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Title: Oral History Interview with Robert Giles, September 10, 1987. Interview C-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Giles, Robert, interviewee
Interview conducted by Jenkins, Jay
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Kristin Shaffer
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2008
Size of electronic edition: 88 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2008.
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Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-02-18, Kristin Shaffer finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Robert Giles, September 10, 1987. Interview C-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0063)
Author: Jay Jenkins
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Robert Giles, September 10, 1987. Interview C-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0063)
Author: Robert Giles
Description: 131 Mb
Description: 26 p.
Note: Interview conducted on September 10, 1987, by Jay Jenkins; recorded in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Jovita Flynn.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series C. Notable North Carolinians, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Robert Giles, September 10, 1987.
Interview C-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Giles, Robert, interviewee


Interview Participants

    ROBERT GILES, interviewee
    JAY JENKINS, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JAY JENKINS:
This is Jay Jenkins interviewing Robert Giles for the Southern Oral History Program. We're doing this in the Wilson Library in Chapel Hill on September 10, 1987. Bob, we're pleased to have you submit to this interview to shed some more light on the Pearsall Plan, which was North Carolina's answer to the 1954 desegregation decision of the U. S. Supreme Court. Bob was at the Institute of Government and later assistant attorney general and still later assistant to Luther Hodges while Luther Hodges was governor of North Carolina. Subsequently, he was general counsel to U. S. Secretary of Commerce, Luther Hodges, during the Jack Kennedy administration. Tom Pearsall has said that Bob Giles did much of the work drafting the Pearsall Plan, and he has complimented him very highly on the quality of that work. Bob, I want to ask you to go back thirty-one odd years and give us your recollection of the atmosphere and the situation in North Carolina following that 1954 decision.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, at that time William Umstead was governor, and I think North Carolina was fortunate in having that sort of person in office at the time. His reaction was calm and one of simply pointing out that we don't know all of the implications of this, but we will get along with this, and we will be doing what is sensible for North Carolina. So even at that time I think it is correct to say, from the state level, we had in the office of the governor an individual who was going to set a good, calming influence rather than try to exploit the situation. I think that

Page 2
characterized what I recall as generally the attitude from the responsible state level officials.
I don't believe there was any notion or idea at the time of exactly what to do. There was no grand scheme or anything. I think it's correct to say that those in public office at the time, the governor and members of the legislature, certainly did not welcome that decision. There was no desire to see integration of the races in the public schools whatsoever. I think, as a personal matter on most parts, it was, "Well, this is not a good thing." Perhaps distinguishing the attitude from that in certainly some of the states affected, we did not have in North Carolina the bellicose type of reaction, "Over my dead body" and so forth.
Now later, of course, in '54, November or December, Governor Umstead died. Governor Hodges, who was then lieutenant governor, became the governor. Even though I was not yet in Raleigh on the attorney general's staff, my recollection at that time was, on the few occasions when I was involved in some meetings with Governor Hodges and others, that here was a very persuasive person, a strong personality, and an extremely able person. I think here again his basic disposition was here is a problem, how best to deal with it. I think his general attitude, as well as that of the former governor, Governor Umstead, was, "We don't want to destroy the public schools. We want to save them and keep them because we think that's needed by the people." That's sort of the general atmosphere.

Page 3
Now, of course, during that time, as I recall, there were various statements and comments from people in public office, members of the legislature, some school boards, or this or that, that reflected a much more extreme sort of reaction. But from the state level I think it was one of moderation. Not because they were really accepting or looking with favor on that decision, not that at all, but that here are people in responsible positions who just were experienced, solid, pragmatic, and wanted to try to work out the best course possible.
JAY JENKINS:
The state leadership set a moderating example, in other words?
ROBERT GILES:
I think that is true.
JAY JENKINS:
Then Umstead, of course, appointed Thomas J. Pearsall of Rocky Mount to head a commission. Of course Umstead died on November 7, 1954. This commission, as I remember, drafted the Pupil Assignment Act which was adopted in the General Assembly of 1955. I think, among other things, that had the purpose of telling the populace that we aren't sitting on our hands. We're doing something. Then the General Assembly made the Pearsall Commission a statutory body or something, as I recall, in '55. You might just touch briefly, before we get into the Pearsall Plan, on the Pupil Assignment Act of 1955 without getting into particulars, just generally what it did.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, my recollection—and it has been some years since I have actually read the language and I don't know about all the details—my recollection was that certainly the main

