Reflections

Anne Wright Andrews:
My Raleigh Years (1955-1965)

I recall my mother's comments of her being friends with "the coloreds" and her belief overwhelmingly in understanding that all people were equal and must have the same acceptance.  Please understand I use the word "colored" here as a way to reflect of how it was then and not how it is today. 

My first memory that things were different was noticing the words "colored" and "white" over the water fountains in Sears & Roebuck at Cameron Village in Raleigh.  I asked my mother why they were labeled different when the water came from the same pipe.  I was about 9 yrs old.  We had a colored maid named Lillie.  Every time she was at our house cleaning Mother would prepare lunch and invite Lillie to sit with us and eat.  It never seemed unusual to include her.  She was even named in my mother's will. 

But the day would come when I knew things were very different for whites and blacks. 

It is 1962 I entered Broughton High School and found new friends.  They were ones who stood outside the average and popular.  I became a part of a group who wanted to see equality become a part of our life.  I recall joining this group of friends at McCroy's lunch counter and at Woolworths on Fayetteville St. where we would sit with our "colored" friends in support.  I joined the group with others who helped start a coffee house in a Peden Steel warehouse called the "Sidetrack."  It was one of the first all integrated places in Raleigh.  I was serving coffee and Cracker Jacks from behind the counter the night some boys threw a smoke bomb through the window- just narrowly missing my head.  There I joined others in becoming part of SNCC supporters.  I even gave the place my "blue enamel" street signs taken from the old Raleigh City Hall when it was torn down.  It was a pivotal place in my life.

After high school we moved to SC, and later I married an AF officer and left to travel with the military. In those travels I entered many other places of discovering differences and equality.

But Raleigh remained a strong part of my life until 2000 when Mother died and the house was sold. Before that I would return home every chance I had and visit the places or sites of those long gone places and remember what our life had once been like.  Then I would smile at the advances- though difficult- that have occurred.  Today I call another part of NC home... but I am still a part of North Carolina. 

Clarence Biggs: Williamston, NC in the 60s

What happened in Williamston during the desegregation of pubic schools?

In the early 60’s the public school system was asked to desegregate. I was a teacher at EJ Hayes at that time. There was a lot of concern from parents and educators about changing schools. Students were faced with violence and jail time to disrobe the system.  There were not many black people working in public places and segregation was very evident.  For example the water fountain at the courthouse was for whites only and at R&C’s restaurant blacks had to get their food through a window. Students were disenchanted with the way desegregation was being handled. The leaders of the movement were Sarah Small, Mary Lou Mobley, and Francis King.  It was these women who organized the students.  The marches would start at E.J. Hayes march through the downtown and would end at Green Memorial Church.  Green was one of the few churches that allowed blacks to meet in order to discuss events and organize. Styron Bond was a grocery store owner. 

He allowed his property to be used as the place people could meet and prepare for marches. At one point a gun shot was fired through a window, which sent a message to the black community that the whites opposed what they were doing. Jacquelyn Bond Shropshire was in the front of a march when a deputy hit her in the side with an electric cattle prod.  At the time people didn’t know what happened. They only saw her fall.  They brought her back to the school and since I was a teacher, I saw the bruise marks that pierced her in the sides. There were several occasions where the fire trucks were brought in, but I never saw them used on marchers. These were sad times for Martin County and Williamston.  I am happy to say that some of the people, black and white, who remember those days are able to communicate more effectively now.  The communication between races is better now, but there is a lot of work to be done. 

There are some who prefer to keep things the way they were back in the ’60’s.  Both races have this problem.  I am happy to know some blacks have been able to rise above.  Myself for example, after getting my masters degree, I worked at Martin Community College as interim president three times before being asked to serve as president.  As a black man, I would not have been asked before.  Also Willie Clifton Peele rose to be superintendent (of schools).  In the mist of drawbacks, there are a few who have risen above a level. Looking back we have come a long way, but we are not at the end of the tunnel. For instance, I would like to see more recreational activities for blacks in Martin County and harmony between the students.

What was it like being an educator at that time?

