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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Need for comprehensive community college education

Herring tells an anecdote to illustrate the importance of comprehensive community college education in unlocking the potential of underserved North Carolinians. This mission can be rewarding, but Herring has encountered plenty of frustration trying to realize it.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. 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

JAY JENKINS:
Well, Dallas, of course you were one of the fathers of the community college system. Now that it's been in existence for nearly twenty-five years, how do you evaluate the system that we have today?
WILLIAM DALLAS HERRING:
Well, first let me disclaim the paternity. I was the midwife, not the poppa. I always feel it was not my idea alone.
JAY JENKINS:
No single individual did more to bring it into existence. I can testify from first hand experience.
WILLIAM DALLAS HERRING:
Well, I appreciate that but I want to share the honor with, or the blame as the case may be, with a lot of other people. There were a lot of people that did make it possible, Hodges and Sanford, all my colleagues on the board and in the system, Bill Friday, John Sanders, Irving Carlyle, Gerald James, many of them. The system enjoyed a protracted honeymoon in the '60's. The first negative response came as a cautionary note in the first budget message that Governor Moore gave to the '65 session of the legislature. It disturbed me a great deal. He said that the system was growing too fast and needad an independent study to see what could be done, implying that it needed to be curtailed. I didn't vote for Governor Moore. I voted for Richardson Pryor who was his opponent. Governor Moore knew that. I had respect for him and tried to be responsible in my relationship to him, and I'm sure he did too. He never seemed to blame me for that political sin but he, therefore, never seemed to have any particular compulsion to do what I asked him to do [laughter] . I did feel that during his administration we grew closer together. I found cut that Edwin Gill wrote the paragraph about the community colleges.
JAY JENKINS:
In the Governor's message?
WILLIAM DALLAS HERRING:
Yeah, he admitted to me that he did. I went to see him about it because I knew he had influence with Moore. The explanation that Gill gave me was—I think he was really responding to Sanford—he was weary of being put on the shelf and this was an occasion when he could assert his independence. 12 12 Both Gill and Sanford were from Laurinburg, but Gill was conservative and did not support Sanford. They were estranged to some extent while Sanford was governor. Gill and I had a perfect relationship. He seemed to respect me, and I know I respected him. But he was far more conservative than I was about some things. He reminded me of Hodges who was in favor of progress in education as long as it didn't cost anything [laughter] . You know how that was. That's too rough a criticism, but he didn't want it to cost much. Gill was willing to give some, but not nearly as much as Sanford forced him to. I said we had to get some experience with it. It's true that it's grown like a patch of weeds in the barnyard. It's just growing because it's meeting a need that has never been met before, and the people are lopping it up. They want it.
JAY JENKINS:
Pent up demand.
WILLIAM DALLAS HERRING:
That's exactly right. I told him an example of a black man down in Pamlico County, at Oriental, that I'd had a letter from. He had eight children. He didn't have enough money to buy him a boat to go out and fish with, but he had a flat bottom rivar boat and could go around the edge and catch crabs and take them to the fish market and try to support the family. But he was doing that in all kinds of weather, and year round it's sort of an uphill proposition. Somebody said to him, "Why don't you go over here to Pamlico Tech [or IEC or whatever it was at that time] and take a course in welding, and you can go across the river hare to Cherry Point and get you a job at the air base and make big money." I have to stop to keep from being sentimental about this. He said, "You mean they'll let me in there?" The fellow assured him that he could get in there. To make a long story short he went, he learned. It's forty miles from Oriental around by New Bern back (so Ned Delamore tells me, it seems strange but it must be) to Cherry Point. It's only three or four miles across the sound over there, if you've got anybody with a boat that can get across. That was before the ferry was put in. Anyway, he got over there. Got him a job. I think his check was $250.00. The most money he had never had in his life. This is in the '60's. It sounds small now. He was one of those rare individuals who remembered to thank people. He went to see Paul Johnson, president of the institution, and thanked him profusely for