Interviewee: Hilda Yates Warden
Interviewer: Brian Ward
Date: February 27, 2003
BW: [This is Brian Ward] for the University of Florida Oral History Program, the
Southern Regional Council project. I am in Richmond, Virginia, with Hilda Yates
Warden on February 27, 2003. Thank you ever so much for sparing the time to
talk to me today.
W: You are welcome.
BW: What I want to do is to start off just by asking you a few questions about your
background, where you were born and raised, and a little bit about your
educational background before we start talking more specifically about the
various movement activities you were involved with in Richmond. Can you tell
me a little bit about the background, first?
W: Okay. I am a native Richmonder. I was born in downtown Richmond [and] have
lived in the city all my life. I attended public schools and Virginia Union
University in Richmond. I did graduate work at Virginia Commonwealth
University, and all of my work has been in Richmond. I told you it would be brief.
BW: I am going to make you say a little bit more. Tell me about your parents and
W: My father was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, near the University of Virginia
and lived there until he went to Hampton Institute. I think that was high school.
He graduated from Hampton Institute around 1911 or 1913. He met my mother
at Hampton Institute, and she was a native of Richmond and educated in the
Richmond public school before she went to Hampton. They married in
Philadelphia after my father had finished and my mother had dropped out of
school. She did not like, I guess, staying away from home. She was an only
child. I am the second of four children, and all of us were born here in
Richmond, where my mother had originally come from. We grew up in the
household with my parents and my maternal grandmother.
BW: What did they do for a living?
W: My father was working on the railroad when I was born. He drove a delivery
truck for a men's department store before he went into insurance. He was an
insurance agent making weekly visits to policy holders, carrying a book under his
arm. He ended up investing, as a shareholder, in a cab company, and he had
been in that about three years, I guess, when he died. My mother, who was a
housewife all my early life, took on his business, and she held onto that for the
rest of her life and expanded her interest in it during World War II. My father
died when I was sixteen and a senior in college, and my mother held the family
together until she died. I said I was the second of four children. I had three
BW: Describe your education. You said you were educated in the public school
system here. What was the situation in the public schools at that time?
W: I grew up in a segregated city, and all of my public education and my college
baccalaureate education were in black institutions.
BW: During this period of segregation in the South, were there community leaders
whom you became aware of in the black community who were, we might say,
pioneers of movement activity, either churchmen or educators or politicians?
W: I did not know any politicians. I did not even realize I had a great uncle who had
been involved in city government. He was a relative on my mother's side.
Growing up in the kind of neighborhood that Richmond was at that time, the
words like "disadvantaged" and "poverty" and "poor," I do not think had been
invented. We were not aware of these kinds of labels until much later, maybe
after Lyndon Johnson [U.S. President, 1963-1969] and the Great Society
[program], [and] [Franklin] Roosevelt [U.S. President, 1933-1945] with the War
on Poverty [program] We had lots of role models, and I have always treasured
that memory because it enabled us to always have people living right in our
neighborhood, the doctor, the lawyer, the postman. We did not have the trash
collectors because they were all white. Everything was self-contained in the
black community, and there were black businesses.
We experienced segregation all my life when we moved in the white community,
in terms of stores and services. Growing up in school, I had a hard time
understanding why so many of our textbooks were used and had labels of the
white schools in them. I had difficulty understanding why, when my mother took
us shopping and we would pass the lunch counter and those Coca-Cola drinks in
those little steins or fancy little things, and we would see other families sitting up
on high stools sucking out of a straw, and when we would ask my mother, she
would have some excuse, we don't have time or we can't stop here or
something. After I grew older, I realized that there was also, sort of, a tightening
of her handgrip, that she kind of moved us and eased us out. But the
experiences of blatant segregation came when I was old enough to go to shop in
the stores. I remember the W. T. Grant Company [a "five and ten cents store"],
there were segregated drinking fountains, but Grants was the first store that I
saw that had a black fountain for colored and a white fountain for whites. Later, I
remember there was a new Sears Roebuck [department store] that opened not
too far from where I live now, and it, also, had the black and white drinking
BW: In the community, I mean, your mother sounds very protective of you in a way.
