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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 14, 1979. Interview C-0013-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Modeling integration at the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company

Spaulding remembers bringing white speakers to the historically black North Carolina Mutual, a program that not only brought innovative business ideas to the company, but also brought blacks and whites together in a pioneering way. In a segregated environment, Spaulding engineered the program to project an integrationist image, and he believes he succeeded in opening some doors.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 14, 1979. Interview C-0013-2. 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

WALTER WEARE:
Was there evidence this early in Durham that you were having black leaders, yourself included, having this kind of impact on white leaders? That is, were they changing?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, when I succeeded C.C. Spaulding as trustee of Shaw University—and I don't want to repeat something I've already said; I think I told you about…
WALTER WEARE:
I think we missed the part that you're getting up to.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
All right. They would speak at eleven o'clock and have a question and answer period that would extend it to twelve. I would always bring that speaker to Durham for two purposes: one, to give him lunch at North Carolina Mutual, and second, to have community leaders to come in and meet him, and have him to talk to them on any subject he wanted. Because all of them were people who were leaders nationally, in business, commerce, industry, banking, or what have you. Or international leaders. Jumping ahead, I had, for instance, I remember when I had Francis I. Dupont to come here. And I wanted him to meet the community leaders. He was supposed to speak at eleven o'clock and his train came around eight or eight-thirty, I think. So, anyway, I called I guess about thirty of the leaders, black and white, in to meet him, probably at nine o'clock in the morning, in our directors' room. They came because this was one of the Duponts. I don't need to elaborate on that. And to rub shouders with him, and to have him talk to them, and to be able to ask him questions. And I remember one of the things he said. Everytime they came out with a new product, they immediately, if they hadn't already started their research before, on some product to replace the one that they're just bringing out. Because they know their competitors are going to do it, and that's the only way they can stay ahead. And they had products on the shelf, or formulas, to bring out at the appropriate time. Already going through the experiments and everything else. And those kinds of things are something to business people: think ahead, plan ahead, if you're going to be competitive. And, you see, those kinds of ideas, people would come, who were doing things. They were glad to come. And the first time blacks and whites actually ate together: I started this. When I'd bring them here, I'd always have about eight or ten to meet with this person. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I would select key white people to come and have lunch with the speaker and with the officers of our company. And, you know, I never had a refusal. They would come over here, and of course it was a private sitting, and they felt that they could come and not be exposed to the community. But that didn't last long before I had a photographer to come in a take a picture of it, for our records, and our history [Laughter] . And I remember we had an evening paper and a morning paper. The morning paper was a little more liberal. The evening paper was extremely conservative.
WALTER WEARE:
The Herald is the morning paper, and the Sun is the evening paper?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
That's right. So I said, let me start with the morning paper. I had developed a kind of comraderieship, I guess you would call it at that stage of life, with the publisher, C.C. Council. And he was one of the early ones that I invited. And he came. And by that time, I had already started having a photographer come in and take a picture. And his photographer from his paper came in and took this picture of us at lunch. And it was run in the next morning paper. Well, you know what that meant.
WALTER WEARE:
Now, who would be there? These are white Durham businessmen?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes. The publisher of the Durham Morning Herald was amongst the guests at this luncheon with us and the speaker who had been to Shaw University. He was glad to come, because he wanted to meet this man and talk with him. And it's just like today. People like to shake the hand of a celebrity. And I knew that. It went on so that I would have different ones. Then after this would come out that Mr. so-and-so was here, and these were the people who were at lunch, it got to the place where people wanted to be invited. I had no problem. I would always invite a different set of whites. Sometimes it was a lawyer and a banker. Well, you just go around the different representations of groups. Then after that, we would assemble in our directors' room, and I had a larger group—always about twenty-five or thirty people there, about equal distribution of blacks and whites. The black leaders in the different businesses and things they were doing. The publisher of the Carolina Times, the publisher of the Morning Herald, and all. In other words, I try to get all these counterparts. And in planning it, I would always arrange it with the speaker that he would be coming to Durham for luncheon after the talk at Shaw. And I would ask him if he would give about fifteen minutes talk to the community leaders. And they would all agree to it. And they would have a question and answer period afterwards. And those were the first forums between blacks and whites. Long before Duke started inviting the speakers that they're inviting in now. And this was the forerunner of the exchange, the interchange of ideas between blacks and whites in Durham. That was North Carolina Mutual.
WALTER WEARE:
When they were assembled there, would they forget about race, do you think?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, I'm sure they were conscious of race, but at the same time….
WALTER WEARE:
Were they comfortable?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, yes, they were comfortable. And especially as it went along. It was always published in the paper. There were always pictures of the group that were made. And that's why it was considered an honor to be invited. Because the speakers were of the calibre that you would want to have an opportunity to talk with them.
WALTER WEARE:
Would you have to be careful about a seating arrangement?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. They just took their seats wherever they wanted. I'd always sit at the head table. Or, even before I became president, I'd have the chairman to sit at the head of the table, and the speaker on his right, and I'd be on his left.
WALTER WEARE:
Did they ever confide in you personally after these experiences?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, sure! They thanked me for inviting them.
WALTER WEARE:
But would they talk about the contradiction of one moment being togehter?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, no, I never made it a point to discuss the matter of that. It was a matter of an opportunity to come together and meet people, and hear what's going on in the world, and what the current issues are, and what's being done. How, if they're at all being successful, what's the secret of their success and so forth. Whatever they wanted to talk about.
WALTER WEARE:
I was wondering if it had any psychological impact on race relations.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, sure it was having a psychological impact, because they were doing something freely and anxiously that they had never done before. So it had to. And when I first started, I was always very careful to select those who had shown some liberalism. And that was at a time when the Durham Sun, the editor of the Durham Sun, was down on Paris Street, and would write his editorials on the block vote, you know, and the Paris Street Gang, those kind of things, you know. I mean there were some very vitriolic editorials. So I bided my time. And I'd invite Mr. Council of the Herald to all of them. And I just was imagining that he was wondering if he was ever going to get an invitation. So, I don't remember who the speaker was, but it was someone that I knew he'd be glad to meet. And he would be willing to sit down and eat with him. I thought he would; and I extended him an invitation. And, sure enough, he accepted it and came. And a picture was made of that [Laughter] . And after that we became good friends. When I was appointed to City Board of Adjustment, the person who was chairman of the board at the time retired. I made the motion that he be made chairman. And he was surprised. I guess you call it, ‘door opening’ or fashioning the key to unlock doors.