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Oral History Interview with Jennie Parker by William Chafe


Date: circa 1975

Interviewee: Jennie B. Parker

Biographical abstract: Jennie B. Parker (1919-1995), wife of longtime UNCG history professor Franklin D. Parker, was active in supporting racial equality and a founding member of the Greensboro Reform Democrats.

Interviewer: William Henry Chafe

Description:

This transcript of an oral history interview conducted by William Chafe circa 1975 and with Jennie and Franklin Parker primarily documents the Parkers' involvement in interracial activities and their daughter’s friendship with Josephine Boyd. Parker discusses local people and organizations that supported interracial activities, including Warren and Helen Ashby, Anna and George Simkins, Vance Chavis, Bill Wells, the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, the Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Interracial Commission. She describes Josephine Boyd's plight at Greensboro Senior High, the reaction of administrators, reaching out to Boyd, and her daughter Ginger's lunches with Boyd. Other topics include the Parkers' interest in minorities, Paker's first experience on a segregated bus in Greensboro, difficulties between the Wesleyan Foundation and College Place United Methodist Church, the formation of the Reform Democrats, McNeill Smith’s election to the state senate, and her daughter and son-in-law’s careers.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: William Henry Chafe Oral History Collection

Repository: Duke University

Item#: 4.23.667

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 Jennie Parker by William Chafe

William Chafe:

We were just talking about people who were involved and who you would be working with in the fifties. Who were some of those people—do you remember—at that time?

Jennie Parker:

Well, I can't remember as well, of course, way back. I remember going to some meetings of some group, and I think it was sponsored by a Friends [Quaker] group. I'm pretty sure Vance Chavis was in that group, and that's from my very earliest memories.

WC:

And when would that be?

JP:

Well, that would be in the very early fifties, because we came here in '51. We were interested in blacks from way back at the University of Illinois. My husband had a carrel mate that was a black person who got his PhD at about the same time, both of them in black American history. So we were very interested, and as soon as we came here, or almost as soon, tried to find out what interracial groups there might be with whom we could associate.

WC:

Who did you go to ask that question to?

JP:

[pause] I don't remember.

WC:

Was it people at the college, at the university, who you quickly identified as the liberal faction or—

JP:

No, I don't remember it that way. I know Dr. [Richard] Bardolph, [who] is the head of the department, was also interested from way back, and we may have gotten some ideas from him, but I don't remember at what point we—probably about the same time we became associated with the Ashbys [Warren and Helen]. And you've already talked to the Ashbys. I know there was a group called the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen whose meetings we used to attend, and Dr. Ashby was active in that.

WC:

Vance Chavis would be one of the first black people who you would recall—

JP:

Yes.

WC:

—having met and talked with in Greensboro.

JP:

That's right. We were associated from way back. I think Vance—I think maybe he was active in the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, but I'm not real sure. Anyway, I know whatever that other group was called, I think he was in that. Then I became—my husband wasn't too active in this group, but I became very active in what was called the Interracial Commission.

WC:

Who was on that Interracial Commission? Do you remember?

JP:

[chuckles] That's a good question. Because I was trying to remember. I was thinking about that and trying to remember. Rabbi [Fred] Rypins was one of the leaders in that, and, of course, he is deceased. And also a Ms. Troy, Ethel Troy.

WC:

Ethel Troy, yeah.

JP:

And then Anna Simkins, Dr. [George] Simkins' wife.

WC:

She was involved in that even in the early fifties?

JP:

Yes.

WC:

Or the mid-fifties.

JP:

I think so. I remember her in that from way back. Let's see, there was also Bill Wells[?], who was—let's see, what was his position? He was with the [United] Methodist Student Movement in North Carolina. They had their offices here in Greensboro. And he might be someone who would be good for you.

WC:

Is he still here?

JP:

No. Let's see, where was he? The last—he is a regular pastor now in the North Carolina Conference of the [United] Methodist Church, and I believe he's not too far from Raleigh. I was attending a legislative seminar last spring and met him for the first time in a long time. He was attending that.

WC:

You were active with the League of Women Voters as well?

JP:

Well, I'm a member, yes. I don't know how active you would say that I am, because I'm so tied up with party politics that I'm not allowed to serve on the board of the league.

WC:

I see. They still have that.

JP:

Yes.

WC:

That rule.

JP:

But I do belong and am active up to a point.

WC:

Yeah. Was the Interracial Commission in anyway a legal—I mean, not legal—public body? In other words, was there any kind of official sanction or—?

JP:

Not at first. It seems to me there was a body set up by the [Greensboro] City Council.

WC:

Later on in '60, I think. Yeah.

JP:

And I don't know whether it took the place of the Interracial Commission or what. But as I remember, it was not an official body in any way at first.