W: She was. I did not realize it.
BW: Were there any figures in the community who, in retrospect, were beginning to
challenge segregation, either legally or in other ways, perhaps in the 1940s and
very early 1950s?
W: In the 1930s, when I went to college, I had the good fortune, I think, of meeting
some people, one of whom was James E. Jackson [author of Communist Party
USA's "On the Theory of Black Liberation in the United States" (1957)], who was
a student there. He came from, I would say, an upper middle class family. Even
in college, he was an activist, and he organized a club we had in college. I do
not remember the name of it, but the initials were C. I. M. Maybe the name will
come to me. We had lots of chapel programs. Chapel was a required activity,
but all of the programs were not religious, and student organizations were able to
sponsor some of the programs. The C. I. M. club was forever bringing in,
sometimes very controversial figures. We brought in members of the Socialist
Party, the Communist Party, and the Democratic Party. I can't remember that
we brought in any Republican Party members. I also remember that the
Communist Party had a bookstore in downtown Richmond and were very, very
accommodating, and they provided a lot of the papers and pencils and supplies
like that, which we needed. The NAACP was active. Jackson was editor of the
school paper, and he encouraged the students and anybody he could influence
to be concerned about activities. It was during my freshman year in college that I
attended my first city council meeting, and I wrote articles for the newspaper.
We also demonstrated against the segregated, I think it was, A&P [grocery] store
in our neighborhood that would not hire black workers.
BW: This was while you were in college?
W: Uh-huh [yes]. That was in the 1930s. We picketed, and the signs that we wore
then were, I guess you call them, sandwiches, two boards over your head.
BW: Was this part of the "don't buy where you can't work" sort of campaigns?
W: Right. That is exactly what we did. We slowed them down because it was in an
almost completely black neighborhood, and it was halfway between Virginia
Union and an elementary public school a few blocks away, on the same street
with these schools. There was a black drugstore on one corner, and the grocery
store was on the other. We were able to leverage enough support that they
closed that store. They did not hire.
BW: What did your mother think of your growing activism?
W: My mother was not an activist, but my mother encouraged me to do the things
that I wanted to do that I felt were right. I guess I have always been an
inquisitive person. I was always asking questions why and why not and this kind
of thing. I guess when I got to college, that was really the first time I had an
opportunity to really exert myself. I had not been exposed to these kinds of
experiences as a younger child, and I was pretty young when I went to college.
My father never knew I picketed. I think that came about maybe about a year
before he died. When he came down the street in the taxi cab, when I realized it
was his cab, I turned my back, so he never knew that I was out there. But I am
not sure that he would have objected. He died, like I said, when I was sixteen.
BW: This is a period where we think of the black church as being extremely important
in the lives of African-Americans in a segregated world. Was the church
important in your life?
W: The church was very important in my life. I grew up in Sunday school in the
Baptist church. My brothers and I walked to Sunday school and to the Sunday
evening programs and took part in the activities, and we became members of the
church. My father was a Presbyterian, but apparently, when he married my
mother and settled in Richmond, he attended her church, and he was buried
from the Baptist church, although he never formally joined. I am not sure that
everybody realized he wasn't a member, because they had him up to run for
superintendent of Sunday school one time and somebody called attention to the
fact that he wasn't a member. There were people in the church I always had
very high respect for, [like] my minister. The same minister, the one I ever knew,
was the one who married us when I got married.
BW: What was his name?
W: William T. Johnson. I think he had been minister of that church for thirty or forty
years, and he died less than two years after we were married.
BW: Did you get any sense that he or any of the other preachers and pastors in the
community in Richmond were engaged in civic activism of any sort?
W: Yes, they were. Dr. Johnson from First African Baptist, and Reverend Ransom
from First Baptist [of] south Richmond was very vocal, very outspoken. Dr.
