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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 >>

Asking Native Americans to desegregate

Herring remembers an integration controversy in eastern North Carolina. A group of Native Americans were receiving tuition grants from the state to attend a segregated school, and it became Herring's job to explain that they would no longer be able to do so. He credits his tactful approach for avoiding a messy confrontation or a court battle.

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

I want to show you something. I'm dwelling too long on Hodges, but I should bring it out, if you've got time, one incident that I had during the Sanford administration about integration. I did not approve of this local option idea that Sanford—in special session of '56 I believe it was—proposed.
You mean Hodges.
I meant Hodges. I'm sorry I used the wrong name. The so called Halawar Indians—it's a made-up name taken from Halifax and Warren counties' names. As apt as any, I suppose. They were probably remnants of the Tuscarora, and white and black populations that had segregated themselves. They didn't want to go to school with the blacks. The whites wouldn't let them go to school with them, so they built themselves a school. Under this special legislation that they adopted, they had a tuition grant arrangement so parents could apply to the state for a tuition grant, and they were going to operate that school on that basis. Well, Hodges in his characteristic manner picked up the phone and commanded me to go up there and tell them they couldn't have it. It had been before the state board of education a couple of times. We had the money to fund a school over there. It wasn't that expensive. The problem was that they knew that the courts would not support such a policy to evade integration. For the state to grant it, to support a segregated Indian school, would be all the evidence that the opposition would need to knock the thing in the head. It was intended as a pacifier, a safety valve, to keep the people quiet while the public opinion matured—useful in that respect, though somewhat dishonest, I thought. Anyway, he told me to meet his legal assistant, Bob Giles, New Year's Day. I forget what year, '58 or '9. It was sleeting. I drove all the way to Warrenton and met with their board of education. Bob Giles came in, and in his usual dignified legalistic approach to things, he told them what they had to do. It reminded me of the time when old man Hunter came down here and told us we had to shut down Magnolia School. I didn't like it, the way it happened. They didn't like it either in Warren County. They were not about to do it. We had a little recess. I said, "Bob, you go on outside and smoke a cigarette and let me handle this." We went in behind closed doors, and they had an Indian with them. I think there was an Indian on the board if I remember. I said, "I understand your problem. I'm from Duplin County. I was raised in the old-time tradition. I didn't change the law. My problem is to maintain the educational opportunities in the state." Somebody said, "Well, I've been deer hunting down your way." He asked about so and so and how things were, and we got a little social conversation going. They began to relax a little bit. I said, "I'm not up here to cause you all any problems or tell you what to do. It's against my whole philosophy. I'm here because the governor asked me to come. I want to explain to you what the problem is from the state's point of view regardless of what you do here. You need to understand that. It'll be only a matter of a month or so, in the judgment of the attorney general's office, before the courts will throw this whole idea out if you make a grant to these people. Then where would we be? You won't have that as a safety valve that could be used possibly under more favorable circumstances somewhere to prevent a real tragedy." I said, "You haven't got a tragedy here. You've got people who want to do the right thing." I said, "Your schools are segregated, and you can go on and fund them under the state plan without any direct tuition grants. I don't see what objection you have to that." And they began to see the logic of that. If you go the route they wanted to go, it wouldn't last, oh, sixty, ninety days. If they went the way of taking them into the public school system, even though they were segregated, it would last until a federal court integrated the whole thing. So that's what they did.