Documenting the American South Logo
Title: Oral History Interview with Patricia Neal, June 6, 1989. Interview C-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Neal, Patricia, interviewee
Interview conducted by Nasstrom, Kathryn
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 104 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-02-16, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Patricia Neal, June 6, 1989. Interview C-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0068)
Author: Kathryn Nasstrom
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Patricia Neal, June 6, 1989. Interview C-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0068)
Author: Patricia Neal
Description: 158 Mb
Description: 32 p.
Note: Interview conducted on June 6, 1989, by Kathryn Nasstrom.
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.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Patricia Neal, June 6, 1989.
Interview C-0068. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Neal, Patricia, interviewee

Interview Participants

    PATRICIA NEAL, interviewee
    KATHRYN NASSTROM, interviewer


Page 1
This is Kathy Nasstrom interviewing Patricia Neal on June 6, 1989 for the Southern Oral History Program, and we're going to be talking about the civil rights movement in North Carolina, and particularly, school desegregation along with the topic, generally, of women in politics. I'd like to start with some background information, how long you've lived in Durham, and if you'd tell me a little bit about your family background.
Okay. Kathy, I came to Durham in 1953 as an undergraduate in the Duke Nursing School. At that point, Duke was the only college in the country that offered a four year Bachelor's Degree program in nursing. I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. I was born on February 12, 1935. My father was a physician, pathologist, and my mother was a nurse, and I have two younger brothers who are still living in the Hartford, Connecticut area. I met my husband at Duke. He was a medical student, and we were married in 1955 and have essentially been in Durham ever since. After my husband finished his training, residency, in pediatrics, he went into practice in Durham in 1960, and we've been here ever since and have raised four children here.
From your growing up years, do you recall any important family influences, stories that were told that stick with you or memories that seem particularly important?
I think, I had a very, very good and very supportive family. It never occurred to me that I'd do anything except

Page 2
nursing, from the time I was old enough to really think about what it was that I wanted to do. From the time I was about twelve, I think, I started working in a small county hospital where my father worked, as, I guess, a sort of candy striper. And then when I was old enough to get a work permit when I was fifteen, I guess, I spent every summer and every vacation until I went to Duke working in this county hospital and gradually assumed more and more responsibility and was really doing some pretty heavy-duty nursing before I ever went to nursing school. I'd also say that I grew up during World War II. My father was in the service. We moved from Connecticut to Atlanta, Georgia, where my dad was stationed, and then subsequently, he went over seas to India. So he was gone from '43 until '46. So that was a very difficult period where my mother was alone, and there was a lot of anxiety about whether Dad would make it back because, at that point, they were planning to invade China and Japan before the atomic bomb. I think, and I was the oldest child in the family, and I think I assumed a lot of responsibility. So there were a number of things in my background that made our family, I think, very close, but also probably made me mature beyond my years. I never had any fears about when I found out that the quickest way to get a nursing degree was to go to Duke University. There was never any question in my mind that I'd get on an airplane and fly to Durham, North Carolina. So that's a little bit about my family background.

Page 3
Do you feel that your family was, you mentioned being close, do you think also supportive of your aspirations and what you were interested in doing?
Very definitely, yes. They were very supportive and gave me a great deal of encouragement. Also, I think, I recall both my mother and my father as being very, very gentle people and very caring people, and I think when I met my husband, Charlie, and found out that he was a doctor and wanted to be a pediatrician, it clicked immediately that we both came from somewhat similar backgrounds in the way that we had been raised and the way that our families had taught us to care about other people. That maybe sounds a bit trite, but it's true.
What we're going to spend a lot of time on is your work on the School Board, the Durham County School Board, so the point at which you more or less left behind the idea of spending a lot of time on nursing, could you describe how that happened?
As much as I wanted to be a nurse, and it's an unfulfilled dream of mine, and, in fact, I've applied to Watts Hospital to go back, to finish my nursing.
And that's something you're in the process of doing?
In the process of doing right now. It's just an unfinished chapter in my life that I've always been very unhappy about, but circumstances just prevented that. I was married in the middle of my junior year at Duke and got pregnant on my honeymoon, and then it became a matter of, at that point, Dr. Neal was an intern, and interns earned twenty-five dollars a month in those days. There was absolutely no way that he could