Gordon B. Hancock was an instructor at Virginia Union when I was a student
there, and he was always preaching about the Double Duty dollar [which involves
buying goods and services from African Americans only]. He was an economist,
I guess. There were other ministers around in the community, and a lot of the
people who were on the cutting edge of the whole civil rights struggle were
brought to the universities, so we were exposed to their views and activities. We
encouraged people to vote and did all sorts of fund-raisers to help people raise
the $1.50 poll tax that you had to pay in order to qualify to vote, and [we] taught
people how to register because in Richmond, and I guess all over Virginia, the
whole voting process was a one-sided situation. Have you heard of that before?
BW: Oh, yes.
W: Okay. People were given a blank piece of paper, and if you did not know what
you were supposed to write on it, then you could not register.
BW: How early were these sorts of voter registration and voter education initiatives
taking place in Richmond?
W: I can't even remember when they started, but I do know that voting and carrying
out your civic duties was deeply entrenched in my upbringing at school and at
home. There were some teachers who actually did fund-raisers in their
classroom, had kids selling candy for five cents a bar I think at that time, you
made about forty cents profit on a two-dozen box of candy to raise $1.50 per
parent so the children's parents could vote. If they didn't have the money, you
helped to raise the money [for them] to vote. Voter education, in terms of
teaching what was required and in terms of what went on, that blank piece of
paper. Now, white citizens were not given blank paper to register on. I
understood that there was a lot of pressure a lot of times from employers to
discourage people from voting or even to register to vote, but I did not
experience any of that. Of course, the voting age was twenty-one when I
started, and the very day that I turned twenty-one, I registered.
BW: And that went smoothly?
W: Well, I knew what to do. I think by that time, it had changed a little bit. I think
you at least had a printed form. I do not remember having a blank piece of
paper to vote with. I can't remember when we really started having organized
voter registration campaigns and all, but throughout my life I have worked in
those and still work in them..
BW: Sure. Before we move on too far, thinking of Gordon Blaine Hancock, who looms
large in the story of Richmond and of Virginia but also of southern race
W: Yes. He didn't live too far from here.
BW: Now, he, in 1942, held or convened a meeting of leading African-American
educators and professionals and intellectuals in Durham, North Carolina, and
they issued something called the Durham Manifesto, which was essentially a
statement voicing their opposition to segregation, especially in wartime. You had
a war going on for democracy and freedom, and clearly those things are not
being forwarded to African-American citizens in the South. Do you remember
any fallout from that because that actually leads to the founding of the Southern
W: No. Honestly, I don't. I got married in 1941, and I was probably...
BW: Otherwise engaged.
W: Yes. But Dr. Hancock was quite a role model on our campus. We had a social
scientist, Dr. McGuin. I can't think of his first name. Dr. Ellison was the first
black president of Virginia Union University, and I think Dr. Proctor followed him
when he retired.
BW: Okay. What did you major in?
BW: Did you ever practice?
W: I really wanted to go to medical school. That is what I thought I wanted to do.
But after my father died and I had two brothers younger than I was, I made the
decision to work and help my mother. I never got back to going to school. I
really didn't have the resources to go. I had to work my way through part of my
BW: When you went to work, did you work in the taxi cab family business?
BW: What did you do for a living?
W: I taught my first year out of college in the county, and a year in the county made
me sure that I didn't want to do that the rest of my life. When I decided not to go
back, the Works Progress Administration [New Deal economic revival program]
was coming up and I got a job teaching. I worked at that for three or four years.
I did substitute teaching. After I was married, I worked in some little things like
surveys. I worked on playgrounds as a playground director. After I was married
and had a couple of kids and the war was still going on, I decided that perhaps I
would be smart to get back into the work world because I really did not know
whether my husband would be drafted or not. I took an exam for social workers
and passed it and went into public welfare work. That is when I made the
decision to go to graduate school to better prepare myself to be a social worker.
