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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 >>

Early work of the North Carolina Fund

Barnes discusses some of the background of the founding of the North Carolina Fund, noting that Governor Terry Sanford channeled money into the Department of Public Instruction so that the school system would support the work of the Fund. In addition, Barnes describes the North Carolina Fund as precursors to Head Start and to Lyndon Johnson's soon-to-be-declared War on Poverty. As elsewhere in the interview, Barnes emphasizes how the Fund sought to involve impoverished people in programs that could break the cycle of poverty. In addition, he notes the role of the newly formed Office of Economic Opportunity in the work of the 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

When I came to work in January of '64, I was the third staff member hired at the North Carolina Fund, not counting clerical help. I was about the fifth person hired, I guess. I think we had two secretaries at the time. And, we hadn't even picked communities in which we were going to operate. Now, Terry's dead, so I don't guess I'll insult him by saying this, but the truth is I think it was 2 and ½ million we gave to the Department of Public Instruction for early childhood education [as] a political sop to keep the education machine off of our backs so we could do what we wanted to do with poor people. In my opinion, I don't mean that money was wasted, it was used to enrich education. But, I never saw any emphasis on education for low-income kids. I don't know what George Esser would say about all this and he's not quite as blunt as I am about such things. At the fund we never paid much attention. The board, under Terry's urging, allocated that money to the state school system and we never saw it; we never had anything to do with it. Now, we did encourage early Head-Start-type programs with our foundation money. Because we already had a framework, we had already selected these communities based on proposals and we were ready to rumble. OEO gave us some of the very first grants in Neighborhood Youth Corps and Head Start. I've got photographs of a Head Start program in the summer of '64. The kids were all barefoot and it was up in the mountains. I've got a wonderful shot-I don't think I have a print of it now but I have the negative—of these barefoot kids, all of them white, of course. At that time the population of blacks in the Boone area was about three percent and the schools had not been integrated. [Here Barnes demonstrates how the child is holding flag in the picture; a copy of the picture is attached.] These little barefoot kids and one of them is holding a tiny American flag. It's about that long. She's holding it like a soldier would hold a flag. She stick it in her tummy at an angle like this and she's holding it like this and she's got her chin tucked in and the rest of them are pledging allegiance to the flag in the classroom with these little desks. Then, I went in the lunchroom and got some pictures of them doing their Head Start lunches but that's how early [we were involved]. See, the Economic Opportunity Act was not passed until maybe April or May of that year. Because I think it was March when Lyndon [Johnson] came to North Carolina to visit some poor folks and George Esser and I went down there and worked with some very antsy Secret Servicemen on the understanding that we were Terry Sanford's representatives working with them to set up this whole thing. And, he brought Lynda Bird with him who I guess was his oldest daughter and he brought Franklin Delano Roosevelt Junior who was assigned some cabinet post and he brought his secretary of agriculture with him. He was getting headlines for the War on Poverty; he was getting ready to introduce the War on Poverty bill. So, this is by way of my making the point that very, very early we got into business of encouraging the community action agencies which we had already formed and to which we were already making grants, encouraging them to jump on the Head Start bandwagon and Neighborhood Youth Corps bandwagon and try to get all this federal money that they could move as quickly as they could and try to make the best possible use of it. So, suddenly, instead of becoming basically grantors, in a way the Ford Foundation does, where you get a proposal, you decide who is going to get the money, you give them the money and then you send some expert down twice a year to see how much of the money they're wasting. We were changed from that posture to doing some very active things and giving the communities we had picked out for projects, giving those projects technical assistance in managing all this money and putting it where it would do the most good. And we spent a lot of time monitoring and helping OEO monitor to make sure there were poor people and people of color in the decision making. And, we had some real problems with that. There were some very unfortunate hires made by the local people who were on the boards of these community action agencies. I remember they hired an ex-Navy captain at Rocky Mount who hadn't the slightest idea about what it was all about. He was very conservative and conventional in his thinking about these problems and about race and about all of this. We had a hard time getting them to get rid of him and hire somebody with a little better understanding that this was not just another welfare program.