During the early ’60’s, it was hard being an educator.  I had to watch as the students were being hurt by desegregation. I wanted to be more a part of the action, but I knew that officials would find reasons to fire blacks that were too active in the movement. The board members and superintendent would ride by the church where the meeting was being held to find out who was participating. Teachers had to be the first to cross racial lines and teach in the other race’s school.  Mrs. Gaither was an English teacher who was moved to Williamston. 
It seems to me that Central office wanted to take the best black teachers to the white school and send us their worst. Some people were asked, but no one wanted to cross those lines.

As a science teacher, I wanted my students to rub shoulders with the best. Seeing my students succeed was worth the paycheck to me. I came back to Williamston after graduating from Elizabeth City State. I knew there was a job opening at EJ Hayes (a former black school).  The principal at that time did not have enough power to recommend me for the job.  I had to go speak with Superintend (J.C.) Manning in order to apply for the job.  I told him, “I grew up in Martin County and I know what the problems are.  I want to be a part of the progress of the county so I want to help fix it.”  I worked in the schools from 196268. Black teachers were afraid to be identified with the movement.  We supported the movement behind the scenes.

I went to workshops to learn about the nonviolent techniques. I would take people to the meetings, but I would stop before getting to the church.  I would get as close to the movement without getting fired.  We didn’t have the freedom to support what we felt were our rights.

What role did Golden Frinks have in desegregation in Martin County?

Frinks lived in Edenton.  He was instrumental in organizing groups.  I didn’t always agree with him.  He did a lot of good, but sometimes at the expense of student education.  I didn’t disagree with Frinks about applying pressure, but students missed a lot of school. They refused to go to school, and teachers just sat around with empty classrooms. Frinks would say, “Don’t let students go back to school until we get an acceptable plan or until things are right.” He was willing to let the students stay out for a whole year.  I feel that it is better to organize students in class than to let them run wild on the street. Frinks had a lot of power with the parents.  The parents looked up to him, and they took his word over the educators. He wanted to see some change made, but the students suffered. Black students were already behind and this attributed to it.  The objective was in the sum of the parts. He visited here once a week during the early stages.  He knew he had three effective leaders on the local level, and he understood that they could provide structure to the organizing.  It would have been repetitious if he came more often, so he just stopped by.  He would often stop by EJ Hayes and just ask how things were going. He made himself available, but he didn’t have to lead the effort. 

In 1963 there was a boycott at EJ Hayes, can you tell me about it?

Many of the parents did not know that the board members were forced to desegregate schools through pressure of funding.  The move from Hayes to Williamston caused the black school to lose its identity, which led to the boycott. Board members became concerned that if blacks didn’t go to school that the system would lose money.  Desegregation shows how threatened they were of losing funding. I think the news media added pressure to the movement.  I think that some officials hoped that their actions, like poking Bonds with a cattle stick, would not become public knowledge.  Harrison, chairman of the board, told me that he didn’t think blacks and whites needed to go to school together.  No one person can determine desegregation, but they can have an influence.  Segregation appeared to them to be a threat to federal funding.  The intent was to save the school system and not necessarily to integrate. 
They had to decide if they could alienate themselves or apply to at least the minimum standards. At first the resistance to change was raw, but everyone has a right to their opinion. How can you hate me if you don’t know me?

Collins Dept. Store At that time we were trying to get some blacks working in public places, so our people would feel more comfortable going there.  I got caught in the web so to speak because the manager said he would hire me. I told him I couldn’t work during the days, but I worked afternoons, weekends, and holidays.  I worked in the men’s department.  He told me that if I worked until Christmas that he would look for another qualified black. He found a black name Marie, and she worked there until she retired.  My point is that it takes time to open a door.  It was a matter of looking at what could appropriately be done to bring these walls down so that we could bring about more harmony.

How affective was news media coverage?

I think that it was very effective based on my personal opinion. Our local paper made an effort initially to down play the happenings in Martin County and particularly Williamston at that time. There were people that didn’t feel a need for change until outsiders became surprised of their actions. The local media did not cover many of the stories the way that the outside media did. We had a group of ministers come in from Boston, Mass. and other places at that time.  Now can you see a person that was really opposed to integration trying to entertain questions from someone from Massachusetts?  They would say this is our town, you stay out. After a while it became unmanageable by the local structure. It was a matter then of what can we do to comply. The news media here did not want to comply and adequately address events as they unfolded. Other people found out what was going on and became surprised.  I can’t believe they struck that cattle stick in that girl or I can’t believe they got the fire truck out to turn the water hose on.  I saw some attack dogs in cars, but I never saw them get the dogs out. Some media came in and even filmed the dogs. Some of the opposers of the movement tried to block out the cameras. The News and Observer and Virginia Pilot came down.  It was a matter of Williamston making headlines across newspapers other than the Enterprise and the Herald. Therefore the leaders of the county knew they had to do better.