BW: You went back to graduate school in 1951 to VCU [Virginia Commonwealth
W: I think I took a course in 1951, but that was a pretty traumatic experience, just
getting admitted to take a class. It was one of the most demeaning experiences
I ever had. I think the reason that I was admitted was because there was some
suggestion that I might have been planning to bring the NAACP in or something
like that, which I really hadn't done. I might have, but I was really just planning at
that time to take a course in night school, evening school, I think they called it. A
coworker and I went up that evening to register, and people all around us were
filling out a little half sheet of paper, signing up for the course they wanted and
paying the fee, and they were registered for classes to begin the next week.
When we filled out our forms and went up to pay our money, the young man told
us he could not accept our money, that before we could register in the school of
social work, we had to be approved by the director of the college. So, we said,
okay, where do we find him? He looked at me and said, I don't know. We said,
well, where is his office? I don't know. Nobody would tell us where the office
was. We went to several offices in the administration building, and nobody
knew. Finally, about the fifth office, somebody told us that Dr. Califf was on the
third floor of the building we were in. The building is and was an old mansion,
and so we walked up a winding staircase up to the third floor, and we went to his
door and knocked. He came out, and we told him we wanted to register and
understood we had to talk to him. He pulled his door closed and walked us back
over to the head of the steps and told us he could not accept our application.
This was actually in 1951, and he said he could not accept our application
because the board of visitors had not made a decision on whether they were
going to admit black students. We told him that the board of visitors would
probably need to meet pretty soon because we really intended to apply. He
gave us application forms, and we had to go through the entire registration
process for full admission, which we really weren't seeking. He said that all this
material had to be in so that it could be processed before the end of the week,
including transcripts and references and medical exams and everything. I told
him I still wanted the material because I intended to apply.
The next morning, I went to my alma mater and asked for transcripts, and even
though they had a freeze on transcripts for that week of freshman orientation,
when the secretary explained to the dean why I had to have it, he approved it
and I got my complete application package finished. Somebody advised me to
send it by registered mail to be sure it didn't go into the round file. A week later, I
had heard nothing and when I came in from lunch on my job, my supervisor told
me that she had a call from the head of the welfare department wanting to know
if she knew anything about my application to, at that time it was, Richmond
Professional Institute, which was a part of the College of William and Mary. She
told him she was very much aware of it, that she had given me a reference.
Then he wanted to know if she knew whether or not my application was being
sponsored by one of the pressure groups, and she told him that from all she
knew of my application, and I had discussed my interest in the school with her,
that it was my interest in professional development. He then told her, well, if she
is not being sponsored by a pressure group, she can expect a call from the head
of the school of social work within the hour. Sure enough, I got a call telling me
my application had been accepted and that the class was meeting in about three
hours and I could come right on to the class. About a half hour later, the
superintendent of the welfare department sent for me and told me she
understood that I had applied to go to RPI [Richmond Professional Institute].
She congratulated me and she said, since I am teaching up there, you can ride
up with me, and you won't have to have a hassle with transportation. She also
told me that I could borrow the agency car to keep overnight when I went to class
if I wanted to. So, I went, and it was a course on the history of social workers or
something like that.
BW: Were you the only African American in the class?
W: Yes. I took the class and took the exam. When I got my grade, I had a C. That
was sort of disappointing, especially when you have to have a B average for your
graduate studies. I was never convinced that I was a C student. I had planned
to enroll in another course the second semester, and that was the way, initially, I
had decided I would try to work it out because I had two children at home, and
one was not even in school. So, then I decided that if RPI was going to play
hardball with me, I would play hardball back with them. I knew that there were
funds that the state of Virginia provided for study, and I knew also that those
funds were not being used by white people in the agency, many of whom had
been grandfathered in from WPA [Works Progress Administration of President
Roosevelt's New Deal], and they were making more money than they had ever
made and they didn't feel the need to bother to go to school because they would
get promotions and everything else without having credentials. I did not know
whether the state would grant it or not, but sure enough, I completed the
application process, and I had to do this application that I had done the year
before all over again, so I did it all, and I was admitted. By that time, there were
about four other black students who also were admitted, and one student was
admitted to the Medical College of Virginia, in the School of Medicine.
