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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, November 8, 1976. Interview B-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Limits to Chapel Hill's racial liberalism

In 1940s Chapel Hill, racially progressive residents enjoyed a relatively permissive liberal environment, as long as it did not draw undue public attention. University of North Carolina President Frank Porter Graham filtered this liberal tolerance through to the student body. Jones describes how UNC students' decision to have an integrated concert caused pandemonium among some of the school's administration. Although Graham embraced racial liberalism, others rejected the public and forceful integration of blacks and whites. The testing of segregation's limits resulted in conflict. Jones further describes how his involvement with the Freedom Riders posed a problem for Graham, who preferred moderate methods to obtaining racial change in southern society. Nonetheless, Graham's openness drew the respect of young radicals and older liberals.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, November 8, 1976. Interview B-0041. 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

JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
He talked a great deal about how social change would be brought about through education and religion. And in the late forties, when he opposed federal action in the broad area of civil rights, that might have looked to some as if he were taking a states' rights position. But you think it's even broader …
CHARLES M. JONES:
I think it had nothing to do with states' rights, because if you're working in his life you might find places where he didn't stick to states' rights position. Well, as a matter of fact, you'll find it when he was in the Senate. He refused to go along with all the other Southern senators on a vote against cloture.
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
Yes.
CHARLES M. JONES:
Do you remember when that thing we think probably lost him his bid for re-election to the Senate? I think it was an honest conviction of his that the peaceful way and the gradual way—he felt it had to be gradual—would be by education and religion. But when he talked about education, I think he talked about education of the black as much as of white.
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
But it's bringing blacks up to a level where whites would…
CHARLES M. JONES:
And educating the whites to a sensitivity to the problem. Now that's why, in the forties, we got along famously in ChapellHill by what I call a permissive period in the University. You could do anything so long as it wasn't made public and it didn't make a fuss. [unclear] first year I was in town in 1941 I brought Howard Thurman to speak at the Presbyterian Church, a black. And Dorothy Maynor gave a concert a few years later in Memorial Hall, which was fascinating. I hope you can run up on old news reports. on [unclear] This caused difficulty for Dr. Frank. The way it was finagled in was to get some student groups to sponsor the concert for the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, of which I was the Chairman at the time and I was close to so many student groups and they sponsored the concert for the benefit of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. And Dorothy sang for nothing, gave all the money to the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. It was permissible for students, you see, to sponsor things. So Dr. Frank was approached and given the whole story, nothing held back, that the concert would be unsegregated, and he says, "Why, of course." And then his "I get it." One rather prominent University official—and I'd use his name, except I can't document it; I can use it to you if you want it, but I can't document it— went to Charlotte for a speech before a business club, and he let it loose that the concert was going to begiven. And immediately Bob House caught hell for it up here. But we did it. When Dr. Frank said yes, he meant yes. And he went ahead and did it. In those days I didn't save correspondence, and I wish I had, but I got a letter, not meant for me, out of my post office box. And it was addressed to a state senator or representative, and up in the corner it said "The Dorothy Maynor Concert Committee." Well, I was the chairman of the Dorothy Maynor Concert Committee, and I thought there was some mixup there, so I opened the thing. And it was a letter from…. I just got seventy-one, and names slip me fairly quick, but from Clark.
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
David Clark?
CHARLES M. JONES:
David Clark. There was a letter—I suppose it was meant to be confidential—from David Clark to members of the N.C. House and Senate telling about that concert. And he writes about Frank Graham walking in, big as life, "with some niggers" and sitting on the seventh or eighth row [Laughter] and so on. Then he talks about niggers ushering together and sitting together, and he said, "The stink got so bad that we had to open the windows." Well, it did get hot, but we had the windows open to begin with, and one of them fell down during the first part of it. Anyway, it was the funniest letter I ever read in my life. But, you see, that was a permissive kind of thing that you hope won't cause a state-wide rumpus. It's educating, really. It was right along with his theory. Now when it comes to something like the '47 thing, testing the interstate unsegregated bus riding which was almost sure to bring some kind of conflict I feel like Frank Graham would rather have had that tested not by a special group like CORE, the FOR, and Bayard Rustin out of state fellows, but he'd like to have had that tested in the course of time, naturally. That's his way of working. I knew the test was coming; I'd helped plan it. But he didn't know that. There was no reason for him to know it. We never talked about the thing, even until after it happened. Of course, I'd never hide anything from him. But he didn't know I had anything to do with it. He just thought I had got word that those fellows were in trouble, so "bighearted me," I go down and do my thing. The truth, though, was I was in on it from the first, because I was a member of CORE and the FOR. And when he begins to defend me, one of his defenses is, "Well, now, Charlie didn't know anything about this. It was just something he responded to" [Laughter] [unclear] which wasn't true. One of the hardest things I had in my life was to go to him and tell him that he was wrong. He says, "Well, that's all right. It's all right." He says, "It was perfectly legal." But I see Dr. Frank, really, as a stimulator—I call him "the great encourager." Young people or older people like me, he would make aware of injustices. You get kind of fired up, and then you do it. But you're probably doing it the way he wouldn't. He'd go about it in a different way. But he'd sure as heck stand by you when you did it, and it was quite a thing. Now this way of his was reversed once in Congress, when Al Lowenstein, of whom I think a great deal—and Al told me this, so I know it's true—when Al Lowenstein was his young assistants in Congress…. Because he was [unclear] young competent lawyer. Al was in school here and then graduated from Yale Law School, I believe. But Dr. Frank took"his"young men from here as assistants. And when he was going to vote for cloture that fatal time, Al and some of the other boys went to Senator Russell, I believe it was, and said, "Look, can't you persuade Dr. Frank not to go this way alone?" And you know what Senator Russell said? "Don't you tamper with Frank Graham's conscience." But that's a case of Lowenstein going in reverse (acting as a cautious radical) Al was a radical, and he went South with the lawyers in the civil rights, see, but he didn't want to see this strong person lose his votes from the South and his seat in the Senate. As a matter of fact—and I don't know if you've run across this, but it's very interesting—both of Lowenstein's children, his first child was named Frank Porter Graham Lowenstein, and his second was named after his sister, Mrs. [Kate] Sanders. [Laughter] Which shows what influence he had over young radicals. And I call him "the great encourager." That's what he meant to Lowenstein, who later as state senator from N.Y. really broke up the Johnson public support for fighting the Vietnam War. He was the reason for Johnson refusing an almost sure second term nomination for President. Well, if that answers in part some of your questions about Graham's liberalism. I tend to ramble on too far, but you may ask further questions about it.