Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Hope Franklin, July 27, 1990. Interview A-0339. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Franklin remembers James E. Shepard

In this excerpt, Franklin remembers James E. Shepard, an African American who opposed segregation but who was radical in other ways. Shepard was the founder of the institution now named North Carolina Central University, and served as its president from its founding in 1909 until his death in 1947.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Hope Franklin, July 27, 1990. Interview A-0339. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
Shepherd was a strange man. He was a conservative by day, and a kind of radical by night. He really wore two hats. He was very anti-segregation, very, had no truck with it. I was amazed to discover, for example—he told me, I knew him very well. He had great confidence in me. He liked to be with me because I didn't take him too seriously. I would joke with him. He knew everybody else was afraid of him. One day he said, "Franklin, you can be anything in this college except president. Now what do you want to be? I want you to be close to me, be a dean of some kind." I said, "Well, I'm not interested in being a dean." "What do you want then?" "I don't want anything." He said, "I'll give you tenure." I said, "I already have tenure. I'll be here until I get ready to go, not when you get ready for me to go." And he said, "Franklin, you're crazy. I don't understand what it is you want if you don't want to be a dean. You don't want to be vice president." I said, "I want one thing. You know what people say when they pass up and down Fayetteville Street? You know what they say now." He said, "What?" I said, "They say that's Jim Shepherd's school." And he laughed, you know, with a self-effacing modesty, you know, but he agreed [laughter] .
JOHN EGERTON:
That's what it was.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
That's what it was. And I said, "And do you know what my ambition is? I hope that if I stay here, people will pass this street out here and say, ‘You know, that's where John Hope Franklin teaches.’ " That's when he says, "Franklin, you are crazy." [Laughter] But he would never leave this city in a segregated railroad car. He took the drawing room right out of here. He didn't go downtown to shop. He either shopped in New York, or if he wanted to shop here, you know, he had people to send things out.
JOHN EGERTON:
Out to his house.
JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN:
To his house and to his office. You know, sometimes I'd go in and talk to him, looked like a store. And of course, they just worshiped him downtown. They thought he just didn't have time, so busy. But it wasn't just that. Sometimes he was sitting down there doing nothing. He could have been downtown. So he was something of an enigma, not to be regarded as a mere, old fashioned, hat in hand, conservative Negro. He wasn't that at all.