WC:

Do you recall the controversy over the funding of the Interracial Commission by the Community Chest or the United Fund [now United Way of Greater Greensboro]?

JP:

Vaguely. I don't know when that occurred. I do remember—

WC:

I think '56 or '57 there was a—

JP:

[Nineteen] fifty-six.

WC:

—there was the issue of—it happened to coincide, not accidentally, I guess, with the school desegregation controversy, and there was some concern that the Community Chest was sponsoring and thereby supporting interracial social contact through its giving money to the Interracial Commission every year.

JP:

I had forgotten about that. I forget when it was first sponsored, when it was first a part of the Community Chest. I don't remember. We went away in, I'd say, '55, in the spring of '55. I believe I was serving as treasurer just before we left. We went down to Central America for a year, so I lost contact during that year. And—but I do remember some sort of a controversy about that.

WC:

Which other blacks besides Anna Simkins would have been active in that, in that body?

JP:

Well, Vance, Vance Chavis. Vance and Anna, I remember those two quite well.

WC:

Would other faculty members at Bennett [College] or [North Carolina] A&T [State University] been involved or—?

JP:

I can't remember any, any others.

WC:

Maybe it wasn't that large of a group?

JP:

No, I think when I first started going to the meetings it was large, fairly large, but it dwindled, got smaller and smaller.

WC:

By large, how many?

JP:

Well, not very large—probably no more than thirty-some at the meetings. Something like that.

WC:

Would the same people have become active in the Community Fellowship in the sixties, the Greensboro Community Fellowship, which Dr. Ashby and some other people started?

JP:

I cannot remember. We had several groups going there for a while. There was a group—a student group—Dr. Raymond Smith. Have you talked to him?

WC:

No, I talk to his wife, not him.

JP:

He was one of the leading lights, leaders of that for about a dozen years maybe, which got students together from the various colleges. And Dr. Ashby worked with the Wesley Foundation. They were trying to do quite a bit with getting student groups together, black and white, integrated groups.

WC:

Where did you come from when you came to Greensboro?

JP:

We came from Illinois.

WC:

Directly.

JP:

Yes. Illinois is my native state, and my husband was from the east but he came out to Illinois to college. That's when we met. And then he did his graduate work at the U of I [University of Illinois]. And this—his carrel mate there, who was black, Chuck Simmons, ended up, after a few years, here in Greensboro also as a professor at A&T. And so Chuck, in this student group, we worked quite a bit with that. My husband worked with getting UNCG students to attend the meetings and Chuck worked with the ones at A&T. That was some of our early efforts to get—

WC:

When would that have been?

JP:

It was probably in the later fifties, probably after we came back from Central America. I'm not sure how soon Chuck came here. I should have kept a diary or something, shouldn't I have, because your memory just—

WC:

Well, probably wouldn't have been the early fifties, because if you came in '51 and left in '55—

JP:

Yes.

WC:

—it probably would have been after that.

JP:

It must have been after, because then there was a period of time—we went to Peru in '61—yes, '61-'61 or '62, along in there, that was our next time away.

WC:

How did you feel about Greensboro when you got here? What kind of a city did you think it was?

JP:

We felt that it was a friendly city but really very segregated, as far as the races were concerned. I know I was—I was impressed, particularly by the situation with buses. I really hadn't thought about that much before, but we lived in Indianapolis for a few years—that was before we went back to Illinois and that's when he finished his graduate work—and in Indianapolis, we'd always—we used to ride in the back of the bus, this one daughter, and it was just kind of a fun thing to do. We'd get on the bus and go to the back and ride in the back. I think there was some windows back there or something, and we were accustomed to that. So when we came to Greensboro—of course, in Illinois, we were in small towns, and it was different from city life. When we came here, we would—I remember starting to the back of the bus in one instance when a church friend happened to be on the same bus and she said to me, she said, “Oh, you don't want to sit back there.” And, you know, “You mean I can't sit in the back of the bus?” I can remember that. It was—impressing me with the very rigid rules that had grown up about this sort of thing.

WC:

Yeah. And this was surprising to you.

JP:

Surprising in—well, it seemed—it seemed to me that it was something that limited whites as well as blacks. That whites weren't free in any real sense.

WC:

Do you get the sense in your own world of contacts at the university and in politics that—did you get active immediately in politics?

JP:

Not in politics, no. Politics came in '68. I did not. We were gone so much. We were either—every vacation we took off for Illinois to visit my folks or New York or Massachusetts or some place to visit Franklin's folks. So we really didn't get involved in politics.

WC:

Did you feel yourselves to be a distinct minority in your attitudes toward race, even on the college campus, the university campus?

JP:

Maybe not a distinct minority as far as the campus was concerned. As far as the community was concerned, yes. But there were quite a few on campus, I think, who shared our—to some extent, and then a lot of the people in the Quaker community, too.

