Interviewee: Ed Peeples
Interviewer: Brian Ward
Date: March 1, 2003
W: ....Florida Oral History Program, the Southern Regional Council Project, on
March 1, 2003, in Richmond, Virginia, and interview with Edward H. Peeples. Ed,
thanks very much for sparing some time to talk to me.
W: Ed, what I would like to do to begin with is just ask you to fill in some background
information for us. Give us a little bit of a biographical sketch of yourself, and tell
us briefly how you got to come to Richmond, and then we will pick up the Virginia
Council on Human Relations and your activism here.
P: The action in me coming to Richmond was because I was born a few blocks from
here. My father had moved back from South Carolina and had gotten married.
My mother and he came here to take a job in the grocery business, with a
grocery chain which some of his relatives owned. That was 1935 I was born, and
I was educated in public schools here and also went to college here at what is
now Virginia Commonwealth University. It was called the Richmond Professional
Institute at the time.
W: What was your major?
P: At first, I was just going to go to technical school and be a draftsman. Once I got
here, I was offered the opportunity to play basketball for a small scholarship, and
so I had to find a major. They told me that athletes always majored in physical]
ed [ucation], so I have a phys ed degree. But that introduced me to sociology and
psychology and health education and history and a host of other good things. By
the time I graduated, I had become something of a campus leader and a
successful athlete. The school was in a transitional stage. It was growing, and
the need for higher education was becoming more and more apparent to
Virginians. RPI, as we called it in that day, was considered a second-rate kind of
place. It was a division of the College of William and Mary and cooperated in
engineering with Virginia Tech at the time, as was present-day Old Dominion
University, [which] was also a division [of William and Mary]. I was introduced to
a variety of thoughtful professors. I referred to them as educational missionaries.
W: Prior to actually getting to the university level, as you were being educated in the
public schools here, did the fact that you were in a segregated system really
mean anything to you?
P: No. I did not recognize there was anything odd about segregation. We were quite
aware of what the rules were. I found people who were rather mean-spirited
about segregation around here, and they tried to intimidate people who practiced
segregation in a lesser way. I recall having some mixed feelings about
mistreating blacks, but it didn't penetrate very much because I never met
anybody who was a critic of segregation or ever said anything about race unless
it was white supremacy or segregation.
W: This would be true in your own family, as well?
P: Oh, yes. Some were militant and very ugly. Now, I had a Florida family, as well,
and they were totally rural. Both families were rural. One had pretenses to being
aristocracy, in South Carolina. The other one had no pretenses at all. They were
from rural central Florida. They were out-and-out racists. But I had no notion. But
by going to this college and meeting the woman we called Dr. Alice, a sociologist
she had been part of that tradition at UNC, the southern studies which was
named for the sociologist of....
W: Howard Odum?
P: Howard Odum. She had been a student of his, and she had come back to do her
missionary work with us working-class kids. I was raised as if I was working
class. It was only later discovered that I had a long history of Virginia and learned
that I could have qualified as the first families of Virginia and South Carolina, but I
W: What was Dr. Alice's surname?
P: Alice Davis was her name. There was another Davis on campus who was a
progressive economist, and there was a Russian woman who had escaped the
Russian Revolution. She was on the wrong side of the leftist spectrum and had to
escape with her life. She and Dr. Alice could be seen everywhere together, and
they had immense influence on returning Korean veterans and a whole rapid
change from rural to urban, from agriculture to industry, from a variety of needs
that became more apparent in Virginia. I was just on the front end of that.
W: During the mid 1950s, of course, the rate of change in African-American civil
rights struggle increases in pace, certainly with the Brown decision and then the
second Brown decision, and then obviously there is a special reaction to that in
Virginia. How much of those sorts of issues were important to you at that time?
P: Well, we knew nothing of it. The papers did not cover it very much, and I was
obsessed with basketball and learning how to be with girls. But these teachers, a
handful of them, attempted to bring it alive in our classes. Dr. Alice is distinctively
one of those. But by 1955, I did feel very uneasy about segregation, and I began
to test, in kind of primitive ways, the limits of it. I have written some vignettes
about that have already been published in a book called Race Traitor. It
represents some of the accounts of those early days and described a bit of what I
experienced back then, even as a child.
W: What sort of tentative testing of the boundaries of Jim Crow were you engaged
in in the mid 1950s?
P: Mostly on campus. Also, I worked as a coach. A phys ed major always had an
opportunity to be offered coaching jobs with younger kids, and I worked for the
recreation department, as one example. Of course, I was assigned this white itty-
bitty league football team. It was all white at what we call Fonticello Park. It was
actually the neighborhood where I grew up. I was coaching them, and the little
black kids of the same age would come to the park and sit on the sidelines and
watch. The park was reserved for whites. This was south of the river.
W: What was the name of the park, again?
P: Fonticello, sort of like Monticello with some of the same attendant attitudes. I saw
the sort of longing in their eyes, and it stirred me. So, when my supervisor would
leave, they would leave you alone often, and you would be out there on the field
in the wintertime by yourself, I would say, "Hey, boys, come on over," and we
organized the black team and a white team and we had them play each other.
The little black kids, it created such pride [for them]. Then when the supervisor
would drive up in the city car, I would have them race over to the side, and they
would sit down over there as observers. Then he would pull off. This was every
afternoon, five days a week, I think it was. It was about 1955 or 1956 in the
wintertime, something like that. So, we tricked the city recreation department by
having, I would not call it an integrated league, but we had interracial
competition, and the black kids got such joy out of it. The white kids, because this
so-called adult white, twenty-year-old, said it was okay, then maybe it is okay,
and they enjoyed it. It showed a great potential for changing kids if you would
Another episode, if you would like to hear it, occurred not too far from this
incident, in which a team from the college for the deaf in Washington, D. C.
[Gallaudet University] the name of it slips my mind they were all white, but we
played them in basketball. This was basketball season. My job for my scholarship
was to be a host to visiting teams. I went down to the cafeteria to take them
through the line for the evening meal before the game. They were all white, but
they had a black bus driver. The black bus driver eventually was denied the right
to eat there, although these white basketball players, these rather tall deaf young
men were allowed to eat. This is accounted in one of my vignettes. It enraged
me, and I found some brand new disgust, and I was becoming more and more in
touch with how I was angered by the lies that had been told to me by white adults
in my early life. I called up the manager, and I was sort of a campus hotdog and
looked on with some favor because of my basketball and leadership reputation.
He said, "Well, we have a state law. No blacks can compete against whites on
state property, and they can't eat in a cafeteria reserved for whites." Although he
had always been polite and usually respected my opinion and so on, this time he
was firm. [He said,] "I don't care where he eats, I don't care what he eats, but he
can't eat there." I said, "Okay." and I went back to the fellow and asked him
would he consider, I was having trouble... I was terribly embarrassed, and that
embarrassment deepened my feeling about the wrongness of the situation. I
asked him, would he consider going into an adjacent classroom. He agreed. He
nodded. [He] never said a word.
I took him into a classroom and sat him down in one of those old chairs with the
arms on them, and I said, "Wait just a minute." I went back myself. Being white, I
could go through the line. I went through and selected every imaginable choice of
one meal: beverage, entire, salad, and so forth. They were supposed to be free. I
marched past the cashier. They made note of it. I went off to the adjacent
building and sat it down in front of him. He smiled and began to dig in. I said,
"Wait, you don't have it all. You don't have all the choices that the white people
do." He was perplexed, but he was quite patient with me. I marched back
through, picked the next selection and filled my tray, did the same thing and went
in. He started once again to dig in. I said, "Wait, there is one more selection we
have." I went back through the cafeteria. By this time, everybody was steaming
and crowding around that I was tweaking the racial nose of the institution and my
precious Virginia segregation. I went through the line and took him the last tray
and I said, "Now, you have all the same choices as the white people do." I didn't
know how to say, I am sorry that this is such a humiliating experience. But he
had a tiny smile at his lips, and it melted away, and he began to dig into his meal
in quietude. I sat there watching him and trying to think of something to say that
would ease the situation and convey to him that he had friends somewhere, and
with no luck. I couldn't come up with [anything]. I was twenty years old. I was just
coming to discover these things. I got up and left. I wished him well and showed
him how to get out. The game began, and I end my story with the fact that it
somewhat depressed me, and I only got three points.
W: One thing I would like to ask is, did you feel very much you were out on a limb,
on your own, when doing these sorts of things, or did you have a sense there
was a growing group of you, people who were troubled, people of your age, your
peer group, who were troubled by the operation of segregation?
P: At this point, I had never discovered anybody. I seemed to be the only one.
Because so many well-meaning whites would hide the fact that they were uneasy
about it. But we had other episodes later on in which we saw that whites were
prepared to go a little further. I have written of that account, too. It is sort of a
long story about the first black who attempted to break that segregation barrier in
a basketball competition, which was outlawed at the time. But I did see some
support for them on that. Before long, I discovered a handful, and very small
handful. Mostly, you did sense the isolation. The older people, people other than
Dr. Alice, were rather disdainful of all of our activity. Now, there was a tradition at
this school in the 1940s in which Dr. Alice again was at the heart of it. This was
during World War II in which they joined Virginia Union and other colleges of the
area and made similar efforts. They, too, faced strict [segregation]. But the
difference between the middle 1950s and the 1940s was that there was
absolutely no threat in the 1940s because everybody knew that segregation was
solid and there would be no real challenge. In the 1950s, a few white authority
figures now sense that their precious segregation was at risk.
W: One of the other things you mentioned was the notion that segregation was there
from time immemorial and would last forever, [which] was certainly apparent in
your own family, so that clearly wasn't somewhere you were getting a glimpse of
another world. Could you characterize your father's views on race, and your
mother's for that matter?
P: Well, they were not, they did not need to be explicit. I think my mother had a little
uneasiness, although she called herself a Florida cracker with great pride, and it
was with sharp distinction between [that and a] Georgia cracker. That was a very
important difference, even though her mother's family, the Simmons family, came
from Georgia. She, I don't think, liked the word "nigger" in any discussion. My
father, in early life, he never used the word "nigger" that I recall, but he had very
little association, except working class, and they weren't employed in the grocery
business, mostly. His word was darkiess." He always referred to them as
darkiess," and I grew up thinking that was the conventional word. But other adults
around me used the word "nigger" quite often. It wasn't necessary for your
parents to say very explicit things like, "Don't do this, don't do that." It was
second nature. I knew when to associate and when not [to]. Of course, in early
life, you were allowed to play with blacks and so on. Boys with boys was quite
different. But we were encouraged to think of them as subhuman. We all had .22
rifles and BB guns, and we would ride our bicycles down Bainbridge Street.
There was a black neighborhood there. They would sit out on the porch on
Saturday morning, and these boys would bring their rifles, and they would shoot
around their porches at the black kids. They would try to intimidate me to do the
same, so I began to bring my gun. I don't think I ever hit anybody, but it was
considered normal, and to hear them scatter. Maybe somebody was hit with a BB
[round metallic pellet]. I don't think anybody was ever mortally wounded or
anything. But at the time, we thought it was so normal. It is very much like Trent
Lott and [James] Jackson Kilpatrick. [James] Jackson Kilpatrick insists that they
grew up that way and could never escape it. Although once you are an adult,
there are challenges to it.
W: Sure, and it seems as though your educational experience would have been the
forum in which you actually got exposed to other ideas through Dr. Alice and
P: Yes, but public school, of course, there was no.... The biggest fact we learned in
high school that is memorable is that the number of cigarettes manufactured in
Richmond would, if stretched end to end, would be eleven trips to the moon and
back. The other essential fact for graduating from high school in Richmond was
that there are no humans who deserve being deified but one, and that is Robert
W: Did you have a lot of dealings with the Kappa Alpha Order in your time?
P: No. I don't think I know anything about that.