Page 4
purpose was a legal objective. That was not to have the State Board of Education or state level officials in the position of seeming to be able to make decisions for every school throughout the state so far as pupil assignments, but rather to put that at the local level and make it clear that the state itself, from Raleigh, is not masterminding or trying to assure a particular result. The other thing which was recognized was that in any event this is going to be a very serious problem for citizens generally. The matter of mixing of races in the public schools was extremely volatile, and, after all, this really should be handled at the local level by the people most directly involved. A third point, I think, that was recognized is that there was a great deal of variation throughout the state in terms of racial composition. Many counties had a few blacks and other counties had large numbers, approaching 50% and maybe even more. So there again I think it was a recognition that it was desirable to get away from any state level pattern that would be imposed upon all these diverse localities. I don't believe there was any assumption that simply enacting that assignment plan, there in the '55 general assembly, was an answer or the complete answer. But keep in mind that throughout the whole country, and particularly in the South, which was most directly affected, that the Supreme Court decision of 1954 had little to say and no guidance at all as to how that decision was going to be implemented. It did have the very broad sounding phrase, "Proceed with all deliberate speed," but it remained for other decisions by the U. S. Supreme Court in the next few years to

Page 5
start putting some flesh on the bones, so to speak. That's my general recollection of the atmosphere.
JAY JENKINS:
Now the Pearsall, there's an interim there before you—when did you join the attorney general's office?
ROBERT GILES:
That was in August, 1955.
JAY JENKINS:
Right. Now if you would, I think it would be interesting to know when you started working with the Pearsall Commission, how they developed the plan of action that they wanted to follow, and what your charge was. I realize this is not a one day operation but just generally, how did they proceed?
ROBERT GILES:
Well, when I joined the attorney general's office in 1955, at that time things were still very much in flux, so to speak. The Pearsall Committee actually had employed some full time staff, either at that time or later that fall—I believe a former representative, T. Taylor of Warren County.
JAY JENKINS:
W.W. Taylor, Jr., I believe.
ROBERT GILES:
W.W. Taylor, Jr. was named the chief staff person, and he had an assistant, Tom Ellis. My recollection then was that they made some visits sometime during that period to various other southern states and were talking to various officials, sort of on a fact finding tour. Then later on, either by the end of that period or certainly early in '56, things had sort of come to a focus. Essentially what T. Taylor and Tom Ellis were seeming to propose was all out resistance to this Supreme Court decision, or at least, in any event, no integration in the public schools, but without really being able to spell out how you accomplish that and be successful in it. Is the state simply going to throw

Page 6
down the gauntlet and tell the United States government "You've made your decision, now enforce it?" like Andrew Jackson was reputed to have said to the Supreme Court back in 1824. Or just, do we close the schools? I think it was recognized then, and certainly assumed, that no state had a constitutional duty under the federal constitution to maintain a system of public schools. There was no federal constitutional requirement that that be done. So theoretically a state could simply abandon the public school system and get out of it entirely. That would be one way to avoid any mixing of the races in the public schools. But there was no support at all, on the part of the Pearsall Committee, the attorney general, or the governor, for that sort of attitude or generalized approach. It's sort of a knee jerk reaction against mixing of races in the public schools. It was recognized that the people of North Carolina did not—the white people of North Carolina—did not like to think of that result, or mixing at all. There was no support. It was a very explosive, volatile political matter that could be exploited.
JAY JENKINS:
Excuse me, Bob, I wanted to just get this straight. Mr. Pearsall told me that the report that Taylor and Ellis made after their swing through other states recommended abandonment of the public schools or making them private schools to avoid integration. I just wanted to make that point if that's correct.
ROBERT GILES:
I don't recall the specific details but that was the sum and substance, yes.
JAY JENKINS:
Excuse me for interrupting.
ROBERT GILES:
The state would simply get out….