WC:

Did you have a lot of contact with them?

JP:

Well, to some extent, yes. I don't know whether you would say a lot of contact with them.

WC:

How would that take place? Through what—?

JP:

Several of them were active in some of these groups we were associated with.

WC:

Were they mostly associated with the college, Guilford College, or were they—?

JP:

Yes, I would say so.

WC:

So the Quaker community in Greensboro is more academically oriented than involved in the business community.

JP:

Well, the Quaker community—there's just so many different facets of the Quaker community because they have several—at that time, as I remember, they had about four different meetings, and one would be very conservative in a certain way, even evangelistically conservative. There was one over at Spring Garden [Street] and one over at First Friends [Meeting]. First Friends—that's another person—I've forgotten about him—who was very active in this, and he's still in the community, a minister. What's his name? I can't think of his name now. He was the minister of the First Friends, and First Friends had their church at that time over on Asheboro Street, and they were quite—or some of them, he in particular—were quite interested in mixing with black people.

WC:

What church did you come from? You were in the Methodist Church.

JP:

Methodist, yes.

WC:

And which one did you go to here?

JP:

We went to College Place [United Methodist Church].

WC:

What was the attitude at that church?

JP:

[laughs] There was a mixture there with a number of faculty belonging and students who went there. They had the—what did they call them? Wesley, Wesley Foundation. Wesley Foundation met at that church, and they used the church for their meetings. And there was quite a gap between the students and the faculty members, and the regular congregation. In fact, it finally resolved in a complete split.

WC:

How did that happen?

JP:

Well, there had been controversy between the groups for a number of years, and the ones who came to be the head of the Wesley Foundation usually seemed very far out to the regular members of the congregation. You know, I remember one lady, for example—I can't remember the name—who was seen, I think, walking with a black man, maybe holding his hand or something, and this was just scandalous to the congregation.

WC:

Yes. Did—was that the issue of whether or not blacks should attend the church service? Was that the issue over which the split took place?

JP:

I think the split—I think they just, they became, they got to where they became very separate. So the head of the Wesley Foundation would have these very emotional controversies and confrontations with some of the board members of the church. I remember my husband was chairman of the Wesley Foundation board for a while, and I remember one young man who was the head of the Wesley Foundation who would have one of these confrontations. And then I remember his coming here and he was so upset, so worked up, and he would tell us about it, let off some steam. [phone rings] It was pretty emotional. Excuse me.

WC:

Yeah.

[Recording paused]

JP:

He probably remembers the names of some of those people.

WC:

Ed Zane was in—did you know him at College Park?

JP:

Yes.

WC:

Do you remember any role that he might have played during any of these disputes?

JP:

I don't remember what part he played. He was—I think he was on the board, the Wesley Foundation board. And then Judge Gentry, he was—I forget what part he played. I guess he was the head of the board for a while, too. They had a succession of younger people who were heads of the Wesley Foundation; they only stayed a year or two, I think. I might imagine they couldn't take it! [laughter]

I remember, too, when our older daughter finally became college age, she went to UNCG for a couple of years—or Woman's College as it was then. She was a member of the Wesley Foundation there at the church, so we knew quite a bit about it then, from her angle.

WC:

Now, is this the daughter who went to school with Josephine Boyd?

JP:

Yes.

WC:

What is her name?

JP:

Ginger.

WC:

Ginger.

JP:

Yeah.

WC:

And she's now in Washington [D.C.]?

JP:

Yes.

WC:

Do you have her address? I'm sure you do. [laughter]

JP:

Yeah. I'm not sure I can remember it off hand. I think it's 3021 Newark Street, which is near the zoo and the Washington Cathedral.

WC:

As in Newark, New Jersey.

JP:

Yes, northwest.

WC:

And would her phone be under Ginger or under—

JP:

It would—let me get that for you.

WC:

Okay.

[Recording paused]

JP:

—so slow. You just—you'd work a little bit here and you'd work a little bit there and it would be just so slow. I know Anna Simkins was so upset over the restrooms, separate restrooms. And she was determined to—and the water fountains, too. And she was working very hard with Sears. And I can remember we—well, we had never—this was something that impressed us, too, because we'd never heard of separate water fountains and restrooms. And I remember going to the A&P [supermarket] and we'd laugh about it and say, “Oh, this is colored water here.” You know, [laughs] and so we'd kid about it.

WC:

Yes.

JP:

It was so crazy. And she was very upset about that. Bill Wells was chipping away at the theaters.

WC:

He was?

JP:

Yeah, and that was his thing. [laughs]

WC:

And how would he chip away at them?

JP:

Well, he would go and talk to the manager. He thought that this one over here, the Cinema [Theatre] over near the campus, was the most logical one to get changed first, and so he would go—periodically he would write letters to the manager or the owner and put copies in the public [unclear] of the paper and he would go and talk to them. And I think maybe once he had some kind of a petition. Just keep working away, working away.