W: I am trying to pick up the threads of your career now. You graduated from RPI a
W: By that time, 1957, the Little Rock crisis.
P: The summer of 1957, I went home, and I was eligible for the draft. I had been in
the Naval Reserve. I went home to Jacksonville, and as September came on, I
had an encounter with Klansmen at that point. By this time, I was pretty firm on
W: Explain to me your encounter with the Klansmen.
P: Yes. It was in a movie house. I was double-dating with somebody, and I did not
know they were Klansmen.
W: Was this still up here in Richmond?
P: It was in Jacksonville. I graduated in June of 1957, and I had been searching out
for experiences for myself to have multicultural opportunity. I had discovered the
Encampment for Citizenship through my search for a religious opening beyond
my Southern Baptist and Fundamentalist background. Fundamentalism was a
co-enemy and co-conspirator with segregation.
W: Your mother and father were both Baptist, were they?
W: You were raised in that tradition?
P: Yes, or even autonomous Baptists sometimes. In other words, not part of the
Southern Baptist Convention. My father did not go to church, but he was
convinced I had to, and my mother did. We went to different Fundamentalist
churches, and I was active in the church and so on. I went to church about six
times a week with all the different activities.
W: As you graduated, you said you were looking for other opportunities.
P: Yes. I graduated from college. I had pretty much worked hard to discover what I
needed to know about race, and now I was pretty convinced that I should do
something else. I learned about this Encampment for Citizenship, which a lot of
people don't know about, but for fifty years, they were offering citizenship
education and work experiences in the summer every summer from 1946. They
were founded in association with the American Ethical Culture movement. So, I
got an opportunity to go there. It was in New York at a Riverdale school. The
Ethical Culture School is where it was. I was twenty-two. It was six weeks, and I
was shocked to discover that I was elected vice president and a black was
elected the president. He was from UCLA. There I was, this hillbilly, people called
me a hillbilly when I was eighteen when I went to Cleveland looking for work, and
an erudite black guy from California, who was just incredibly skilled with people
and so on.
W: Was this the first time you ever had any real sort of interchange with African-
Americans, on a personal level?
P: Yes. Well, I had confrontations in Cleveland when I went there. I had encounters
in which I experienced anti-Southern feelings from blacks on the street because I
played basketball and baseball. I played a little semi-pro baseball there for a little
money. But I had a very limited experience. We did have some activities at RPI
which centered around the Unitarian Church. We had a wonderful minister there,
Eugene Pickett. He went on to be the president of the Unitarian Universalist
Association in years to come. He also was the pastor of the big Unitarian church,
after he left here, in Atlanta. He was a wonderful man. It was the only place in
town that whites knew to go. As I became a young adult, I discovered other
places over on North Avenue, black restaurants, where whites were welcome.
We had our civil rights activity meetings in those places. But at first, it was thanks
to Eugene Pickett. In recent years, I made contact with him. But the Encampment
was the first time I was able to explore wide open. We had workshops, and we
had lectures. We had exploration in all the intergroup opportunities. I learned
about the career in intergroup relations. You could be a human relations director.
They had agencies up north, and you could get a master's degree in it and work
on race relations as a career. I said, "Man, sign me up."
W: One thing that strikes me, this is 1957, this has been a pretty rapid trajectory for
you, because in 1955, you are making these quite tentative personal gestures,
and by 1957, you are thinking about a career that will be entirely about race.
P: I don't know where this came from, but in 1956, I wrote Martin Luther King, while
I was a junior, I think, or in the beginning of my senior year. I wrote him a letter
supporting the boycott, and the man wrote me back. I have the letter. It is in the
library here, the VCU archives. He said, "I am glad people like you are with us
and show solidarity with us." I was just inspired. Somehow that and then going to
the Encampment, I discovered I was part of a world communion. Let me tell you
who was our faculty. June Shagaloff from NAACP was my workshop leader. A
black professor, [Jim] Moss was his name, from SUNY [State University of New
York] Buffalo. They were my workshop in race relations. I met blacks of high
stature. I even wanted to date this girl who was from Vassar, but she already had
a boyfriend. I was brokenhearted. She was so beautiful. I had always had trouble
with the women I liked. The families of the women I liked didn't like me because I
was a phys ed major and a Southerner and what have you. But we had these
fabulous lectures. I am trying to think of the Ethical Culture leader [Algernon
Black]. I will think of his name in a minute. He was a distinguished fellow. You
know the three guys who were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi. One of them
was an Ethical Culture member, I think, or his parents thought well of it, and his
funeral was in New York City. I can't remember which one. But this man was the
leader, and he published the ceremony, his remarks. He was well-known, and he
was a leader in the New York Committee Against Housing Discrimination in the
early 1940s. I saw that man and saw how he smoked his pipe and could speak
extemporaneously about things, and I said, "God, I want to be like that man."
By the end of the summer, I had learned a lot of lessons, cried some tears over
being attacked as a white, and learned about new careers. It was the kind of
remarkable thing that I got in my little old '48 Chevrolet, headed home, and by
the time I got to South Carolina, when I picked up two hitchhikers on the road
who were in uniform, they were in the military, I was hot to talk about race. I
made a mistake. We talked about race, and they ended up trying to strangle me.
I hustled them out of the car and left them on the side of the road somewhere, I
think I was headed for Allendale so it must have been on [U.S. Highway] 301.
That was my re-entry. Before that, I had one pleasant experience. I found a place
where I could buy an RC [Cola] and a moon pie. I got back to Jacksonville at that
time, and that was the fall that [President] Eisenhower reluctantly sent the troops
[to Little Rock, Arkansas].
W: Fall of 1957.
P: Yes, and reluctantly. Momentarily, I was called up. I would have been drafted, so
I went into the Navy for two years, where I had actual experience with blacks and
once again had sort of a personal war against the racism I found in the Navy.
W: What form did that take?
P: First of all, when I was in boot camp, I was invited to play [and be the assistant
coach] for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center Bluejackets, which is a lot of
college players, and we had black players. We had a black guy from North
Carolina whose self-esteem obviously had been crushed. I thought he was such
a wonderful guy. He was such a gentle, big guy. His name was Spraggins. I will
never forget him. He was just such a nice guy. I could not bear to see him put
down, so I specially coached him. I was pretty much a leader. I had been a co-
captain [in college]. I worked with him, and I had a great personal experience
with him and some of the other blacks, when I saw the Navy mistreating them.
There was one [black] guy who had been in the Navy as a career guy, and he
showed up at our psychiatric unit where I worked. I was a corpsman by day, and
in the afternoon, I went off to play [basketball]. I was assistant coach, but I was
an enlisted man. One time, I saw this guy had been provoked by the Marines,
and I saw the abuse. I confronted the Marines, and they wanted to lock me up for
Another occasion, a fellow named Tommy Holland, who became a close friend of
mine to this day, was locked up by the Navy. Somebody planted drugs in his
locker, and they put him the brig and told nobody about it. I discovered what was
going on, and I called his mother, who didn't know me from Adam, in St. Louis,
and we fought [it]. She began to initiate things to get [him] out. But when I
thought I was alone in this, I went to the pay phone that was in this unit and knew
that the commander, whose office was nearby, and the lieutenant commander,
who was a decent guy [could hear me on the phone]. The commander was,
"Forget it," but the lieutenant commander was a decent man. Flaherty was his
name. We had college degrees, a few of us, because we were in the
neuropsychiatric unit doing special kind of work. I did some of the scut work on
the research under a Ph. D. in psychology] for predicting success in boot camp.
It was an interesting opportunity.
So, I went to that phone, and I pretended I was calling the ACLU [American Civil
Liberties Union], and I spoke very loudly and told them, [speaking loudly]
"Tommy Holland, yes, a [hospitalman]. Tommy Holland, that's his name, he is
locked up in the brig," and so on and so on. And I had nobody on the end of that
call. Then I called the fictitious NAACP [National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People] and did the same thing. All this was in Chicago.
And I shouted his name. And Flaherty went like this, and everybody was dazzled
that I would do this. As a result, I became sort of the [unit lawyer from then on].
There was this little Mexican guy there, and we had a kind of multicultural setting.
We built family around that kind of thing, the rest of us. And we finally got him
[Holland] out of the brig, and nothing happened to him. I think his mother literally
[adopted me as a son after that episode I ended up going] to St. Louis [to
Holland's home]. That was an example. The Navy was one of the last [military]
services to get used to desegregation, even though it had ten years [of]
W: Right. And you served two years?
P: I served two years. I was in the [Naval] Reserves [for six years] and had two
years of active duty required.
W: After that, did you come back to Richmond?
P: Yes. I came back here to look for work, and I found a job as a public assistance
case worker. See, I had been well-prepared [with my] phys ed degree, and I had
worked at a neuropsychiatric unit. [Laughs.] But I had quite a bit of savvy, and I
had studied. I used to sneak out the window in the Navy on the job and go over
to the library and get these books and bring them back. I read Will Durant's Story
of Civilization. It was like six volumes in those days. Will and his wife [Ariel] wrote
those. I tried to make up for some of my defective phys ed background. And I
read a lot about psychiatry and psycho-pathology and so on. I was pretty well-
prepared and wrote nice accounts. It was a segregated agency downtown. The
little phone line, the metal housing for it on top of it, it went down the row. On this
side [were] the black workers. It was a vast, big old room, usually a church
Sunday school building. But on the left were the black desks. They faced us, and
we faced them, and this telephone line was down the middle, and everybody
knew what that telephone line was about. But a young Virginia Union graduate,
Ruby Clayton was her name in those days, and her and I were close to the same
age and [with the] same interests. At that point, in February of 1960, of course,
the sit-ins began in Greensboro. Ten days later, I heard this was going to go on
[here]. Should I talk about this?
W: Yes. Hang on, let's get to the point we need to be. You have come back to
Richmond. There is nothing resembling a civil rights movement in the sense of
direct actions on the streets by the time you have come back, or is there?
P: Not in 1959. Now, they closed the schools in Prince Edward, and I was alarmed
about that. I wrote a letter to Virginius Dabney, and he sent me back a letter
explaining massive resistance to me as if he wasn't involved. I kept that letter,
and that is in the library, too. I came back, and little to my knowledge, there was
a Virginia Council on Human Relations. [It] had been founded in 1955. Ken
Morland and Tom Henderson and several other people whose names appear in
the records we have accumulated on this, but I had never known them [before].
They were a [half] generation before me, so I had [had] no way to connect.
Things were never announced in the newspaper. The trick the Virginia
newspapers, except for the Norfolk one, used to oppose civil rights was never to
mention any dissent. Unlike the deeper South, [where] they did a lot of race
baiting in the newspaper, they never did that here. We were gentlemen here,
apparently. So, you never could learn what was going on.
W: So, you really had this sense that...
P: I wasn't hooked up. But 1959, I went down searching for somebody to hook up
with [in] Prince Edward because I was so outraged by this time at the school
closing, and I saw it as historical, and I saw that it was going to be maybe a
model for other southern states at the time. I knew Kilpatrick's influence on
William Simmons and the White Citizens' Council and others in Mississippi.
Some of my friends, we started an underground newspaper called The Ghost.
The reason we called it The Ghost is because this University of Florida graduate
who was in the Army here and I hooked up and ran this paper. He had an
underground mimeograph newspaper from Gainesville.
W: What was his name, do you remember?
P: I have his name, [Dick Kollen] and I have got some of these Ghosts are in the
library in my collection. My collection has not been organized yet because it is so
scattered and the money is so tight, but someday it will be. But his name is
slipping my mind. Then, the guy who wrote Even Cowgirls Got the Blues, [Tom]
Robbins, was here, but he thought we were fools to be do-gooders. He just went
around. He was a Bohemian, more than serious, but he used to hang out at The
Village Restaurant with us. We had two Communists in Virginia at the time. I
think there were six, but two of them were here. They would come in, and they
would try to sell us on this, and we thought that was ridiculous. So, this Ghost
was our attempt, even the fall of 1959, to address some of the racial issues.
