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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, October 7, 2003. Interview O-0037. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The North Carolina Fund and breaking the cycle of poverty

Barnes discusses the ideology of the North Carolina Fund. Because Governor Terry Sanford envisioned the North Carolina Fund as a way to break the cycle of poverty, the Fund was focused on providing impoverished people with opportunities and the skills necessary to help themselves, rather than on offering welfare. As Barnes explains, this emphasis necessitated a special focus on children in the work and activities of the North Carolina Fund.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, October 7, 2003. Interview O-0037. 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

ELIZABETH GRITTER:
This leads me to question about the ideology of the Fund. I noticed — looking through the literature, you know, viewing some of the films - about the emphasis on [the notions of] "We're helping people help themselves."
BILLY E. BARNES:
Hm. Hm.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
That we're not giving people handouts—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Hm. Hm.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
It's a hand up.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Hm. Hm.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
If you could talk a little about that. I'm curious as to how that was developed. Is it something that you and other fund officials sat around talking about? Or, was it more the public information department? And, how, also, that was influenced by the context of the times—the War on Poverty and so forth?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, I guess I had a little something to do with the notion that the Fund is adopting the public posture of being in the business of helping people help themselves rather than as the old [saying goes], "Teach a man how to fish and he'll eat forever or give him some fish and he'll eat one meal." Terry Sanford's rubric was to break the cycle of poverty. He and his folks had done their research before the fund was formed. And he could see there is a cycle in which poverty isn't just a one generation problem. It is the children of poor people are 90 percent assured of being poor. And the children of welfare mothers, their daughters are about 90 percent likely to be the same. And so, it keeps on going on and on and on. Unless something occurs to break that chain of events, that pattern, it's going to be forever and the same people are going to suffer. I kind of took that when I came to work for the fund and tried to add to it the notion that: A) What we were trying to do was to break the cycle of welfare as well. We were trying to give people a chance to learn how to work, not only a skill but the mental mindset of work. I found it amazing when we got into training people for jobs that the first thing you have to train them is how to work—not how to do a specific skill—but the importance of being to work on time, the importance of getting along with the boss, the importance of calling in if you're sick instead of just letting it go, the discipline of work. There is a discipline of work. And if you've never worked at a real job, if what work you did always consisted of cleaning somebody's house for half a day or working in the tobacco fields [for] a couple weeks during the year during the harvest time, you didn't know how to regiment yourself to acclimate to a factory job or a job in a small woodwork shop or in an office. That all has to do with breaking the cycle of poverty. If you've ever seen the North Carolina Fund logo, what it says on it is "opportunity" and we called our magazine "Blueprint for Opportunity." I never had thought about this question you asked me. I had never felt like I deserved any great credit for introducing this idea and it certainly wasn't my idea. I'm not the first person whoever thought of it but it seemed to me that the idea of opportunity, that we are in the business of making opportunities available for people instead of giving them something to people to sustain them for awhile especially because we were a temporary organization. And I thought from the start that we would be a temporary organization. Most other people didn't, especially people in the press. They had never seen a nonprofit go out of business on purpose before if they could continue to get grants; it just wasn't done. They were all amazed when we went out of business in '69. But, I guess that logo that I worked with a guy in Raleigh on. I had a little competition. I asked three or four different artists to work on a rendering and I kind of gave some ideas about what I wanted. I guess that's a manifestation of the notion I tried to instill in my staff people, that I tried to bring out in speeches I made, that [what] we were trying to do [was] present opportunities for people who wanted to break out of what Terry Sanford called the cycle of poverty.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
What interests me, too, [is] how your fund had the foresight, before even Head Start existed, [to focus] on children and on day care programs and [know] that in order for opportunity to occur, it starts at a really young age. So, if you could talk too about the early childhood part of it. And, I noticed too in a lot of the photographs, a lot of the films, [there was an] emphasis on children.
BILLY E. BARNES:
The first chairman of the North Carolina Fund board was a newspaper editor. He was editor of the Charlotte Observer. His name was Pete McKnight. The second one was a guy from Rose Hill who either was at the time or had recently been the chairman of the state school board. His name was Dallas Herring. He was a little guy. He wasn't a very impressive looking person physically and he didn't talk a lot. But he was a very scholarly fellow. And he had been a professional educator. He and Terry Sanford had a lot to do with the North Carolina Fund's notion that if you're going to break the cycle of poverty, you don't wait until somebody is a teenager or in their middle twenties, you start as early as possible to inculcate in them an appreciation for books or the ability to read and start getting them ready for public schools so when they get there they can compete with middle-class kids as they move through school and aren't always stunted. By 1964, things were moving along pretty well in the direction of school integration. Terry was doing all he could to accelerate this without throwing the state into civil war. By the mid-'60s, the schools were pretty well integrated, and this idea of early education which eventually turned into Head Start in North Carolina made a whole lot of sense in terms of getting in there early and helping break cycle of poverty at that age level.