WC:

Yeah, yeah.

JP:

But then when the Supreme Court decision [Brown v. Board of Education] came and it just suddenly kind of opened up all those little things that we'd been working on were suddenly changed.

WC:

They were?

JP:

Well, it seemed that way. I didn't think I was going to see a big change in my lifetime. I thought we'll just keep trying, trying, and little by little we may accomplish something.

WC:

But you did see a big change in '54?

JP:

I don't know that it came overnight, but it seemed that way to us who had been trying for so—it seemed we'd been trying so long in all these little ways. Suddenly things began to change very rapidly.

WC:

Now, you were here when the court decision came down. What did you think to the school board's response to that? Do you remember?

JP:

No, I don't remember. My memory's blank on that. When was the decision?

WC:

[Nineteen] fifty-four, and I guess Ginger would have gone to school with Josephine Boyd in '56-'57, '58.

JP:

Yeah. We came back from Central America in the summer of '56, and then I was teaching. I took a teaching job that year. I was teaching out at Grimsely [High School], which was then Greensboro Senior High. And Ginger was a sophomore that year, so we were both out there. And then I had some physical trouble in the spring. I developed an inner ear infection and had to resign my job. And so then it was the following year that Josephine started to school.

WC:

Had you known—?

JP:

Ginger was a junior that year.

WC:

She was a junior that year. She was not a senior.

JP:

No, Chelsea was a senior and Ginger was a junior.

WC:

You had not known Josephine Boyd prior to that, had you?

JP:

No.

WC:

What was the first time—when was the first occasion you saw Josephine Boyd?

JP:

I don't remember seeing her. Let's see. I don't think I saw her before—oh, I just thought of another name, [Angeline] “Angie” Smith. Has anyone given you her name?

WC:

No.

JP:

She was active from way, way back, too, in probably, maybe all these groups.

WC:

Angie Smith.

JP:

Angie Smith. Mrs. S. C. Smith. Lives on Ross Avenue. She was a teacher at Dudley [High School] and Josephine was her student at Dudley. So she knows a great deal about it from Josephine's side of it.

WC:

Is Angie Smith white or black?

JP:

Black. And then, oh, the Douglas', too. Have you talked to any of them? Dr. [Julius] Douglas—

WC:

No, I haven't talked to.

JP:

—who is deceased now, his wife, Helen Douglas? And Helen's children were—Helen and her children were involved in this. The year after Josephine went to school, they tried to get the twins—they tried to get the twins in, Jack and [unclear]. No go.

WC:

Well, when—how did it happen that Ginger and Josephine became friends?

JP:

Yes, well, it was a roundabout way. We—I guess we mostly just read in the papers and heard about it, about Josephine at first, because Ginger's schedule was—I mean she didn't have—her schedule didn't fit in with Josephine's at all. And her lunch time—they had two lunch hours, and her lunch hour was the opposite one; Josephine had one and Ginger had the other one. And we were very concerned that Josephine would give up, and we hated to see this happen because we were quite concerned that there be an integrated school. As I say, back at that time, we were chipping away at all these little tiny ways it seemed. So—but we didn't know what to do. Ginger was—although she was young, naïve, and so forth, she was willing to do whatever she could. And we had another contact there—this person you might talk to, too—Ms. Herring was the librarian. I guess she's still a librarian at Grimsley; I don't know. Mildred Herring[?]. Ms. Herring sang at the choir at College Place church, and so did Ginger. And Ms. Herring had been letting Josephine—see, one of the big problems with Josephine was the lunch hour.

WC:

Yes.

JP:

When she was in class, it wasn't too bad, although, she—it was bad enough. One—I remember once somebody threw an egg at her and she was sitting, I guess, must have been in her homeroom or something. All sorts of things would happen to her and to her folks, too. They'd throw rocks at the car [unclear].

But, anyway, Ms. Herring was letting Josephine—I guess the library hadn't—I guess for about a week or two at the beginning of the school year, the library was not open to the students, and so she was letting Josephine come in there to the library to eat her lunch. But we knew that that couldn't keep up. And we knew that Josephine, when she started eating lunch in the cafeteria or wherever she ate, would have to have some help in some way.

And we realized—we had taught—we knew the two principals, Mr. [A. P. “Red”] Routh and Mr. [Robert “Lody”] Glenn—we talked with them, and I don't remember now whether that was by phone or in person but we had talked to them. We got the feeling that they and, I guess, most of the teachers, would be very happy to have Josephine quit. Just, you know, here's something that you could do without and why put up with all this trouble when you could do without it?

WC:

And this feeling you got from the principals and the teachers?

