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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0056. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thomas Pearsall's strength of character earned him respect and trust

Pearsall describes how her husband's easygoing personality, business acumen, and paternalistic attitudes garnered the trust of whites and blacks alike. Because of his ability to gain the trust of both races, Thomas Pearsall was chosen to serve as the chair of the education committee. His acceptance of others is expressed later in the interview.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0056. 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

How was he different in running the farms from your father? Were they very much alike in the way they handled the families, or was Tom closer to the tenants than your father?
Well, it was more or less the same pattern. It was still paternalistic. But with Tom's generation you tried to improve the quality of their lives and give them access to education more. My father inherited the system from his father. He was Marse Mack as he was called, much beloved by the people. But as I look back now, it was on a different plateau, sort of. But it came with the times. My father did the best he could in his position and in the scheme of things. So I think it was the agricultural prominence maybe that stood out. Then by that time, it had been recognized, I think, almost over the state that Tom had a gift for arbitration. He really did. I often told him, I said it just doesn't go with what a doctor in Philadelphia called his "dynamo" personality. We went up there one time. He had an ulcer of the stomach when he was twenty-two in college because he was revved up all the time. But the doctor up there said, "Mr. Pearsall, you have a dynamo personality and you're going to have to live with it but you can curb it." I said, "And this great patience that you exhibit whenever you're handling a hot potato," and he was always handling them. I said, "It's just amazing to me to see that you have two personalities." He always believed, he said, "You sit around the table and you hear this little man, and that little man, and that other. Let every man have his say. He feels that he's with it. And no man has all the ideas anyway. Then you go home and you call up that man and this man." He spent half his life on the telephone. But it was that really basic gift of his to walk in other people's shoes, to see it from that man's point of view. Once people understand that in you, they trust you and more or less they're with you.
So in other words then, why Umstead would have come to him was one, his interest in agriculture; two, he's in certain banking and industrial circles; and three, he had a natural gift for arbitration, in a way.