Page 7
JAY JENKINS:
And there was no support at all on the commission, the Pearsall Commission, for that sort of….
ROBERT GILES:
There was no support from that committee and no support by the attorney general, Attorney General Rodman, and he was from the eastern part of the state. Many members of the Pearsall Committee were, as was Tom Pearsall, and no support from the governor.
JAY JENKINS:
I just wanted to clarify. Now they were approaching this thing to preserve the public schools. That was one of their main….
ROBERT GILES:
The basic premise was that they would not, under the circumstances of that time, embark upon a policy course which would lead to the destruction of the public schools, but rather they would try to work out something which would preserve them.
JAY JENKINS:
Was the Pearsall Committee as a commission pretty much united, unanimous, on the approach and so forth? You didn't have any discord?
ROBERT GILES:
On that basic point I was never aware of any dissention there.
JAY JENKINS:
Now excuse me, you go ahead and proceed. Of course, you were assigned from the attorney general's office to handle the Pearsall Commission.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, I'm not sure that's exactly correct. I would say I was the principal assistant attorney general who worked with Attorney General Rodman on the public school matter which, of course, involved the Pearsall Commission, or the Pearsall Committee. I believe it was called "committee." So during the

Page 8
early part of '56, I believe it was, things were coming to a head. Well, exactly what can we do? Attorney General Rodman had asked me to focus on that, and let him have any thoughts that I might have as to exactly what sort of total approach would seem to make sense. My recollection is that I did give him my thoughts. As I recall, I sent him a memorandum, or at least it was put down on paper, the substance of which was change the constitution and the statutes to: number one, provide that there could be no closing of any school on account of the race matter except by a vote of the people directly involved. That would be a vote of those people with respect to one school only, divide it down that far, not all the schools in the county or in an administrative unit, but focusing on one school. If it was an elementary school, then all of the people in that particular school unit that is identified for that elementary school or a high school or whatever. No decision by the State Board of Education could close the schools. No decision by a local board, either county or city board of education, but only by a vote. Then second and tied to that, a provision that a parent who was in the situation of having the child attend the school of another race could elect to withdraw the child from the public school and apply for a tuition grant in order to send the child to a private school or a non-public school. That tuition grant would be equivalent to the amount that the state was then spending per capita or per student for public school. The parent also would be entitled to get a grant from the local governing unit equivalent to the amount that the local governing unit, such as

Page 9
the county, was supplementing the public school. That applied to anyone of any race. It wasn't limited to whites, but anyone of any race whose child was assigned to a public school attended by children of another race could get that. That was the basic scheme or approach that I suggested that be considered.
I recall very distinctly how I arrived at that. I thought in terms of what had been for the past several years—and this was back in 1955, '56—what had been one of the most volatile and emotional issues in which people in the state had been called on to vote. It seemed to me that the matter of local option on alcoholic beverages—whether you would have sales of alcoholic beverages in that locality, the county, or other unit—the fact that the legislature had for years provided for local option on that and provided for the vote. While there were hotly contested elections from time to time, the point was it worked. People were able to get those decisions made, whether it was to permit the sale of alcoholic beverages or not, and live with it. There was no uniform pattern that somebody was trying to apply throughout the state. Well, I simply thought in terms of that as here is an extremely serious and volatile issue as a matter of government and trying to work out reasonable and workable government. This might fit here. So I suggested that.
JAY JENKINS:
And that essentially was what was adopted?
ROBERT GILES:
That is what eventually came to be drafted both as constitution and statutes and was adopted by the 1956 special session of the General Assembly.