JP:

Well, we didn't really talk to the teachers specifically. We just got the overall impression that this was the general feeling, that they would be very relieved to have her quit and not have to be bothered with this. And so we were very concerned that Josephine might give up because of all she was having to go through. And so I wrote her a letter. This was one weekend. It must have been a couple of weeks, maybe, after the start of school. And I told her that I had taught there the year before and I was sorry I wasn't still teaching there because I would be able to help her with her work. I told her that we had a daughter there that wanted to be her friend but hadn't had a chance even to come into contact with her, but wanted to. And I said a number of other things to Josephine, who was a fairly religious person, and I spoke in religious terms to some extent. I told her how much we sympathized with what she was doing and hoped she wouldn't give up. And I got a lovely letter in return from her. And then I think just in the next week or so everything seemed to open up. Somehow our daughter was able to change one of her courses so that she could get her lunch hour at the same time as Josephine. And they got together—I don't remember exactly where or how—but they got together. And then a neighbor—two neighbor girls of ours here, Julia Adams, whose folks lived around the corner on Chapman [Street], and Beth Needles, who lived across the street here. Those two and Ginger made sort of a pact that they would lunch with Josephine in the cafeteria.

WC:

And what was Beth's last name, Needles?

[End Side One—Begin Side Two]

JP:

I think we were the only parents who really—that and the students. I think the Adams' weren't completely in accord with what Julia wanted to do. And I'm not sure about Beth's parents, how they felt about it. Beth's parents were from Illinois, the Chicago area, originally. And Julia's folks were from the North, too. And Julia was older. And they were, the three of them, Ginger and Julia and Beth, were all part of a religious group, too. I forget now what the—Young Life, maybe it was. Young Life is active, much more active here now. I'm not sure that was the name of it. The Needles anyway were associated with evangelistic Christianity, and their son Phil was one of the leaders in this group. They would—they'd have Bible study. They would get together for Bible study. So this—doing this was in a way associated with their idea of religion and how they felt about it.

So they followed through and they started having lunch with Josephine in the cafeteria. And the first time I ever—as I remember, the first time that I met Josephine was when I went out one day—I think it was during this first week, which was the most difficult, they were doing—I went out to the—and sat with them during my lunch hour. And I remember, for example, marbles being thrown when I was there. But after—well, let's see. The first two days or so, those lunched together at one table, and then somehow Beth dropped out. I'm not sure why or what happened. So it was just Ginger and Julia for a day or two. But then a few others got up their courage and one of those was—and started lunching with them, too—one of those was Emily and [Wright?] Smith's daughter, Carol. That helped get things over a bit of a hump there. And they kept lunching with Josephine the rest of the year and—

WC:

That was the most difficult time of the day and therefore it was the most important time of support to be present.

JP:

Because when Josephine was in class, of course, there would be a teacher in charge. But in the lunchroom, she was really on her own pretty much. And the kids got threatening phone calls and things like that. “How does it feel to be a nigger lover?” and things like that. They were threatened quite a bit, but nothing was done except things being thrown at them. Quite an experience for our daughters. [laughs]

WC:

Yeah, I should think so. Besides the phone calls, did she receive any other negative kinds of reactions?

JP:

Well, I really don't—I remember we were afraid at the time. I can remember as a mother being afraid of what might happen, but that's all I remember.

WC:

Of course, you would have initiated it yourself in many, many ways, by your letter to—

JP:

Yeah, that's right. Yeah, we were fully in back of it, in support of it, because we felt that it needed to be done so badly. And then we were so disappointed because then after Josephine had done all this and after the kids had supported all this, then they wouldn't let this continue. And it could have gone on if the twins could have come the next year. You know, it would have been an easy transition. They wouldn't do it.

WC:

Who did you blame for that?

JP:

The school board [unclear].

WC:

You didn't think they were reacting themselves to more powerful forces in the community?

JP:

I don't know. I suppose, I suppose so. But I don't think that any of them felt strongly about it. I don't think they saw the merits of it.

WC:

Were there people on the school board who you were particularly suspicious of or who you particularly liked?

JP:

I don't remember any.

WC:

Do you remember [superintendent] Ben Smith?

JP:

Yes.

WC:

Do you have any feelings about him?

JP:

I felt—as far as I knew—I didn't really know him personally, but I had a great deal of admiration for him. He was in a difficult position at a difficult time and he was evidently a wonderful person who did the best he could, I think. I think of all the school personnel, I probably admire him the most. He seemed to have a foresight that few people had in a number of ways. He was ahead of the pack.

WC:

Did Ginger remain friends with Josephine after that?

