

This is right. This is right.

WC:

Let me ask a little—to move back a little into your activities in the YWCA, if I could, I'd like—One of the things that I guess intrigues me is that for a number of years the YWCA was certainly the only place where interracial luncheons were held in the downtown area.

SJ:

Interracial meetings.

WC:

Interracial meetings. And then of course there's this whole question of the relationship between the [Susie B.] Dudley branch of the YWCA and the Davie Street branch, which then over the years develops into much more of a merged organization. And you were, I think, involved in the founding of the Dudley Y in '46, and then of course on the board of nominations and things like that throughout the fifties as well. I wondered how much—I was impressed that, for example, when the Dudley branch of the Y was formed in the forties, that you had about a thousand charter members. That's an enormous amount of work and people. How did that happen?

SJ:

Well now, here again—I don't know if I can explain this to you or not—you know I—my parents lived in St. Louis [Missouri]. And my mother—They did not put any Negro women on the national board, but they had a sort of advisory committee. And my mother was on this advisory committee, which was national. And so I had these contacts of—of a very vital YWCA in St. Louis, and then this outreach. Now in addition to that, I have a younger sister who was on the national—who was on the national board. Now she had a very—Well, she had a very unhappy experience, but she did the student work for years. And then she went to OPA [Office of Price Administration]. She went at the founding, [Carolyn Ware?], she went at that before Mrs.—the early days of Mrs. [Harriet] Elliot, and stayed until it was closed out under—was it closed out under Chester Bowles? But it anyhow, she stayed through all of that period, and then became a legislative assistant in Senator [Herbert?] Lehman's office. So that I had all of this YWCA background.

Now you see, in the early days it was the student YWCA. And it was the industrial—see, they had a strong industrial group—that made for this frontier in interracial activities. And when the Dud—when the Negro women got together and formed the YWCA here, I of course was interested and wanted to do whatever I could do. But I got up against an impossible situation and I resigned.

It was difficult for the Negro women to use their independent judgment about things. And I had a strong feeling that in a town this size, we ought to look at the joint—see, this is purely local—and the joint facilities that we could use. The white women—now see, this is just my opinion—the white women were very aggressive and they were trying to raise money. And the two Cones, Caesar—and I can't remember whether Ben was the other one or not—but Caesar, I think it was, was giving to Hayes-Taylor [YMCA—Young Men's Christian Association] and offered the women a grant if they would combine certain of their facilities. And this is what I was interested in. But the women—there was a Mrs. Alice[?], who was president of the board at that time—they did not want the Negro women to accept any of the Cone money, and I always thought they didn't want them to accept it because they wanted to get it for the YWCA, and then deal it out from there.

And I think you see that time has in a way shown that we made unwise decisions, because here they are trying to sell this building. But on the other hand, you know, it's tragic, but the YMCA sometimes has larger membership of women than the YWCA. And the YWCA, from the national board on down, have not been able to promote a program that has been as vital as in those early years. Because you know, really, those other years, like the Methodist church, offered a chance for real martyrdom on the part of Negro—on the part of women, white and colored, too.

WC:

That's interesting, because in trying to understand that issue, I guess I've had two senses about it. One was that in one way this was a way of perpetuating segregation, because it would prevent—In other words, one could say that the Cones wanted to give this money for the Hayes-Taylor joint facility in order to make sure there was no challenge to use the downtown facilities of the white Y and/or the—

SJ:

White YW.

WC:

—white YW, so that in that sense one could see the offer of the money as a kind of very conservative reinforcement. On the other side, I guess you could see it as an opportunity for development and growth on the part of the black community in its own right, which would not necessarily be counterproductive to desegregation when it happened.

SJ:

Well now, I must tell you that I think—and you see this will be very simple for you. I think you have to look at the total progress of that time. See, I do not remember this as an issue, see. I remember the issue was more for a small community to make the best use of its facilities, because at that time—and I must tell you, at that time I also worked on the budget committee of United Fund [now United Way of Greater Greensboro]. And there was a considerable feeling just because the white YWCA had a colored receptionist at the desk. So I don't think that was as much an issue as there was this matter of trying to meet a new pattern, trying to meet the needs of a community, a small community.

