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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Price Adamson, April 19, 1976. Interview G-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

As she launches the SCHW office, Adamson looks for allies in North Carolina

Adamson describes launching North Carolina's branch of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare and how she negotiated the South's racial landscape. She also lists her primary allies, especially Charlotte Hawkins Brown, the Reverend Lee Shepherd, and Dr. Franklin Porter Graham.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Price Adamson, April 19, 1976. Interview G-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MARY FREDERICKSON:
So you moved back to Greensboro and started working to set up to organize the committee for North Carolina.
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Yes, I organized the Southern Conference for North Carolina.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What did you see as your job? How did you envision what you had to do?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I was enthusiastic about the interracial program of the Southern Conference and its general plan for raising the standard of living and the life in the South. I could state that better if I were sitting down with pencil and paper at hand.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
The Southern Conference had been set up in 1938. How were you tuned in to how that organization had evolved from '38 to the time when you came in 1945? Did you sort of have any feeling about what has transpired during that time? Was it on the up? Was it beginning to sort of have trouble?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
No, it was not. It was a whole-hearted bunch of devoted people for whom I had great respect-Jim Dombrowski, and Clark Foreman, and of course Virginia Durr who continues to be a close friend after all these years, and many other people I could list, Mary McCloud, for instance. In Greensboro, there was Charlotte Hawkins Brown at theInstitute, and so forth. It was my first real experience of knowing personally outstanding black people. It was very stimulating to me.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When you started setting up the committee in North Carolina, didn't you ask Reverend Lee Shepherd and work for the committee?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
No, no. I soon found out, and I knew enough about organizing, that if we expected to have an organization and get members, the first thing to do was to get someone who would agree to be chairman of the organizing committee and to get some other names of prominent people who would be in favor of this so that one could talk to people in terms of, these are the people who are interested in it. Dr. Frank Graham was a tower of strength to me in this respect because he was on the board and had been one of the founders of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. I had know him since I was a child in Chapel Hill, so that he gave me great help about telling me if I got a lead on who would be a good person; I would be able to ask him what do you know about this person? If he doesn't know, he'd say, "Well now, but there's somebody who may have been in touch with him." Just how I heard about-you just said his name, the Baptist . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Lee Shepherd.
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Yes, just exactly how I got referred to him, I don't know except the Pullen Memorial Church was more liberal than most churches, and I was very keen on getting this kind of view we needed to have if we were going to get this organized church support, some black support, some trade union support, some young people's support. Anyhow, I went to see Mr. Shepherd, and he did agree to be chairman, I guess we called it, of an organizing committee. Then to get a broader view, I heard about a man who had a tobacco warehouse in Smithfield, Laurence Wallace, and he was a great admirer of Dr. Graham. Dr. Graham had said to me, "Now, here's someone who is a businessman who might be willing to do." So I went down to Smithfield and got him to agree to be the vice-chairman. Charlotte Hawkins Brown was, as you know, at
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Could you tell me a little bit more about her? I know that she had been a founding member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation in the '20's. How old was she when you knew her, and what was she like to work with?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
She was . . .I'm just guessing entirely, I would say about fifty at the time I knew her. In other words, she was older than I was. She had the great respect of the business community in Greensboro. She had managed to get her work done and to get her PR job done.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Had you heard about her when you lived there before, or was she there at that time?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
No, and I'm terribly embarrassed to say that I just knew nothing at all about the black community other than in the most awful kind of contacts.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So, this was a totally different experience for you, to go back to North Carolina and have completely different kinds of contacts?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
That's right.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was she helpful to you in setting up the committee? Was she responsive to the whole idea?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Yes, she was responsive to the whole idea but what she did was from her own office. She did not go out to try to see people and that sort of thing.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But she continued giving you support and to try to get other people interested.
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
That's right. And to give me guidance. That's what I needed, was guidance. I could remember the names of other people who were very helpful, such as the trade union people. I was given a place to work in the office of the trade union secretary and again, I could think of his name if I took your time to do it, but I can't. Anyhow, I was able to get this diversified experience and my brother, Paul, who lived there was very helpful to me, because at that time cars were difficult to get and I had to get around. The first time that I went around on the organizing job, I rode the buses. This was in the summertime, so I say that if I ever get to heaven, it was for that bus travel that I did in North Carolina in that summer.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were you trying to get a basic group of people, a chairman, vice-chairman, who would be able to expand the membership in North Carolina? Were you actually trying to sign individuals up or were you trying to set up this framework for an organization?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I was trying to get a framework and then to call a state meeting of whoever would come that wanted to come and was interested in it. I did publicity through the papers and was able to get some public notice about it and through the contacts and so that when we had our organizing meeting in Raleigh, I think it was . . .oh, there was a wonderful young woman named Carolyn Goldberg who was the newspaper woman and she was interested in the organization and she spent full-time doing publicity for that first meeting. She knew the publicity sources and so forth and she was a grand person. She later worked on the staff when we got to the point of having anybody in the staff. I've often thought, I don't know where Carolyn is now, but she was such a skilled newspaper woman that I hope she had a good career.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When you had your first meeting in Raleigh, how many people came?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
I would have to guess, and among the things I have of what I always thought would be a scrapbook, I would tear out stories and put them in and these days, I've still got a fat book of clippings which I have never gotten around to pasting up and getting in order and so forth, but my newspaper background had led me to clips and so, I don't remember how many people there were but there were enough people that I would guess that it must have been between twenty-five and fifty.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was that an optimistic meeting, about being able to set this up and get support within the state?
MARY PRICE ADAMSON:
Yes.