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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Moving to an integrated prison in Guilford County, North Carolina

Cusick ultimately moved to an integrated prison in Guilford County, North Carolina, as a result of the efforts made by George Randall, Commissioner of Prisons. Randall acknowledged the inevitability of integration. At the integrated prison, Cusick obtained knowledge of the outside world.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. 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

PAMELA DEAN:
Did they choose him special for your cellmate?
PAT CUSICK:
I have no idea. [Laughter] They also put in the record—Ehle found it when he was writing the book—that I did indeed eat which was not true. But I mean, they had all these things. Then they had me go see the prison psychiatrist because obviously a white southerner taking these positions must be deranged. So I'd have these stupid interviews with this prison psychiatrist. Then after that didn't work, the Commissioner of Prisons, George Randall, and I started having talks, really great guy. Had a hard time with him because he had integrated a couple of prisons with the state not knowing it, and his goal was to integrate the prison system. Now, I was spoiling his game plan.
PAMELA DEAN:
Calling attention to it.
PAT CUSICK:
So we'd have all these long discussions. He would pose arguments to me, and I would answer him. So finally on Christmas eve morning, I guess it was, he said, "I want you to eat." I don't know how many days [I'd fasted], twenty or something. "There's soon going to be bodily damage, and it's a shame." And he said, "I want you to know that I am not going to yield because to put you in a black camp is obviously not integration. You have to admit that." And he said, "You've hit a stone wall. I don't want you to answer me now but I want you to think. Wait twenty-four hours and give me your answer to come off the fast." Because he said, "I'm not yielding." Really great guy. So I went back and I had that decision to make, over Christmas eve. So I decided, and I guess it was Christmas afternoon, he called me up. And he said, "You know, you've really messed up my Christmas." He was an Episcopalian. "At midnight mass, you really messed my whole Christmas service up. What have you decided?" So I told him. He laughed, he said, "I knew that's what you were going to decide." He told me then they had a work release place at Sandy Ridge in Guilford County, which I wasn't eligible for work release because you have to be in prison quite a while, but it was an integrated facility. But there was a small cadre of people there who worked in the kitchen and slopped the hogs and did things like that. And if he transferred me there, would I come off my fast? And I thought about it a few minutes and I said yeah. So that night I was transferred over to Greensboro. And if you ever want to see something funny, see a person that hasn't eaten in 20 days, handcuffed, peeling oranges, that break their fast, which I did. I was in a car full of three armed men, and we arrive—in terms of the structure, it's very similar to the Durham Camp, the same type of big bay. I was glad though. It was integrated. And I'm putting my stuff down on my bunk, and the convicts could watch T.V. about two hours at night. They had a T.V. up, came down from the ceiling. And they had the news, and they said, "Oh, a flash has just been received. Pat Cusick has been transferred from Raleigh," blah, blah, blah, "to a unit, and it's rumored in Guilford County. And he did this, that, and the other thing, and he is so and so." And I thought, "Oh God, here we go again." But I served a few days. I still had a few days, not that long left there. Joe Straley drove over when I was released and I went back to Chapel Hill. But I was to encounter George Randall again before I did my year sentence. You'd best start asking me questions because I will just go off on a million tangents, and not necessarily in a substantive order either, because it's almost stream of consciousness when I start thinking about this stuff.
PAMELA DEAN:
You're doing just fine as far as my purposes are concerned. While you were in jail in December there, were you in touch with anybody at all back in Chapel Hill? Were you aware of what was going on, the increase in the sit-ins, the increase in arrests?
PAT CUSICK:
No, well, once. I'd been in maybe a week and Floyd McKissick came to see me. I smuggled out like a little letter which then appeared in, I guess, the Village Voice, and that ended that type of thing. But I knew that there were… And then on Christmas eve, Joel Fleishman, who still lives in Chapel Hill—he was the high up at Yale and he's very up high at Duke.
PAMELA DEAN:
He's vice president of something or other.
PAT CUSICK:
Joel and I had not been close because Joel had a, he would always get the coterie of brightest liberals sort of around him, and John Donne was one of those. Then John Donne went with the movement. But people persuaded Joel to come because he would be able to get into prison to see me. He came over Christmas eve to bring me food and things, which, of course, I was fasting but… I very much appreciated that. My first Christmas up here, I wrote Joel and told him. But he told me what was happening. Then every Christmas to date we exchange this long… And then when I did go to Duke in '80, he was there in the meeting with Terry Sanford. So yes, I did know, though not all the details of it.
PAMELA DEAN:
But you were aware there was a lot of activity.