I wanted to say this to you, and I don't know what your feeling is about this, but, you know, I think you just have to remember—now I learned very quickly—but you just have to remember, in a small town you deal with certain things that in a big situation you're just not bothered with at all. And this is a considerable adjustment to make in your thinking. So see what I am saying is, if you—as you look back on it, and as you work on it, be sure what was the climate of Greensboro at that time.

WC:

Right.

SJ:

But I can remember that I lost, you know, some of my best friends. One of my closest friends was here—was president of the Negro branch, and I just could not tolerate it, so I just resigned. But you know, she was just so taken over by this white leadership, and I felt they were using us, see, because I felt that—Now, I'm not talking about the motive for giving the money, because I know this is a thing that could be questioned, but it's a part of Southern culture. Caesar Cone was interested in giving this money because of the servants in his home. But on other hand, there were lots of other rich people who had servants, and they were not this altruistic. But I think, you see, the white women knew they could not get the money. He would not give them money. But on the other hand, they did not—You know, they did not want to encourage giving it to the Negro branch.

WC:

I guess that was partly out of a sense that the YMCA would destroy the autonomy of the women.

SJ:

Well, I don't know about that, because, you know, even with its lack of a program, the YWCA moved into this desegregation area with greater ease than the men did. The Central YMCA was kind of a like a gentlemen's club, you know. And the man who was secretary down there was known for his hostility and [unclear]. And I think they—it was just because Negros got so much confidence in themselves [that] when things were opened, they just went. And he saw he couldn't stem the tide. But of course you know that both of these, the YM and the YW, both have—I mean Hayes-Taylor and the Central Y—have a large women's membership. I was interested from that angle, as a community organization.

WC:

Could you tell me a little bit about that experience of being on the finance committee of the Community Chest, or the budget committee, and especially that whole question of when the black receptionist was hired. I've gotten the sense that there were resignations from the YWCA board—

SJ:

Yeah.

WC:

—and that the Community Chest people were very, very upset.

SJ:

That's right.

WC:

How did that express itself? Would they talk about that, for example, with you there?

SJ:

Oh, no. No.

WC:

No.

SJ:

They wouldn't talk about it in the budget committee. You see the budget committee was so set up that you were divided and you worked with certain organizations. So really, when it came to the committee, the total committee's work, you brought in the budgets and you sustained the—I mean, you gave the reasons for the budget, and then you raised the questions about the other budgets, see. I felt that during my time working on it—and I worked on it, oh, I must've worked on three or four years—during my time working on it, I felt there were favored institutions [laughs] and this you understand. See, they were so anxious to preserve a united approach, and there were certain organizations that were terrible threats, you know—Salvation Army and things like that, the Boys' Club. The Boy Scouts could always get their budgets because a lot of the men had been Boy Scouts, you know. But it was a good experience because, you know, it was a side that you had not—you had not had much experience in, you know.

WC:

Right. Well, when the Y hired that black receptionist, what kind of pressure did the Community Chest put on the Y?

SJ:

Well, you know this can be a very subtle thing, you see. They just questioned the budgets, you know. And now, you see, this was such an almost futile gesture. I wasn't on the Y board at this time, so I had nothing to do with it. But you know these organizations get certain pressure from the national, and this is the same thing in a church like the Methodist church or United Council of Church Women [now Church Women United]. See, they get certain pressures from their national organization, so they've got to do something, see. Now of course there were many places where they could have hired a Negro woman, but this was one of the things that was just-But on the other hand, I guess they decided that they had to have a token, sort of a token, so this was it. But the Fund, you know, could question them, but underneath you knew what the problem was.

WC:

What they were really after.

SJ:

Yeah.

WC:

Because I also heard that the woman who was hired there was hired away at double the salary by Dr. Bluford at A&T. And the suggestion at least was that someone had arranged for that to happen.

SJ:

This is right.

WC:

Does that recollection—is that—

SJ:

No, I don't know about that. This is the first time that I have heard about that.

WC:

It's just very interesting—

SJ:

But I just know this is the way they worked.