making this economic opportunity possible in his life. And Paul said, "Well, don't thank me"—that he didn't start it and he just hired the teachers, etc. Well, whom should he thank, and he told him to write me a letter. It's a very valued treasure in my files. I don't know where I'd find it, but it's somewhere in those boxes. It just impressed me, as a tremendous example, of what the educational planners would have left out. It never would have occurred to the Board of Higher Education that here was a need that was worthy of their consideration, with all due respect to them. They thought in terms of institutions, power, prestige, quality, accreditations—all of these worthy things—but forgot the human being who was so far cut of it that he wasn't even aware that he deserved a chance. And of course what he studied was not a worthy thing either—welding. We're talking about the toe dancing school [laughter] —I worked with John Ehle on that thing, and I'm totally in favor of it. I think it's wonderful, and I think we chose the right place to put it, where the powers that be in the noble city of Winston-Salem will fund it when we run out of state money [laughter] Well, let me ask you this question. If it's right to recognize the creative urge in the human spirit that finds expression in ballet and music and drama and the arts that are recognized with some standing, is it wrong to recognize the art of how to decorate a cake in some black woman's life in the remote province of Pamlico, or Cherokee for that matter? My plea is, has been, these are not—it's hard enough to get them to recognize the economic need and the economic potential of the forgotten people that Page talked about. It is even more difficult for them to understand that these are human beings with immanse capacity for creative contribution to the progress of civilization.
JAY JENKINS:
Great statement.
WILLIAM DALLAS HERRING:
And I can't help being frustrated and sentimental. I want to break down and cry when I think about it. When I see what so many professional educators turn these institations into—self-serving mills conforming to traditional requirements. We like to lock it up at 3:30 and go play golf instead of staying there until the last student leaves late at 11:00 at night because he was interested in what he was doing and had to work during the day at his job so he could go to school at night to get out of this ghetto that we have and we don't recognize. It wouldn't do for me to get on the warpath about that now. They'd put me in my place in a hurry, but every opportunity I get I bring it out. I went before the board—they gave me a little medal up there—board of community colleges. They didn't say that they were going to ask me to speak. They seldom do that anymore, but there were a number of others that were honored at the same time. After they got through, they asked me to speak. That's when they gave us these pictures that they made of us to hang in the board room—very prestigous kind of thing—felt like it was in a courtroom. But I got up there, and I told them the story I just told you about Pamlico. I said, "I read in the paper the other day that somebody had told you to close Pamlico Tech down. It wasn't big anough. I think it was the gentleman from Mecklenburg, but I'm not sure. I wouldn't blame him for it. I think that's who it was, or aither somebody had told the governor to do it, or the governor said that they ought to do it. It's a long way from Mecklenburg to Pamlico. And I want you to know that it's a long way from that skyscraper the bank owns up there to the house in Oriental. Think about that for a minute. Charlotte can lead us in the way to desegregation and pat itself repeatedly on the back, ad infinitum. When is Charlotte going to get up with its great humanitarian heart and say: ‘These are our people too, and we want their needs to be met whether or not you do justice by Mecklenburg’?" When are we going to get a society in North Carolina that's willing to do that? Think about this, Jay. We get the political situation where we can appropriate three million dollars for a horse barn for the society horse set. (I used to keep saddle horses—until the town got so civilized that they wouldn't let me keep them on the lot anymore, and I tore the barn down—in my younger days, and I thoroughly enjoyed riding. I used to dress up in my jodhpurs and go out with my gentlemen friends and ride horseback.) But if the state has the kind of money to build a riding stable for this highly selected set of society in Raleigh and then, to keep the pot from boiling over, to duplicate that in Asheville, it has the money to educate the people at Triangle. You know where Triangle is, in Cherokee County? There are a few people from Georgia that slip over the line to go to school at Tri-County Community College. I told them, "Let them in. They're human beings." More likely they're going to marry somebody in Murphy and settle down up there anyway.