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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martin Gerry, August 28, 1991. Interview L-0157. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The problem of duplication and the need to close schools during desegregation

Gerry recalls some of the issues he faced as a member, and then as director, of OCR. He describes the problem of duplication--the effort to persuade colleges from offering similar courses that might provide an opportunity for self-segregation, with white students taking the course at one school and black students at another. He thought also that some black colleges needed to be eliminated to, in conjunction with affirmative action, lead black students onto white campuses. This suggestion was met by an unlikely alliance of white segregationists and black academics who wanted to preserve their institutions. Gerry also emphasizes the practicality of closing black schools--the facilities were inferior, he argues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martin Gerry, August 28, 1991. Interview L-0157. 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

Did you find a sort of unity of opinion, orߞI mean, there must have been a diversity of opinion within the bureaucracy about how to approach higher education desegregation?
MARTIN GERRY:
Oh, there was a difference of opinion. But it was mostly outside of the division. Lloyd Henderson, who was the divisionߞthe education division director, and I, who were frequently at odds on a lot of other things, I think, tend to approach higher education more like elementary and secondary education than the people who are in the division, the higher ed. division. Within the higher education division I think there was more unanimity. Because Sol Albrighter and Burt Taylor were really the architects of theߞuh, well, let's call it, for want of a better term, "magnet school approach." The reorganization of curriculum. The kind of "attract students of other races" idea?
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
Obviously that's not the approach we were using in elementary and secondary education.
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
So there was a difference of opinion there. But it never got anywhere because the decision-making didn't involve the litera[?]. You know, the higher education division and director, deputy director, would meet, make decisions without us. And I think to the extent that either of us had voiced the opinions that I'm talking about, or that we did. None of the directors hadߞI mean, Leon, I don't know. But the other two didn't have anyߞthey were very strongly supportive of Burt's approach, or Sol Albrighter's approach.
WILLIAM LINK:
I see. And so there tended to be a continuity of approach there, or continuous approach?
MARTIN GERRY:
Well, there always was. Because even when I took over we were far too far down that line to go back and re-visit that. When I came in I never even seriously thought about changing the fundamental approach. I was more concerned really, and stayed mostly concerned, with trying to make the approach which we used actually work, even if I didn't have the greatest of confidence that it would work. But we had enough trouble just getting people to do that, let alone trying to raise, you know, a completely new concept again. So, it's pretty much over by the time I took over.
WILLIAM LINK:
It was already set? The policy was already set.
MARTIN GERRY:
I mean, you know, whatever issues there were, you know, just were gone.
WILLIAM LINK:
Later on, well, after you had left office, the focus of the OCR's approach towards the University of North Carolina came to be to emphasis the elimination of duplication, unnecessary program duplication?
MARTIN GERRY:
Yeah, that was part of that same concept.
WILLIAM LINK:
But it wasn't advanced that much in the, say, mid-70s, was it?
MARTIN GERRY:
Well, it came up. But, you know, I mean, the key thing is, we talked about before, with North Carolina was the Veterinary School. And that wasn't a duplication issue, that was a location issue.
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
So you're right in the sense thatߞit was discussed with North Carolina and other states. And there probably is some paperwork in which theyߞmost of the states, frankly, made some minimal efforts in that regard, but nothing that would beߞwas very substantial. And the big point of contestߞsee, the problem with that argument is thatߞand I grew up around a university so I'm maybe a little bit more familiar with where it comes fromߞbut the minute you argue that there's course duplication every university will argue with you that what they're teaching is different that what everybody else is teaching.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah, that's right.
MARTIN GERRY:
So, you know, it's like academic freedom. It's a pointless argument. I mean, it may be conceptually right, but in practical terms you getting any university-based administrator to agree to thatߞand I don't think we probably ever did to any great extent. That's whyߞsee, I had a lot of skepticism with theߞmuch of the approach we were using. I suppose to some extent I drew a lot of guidance from John Dunlap who was the Secretary of Labor. And I don't if you're familiar with Dunlap?
WILLIAM LINK:
No.
MARTIN GERRY:
But he had beenߞhe came to the job having been, I think, twenty years the dean of the faculty at Harvard. And I worked very closely with Labor on an Affirmative Action side. And Dunlap is an industrialist economist by background. He and George Schultz, and Clark Kerr, and a few other people formed a little group, about the same age. And Dunlap's approach was don'tߞyou know, "Too much has been made of looking at universities as totally different types of institutions, and we should apply, for the most part, the same concepts." And that's exactly what OCR never did, with respect to desegregation. We really didߞwe tried to be sensitive, and that would be what would be argued, to the peculiar characteristics of the university without at the same time then being prepared to deal with all the hot-air that comes with it about, you know, "Well, we couldn't change that course because that's part ofߞ" You know, you get arguments like, "If we eliminate a course we couldn't give a degree in sociology." You know, that kind of thing.
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
"You don't want us to not give degrees, do you?" So, I mean, you were either driven up against theߞI mean, the two horns of the dilemma were that you were going to deal with admissions, or you're going to deal with academic freedom.