Page 4
continue with his medical training and I could go back to school and somehow take care of a baby, so from then on his career, or survival, depended really on his pursuing his career. We had always talked about having four children, and that's the way it turned out. I had always said that I wanted a) to be a nurse and b) to be married and have four children, so then the process of raising those four children consumed all my time and energy. So that's where I spent about seventeen years of my life, getting those young ones raised.
There are four kids in my family, too, and my mom also spent those years at home, and we were a handful, that's for sure.
It takes a great deal of energy. It really does. I guess, the payoff is that all four of them are happy and successful and productive, and they were good kids and really, other than the occasional speeding ticket and minor crises, never gave us really any significant problems.
Am I right, then, in saying, and I think I picked this up from when you were describing your work on the School Board, that you began that once your kids were, was it out of high school or out of college all together?
No, they were still, I started, well, it was a natural involvement, really, through participation in PTA, and they had established a program for gifted and talented kids, and I spoke some French, so I did some volunteer teaching in the Gifted and Talented Program teaching French to fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh graders. It was a natural evolvement of activities with

Page 5
the children through the PTA and other organizations, so the boys were still in grade school, and the girls were in junior high and high school.
When you were doing the PTA work?
Okay. What I think it might be good to establish at this point, because we're moving into the topic I very much want to cover, is the chronology of your time on the School Board because it was eighteen years, I believe you mentioned earlier. So I'd like to know if you could map out the years that you served, the different positions that you held along the way.
The School Board grew out of an involvement in two areas. One was the PTA and school, well, actually three areas. One was the PTA and substitute teaching and volunteer teaching. Secondly, I had, when I first registered to vote in Durham, having been brought up in a conservative, Republican family in New England, I really felt … it became obvious to me very early on that there was not a viable two-party system in North Carolina, and I felt very strongly that until there was a viable two party system that government in North Carolina at all levels, local, state, and federal, would suffer because of the lack of competition and that kind of thing, and the calibre of candidates. So when I was able to register in 1956 for the first time, I registered as a Republican, and an aside to that is that the Registrar said, and here I was, twenty-one, which is the age you had to be to register at that point. The Registrar was a little old lady at West Durham Community Center. She said,

Page 6
"Young lady, I don't think you want to do that because you can't vote in the primaries if you register as a Republican." And I said, "Well, thank you very much for your advice, but I do want to do this." But that was the sort of thing that you faced, so I had a commitment to Republican politics. Third, the League of Women Voters in Durham, at that time, was dominated by pretty much liberal women Democrats and primarily from the Duke community. And yet, I felt that they were doing some extremely worthwhile things, and I thought it was important #1) because they did have a commitment to a better political process. They were, at that time, monitoring all the Boards and Commissions as they still do very effectively, and so I wanted to become involved with the League of Women Voters for two reasons. One was perhaps to represent a different perspective than some of the other members, and two because I did want to become involved with the school and educational process and saw this as an organization that could accomplish both purposes. When I joined the League of Women Voters, they were looking for somebody, at the first meeting in September, they needed people to monitor the City Council, County Commissioners, etc., so I volunteered to monitor the Durham County Board of Education. This would have been in the fall of '68, I think. So I spent an entire year going to the Durham County School Board meetings. No, I take it back. It would have been the fall of '67. So I spent a whole year monitoring the Board, and I saw some things going on, some decisions being made by that Board… At that point, it was a partisan Board. There were five Democrats—four men and one

Page 7
woman, and I saw some decisions being made that I literally, as a League observer, we were absolutely forbidden to say anything in those meetings. We just had to sit there and listen and observe and report our observations back to the League, but I remember literally holding onto the chair with the knuckles of my hands just white at some of the decisions that were being made.
Would you give an example of such a decision?
One that I remember in particular was the Board voted to spend, and I've forgotten what the sum was, but a considerable amount of money, to buy a trophy case for Jordan High School. Never mind that Merrick-Moore, which was a high school, a K-12 union school at that point, had won numerous state championships in the years before, and Merrick-Moore was an all-black high school at that point in time. They had won many championships, and the Board had never bought them a trophy case, but the very first time that Jordan High School won a state championship, the Board is spending money. Of course, the other thing you need to understand, which I'm sure you do, is that I grew up in the North and grew up in a family in which I was taught and raised that all people are equal, and I had been to school with black children although there weren't a large number of them at that point. I had worked with black people at the hospital where I worked, so I came to the South with no knowledge really, very naive about what prejudice was, and it was a tremendous shock when I walked onto the Duke University campus and blacks were still sitting in the back of the bus and all of that was going on. It was a rude awakening to me. I saw decisions being made that were

