Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, December 3, 1990. Interview L-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Interactions with the Office of Civil Rights over desegregation

Friday discusses his interactions with the Office of Civil Rights during the 1970s, focusing particularly on his professional relationships with Secretaries Joe Califano and Patricia Harris. In particular, Friday emphasizes tensions between the federal government and the university system in the process of desegregation. As Friday briefly describes here, he believed that the OCR did not understand the complexities under which the university system operates, which led to some disagreement regarding the best approach.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, December 3, 1990. Interview L-0147. 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

WILLIAM LINK:
Your dealings with Califano were quite smooth in this period, at least?
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Yeah. It was actually one of serving the President, you know. But I'd say one time later Joe called me one day and said, "I want to bring my group of people down to have supper and let's just talk about some ideas." Doug Cater, who is now the Senior Fellow at the National Humanities Center, was in that group. Joe. I think Doc Howe. And he flew down in one of those jets, and we ate dinner in the Morehead Dining Room, and we went back and I led a rather large group of people had come from all over the state here. And it was not until the Carter years that Joe got to be secretary. And it got to be matter then, I guess, of what David Tatel, his director of the office of Civil Rights, wanted to see done, and Joe had to support him, of course. But when they took a position that to implement what they believed had to be, which was you had to show more numbers, just plain numbers. And that you could do that by taking institutions that were contagious, duplicating departments, and close one in one place and one in another. They never understood what an intrusion that was into the academic structure of a university, you see. They gave no credibility to any kind of tenure contract that a faculty member might have. They saw no reason to worry about admissions policies. They saw no reason to worry about the relationship of the applicant and the demanding curriculum that they might have to undertake. And they couldn't understand why you needed both programs to get to the ultimate objective of an educated human being. And it was just numbers. Whatever it took. Tear down whatever it took to do it. It was a very misunderstood argument. I got accused of being a segregationist, preservationist, or whatever word you want to use. And I never shall forget. I was having a difficult time in the Board of Trustees at the time, because they wanted just to standoff and have a really hard-nosed law suit. And I took the chairman of the board, and my colleagues and I went to Washington to meet with Patricia Harris, who was then Secretary. Now remember, she and I had spent six years together, as I told you before. Did I go into that experience about the phone call?
WILLIAM LINK:
Yes.
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
And our relationship?
WILLIAM LINK:
Yes. You mean where she ߞ
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Well, she was so untoward and so uncharacteristic, that the chairman of the board was obviously convinced that he was dead right, and I was dead wrong. And from that experience, if that was the only one you had, you would have believed that. But I had worked, by that time, through at least six secretaries, in the process of this. It went all the way back to Casper Wineberger. And you had to take it as you could deal with the Washington hierarchy. But ߞ
WILLIAM LINK:
Why do you suppose sheߞ
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
I guess because she was the secretary. She had to prove herself.
WILLIAM LINK:
She had to ߞ
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
She's a lovely woman. She had a wonderful man as a husband. Her husband's a lawyer there in Washington. Bill Harris. And I reallyߞwe never discussed it after that. Never saw her until she died, regrettably, much too soon. But when I got that call that night, that was a very revealing thing. To say to meߞhere was the senior staff people had met, and they wanted us to understand they didn't agree with any of that. Which told you, you see, what was going on. So when Joe wrote in his book that President Carter felt I was like the Mayor of Boston and some other peopleߞliberals who were tender skinned. And he kept trying to send me messages through Juanita. That was not the way it was. It was the fact that they weren't having it their way. And I didn't yield to their strategy. Now, it's no pride for me. And I'm not proud that it took eleven-and-a-half years, and two million dollars of tax money and lawyer fees, and that we won with the Supreme Court of the United States. Because it was perfectly obvious why it had to be won. It was not a racial question. It was a question of the integrity of the University. All the time we were carrying them on our backs, we were doing more to integrate these institutions than anybody else in the South. And the state of Georgia accepted the table plainly and did what they wanted done in Savannah and produced disaster. Anybody who goes down there and examines it now will tell you that. But they quickly acquiesced because the President was from their state. And I could understand that. But it was a piece of contrived strategy that they thought everybody would acquiesce in and just lie down and let it work. It hadn't worked yet.