W: Did you focus heavily on Farmville and Prince Edward [County].
P: No, not that much. I was just getting acquainted with it. We focused mostly on a
primitive attitude toward women at the college, you know, they had to be in by
nine. And the dogs [attacking civil rights demonstrators] on the street. Then, in
February of 1960, I and this fellow who ran The Ghost and one other guy in the
Army, they were from up north originally, and my first wife, before we were
married, who was a student, we sensed these thing going on downtown. We
went down there and hooked up with them [Virginia Union University student
demonstrators] at Thalhmiers, which is our department store, and the other three
pondered joining them, as did I, and thought, "Well, they would go to the brig,"
the two guys in the military. One was out of bounds, and one worked in army
intelligence, and they would both be punished for being involved in an illegal act.
My now ex-wife was a little bit younger. She would have been clearly thrown out
of school. She was at RPI.
W: What was her name?
P: Her name was Virginia Tyack. She was born in Oklahoma and had lived in North
Carolina. Her father was a successful engineer. She was committed in many
ways and was a very gifted painter and studied with one of our distinguished
professors. VCU is famous for its art school, among other things. She was a
favored student. So, she went with me but began to think of the consequences
for her. So, they left, and I joined the blacks. The blacks were led by two fellows.
One was Charles Sherrod, who went on to be famous for Albany's civil rights
W: With SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee].
P: Yes, with SNCC. Charles had a partner who invited him to this event at VCU
recently celebrating the efforts of civil rights heroes, but we couldn't find the
money for him, but he would have loved to come. I just talked to Charles
recently. He is from Petersburg. He is a Virginian, and I am proud to say it. We
lost him and Wyatt T. Walker and other people who had Virginia experience. We
lost Nan Grogan, who is in the state legislature in Georgia. She was a Virginian,
or at least went to college here. She was a student worker from Southside
Virginia. It looks like I was the only one who stayed home.
W: How did that demonstration down at Thalhimers actually pan out?
P: I have written, once again, published a vignette on that. But the short version is,
they just totally denied admission to all of us. I stood with the blacks, and it didn't
take long for them to send the firemen and police. They said it was a fire
violation. First, it was a firemen who would clear the aisles and so forth. There
must have been about...[End of Side 1, Tape A.] It was a rather majestic scene
because the blacks had such a gentle presence but a determination. It was very
inspiring for me. It was my first demonstration. I mean, I had demonstrated as a
solo civil rights activist.
W: Were there any other whites involved in this?
P: No, there were no whites there, but they didn't leave me there long. Before long,
the firemen, some plain clothes policemen and, I think, a uniformed policeman
and some management from the store. Incidentally, among the junior
management there were people I went to college with, and they had utter
contempt for me. While I was there, people in the audience were heckling me
particularly. One lady who recognized me from south Richmond who was
standing there, there was a big crowd of whites heckling everybody, and she
came up and spit on me. So, I learned what passive resistance was all about
right there and then. The authorities came and asked me, "Where are you from?
New York?" I said, "I am from Richmond." They said, "Whereabouts?" In those
days, we called the Fan [neighborhood] here [in the] West End. It meant
Randolph or [the Fan]. West End today means ten miles that way. They were
stunned. They said, "Where do you work?" I said, "For the City of Richmond."
Once again, they were stunned. [They asked,] "What department?" I said, "The
Welfare Department." They, I think, were stunned that any white from here would
be there, and they picked me up and they said, "You are being asked to leave."
They did not say, "Now, get out." They just picked me up, two men in plain
clothes, picked me up, lifted me and then got me, kind of pushed me like this
around the corner to the escalator and kind of gave me a little shove. Then they
caught up with me and, the next turn, they did the same. This was the fourth or
fifth floor up, and they kept on pushing me. We got to the first floor. I went out to,
it must have been, Sixth Street. They got me to the double doors there, and they
opened the first set, pushed me toward the second, opened the last set, pushed
me out on the street and said, "Don't you ever come back here again." I thought
to myself, "Well, I've been through a door, and I will never return," which was
true. That was my first experience with it. But they didn't want to arrest me.
W: Did you feel vulnerable in terms of not just your physical safety, I guess at some
level, but your job, being city work?
P: Oh, yes. In fact, it was on the line. But, see, the papers didn't cover it. They didn't
put my name in the paper, and nobody knows. Hardly anybody would know that I
was there, and it wasn't reported in the paper that there were any whites.
W: Did your parents ever know?
P: My father was living here, but my mother lived in Florida. They were divorced.
She lived in Jacksonville at the time. She had already known me as a dissident.
By the time of 1957, she and I had talked at great length about race, and she
was so disturbed. But she loved me. She was a dear, competent woman, who
went to the eighth grade. Her father was illiterate, my grandfather, for whom I
used to work summers down in Manatee County. She was very disturbed, but
she had to reconcile these facts. This is my son. I adore him, I respect him. He
has gone to school. He came from nowhere. He flunked out of high school twice.
He was a loser, and he couldn't spell, he couldn't read in high school, and now
he is a college graduate, and he has been doing this. She had to put it together,
and she ended up with this kind of thing, "Well, this is your generation. I guess
you get to do with it what you want."
W: So, she was sort of reconciled to the fact that change would come, but it would
be a subsequent generation. She didn't want any part necessarily in helping to
bring about change.
P: Yes. She didn't want a part of it, and she had trouble being around me very long.
When she would come to Richmond to see me and my kids, I had three
daughters, and she loved them, and they looked just like her, she was gorgeous,
too, when she was young, when she came, she would stay with my aunt. She
could not bear to spend nights here because she would hear all this integration
W: What about your father's views?
P: My father disappeared. I had a confrontation with my father in subsequent years
when I came to work at the Medical College of Virginia. I was teaching sociology
and other social science subjects at the School of Nursing. We had a
confrontation, and I lost touch with him for several years. The story was about
race. My very first publication, I had the good fortune of doing a paper on Prince
Edward County from my thesis from the University of Pennsylvania, which was
on the Prince Edward County school closing story. It had been used by the feds,
the U. S. Office of Education, Justice Department, as kind of a briefing handbook
for how to get into the case. It became sort of celebrated. Once when they called
the Penn library and asked them, "Could you make me a copy," the people in the
Penn library said, "What is it with this thing? A master's thesis. There's been forty
requests." Burke Marshall and others had gotten the thing. Somebody found a
letter in the Kennedy collection at Harvard of Burke Marshall's request for my
thesis. So, it was rather famous.
Rupert Picott was a celebrated black educator, a remarkable man who deserves
a biography, and he was the head of the Virginia Teachers' Association, the
black professional association here. He was a sidekick of Happy Lee's and very
close to the Virginia Council on Human Relations and a very important partner in
almost every dramatic desegregation act. Restaurants, schools, everything. He
was just matchless. I had the good fortune as a young guy, ambitious to be an
academic, to have him invite me to write a paper on Prince Edward for the
Kappan, an educational [journal]. I just took my thesis. He wrote the intro and the
finish, and the rest of it are my words. He was a major author, and he was the
one who was invited. So, we wrote this article in 1964. I think it came out in May,
1964, so you know the significance of the date. During the working of that paper,
you know, we had to meet, and I invited him over to my house one night. I
already had two children by this time.
My father would come. He lived alone in a room up the street here, and he would
come to my house and just sit down. He had been an alcoholic and was low-
performing and so forth, but he did keep his job once my mother and my brother
and I left him. But he was very dysfunctional. He would come there. You know,
he was the grandfather of my children, and I wanted to make him feel welcome.
But the race issue, he always loved to push buttons on the race issue. This night,
Rupert, Dr. Picott came to my house, [my father] was sitting on the couch. It was
such an honor for me to have this man come in my house, sit down at my dining
room table, and we are going to plan this article, my very first publication. You
can picture the honor I was sensing. He came into the room, and I said, "This is
my father, this is Dr. Picott." My father wouldn't get up. He wouldn't get up and
shake his hand. Dr. Picott was gracious. I was enraged because he obviously
was going to insult the man. We went over, and I tried to keep the heat inside my
chest calm. We went over and finished our work. He left, and my father never got
up. He just sat there looking at us from the distance. [Picott] walked out of the
house, and I apologized to him. It was another impossible event, and the
encounter with whites who refuse to honor black dignity. When he was gone, I
went to my father, and I let go of my rage, and I asked him to leave, and he left. I
didn't see him for three years. After that, I was applying to go to graduate school
at Kentucky and UNC in medical sociology.
W: Just for the record, your master's was from Penn, and the master's was in...?
P: Was in Human Relations.
W: Then subsequently, you went to Kentucky for your doctoral work.
P: Yes. I came back here and taught for two years at the School of Nursing and
then went to Penn.
W: What was that experience like, getting out of the South again?
P: Well, I think this was my fourth year out of the South of the years I had lived, and
it was great. I was getting pretty sophisticated. My child was born at HUP,
Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania, my Suzannah. There were a lot of
progressive people there. By this time, I was hooked up with the American
Friends Service Committee. I had met Jean Fairfax, and I had worked in [Prince
Edward] County. I organized some recreational and educational activities there in
1960-1961. By the time I left, I had lots of connections.
W: Did you know Jean at all from her work in Prince Edward County?
P: Yes, I was indirectly related. I mainly worked with Helen Baker, who was the field
person, one of the first full-time resident workers there.
W: How would you characterize the American Friends Service Committee's
contribution to not just Prince Edward County but to the southern civil rights
movement more generally?
P: Well, as you may have heard the other night, she was responsible for the
southern programs [at AFSC], which was a big focus in those days in the deep
South and the border South. They had the view that North Carolina would be a
soft touch for desegregating, and at the southeastern regional office, Bill Bagwell
and Charles Davis were active in those days. A series of [AFSC] visitors would
come to Prince Edward to check it out. One of the most remarkable ones was a
man named Harry Boyte. He went on to work [later] with SCLC [Southern
Christian Leadership Conference], and he wrote some marvelous reports.
The first thing that would impress you there that I had opportunity to see was
Helen Baker's work. She was a Quaker. She was a black Virginian, and she had
experienced segregation. She had a magical quality about her in which she could
finesse almost every difficult situation. She gained some confidence among the
white segregationists. It was hard to dismiss her. The Quaker aura hovered over
some of their work that meant they were peace-loving and sacrificing and so on.
It was something extra special. She worked perfectly in that setup. I saw her and
other people as well. In addition to placing [Prince Edward County] kids, some
sixty-seven to seventy, there is some dispute about how many kids they placed
around the country, [Baker did much] community work, developing leadership
among the black women, providing substitute experiences for the children and a
variety of other things. The other thing I sense that was accomplished by Helen
and with Jean [Fairfax as] back up and the others visitors with the AFSC
[American Friends Service Committee], which I learned, I learned how to do it
with them, was peacekeeping. It made it impossible for....
W: You were talking about the way in which the American Friends Service
Committee worked and in particular about their peacekeeping resolution work.
P: Yes. They kind of made it impossible for local authorities to allow violence. There
also was a watchdog side to this. That is to say if you did not behave in a
civilized way, unlike other parts of Southside Virginia and elsewhere in the deep
South, the story would get out through AFSC. It would end up in the Philadelphia
Bulletin or Inquirer, or it would be in the New York Times or what have you.
W: So, you think they were very shrewd in understanding the value of publicity?
