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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William I. Ward Jr., March 21, 1975. Interview B-0072. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Issues of race in the consolidation process

Ward discusses how issues of race affected the effort to consolidate Mecklenburg County, focusing specifically on reactions to school busing and representation of minorities on various county boards and commissions. Although Ward argues that he didn't believe that school busing was a major factor in opposition to consolidation, he does suggest that the charter commission may have tried to promote too many reforms all at once.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William I. Ward Jr., March 21, 1975. Interview B-0072. 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

WILLIAM (BILL) MOYE:
How much did the recommendations for the district representation on the governing board and the school board play? Specifically in connection with the whole uproar about the school busing situation? Are those two connected in any way?
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
I have read studies saying that they were. I didn't see… I didn't see any connection. I didn't realize those connections. People up…People near where I live…I doubt that most of then had any fixed reason that any one of them could point to for why he voted that way, to be frank about it. He was just opposed to getting mixed up with Charlotte. Now, about school busing, the people where I live…We had had school busing the entire time, for many years. School busing is nothing new. Since Davidson at one time had its own school system, how I don't know, but it did, right up until right after World War II, I think. Since that time…
WILLIAM (BILL) MOYE:
That's something for a town that small.
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
A town that small. That's correct. How it existed, I don't know, but it did. It had been part of the county system, and, as such, when North Mecklenburg High School was constructed in the very early fifties, '51 I think, high school students had been bused. Gradually they have built the junior high school and done away. So, busing had become a way of life to the people up there. Many of them had favored the consolidated schools and doing away with the very small high school that they had in Davidson. Busing and what was done about busing in my part of the county. I don't think had any bearing on it whatsoever. In fact, prior to the time, there was a big integration effort in Charlotte. The dual school system in North Mecklenburg had been abolished. Integration in the schools had actually taken place in North Mecklenburg five years before anywhere else in the county.
WILLIAM (BILL) MOYE:
I guess really what's at the bottom of that question…Maybe these are some of the studies that you mentioned that you had read that indicated that maybe school busing did…Was that a lot the use of terms like "ward heeling" and "going back to the ward system" really meant that the person who was using them was using them [unclear] code words. In other words, he didn't want to come out and say, "We don't want more blacks on the council", but really pointing at that in an attempt sort of to take advantage of this emotional furor that had been whipped up because of the school busing situation.
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
You know, there could have been some of that feeling. That could have been in the…I won't deny that that could have been a controlling factor in the vote inside of Charlotte and in the area immediately around Charlotte, contiguous to Charlotte. Those who had been going, in effect, to city schools in…
WILLIAM (BILL) MOYE:
But having had the experience that the northern part of the county had had of busing anyway…
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
Right. I did not, not living with those people and having only limited contact…Some of the survey could have, perhaps, had an effect on those people. I don't think as a general rule it would apply throughout the county. I do think that the Charter Commission went well beyond the call of duty when it attempted to write into the charter many of the things that the black members of the commission, Fred Alexander and Katherine Crosby, wanted. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
certainly wasn't accepted by the Charter Commission. Many times that I thought we were going beyond the scope of our duty in trying to write such a reform document and if we had simply tried to put together a consolidated chater without going into the reforms that we would. perhaps, come up with something that would be more palletable and that they were really attempting to write reform into the charter at the same time as attemtting to consolidate. Number one, consolidation is difficult enough, but when you put into it at the same time and in one bite too many reforms to satsfy a minority, then you are going to naturally have more reaction against you.
WILLIAM (BILL) MOYE:
I wonder why that decssion was made. Not only in this connection but to make a very thorough study of all county government and to recommend a big number of changes pretty much across the board. Thereby building in additional opposition.
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
Well, there were dominant members of the charter commission and those, of course, who were fillers. I don't mean to be derogatory, but this is true of any group. There were some on the commission who had had experience with charters before. One member of the commission had had a primary role in re-writing Charlotte's charter several years prior. Not too long prior to…
WILLIAM (BILL) MOYE:
'64, '65?
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
Somewhere in there. Then, a very good friend of his who was also, maybe, the most influential member of the commission, a man who was close to him, shared his views. They were adamant in their intent of re-writing, not only consolidating but coming up with a new document. Of course, they were supported in this by the minority members of the commission. There were others, people from the academic world, who thought this was a good thing, and they went along with it. I guess there just weren't enough people, enough members of the commission who had strong opinions to keep it from happening.
WILLIAM (BILL) MOYE:
Let me ask you this. In a lot of the referenda and bond issues and whatnot in the city, the nonpartisan referenda, seems to be a fairly strong alliance on many issues between precincts in the Southeast and the black precincts in the city. I'm wondering if the charter as it was written, in any way, was an attempt to, in consolidation of government, to make sure that this alliance would continue on the county level? If this were a reason, why so much influence was accepted from the minority members on the commission?
WILLIAM I. WARD, JR.:
I don't know. I can'T. I don't know. I don't have any feel for that. I don't know. I really wouldn't express an opinion about that. The ward system or the district representation that was proposed ran into a lot of trouble, I thought, when they tried to set up the various districts. I think this damaged the plan. One district was so [unclear] and widespread as to be difficult to identify, covering a vast area down the west side of Charlotte. That was an effort, of course, to give the black minority more seats. They ran into another stumbling block because this came along at a time when only 1960 census figures were available, and here we were operating in 1970-71 when we did not have 1970 census figures available. I was amused at the great controversy that raged between two charter commission members about the racial composition of some of the districts. One argued that the registration showed so and so, and the other one said that wasn't true because you could just ride around the streets and see it wasn't so. Of course, some of the districts had changed in ten years time from one racial composition to another. That also, perhaps among those who favored the ward system, destroyed some of their interest in it. I don't know whether they did it estensibly but cast doubts.