Page 10
JAY JENKINS:
That had the added psychological, or whatever you want to call it, advantage of taking legislators off the hook by giving people a chance to vote and decide it for themselves. Of course, this was a very sensitive thing as far as they were concerned, when they had to run for reelection, don't you think so?
ROBERT GILES:
That is true. I think what was recognized by the Pearsall Committee, Attorney General Rodman, Governor Hodges, and all of those, was that if that sort of decision has to be made by elected officials, at whatever level, they would be under tremendous pressure. There would be extreme difficulty for those elected officials to make other than what you might call the most extreme decision, such as, well, close the schools. If only a small minority—as a matter of fact, you never take a census on this sort of thing—but what could be, in fact, a minority of the people in the area, would really be insisting on this. Yet by the nature of the issue that vociferous minority could prevail. Just pick up and everybody gets swept on by the tide. So I think that early on, early in '56, the basic policy decision began to be firm in the minds of the state officials working on the matter of closing schools or not, and they recognized then that some schools may well have to be closed. That the people involved would insist on it. But if that's done, it should be done by a vote of those directly involved. I think it was a very key, fundamental decision.
JAY JENKINS:
And of course, no schools were closed.

Page 11
ROBERT GILES:
As a matter of fact, no such election was ever called, no petition for such election. No election was held, and no school was ever closed under that legislation.
JAY JENKINS:
I think one thing that maybe ought to be clarified. During this period, based on my conversations with other people, I. Beverly Lake was also on the attorney general's staff. He, of course, took exception and later ran for governor in 1960 and '64 on a largely segregationist platform. What was his role with the Pearsall Commission?
ROBERT GILES:
Well, when I moved from Chapel Hill to Raleigh in August, '55 to be assistant attorney general, initially my office was in the Revenue Building across the street from the Justice Building where the attorney general was. I was there in the suite of rooms assigned to the attorney general. In that suite of rooms we had I. Beverly Lake, who at the time—since he had joined the office when Mr. McMillan was attorney general—had given a lot of attention to utilities cases; Harry McGregor; Sam Barron; and myself. All of us worked some on state tax matters of one sort or the other and on a variety of things. I do not recall then that Lake had any assignment on the attorney general's staff to help us in the school business at the time. He did not, not with the attorney general's office.
JAY JENKINS:
He was just acting as an individual, individual criticism.
ROBERT GILES:
He began to speak out, made some public speeches, about the school matter. The sum and substance of it was the United States Supreme Court decision was unlawful. The broad

Page 12
implication was that something should be done about it or that the state should not comply. Of course, certain groups would immediately attack Lake. I recall the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP did that. Others, who were what you might term "liberal" on the race issue, would attack him and call upon the governor to fire him. Well, of course, the governor had no legal authority to fire him. He was hired by the attorney general. Then they'd say, "The attorney general should fire him." Well, all of that, as a practical matter, prompted those two officials, the governor and the attorney general, to come out and say, "We, of course, will not be controlled by the NAACP or whoever it is. He is speaking. He has every right to speak his personal opinions," and so on. As a matter of fact, the Attorney General Rodman and the governor were incensed that this fellow was using his state position, in a sense, to stir all this up.
So I think later on we had a case, the attorney general's office was handling a case, defending a petition or a suit for a black person to enter the University. This was either at Greensboro or Chapel Hill. The attorney general's job, of course—this was a first time, we had no blacks at those institutions then—was to try to prevail in court so that there wouldn't be a federal court order ordering their admission. I recall talking with Attorney General Rodman on that and on the Lake problem in general. He chuckled and said, "Well, I would like to win this case. I'm quite apprehensive about our chances since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the way it has. I think I ought to get the fellow here in our office who feels the

Page 13
strongest about this matter. His heart is in the right place. I want to find out how good a mind he's got." That's the substance of what he said. "I'm going to assign Beverly and make it clear that we are counting on him to win this case." He followed up with Beverly Lake and made it clear that he was looking to him to handle that case in federal district court and to win it. Well, it wasn't too long thereafter, a matter of just a few weeks or less, that Mr. Lake submitted his resignation as assistant attorney general. In any event, he wasn't around when eventually in due course the federal district court ruled against the state on that application of a black to get into the University.
JAY JENKINS:
In that connection, I remember Lake made a speech in Asheboro, I believe it was, a real ringing attack on segregation and desegregation and so forth and so on. But the governor's response to these people who said "fire him" and so forth, he said, "He's got a right to speak his piece as an individual." It was widely believed at that time, by the newspaper people anyway, that that position stalled a possible Lake run for the governorship in 1956, if you had a clash. I'm not sure about whether that was true or not, but I think it no doubt blunted the Lake effort.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, I didn't know then and still do not know really what the Lake objective was, or his effort, and whether at the time he had any specific notion of trying to run for governor. I did have the feeling. I never discussed the matter in detail with Mr. Lake, later Justice Lake. Here was an extremely bright and intelligent person, who had been a