P: As time went on. At first, I don't think the white authorities dreamed that it would
be embarrassing, but after they saw the reaction. When the foreign press came
there and they saw the reaction, face-saving became more and more important,
and to put kind of a constitutional face on this white supremacy position became
more and more important. In fact, that was a habit in Virginia. The Commission
on Constitutional Government, [or] whatever it was called; James Jackson
Kilpatrick was their media education guy, and he was responsible for pumping
out these pseudo-constitutional tracts which were just fronts for, "let's protect our
segregation." I mean, states rights had nothing to do with it at all. States rights
was just an excuse because on other issues, states rights weren't important to
them. For example, they received federal money, [Virginia was] the highest per
capital recipients of federal money [among all the states], and it never occurred to
them that this was [anti-states rights]. If you wanted federal relief from disaster,
you'd go to the federal tit and start your suckling.
W: Do you think, though, that means, in a perverse way maybe, that the
segregationists were actually more sophisticated than the liberals or the pro-
desegregation forces, if they understood the value of publicity and of a media
P: Yes, and they were also appearing to be civilized. That was the Virginia style,
you know. As I said at the meeting the other night, if anybody in the press or in
public said to them, "Well, you're taking the same stand as they take in
Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia," and they said, "Yes, that's an unsavory
thing because they are giving segregation a bad name." Yes, they were pretty
savvy, and they got more savvy as time went on. They would try to bring people
down who weren't fitting this public relations effectiveness in an adequate way.
But see, [Harry Flood] Byrd [U.S. Senator, D- VA] was kind of schizophrenic
about this. Byrd was still strong. He was schizophrenic in the sense that he still
thought this was a rural state. He still thought that only 9 percent of the eligible
[electorate should dictate what happens]. [Byrd thought that] if everybody could
[not] pay the poll tax and did encounter discrimination, it would be the same [in
Virginia] for years to come and that industrialization was not upon us in the
South. He was really bizarre in the way he resisted technological developments
and social developments. It [court order ending massive resistance] made for a
little crack in it. The crack created on one side, people now call them, moderates.
[like] David Mays, I have part of his published papers up there from the
newspaper. Very few of them have been published. I am not sure how many are
available. David Mays was an example. Because he [finally came out] against de
jure Massive Resistance, he was called a moderate, but, now, he was a white
supremacist. I have a little account, some notes I have [made] on Virginia history
and some abstracts from journals and books that I might share with you if you
W: It is interesting, obviously Virginia has this way of going about its business, of
preserving white supremacy and the Jim Crow system, or at least substantial
elements of it, that is paternalistic. There is a hierarchy, and things are in their
order, in their place. What about the other side? The folks that you were
beginning to move into orbit with among the white liberals of the 1950s and into
the early 1960s? Was there also a sense that, actually, we could do a lot more to
make segregation bearable before they got to the point of saying this will never
work and it has to be removed entirely. Were there people who could not do that
P: Well, yes. Let's see if we can dissect these people. At first, the segregationists
were uniform. There was no dissent from Massive Resistance until the court said
you couldn't have it anymore. Then the message became a little more confusing.
As I recall, there were only a handful of people. There was one candidate for
governor, a woman [who opposed segregation openly]
W: Louise Wensel?
P: Yes, it was Wensel who tried, but I don't remember what kind of record she was
able to establish, but she didn't get very far. She was little heard from during
those periods in the newspapers and so on. Now, I don't know how Norfolk
treated this. Norfolk had a number of people from other parts of the country, and
northern Virginia was not as developed as it is now. We had more natives as a
proportion up there, and there were hardcore segregationists there, especially in
Alexandria and some of the traditional towns and villages up there. But that part
of the state was changing, too.
The segregationists, at first, said, we just got to equalize. But there had been that
struggle all during the 1950s, let's just equalize, and we'll get rid of the threat. But
by 1959, they saw there was something more involved. It is not going to be quite
as easy, and so they figured out, in Mays' words and what I heard often was, "I'll
tell you what we'll do: we'll have freedom of choice, and we'll let any black apply
through this convoluted system, and they can go to any school they want, and
then all the whites there will intimidate them and scare them and they will go
home. That will happen." It was especially hoped that it would happen in
Arlington because Arlington was the most heterogenous culturally and
geographically. People came from different places. So, they expected it to give
in. The Massive Resistance was against the will of Arlington County. That was
what my letter to Virginius Dabney was all about, "Why, if you hate central
government of the United States, wouldn't you hate the central government of
W: I guess what I am driving is, there is an interesting shift in what it means to be a
southern liberal. In 1945, a southern liberal will be someone who says we want to
equalize the situation within segregation. By 1950, 1951, a southern liberal is
someone who says we want desegregation. Curiously, the position of some of
your massive resisters looks exactly the same as the position of a liberal in 1945:
let's equalize to avoid desegregation.
P: I think that is probably the way it was. The so-called liberals were so cautious
and so quiet that there were only a handful of people who would do that. Even
the Virginia Council on Human Relations, Aubrey Brown and others, were bitterly
opposed to us younger ones. I organized a student movement in the Virginia
Council. By the way, there is very little evidence of it. I don't see any papers on it,
any paperwork on it.
W: What was the objection of Brown and the elders?
P: They did not like demonstrations.
W: So, it was the direct action component they didn't like.
P: Yes. They wanted the negotiations mostly behind the scenes, so there was
something of a split there as the 1960s came on. Aubrey actually was kind of
nervous with the younger people.
W: Where were you drawing your young recruits from?
P: Colleges. Black colleges. We had some great people. The black fellow who was
an ABC news anchor there for a while. He died of AIDS. He had a blood
transfusion. That Richmond family. [Max] Robinson was his name. His brother
[Randall Robinson] is the pan-African advocate. He was in our group. He was a
Virginia Union student, and that was an example. My own students, women
nursing students, were in [the Virginia College Council on Human Relations]. I
think we had about fifteen, eighteen campuses involved. Randolph Macon
Women's College [was one]. Not so much UVA, The University of Richmond, for
example, had George Modlin, who now has an entertainment center named for
him, he bitterly opposed it. In fact, he played an incredible role in the1954
Supreme Court decision. Archibald Robertson was one of the lawyers who was
to defend Virginia and Prince Edward, along with T. Justin Moore and several
others. I think Lindsay Almond was the attorney general. [Segregationists said,]
"They got all these experts who come down here with their dolls to the court, and
that's hokum." For a long time, they treated it as hokum. They said, "Don't take it
seriously." But they saw the federal judges taking it seriously. Dr. Ken Morland
was one of the people who was involved in one of those cases, the Delaware
case. Archibald Robertson was assigned the job of finding some experts, so he
turned around and said, "where am I going to go." He went to George Modlin at
the University of Richmond and George Modlin said, "you got to get the leading
segregationist expert, and that is Henry Garrett. He is a native Virginian from
Halifax County, and he is the chairman of psychology at Columbia University and
president of the APA, the American Psychological Association. He is the perfect
guy for it." So, they did, and that is who opposed [segregation in the courts].
Who was the most famous expert witness [for the NAACP] in 1954? [Kenneth
Clark and Mamie Clark], his wife? Well, we know who we are talking about.
Anyway, that was the opposition. Garrett went before the federal courts in some
of those cases and testified on behalf of segregation. There was a whole team.
My list shows about fifteen, eighteen social scientists, psychiatrists,
psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists. We'll think of it [ his name] in a
minute, but [Garrett] was their professor, major dissertation, both Kenneth and
Mamie... He is famous. He is still alive. So, Modlin was the key to academic
racism for Virginia. Of course, [Garrett] testified in other cases elsewhere.
W: Okay. We sort of leapt a little bit forward to getting to the Virginia Council on
Human Relations. Tell me about when you first became aware of them. You
mentioned that in your initial activism, they hadn't really appeared on your radar
yet. Even at the time of the sit-in at Thalheimers, they were not [yet] really a part
of my scene.
P: They weren't involved in the sit-ins. A lot of us more youthful people were
thinking they were not hip. They were old-timers and so on. We had some
uneasiness, but I saw the value of both. I was kind of on the cusp of this younger
generation who had no patience for negotiating anymore and how negotiation, in
my mind, was just another technique. Let's see, 1960, I don't know how I
discovered it, but the AFSC had connections with the Southern Regional Council.
Happy Lee came on board [at the Virginia Council on Human Relations in 1961].
Oh, I know how it happened. I really became deeply involved while I was at
[Medical College of Virginia]. It became conspicuous to me while I was at MCV. I
think I proposed to them, Happy Lee and others, that we have a college council. I
said, I have forty women here who are interested, and some of them have
boyfriends at Virginia Union [and elsewhere]. I had some remarkable people. In
fact, my girls, I called them my girls, they loved me being there. I was the only
male. And they loved the social sciences because it was an open place [in their
nurse training]. In fact, we organized the support of one young woman to go to
the march at [the Edmund] Pettus Bridge in Selma. We sent her with money and
everything, and she was beaten while she was there, and she was beaten again
in the jail. Then she came home, and they wanted to kick her out of school, so
we organized protection for her. One of the physicians I got involved was an
Egyptian, Sammy Said. I will never forget him. He was a handsome, tall
Egyptian. He was a respiratory expert. She came home all puffed up and
everything. These were my favorite people there, my students.
So, I saw the great need, so I pumped it up. There were several other
developments around the state, so we connected and we worked with Nancy
Adams and others in Prince Edward. AFSC had independent efforts to organize
youth at colleges nearby and some over at Roanoke, I think. Before long, I think,
if I am correct, we had close to 800 people on our list affiliated in some way. The
University of Richmond and selected other schools, [like] Randolph-Macon
[men's college], they harassed our young people.
W: Were some schools particularly bad for recruiting and activism because of the
censure from the administration, and were some schools particularly good?
P: Virginia Union was good, from my [perspective]. I wasn't familiar with all of the
campuses because we would have people doing things at different campuses,
like out in the west. Randolph-Macon Women's College was pretty good because
Ken Moreland was there, and he had sort of a following, like I did. He was a
professor at an all women's school, and he was highly respected. Then, RPI
[Richmond Professional Institute] was good because we had [something of a
liberal] tradition there. Randolph-Macon was terrible. Ben Ragsdale, who was at
the meeting the other night, I think he was harassed by his administration. The
poor people at the University of Richmond, that was the worst. It is a Baptist
school, and at the time, it was really Baptist. They objected to federal funds. I
knew faculty there. There was a physics professor there who wasn't allowed to
get federal funds to build a lab, and so they wanted to have a physics program
without any equipment. That is how ridiculous [President] George Modlin was.
Now, he is a hero [here]. Virginia has a habit of now celebrating all of these white
segregationists and pretending like segregation never existed and they had
nothing to do with it. Then they ask people like me to forgive and forget. I have
trouble with that. Maybe I am missing some Quaker characteristics, but I will
continue to work on it.
W: Sure. When you brought together these like-minded youthful people...
P: And their professors.
W: ...and went to see the folks at the Virginia Council on Human Relations, who
were the main players within the Council when you first got on the scene?
P: You mean the state?
P: The state was hosting this, and this was all mixed up in time with my work on a
Prince Edward project in which Happy Lee... The American Friends Service
Committee, the Southern Regional Council and the advisory committee to the
U. S. Civil Rights Commission all wanted a hard-hitting report on Prince Edward
to lay out. Jean Fairfax was an advocate of this in the early days. I think she
started in, like, 1962 to try to get this done. Bill Bagwell of the southeastern
regional office [of the AFSC] was seen as the person to do it at first, and then he
couldn't break free for the time. I had already done my thesis, and so I looked like
a pretty good backup. I had already interviewed 300 people, I think, at the time.
So, I had more interviews, and I got hooked in. It was right around the same time
that I was finishing that up. Then during the summer of 1963 and getting the
extra data and Ken Morland getting that paper in to the U. S. Civil Rights
Commission, which was dumped in the trash, which I described the other night.
W: You should just mention that again for the tape.
