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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Seeking to sway others to the integrationist cause

Best sought to create a climate of racial equality in his medical practice, and he and his integrationist allies sought to convince others of the virtues of this equality. He and these allies met with then-Governor Terry Sanford in 1960 and emphasized two points: first, integration is the right thing to do, and second, maintaining segregation is expensive.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. 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

KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Did you remain the only minority physician in the hospital for most of this period?
ANDREW BEST:
I was the only minority doctor in the hospital for the next 25 years. There was one doctor who came in, but he didn't stay for about three months. He went into the service and went out to Houston, Texas. I was the only one in the whole county.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
If you were the only minority doctor, then I suppose a lot of the other physicians did admit black patients?
ANDREW BEST:
Oh, yeah. But strangely enough, the white doctors in town had two waiting rooms, one for colored, one for white. When I opened up, I was here to serve the public. One waiting room. From the first week, I had a significant number of white patients, and I let it be known that I was here to deliver health care. Then we went on in the desegregation process in the hospital. In some instances, it might have been surprising, but maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised. There were people who were for what I was recommending, Dr. Malene Irons was my key person. Dr. Malene and I would sit down and talk, just like you and I are talking. We had a strategy for trying to be sure that we got the votes on the staff for them to do this whole thing. It was going to be a big jump, like jumping off a two thousand foot cliff, and we knew that. But there were personalities like Dr. Ray Minges, who was one of the Pepsi-Cola Minges, and they were millionaires in their own right from Pepsi-Cola. I have never had a better or fairer friend than Ray Minges. He practiced surgery as a hobbyߞhe died of a brain tumorߞand he got most of the indigent people who couldn't pay. Dr. Minges would operate on them, and didn't even ask about money or compensation when he knew they couldn't. Ray Minges had a lot of influence. Over at the university, we have the Minges Coliseum, that's what the name meant to the community. The Minges brothers were known as the money people in the town, and it's true that money talks. So Dr. Minges was with us, and the strategy that Dr. Irons and I developed was to concentrate, prior to the time we made our presentation, on having discussions with people. We put them in three categories. One was those people who were known to be with us, and then a larger middle category with those who we had questions about, maybe yes or maybe no, and then that far right category of those die-hards that we knew we'd be wasting our time, our breath, and our efforts to even try to influence them.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Can you guess about how many of each group there were?
ANDREW BEST:
Out of the 36 people on the staff, I would say we probably had about ten who were with us, and about 10 more who we felt were leaning our way, and another ten in the middle group who were leaning the other way, and then about half a dozen who were segregation now and forevermore. First of all, we put a lot of effort into those ten we thought might be leaning our way, simply because this was the right thing, and the economical thing, to do. There's another thing in human relations that ties into this, when Terry Sanford became governor. One of his acts, in terms of trying to foster better race relations, was to appoint the Good Neighbor Council. After he was inaugurated in 1960, he formed the Good Neighbor Council by executive order. He invited a group of people to the executive mansion in Raleigh and laid out his plan. So all this stuff with the Pitt County Interracial Committee preceded that. When we made our presentation, I did all the talking. Dr. Malene is a very mild-mannered lady, so she said, you go ahead and be the spokesman. Strangely enough, they bought it. The majority of the staff voted for it. One of my points I kept hammering on was that this change is coming. It is better for us to bring change through orderly evolution than let it come as a disorderly revolution. We can help it to come, or we can permit it, through our reluctant attitude, to come through violent and disorderly revolution.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Was the issue of federal money involved at all?
ANDREW BEST:
There was no issue of federal money. There were two things I kept harping on. There had started to be some discussion of civil rights from a federal standpoint, and the civil rights act that was finally passed in '64. But this predated that. I said we should do this because number one, it's right. And number two, it's cheaper for us to do it this way. Why go and provide double facilities when we can have one facility serving everybody? The third thing, it's going to come, whether we like it or not. So we might as well do it our way. So they bought it, and went on an desegregated the hospital. In that same context, this Committee was working for public accommodations to be desegregated. This success in desegregating public accommodationsߞlunch counters, hotels, motels, and all the othersߞby pure persuasion, with all of the people in town. Of course some folks had lunch counters where you could sit down and eat, but I couldn't. You and I could be co-workers in some project, and if we got ready to go to lunch, I either had to go to the back door and take mine out, or I'd tell you, "Karen, after you eat, bring me a lunch out." So finally, we got the businesses to agree to set a date to open up to everybody. But nobody wanted to be the scapegoat. With the public accommodations being voluntarily opened up, I'm very sure this had an impact on what the staff decided to do at our request.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
So you're saying the businesses voluntarily desegregated before the hospital did.
ANDREW BEST:
Yes.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
But it was pretty close.
ANDREW BEST:
Yes, maybe six months or a year. But through the work of this Interracial Committee, this thing was going more or less step by step.