JP:

Yes. In the—let's see. I think it was after Josephine had graduated probably in June of that yea, after graduation. There was some sort of a conference at I think that place they call Black Mountain [College], sponsored by the North Carolina Conference of Christians and Jews, to which they were invited to come. Josephine went and Ginger and I believe Julia was there. And there were other black young people and white young people—I don't remember how many—who got together. Ginger that said this conference was really a turning point for her, because all through that school year, she hadn't felt natural. It had been a strained, tense situation all year long, really. But in this meeting—and she hadn't had that much association with blacks either, until Josephine. There just wasn't the opportunity. So she said with that meeting where they—they were all together, blacks and whites. And they—I think there was a pool there, and they went swimming and they had their meetings and they talked about everything. And she said that was the first time she really relaxed. And from then on she felt very much at home, relaxed. But really during that school year, she hadn't felt natural about it all.

WC:

So there was a strain, probably, on all of them.

JP:

Yes.

WC:

Yeah.

JP:

Then when she went on to UNCG, one of her best friends was black, Claudette Burroughs, who's still here in Greensboro and who works in juvenile court. They were real good pals.

WC:

Was that conference at Black Mountain sponsored by the YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association] also?

JP:

It could have been.

WC:

Yeah. Because there were some conference which took place around that time that I know that Josephine Boyd attended, and I was wondering whether it was the same conference.

JP:

It probably—it was—I think it came pretty much right after the school year. It would have been right after her graduation. And I can't remember now who was the head of the Conference of Christians and Jews here. It was a Dr. Love, I believe, a professor out at Guilford College who was pretty active in this sort of thing. I think his name was Love.

WC:

Godshaw[?] was also at some point.

JP:

Yeah, Godshaw, but I'm not sure when he came along. My memory's very hazy there. But I don't know.

WC:

Had you felt—now, you were acting as an individual with your own supportive community of sorts, but not—you weren't acting on behalf of an organization when you did this and wrote the letter to Josephine. Did you feel yourself that you were way out there with little support or—?

JP:

[chuckles] I don't think we thought of it in those terms. We just believed that it was better. When you live separately, it's not good for anybody. So we just believed in it, personally. Of course, my husband and I, I think we from way back—I don't know what got us started—we had just always felt a kinship, I guess, with people of minorities, with Indians and blacks.

And I think his interest in Latin America fits in with this. Because we just love the Latin people. We get down there and—for example, we get on a bus or train, and I'll be holding a little child on my lap. And I remember once in Nicaragua we were on this real crowded train, and I had this little girl on my lap. She looked up at me like, “Who in the world are you?” [laughs] And we just love all the Indian people down there. So I don't know. We just have always felt that way.

WC:

Yes, it's probably—

JP:

We were always against discrimination, too. I remember—I don't know why this made an impression on me—but I remember once when our daughter Ginger was about, she must have been about eight, something there along, seven, eight, or nine. We were in a car riding in Illinois and she made some kind of remark about Jews and we both just pounced on her immediately. [laughs] Always just like that. And I guess we just didn't—we're very much against discrimination.

And I remember then, too, here in—when we were living in an apartment. When we first came here, we lived in apartments over here, so it must have been early in our stay that some Mormon missionaries came around. And we talked to them and invited them to come and talk to us because we wanted to find out more about their religion. And we told them very frankly, we said “Well, we could never accept it, because we feel that your religion is against blacks.” And he said, “Well, you wouldn't want your daughter to marry a Negro, would you?”

We both said, “Why not?” [laughter] Just immediately, we responded in that way, “Why not?” If you're not prejudice, then—

WC:

And he left shortly thereafter.

JP:

[laughter] I think they were taken aback by that. But we felt that way. We felt that we had nothing against the blacks or Indians or anybody else.

WC:

Did you or your husband or your daughters get involved at all in the sit-ins? I guess you were out of the country in the first sit-ins.

JP:

Yeah. We were not involved and I don't remember now—let's see, no, wait a minute. We were. We were here. Yes, we were when the ones at Woolworth's. But I can't remember too much about the details. I think Bill Wells was involved in that too. He would be a good one, I believe, for you to interview. He was associated with the students, being in charge of the Methodists. He was in charge of the state—they call it the [U]MSM, [United] Methodist Student Movement, of the state. So he had a lot of contacts with student groups.

WC:

What was your feeling about the community's response to those sit-ins? Did you feel that it was going to work out okay, or did you have fear for the safety of these people and their ability to carry it through?

JP:

Well, I guess I felt—of course, we're kind of optimistic, I guess. We tend to be optimistic, and I thought it would work out. I've always felt that the blacks themselves have to stick up for their own rights. Somebody else can't do it for them. And they were beginning to.

WC:

Right.

JP:

And so I felt it was going to work out. This had to be done and I think it was the time for it.

WC:

Do you recall when Martin Luther King came to Greensboro?

JP:

No, I don't.

WC:

Did you have much contact at all with Bennett faculty people—someone like George Breathett, for example, who was also in Latin America?