P: Yes. I did a report on Prince Edward expanding on my own work for the master's
thesis in the summer interviewing further people who had figured in both
[supporting school closing and] segregation and those who were trying to get the
schools back open. I submitted my working paper to Ken Morland, and he added
information from Bob Green's surveys. Bob Green was an education professor
who did some very innovative studies, one of the first to enjoy experimental
design conditions before and after [in] IQ studies, before a stimulus and after a
stimulus. [Morland] put all that together and wrote a better paper, a more meaty
one, and gave it to the U. S. Civil Rights Commission. Early January, just after
the year began, 1963, they said, okay, we are going to publish it, and so on. The
staff said it at the U. S. Civil Rights Commission. Everybody was happy about it,
and nothing happened, and nothing happened. Then the Civil Rights Bill in May, I
think it was, of 1964, came and went. The staff at the Commission had been
asked what happened to the paper, and they said, well, we can't do this and we
can't do that. So, before long, finally by the summertime, we had the 1964 Civil
Rights Act, and I think we had the renewal of the U. S. Commission on Civil
Rights, as well.
Now, the staff was telling us, well, the reason your paper got dumped and never
got published and never will be published is because a deal was made with the
southern, principally the senators but also the other congressman, and that we
wouldn't embarrass Harry Byrd, Senate Finance Committee chair, and we will
keep a low profile on it. Besides, they said, it was too controversial and too
radical, and they didn't like the word "tragedy" in the title and things like that. The
staff of the Commission was usurped, and it never hit light. But I saved my paper,
and we searched through [Morland's] house and thankfully found his, and we will
be putting it on the website that I have at VCU, where all the other [Prince
Edward County] papers are found.
W: Clearly, the events in Prince Edward County occupied a lot of the energies and
time and attention of the sort of folks you were mixing with. I am, in a way, more
intrigued by what was going on in Richmond, in the Richmond Council on Human
Relations, trying to do things within Richmond and also the relationship between
that local Council and the statewide organization. Who were the main figures
involved within Richmond who were concentrating on this?
P: I am having trouble remembering the actual presidents and so forth. As I said, I
was distracted and wouldn't always be at those meetings. But the Richmond
Council sort of had local desegregation on its mind. The state Council was
popping in and out every place, and Prince Edward, because the AFSC was
there, provided another headquarters for civil rights in many ways. Then there
was another center, hotspot, a place like Kenbridge in Southside Virginia, where
the student SSOC and other students were working out of, and some black
indigenous people were working out of. Then there were the lawsuits, the
continuing parade of suits, particularly at this time now Henry Marsh was starting,
and later on by 1970 was Judge Benton, whom you may have met the other
night. But the local Council, as I recall, I can't remember all the presidents and so
on in those days.
But one of the principal things was restaurants. I remember we all knew that
there were 650 restaurants in Richmond, and they were all white restaurants.
They were all segregated. Ewart's Cafeteria was one. It was a wonderful place
across from the [John Marshall Hotel]. It had the greatest spoon bread you ever
put in your mouth, especially if you put their pure butter on it. There were lots of
[restaurants]. The Chinese restaurants, I remember, were resistant. In the 1950
census, I think, we had 600 Chinese in the whole metro area. Now, we have
thousands and thousands of Asians. During that period, a lot of concentration
was on desegregating the restaurants. The Richmond Council was a little bit
independent of some of this activity. Just as the state Council on Human
Relations was a bit remote on occasions from SRC in Atlanta, so were the local
councils. They had a life of their own in many ways and really were in many ways
W: When did you come across people like Isabel Rogers and Hilda Warden?
P: Hilda Warden and myself and Ruby Clayton Walker... Unfortunately, she is not
healthy enough to be interviewed. She would have been a great interview. We all
met at the [Richmond] welfare department. We were all activists together. Hilda
was a little bit older than me and was a one-woman civil rights movement before
I came. She desegregated the bathrooms at the welfare department, all by
herself. She was a tough lady in many ways. They were active in different
periods, some of us in the local Council. I recall when we got this campaign
together to go test the restaurants, there were people in it, like Governor Doug
Wilder was one of them. I think this was before he was in the General Assembly,
I believe. I may have my dates a little confused. Who else was involved? Jay
Nickens was on the test group. Jay Nickens was the president of Consolidated
Bank, the one....
[End of Side A2]
P: ..., but it will come to me later, the black bank. Jay Nickens was a remarkable
man. He joined us. Several whites. I think Harry Cohn, the Held brothers. The
Held brothers were lawyers. We had this overlapping group. I don't know, there
must have been about sixty people that any given night, we would have six,
eight, or ten who would go to a restaurant and try to break it, break it down that
W: Tell me a little bit more about the sorts of white folks who were getting involved
with this. It sounds like we are talking really 1963, 1964, that sort of period. I am
intrigued to know what sort of whites got involved with the Richmond Council on
Human Relations or the statewide Council.
P: I am trying to think of people. My memory is kind of meager on this, I am
disappointed to say. I could tell you kind of the class of people. Some of them
were not from Virginia. They were northerners who had come here to work in an
industry that had a more heterogenous population. Others were religiously
motivated. I think some of them were from the Union Theological Seminary.
W: Like Isabel.
P: We are talking about whites. I don't really recall Isabel sitting in, but she may
W: Right. Sorry. I doubt very much she did, but it strikes me that the sort of whites
who were in the Richmond Council on Human Relations are not necessarily the
sort of people who were going to sit in.
P: Yes. There were a couple of people, I think, who may have been professors at
Virginia State, whites, Virginia State or Virginia Union, in the Richmond area who
joined us. There was a young Associated Press stringer who was with us. His
name slips my mind, but he was always sympathetic with us. On his off hours, he
would go with us. He and Ruby were good friends. Who else? Some of the older
students who were out, and I would try to recruit people to do it. There weren't a
lot of whites. The thing that was remarkable to me was the blacks were all
distinguished leaders of the community and we were the dregs of the white race.
W: It doesn't strike me that that is really quite true.
P: No, though you know what I am saying.
W: You were all highly educated, compared with your relative status in your
P: Our status was low, or young, and unestablished. When I say dregs, I mean how
we were viewed by the white community and greeted with silence, and we
weren't successful. I remember going to one of the earliest Chinese restaurants
over on Broad Street near the Boulevard, and we got kicked out. They wouldn't
let us in. At others, they let us in, and we brought a lot of money with us, except
for people like me. I was making about $1,800 a year at the welfare department. I
can't remember. I just remember the distinction between class.
W: It seems that what is really going on here, and I have got this from other
interviewees as well, is that you had a Richmond Council on Human Relations
that did certain things, and then there were a bunch of activists, some of whom
were also members of the Richmond Council on Human Relations. But actually,
the activists, in terms of direct action, protest marching, picketing, sitting in, they
actually were very much a minority of people who would be members of the
Richmond Council on Human Relations, certainly if they were white. African-
Americans might have those dual allegiance, but it was much
P: Yes. But you have to recall that our middle class blacks were very conservative
people. At first, in 1960, they really objected to the students. They said, you were
taking risks, and you were giving the black community a bad name, and, you are
going to graduate, and you are going to leave town, and you are going to leave
us holding the bag. But it only took this picketing that followed that, before long,
they recruited [many of their elders]. And it took that picture of Mrs. Tinsley, the
dentist's wife, in Life Magazine, in which the dog was chewing on her and the
police were holding back the reigns. It was a profound influence on the black
community. I think it radicalized some of the middle class blacks. They said,
okay, maybe our youth are on target here. They began to show up on the picket
line in front of Thalhimers. Thalhimers was owned by Jews who were moderate
people, and they were just following convention. I don't think it was very many
months before they figured they would have to give in, and they were all waiting
for everybody else to give in. Let's say, if Millar and Rhoads [Department Store]
would go with it. Desegregation meant not just the restaurants there. It meant
that you could try on shoes and clothes on location, and you didn't have to pay
for them without trying them on and that sort of thing. Baldwin's [Department
Store] over in south Richmond, which was our department store, to my
knowledge, never gave in because the south side was a bit harder and less
educated people and a lot more [segregationist] northerners often called [them]
rednecks. They think that's a convenient way to refer to poor people or
uneducated or disadvantaged and consequently have racist views and so on.
There was much more of that on south side, and south side seemed to be more
fearful for people to demonstrate. Hull Street is south side downtown. It was a
separate city early in the century, Manchester.
W: I am still struggling to get a real handle on how you would characterize the
contribution of the Council on Human Relations, given there is all this good stuff
P: The local ones? Well, they wrote letters. Another thing that was important, they
wrote letters to the editor. They experienced discrimination in them, but
increasingly, the papers had to acknowledge them, and they pounded on the
newspapers about their practices of employment. The classified ads were
segregated, the C section, as we called it. They began to try to pound on that.
There would be sort of negotiation teams. Sometimes they were self-selected,
and sometimes it was official business of the local Council. We often had
speakers. The guy who wrote Black Like Me was brought here [by the Richmond
Council on Human Relations].
W: John Howard Griffin.
P: John Howard Griffin, yes. I had dinner with him. I had the good fortune of joining
him. We had impact. Before long, we were able to use what used to be called the
Mosque. It used to be city auditorium, the only venue for that. We began to be
able to have mixed audiences there and have programs. Later, I think, in the
middle 1960s, when Laverne [Byrd Smith] and some of the others were president
or vice presidents, they had even radicals come.
W: We will move into the late 1960s in due course. It strikes me that around about
the mid 1960s, in a way, the fruition of the various works come to pass. The Civil
Rights Act of 1964 makes a difference. The Voting Rights Acts of 1965.
P: Oh, yes. It changed the phone calls that you got. The threatening phone calls
were reduced a little bit. 1964 made a lot of difference. You could turn to people
and say, that is against the law. Did you know that is against the law? In so many
words, they would say to you, you mean the law is on your side now?
W: That must have been empowering on some level.
P: Oh, my god, did that give us confidence. See, there was a time when I dreamed
there would never be desegregation. I was never sure. When I was operating as
a student, it never occurred to me that this would ever end. I don't know why I
thought that my effort would amount to anything. I don't know why I did it.
W: Talk me through, you know, as you get to 1965, you then get the Voter
Registration Act. Within certain parameters, that means that Jim Crow is
statutorily dead, that the system has been brought down. What did you feel there
was left to be done? What role did you think white liberals like yourself might
play, and what was going to come next?
P: When did the voting rights program at the Southern Regional Council [begin]?
W: The Voter Education Program starts in 1962, and then there is a second one
instituted in 1966.
P: Yes. I think the Virginia Council looked toward learning what they could about
that and tried a little voter education. Meanwhile, another organization was run by
blacks, Crusade for Voters, and Dr. Fergurson Reid, the doctor who had been
the first twentieth century [black] member of the [Virginia] General Assembly, with
other people started that. They kind of assumed some of the mantle for that.
NAACP supported them. So, the Council on Human Relations began to sort of
slip, the Richmond Council, slip in its spectrum because I think their focus had
been mainly on public accommodations. Not altogether. Then, the younger
people were getting a little older, and they were establishing other things. Some
disappeared and said, oh, it's done now. The other important development was
the emergence of the black caucus mentality, that [occurred] occasionally around
1966, I guess, and so on, some blacks said, we're done with fooling around with
nursing white people on racism. We are going to have a black caucus, and you
are not invited. Happy Lee was a victim of that. At Shaw University, he had an
incredible experience in which he was an intimate friend with the president and
eventually was told in so many words that he was no longer needed, even
though he had helped build that [institution up]. I experienced that, and every
white I knew. A lot of whites started getting out of the civil rights movement and
said, well, if the blacks don't want us, we won't go. Some people had a limited
commitment to it. Also, some whites had a limited commitment to it and couldn't
fathom how they would convert for the upcoming era, the mopping up era.