Supt. (Eugene) Rogers for example, if he thought no one knew what was going on, would have felt more comfortable not doing something or doing something that would not become general knowledge. As newspapers came in from surrounding areas, our local leaders became more concerned on how to comply. How can one law go upstream while all the other laws are going down stream?  It was a matter of saying this thing has to be done. It was just a matter of time after the movement had started. How long can you set out and not comply when you know that the pressure is there. It is a federal requirement, we don’t want to lose that funding, and we don’t want to be the only system standing outside of the ring.

Could Williamston have been the next Birmingham?

Yes, We were on the edge of what I saw in Birmingham.  I went through Birmingham while I was in college. In talking to people down there, I saw some evidence of what went on here but on a lower scale here. I really believe that if the news media had come in earlier and stayed longer, we would have made headlines in more newspapers and been highly visual by people across the nation. It kind of shocked me to see so many people apposed to doing it.
I went down one day to the courthouse with my daddy to get his divers license or something.  I walked over and started to get a drink of water from the fountain that said whites only. One of the deputies came over and said “boy can’t you read?” The point I am making is that we had some real problems here at one time. Golden Frinks went down to the fountain to remove the sign that said whites only.  A deputy hit him right here (right side of head) with a night stick.  He put a bandage around his head. You might have read the book the Red Badge of Courage by Steve Crain. For a long time he kept that thing on his head, and we called him the “red badge of courage.” 

At Griffin’s Quick Lunch, it was a hard one to crack. You would go to the counter, and they would not serve you.  What got me ready for this was in undergraduate school, I went up to Greensboro. There was a Woolworth’s in Elizabeth City and one in Greensboro.  We were organizing a team in Elizabeth City.  I went up to Greensboro when Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson were there.  I sat at the Woolworth counter for three hours with a coffee cup in front of me.  I would turn it up to get some coffee several times and the waitress was instructed to come by and turn it back over. You ask yourself sometime, what is the message for doing the things that are being done. 

I can’t believe some of the things that happened here in Martin County myself.  Having seen the trucks with the hoses ready to be fired on, seeing the attack dogs in the car, seeing the cattle stick being used, seeing cigarette butts being stuck to marchers arms. Three ladies in front of the courthouse were seriously burned with cigarette butts and someone threw rotten eggs into the crowd. Frinks agreed with Dr. King that if you get hurt then just turn the other check and don’t try to retaliate. If any one had retaliated or resisted arrest, I think the deputies at that time would have used their nightsticks, water hose, and attack dogs. It got close at two or three occasions, but it stopped just on the edge.

What were the reasons behind the boycotts?

There was a conflict between the parents, teachers, and what Frinks was saying.
Some of the local leaders, who didn’t have a complete feel for what education was designed to do, felt that keeping students out of school would be the best way to handle it.
In my science class, I would have a few students come that wanted to learn.  I had one student tell me I am not learning anything sitting out of school. But most students given the chance chose to stay out.

I felt that we should bring the pressure, but not at the expense of the students. I can do more for the students that are in school than those sitting down the street boycotting. Some of the local leaders would side with Frinks and sometimes with the educators. The sad thing is that some of the parents felt like they were the cause of teachers having a job. They resented teachers that were being paid to teach their children and not participating in the boycotts. Therefore, they would keep their children home to buck us and to rebel against us.  I think communication, education, and understanding is important.  Some of the parents were weak minded enough that they could not see the whole picture. We saw teaching as the major concern, but we had to yield to parents because it was their children.  We had to find a tactful rational to justify our feelings.

What kind of backlash did black families receive because of desegregation?

It was believed that a teacher gave a black girl a grade to make her average lower than it should have been. Along the way it was looking at ways to hold back blacks in certain positions. Some people felt like they were not given the opportunity to be recognized or rise above certain levels. Teachers who were asked to cross the lines were not happy with their appointments. They were given teaching duties that did not comply with their background or training.   