BW: Was this the first time you had ever had real interaction with white Richmond
folk, when you actually were in those classes?
W: Well, when I went to work for the welfare department [ I had contact with whites].
All of my other jobs had been in black areas, and going to work in the welfare
department was a real eye-opener. It was as prejudiced as it could be. They
had separate toilets. We met in the education building of the Methodist church,
just across the street from the Richmond City Hall. The building itself didn't lend
itself to signs because the church people rented it out during the week and
during the day, and they had their night activities at the church and in their
educational building. I guess some of the offices were closed off. But the toilets
served both the church and the welfare department. They had only one toilet for
men in the whole building we worked in. They had restrooms in the basement
level, which was the street level, and on the second floor and on the third floor
for women. I knew from black social workers who had been hired ahead of me .
They had not had black social workers for too long, maybe, about two or three
years when I applied. The earlier workers who came in they were female
workers were instructed where their restrooms were, and so, they always used
those. By the time I got there, the first two, who were master degree workers
when they went there, and they went in as case workers just like folks right out of
college or the folks who had been grandfathered in. Some of them hadn't even
been to college, but they were instructed where their restroom was, and they
used it, but they told us what was going on.
So, when I went there, there was another black girl along with me and two white
girls and a black fellow. They had hired at least one other black man before the
young man who went in with me. But, when we were given our orientation, this
group of five people, the supervisor brought us through the building and showed
us the different parts. When we got to this restroom on the second floor, which
was where we were going to be working, she pointed out the restroom. I said,
excuse me just a minute, I need this, and I went on in, and the other three girls
came on in, too. Nobody said anything, so I knew I was in the right place. I
never used the restroom on the third floor unless I needed a bathroom that I felt
comfortable to sit down in. I had been told that the black bathroom was much
cleaner than the other one. There were fewer people using it. Otherwise, I stuck
with what this supervisor had showed us. A couple of years later, my supervisor
by this time was somebody who had been promoted. The first two women hired
had been promoted to intake workers, and then they were promoted to
supervisors. My supervisor was then a black person. I had white supervisors.
We had interestingly devised case loads because each group of workers was
under a supervisor. The first few years I was there, I was in an integrated group.
The white social workers had integrated case loads. Black social workers
serviced black families only. At intake, when people came in, say, on Friday
evening and there were no white workers to service a family.
When black people came in to intake, nobody ever asked them, would you like a
black worker or a white worker? You got whatever they assigned. When white
people came in, if there were not white and black workers available, the person
coming for help would be asked if he wanted or she wanted to be serviced by a
black worker or rather wait and come back Monday morning. They were still
given a choice even when the need was urgent, and some would choose to take
whoever and some would choose to come back. The supervisor told me one
day when I went for my weekly conference, after we finished, she pulled out this
little memorandum and read it to me. It was from the superintendent, the same
one who had offered me a ride to class. It said that it had come to her attention
that some of the workers were not using the restrooms assigned to them and
hoped that would be corrected right away. I said to my supervisor, I don't know
who that applies to because I am using the one that the supervisor designated
when I was hired. She said, well, I have read you the memorandum then, and
that takes care of that, and we went on to the next thing. After about ten years, I
had finally been promoted. When I came back from a year of graduate study, I
came back to the same pay scale that I left. My classmates who came to the
agency to work [in the] summer, whom had not worked in that agency before and
therefore had no public welfare experience, came in as senior workers. After two
or three years, I was finally offered a job as a senior worker when the agency
was really in a pinch because we had an ungodly practice of housing children in
temporary care when they were removed from their homes ...
BW: How did that system work?
W: At that time, the city of Richmond did not have any real group homes or a facility
for housing children removed from home. When a child came under the
jurisdiction of the city welfare department, he was housed at the Richmond, they
used to call it the City Home or Old Folks Home. It was a place for old people
who had nowhere to go. It wasn't even really a nursing home, but it was a
warehouse kind of thing. They had three buildings on the facility and a small
modern one-story brick building that was used to house white children removed
from home. Black children were housed in the basement of the colored building.