Page 8
discriminatory. At any rate, I felt that I sat there for a year and watched this going on, and I said, "If you're going to make a difference, you're going to have to run as a candidate." And I got very excited about that, so in 1968, I ran as a Republican, the first political race of my life, and I think lost by 900 votes.
What was the count of the total? Do you have a round figure?
I'm guessing maybe there were, at that point in time, Kathy, I don't know.
What you're saying, am I right, is that must have been a fairly small number of votes? Is that what you're implying?
Yes. In other words, I came very close to winning. I was sixth out of, they were electing five Board members, so I would have come in, I came in sixth in the balloting and given the number of registered Republicans at that time and given the fact that I was not known in the community at that time, it was a very close race. That was in November of '68. In June of 1969, the one woman on the Board of Education had a serious disagreement with her fellow Board members over some contracts to buy mobile units, and she felt like there was some hanky panky going on and got very upset, and in sort of a spontaneous moment said, "I resign," and before she could even realize what she had done, her four colleagues accepted her resignation and off she went. The process for filling that spot on the Board, bear in mind, she had just been elected in November, so this is six months later, and so she has three and a half years left on her

Page 9
term. The Board is charged with the responsibility of selecting a replacement, and this is going to be, now, a replacement for three and a half years. It so happens that in 1968, the Democratic Party, the precincts had been taken over by, I think that was the Eugene McCarthy era. The precincts, the Durham Democratic precincts, had been taken over by the McCarthy people, and they had wrested the power away from the old line Democrats in Durham. The Board did not want to give the Democratic Executive Committee the power to appoint a replacement, so they decided that they would do it themselves. I had been sitting with that Board for a year. I had run and come in number six on the ballot, so they decided that the fairest thing to do was to appoint me to the unexpired term of Mrs. Marley. So here again was being at the right place at the right time, and then subsequently in 1972, I ran and that was the Nixon election in which the Republicans made momentous gains. In fact, Jim Holshouser was elected Governor, who was the first Republican Governor in this century, and I led the ticket of School Board members and was appointed Chairman and was subsequently appointed to the North Carolina Board of Directors of the North Carolina School Board Association. I served as Chairman on the local Board until '77 and then stayed on the Board the next ten years and served as Vice-Chairman.
And your term of office you just completed in '87. That's when you left?
Yes. I received, in fact, I ran for the North Carolina House of Representatives against George Miller in 1986 and was in

Page 10
a very bad automobile accident on the second of October in 1986, which was a month before the election, and even at that, and George Miller was a five or six-time incumbent Democrat, and I lost to him by 650 votes out of 14,000 cast. So I think, had I not been taken out of the campaign in the last month, I could have beaten him. After that, I received an appointment from Governor Martin to the State Board of Education, and so I resigned my Durham County Board of Education seat in April of '87 to go on the State Board.
Are you still serving on the State Board?
Yes, I sure am. It's an eight year appointment. I'll be 108 when it's up [Laughter]
I think what I'd like to do now, then, with that broad sweep outlined, is to go back to the topic of school desegregation, and I mentioned to you earlier that my interest is both in the critical period when school desegregation took place in Durham. My interest there comes from the fact that I know that the pace and the amount of conflict varied so much in North Carolina depending on which community this took place in. But I also have a second interest in knowing what happened, going back to '54 and the Brown decision and the Pearsall Plan, and you mentioned earlier that we may even have to go back even before 1954 to really understand the dynamic, so I guess my question at this point would be whichever seems logical to you, to either go as far back as is necessary to tell the story or to describe what happened at the critical time in the 60's and 70's, whichever seems more logical to you at this point.

Page 11
Kathy, let's start with the chronology of desegregation, and I sort of have to jump into it in the middle when I came into it because I don't have a great deal of knowledge of what went on. Really, very little happened in the Durham County schools after Brown except that we went with the schools of choice concept, and I remember my own children, at that point, were in school at Hope Valley Elementary School. I remember that there were a few very brave black youngsters who sought admission at Hope Valley School and were accepted, and I don't remember any particular problem about that except that there were not very many black families that were willing to put their children at risk and put them in a distinctly minority situation. It was more comfortable for them to continue to send their children to the black Durham County schools.
Do you remember the year that these first students would have arrived at Hope Valley?
I do not because at that point, I was involved only as a parent and was not, did not have any official position, but I would say that it was probably mid 50's. That would be my guess. No, mid 60's, excuse me.
So maybe '63, '64, '65?
Somewhere in there, yes.
But the NAACP had sued the Durham County schools for integration of the schools. The School Board, when I became a member of it, had had an integration plan accepted by the Federal District Court in Greensboro in 1968, which said that the high schools and junior high schools would be integrated in the fall of 1969, and because of space limitations

