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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr., May 31, 1989. Interview L-0040. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Post-WWII period enhanced black activism against racial inequalities

Black World War II veterans were disappointed to return to an unequal racial climate in the United States. McKissick explains that World War II increased black activism for civil rights, and the postwar United States produced a season ripe for racial change. Consequently, a series of collegiate desegregation cases emerged. McKissick discusses his and others' cases against the University of North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr., May 31, 1989. Interview L-0040. 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

BRUCE KALK:
I'd like to, if we could, switch our attention to the background of the desegregation case at UNC. Would you be able to tell me a little bit about the earlier efforts to desegregate UNC prior to your own involvement?
FLOYD B. MCKISSICK, SR.:
I recall my early involvement in the desegregation at North Carolina. We wrote and asked for applications right after I came out of the army in '45 requesting admission. We never received a reply to our first letter to the University of North Carolina. I was living in Asheville then. A short time before that there was the Hocutt case which had been brought to go to the University of North Carolina. Raymond Hocutt, I think, was his name, who had tried to go to North Carolina, and I think that that case was tied in state court and was lost. And he was not permitted to get into the case. My association, after we got out of the army, we were determined that there was not going to be any more segregation in North Carolina. And I think most of fellows who had been in World War II had been around the world and they had seen things, and they knew that they were not what America had depicted them to be. They had seen the whole world, and they were not going to live in a pattern of segregation as they had in the past. When we came to North Carolina, I went to Morehouse and did another year. And I had three years of college under my beat, and I had made the Dean's List at Morehouse. The Dean's List was what we called the honor roll. I came up to North Carolina Central. At that time it was called North Carolina College for Negroes, or they had just changed it to North Carolina College at Durham. I was admitted to law school, and we immediately decided upon getting the law school accredited. It was unaccredited. Didn't have enough books. Didn't have enough space. Didn't have enough facilities. It was called the law department. We then went to the legislature. Efforts to talk to people didn't prove to any avail, so we decided to picket the legislature. At that time the newspaper didn't pick up too much of what black people wanted to negotiate no way. You had to take some action. The only time that they would listen to you was some action. We decided to picket the legislature. So a group of us picketed the legislature, and as a result of picketing the legislature, they decided to expend more money to bring the law school up to accredited levels. We also decided that we needed to bring, with the cooperation of NAACP, bring suit to enter the University of North Carolina.
BRUCE KALK:
What was the date on your picketing the legislature in the effort to get North Carolina Central accredited?
FLOYD B. MCKISSICK, SR.:
Don't recall, I think I can find that written down someplace for you. I don't recall. Possibly a year before we filed the suit, because talk was going on that maybe they would let somebody in over there. And some quiet talk never proved to be of any benefit. But we did picket and we've got some pictures and everything of it for you. At any rate, when we brought the suit, before we brought the suit, I was not the first plaintiff. I think I was about the third in line. There was Harold Epps and Glass and there was another person who was in the law suit and ended up. . . . Epps graduated and someone else stepped down from the suit and I became the major plaintiff in the suit after that time. Then after a became the major plaintiff, at the time the case was being called for trial, there were interveners, and the interveners were Jay Kenneth Lee, Harvey Beech, Eugene Lassiter, and possibly four or more others who joined just before the suit started trial in Durham.
BRUCE KALK:
Let me interrupt you if I may. What year was Mckissick vs. Carmichael initiated, do you recall?
FLOYD B. MCKISSICK, SR.:
No, I'll have to get the records again on that. I get these dates a little confused now. Used to be that I could remember them all the time. I think that there was a book put out by the student government of North Carolina that has all those dates and figures in it. That would be your best bet on that, the students government of North Carolina, written by Albert Coates. That has it pretty well.
BRUCE KALK:
What events in particular prompted you to initiate the suit?
FLOYD B. MCKISSICK, SR.:
We had attempted to, after we got out of the army, I knew that I was going into law. And during the time that I was in Atlanta we had written the University of North Carolina and gotten no reply to asking them. It was generally felt and there was a feeling in the air that people were going to be fair and treat you right. You were a returning veteran. And some schools were letting blacks in that never had before. There were high quotas, and veterans were getting quotas. So there was a feeling in North Carolina, North Carolina would do some of these things without being forced to do it. That feeling was later determined to be a false feeling, false emotions, that we had. And after I came to the law school here and I saw...