W: Right. Is part of the problem that, ultimately, these people were liberals and not
P: Yes, or they had a superficial definition of what commitment to human rights
means. They may have been moderate in method, but some people who are
dedicated to human rights would find a new way. They would be tenacious and
say, how am I going to find a new way to contribute to this, and, what is the new
racism all about? Obviously, it is economic opportunity. Obviously, it is the ability
to get into school. So, some of them did turn to sincere things. Plus, professional
human relations [programs], and professional preparation [with] master's degree
at Penn and NYU, and Dan Dodson, and they were now having meetings in
which you trained people in human relations. You could go to companies and
train them, and you could go to bureaucracies and train people on desegregation
methodologies and so forth. So, some people learned how to commit to new
methods, and others said, well, I am sick and tired of being called a honkey now
and I am not going to do this anymore. I have done my part. And they went on.
People like me kind of parlayed it into a career and said, well, I am going to work
on the successive revolutions that occurred. There was the legal one, and there
was the economic and other opportunity one, and then there was the
psychological one about identity and the like, and finally, to me, there was the
biological one, the health, you know, how subtle white supremacy leads to higher
infant mortality and all of the things in the health field. I spent my later years
working on the biological revolution, trying to improve obstetric performance and
differential effects of disease and lack of healthcare and so forth.
W: Obviously, those problems are enduring ones that are far from eradicated.
P: Yes, they are.
W: Let's backtrack a little bit and go through the Black Power era. I think you are
suggesting that the Council on Human Relations in Richmond has really sort of
outlived its usefulness at a certain level. In a way, it is a victim of its own
success. African-Americans feel more empowered. They are getting more
political clout. They are getting some economical....
P: They are getting some [public] offices, too.
W: And therefore, in a way, they are able to do the things for themselves that part of
the agenda of the movement had already been.
W: What about your own career in the formal Councils on Human Relations, the
statewide and then moving on towards the Commission on Human Relations.
P: What do you mean, my career?
W: Well, you end up being president of the Commission on Human Relations, which
is much later, but....
P: In the 1970s, I was still involved in the Richmond Council on Human Relations. I
was president for just a year, and I resigned because I didn't get tenure and I had
to fight it. It was over my racial attitudes. We had a dean in 1972 who still thought
that I was controversial because I was advocating opportunities for students and
so forth. [He was the] dean [of] arts and sciences. He was a Harvard person. And
we had a few administrators who were unfriendly all the way through. We had a
terrible president at MCV during those early 1960s.
W: You were still with the RCHR throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s.
P: Right, I think until 1971 or something like that. I am not sure of the year, but I
remember writing a letter to the folks. I was struggling with that, and the
disruption from the failure to get tenure. It was incredible work. At the same time,
my wife left me. Oh, and I was behind on my dissertation. I did two dissertations.
That big black book up there is the one, my dissertation. So, all this happened. I
did my orals [exams] and got fired, and my wife left me, all in one month. It was
hard work, so I resigned [from the RCHR presidency], and other people started
taking it up. But I could see that it was losing its effect and that there was no
dramatic thing I could do. With less time and energy and attention to it, I thought I
was cheating the people who were hanging on. But they revived it a little bit.
W: One of the last big sort of hurrahs for the Richmond branch was the campaign
against the media in Richmond.
W: Where, I guess, Theodore Thornton was one of the architects of that protest, but
also Henry Marsh does some of the litigation, and [Laverne] Byrd Smith is
involved in it.
P: Yes. See, they revived it a little bit. If I have my dates straight, I think my
inattention to some of the business, maybe I hurt it a little bit, and they brought it
back a little bit. Apparently, it lasted a few more years, a couple more years. I
think it outlasted the state office. I am not sure. But the state office became less
and less relevant. I recall another last hurrah was, as we saw it dying. Ora Lomax
and Wally Bless. Wally Bless was president at one time. He is dead now.
W: He was the guy who owned the [health food] restaurant.
P: Yes. Everybody loved him. He did not have an intellectual approach. He had a
kind of all-embracing, loving... He was a salesman, essentially. He sold human
relations for a living, and he did it with hummus on the side. He was a remarkable
fellow. I have forgotten what year this was, but it had to be no earlier than 1969
[when] several of us gathered, and we saw the thing sort of flittering away. We
said, well, let's analyze what the needs are. Why are we having trouble finding
where we test [the system]. We often went to city council on issues, dumb-dumb
bullets, things like that, the rubber bullets they were buying for all the cops. We
said, you know what? We need to have a wider impact.
I was thinking about coalitions at the time. I had coalition on my brain. What I did
was to map out on some newsprint, and we went down to Wally Bless's Main
Street Grill. They set up a thing and they said, okay, Ed, you tell us about your
coalition idea. So, I put up the newsprint all around the place. It was 17th and
Main, and we sat in a booth. I told him what a coalition could be and who would
be in it. I don't remember all the details, but the papers for it are in the library
archives. I proposed that we get as many organizations in on it, and each
organization would commit to the idea of cooperating when we can on public
stands on a given issue, and if you couldn't, then you wouldn't be represented in
taking that stand. We would have to be not exactly unanimous. We had a theory
about how people could back out. These are some of the initial groups: WILPF,
the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; the Richmond
chapter NAACP; an Arab-American organization; the [local] ADL [Anti-
Defamation League], and there must have been one or two more. I think it
started out with five or six, and we all met. We had an organizational meeting at
St. Paul's Church, and we presented. We had thirty-five organizations there, and
six signed on, something like that. So, the coalition, we started to build that. We
took stands on everything. That was sort of the successor of the energy of the
Richmond Council. I lost contact. Do you remember when Laverne was
W: 1970, 1971.
P: Okay. This may have been after that. I don't exactly remember. Anyway, it
persisted. It ended up lasting for twenty years. The first few years, the first ten or
so, were pretty remarkable because we took stands. After the first year, I fell
apart once again, and this fellow named Wayne Young took over as the
convener. We called ourselves the convener. They elected a convener, and I
was elected the convener. Then the second convener was Wayne Young, and he
lasted for almost the whole thing, until the last five years or so. We took stands.
Again, we testified before, I think, sometimes General Assembly committees, city
council often, and we got into international affairs even, all kinds of things. This
was a creation of the Richmond Council on Human Relations. Ora Lomax was
there, and Wally Bless. There was a black minister. Ruby Clayton Walker was
involved. I have forgotten all of them.
W: Right. But this is clearly a legacy.
P: Yes. Then, we had these annual banquets, and we would get hundreds of people
to come to that. In subsequent years, they were covered by the press
occasionally. We had Anne Braden speak at one time. We had often Native
American dissidents from out West speak once. It was quite a thing. We had
[them often at] the Union Theological Seminary. Many of the [big Richmond
Human Rights Coalition events] were there and [we always served] food. They
had me host a number of them. I did standup comedy, political comedy, believe it
or not. I wrote these political jokes, and they kept asking me back to do it. I finally
went dry on it.
W: Let's back up a bit before we get to the end of the time here. I want to just ask
you about what experiences you had with the Southern Regional Council itself,
how much or how little they played a part in the activities in which you were
P: Southern Regional Council, we knew they were in the background, especially me
because I, by now, had something of an academic involvement. I was writing
reports on Prince Edward [County]. Occasionally, I think I even talked on the
phone with them, and they were part of the AFSC's activities. I had a little bit
better opportunity to see what they were doing, and I was always getting their
materials and always promoting their materials.
W: What sort of materials were these?
P: Well, their little pamphlets and stuff. I was also hooked in with Ken Moreland,
who wrote many of those pamphlets. They were little studies and so on. I also
wanted to work for them. I wanted a job like that, but I didn't want to leave
Richmond. This is my home. I had never been away. When I was in Philadelphia,
I couldn't be apart from this place. I don't know what it is. I am just too provincial,
I guess. I was really alert to what they were doing. From time to time, I read their
newsletters and so forth. Many of us who were sort of academically inclined,
involved in this, like Ken, we all read the Southern School News, the
desegregation scorecards and so on, John Egerton [author of Speak Against the
Night] and so forth. I didn't know him at the time, and he certainly didn't know me.
So, we were hooked in a lot of ways.
W: But it was mostly their research activities that you were not exactly dependent on
but grateful for when those reports came out.
P: Right. Now, I was deeply involved in an official position with the AFSC. I was put
on their Community Relations Committee, that's [for] their domestic programs.
Now, I was to be involved occasionally with the links they had with Southern
Regional Council. But the big boom for me came in 1969 with Hurricane Camille
because I really was closely related to SRC at that point.
W: That is an important project, and we will return to that. I was just wondering if
there were any individuals from the SRC who ever really crossed paths with you
in Richmond or elsewhere, people like Les Dunbar, even Vernon Jordan.
P: I never met Vernon Jordan during that thing. I think Les Dunbar and some
other... I really didn't understand who was executive director and the other roles.
It was a big outfit to us because we had a little outfit at 17 East Cary [Street]. I
took the Lee's [Happy Lee] over there the other night in the rain and showed
them the building, and it is still there. Now, they showed up in the papers of
Happy Lee. You could see where Les Dunbar was here and so on, but I never
was directly involved with any of the high figures. Now, I did write them. I think I
wrote them for information. I wrote them to test out the job market. Staige
Blackford, I wrote him many times about offering him data from my own
experience. Staige didn't seem too interested in my stuff. It didn't resonate for
some reason. It wasn't addressing things he was working on or something. He
came back to Virginia and served in the Holton [Governor] administration, for
which he is and ought to be proud, because Holton was a turnaround figure.
W: Let's move on to 1969 now and the events of Hurricane Camille and then the
aftermath, the relief program that was organized.
P: It was August of 1969 that the hurricane hit the Mobile, Alabama region, the Gulf
Coast of Mississippi and a little bit in Louisiana. The thing went north and went all
the way to Hattiesburg in Mississippi. It also picked up and went up north, and it
killed over a hundred people on the Gulf Coast. Then it picked up and went
across the country and ended up in Nelson County in the mountains of Virginia,
which is just the other side of Charlottesville. It came down and started flash
flooding and killed something like 125 Virginians up there. It was a bizarre thing.
Of course, it was shocking to everybody. I think Williams was the governor and
Nixon was the president. We had an Office of Emergency Preparedness in those
days, and we had a Red Cross. We had a HUD [Housing and Urban
Development]. We had a Salvation Army and many other agencies, nonprofit and
federal and state, which were still segregated. In August, just moments after that,
who would have been executive director at SRC?
W: 1969? It might have still been Paul Anthony.
P: Paul Anthony and Barbara Moffett at AFSC, my guess is they talked and they
said, we got to do something. They were used to talking all the time from the time
of the 1950s when they anticipated school closings all across [the South]. They
had been talking. Barbara Moffett was still the AFSC head of community
relations, and maybe you met Joyce Miller, who was at our meeting the other
night. She is the successor. So, suddenly one day, they said, Ed, how would you
like to do some interviewing? I don't remember the date I went there, but we
assembled a team. Ed Nakawatase was out of the office up there. He was a new
guy on staff at AFSC. They had a couple of people snooping around from
Alabama and Mississippi to see what was up, and they had seen quite enough
evidence that there was discrimination in every single aspect of recovery for
people. It was race, class and gender. The [federal, state, and local governments
all] favored the businesses, and they favored the physical side of recovery, the
physical losses. The bigger your loss, the more you were getting. Through great
insight, [the AFSC and SRC] designed it must have been Paul Anthony and
Barbara Moffett with their staffs the most remarkable plan I have ever seen to
attack a thing like this.
W: What was the structure?
P: They said, we will get a team of six people to do interviewing. They will find out
what is going on, get the stories from on the ground, and we are going to put this
guy his name slips my mind, but the record is down in the VCU library in
Washington, a lawyer. We will feed him that information, and AFSC and SRC will
use their contacts to emphasize each of the stories. We will use our media
departments to get it out to the press. They said, okay, Ed, take this team down.
They said, do you have anybody you can take with you? And I found my two best
students, the two most motivated. One was a black guy from Petersburg, and the
other was an Appalachian white. Both were very committed to these things. And
Ed Nakawatase. Then the two other people did independent interviewing, and I
think they stopped shortly after we went down there.