Page 12
and the need to purchase some mobile units to accomplish integration at the elementary school level, the Federal District Judge in Greensboro had given then a year's delay for the integration of the elementary schools. So the elementary schools were to be fully integrated in the fall of 1970. In October, well, let me go back. So the high schools and junior high schools were integrated in the fall of 1969 as the court order directed. I remember thinking at that time, we had three high schools, Southern High School, and Jordan High School, and Northern High School, and based on the principals that were employed in those high schools at that time, I remember speculating in my own mind as to how successful the integration of these high schools would be. There was a lot of discussion in the community that there would be problems at Southern High School because the Southern High School mascot was the rebel, and they use the rebel flag, and there was a lot of concern that that would be, and it was pretty much that the community thought of it as the red neck part of town. There was less concern about Jordan High School because primarily, Jordan High School, over the years, has been attended by pretty affluent families, both black and white. And there the aspirations of the parents are in concert, their expectations of their children, and something like ninety percent of Jordan's youngsters go on to four-year colleges and that kind of thing. So there was not much concern about how integration was going to work at Jordan High School because of the backgrounds of the children who went there. And Northern High School, nobody really knew how it would go there. You had quite

Page 13
a mix. But I remember thinking that we had a principal, Sidney Ray, at Southern High School who is probably one of the most sensitive and compassionate people that I know. At the opposite end of the spectrum, at Northern High School, we had one of the toughest, old line, hard-nosed, rigid principals in the system, and I remember thinking to myself, "There will never be a problem at Southern High School because Sidney Ray won't let there be a problem. If there's going to be a problem, I'm going to bet it's going to be at Northern High School." We'll come back to that in a minute because I need to go back to the chronology of what happened next. At any rate, the high schools and junior high schools were integrated in the fall. Then we had the Alexander vs. Holmes decision out of a court in, I think it was Alabama, in the Circuit Court in Alabama, which said not only will you integrate, but you'll do it now. The "all deliberate speed" rationale is over, all deliberate speed is not taking place, and the Supreme Court spoke very forthrightly and Alexander-Holmes said you'll do it now. The very next day, the NAACP filed suit in the Court of Appeals in Richmond, and said based on the Alexander-Holmes Decision, we want the elementary schools in Durham integrated now. So the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case in December. I believe it was the eighth, and I went with our Board attorney to Richmond, and our whole approach to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was that it would not help any child, black or white, to integrate the schools in the middle of the school year, that it would cause tremendous disruption, whether they be black or white. [Students]

Page 14
form attachments to their teacher. The teacher spends the first three or four months getting to know the children and evaluates them and figures out how they're going to teach them, and to undo all that would be a terrible disadvantage to all the children, to play "turn over the fruit basket" in the middle of the year. That was the first case that Clement Haynsworth sat on in the Fourth Circuit Court after he was turned down as a member of the Supreme Court. Remember, he was a Nixon appointee. And, at any rate, despite all of our pleadings, and it was a sincere pleading. It had absolutely nothing to do with trying to drag our feet about integration. Our elementary school plan was already drawn up. It was already in the hands of the Federal District Court in Greensboro, and we had simply been granted one year's reprieve for the other half of our school system. At that point, integration in Durham was a fait accompli. There was no resistance to it, but we did argue long and hard. I remember sitting in that Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on the eighth of December with tears rolling down my face because I knew what we were going to be faced with, and to have them sit there and not listen to what we were saying I found to be very cruel. But at the same time, the judge's point was that you'd had fifteen years to accomplish this and you haven't done it; don't blame us because now kids are going to be made to be uncomfortable. At any rate, before we could get back to Durham the next day, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision was in our attorney's office, so there was no doubt in my mind that that

Page 15
decision was made before we ever made the arguments in court on Tuesday.
I'd like to stop there for just a minute because it seems that, in each community in North Carolina, there are different points at which emotions ran high or just key moments, and this seems to be one for Durham. How would you say, is there a way to describe how different groups in the community felt about this particular decision? The School Board wanted that extra six months to finish out the school year. Were there other groups in the community that were in favor of that decision?
My memory is that, in the first place, I don't recall that there was a great deal of objection by the community to integrating the schools at that point in time. I think everybody, well, obviously not everybody, but Durham, you have to remember, is such a cosmopolitan community, and it had very, very, as it has always had, significant black leadership. It's been noted for that, not only in North Carolina, but really all over the country, with North Carolina Mutual being the largest black-owned insurance company in the world and North Carolina Central and Duke University and the large number of people who had been brought into the Durham community. It's almost hard to find somebody who is a native Durhamite. There have been a lot of people who have come into this community who gave it a flavor different from other North Carolina communities where I think the resistance to integration was a lot stronger, and there was a great deal more resistance and very ugly confrontations than there were in Durham. But when the Fourth Circuit Court of