Page 14
distinguished professor of law at Wake Forest Law School. He had a graduate law degree, I believe, from Harvard University. He had been known, for whatever reason, to have supported openly Frank Graham in the bitter senatorial race with Willie Smith when race was an issue in that campaign. So I just wondered really what Mr. Lake's convictions really were. I couldn't imagine that a person with his background as a lawyer could seriously think that the state of North Carolina or any other individual state could take on the United States government.
JAY JENKINS:
With any hope of winning.
ROBERT GILES:
Any hope of winning or getting anything good out of it. I didn't think that he could seriously entertain the notion that there was some sort of legal legerdemain, so to speak, that he could pull out of the hat. I suppose I, along with others, felt that really what was going on was that he was deliberately exploiting the issue for some either specific or undefined political purpose.
JAY JENKINS:
Of course, we had the special session in 1956, and preceding that they had briefings all over the state. I suppose the public as well as legislators were invited to those. Anyway, it was explained all over the state.
ROBERT GILES:
I'm not sure about the public. They weren't closed meetings. I believe the press was in them. But as I recall, most of time there weren't many members of the general public that showed up.
JAY JENKINS:
Well, you referred earlier to these tuition grants, were any applications made for tuition grants that you remember?

Page 15
ROBERT GILES:
There were none made while Governor Hodges was in office. Then I, of course, left state government when he finished his term and went to Washington when he was made Secretary of Commerce. Now I do not know specifically whether an application was filed around there in the '60's.
JAY JENKINS:
I just didn't remember. Now I think it would be interesting, since you were in the governor's office, to know what kind of public reaction you were having during those days before and after the plan was about to—the calls and the nature of the tone and so forth.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, I joined the governor's staff, I went over to the Governor's office in 1957 after the General Assembly session. I was not there during the special session of '56. I was assistant attorney general during that period. So I can't tell you from that perspective, the perspective of being there in the office. Now, of course, we in the attorney general's office, Attorney General Rodman worked very closely with the governor, and probably was in contact with him about every day. So we had a good feel for what was going on and for what the governor also was getting.
JAY JENKINS:
I was interested in the general reaction that you hear about.
ROBERT GILES:
I think I can sum it up this way. Probably most people who expressed themselves wanted to keep the public schools. I'm talking about most white people. That would apply also to the blacks. Most white people that expressed themselves did not, at all, like the idea of integrating the races and

Page 16
wanted to avoid that. See, that's contradictory on the face. Most people did not counsel and advise, "Well let's tell the Supreme Court, up there in Washington, to go to hell." They didn't take that position but they didn't like it, see. They just didn't like it and thought that the U.S. Supreme Court had overstepped the line. It had reversed precedent in Plessy V. Ferguson of 1896, and that something ought to be done about it. See these are contradictory things. Now some, and I think they were in the minority, in fact I believe they were, would come in on the other end of the spectrum. And that is, "No mixing of races in the public schools. Draw the line. It's better to have no public schools than to have integration." So you had that. Now what the governor and the attorney general were doing, number one, they made it clear they did not like the 1954 decision. They also were counseling and reacting that as a practical matter, we are part of the United States. It's foolish to think otherwise, and whatever we do, we have to get along with the federal government. We can't go to war with it. That's silly to even think about it. Now the thing to do is sit down and be sensible and deal with details and just do the best we can. We are not telling anybody that they will have to mix races in the public schools. In the showdown, what we are saying to you is that the people have a right to make the decision. They can vote to close the public schools. Then we want to give even more of a people's choice to make this serious determination. An individual parent can elect to take his child out and get some money to pay for private schools. Now we think that that is the best way for