I can't remember how many weeks we stayed, but we went down and we began
to interview. We found our subjects anywhere we could and began to document
all the different realms in which this discrimination was occurring and discovered
stories. Along the way, I said, you know what, these people could speak
eloquently to the press themselves. Why don't we build a list of people who
would go on TV and tell the story themselves. So, we fed those names. I
remember I would answer to Eleanor Eaton, who is dead now, at AFSC, and the
stuff would all end up with [our spokesman in D.C.]. The guy's name is at the top
of my head. He would go knocking on the door of each agency one by one [like]
HUD. He went over to American Red Cross and nailed them, [and took] these
stories. And they were on the run, daily. Every day, I had a new story for him.
Before long, the spokespersons whom we were identifying began to talk on
national TV, every night. Even after I left Mississippi and came home, I'd put on
the TV, and there were the guys we would urge [to speak out]. We had to find out
if they were willing to risk it because it was dangerous.
W: They were telling the stories of their experiences.
P: Yes, and also their observations. See, some were NAACP leaders.
Discrimination on the basis of class, some women would fill their houses with
furniture because they had a lot of furniture when they started. A woman who
was a beautician lost all her equipment and uniforms, and they wouldn't want to
replace that because it wasn't worth much. So, she couldn't go back to work.
They were going to build the hotels up. They said, we got a grand idea of making
[over] this the Mississippi River area and so forth. All the emphasis was on
business and to heck with these poor folks, the average guys. Then the middle
class itself was devastated. They lost not only their property, but they lost their
identity. Everything they owned was wiped out, and they were disoriented. There
was a psychological side to this. I had been studying disasters. I knew about the
social psychology of it. I was a behavioral scientist, and I brought this to light. I
wrote about it a little bit, and I told the press about it and so forth.
W: Were there tangible effects apart from stirring a lot opinion.
P: Oh, yes. Little by little, each agency. HUD started getting the trailers down there
quicker, and [our] guy in Washington was nailing them down. They had some
interstate transport problems, even. For example, some states wouldn't let you
bring those trailers. It was some kind of state law that would not let you transport
the trailer because of this and that and the other. I did not have to worry about
that. Things just started showing up. The Red Cross one day started taking
blankets and food to a neighborhood that it drove right on by before. Before long,
things were booming. Nixon was on the defense, Governor John Bell Williams
was on the defense, and the people who had been silent on this were off of the
fence. It was the most remarkable thing. I said, good grief, this is action research
of the best sort.
Finally, we left the site. We had a big discussion about me leaving to go work on
a report and leaving my people in the field because we had a lot of threats. I had
a cop stick his gun in my ear. Ed Nakawatase and I were together that night, and
Ed doesn't even remember this. Good grief, I was terrified, and he doesn't even
remember it. We finally left. The other guys went home, gave me their many
reports. I was holed up in a AFL-CIO hotel on Sixteenth Street [in Washington].
They were in on it. SRC supported it financially, and AFSC did. I got up there,
and I wrote this report.
W: Where did you go to write the report? Where was the hotel?
P: On Sixteenth Street in D. C. I think it was the AFL-CIO hotel up there. I had
never seen such a place. It was a big suite, and I was decked out on the floor,
and I just wrote and wrote and wrote. They had a typist for me, and it was an
incredible experience for me. They would not let my family come see me. I was
dying to see my children and my wife. But I got something in. It wasn't a great
draft. The draft is down there in the archives at VCU. Then they took the draft at
AFSC. I don't know what SRC did with it on their part. But AFSC, for their part,
took it and wrote like a thirty-page summary of it and got debriefings from me and
everybody else who was involved. Then there was a campaign to change the
disaster relief laws. The new agency we have today was a result of that,
ultimately. The hearings were held, and the AFSC testified. [Louis] Schneider
and Barbara Moffett went. I even caught the senator from Indiana [Birch Baye]
who was responsible for a [Congressional] committee. I caught him here [in
Richmond] and went behind the stage at the Mosque when he was appearing
here and gave him a little briefing. I was at the end of my work. I appeared on
The Today Show with a fellow who was well-known. He was on 20/20 later. He is
gone now, but he is still alive. They gave me seven minutes to tell that whole
story, and it was a disaster. It was my first time on national TV, so it was kind of
intimidating to me. But it was also the first time anybody had ever seen the name
of Virginia Commonwealth University before, because it was only one year old.
W: Right, and it was this amalgam of, I guess, RPI and...
P: Yes, and the Medical College of Virginia. After that, I got tons of mail. The people
in the military said we ought to organize them into little [military] districts. I got
incredible recommendations and some criticism. Some of the NGOs like Red
Cross were real hostile.
W: Had they just pretty much bowed to the whims of local pressures?
P: Yes, and there was no desegregation. A year [or so] later, I went to the first
conference on black health in America at one of the black medical schools in
P: Yes, Meharry. I met a black guy standing there. This was like a year or more
later. He had his name in black on his lapel, and it said "American Red Cross
Director of Minority Affairs." I said, when did this happen? He said, they came
and recruited me such and such a date, and that was perhaps a result of that and
subsequent campaigning. And the disaster relief law we had after that also
began to introduce psychological counseling and change the requirements for
replacement. You could not just replace something. Because you had a $10,000
living room suite, you [may not] get a $10,000 [replacement]. The SBA had to
change. They had to give small business the same advantages. Several other
emphases were reflected in the law, and they were studied for a long time, for a
year or two. In the 1970s, we got a new way to look at it, and I have to thank the
brilliant leadership of those two agencies, SRC and AFSC, and their knowledge
about how to use talent, such as the little narrow range of talent I had to offer and
all the other people. Barney Sellers was the lawyer. He sold a new vision of
[End of Side B1]
W: ...perhaps towards some sort of concluding comments about the nature of the
human relations councils, both at the micro level, at the Richmond level, then
thinking about statewide and then thinking perhaps in my world, the Southern
Regional Council. How would you characterize the contribution that those sorts of
organizations made to the struggle for human rights and civil rights in the South?
Start with the local.
P: You know, I also recruited campers for the Encampment for Citizenship for nearly
forty years, and that took me to Councils on Human Relations in Alabama and
South Carolina and elsewhere, so I had a little bit of an opportunity to see some
of the issues they took up and so on. A lot of them successfully, in my view,
including the ones in Virginia I am thinking particularly of the Lynchburg chapter
and the Richmond/Petersburg chapter and the Northern Virginia chapter
especially were great at changing the discussion, the assumptions, the
premises that appear in public discussions about desegregation. I thought that
was wonderful. They gave support and sustenance to people who would
otherwise have to work alone. A local chapter, the fact that it wasn't just this state
organization, meant that I am doing something that I have solidarity with other
people and give them confidence.
W: One of the phrases you used earlier which other people have used is that it was
sort of like a sense of family.
P: Family, exactly, and we all became friends and had confidence. But the big
problem during desegregation was the sense of isolation. You could not just
connect with a national organization. You could not just connect with a state
organization. You had to have some kind of local thing that was part of your
immediate family. I think that is what they did. They were able to get in the paper
a lot. There were letters and so on. Sometimes editorials would criticize them.
For example, in Lynchburg, the owner of a Lane cedar chest company you
know the Lane furniture manufacturer out there in western Virginia he hated the
Virginia Council. He called them Communists, and he called Ken Morland a
Communist. He said the Lynchburg chapter was subverting our democracy. He
was trying to intimidate them [with his] newspaper, rebuke them over and over
them, you know, daily threats. Ken Morland and that chapter there fought back,
and they finally silenced this guy and made him look outrageous in the light of
other segregationists. There is a nice little tale told in my interviews with
[Morland] about an example from this episode.
A lot of media things happened in those days. Then in later years, they moved
onto to concrete programming in which, for example, Hilda Warden wrote a
proposal. I think she wrote the proposal for Offender Aid and Restoration under
the auspices of the local chapter on human relations. So, they went on to
programs in it. When the new era came, they either started a new organization
that encompassed the new needs or they developed programs which met very
specific needs like OAR.
W: Right. Of course, Jay Worrall was instrumental in setting that up, as well.
P: Yes. It became a very important thing. As for the state, I think it did a lot to
articulate the chapters. If there had not been a state organization, we had twenty-
two chapters or whatever, they would have felt weak. There would have been a
different kind of isolation. They would have said, there is no connection, there is
no movement here. But with a state office, you could say, oh, I am going down to
the state office, and I am going to see what they are doing. Happy Lee would
come out to Danville or he would go up to northern Virginia or he would go down
to Tidewater. He would say, you are on target. We are together. There are
hundreds and hundreds of people elsewhere in the state who are with you, and
you are not alone. You need not fear.
W: Before we move on, I want to give you a little opportunity to put some flesh on
the bones on the figure of Happy Lee. How would you describe him?
P: Remarkable character. Character with a capital "C" and a capital "R" and capitals
all the way in the middle. He was born as a tenant farm boy, no electricity, no
nothing, in a fundamentalist, highly white supremacist family. Got married and
started his life and discovered that fundamentalism wasn't the way to go and that
white supremacy was a fraud. He broke out of that and became very committed
to making things right. He became a minister, and he came to Richmond after
serving in a church in Springfield, Virginia. He came to be the executive director.
He must have been in his forties or something like that. He had a talent of
schmoozing people. It was unbelievable. You heard him speak the other night.
Well, he could do that all night. Stories of north Georgia just enchanted people.
He was bright, and he could link people who weren't always compatible, didn't
seem to be compatible. But he would find ways to link them and get them
hugging each other somehow, at least figuratively. He also could confront
authority in a way that was less threatening than the average. He wasn't terribly
for demonstrating and so on. He was sort of conservative, like many of the other
Virginia Council leadership, like Aubrey Brown. Aubrey Brown would get a frown
on his face when he heard the youth wanted to picket, but Happy Lee would find
a funny thing to say about it, and he'd leave the message with you, now, is this
really the most effective thing under these particular circumstances.
W: So, he would make you reconsider your strategies, and sometimes you would go
ahead and sometimes you wouldn't.
P: Yes, right. That was kind of a remarkable thing. He also had a way of getting us
to work for next to nothing. I did projects for him. I think he had me go down and
check out what was happening in Danville [Virginia]. He wanted me to go down
there and get hit in the head with those axe handles the cops were wielding
around there. They missed my head. In those days, I did not have a swollen
head. But he went down there, and I always told him he never paid me more than
29 cents an hour, and he said that was more than he was getting paid.
But he could get you committed, and he could make it seem important. Many
times in social change, when you are working for justice, you don't know what is
important, and you need somebody outside of you to say, you know, that is
important, that is a moral imperative, that is a historical event. You need
somebody to certify that action as worthy of memory even. He was able to do
that kind of thing for people, and it drove people to say, then I have got to do
more. He would energize people in that sense, and he could get commitment out
of people, and he would turn people on. I remember how he turned on Henry
Caravati. Henry Caravati was a businessman, a prominent name in town
because I think his brother or cousin was a famous physician here. He was at the
Medical College of Virginia. They also had a junkyard over here in south
Richmond where everybody got their italianate and other beautiful things that go
on these townhouses and so on. [Happy Lee] turned that man on, and that man
went out and broke barriers in employment with some kind of confidence. He
became an interim executive director at one time after Happy left, I think. So, he
could get powerful people to commit to him. It was the same magic he used on
the owner of the Richmond Virginians, the International League [baseball], and
the same thing he did with restauranteurs. He and Rupert Picott together
negotiated, I think, the desegregation of thirty-five restaurants in just a few
weeks. He got them thinking, well, you are going to do it, you will do it, you will do
it, then maybe I will do it.
W: Sounds very inspirational but also strategically very shrewd.