Page 16
Appeals came down, and here we are right before Christmas, and that decision is that, the order was that the schools will be integrated after Christmas. Here we are with the kids ready to get out for Christmas. The teachers are all going home out of state, out of the city. It means that all the children, all the teachers' equipment, books, everything has to be shuffled during the Christmas vacation. The Board went into a meeting Tuesday afternoon when we got back from Richmond, and although most of the work on the integration of elementary schools had already been done, we still had to finish it and fine tune it, and it had to be, the court demanded that that plan be in the Federal District Court in Greensboro by the following Monday afternoon. So we met for twelve hours at a time Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, because the secretary to the attorney then had to get the descriptions of the school districts, and we're talking about fourteen elementary schools, and the boundaries had to be drawn around those schools and that meant that you had to have a description like "the boundary for Pearsontown will be from thirty-two degrees north along the railroad tracks to on and on." So it was going to take the secretary the whole weekend to type it, so we met in constant sessions. The community went berserk, I'll tell you that. My phone did not stop ringing. I met with groups. They wanted me to go to jail. They wanted the Board to be in contempt of Court. They did not want this order carried out, and it took every effort by the members of that Board to convince the community and to lower the level of hostility in the community to get them to understand that the Board did not have a

Page 17
choice, that the schools were going to be integrated on the third of January whether the Board did it or not and that, I remember saying that if I could go to jail and take a contempt of Court citation if it would make a difference, I would the willing to do that, but the fact was that either the Board was going to make this decision or the Federal Court was going to make this decision and that, after all, what we're trying to do is protect the children and that it would be best for the children if we made that decision about who was going to draw boundary lines rather than leave it to the Federal District Court.
It was going to happen one way of the other.
It was going to happen one way of the other. Once the community understood that, and it took a lot of talking and a lot of meetings with community groups to get people settled down, but once they understood that we did not have a choice then, in retrospect, Kathy, it was the best thing that could have happened. Because we went in, we made the decisions, we drew the boundary lines, we said this is the way it's got to be. And then over the Christmas vacation, parents that I had never seen in the schools before came together, and they went out to those schools, and they helped move furniture and notify teachers and send out letters to students about where their assignment was. The whole community just sort of regrouped and said, "OKAY. The kids are what's important here. Let's get it done." We opened school on the third of January.


So at any rate, the schools opened successfully on January 3, and that meant that the integration was complete, and it went extremely well until the spring of that year when the racial tensions began to run high at Northern High School. At that point in time, there was a black member of the School Board, who was Dr. Phil Cousins, and he was the last, well, I say the last black member. There has been one since, Dr. Richard Hunter, who has gone to Baltimore, I think, but at that point, Dr. Phil Cousins, who was the Pastor of St. Joseph's AME Zion Church. He was a very, very competent, very able black man who was extremely important that spring in keeping a potentially disastrous situation from getting out of hand. But, as I had indicated earlier, the principal at Northern High School was simply unable to deal with the realities of integration, and the black students … less had been done at Northern High School in preparation for integration than at the other two high schools. At the other two high schools, there had been open houses, trying to bring the black students into the high school prior to the opening of school, decisions being made about cheerleaders and Student Council representation. The guidance counselors had been involved at the other two high schools. In other words, there had been a fair amount of ground work done by the administration in the Guidance Departments at Southern and at Jordan. Very little had been done at Northern High School, so I was not surprised when trouble erupted there.

Page 19
What, in particular, happened? Just a brief description.
It's a little bit hazy in my mind except that the black community was complaining that the black students at Northern High School were not being treated fairly. Discipline was not being administered even-handedly. There may have been some questions about cheer leaders. At any rate, the perception in the black community was that the black students were not being treated fairly. I remember that the Board decided to meet at Northern High School with the black students and listen to their concerns, over the objections of the Superintendent of Schools, who felt that the Board was getting into administration. But I remember feeling very strongly at the time that if the Board did not do something to defuse that situation that it was going to get out of hand and that we were going to wind up with some very serious problems on our hands. By that time, I had been elected Chairman, and I remember that there was a rumor that they were going, the blacks were going to show up at Carrington the next day and cut the white girls' hair. And rumors were running rampant that the whites were going to retaliate. The head of the Klan in northern Durham County called me and said, "We're going with guns to Carrington tomorrow," and I really think that that's the one time that I can remember that being a woman probably helped the situation, because I remember begging him to give me three days to get the situation under control, and I assured him that it would be under control. At that same time, I was talking with Phil Cousins, and he had the black community in hand, and he

Page 20
was counseling with them and saying, "Give us three days. We will have the situation in hand. The concerns of the black students at Northern High School will be addressed. We are working on them, but for God's sake, let's not have violence. We will get these concerns taken care of." And we did, but I've often thought, when I was talking to that Klan member, that if I had been another man, he'd have probably told me to go to hell, and they'd have arrived the next day with guns, and we'd have had a loss of life. But I think that he just maybe felt sorry for me or was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt or something, but everybody sort of kept their cool and allowed the Board to go in and meet with the students and meet with the faculty and get the concerns addressed. That was the only hint of trouble that we ever had in the whole integration process. That was over in about a week.
That was actually my next question—how long it took for this issue to defuse. What was press coverage like during this week-long period? Did it help? Did it hinder?
My recollection would be that they were helpful, that they were not inflammatory, that they tried to get balanced coverage, and it was, I'm sure, thoroughly covered. It would be interesting to go back now and read those articles, but I remember them being more helpful than anything else.
You mentioned, too, this Phil Cousins, and I'm wondering if there are other groups or other individuals that were important in resolving this conflict.