I went bananas when I found some of the children assigned to me, when I went
over to meet them and to plan for them, playing hide and seek using these fifty-
gallon drums that they used for dirty linen, playing hide and seek in these
barrels. When I was promoted, I was given the title of Homefinder, and it
became my job to develop and approve some group homes for black children,
which I did and was told that I did an excellent job with it. Then, I stayed on as
Homefinder, investigating homes of black families who applied to be foster
families. Then, one day when the agency was expanding, several units were
moved to another facility. I was in this unit that included the home finders, and
we were moved over to the basement facility that was occupied by the Richmond
school board. It had been a school that was no longer being used as a school,
and we had two or three rooms in the basement of this building. We packed our
stuff and we moved. I had worked up to a new desk at work, and they moved my
supplies and my desk over to the new building. I think we were in the process of
moving in this house. When I went back to work in two weeks, we were moved
to this new facility. When we got settled in and the other girls and I went up to
find a restroom, there weren't any on the basement level and we went up to the
first floor, and here were signs, women's restroom. It was an old archaic building
and when you went in, you went through this curved entrance, and to the back,
you had rooms for white ladies and colored women. I immediately went back to
my desk, and I got in touch with the two black fellows who had been involved in
the move and asked them had they been to the restroom. They said they hadn't.
I said, Well, you need to go because I have just run into segregated toilets.
[End of Side Al]
BW: [When did you] move over?
W: This was 1956.
BW: So, it was after the Brown [v. Topeka Board of Education] decision [of 1954,
where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregated public schools were
W: I went there in 1949, I think it was. Yes, it was after the Brown decision. The
fellows went up to the third floor. They had to go all the way to the third floor.
Well, it was really the second floor, but it was unbelievably high ceilings, and
from the basement, that was really two stories up. They found the same thing up
there. So, we decided we were going to protest, and we agreed that, you know,
the bigger the group [the better]. But none of our white colleagues participated.
BW: I was going to ask you, about these experiences in the welfare department and
at college, were there any members of the white community by this time, who
seemed to be sympathetic or supportive of the problems of African Americans in
W: My experience was the people would meet you, you know, when nobody was
looking and say, I really admire you and I am behind you. I used to say, hey,
don't stand behind me. Come walk with [me], and hold my hand.
BW: Which sorts of people were these? [Tape breaks.]
W: One of the workers back earlier, when I had been working maybe two or three
months at the welfare department, went to the black worker at intake who had
been there longer and told her she was coming to her because she thought I was
such a nice person and that some of the other women in the room where I
worked were very upset that a couple of us were using their bathroom, and she
wanted my friend to speak to me because she didn't want anybody to hurt my
feelings [because] I was so nice. But she wasn't woman enough to come to me
herself. There was all sorts of discrimination. Every two people shared a
common telephone, and initially, I was seated next to a Jewish girl when I went
to work there. We became good friends, and we shared a lot of our experiences.
I was shocked to find that Jews were subjected to so much discrimination.
Most of us used bus passes for transportation. A lot of times, when we would go
uptown at lunch time, we would hop on the bus and Helene would come on and
sit in the back where I had to sit. Sometimes, the bus drivers would want to stop
the bus to make her come back to the front where she belonged.
BW: How did this play out? When the movement began to gather momentum in the
late 1950s and 1960s, did you find that the Jewish, white community was more
supportive than other elements?
W: Well, my seat-mate was a Jew, and some of the people like the receptionist in
our office, who probably, was not even a high school graduate but she could
read a file or something and did that kind of stuff [said something about it]. She
called Helene aside several times and told her, you know, I feel like I can talk to
you, and I want to tell you that some of the people here are very much
concerned with how close you seem to be getting to Hilda, to Warden.
Everybody went by last names because then you didn't have to be on a first-
name basis. They told her that if she continued to cultivate my friendship that
she was going to lose their's. But she did continue to cultivate it. We have lost
contact now. But a couple of times after she left the city. She really left the
agency because when she came back from maternity leave, it took a long time
for them to reassign her to a caseload and they kept using her as a floater.
