Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sherwood Smith, March 23, 1999. Interview I-0079. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Integration went smoothly in North Carolina businesses

Smith reflects on integration, and the business community's response to integration, in North Carolina. He thinks that while North Carolina's business community may have reacted slowly to the civil rights movement, they certainly did so in a more commendable way than did states like Mississippi and Alabama.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sherwood Smith, March 23, 1999. Interview I-0079. 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

Track, if you would, your perspective of how the state and the business community, in particular, has encountered and dealt with the issue of changing race relations and gender relations across thirty plus years now. How well have we done on those issues? SS: As you live through it, you’re not aware of the needs or the urgency of doing it -- in a policy making sense -- until you have the crisis. I think that many people would say that it’s unfortunate that we didn’t do more and do it sooner. But, given the world in which we lived in--. You’d have to go back to that period of time and try it figure out what could we have done sooner. I’m sure that things were--. The state after the Brown versus Board of Education decision--. I wasn’t involved in this, but my perception is that the state legislature began to try to deal with a way in which you could take down the walls of segregation in public schools and have a transition in an orderly basis. An “orderly basis” means that you do this on a phased basis. Some would say that it took much too long. Others would say that maybe they were satisfied with the pace. You had different levels of integration in the public school system. In the business community -- I can’t put a date on it, but certainly by the ‘60s, by the time that I had arrived here -- there was an awareness of the importance of better education and better job skill training for minorities, and a recognition that it was desirable to have a system that enabled them to move up the ladder in business. I think they began to move up the ladder in education and government first. The demonstrations that occurred in North Carolina -- the sit-ins in Greensboro, the demonstrations after the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968 -- were probably similar to those that happened elsewhere. In North Carolina there was, I think, a spirit of progress [and the idea] that things needed to change. Maybe it wasn’t going to be a happy or pleasant change for everybody, every place, but things needed to change. If you compare what happened here versus what happened in the deep south--. I don’t mean to criticize Mississippi and Alabama. That’s where the locations were that were so highly publicized. If you compare the business leadership here and the educational leadership here and the governor’s leadership here, you didn’t have a governor standing, as Orval Faubus did in Arkansas, in front of the schoolhouse or [as] Wallace[did] in Alabama. You didn’t have the head of your law enforcement agencies--. I wasn’t aware of the business community there, but you didn’t have the public resistance--.