Page 21
Prior to that, in fact in 1968, Fred McNeil had been elected to the Board, and Fred was also a black gentleman who, Is think, was very helpful in moving the Board along in their integration, dealings with integration. Then Fred McNeil became Director of Operation Breakthrough, and because of the Hatch Act, he had to resign from the Board, and that's when Phil Cousins was appointed to the Board, but after Phil Cousins left to go to Birmingham, there has not been another black member who has been elected to the Durham County Board of Education.
Does that have anything to do with the change in demographics between the county schools and the city schools of Durham?
Yes and no. It has to do with the change in the election laws that took place in 1976 in which the Board went from a partisan Board to a non-partisan Board, and part of that package, which had to be approved by the General Assembly—it was special enabling legislation that moved us from a partisan Board to a non-partisan Board—and part of that package was that all five members would be elected at one time for a four-year term and that they would be elected only by the Durham, that you had to live in the Durham County school district to vote. When that happened, there is a much larger number of black voters in the city than there are in the county. The county schools are about, then they were about eighty-twenty, and now they are about seventy-thirty, white to black. Conversely, the Durham city schools are about ninety percent black, ten percent white. So when that package was enacted, it was extraordinarily difficult,

Page 22
given the voter registration in the Durham County school system, for a black to be elected.
When we were talking earlier, you mentioned that there's a history, before '69 and before you came on the board, that's important here. I'd like, to the best of your recollection, to fill that in and tell us what's important.
But before we do that, do you think there's more of the story post-1972 that's important to record?
I don't think so, except that in 1973, when I was Chairman, Mr. Chewning, who had been the Superintendent for twenty-three years, his health had deteriorated, and he was a Southern gentleman from South Carolina and the whole integration [process] was more then he could deal with. After he retired, we then hired Dr. Frank Yeager, who cam from the Louisville, Kentucky, school system and who was an enormously talented and very, very sensitive administrator. Frank Yeager was here from '73 to '83, and I think much of the progress that we continue to make in race relations and improving the quality of the Durham County schools rests with the decision to hire that man. He was absolutely phenomenal. That's a whole other story, too, because he was, a chapter in his career was as a Secret Service Agent to President Kennedy, so there are lots of interesting stories that we don't have time to go into today because they're not really relevant except that his background was so varied and that he just brought tremendous leadership. Your question goes back to the Durham City and County schools. There was a history, back in the 40's and 50's, if you didn't go to the Durham City system,

Page 23
you just were a nobody. Anybody who was anybody in Durham went to Durham High. That was the school to go to and be a graduate of. The Durham County schools were very poor, very rural, and just didn't begin to have the reputation for academic excellence that the Durham City Schools had. After the integration of the schools, and at the same time that the Durham County schools were under court order, the Durham City schools were also under court order to integrate, and I think the population at that point was probably about, maybe fifty-fifty in the Durham City schools. When integration came, you had tremendous white, not only white flight out of the city schools, but middle and upper income black flight as well. Consequently, the Durham City schools have been left as practically every other city system in the United States has been left, and that is that they're very poor and very black, very economically deprived, and they've gone from being fifty-fifty back in 1970 to now being ninety-ten. We tried very hard in 1972 to, we had a merger vote then, but that was right after the horrendous fight in Charlotte-Mecklenberg and the forced bussing in that community, and when we said "merger" they said "Charlotte-Mecklenberg," and we tried to point out to the community that Durham County was not in any way, shape or form like Charlotte-Mecklenberg, and it was beaten worse in '72 than it's ever been beaten before. Interestingly enough, it was beaten worse in the city precincts than it was in the county precincts, and I think at that time, the black community recognized that they were headed toward controlling their own school system, and they subsequently elected a majority black

Page 24
Board and have had, now, two black Superintendents. In the recent merger task force discussions by the Durham committee, Willie Lovett and some of the other leaders, George Reed, spoke very eloquently of the loss of power and control that the city system would face if they merged because by law, the county system becomes the government system, and they would, in essence, be swallowed up unless some very, very strict guidelines were drawn up about representation on the board and how the people in the city system in administrative positions would be treated in a merged system, what their future would be.
That's interesting. The merger question is in the papers now, and it's interesting to see how far back it goes and how some of the exact same issues were in place seventeen years ago.
In 1972, the last time we had a vote on it, the very same issues that have been raised this year on the Merger Task Force were raised then, and I don't see any differences except that logistically, with the fifty-fifty black population in Durham City, it would have been a whole lot easier to get a reasonable racial balance in the schools in 1972 than it's going to be today.
What's your position on this and has it changed in the seventeen year period? Did you think differently about this issue in '72 than you do now?
I was very much pro-merger in 1972. I worked long and hard to effect a merger then because I think it could have been done successfully then. My position has changed only in that