Finally, what she was told was, the only caseload that they had vacant was in an
area over here. Now, this was in the late 1940s, early 1950s, and it was before
we even had a thought of moving over here, but this was considered a pretty
good white neighborhood. They did not assign her to handle the caseload in this
area because they felt that some white people would not want to be serviced by
a Jewish worker. So, she and her husband decided to leave, and they went out
west, and they stayed out there.
BW: We think of the Brown decision, obviously, as a watershed, and then a couple of
years later, there is the Montgomery bus boycott and the movement is clearly
gathering momentum. How did your involvement change during that period, and
when did you first become involved with the Richmond Council on Human
W: [I became involved in the RCHR] In the 1950s, shortly after I moved here,
because it was about that time that it appeared imminent that there would be
integration of schools, and Virginia had developed its own massive resistance
and that sort of thing. The Richmond Council was already organized when I got
involved with it. My friend Alice Stewart she was Alice Houston, then was a
member of the Unitarian Church. She was one of the first black people I knew
who was a member of the Unitarian Church, but then there were several other
people I knew who were members. She thought that the Human Relations
Council would be something that I would be interested in, especially because
they were putting on a special effort to open up the lines of communication
between blacks and whites. The children were not prepared for this kind of
move since the white children and the black children had grown up in separate
communities and separate churches.
BW: Just to clarify, these meetings were taking place prior to the Brown decision to
sort of prepare the ground?
W: Well, it was around 1957, I think, or something like that, because I moved here in
1956. I had not been involved in Human Relations before I moved in this
neighborhood. When I got married, I moved into a completely different situation
which took up all that time and money, too. I moved into a neighborhood where
the city had just annexed the area I moved into, but my husband had grown up
into the community, had been born into the community when it was a part of the
county, not the city.
BW: What is the name of that?
W: Henrico County. It was a little neighborhood called Westwood. It was annexed
in the summer or something, the action took place, and the actual annexation
became effective the following January. We got married in July, so that for six
months, we were living in the county, and then, it became city. Two or three
months after it became a part of the city of Richmond, the city council had an
ordinance that they introduced that would create a park in the neighborhood
where we were living, moving black people to make it a park for the other white
neighborhood that had developed after these people, I understood, in the black
neighborhood had probably settled there after the Civil War or something. That
was an ongoing fight for years and years before they stopped trying to take the
neighborhood by one way or the other. They finally have gotten most of it by
buying people out, but they want to just. I came across an article, and I don't
have a date on it, but I know what it is, that they wanted Westwood.
BW: Your friend, Miss Houston, brought you to the first CHR meeting. What were your
opinions of the people you were meeting in that organization in the early days?
W: Well, she and her son were very friendly with some of the families, especially
ones that had children, you know, the people had common interests and things.
So, I got to meet some of the people socially. I found it interesting. There were
other black people who were already involved in it. I enjoyed it. When I met Ed
Peeples, he came to work at the welfare department, and he was asking
something about the Human Relations Council or something, and somebody told
him to talk to me, that if anybody knew, I would. Ed was very open from the very
beginning, and he told me that he hadn't really been involved in anything like that
and that he had grown up in a strictly white neighborhood that didn't have
contacts with blacks and this kind of thing. He thrived on it.
BW: Was he sort of typical? How would you characterize the white members, the
people who were movers and shakers in the organization?
W: I don't know. I found them nice. Even though they were people I had never
known, I found them to be, for the most part, genuinely interested in human
relations. It was certainly a decided improvement over the experience I had in
my work in public welfare, which was as separate and unequal as it could
BW: In terms of their class or education, what sort of people were these?
W: A lot of people were Unitarians. There were a lot of people from the Union
Theological Seminary, which was a Presbyterian school. There were people
from Virginia Union, and I think there were people from the University of
Richmond. I can't put a handle on any.
BW: So, pretty educated, professional ...