JP:

Yeah, some. Yeah, my husband and George have been friends. We knew Dr. [David] Jones [Bennett president]. I can remember early in our stay here when Dr. Jones came to College Place church to speak. This was a Sunday night meeting. I think he may have brought a quartet with him. And that was—I was impressed by him by some of the stories he told about riding on a train in which he was the only black, and in order to separate him from the rest, they put up a curtain or something like that. And then I work with Mrs. [Susie] Jones some, too. We were in—she may have been active in the Interracial Commission. I'm not sure. I remember being on committees with her through the YWCA. The YWCA was pretty active in getting people together.

WC:

Were you an active member of the YWCA?

JP:

Fairly active. As I said, we were always going away so much and all that. The Taylors too, John and Betsy Taylor, they were very active in those groups. And I remember their having picnics out at the lake at their home, interracial picnics. So they were very active in it.

WC:

Did you have a feeling—how would you describe the relationship between the university community and the city, the university community and the community at large?

JP:

Well, I think there was a chasm there, a pretty big chasm. Of course, I think Greensboro is very fortunate to have all of these colleges. I think it's helped. And it certainly has helped as far as the blacks were concerned because we have so many talented, well-educated blacks and this means a lot.

Our daughter and son-in-law thought that—well, he went to the Union [Theological] Seminary in New York and he was ordained into the Methodist Church. And they had the idea that they would come back to North Carolina in the eastern part of the state and try to help with white and black relations. And so when he finished his seminary work and he came back, he was ordained in the North Carolina Conference [of the United Methodist Church], which is the eastern part of the church. They were sent to Apex, near Raleigh. And they immediately, or fairly immediately, tried to get in touch with some of the blacks in the community. And they just could find very few who were interested or who were—who had any idea what was going on. It was during that time that Martin Luther King was killed. And they thought they would get some blacks together, maybe, and have a little service of some kind. And so many of the blacks there didn't even know who Martin Luther King was. It was just nothing much there they could work with. They found one woman who was fairly up on things, but most of them just—it was a different existence.

WC:

Yeah. That's an interesting story. I have a student who did a study of Apex.

JP:

Really?

WC:

And it is kind of an isolated community, although it's very close to Raleigh.

JP:

Yeah. They would go into Raleigh and they'd have a great time. They would get together with certain ones; they had friends there in Raleigh, and they would get together with them and all [laughs] and it would just be great, and then they would back there and it would all be—Ginger, for example, so many funny things happened. She didn't have a washing machine, so she would go to the laundromat there in Apex. And she didn't think anything about it, but it was blacks who always went to the laundromat there. And so the ladies of the church, I guess, let her know, or somebody. Anyway, she found out there that the whites went to Cary, to the laundromat in Cary. The blacks went to the laundromat in Apex. Well, she was very happy to be in the one where the blacks were, but the ladies of the church evidently didn't think too much of this, and so they bought her a washing machine. [laughter]

WC:

What price. Propriety, as it were.

JP:

And finally after two years, our son-in-law said he felt like a schizophrenic, as he said. He just felt like he was one thing with the church people and another thing away from the church people. And he didn't feel he couldn't stay in that position, so he left the ministry.

WC:

He left the ministry?

JP:

Yeah.

WC:

I went to Union Seminary for a year.

JP:

Did you?

WC:

Yeah. I never got into the ministry, but I left it before I got into it, really. [laughs]

JP:

Yeah, well.

WC:

For somewhat similar reasons, I think.

JP:

He liked Union. He liked the work at Union. He likes scholastic work. After they left Apex, they went to Charlottesville. He decided—he thought he might try counseling, because he'd had a bent toward counseling. And he did this hospital thing there. I think it took a year. It was in training. But then he, after that year, he decided it was too confining just counseling hospital patients and so forth, so he went to Washington and he's in the [U.S.] Labor Department now.

WC:

Do you think it's more a—

JP:

Well, they were in this church in Washington, the Church of the Savior. Have you ever heard of that?

WC:

I think so, yeah.

JP:

The Church of the Savior has a lot of different projects which they call missions, and they do a lot with blacks there. And they—for example, they have a coffee house in Colombia, this group. And it's an interesting group, but I don't think Ginger enjoyed it. I don't think they're very active in it anymore either. They keep [unclear].

Ginger has an interesting job in Washington. She went ahead—after they moved there, she went ahead and got her master's [degree] at American University in teaching English as a foreign language. And then she's had a job with students coming into the junior high and work—I guess her work is all with junior high students who come here from other countries. They don't speak English. And she works with them, helping them with their studies and with their problems; they all have problems of one kind or another. And she's in an interesting position now in relation to blacks because the blacks are very much in control in Washington and they don't think Latins should be helped in any way. And she's very interested in the Latins. She speaks—well, her master's is in Spanish also, and so she speaks Spanish quite fluently. She's interested in helping. Of course, a lot of the Latins who come in there are blacks, too. [laughs].