WC:

Yeah, and it's never written down or—

SJ:

No, no. And in the early days, you know, this was very clear. This was a wonderful thing about Dr. Hampton's election. He was so smart and so independent that people had to respect him. But generally the elections are for people that they know they can handle, you know.

WC:

Right. I would like to ask a little more about that period, particularly in terms of politics. Do you remember Operation Door Knock—

SJ:

Oh, yes. Bennett—Is that what you're talking about?

WC:

Right, yes, yes. I was wondering whether—how deeply you were involved in that.

SJ:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

WC:

If you could talk about that a little bit.

SJ:

This was during Mr. Jones' term. You know we had a home—what we called a homemaking institute. Now you know we were very conscious of the fact that—See, this is a women's college—and what women's fear was and what women could do. And so this was the—an attempt to exercise your civic responsibility. And it was really—We had lots of thrilling experiences with this week. Everybody participated. I mean the whole college participated in it. And while the home economics people were always vital in it, and often the home economics teacher was the president of the committee, it was a college event and there was college representation on the committee. And so this year it was on the use of the ballot. And so faculty and students went out and knocked on doors and found out whether the people—we blocked out an area—whether the people in this area were voting, and followed it up by seeing that they registered and seeing that they voted.

WC:

Now that seems to have come at a time when there was a major increase in registration.

SJ:

That's right.

WC:

It probably caused the major increase in registration.

SJ:

Well, it helped, but it was—You know it was a time in the course of events—because you see, what we would do would be to try to pick out topics. For instance, you see, when Mrs. Roosevelt came, the topic was “The Veteran Comes Home.” And we were addressing ourselves to the problem of the family and the veteran when he returns from war.

But this was quiet an experience, because—you know, I often think about education and whether it's really filling its function as an education for a democracy. And it got faculty and students working together and out so eager, you know. And every night—Because, see, people wouldn't be home in the daytime—every night they would go out. And it was just—you know, just a kind of a thrilling thing—experience.

WC:

Now that seems to have been just before Dr. Hampton's election. I'm trying—I guess at some point I need to pinpoint what date that Operation Door Knock on the voting was, but I think it was '49 or '50.

SJ:

Well, now if you will—If you'll put down—

WC:

Yes, I have.

SJ:

—any dates that you need, I can easily find them out.

WC:

That would be terrific.

SJ:

Because I can, you know, there's a very good home economics teacher-the present home economics teacher has a very good file on the homemaking institute. They don't have them anymore. But she's got a very good file on them, so that I can easily find out the dates of it.

WC:

One of the questions that comes up is one, as I examine the voting records, the voting history, politics of the Greensboro community, there is a candidacy by Reverend [R. C.] Sharp over a number of years for the [Greensboro] City Council, in the late—actually from '33 through I guess '39. And then there are some candidacies during the forties, and then there's the election in which F. A. Mayfield is running, and Mr. [Brody] McCauley was running. Now one of the things that I have heard was—from some other people; I'm not sure, maybe it was someone like, maybe Randolph Blackwell or Vance Chavis told me this—but they said there was a real division in the black community over that election. And I wondered whether you recalled that and whether you would help me to clarify that division or not.

SJ:

No I don't recall that specific thing, but I do know this: you see, after one person opens a door like Dr. Hampton did, then a lot of people feel like they are—“This is what I would like to do.” And so I know that a lot of times there were candidates who had no support at all, who just simply felt that this was a simple thing to do. But this did split the Negro vote. And you know there was a time in there where there when no Negros on the council at all.

WC:

Yeah, from '54 to—I guess from '54 to '60, I think.

SJ:

Yes, no Negros at all. And I think this was—But I think this happens, you know—

WC:

Sure.

SJ:

—after. I think this is kind of a universal experience, but it has some help—it didn't help matters in—.

WC:

Actually the interesting thing is that the—That period of time is also the period of time when there seems to be a general reaction with the Pearsall Plan and Hodges—

SJ:

This is right.

WC:

—on coming down on the negative side of any kind of change.

SJ:

This is right.

WC:

It's in—actually pretty well. Do you remember Reverend [Edwin] Edmonds, Dr. Edmonds?