Page 17
us to go, to deal with this very unfortunate problem. That was what was being told. I think it was successful, thoughtful people, when it was brought to their attention and put into that context, they simply didn't rush over to the other end of the spectrum and join what you might say, the Lake faction or the Taylor-Tom Ellis group. There was no development of support in the General Assembly for what you might term the extreme reaction approach.
JAY JENKINS:
Dallas Herring, the former chairman of the State Board of Education, seemed to recall that you and he went to Halifax County on the Walawa Indians or somebody. I don't know whether they wanted to call an election or what. Do you have an recollection of that?
ROBERT GILES:
I do recall generally going somewhere with Dallas back than, but I don't recall the details.
JAY JENKINS:
My understanding, my recollection of what Dallas said, was that after you appeared before them, they dropped their plans to seek an election or whatever was happening down there. It was the only incidence that I've heard of in which this happened, of anybody trying to implement this.

Page 18
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JAY JENKINS:
Bob, I wish you would deal with some of the personalities who played such important roles in this Pearsall Plan, starting in any order you wish, Governor Hodges, Tom Pearsall, or William B. Rodman, the Attorney General.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, let me take them in the order that you just mentioned, first Governor Hodges. I think that Governor Hodges, back then in 1955-56, if he had chosen to go that path, could have taken the extreme segregationist point of view. In my opinion, the state of North Carolina would have followed him right down that road. I think, for example, Governor Hodges could have, if he had chosen, exploited the race issue politically to the extent that I believe he could have got the constitution amended to close the public schools entirely. I think he could very possibly have got the constitution amended to permit him to run again for governor indefinitely or to permit a governor to have an unlimited number of terms, on the theory that we must have a strong governor to protect the state on this matter. That was done in Arkansas by Orville Faubus. The custom and tradition there was that the governor of Arkansas would serve only four years. I don't know how many, ultimately, he served consecutively. I believe about twelve or fourteen years. The same, I believe, in Georgia where state laws were amended to permit the governor to succeed himself at least once. The point is that that was not the kind of person that Governor Hodges was. He simply did not believe that it was in the state's interest to handle the school problem that way. Secondly, he simply was not

Page 19
the sort of person to try to gain personally on that sort of basis. In my view, that was completely foreign to his personality. Now let's take Mr. Pearsall.
JAY JENKINS:
Excuse me, before you go to Mr. Pearsall, I want to go to Mr. Hodges for just a minute. The fact that he came into office as a businessman without any political experience, so to speak, didn't that strengthen his hand a great deal?
ROBERT GILES:
I think that it certainly was a plus and helped him with what you might term the business community of the state. I chuckle a little bit about what I recall back then that Governor Hodges said about his lack of experience, and he was no politician. Well, the fact of the matter is that he was a natural, what I'd call a natural, politician in the sense that he knew how to work with people to persuade people and to lead people. He could discern between what I would call some individual's particular points of view and what I would call the broad currents. I think he just had the natural ability. What I'm saying is that he was a far better politician, in that sense, than probably most anybody you could name who had been active in politics in elective office for thirty years.
JAY JENKINS:
Very good point, very good. And Mr. Pearsall, what kind of fellow was he?
ROBERT GILES:
He was an extremely, very attractive and gracious person. Personally he was courteous, polite, and friendly. He was that kind of individual who did not attempt to dominate or order people around, rather he was straightforward, and he led people. He persuaded people to his points of view, an extremely

