Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edwin Caldwell, March 2, 2001. Interview K-0202. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Caldwell learns leadership on school board

After gaining a reputation as someone who could not win elections, Caldwell was appointed to the Chapel Hill Carrboro School Board. Although he was appointed to represent African Americans, he quickly asserted that his goal was to advocate for all students. Although he was overwhelmed with how much work the position demanded, Caldwell says he became a national leader.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edwin Caldwell, March 2, 2001. Interview K-0202. 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

Next time it came around they asked me if I was going to run. There was I guy named Richard Whittet. Next thing I know-he's black and he was all ready in the election. So I didn't get a chance to run for County Commissioner again. I don't know if I really wanted to at that time. I had gotten the reputation. If you run for things and you can't win, I think I had run three times and lost. Even though I had lost by small numbers you get the reputation of you can't win. I was soon getting that reputation. I could help other people get elected but I couldn't get myself elected. I was appointed to the school board, somebody resigned, I can't remember who it was. I need to go back and do research. I think they were looking for a replacement on the school board. They wanted a black on the school board because we didn't have a black on the school board after Reverend Manley decided not to run we just couldn't elect anybody. It was know that when whoever resigned, I think he went somewhere else, that they were going to select a black. The selection committee pretty much said that we think that we need black representation on the board. It boiled down between two people. One person was named Vivien Foushee, Vivian had been in Chapel Hill, and Vivian was quite political. Everything that happened in Chapel Hill Vivian almost had to put her goodhouse stamp of approval on it. She was just that good. They put my name down. I guess I was starting to get a certain reputation. People knowing me, that sort of thing. It boiled down between Vivien and myself, I thought that Vivien would get it because Vivien was probable better know. When it came out I found out that they had chosen me to be on the school board. Norman Wellerly, I think was the chairman of that committee, search committee. He told me that I was his first choice and he was able to convince the others that I would be the best person to represent. That's how I got on school board, I wasn't elected, I was appointed. After you are appointed and you serve for a while people get a certain amount of name recognition and they get to see how think they get to see how you vote. My years on school board were very good. We had some very, very good school board members. People like Mary Scroggs they just named a school after her. I considered Mary my mentor. Mary got me on just about all these other North Carolina School Board Association, she was president of North Carolina School Board. When they got ready to select somebody, I got selected, because all these people wanted black representation. Through Mary I got selected to a lot of boards. There were people like, Phillips, what was his name he was State Superintendent, Craig Phillips, Craig had come out of Chapel Hill. Phillips Junior High School was named after his father. Craig was quite an educational family. He ran the Department of Public Instruction. He knew me. Therefore, I got put on a lot of boards and things at the State. There was Norman Wellerly. Norman was just grounded. He was just grounded he just had a good mind. We had a lot of good people on there. There was Betty Denny, everybody that was on the school board at that time had an area of expertise. Betty Denny's expertise was school law. Her husband was an attorney, he was attorney for the town. She just knew state statues up and down, she was our legal expert. I guess she talked it over a little with her husband. We had a person by the name of Ken, was our financial expert. Ken went to the State as the Chief Financial Officer, what ever that position is. He was good there. We had Sam Holton, Sam was in the Department of Education. He just knew education very well. Ken Howard. So Ken was our financial. Sam Holton education, Betty Denny was the legal person, Mary just, Mary just very good, she was a leader everybody looked up to Mary. My role on there was to begin to be the voice for the black community. They had made a lot of mistakes and one of the things they wanted to do was try to correct some of the mistakes they had made. They looked to me to be their conscious. To help them think through decisions, because they did not have the perspective for what was best for black kids. So even though I got, I guess, appointed to represent the blacks, I told them that I was not here to represent just the blacks I am here to represent all children. Whatever happens that we make decisions for if it is good for all others then it is going to be good for blacks. They were quite impressed by that. That I wasn't going to always be speaking for this. I took being a school board member very seriously. I am not just a black candidate I am for all things. One of the things being on school board it's very time consuming. They send you out a packet of materials and you have to read all this stuff and get prepared for all the meetings. I have a full time job, and then I am on all these other committees throughout the state and the nation. I have an awful lot of stuff to read. I did the best I knew how to do with a full time job, raising kids, people expecting you to come to every meeting that they had, it was just tough for me. Sometimes I didn't quite get to the packet. I would go to the meetings and I'd start talking. I guess trying to talk my way through. They would say, "Ed you didn't read your packet did you? What you're talking about was already written in there." They caught my hand and I had to at least try to wade through all that paperwork. You have to see what they would send out to us on Friday and we were supposed to read this for the Monday meeting. There was a lot of – I started reading, took it very seriously. When Mary stepped down, Norman Wellerly became chairman of the school board. Norman was a good chairman to, Norman was not on all the committees and positions that Mary was on at the State, but Norman was an excellent chairman, fair, ran a good meeting. I just had the utmost respect for Norman. All persons like this, when we went to the national meetings, they had workshops, clinics that they called them. When we went off to a national meeting, they ran the clinics, you selected areas that you wanted to learn something about. They had over a hundredsome clinics that you could go to and you picked the areas you wanted to know about become better informed. Well Norman ran several of those clinics. They had me running clinics. I guess that's the kind of thing where they begin to see how you think and respect you. I was quite a leader in the national school board. I worked with the black caucasus stuff. I was trying to get more blacks elected throughout the nation. I was on quite a few things.