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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Chapel Hill police chief learned from civil rights demonstrators' nonviolent tactics

Unlike other southern police chiefs, the Chapel Hill chief, William Blake, understood nonviolent tactics after the 1948 Chapel Hill Freedom Riders. To avoid a negative media glare that beset his more recalcitrant southern cohorts, Blake forbade the use of violence. As the movement became led by black teens, the demonstrators carefully organized their nonviolent tactics.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. 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

We were denied a permit to march. We marched anyway, but the chief of police, Chief Black, very unusual person, he turned out to be a tough opponent. He was not a Bull Conner. In fact, because of the incident that happened in Chapel Hill in 1948 with the buses on the first Freedom Ride through the South, in which Bayard Ruskin was on the bus and others. He got very intrigued—these were all pacifists—and he got intrigued with what they said about nonviolence. That was the first violence that happened, was in Chapel Hill. He was a young cop. So he started reading Gandhi. So he knew as much about nonviolent tactics as we did. So he would not allow us to use his recalcitrance, like the whole scene in Birmingham and stuff. So once we said, "Well, we're marching anyway." He didn't arrest us. He then turned it into a parade for us, and that characterized his tactics throughout the movement. He and I exchanged Christmas cards for a number of years until he died a couple of years ago. Very interesting guy. So we had the big march in May, and then soon after we sat-in, the big act of civil disobedience, and I was in charge of that demonstration. We decided that the heart of the matter, and I think our thinking was correct on this, it wasn't so much the individual places which were segregated, but in terms of Chapel Hill that the Merchants' Association should have called upon its members to desegregate. We had met with them, and they weren't going to. So we sat-in at the Merchants' Association, and that was my first arrest. It was a very heavy step for me, the whole civil disobedience. And it's for that that I got my first prison sentence later on, thirty days.
Tell me about that sit-in. Can you describe how it went.
Every single, I mean, it's forever etched, because it was quite a step for us to take. It was definitely a big step for me to take. By that time, no, it happened a little bit later that most of the white liberals were leaving, but this was mostly black teenagers and a couple of whites. We went in and we were very well organized. We had non-violent workshops. We decided to be very open. We had them in the yard outside the First Baptist Church in the black community. Police would come and watch us. I had been to some other ones because it was loose network throughout the South then of SNCC and others because of all the sit-ins. So I had been to some workshops in other places. So we taught ourselves and each other how to go limp and all the tactics. How to protect yourself and other people nonviolently and stuff. So the police would come and watch us. So anyway, we went in and we just sat down on the floor. It was very small and narrow, had a counter, very narrow floor. I think there must have been about thirty of us or something. We were singing.