Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 16, 1979. Interview C-0013-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

An effort at creating an economic base for the black community

Spaulding remembers the United Organizations for Community Improvement (UOCI), an organization that sought to build an economic foundation for black communities. The group came to Spaulding hoping for his help in building a grocery store, and after turning them away, Spaulding reflected on this effort by members of the black lower class to help themselves. He changed his mind and helped launch the project. Here, Spaulding remembers his thought process and the successful fundraising drive that led to the creation of the store.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 16, 1979. Interview C-0013-3. 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

I remember UOCI. These were a group of people, low income and so forth, and so on. And they got together and wanted to do something to improve their lot. It was the United Organization of Community Improvement. And they came up with the idea that they wanted to get in business. And what kind of business they could get in. And they decided a grocery store, because all had to buy groceries. And they wanted to organize a grocery store and to raise money. And they needed twenty-five thousand dollars to get an SBA loan. And this was after I had retired. I think it was the first year after I retired. And I was busy at that time; I had gotten connected with General Electric to do some consulting work, and also the Ford Foundation. And Ben Ruffin and Nathan Garrett came to my office to see if I would help by being chairman of the committee to try to raise the twenty-five thousand dollars. If the relationship had been a strained relationship, they wouldn't have come to me for that. And really I didn't feel that I had the time or anything else. Because I had just moved into my office—if I am recapitulating it as it was—and was trying to get lined up and trying to keep my contacts and do the consulting work and all. And had no help; I did have a girl come in part-time, certain days of the week. To make a long story short, I explained to them what my situation was and told them, "I just don't see how I can." And they wouldn't take no for an answer. I didn't say no, you know, but it looked like I was getting there. They said, "Well wait, you just think about it tonight and let us come back and see you tomorrow." And sure enough I did. After they left I got to thinkingabout it. I said now, here is a group of people who are trying to do something for themselves, and they're always criticized for wanting to be on welfare, and never wanting to do something for themselves. And also the charges that have been made over the years that the black middle class, or middle class, forgets those on a lower level, or does not reach down to try to help pull them up. If you get up, you forget about trying to pull them up. I came home and talked to my wife about it that night. The first place, they were going to run it. And in trying to get it set up, they wanted two classes of stock, A class and B class. I don't recall which one was to be the voting stock, but the voting stock would only be sold to the low income people, so that they would always be sure to have control. Well, you know what the reason was for: to elect the directors, officers, and operate it. And those who were sympathetic toward them and willing to make an investment in it, would get the other class of stock. Now, I don't recall now whether or not the one limited to the non-voting stock would be permitted to buy one or two shares out of a certain number, or not. But anyway, there was no way that the low income people could lose control. That was firmly fixed with the limitation of stock. So I talked to my wife about it and we went over everything. You know, thinking about these things and what people would say about it. And I said now, these people need to be encouraged instead of discouraged. And one way to bridge gaps—and this might be an opportunity—that is, coming to me to help bridge a gap in the community. To make a long story short, I decided to do it. And when they came back the next morning to see me, I gave the answer yes. So we went through the rationale of the whole thing. And I arranged—I don't know if it was the next day or the end of the week—for a press conference. The press and the T.V. and the radio to announce the formation of the committee and the purpose of it, and that we needed the twenty-five thousand dollars. And I used as part of my argument that here is a group of people that's trying to do something for themselves. And instead of criticizing I feel that we ought to encourage them. And two things would come out of it. They would either make a go of it, or, if they didn't, they could see how hard it is to operate a business and be more sympathetic to the people and the problems that they have in trying to run a business. So it would be an educational experience. So something good would come out of it. And we had this press conference and we had the stock classes and certificates planned, and set up a campaign. And the T.V. man, white, who came to the press conference bought the first twenty-five dollars worth of stock. He was so impressed with the rationale of the purpose and so on. In other words, whether it succeeded or failed, he would give that as a contribution for the good of it. And instead of twenty-five thousand dollars, I think we actually raised thirty-one thousand dollars. And a lot of people who bought it didn't ever expect any return. Well they didn't, and they didn't expect any. They felt it was worth the effort. And sure enough, they were able to get the SBA loan to either buy the land or lease the land, I've forgotten which now. And they built this store on Mangum Street, North Mangum Street. And had it well stocked. But, in the meantime, Mangum Street had become a one-way street, and it was inconvenient to get in. And most of the black community was on this side of town. There was a black community over on that side, but to run a grocery store, you know, and especially your fresh vegetables and things of that nature. And getting someone who understood the art and science of buying, and cost counting and everything else. Well, it operated for a while, and it never did get to the place where it broke even, and so it went by the way. But they did form the United Durham Corporation and got funding. So out of this UOCI came UDI, and out of that came UDC, United Development Corporation, which now has this tract of land off of Fayetteville Street, with this industry coming in there, the industrial park. So the descendants of UOCI, just like a family tree, it's still going and going well. It looks like it's really going to make a significant contribution.
The idea is to provide jobs through industry here.
Yes. So, I have never let differences prevent me from doing a good deed when the opportunity comes to do it.