SJ:

Very well.

WC:

I wondered what some of your recollections of him were.

SJ:

Well, you know he taught here.

WC:

Yes, yes.

SJ:

And I remember the night they burned a cross, because he lived in this little old white house down the street here. He was—[pause] you know, he was the minister. And he—I think he was very committed. And I think that he came down, and there were just a lot of things he was interested in and wanted to do. But here again, you know a small town is also very clannish, and they don't always welcome outside people. So that—Now I think he became president of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], and he was a good teacher. He was an inspiring teacher. But I don't think he was necessarily very happy here, but so that he didn't—I don't remember how long he stayed.

WC:

I think he was here about three years.

SJ:

Yes. But I remember the night they—because this was during—This was after David's death.

WC:

Yes.

SJ:

And I went down there. I called Ms. [Willa] Player [Bennett president after Dr. Jones]. She was living next door here. And I went down there to see what was happening. But he has moved. I think he's still at Springfield.

WC:

He's up in New Haven [Connecticut] now, I think.

SJ:

Oh, New Haven.

WC:

But he seemed to be someone who brought a lot of activism and demand for change into the picture.

SJ:

Yes, but you know you always are up against the matter of affective change, see. And I think he was—I think he had a certain amount of impatience. But you know, I always think that these people make a contribution even when they pass on, and his way of acting, or his program, has made it possible for the NAACP to become an active force in the community. And Dr. [George] Simkins has done a very good job in following through.

WC:

Right, right. Yeah, that's an interesting thing, how someone can come into a place and not necessarily find contentment there, but still make a difference—

SJ:

Yes, this is right.

WC:

—in terms of what will eventually happen.

SJ:

And you know, I really have always felt that in a town this small, these kinds of people made a contribution. They stirred up things. And anybody with deep concerns about things, if they don't do anything else, they'll make you think through your own position.

WC:

Right. Right. [chuckles] That's right. And I have seen Dr. [Hobart] Jarrett. I have talked to Dr. Jarrett.

SJ:

Yes! Yes!

WC:

And he's—

SJ:

Dr. Jarrett was very, very effective at the time of the sit-ins. And Mr. [Edward] Zane—I used to be on the [L.] Richardson [Memorial] Hospital board. Mr. Zane was president on the board, and he would speak about Dr. Jarrett with great admiration. But you see this—You have to remember there are all kinds of people, and Dr. Jarrett fitted what Mr. Zane thought was important, and that was doing the daily work and being—reconciling rather than a confrontation [maker?]. But at the same time he was very clear—I mean Dr. Jarrett—was very clear on what he thought should be done or ought to be done. You know he's a cousin of John Hope Franklin's?

WC:

I didn't know that.

SJ:

Yes.

WC:

They look somewhat alike.

SJ:

Yes.

WC:

I never made that connection before. That's interesting. He seems to have been a very active member of both the faculty and the community.

SJ:

This is right. Now you know this is another thing, since you've mentioned that: that I think in a way Greensboro has suffered from the-it has had so many colleges in this small community, and people going and coming and not making much of a contribution to the city. And I think that these people who came in with—now Dr. Jarrett was here for some years, as you know.

WC:

Yes. Right.

SJ:

But these people who come in, you know it's kind of like a college, you know, where teachers change and they want their books, and you have to throw out all the old textbooks and get in all the new ones, you now. And it's sort of a—and I have been so grateful these last years, an increasing number of the faculty people, both A&T and Bennett, have bought homes and have dug into the community, you know, because I think they owe it to the community. But I can remember when they—you even had trouble with them paying a United Fund pledge because they felt they didn't live here.

WC:

Yeah. Did you get in—I know there were Bennett students who were involved in the sit-ins, both in '60 and then in '63. Would you talk—Would those students come by sometimes and talk with you?

