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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mack Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0057. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Creation and impact of the Pearsall Plan

Pearsall explains the creation of the Pearsall school desegregation plan. He maintains that the plan had to be consistent with North Carolina's moderate image. Pearsall argues that Rocky Mount whites loathed the plan and the city's newly enfranchised blacks had no real appreciation for integration efforts.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mack Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0057. 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 E. CAMPBELL:
Speaking of the Pearsall Plan, do you think that your father and the others perceived it, originally, as a pop-off valve, or was this something that they came to gradually, as they began to worry about the situation? In other words, when they sat down, did they say to one another, "Okay, we need something to hold the line here, and we need to get through this tough period. Let's have something that will do that." Do you think that that's the way they originated with the Plan?
MACK PEARSALL:
Well, I doubt it. I think it was probably something that evolved. I think that they recognized that North Carolina was going to be catapulted into a very tension-filled environment—a major change in lifestyles and folkways and mores. And that somehow or another, responsible elements in this state had to come together and craft some idea that would be consistent with North Carolina's image of moderation. That you could not stand back and allow the rank segregationist to step forward, and that the best defense is a good offense. I think that's the basis on which they went. To say they went in with it as a plan that was conceived to be a pop-off value, I doubt it. I think they recognized that when you've got a head of steam built up that unless you provide some avenue for people to get relief that you've going to have a pop-off. And they watched Virginia. They watched the defiance that went on in other states, and they were very, Governor Hodges and my father, were very concerned about the image that North Carolina portrayed nationally in this whole process. And I think that if we hadn't portrayed the type of image that we did, that some of the wonderful things that have happened in this state would never have happened because we would have been branded as a bunch of redneck backwoodsmen. I don't know how it would have affected the Research Triangle and all that. But here you have a governor, Luther Hodges, who was one of the creators of that concept and at the same time he was one of the creators of a concept or summoned in people that he thought could help him develop and craft a way for North Carolina to deal with that very difficult transition period.
WALTER E. CAMPBELL:
How did people in Rocky Mount react to what he was doing? How did his tenant farmers react to what he was doing? Did they know about it? Did he receive any sort of threats or anything? Was it just ignored?
MACK PEARSALL:
No, absolutely, lots of threat mail, threatening phone calls, called a "nigger lover." There was an element that was opposed to integration of any form, stretch, or imagination, they were vehement and very outspoken about it. I don't think that the black community, particularly in terms of the tenant community, really had an appreciation for what was going on. I think they were brought to the party by the federal government and at that point in time, they were new to the political process. They had been disenfranchised and so new to the thought of being integrated into the overall society here, that they just didn't relate to it. And that there were certain leaders that were out there that did and who understood it, but I think perhaps even those, at that point in time, viewed it as a resistance type move.