Page 25
given the racial distribution of students and the fact that you would have to have, and I think the courts would demand that you have, some reasonable kind of racial balance. The disparity in the two systems just about where black and white kids live would mean a horrendous amount of bussing, and the quality of the education in the city system has declined, I think, dramatically while it's gone up dramatically in the county system. The disparity, quite frankly, in the leadership in the Durham city system, the quality of the leadership is poor. They refuse to bite the bullet on personnel. When they've got a principal who can't cut it, they bring him into the central office. Up until last year, they had the highest per capita, highest per student, expenditure in the state of North Carolina, and they've got the highest administrative per pupil ratio in the state. Every time they've had any difficult situation with a black administrator, they pull him out of a principalship and find a place for him in the central office. They just are unwilling to bite the leadership bullet, and a merger now would mean that you're going to sacrifice the county kids for however many years it takes to straighten out the mess. I think, eventually, it's probably going to come, but it's going to be at the sacrifice of the county kids, and that's difficult because it's going to be chaos, just chaos. It's a tough one.
Yes, it definitely is. The article that sticks in my mind is the one that was in The Independent, now maybe about six weeks ago, six or eight weeks ago, that tried to look at it from the perspective of the parents and the kids that would be

Page 26
involved. It did some interviews for the background of it, and I think that it really showed the complexity of the issue.
It's not going to be easy, and there may be some thought about seeing if the new city Superintendent can bring some order out of chaos, can move the two systems a little closer together in parity so that the shock of trying to merge the two systems won't be as great five years down the road as it is today. I don't know.
It seems, though, that still the ideal in your mind is to arrive at that point.
I think so. I think that ultimately, it doesn't make sense to have a community with a split school system, and gradually this is happening across the state. We used to have 170 school systems when I first came on the Board in '69, and now we're down to about 129. So slowly, but surely, across the state, communities are coming to recognize that it is not financially practical to operate two or three school systems. Of course, the classic is the one in Robeson County, where they have seven in one county, but it's a problem that needs to be solved locally, at the grass roots level because the people who are going to be involved in it are the ones who are going to have make it work. There's been some talk of having the state mandate 100 county systems, and I think that would be a big mistake.
You're making these comments about North Carolina, and I think about a transition here to your service on the State Board of Education. Maybe a good starting point would be these kinds of questions or issues that you see in

Page 27
the dynamics in Durham, and now you're looking at the entire state. What kinds of issues to you, since you've come on the Board, seem to be the big issues for public education in North Carolina now?
Well, I think the big issue of accountability and flexibility is what they're talking about in Raleigh today, and at the same time one of the things that I do bring to the State Board is that having been on a local board, I've been on the receiving end of some mandates from the State Board and from the General Assembly, which frequently come to the local without sufficient funds to implement them. I think too often the General Assembly and the State Board, where they have had people that have not had local board experience, they tend to make state wide decisions without thinking about what the impact is going to be at the local level, and that's something as a State Board member that I'm very sensitive to. A good example is class size. The General Assembly heard from some system, I've forgotten where it was, where some teacher had 65 students in the class. Now, obviously, that was a very poor decision by some administrator in that county. Well, the General Assembly tends to get all excited about those things. So they passed a class size mandate, said you can only have 26 kids in a class. Well, what that means is children don't come in evenly allocated slots of 26 to a class. The state demands that, after ten days, every class must have 26 students. Well, that means that many of the schools have got to play turn over the fruit basket, after ten days of school, to either hire additional teachers or create combination classes so

Page 28
that they meet the state class size mandate. Now, that's stupidity. All because the General Assembly heard about one or two bad situations in a local district. But I think you do see a very different perspective from the State Board, and I've spent the first two years literally traveling from Murphy to Manteo. I think I was very insulated in the Durham County system in that I had seen the best. You know, we used local money to hire elementary school guidance counselors back in 1973, and they're just now hiring under the Basic Education Plan elementary school counselors in many of the school systems across the state, and I could go on and on with examples of that, where we'd have such tremendous progressive thinking about what we needed to do in Durham County. And you go out in Northhampton County or you go to Swain County in the mountains or some of the little counties in between that don't have the kind of tax base that Durham County has and you see some really poor educational quality.
And one thing that money comes into play.
Absolutely no question about it. We have not begun to get the resources into the state that we need.
That's such a big challenge, in this day and age, getting money for education. Off the top of your head, what are other challenges that you see coming along, or where the money to be there for some of these programs, what most needs attention in North Carolina now?
Well, obviously the high dropout rate is a critical problem in North Carolina. That, in my opinion, is related to the need for early childhood education. The whole society is