WC:

Sure, yeah.

JP:

She thought she might be pushed out of her job, but she's not going to be. She said that in the recent elections that a white woman running against several blacks came out and won as a member of the board of education, and this lady had promised to help support their program. Their program was funded by a special grant, congressional grant, but that's running out—it has run out maybe, or will run out, and so they want to be funded by the public schools there.

WC:

Right. Did you get involved at all here in the late sixties with the final efforts toward desegregating the school system and all the effort to make it work when the busing decision came down, stuff like that?

JP:

No, not really. Our younger daughter went to Curry [School at UNCG] all the way through, so she wasn't really in the public schools. I think we might have if she had been, but she was not, and so we were not really involved in that.

WC:

Did you ever have contact with Hal Sieber or know him?

JP:

I know Hal Sieber, but we didn't have any contact. Not really.

WC:

But you wouldn't have been working with him at all?

JP:

No.

WC:

Even in your role in politics?

JP:

No.

WC:

What was your impression of Sieber?

JP:

Well, I really don't have any personal impression of him. I really don't know.

WC:

He seemed to have been a really controversial figure in the community.

JP:

Yeah, I think he was, and I don't know exactly why. I think he might have had some personality problems himself, but I don't really know. I can't speak with any authority because I didn't know him personally.

WC:

Where would you—would that have been talked about by other people, that he might have personality problems?

JP:

I don't—I don't really remember talking about him to anybody. I probably got that impression from reading papers.

WC:

Yeah.

JP:

And you can't go by the papers, because they have personality [problems?]. [laughter]

WC:

Yeah.

JP:

So, I really—I really don't know.

WC:

Tell me a little bit more about—you became involved in '68 through the anti-war movement primarily or—?

JP:

No, I guess I was interested in the [Eugene] McCarthy presidential campaign, because it was in that spring of '68—well, I do this. I get tired of some things I've been involved in and then I think, oh, I think I'll try this for a while. I felt that—we had been invited to some meetings and had never gone. And I thought, well—see, my job is to help my husband. He has rheumatoid arthritis, and so I help him any way I can. I help him with is research and then I help him, too, with transportation and so forth and so on. And he felt that he wanted us to have some input in the community, but that it should probably come through me since he was busy with his research and all and his physical problem. So I thought it was about time that I learned something about politics. And I feel that the way the war is, to get involved.

So I was interested in McCarthy, and so I thought that this was a good time. So I guess I went to some of the meetings that spring relating to the McCarthy campaign. And then somewhere along the way that spring we got together, a group of us. George Simkins was one, Herman Fox from the black community, and Al Troxler ,who was really the leading one of the McCarthy group, I guess he was, and a few others. My husband was there. A group of about fifteen of us, I would say, blacks and whites, got together over on campus one day, and we decided to form a coalition of the—we were—let's see, there were some people who wanted Humphrey, who were in favor [Hubert] Humphrey, and some of us who favored McCarthy, and the blacks said that they didn't care. Well, I guess there were some kin—yes, there must have been some that they were kin to. And the blacks said they didn't care. Any of those would be acceptable to them, but there were a lot of things that they wanted help with. They wanted help with trying to get the ward system here in Greensboro. But they said they had never been a part of the [Guilford] County Democratic Party. They'd always been out here somewhere. And those were two of their main goals, so we all got together and formed a coalition. We had a—that little meeting that took place was sort of where the seed was planted, and then we had this bigger meeting and formed a group and decided what we were going to do.

We all went to precinct meetings and went to the county convention and so forth. And then when my husband and I took off—we were going down to Central America that summer; I didn't get to go to the state convention because we left, I guess we left the day it was being held. We went down to Central America. And then when I came back, I found out that Reform Democrats had started in the middle of that summer, I guess, and that I had been elected to the board, executive board. So from then on I was active in the Reform Democrats.

WC:

It sounds like you did fairly well—I mean, that your organization did fairly well in terms of its goals.

JP:

Yeah. I would like to see somebody write the story of political reform in North Carolina.

WC:

Yeah.

JP:

I'm real proud of what we've done there, and I think this county has become sort of a special place, as far as reforms are concerned.

WC:

How close do you work with McNeill Smith, or do you?

JP:

With Mac?

WC:

Yeah.

JP:

Well, fairly closely. Let's see, when was it? In '68, I believe—is that right?—I got on the precinct committee. That was the first time I'd gone to a precinct meeting. And then in '70, I became the precinct chairman. I believe it was '70. It must have been '70. And, of course, we were trying to get Mac in the legislature. It took three times, because the first time he didn't get through the primary, and the next time he didn't get through the election, and the next time he was elected. And he was from this precinct.

[End of Interview]