Page 20
likable person. I think he would have made a great governor of North Carolina. I know that Governor Hodges would have been glad and was interested in having Tom Pearsall get into the 1960 gubernatorial race and run in the primary there. But Tom Pearsall himself decided that he would not do that. As I vaguely recall, I think there was some indication at the time that the health of his wife was not good or whatever. But for his role on that committee, I don't think we could have had a better person in the state. It was a tremendous public service, I think, because he was a key person in saving the public school system. You could have had the same Governor Hodges in office, but if you had a different individual, a different person who had turned up and established himself in that position, as chairman of that committee, and who had chosen to go another course, it could have reversed the history of the state.
JAY JENKINS:
You were telling me earlier, when we were talking privately about this, that members of that commission also made valuable contributions.
ROBERT GILES:
I think so. I think every member of the Pearsall Commission—I keep wanting to call it committee and I wondered if that was the technical name—I think everyone was a strong person in his own right and made tremendous contributions, because we needed, the state needed, to have a varied and representative committee working on that issue. Bill Mildford of Waynesville, from the west, a member of the state Senate; Lunsford Crews from Halifax County in the east. He also was in the state Senate at the time. Claude Philpot, who later was elected Lieutenant

Page 21
Governor; William T. Joyner, Colonel Joyner, a very prominent and highly respected attorney from Raleigh, a person of great, wise counsel. Then there was a Mr. Hoffman who was a prominent businessman from one of the western counties.
JAY JENKINS:
Hickory, I believe.
ROBERT GILES:
In that area, I believe he was in a major furniture manufacturer. Everyone of them, you know, they were really strong, very positive personalities. I think it's not that everything started, was always harmony, or everybody was thinking the same. Every major point that came up, there was diversity of views starting out. You could hear them, the various points of view. But the point is, they were all experienced, pragmatic persons. I think they subscribed, as I've already indicated, to the fundamental proposition, "We ought to try to save the public schools. We ought to try to keep things in good order. We ought to try to work through this in a calm and rational fashion and in what you might term a law abiding fashion." I think they set to and worked out their differences of view, talked them out, and arrived at a consensus. I would just give the highest credit to every member of that commission.
JAY JENKINS:
They also enjoyed the respect of the General Assembly, which is not a small thing.
ROBERT GILES:
That was a most important thing. Everyone of them, without question, had the respect—they disagreed with them—they still had the solid respect of the General Assembly.
JAY JENKINS:
Now William B. Rodman, who was a member of the General Assembly, he was from Washington, North Carolina, succeeded Harry

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McMillan as Attorney General. He was a unique personality, too. I wish you would talk about him a little bit.
ROBERT GILES:
Well, he was. It's remarkable in a way that here was an attorney, he was an able and respected attorney in Little Washington. I first became acquainted with him when, at the Institute, I was assigned to work with the State Commission on the Reorganization of State Government.
JAY JENKINS:
The Institute of Government?
ROBERT GILES:
The Institute of Government was providing the staff support for that commission. As a matter of fact, some significant and far reaching recommendations came out of that particular commission there during that period and were presented to the 1955 session of the General Assembly. That's where I first became acquainted with Mr. Rodman. I remember on one occasion that we had, we needed to brief the chairman on some extensive studies that the Institute staff had done. This was sometime in 1954 before he was named attorney general. I recall that Professor Coates, director of the Institute, decided that he was just going to call up the then Representative Rodman, who was in the House, and invite himself and three or four members of his staff to travel down to Little Washington and go over these matters. It was a good move. It was a smart move on Mr. Coates part because we were covering the sort of things that the chairman needed to be brought up to date on and informed about. He was hard put not to engage in that if all these people were offering to drive down to be with him rather than to ask that he come up to chapel Hill. Well, I remember that visit, and how we

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went to his law office, which was on the second floor of this rather old building there in Little Washington. He had a fairly large, spacious office with old furniture in it. It wasn't anything swank at all. But we ranged around, and I think there were about three or four of us who had some presentations to make. He sat at his desk, he was a very good listener, and then he had a good many questions, very genial and friendly. It was very evident to me that this was a person who knew what was going on and wasn't anybody going to put very much over on him. He asked very penetrating questions, and I'm sure that before we left, he understood what we were talking about, and he had his own views about those subjects and so on. It was a very enjoyable kind of visit. I think we all left with this feeling. Of course, we had a variety of people at the Institute, very capable, intellectually minded people, all of us, fairly young. Of course, Mr. Coates, he had enough idealism for a half a dozen twenty-year olds. But I remember driving back in the car after that meeting and thinking, you know, "Boy, aren't we really fortunate in this state to have a person like that as chairman of this commission. We're working on some things that are pretty important and far reaching, and I fell like they could really be of help. We've really got a very solid, extremely able, and respected person. Boy, isn't that really fortunate." I recall that being expressed driving back from Little Washington to Chapel Hill. It was a nice visit. Well, William Rodman was named by Governor Hodges as attorney general after Mr. McMillan died in 1955. Soon thereafter there was a vacancy on the staff,

