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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Caesar Cone, January 7, 1983. Interview C-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Religious discrimination fails to bother Cone

Cone ran into some obstacles as a result of his Jewish heritage—he was denied admission at a prep school and could not join a fraternity at UNC or play golf at a number of courses, for example—but he says that his religion never limited his opportunities or bothered him emotionally. What does bother him is organized religion, which he thinks has caused more harm than good.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Caesar Cone, January 7, 1983. Interview C-0003. 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

HARRY WATSON:
Your family is Jewish, and that makes you a little bit unique in terms of southern industrialists. Has it ever made a difference in your family history, the way that you've worked in the Southeast?
CEASAR CONE:
It never made any difference coming along here in Greensboro. The town was pretty small, and my folks had been over here for a good many years, generations back. My father and his brother were born in a little town over in Tennessee. My grandfather emigrated from Germany in about 1820-odd—he was eighteen years old, I think—and got married in this country to a girl who family was from Lynchburg, Virginia, and they moved out to Tennessee. My mother's family had been over here for some generations. My grandmother on her side was born in Maryland in the 1840's or so. Anyway, I never ran into it here in Greensboro. The town was small; we were rich. The first time my family ran into it… My father died when I was nine, and my folks thought I ought to go off to prep school, and Woodbury Forest was considered the elite prep school. My brother had been to Carolina, and a lot of boys in Greensboro had been there. They applied for me to go to Woodbury, and they turned me down and said I wouldn't be happy up there because I was Jewish. This was Woodbury Forest in 1922. I didn't give a damn about Woodbury. As far as I was concerned, I'd just as soon stay here. I was fourteen years old. So I went out to Oak Ridge. I went to Carolina, and all my friends from Greensboro and around were invited into fraternities. No fraternity. Jewish. But it didn't affect me too much. I got along all right at Chapel Hill and didn't run into a problem down there, because I had all my friends from Greensboro and met a lot of folks from the rest of the state that knew my family and all. Other than that fraternity affiliation thing, it really didn't affect me. I was Business Manager of the Yackety-Yack down there my senior year, got mixed up in politics, was on the tennis team, and other things. I went to the Business School, and it didn't affect me up there. I roomed with a non-Jewish boy named Shepard from Raleigh, a friend of mine from school. My second year he didn't come back. We had an apartment up there, and I roomed with a Catholic and a couple of Protestants. In New York, the same way: my friends from Greensboro were not Jewish. But in New York, I ran into it. I played quite a bit of golf in those days, and I was invited all over the damn district up there to play golf. But I had no place to take my folks, so I joined a Jewish country club up there in New York just to pay back some of my obligations to my friends. My roommate was a member of the New York Athletic Club, which was only a few blocks from where we had an apartment. He put me up for membership, and they wouldn't take me in. This was in 1932 or '3. They didn't take Jews in the New York Athletic Club, which is on 59th Street and faces Central Park. It didn't matter too much, because my roommate used to invite me over there. I'd pay him for the fees and all. But it was a little embarrassing to go to a place. It was nice; it had a swimming pool and Turkish bath and all that kind of stuff. I didn't feel that I should stay away from the place and hurt myself. What the hell. I didn't like it too much, but… Down on Worth Street, where the textile industry was, there were two eating clubs. The head of our sales office was Jewish, a fellow named Dribbin. He was not a member of the Merchants' Club; they didn't take Jews. He was a member of what they called the Arkwright Club, where they did. This was the eating club only, down there, where the executives went to eat. I never ran into it much. Now I did run into the New York Jewish community considerably. My father had a summer place up in the Adirondack Mountains, and it was a hundred percent Jewish up there. Those Jews from around New York City didn't feel comfortable with anybody but Jews—in my opinion—they, their relatives and children. I mean they had a Jewish lawyer; they had a Jewish doctor; they had a Jewish broker. I mean they weren't religious, but they just kind of ghetto-ized themselves as far as their social life was concerned. And none of the hotels would take Jews, and the ones that did were a hundred percent Jewish. This was the resort places up there. Well, right funny. I was Treasurer twenty-odd years ago. We had a member of our Board of Directors that we acquired when we had the Dwight Manufacturing Company merger, Janson Noyes, a partner in a New York brokerage firm. He had a place down at Hobe Sound in Florida. He was a member of the Everglades Club down there in Palm Beach. My brother and I were down there for a convention of the ATMI, the American Textile Manufacturers' Institute. He invited us to go over to play golf with him at the Everglades Club. And somebody said, "Oh, heck, members aren't even supposed to invite Jews to the Everglades Club." Couldn't even have Jewish guests. This Noyes fellow evidently didn't know it; he should have. So somebody told him and that was right, so that was cancelled. Couldn't even have Jewish guests there at that place. Now maybe that was the way it was at the New York Athletic Club, but my roommate never asked. I guess that's the reason I got in with him when we would go over there. [Laughter] But it never bothered me. I married a Gentile girl, an Episcopalian from Greensboro—her family was originally from Alabama, but she was living here for years—when I got back in here in 1938. I was never religious to the extent of going to temple except once or twice a year, the high holy days, to repent for all my sins. I'm not much on organized religion, I don't give a damn what church it is. I think you've got to have your own religion in your head. I think the Ten Commandments are pretty good to live by, but I don't think that's the word of God. They were some smart guys that wrote those things a few years back, but what the hell. But organized religion, in my book, has caused more problems on this earth than it's caused good. I mean this Jonestown thing and this Islam crowd, the old Holy Grail and all that stuff, and the Holocaust, and the Inquisition. I mean not just Jews but hell, the whole damn business. I never let it bother me. I guess the Jews think I'm a son of a bitch by not being too cliquish and clannish or having married out of the faith, and I guess the Christians think I'm a son of a bitch for having invaded their premises by marrying a Christian. [Laughter] No, I mean it. It's kind of like my philosophy. I think I'm too liberal for the conservatives, and I think I'm too conservative for the liberals. I've run into that problem in the NAM, the National Association of Manufacturers— I was on that board for a while—and the U.S. Chamber. I mean I'm pretty conservative when it comes to finances. I think I'm somewhat liberal but realistic when it comes to social things.