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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, February 22, 2001. Interview K-0215. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Local school desegregation lawsuits required the political activism of Chapel Hill citizens

Pollitt provided legal services for two Chapel Hill black children attempting to integrate the public schools. Although UNC officials turned a blind eye to his civil rights activism, some local Chapel Hill whites threatened Pollitt. He realized that courts had limited practical application of desegregation law. It was only through local political activism that real racial justice could be leveled.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, February 22, 2001. Interview K-0215. 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

DANIEL H. POLLITT:
I just got right into the thick of it. And then we filed a suit on behalf of the two kids who had been denied under the Pearsal Plan, and I was in charge of fund raising or something or other. And we met at the Rat for a luncheon/ fund raiser. And then I met Floyd McKissock, who was in Durham. And he and I and Bob Seymour, who's a minister of the Baptist Church, Binkley, became a team. And we would go to black churches, and Bob Seymour would give a prayer, and then I would tell about Brown against the school board, and what the law is, and whatever happens between. And Floyd McKissock would solicit clients to bring suits. And that was then illegal; [Laughter] you can't solicit lawsuits, you know. But the Supreme Court later held that it was okay to do what we'd been doing.
DAVID POTORTI:
And were you successful?
DANIEL H. POLLITT:
Well, not really, because we'd get people, and then they'd Xerox it, and then they'd say it has to be in original handwritten, or we had the Mootness case, that they applied to go to the sixth grade, but now two years had gone by and it's now the eighth grade, but they'd asked to go to the sixth grade, so you'd have to start all over again. There were all sorts of things, and nothing happened, and then we decided to elect a school board more to our liking, and this was done at the Community Church, mostly. And Doctor Peters in our church was elected to be the chair of our school board, and we had a majority, so they started to integrate. So that was the school board thing. And it was the first grade, or the first three grades, or something. And then you had to get a black teacher in the white school [Laughter] and that was another struggle, and so on. And then when they closed Lincoln, and moved it to what was then the new high school, they lost all their trophies. And that really made a difference to the—Lincoln High School was this hub of the black community, and closing it down created a big gap. And then losing the trophies—they didn't believe they'd been lost. [Laughter] They thought somebody had destroyed them or something. So there was a bad thing at the high school, and there were troubles at the high school.
DAVID POTORTI:
Tell me about, just sort of in general, if you could tell me about the activities that you were describing. Was there ever any friction between you and the University in terms of your activities with integration, with these church groups, whatever. Were you ever called to the carpet for any of them?
DANIEL H. POLLITT:
No, never. I didn't publicize anything I was doing, but I didn't hide it, I couldn't hide it very well. And Dean Brandis had asked me to prepare this paper, and then it was printed, and I was the president of the [Laughter] whatever it was to integrate the schools. So Bill Aycock was the Chancellor, and I replaced him—it created a vacancy when he was made the Chancellor, which I filled. And Bill Friday was the president, and they were both in the community church, so I saw them every Sunday. And, you know, they were very friendly. I think Bill recalls it, Ida, his wife does. But for five or six months, we were at the same small little Navy ammunition depot outside of Norfolk, and he was the adjunct to the commanding officer, and I was on the marine guard. So I knew Bill [Laughter] from the service; nobody ever told me to back off or anything. I got some ugly letters.
DAVID POTORTI:
From the community, or from people at the University?
DANIEL H. POLLITT:
"We're going to blow up your house tonight," "Go back to where to came from"—Arkansas? [Laughter] Threatening letters.
DAVID POTORTI:
So these were obviously all anonymous.
DANIEL H. POLLITT:
They were all anonymous. But they were obscene, threatening.
DAVID POTORTI:
How did you react to those?
DANIEL H. POLLITT:
Well, I saw Charlie Jones, and I said, "Charlie, somebody's going to blow up my house this week." I said, "You get letters like this?" He said, "All the time." I said, "What do you do?" He said, "I have a big wicker basket I keep them in." I was worried a time or two. But I didn't move my family out or anything. And I didn't get a gun. I figured, we'll see.
DAVID POTORTI:
And it sounds like they didn't blow up your house.
DANIEL H. POLLITT:
They didn't blow up the house or anything. So that was the school integration, and it took legislative action and electing a school board to do it, we couldn't do it in the courts. We failed on those efforts. And the same was true I think throughout most of the state. [Phone ringing]