Page 29
just changed and children are being put in inadequate daycare because they're either single parent families or both parents have to work. And the child is six months old and he's put in daycare, and we have poor quality daycare and these children arrive in kindergarten without anywhere near the skills that they need to start school. And there's been an extraordinarily interesting study done in Ypsilanti, Michigan which is now 18 years old so they've had some time to follow-up and they figure for every dollar invested in three and four year olds that you're saving seven dollars on the other end in jailfare and welfare and those kinds of things. And I think ultimately that's the answer to the dropout problem because most of these kids never drop-in to begin with. And the quality of the teachers is directly related to the student achievement. You know, when we're paying starting teachers $18,000 a year, there's no way in God's green earth that we're going to attract the best and the brightest teachers into the teaching profession, let alone keep them after we get them. That's true not only in North Carolina but nationwide, you know. We've got to get our priorities straight. When I read that the average major league baseball player earns $500,000 a year, and we're playing our teachers $18,000, you know. What can you say about our commitment to public education? Not much. Not that we can afford to pay them $500,000, but let's get serious folks.
All of this sounds so grim, and it is right now, what do you see as the possibilities for change in the near future or the long term?

Page 30
I'm optimistic. I really am, but then I tend to be an optimist and see the glass half-full instead of half-empty. But practically every article that you read in the newspaper related to the General Assembly has to do with education. The governor has made a very bold proposal for an increase of 1% in sales tax, and his surveys indicate, and I would certainly agree with that based on the number of bond issues for school construction that passed in North Carolina in the last two years, [the response] has been very, very positive. I don't know what the actual percentage is but it's extraordinarily high. The governor's surveys indicated that if the people could be assured that that 1% would go into a public education fund like the highway fund, that they would be willing to pay that extra 1%. The other very encouraging thing is that for the first time business and industry has gotten seriously involved. And it's not all, what's the word I'm looking for, not just out of the goodness of their hearts.
It's partly self interest.
It's self interest and survival. And that's okay. Whatever the reason is.
You'll take the money where you can get it.
We'll take the money and the interest. And I think the partnerships that are being formed, not only in North Carolina but across the nation, are very, very helpful because they literally cannot find people to be employed.
I can't help thinking as you described this, something that I don't think I mentioned to you earlier, but in the other

Page 31
set of interviews I'm doing, I spoke with Grace Rohrer about her work. And a lot of what you're saying now seems to me to be the kinds of issues that she was concerned about in the work that she's doing out at Appalachian State now.
This is coming somewhat out of the blue, but I mentioned to you my interest generally in women and politics or women who are activists, and it seemed easy to make the connection—education, children, these are women's issues, these are women's concerns. Do you think along those lines? Is that what motivates you or is there some other, what would be the word, maybe, wellspring, for the kind of work that you're doing now in this very long commitment, twenty years, to education?
Well, you know, I guess I don't see it primarily as a woman's issue, Kathy, I really don't. I see it being motivated by a, really a lifetime of public service, commitment to trying to leave this world a little better than I found it, and one of the things that I feel very strongly about is that I have never felt discriminated against as a woman, and I was elected to a school board and then elected chairman by four men at a time when there were very few women on school boards across this county and in North Carolina in particular. And then to be elected chairman was, you know, there were only three or four of us in North Carolina at that time that were chairman of our respective boards. And then I got into real estate, which when I got into that was, you know, in the mid-70s, was a very much male-dominated profession. Maybe I've just been lucky in the people that I have worked with, just really never thought about

Page 32
discriminating against a woman. But I've found every entry into that arena extraordinarily satisfying and free of any bias and prejudice against women. It's been a very fulfilling experience.
I would think so. And part of the reason I asked the questions that way is that I read just recently that in terms of women either appointed or elected to government positions, whether it be on the local level or nationally, that education has been one avenue into politics for women, meaning the whole service kinds of things, and that women have made the most progress, being highest representation, on school boards, committees. That that's really been a place of advancement for women in politics.
Well, I'm sure you're right. Again, it's kind of a natural because of the early involvement of mothers with the schools and, I think, much broader appreciation of the issues.
Well, I looked through my notes and we've covered most of ground that I had wanted to. Is there something else that you'd want to add to what we've said so far or anything in the way of clarification?
I don't think so. I think we've pretty much gone through it.
Thanks very much. I appreciate your time.
You're very welcome.