What were in your opinion the major factors in seeing desegregation enforced in Williamston?

I think as time has gone on, the leaders have grown to see a need to work together and become more inclusive.  I think are county is better off when you have an across the board mix of talents and interests. I think there has been a warming up of the feeling and outlooks of blacks and whites. Starting with the demonstration, a greater effort to get to know and appreciate each other. I would go to Watts Theater, and I would have to go upstairs.  I felt rejected most of the time. I have learned to go beyond that and I don’t feel bitter.

Father Andrew Gentry

I grew up as a white boy in a totally segregated state. I had no concept of what it meant to be racist or that the system I knew was anything other than what it was supposed to be. I had no interaction with black people other than an occasional black woman that would help my mother who had four children and worked 48 hours a week as did my dad.

I had heard stories told in my family about slavery and the War Between the States and I heard comments about black folk and their "culture" which I assumed were true and not at all uncharitable. I remember seeing signs "white only" or "colored only" and being told that whites and blacks did not mix. I was forbidden to use the "n" word and told that black people were precious in the Lords sight just as much as we were. I did not at the time realize how contradictory that sentiment was with the reality of segregation...until one day when I was a young teenager my mom had taken me with her to the supermarket. I sat in her car with the windows down. An old black man was walking along the sidewalk adjacent to the store and a white man dressed in overalls was approaching from the opposite direction. The old gentleman tried to get out of the way of the white man but could not do so in time. The white man stumbled and the black man brushed against him. I heard him say " you! Goddamn nigger get off the goddamn street" and then he said "look what you made me do, nigger. You made me take the Lords name in vain"

When I heard him say that it was as if someone had taken a hot poker and stabbed me in my heart and I immediately got sick to my stomach. It was then I began to understand just a little bit how evil racism is...especially racism supported by religion. To this day the emotions I felt then still well up within me.

When will the day truly come when we no longer put human beings in categories other than brother and sister?

Cyrus B. King:
Institute of Religion, United Church, Raleigh, NC (1940-1965)

From 1940-1965 the United Church of Raleigh located on the corner of Hillsborough St. and Dawson St. sponsored the Institute of Religion. On six successive Monday nights in January and February a nationally prominent speaker would address an audience drawn from the entire community. Prior to the address of the evening a dinner was served and series of classes on a variety of subjects pertinent to the issues of the day were offered. Unique for those years was the fact that from its inception the Institute was fully integrated. African Americans and whites ate together, studied together, sat together and listened to together. To my knowledge those were the only full-integrated events in the city of Raleigh in those years.

Among the prominent speakers such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey, Reinhold Neibuhr, Hodding Carter and Rufus Jones, were seven outstanding African-Americans: Ralph Bunche (1950); Benjamin Mays (1954); James Robinson (1957); Martin Luther King (1958); Percy Julian (1959); James Lawson (1961); and James Farmer (1963). Three of these speakers are featured prominently in Eyes on the Prize. Martin Luther King, of course, became the preeminent leader for civil rights and non-violence. When he spoke to the Institute in 1958 h had led the successful Montgomery bus boycott but he had not become the national figure that he was destined to become.  James Lawson trained the leaders of the student nonviolent movement such as Diana Nash, James Bevel and John Lewis who were so important in the Movement and also prominent in Eyes on the Prize.  James Farmer, Director of CORE (Congress on Racial Equity), lie the others a marvelous orator, was the organizer of the Freedom Blues Rides through the South that resulted in terrible violence that TV viewers watched with horror on the evening news.

My wife and I attended these Institute of Religion sessions and as members of the planning committee we had the privilege of meeting and visiting with the speakers at receptions following each program.  It is my judgment that the Institute of Religion, sponsored by the United Church, now Community United Church of Christ, made a significant contribution to the racial justice in Raleigh.  For many of us, our Institute participation gave us the courage to join the street marches and boycotts in the 1960s calling for open accommodations for all citizens without regard to race. The leadership for these marches came from the African-American students at Shaw University and Saint Augustine’s College but some of us middle class white folks are now very pleased that we had the courage to follow their leadership although at the time we did it with fear and trembling.