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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 >>

Effect of the Pearsall Plan on Pearsall and his father

Pearsall reveals the initial and long-term impact of the Pearsall Plan on his family. As a college student during the plan's release, Pearsall lost his anonymity. As an adult, the legacy of the plan paints him and his father as anti-black. This image of being anti-black haunted Pearsall's father, whose humanitarianism conflicted with his adherence to segregation in the immediate post-<cite>Brown</cite> era.

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:
Well, how about ourself, did you feel any effects from it, the Pearsall Plan and the changes, while you were at school? I mean, did anybody accost you or threaten you in anyway? Or did fellow students look at it as this is the right thing to do, or your father is doing the wrong thing?
MACK PEARSALL:
I don't really remember many instances of it. I remember that, you know, I took a course in North Carolina history under Hugh Lefler, and I think, the way he treated it within his course was a rather delicate situation for me because I was sitting in the course, you know, and he was discussing the plan and challenging it and all that. Not opposing it but causing, as any good professor would, to challenge the thought of it. And that generated some conversation on the part of other students but I suppose the greatest thing that I got out of it was a sense of embarrassment in having been singled out, you know, because it was my father. And at that time he happened to be on the executive committee at the university and all that kind of stuff, so that I kind of lost my anonymity and became part of the overall living history. And at that age you don't necessarily want to be that. You want to be a part of the group. But I never suffered from it. I have had, in the last two years in trying to solve this school issue here, I've had some blacks, you know, accuse me of being anti-black because of the Pearsall Plan. And I have without any shrinking at all, told them that I would be glad to debate it in a public forum any time they wanted to. If that was their conviction, they were erroneous. But I think that comes more from people who don't understand it than it does from people who really have an appreciation for what purpose it served in the state.
WALTER E. CAMPBELL:
Well, what do you think made your father so worried about future perceptions of what he was doing? Were there books published? Were there accusations made? What set him off to worry so much? It seems like from what you described that it did worry him right up until the time of his death, about how this would be perceived?
MACK PEARSALL:
Yeah, it was the one single worry about how history would treat it. I think there had been enough verbalization within the black community where he thought that that was the general perception. And I'm not sure that it was the general perception. I'm not sure there was any perception there but at least, he perceived that they thought, that some responsible black leaders in the state, still thought that it was an obstructionist type of move. And he did not want to go down in history with that mantle because he had spent so long, in other aspects of his life, in matters that were totally inconsistent with that.
WALTER E. CAMPBELL:
So there was no one thing that you know of then that really might have hurt him, in a way, in bringing out the incorrect perceptions as he saw it. It was just a building up over time and as things changed, more and more came out. We became more liberal as a society in general, and thereby, some sort of measures like this might have looked as some sort of obstructionist. Was it just a general atmosphere maybe that made him worry more?
MACK PEARSALL:
No, I don't think, I think that probably what happened, I mean, the things that stuck in his mind were things that occurred close in point of time when the plan was introduced, when it was clearly misunderstood by the black community as being a segregationist, obstructionist approach. And I think the older you get and the more you begin to realize your own mortality, that those things that worry you tend to cycle up more frequently. And I think that that's what brought it up. I don't think there were any latter day reinforcements of it. I think he had never been able to disabuse his mind of some of the very caustic remarks that had been made back at that point in time. And they had been very stinging to him because he considered himself to be a humanitarian, and those things were so inconsistent with that, he just couldn't reconcile in his own mind that he could be that misperceived. And he wasn't worried about his place in history in the sense of ego, he was worried that there was such an inconsistency between the life he tried to live and had lived in every other fashion and had manifested in every other way, versus what had come out as the blacks perceived it back at the time it was crafted.
WALTER E. CAMPBELL:
Well, do you think the Pearsall Plan would have been seen by your father as one of the high points as his life, as one of the major contributions he had made to North Carolina history?
MACK PEARSALL:
Yeah, I would say that there were two things that I think he would, well now, of course, he had a lot of things that he was involved in and when he was involved agriculturally, I think he saw a lot of things, did a lot of things that maybe were influential. But if I was going to go back and look at the things that I, and he didn't speak a lot about the Pearsall Plan, but I knew that it was significant and I think history has treated it as being significant, but he was not a man to talk about what he had done. I think the two things that he would be most proud of, in terms of influencing the direction that North Carolina has taken for the better, would be his involvement in the reorganization of the higher university system into the sixteen campus system—that was patterned after California when he and Bill Friday and a group went out there and came back—and then the Pearsall Plan. I think those two things have, potentially have, had in his mind, the most lasting effects for, in his own statement, "making a difference in life."