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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 >>

Tensions between the OCR and UNC

Holmes discusses his correspondence with the University of North Carolina in 1973, regarding the OCR's notification to southern universities and colleges that they needed to develop new plans for desegregation that met federal requirements. In discussing this, Holmes addresses UNC's concern, by the late 1970s, that the OCR kept changing those requirements, making it difficult for UNC to comply. Additionally, Holmes addresses the role of the federal courts in this process, asserting that he felt Pratt's decision was "unfortunate" but that he felt no pressure from the federal court 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

WILLIAM LINK:
I was going to ask you about theߞa couple of specific things. And just let me know if it's too fuzzy to answer, or do your best, I'd appreciate it. In early 1973 you wrote to the University of North Carolina an official letter that requested the development of the state plan. I wonder if you could recall, or what you recall, about the kind of response. And I don't mean the official response but the kind of contact that you might have had prior to the University of North Carolina's official response. You must have been in regular communication or had a series of ߞ
PETER HOLMES:
I can't remember specifically, Bill, but I do know a number of occasions that Mr. Friday and some of the other people with the system came to Washington. Now, it would not surprise me, and I just don't recall specifically, that after that letter had gone outߞand you tell me that letter went out on that date, I accept thatߞthat after receiving that they may have come to Washington to sat down with us and talk. What was their response? Again, I can't be very specific but, other than to say that it was one of wanting to cooperate but, also them recognizing that this is an area where the law was not very clearly developed, and perhaps some of our suggestions of some of the things we were asking, some of the proposals we were making were not as reasonable as they felt, or as attainable, as we thought they might be.
WILLIAM LINK:
Well, in talking with people at the UNC side which, of course, I've heard more from them than I have from what was going on here. Their position was that the messages they were getting from OCR was mixed, not so much, I think, in this period of OCR as later, '77, '78, '79, particularly. And I suppose what you're saying is that reflected the nature of the whole case, the standards were so ill defined really?
PETER HOLMES:
What were the nature of the messagesߞwhat were the nature of messages later as opposed to earlier?
WILLIAM LINK:
The late '70s?
PETER HOLMES:
Yeah.
WILLIAM LINK:
Well, they hadߞthere are several incidents in which they actually changed the rules. At least according to UNC that OCR actually changed the rules.
PETER HOLMES:
Right.
WILLIAM LINK:
Saying they wanted one thing at one point and when UNC attempted to meet those positions, and felt they did, OCR would come in later and completely change the rules. I think the duplicationߞwell, the duplication issue is really oneߞwas true, particularly.
PETER HOLMES:
The earlier position being eliminate duplication, the later position being that duplication was all right, or the earlier position being that some duplication was all right, and the later one is eliminate all duplication?
WILLIAM LINK:
Yes, exactly. Or define what duplication was. That's the key.
PETER HOLMES:
Right. It wouldn't surprise me in the least that that would be the case.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. What a core curriculum was. And what outside the core would be duplicated. In 1973 UNC developed this plan and itߞduring that year, and I may beߞI'm probably too specific here, I realize this has been twenty years ago.
PETER HOLMES:
Go ahead, Bill.
WILLIAM LINK:
Your office responded to North Carolina that the plan is inadequate. Would the primary reasons for reaching that decision, from the point of view of you as a director, were the primary reasons the fact that you were facing pressure from the court? Feeling that the plan would not make it pass the court? In other words, what was guiding you in the negotiations?
PETER HOLMES:
Oh, I don't think it was the court. I don't feel it was the court at all. As a matter of fact I feltߞI felt, I mean, as director of the office, I felt no compulsion or pressure whatsoever to negotiate aߞor enter into an agreement on a resolution of an issue that would be acceptable or unacceptable to court. If I can explain myself.
WILLIAM LINK:
Sure.
PETER HOLMES:
The court wanted to seeߞit became mechanical with the court. Letters were sent out and no actions were followed up, therefore we're going to give you certain time frames in which you've got to do things, do them. My view was fine, that was a mechanical timetable as to how you do things, but we had the complete policy authority. Because the court definedߞthe court did not attempt to define any particular standards of what higher education desegregation was. We had the total policy flexibility to make the determination ourselves as to whether this plan was acceptable or not. And we would advise the court that we viewed it as acceptable. And if somebody wanted to differ with our conclusion as to whether it was acceptable or unacceptable then they could challenge us and take the issue to court. And then we'd defend our position. So, to answer your specific question, if the plan was rejected, and as I recall it was, it was because we, as a policy matter, felt that their response was insufficient. Not that the court had some higher or different expectation.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. So, you weren't feeling a kind of daily pressure or direct pressure from the court? You felt kind of ߞ
PETER HOLMES:
No, I was feeling no pressure at all from the court, in terms of the substance of a plan of desegregation for higher education systems. There was pressure from the court in terms of the timetables of getting certainߞachieving certain milestones and reacting to the things, as I recall. And that is the way I viewed the court decision.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. How did you find Pratt as a justice, in terms of ߞ
PETER HOLMES:
I have no opinion. I mean, I've never met him. I've never presented in court. I was constantly deposed on, you know, why we did this, why we did that, what have you. And they were filed by the plaintiffs with the court. But, I've never met Pratt. I mean, I go back to my original reaction, I felt that this was an unfortunate decision. It was an unnecessary decision. There wasn't foot dragging on these issues of elementary and secondary desegregation, or even higher education desegregation. The office was very effectively prosecuting cases involving elementary and secondary education, where the law was clearer, where the standards were clearer, and where we were comfortable with the policies to implement thoseߞimplement the law. In those areas where it was not clear, like in higher education desegregation. It was going to be a long process, we knew, from the beginning. But the court was imposing on us certain deadlines, and timetables, by which certain actions that had to be taken. Which was unfortunate and was wrong.
WILLIAM LINK:
And that was much of the problem?
PETER HOLMES:
Well, it was a large part of the problem. It was a large part of the problem.