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
And I personally, frankly, I think it would have been easier to deal with admissions.
WILLIAM LINK:
In retrospect, what do you think should have been done?
MARTIN GERRY:
Well, I thinkߞmy own sense would have been that, first, the idea that significant numbers of white students were going to chose to go to formally black colleges because of course enhancement, or strengthening the campuses, and all of that was relatively unrealistic. Probably in the United States the best example I've seen of that happening is actually Howard, right here in the District. And the reason it happened, that is why there are significant numbers of white students at Howard, mostly in the graduate school, is because they created an economically enticing, you know, moderately high quality opportunity, and didn't incurߞand within the district in that area there were no other alternatives. And so, in fact, you did get significant increases in a traditionally black institution. But I don't thinkߞbut that was because there was no other law school to go to at the time that people could afford. I mean, you could go to Georgetown, or you could go to George Washington, but you're going to have to pay money for that. Do you see what I'm saying?
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
So as long as the state operated a public predominantly white graduate program, the likelihood that any of those kids would, in significant numbers, go to a traditionally black campus, I think, was remote. And, in fact, I don't think it's happened. I would have focused, and there are a lot of political reasons I think that the department didn't, but I would have focused, in other words, on eliminatingߞfirst, some of the black colleges needed to be eliminated. And I understand the argument that they were havens and all that, but some of them just didn't make sense from an administrative standpoint, in my book. And I think had we pursued that, which we would have done in other circumstances, at the same time pursued much more involved affirmative programs to attract those black students to white campuses, we would have ended up with better results. Now, a whole lot of black-power people, black higher education people, would have been very unhappy with that approach.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. And early on it becomesߞwell, the court sort of involves itself.
MARTIN GERRY:
Well, the court's funny. The court never really got a good case opposing a black college, which was accompanied with a good program of what to do about the students. In other words, what happened is you'd say, "Well, okay, let's close this black college." And the easy statesߞnot North Carolina, it was one of the hardest. But, you know, there are several states that just had one black campus. Arkansas, for example, at Pine Bluff.
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
Well, you know, the answer is that a very good program could have been put together for the black students that left Pine Bluff. Pine Bluff was not running a good program. It really wasn't a redeemable facility. But the polߞyou know, and I think in the long run you could have had at least a relatively decent racial mix of kids in the other Arkansas campuses. They wouldn't do it. And, you know, and what happenedߞthe other thing that goes with this is that the people who were fighting it were able to form relatively unholy alliances with the civil liberties groups, and black educator groups. So you face this weird political mix of, you know, "segregation now and forever" people being joined by groups of black professionals. Or black academicians arguing the same line. So I'm not saying it was ever politically easy to do that. But I do think in retrospect, and this is all in retrospect, that had we started that down the court that wayߞI mean, you know, in the history of Southern school desegregation, elementary and secondary, we closed hundreds of black schools.
WILLIAM LINK:
Right.
MARTIN GERRY:
I mean as a practical matter. And many of them were terribly inferior campuses.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah.
MARTIN GERRY:
And in those situations people in the neighborhood didn't like it because their kids had to go further away. But there was a history of doing that. And why we just chose to ignore that whole approach in higher education, I don't know. If you look at the financing of institutions nowߞand, of course, people are closing schools right and left. But, you know, as I said, by the time I got there it was well underway and there was certainly no going back and revisiting that. So we were kind of stuck with this making the schools more attractive. Now, I think that the key thing that was a waste of time, in some cases, was seriously trying to believe you were going to attract large numbers of white students by simply fixing up the black schools. In North Carolina, for example, that would be totally unreasonable because there are too many choices for those kids. You know, there were plenty ofߞthere's a whole range of predominantly white schools, academic range, for them to chose from, so why would they do that? And there's a statementization[?] that clearly went withߞsocial stigmatization that clearly went with those, you know, the black schools. So, that wasߞI think, of the things that were more and less fruitful I think that was among the less fruitful things. Yet, when I went to, as I talked to you, when I went to Central there's no question that nobody should have been going to school in buildings that were falling apart.
WILLIAM LINK:
Right. Did you ߞ
MARTIN GERRY:
Again, that campus would have made some sense closing, but then the question would have been, "What do you do with the students?" And there was, I have to tell you, also, frankly, some two-track racism involved here, which is that there wasߞthat in some cases my sense was, and part of this goes with, you know, some of the implied academic snobbery of Chapel Hill, more than the other campuses, was that "These people really aren't our people. They really don't belong here." There's a definite desire to cream the best of the black students, but I think there was, at the same time, a very strong sense of elitism thatߞand the University of Virginia is that way, too. When you talked about Chapel Hill, as opposed to the whole system, it was clearly there.
WILLIAM LINK:
So the feeling would be that ߞ
MARTIN GERRY:
"They aren't qualified. They're not fit to be here."
WILLIAM LINK:
Right. And you want to maintain the black campuses as kind of nets to hold the ones that shouldn't be here.