SJ:

Oh, yes. I worked with—I was on the committee. You know, there's another very interesting thing. You know the movies, in the early days, came out with a comment—this is long before the sit-ins—came out with a comment that they were only going to use Negros in type. You know, that meant they were only going to use them in certain roles. And the Bennett students started a protest on this, and they got students from Woman's College and Guilford who were concerned about it too. And they held a big mass meeting in regard to it. Now see, this was in the early days. And we never heard anything more about it until four years later. And there was a Dr. Dale from Ohio State [University] who used to come down as a consultant from time to time, and he was in the field of public relations and media. And he told us one day that he had been out to Hollywood, and he found out that the fact that this group started a boycott on the movies created such a stir in Hollywood, not because of the size of it, but because they didn't want anybody using that instrument as a boycott. So that you know there are these bits and pieces that have gone on through the years.

And you know, we've always had faculty—Oh, I will never forget when we had the sit-ins. There was a foreign teacher here, and I can remember the girls coming to my house working—this was after Mr. Jones' death—coming to my office and inviting me to Thanksgiving dinner. And this is when they were going down to the K&W Cafeteria. And it happened that I was eating dinner that year—I had guests from Atlanta, and I was eating dinner that year with Dr. and Mrs. Barnes, B.W. Barnes. And they [the Bennett students] had all gotten arrested, and they called Dr. Barnes up and asked him would he come down and sign the bail, because people had gone out for him at the Holiday Inn. He was the only person who was available to bail them out.

But later on when they were arrested in great groups, this foreign woman was arrested, too. She was always active in these protests. And I can't tell you what a conciliation it was to know that she was out there with the girls, because the whole situation was so rude and so terrible that she kept up their morale, you know, and tried to work out with them privacy.

WC:

She was a German professor, wasn't she?

SJ:

What?

WC:

A German professor?

SJ:

Yes. Dr. Laizner, Dr. Elizabeth Laizner.

WC:

Is that L—

SJ:

—a-i-z-n-e-r.

WC:

Is she still around now? Do you know?

SJ:

Yes. She lives right over here in the Negro neighborhood. She teaches at Shaw [University].

WC:

So she commutes back and forth?

SJ:

Yes. She goes—But she comes home every weekend.

WC:

Well, that's good to know. Now you said you were on the committee. I wondered what the committee was, when you started talking about the sit-ins.

SJ:

I was on the committee for the Door Knock—for the—let's see. I wasn't on any committee for the sit-ins.

WC:

For the sit-ins, okay.

SJ:

But you know, I marched. And the last event was—The last event was the, you know, tribute to King. And they came and told me about it, and asked me would I march. I wasn't very well at that time. I said, “I'm afraid I can't march, but I will come.” And I drove my car down and parked it on a side street, and I saw this man very neatly dressed standing on the corner. And he was standing there and I was standing there, and here it was the [police] commissioner, Mr. [William] Jackson. And I said to him, “I have been so happy and grateful about the police protection,” because all the way down I see these police.

And he said, “Well, I've never worked with a group that was more responsive than they were.”

The story is that at the end of the thing that he shook hands with Jesse Jackson.

WC:

Right, right. I've talked to Captain Jackson.

SJ:

Yes!

WC:

And I've talked to Bill Thomas and Reverend [A. Knighton “Tony”] Stanley, both of whom I'm sure you know.

SJ:

Yes, yes.

WC:

And they have interesting stories to tell about each other. [laughs]

SJ:

That is right. That is right.

WC:

Those were very exciting days, and I think one of the points that keeps on coming across to me is that those are days which, as you've been pointing out here, have a long history. They don't just [snaps] happen overnight. They grow out of something. And the kinds of messages which you and your husband gave to Bennett students, and then which Dr. Player gave them, are the kinds of messages that eventually were there during those demonstrations.

SJ:

This is correct. And I think that—Well, in fact I know the girls felt they were always supported, and of course we had a number of faculty people who were there actively engaged.

I thought Dr. [Warmoth] Gibbs [president of A&T after Bluford] was wonderful during that period. And you know the story is that when his board of trustees bought it up—brought it up, he said to them, “Well now you can't control young people in today's world.” [laughs] And that was it, you know.

WC:

Yeah. He didn't come out and make speeches, but he didn't discipline them all either.

SJ:

No, no. But this was something that you just couldn't do anything but—

[End of Interview]