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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Peter Holmes, April 18, 1991. Interview L-0168. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working relationship between the OCR, LDF, HEW, and southern universities and colleges

Here, Holmes describes how the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) worked with the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), and the administrations of southern universities and colleges during his administration. Focusing specifically on how these interwoven forces worked in North Carolina, Holmes emphasizes again the issue of a dual system of higher education as a prevailing challenge in determining desegregation policies.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Peter Holmes, April 18, 1991. Interview L-0168. 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

I'm sort of struck by the unusual position that the LDF, that you were suggesting earlier, I'm struck by it, too, the LDF held in this case. Over time it seems that if the LDF were working cooperatively, or working within the department almost. What kind of contacts developed with the LDF over the years?
PETER HOLMES:
Oh, we met with them frequently. Elliot LichtmanߞWas that a [unclear]
WILLIAM LINK:
That's right. Yeah.
PETER HOLMES:
I remember Elliot very well. I mean, we used to meet, you know, we'd meet with him periodically, give him reports onߞI mean, we'd file reports with the court. We'd give him copies of the reports as to where we were. It almost became a numbers game, unfortunately, you know. Okay, you sent a letter out, you know, if you haven't followed up byߞthere were a lot of demands on the system. Okay. First of all, those higher education citation letters may orߞmaybe or maybe not should have been sent out by the director of the Office for Civil Rights, prior to the new administration coming in. I think it was done to embarrass the new administration, quite frankly. If I'd been director in the prior administration I would not have done that. I would have left that policy decision, that policy decision to the newly elected administration that was coming in.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah.
PETER HOLMES:
And the policy makers of HEW. They did it however. And it was out there and then it was incumbent upon the Office to follow up on it. When those letters were issued, and I hope I'm recalling this correctly, that those letters went out before it. If I'm not my whole thesis is wrong here. But that's my best recollection. The policies were not clearly thought through at the time of those letters. There was some ideas in the enforcement mechanism, in the enforcement unit, as to how you approach the issue of duality in higher education system. But they were not clearly thought out. There were policy suggestions that were the creation, I think, by and large, of people internally in the department, staff in the department, had not been fully explored or discussed with higher education of people with a broad experience in higher education. And particularly within the state systems of higher education. But nonetheless the letters went out. And when there wasn't sufficient follow up then we were exposed, that, "Hey, you sent a letter of citing noncompliance on such-a-such date in 1968, and here it is 1971, and you haven't even cut their funds off or negotiated an acceptable plan." So, "shit or get off the pot," pardon my French.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah.
PETER HOLMES:
And so we, the department, was exposed in that regard. The letters couldn't have been sent out, then you have the difficulty of how you're going to implement this. And what are you going to do? So, then you start into this process, a very lengthy process, as history as shown, as to how to address the issue? How do you address the issue? Of course, one of the things that we've focused on and thought was a reasonable approach was attempting to establishߞto establish programs at formerly black institutions, as well as at formerly white institutions that would attract people of the other races. And aߞa program of unique, special uniqueness, such as veterinary medicine. They didn't have a veterinary medicine school at State, I don't believe, at the time. That placement at A&T would certainly, for people who wanted to pursue veterinary medicine, black or white, would go to A&T and get that. Perhaps I'm jumping ahead. There may be arguments against doing that. There may be other programs that should be at A&T. There may be other approaches to enhancing the ability of A&T to attract whites. One might even argue that the placement of the Veterinary Medicine School, the special School of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State is going to increasingly attract blacks to North Carolina State. So, again, the difficulty of the issues.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. Was there much contact between your office and elements within the states, in this case North Carolina, for example, much communication that was going on either at an official level or particularly in an unofficial level withߞbetween your office, people at your office, and any one at the, let's say the five traditionally black institutions, that you are aware of? Or recall?
PETER HOLMES:
Well, was there a lot of communications? Was there a lot of communication and discussion? Yes. I think that primarily focused with the representatives of the higher education system and the representatives of the black institutions. Okay. Now, I do not recall incidences, and again I could be wrong, that we sat down with the chancellor, or the president, or whoever, or whatever it is at North Carolina State, or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, what have you, where we dealing with the representatives of the system, as well as having frequent contact with the head of the black institution, whose name I don't recall.