P: Yes. He had an enormous ego. It was way up there. It was so big up there, and
he wanted to be center stage. There could be no two-bit standup comics like
myself on stage with him. He [even] upstaged Doug Wilder [Governor of Virginia,
Dem.]. We once tried to get a Washington Post edition for central Virginia. I
remember Doug Wilder in that meeting and I remember Happy Lee in that
meeting over on 17 [E. Cary Street]. The Post said it just wasn't practical. Plus,
they printed their paper on the presses of the Richmond Times Dispatch media
general, I am told. Don Baker tells me. He worked for the Post. And they were
not going to disturb the owners of the Richmond paper, so they said no to us. But
we were desperate for a newspaper because the news was distorted in those
days. Happy fought with them, too, but he broke through and was able to do TV.
He would do these minute appearances on local TV and radio, and we had never
had any luck like that.
W: Presumably, the radio stations were pretty
P: Oh, hard. Yes, WRVA was the leading station here at 50,000 watts, and he had
all kind of breakthroughs there. So, I see 1961 through 1964 and his presence
here was a convergence of the most incredible. It was an incredible accident of
time and person and history.
W: Sure. You have reminded me by mentioning radio somebody I wanted to ask you
about, a sort of maverick who wouldn't, I guess, have been a member of any of
these organizations. Howard Carwile, who actually did get on WRVA in the late
1960s, 1967 through 1979.
P: He had a Sunday afternoon program during the Kennedy election.
W: Right, in which case he was on radio earlier because he was on two or three
nights a week on WRVA after 1967.
P: Oh, he was? Yes, that is from your book. I have got to see that book. Howard
Carwile, yes. I knew him.
W: Tell me about him. He doesn't seem to fit any mold.
P: Yes. He was born in Charlotte County, and he grew up there. He had a
combination of deep Southside [Virginia] accent. We used to have this Southside
accent that was very distinctive. It has a little Elizabethan English left in it, but
there are also a lot of [unique] sounds [at] the front end and the back end, and
these words kind of get lost [from their proper spelling]. Also, the ou's really come
out strong. We always talk about going "ute and a-boot the hoos" [with accent],
and it is not "the hoos," it is "da hoos." Very much like in Louisiana that you can
hear kind of a Brooklynese, we had one here in Southside. Well, he [Carwile] had
that accent. Then he [also] had something different about his speech as an
individual, developmental kind of speech difference, I will call it. He was raised on
a tenant farm, very poor, and he went on to be more ambitious. He came to the
city, and he wanted to be a lawyer, apparently. He went to some kind of school
called Southeastern University at the YMCA up in D. C. I am sure I have gotten
the things wrong, but it was not anything we know today, and he said he went to
law school there. He either read for the bar or he got a law degree there. I am not
sure. But he did practice law, and he passed the bar. He grew to defend blacks
exclusively, and he was beloved. He was the funniest guy. I loved to [see him
when I would] go to court [and] when I went to city council. He was once on city
council. He ran seventeen times, I think. Did you find that?
W: He was elected three times, at least.
P: I actually supported him in those [times] here, and I talked to him. He wrote a
book called Speaking From Byrdland. The book was great. It was an anti-Byrd
thing. But I got my first discomfort [from him] when Kennedy [ran for President].
The Kennedy election came on, and I used to always listen to [Carwile's radio]
W: And this was on WXGI?
P: On WXGI. Did you find anything on WXGI in your [research]? He had these
fifteen-minute programs, I loved what he would say. He was always against the
establishment, always ragging on Harry Byrd, which we were desperate for. I
confronted Byrd a couple times on the telephone myself, but mostly you could
not get to him. Howard Carwile began subtlety one day to talk about [how] the
Pope was going to run our government if Kennedy was elected, and that began
to disturb me. But he kept on [with] his pro-black [talk], and he defended blacks.
He did pro bono [work for blacks] for a few years until desegregation occurred
and then the busing began.
W: So, he supported the Crusade for Voters and all those things...
P: Oh, yes.
W: ...but then he was vehemently against busing.
P: Yes. Well, he just sort of changed. Suddenly, something happened. When the
busing thing came on, he seemed to appeal to the whites who wanted to escape
their responsibility [for] white-skin privilege. He became totally identified with that.
He led a campaign there. Even people who were middle class who [earlier had
been] embarrassed by being around him because of the way he spoke and his
old countrified manner and so forth, they allowed him to be a spokesman in some
ways, and he totally lost all his credibility with the blacks and others.
W: Even though at this time, ironically, he is still supporting black political rights. He
is supporting William Ferguson Reid and he is supporting Henry Marsh. All of
that side is just the busing issue.
P: [In a draft of the original transcript, Mr. Peeples added the following note, "I
believe that I misspoke here. I believe that once Carwile began his anti-
busing campaign that he began to drop most of the black causes until we
began to see him as being on the other side of most racial justice issues.] I
guess you are right. I guess it made us turn away from even knowing what he
was doing any further. I mean, I discounted him at that point and no longer saw
him as a hero. So, I guess I didn't even read anything about him because I didn't
choose to, which perhaps is unfair. But we were in a struggle with our city
schools surviving, and by that time, I had three children in the schools and my
kids were struggling themselves.
W: Did the folks in the Richmond Council on Human Relations take a formal stance
P: I think it was just tacit approval, but I don't remember any official statement. Now,
I had spotty connections [with RCHR at this point]. It wasn't like I was always
going to their meetings. I was distracted in 1969 and 1970 by the work in the
university and also Hurricane Camille, the reform of disaster [relief]. I had a job,
and [later] I was distracted by my divorce and other things, and my dissertation.
So, I had nine years of teaching experience before I got my dissertation done. It
was a monster, and it was [an] atypical [project].
W: Okay. Let's see if we can find any nice concluding comments to make. I think you
summed up very well the sorts of roles that the various levels in the Human
Relations Council hierarchies played, and I can see how that is very important in
preparing the ground for other things, of creating the sense of family and of
solidarity. Do you ever think about what having white liberals like yourself doing
these sorts of things, what impact that might have had on African-Americans?
P: Well, I think some of them got the impression, the correct impression, that we
needed friends, and many of them provided friendship. I mean, adoring
friendship with each other. Ruby Clayton Walker and I, I mean, I am
brokenhearted about her illness and so forth. They reached out and welcomed
[us], and they kind of sensed that we were alone, and it wasn't explicit. That is
one thing I think they reacted to. Other blacks were busy testing you. Every era,
they would forget where you were and what you did the four years before, and so
you had to pass a new test about yourself, whether you were genuine or not. I
was deeply involved in race developments and improvement, and I helped start
the Afro-American Studies program at VCU, and I wrote much of the early
curriculum and designed courses, interdisciplinary behavioral science courses,
and I was on the [AAS] committee. [Critics] told me that there was no literature
for Afro-American Studies, so just in the social and behavioral sciences, I created
in just a few days a forty-three-page bibliography to show them what was out
there. I had to sell [our VCU] all-white curriculum committees on the legitimacy of
The black students began to see me as a friend. Also, I recruited black kids, and
I tried to help them survive. I had been a poor student myself, so I knew the
pitfalls. So, I would reach out and I would try to identify talent in a special way. I
would write letters of support when I saw them failing on one count, but I could
detect native intelligence on the other. That built a reputation for me, and I think I
have created kind of a nice reputation that I am sort of proud of in [this] town.
Most people do not tell me, but I sense [a] kind of a warmth.
Henry Marsh for the first time told me the other night that, "you have been an
unsung hero." That, coming from Henry Marsh, has got to be one of the greatest
honors I have enjoyed. Once, Oliver Hill wrote me a letter along those lines, too. I
can't think of two men I admire more, and I have worked with Henry on a variety
of things. Even as late as the [80s], we worked on desegregating some rental
property and so on. I went down as an expert witness. I had begun expert
witness efforts showing how stress from injustice can cause problems in a
person's health and documenting that. I have written a chapter on how to do it,
and Henry took advantage of that. We went down and intimidated a law firm on
Main Street together, and we were able to desegregate this housing. As far as
liberals go, [black] views of white liberals were, I think, pretty favorable, except
that white liberals weren't always white liberals. I mean, there is a kind of a
temporariness to some white liberals. They worked [in civil rights] for a while, and
then they go back off and go back to white privilege and the circle they are used
to and say they have done their part and so forth. Then some other people live in
[the civil rights struggle] for a lifetime.
W: Are in it for the long haul.
P: For a lifetime. It is a way of life. It is not just, I am going to be a '60s person, and
when the '70s come, I am going to be a broker on Wall Street.
W: Alright. That is a good way to end. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
P: Yes. That was terrific.
[End of Interview.]
SRC 22 Summary
March 1, 2003
Ed Peeples begins the interview by giving a brief biographical sketch of himself (page 1). He
talks about finding segregation normal as grew up in public schools, but mentions his awareness
of mean-spirited people towards blacks (pages 1-2). He talks about Dr. Alice Davis, a sociologist
he met in college, who brought to his attention the injustice of segregation (page 2). He talks
about testing the boundaries of Jim Crow laws in the mid 1950s (pages 3-4). He characterizes his
parents' views on race and talks about the treatment of blacks as he grew up (page 5).
Mr. Peeples talks about graduating from RPI, his search for more multicultural opportunities,
and an encounter with the Klansmen in the summer of 1957 (pages 6-8). He talks about his time
in the Naval Reserves and tells some personal experiences of the Navy mistreating blacks
(pages8-9). Next, he talks about returning to Richmond and his attempt to get involved in the
civil rights movement (pages 10-11). He talks about starting the underground newspaper, The
Ghost, and the experience of joining Virginia Union University demonstrators at Thalheimers
with some black men (pages 11-13). He talks about his parents' feelings towards his civil rights
involvement (pages 13-14). He briefly goes back to give his educational background for graduate
school and talks about the experience of being in the North again (page 15).
Mr. Peeples talks about joining the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), its
contribution to the southern civil rights movement, and working with Helen Baker, a black
Virginian Quaker (pages 15-16). He talks about the sophistication of the segregationists in that
they better understood the value of publicity and media, their attempts to appear civilized, and
what he refers to as the "Virginia style" (pages 16-17). He talks about the hierarchy of where
people stood on segregation and the shift in what it meant to be a southern liberal (pages 17-18).
He states that young recruits for the movement were drawn mainly from colleges, especially
black colleges (pages 18-19). Mr. Peeples tells of his first awareness of the Virginia Council on
Human Relations and how he first became involved in the organization (pages 19-21). He talks
about working on the Prince Edward project and how it was left out of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
Mr. Peeples talks about the main figures within Richmond who were involved in the Richmond
Council on Human Relations and the concentration on desegregation (page 22). He talks about
the people he worked with and the types of people that got involved with the Richmond Council
or with the statewide council (pages 23-25). Next he talks about the how the Civil Rights Act of
1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the impact of those laws on the council and society
(pages 25-26). He tells about the shift in action for liberals after the Jim Crow laws were dead,
and the institution of the Voter Education Program in 1962 (page 26-27). Next he talks about his
career with the Councils on Human Relations and Commission on Human Relations (pages
Mr. Peeples talks about his experiences with the Southern Regional Council and the importance
of their research activities for his reports (pages 29-31). He talks about the events of Hurricane
Camille and the relief program that the AFSC and SRC organized in the aftermath of the storm
for the poor folks being overlooked by relief agencies (pages 31-34).
Mr. Peeples talks about the local chapter of the Council on Human Relations and the sense of
family that was built (pages 34-35). He mentions the Offender Aid and Restoration program that
Jay Worrall helped set up (page 35). He describes Happy Lee as a remarkable character and the
inspiration he was to everyone (pages 36-37). Next he talks about Howard Carwile, a maverick
on WRVA [leading radio station] from 1967-1969 (pages 37-39).
To end the interview, Mr. Peeples talks about the impact white liberals had on
African-Americans and the relationships that were formed because of their work together (pages