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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Igal Roodenko, April 11, 1974. Interview B-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Local minister helps CORE activists escape Chapel Hill unscathed

Rodenko explains how Chapel Hill minister Charles Jones came to the aid of the CORE Journey of Reconciliation activists following their arrest. He explains how CORE had pre-existing connections with lawyers and civil rights groups lined up throughout the South should such an incident occur. In Chapel Hill, Rodenko describues how a group of white supremacists had gathered and, had it not been for the help of Jones, the CORE workers may not have escaped Chapel Hill without being met with violence.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Igal Roodenko, April 11, 1974. Interview B-0010. 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

JERRY WINGATE:
What happened after the arrests. I'm interested in how in 1947 the local citizenry in Chapel Hill reacted.
IGAL RODENKO:
Well . . .
JERRY WINGATE:
Were there any demonstrations for or against the thing that had occurred? Did it get a lot of media attention?
IGAL RODENKO:
The demonstrations that happened were not planned, and had a pretty heavy impact upon my sweating ssystem. We were being held, we went through this whole routine again, we were booked, and the bus pulled out, and bus station and the jailhouse were just across the street from each other, and we were standing in the front window of the police station, waiting for the whole procedures to be completed, and we saw a growing number of people around the bus station, muttering around and milling around, and looking in our direction, and we were beginning to feel safe in the hands of the police.
JERRY WINGATE:
Whites?
IGAL RODENKO:
Yes, and largely, well, the center of this were the cabbies, the people who hang around the bus station anyway. Jim Peck, who was on the trip but who had not been arrested, went out to make a phone call, or to get something, and he was jostled a little, but he responded quite calm and he came back to us, and nothing further happened. Then, suddenly, Charlie Jones came into the police station, and the procedures were completed Charlie Jones was a minister in Chapel Hill and still lives here, and probably the focus of integration. Of what integrationist feeling there was in the state of North Carolina, he was it. He had integrated his church before anyone else had. I am told that two elderly parishioners of his picketed his church every Sunday morning during services because he had integrated his church. The Congress of Industrial Organizations, the state structure, wanted to hold their convention, and his church was the only place in the whole state where they could meet since it was an integrated body.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Someone called Charlie . . .
IGAL RODENKO:
We came to him when we came to Chapel Hill.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you have contacts in other places in the South where you were going?
IGAL RODENKO:
Oh, yes. Part of the whole Gandhian thing was that we had a whole battery of lawyers that we could call on. Several in Richmond, Spottswood (Robinson)
JERRY WINGATE:
Robinson, it was.
IGAL RODENKO:
Yes. The ACLU people and the NAACP people, people we could call on in case of trouble. Part of the structure was not knowing what would happen, the people in the trip who were not the guinea pigs at any one point were absolutely ready to call on help in case anything should happen. Charlie was one such contact. He hustled us out of the police station and into his car, and he lived on . . .
JERRY WINGATE:
Had you gotten out on bail or something?
IGAL RODENKO:
I think so. Just as we were coming out, we saw a bunch of these guys pile into two cabs across the street . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
I wonder why you weren't locked up?
IGAL RODENKO:
You see the story had started coming back, what the bus drivers did, this was the end of the first week, they would call the home office. The national office for Trailways was I think in Richmond, and the national Trailways office and Greyhound began to see that this was not an accident, this was part of a scheme and they were very afraid of getting into legal things. You can lock up an oddball, but if you have a whole structure behind him, you don't know what kind of contention and litigation you are going to get into. I think this is why Greyhound just said,"Lay off."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that just an assumption that Greyhound had instructed not to lock up?
IGAL RODENKO:
No, I just think that the police said, we are not going to do anything unless the driver presses charges, and the driver did not know what to do unless he asked the parent company, and Trailways said no, don't let it happen, and Greyhound said, no, keep it cool as you possibly can. Charlie lived on what is Franklin, and there was a back alley between Franklin and the street next to it, and he packed us into his car and rushed down this back alley and we got through the back door into his house. Just as we got in and rushed to the front window and started closing windows and doors and pulling down windowshades and things, these two cabs drew up in front of the house, and eight or ten men started to cross the lawn with clubs or sticks or some|thing, in a sweat, and another car come up, and some guy talked to them, and they left. Our assumption is that this guy said let's not do this in open daylight. We sat around not knowing what would happen. There were a few anonymous calls in effect saying, get those nigger-lovers out of town before dark or else there is no accounting what will happen to you. Charlie had been smart enough. He had three or four daughters, and he had gotten his family out of Chapel Hill several days before, just in anticipation of what might happen. Finally we found someone who came along in two cars and just scooted us out of Chapel Hill. The assumption is that Charlie saved our lives or at least our limbs. There was no violence coming out of that. Then we proceeded on with the rest of the journey.