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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 >>

Result of the city's massive trial against civil rights demonstrators

Cusick describes the resulting deal made from the massive trial of civil rights demonstrators. Instead of imprisoning high school students, Cusick and other older college students assumed the punishment for their activism. He explains the covert strategies employed by the city to stymie any future organized activism.

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:
How did you feel though at the time, after that second series of trials and the march, you'd all agreed to plead nolo.
PAT CUSICK:
Well, you know about the deal. We made a deal. Then we had to swear in open court that we had not made a deal.
PAMELA DEAN:
Tell me about that. Tell me about that decision.
PAT CUSICK:
Well, it was a heavy decision. We realized that we had Orange County, anyway, over a barrel. Because they had spent a fortune on the Duke professors' trials. They are already spent a lot on our trials. And they were coming to have a new bond issue. So we knew we had a bargaining chip. Also having served the thirty days, I very much did not want these high school students to go to prison, and most, 90%, were black high school students. So our attorneys, who we didn't realize then were under fantastic pressure from the SBI, but they said that the state and Judge Mallard interested in a deal. If we pled nolo, which, of course, we didn't know what that meant and they explained it, this would give them the opportunity to not spend all that money and have these mass trials because they could dispense with it very fast.
PAMELA DEAN:
There were about 1500 grand jury indictments coming out of all this.
PAT CUSICK:
Yes.
PAMELA DEAN:
So there really was mass…
PAT CUSICK:
I think the largest mass number, prior to the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, at that time, and pretty much ignored in the histories of the civil rights movement as compared with Birmingham and Mississippi and so forth. So we discussed it. Part of the deal was at first that only two people would have to serve time. That would be John Donne and myself, and we'd serve thirty days.
PAMELA DEAN:
You were the two visible leaders?
PAT CUSICK:
Yes. We thought that would be a pretty good deal. By that time we'd run up these monstrous, we were $70,000 in legal debt. And there was no base to draw any money from, and God knows, we'd tried everything. So by that time we were convinced they were not going to pass the law. So it seemed like a pretty good deal. So we had big meeting, and we had to make a decision. And I thought it would be very bad if we did it in the usual mass meeting atmosphere, the songs and the spirits and the everything. It had to be very calm. So I played devil's advocate against serving time. I pointed out, really painted a very grim picture of prison because I didn't want people sweep away by emotion, especially young people, and make a decision to go to jail.
PAMELA DEAN:
Wanted to be heroes, wanted to be martyrs.
PAT CUSICK:
Yes, so we decided to pled nolo. Course, we thought we were going to get thirty days because that was the ordinance we had violated in Chapel Hill, not realizing the state ordinance of blocking the way to a public or a place of worship was a year. But they were very good all over the South at digging up these ancient ordinances.
PAMELA DEAN:
That was stretching it pretty far.
PAT CUSICK:
We had a sense of humor though. We said, "God knows, what's the well? It must have been the Old Well." We couldn't figure out what the church was. Never do the Old Well. But then it really went against the grain to state in open court that they'd been no approach to us about any kind of a deal. So then we pled nolo, and then my other egotistical chagrin was when, I had a speech prepared. They asked if we had anything to say and I said, "No," because I was going to give my little speech, which I felt was my due if I was going to go away to prison again. So the attorney said, "Pat, please don't say anything because you still have so many people left to sentence that you will antagonize this guy and he'll double everybody else's sentence." This was a very unusual judge. I guess you've read about him, Raymond B. Mallard. So we stood mute. Then we got more than thirty days, and they pretty well sentenced the entire executive committee except Ben Spauling. Ben was our treasurer. He was a black student. But we didn't let him get arrested. He didn't have any charges because he was our treasurer. So we had enough sense not to do that. But everyone else got sentenced according to their perceived rank. But I had begun negotiations with George Randle. I called George Randle a few days before that and I said, "It looks like there may be as many as 150 coming in." He said, "Oh my God Pat, are they going to take the same position you did." I said, "I think so." He said, "Well, can you come over to Raleigh to see me." So I drove over to Raleigh and we had a long talk. He said, "This is going to really screw up the prison system, but I can't transfer a number of people like I did you over to the work release. There are jurisdictions. You're going to have to go to the Durham Camp." I said, "Well, I just wanted you to know that we're in for it again, all of us." Also, I talked at length about the youth of the high school students. I said, "There's such a difference between me and some of these kids and I'm very concerned."
PAMELA DEAN:
You were in your mid-thirties?
PAT CUSICK:
Well, I was thirty. So I drove back to Chapel Hill. He said, "There's nothing I can do." So we had to raise money, that was part of the deal, to pay off some debt. And we were calling all over, and a lot of the liberals in Chapel Hill refused to contribute. They said, "Well, you broke the law." "Yes." Oh, I was so mad. So we were calling all over the country. Any one who had an idea. And the kids went out with mason jars collecting quarters. Some of the liberals did give but, by and large, they didn't. That was just the end for me with them. But it's true we did break the law and we were willing to pay. But the high school students.
PAMELA DEAN:
Did you break the law you were sentenced under?
PAT CUSICK:
No, no, but the high school students, I was very upset about the high school students. So as it worked out, he mostly kept his deal. It was more than two. He sentenced our whole committee but the kids didn't go.
PAMELA DEAN:
It was you and John and Quintin.
PAT CUSICK:
Buddy Teager.
PAMELA DEAN:
J.B. Henry, Arthur Crisp, Rosemary Ezra, and Lou Calhoun. Tell me something about them. We haven't talked about some of these people at all and their involvement.
PAT CUSICK:
Lou was much more active than the book would indicate. The son of John C. Calhoun, a white southerner, he was head of the Wesley Foundation before he got in the SPU.
PAMELA DEAN:
He came to civil rights, many southern civil rights people did, through the church.
PAT CUSICK:
And Lou and I have remained close, and he was exiled north too. They certainly achieved their purpose there. Lou and I are close friends. Rosemary's a strange one. Oh, I'm on tape. Well, Rosemary, if you're listening, you are kind of strange, dear. I don't know whether Rosemary's still in Chapel Hill or not. She had come from the North someplace. She wasn't a student, and she had money. But she didn't look like she had money. Just a person who would be regarded as an oddball, but a real nice person. She wasn't in the leadership of the Freedom Committee, but she owned a house. That's it, she had enough money to own a house. So that became kind of a headquarters for us in a lot of ways, and when visiting agitators would come to town, they'd stay at Rosemary's and stuff like that.
PAMELA DEAN:
Well, if she wasn't actually part of the leadership, she made herself pretty visible.
PAT CUSICK:
Right, she was a resource and very visible. And she was white which made her very visible. J. V. Henry was another southerner, but he was with SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, in Danville. I met J. V. in Danville.
PAMELA DEAN:
He was one of "them outside agitators."
PAT CUSICK:
Yeah, he came to town because when I did my thirty days that drew him and Lavert Taylor, who wasn't sentenced and was one of King's staff. He and I were very close friends.
PAMELA DEAN:
He was one of the ones who was on the post office hunger strike?
PAT CUSICK:
Yes, yes. And John and I were very close friends. John died in '82. Quintin's in Springfield. Quintin was head of the NAACP Commandos. He was a student leader at North Carolina Central—now it's University—it was College then. Then he came over to Chapel Hill as a resource for us, and then he himself got involved.
PAMELA DEAN:
He was not a Chapel Hill student?
PAT CUSICK:
No. He was a resource to help us with the nonviolent workshops, and then he himself got involved, and pretty soon he was in Chapel Hill full-time.