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one of the assistant attorney generals was appointed to the Utilities Commission. Ralph Moody was his name. I was very much interested in that sort of position. To me it was an extremely great chance to really get into some good, challenging legal work. I made known to Mr. Rodman that I would very much appreciate being considered for that position. Fortunately, he finally let me know that he wanted to have me join his staff. So I did. I believe that was in August, 1955. During the time that I was on the attorney general's staff, I would have to say, looking back, I believe that was as enjoyable or more enjoyable than most any other work experience that I've ever had. I had the opportunity to serve with two very fine men as attorney general. In 1956, I believe it was in the fall, a vacancy occurred on the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Governor Hodges appointed Mr. Rodman as justice. Then he named Superior Court Judge, George Patton, from up in Macon County as attorney general. Well, there again I feel, looking back over the years, I was just extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work for a very fine person.
JAY JENKINS:
I think Rodman, not only for his intellect and so on and so on, but he was particularly valuable during the Pearsall period because of his leadership role as a member of the General Assembly. He was one of the bell cows in the House, in other words. He knew how to handle people.
ROBERT GILES:
That is correct. He was one of the leaders in the House of Representatives at the time, well, in the '53 session. He was of course a member of the House at the time he was

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appointed attorney general there in '55. He was in the '53 session and '55. That is correct. Certainly at the time of the '56 session of the General Assembly, Attorney General Rodman still had very high standing with the General Assembly.
JAY JENKINS:
Oh, yeah. Well, Bob, the other attorney general that figured in this period is George B. Patton of Macon County, who incidentally died in July of this year, 1987, at age 88. Tell us a little bit about Attorney General Patton.
ROBERT GILES:
Let me say I served under Attorney General Patton until 1957. He was named attorney general there in '56, I've forgotten the exact month, when Attorney General Rodman was appointed Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. I met Attorney General Patton at a conference. I first met him at a conference I was attending at Mars Hill before he came to Raleigh to take office. His appointment as attorney general had been announced, and I first met him up there at a meeting I attended with Attorney General Rodman and some others on some school law matters. I believe it was a meeting of the North Carolina School Boards Association or whatever where Judge Patton…. He had one arm. He had lost part of one arm, one of his arms, when he was quite young. He was a fairly tall, slim person, a real North Carolina mountaineer. He had served some years previously as assistant attorney general and then as superior court judge. Well, we hit it off very well at that time. I would just make this point in connection with the school matter. The office of Attorney General in that position was an extremely important and key position at that time, and for some

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time after, in terms of handling or dealing with the racial problems. I feel that the state was extremely fortunate that Governor Hodges had chosen, again, a very good person for the job. In a sense, he was lucky and the state was lucky that George B. Patton was chosen. He did an extremely fine job of simply helping the state keep on the course of what I would call practical, good sense in handling the matter. Of course, during the time he was in office as attorney general, we had more and more specific incidents crop up, applications from blacks to attend various parts of the university system or whatever. Well, I would simply say, looking back, I greatly enjoyed my association and my work with Judge Patton when he was attorney general. I feel that I was extremely fortunate to get that experience, but, more important, I feel that the state of North Carolina was extremely fortunate to have him in that office.
JAY JENKINS:
Well, Thomas Pearsall, the chairman of the commission, said, on more than one occasion, that the state was fortunate to have you in the position that you were in to draft this very important legislation. On behalf of the Oral History Program I thank you very much for sharing this with us.
END OF INTERVIEW