W: Yes. There were church people from the various churches. There were people
who spoke out. I think Aubrey Brown did a lot of writing. He was, maybe,
secretary of the Presbyterian, I don't know whether they have dioceses or not.
There were Catholics. It was my first experience in working with Catholic people,
and I even was offered a job with the Bureau of Catholic Charity, right after I had
accepted a job at Virginia Union. I remember Father McMahon telling me, if you
go there and you don't like it, remember you can always come here. When I
went for an interview, after he offered me a job, the one thing that I wasn't sure
that I would really want to try to handle was that you could not teach birth control,
and that would have been against my grain.
BW: The white members of this organization, were they overwhelmingly for
desegregation by this time, or were they trying to adjust within the boundaries of
segregation to make life better for African-Americans without really challenging
W: I don't really know. I felt like the people I was working with were genuine. There
were not always people who agreed with everything that came up. Early on, we
spent a lot of time with Prince Edward County. That was really a time-
consuming kind of thing. In our own home, we went through the stress of
Virginia's Pupil Placement Act. I had two kids in school, and one principal sent
the kids home the second day after they sent the forms home that we were to fill
out requesting the pupil placement committee to assign our kids to the proper
school. We did not sign it because we didn't need anybody to pick a school for
our kids to go to. What they would have picked would have been the segregated
school. On the other hand, during the time when they started sending kids home
when they hadn't signed, my oldest boy was sent home on the second day. He
had transferred the semester before, mid-term, when he finished the elementary
school and went to the junior high. We ignored the form, as did most of the
parents, and they did nothing about it. Then six months later, when the fall
session opened up, they got tough and said, you sign it or your child will be sent
home. My oldest boy was sent home on the second day. The librarian at
Virginia Union sent a message out, when she found out what was happening, to
send the kids over to Virginia Union library. While they didn't have formal
classes, my son got the best education in how to use a library that he probably
would ever have gotten, and at least, they were contained for the day, and that
meant that parents who had to work and had nowhere really for childcare didn't
have to worry about where the kids were. How much safer could you be than on
a college campus, and your own college, too. But my son who was not sent
home, as time went on, these ten days they were ten longest days, I think I
have ever lived I realized that I was feeling the stress when I got to the point
that not only was my young child not sleeping well at night but I wasn't sleeping
well, either. My son was feeling unloved. He was feeling that the child who was
having the vacation from school, that we thought more of him than we did him
who had to go everyday. The child who was out was not feeling that much
pleasure. He was with friends, but at the same time, he knew that he was
missing class and all. But I made a decision then, that as much as I was for
integration of schools or desegregation of schools, that I would not subject my
children to the stress of having to be the first child in a white school.
There were some horror stories about that. The last day of the pupil
placement thing, or the day before the last day, when the kids would had to have
been sent home, this principal stood her ground, she told us that, as an
employee of the school, she would have to send the children home on that tenth
day. But some of the parents got an injunction and kept them from enforcing
that, so the kids did continue in school. When they started integrating the
schools, a lot of the schools apparently did not take any steps to protect the
minority children. My husband had a cousin whose child had just been promoted
to high school, and she went to one of the so-called finer high schools, Thomas
Jefferson. She was subjected to indignities like she would be standing on the
curb waiting for the public bus to take her to where she was going, and some
youngster from the high school in a car would bear down close, like he was going
to run over her. Or she would be walking down the hall, and somebody would
walk up close to her and say, Nigger, go home. We don't want you here. And
things like that. The minister at my husband's church, which was the same
neighborhood where this child had come from, went to the principal at the high
school and told him that, either he was going to take the necessary steps to
protect this child's welfare and she might have been the only black child at that
school or he was going to air it, publicly and bring some pressure to bear on
BW: Were these the sorts of issues that the Human Relations Council was concerned
W: Yes. They were concerned about things like that, and they did a lot of dialogue
in trying to help people get to know other people. We did that with the "Y." I
can't separate the "Y" [YMCA] from the Human Relations Council. But there
were efforts to have neighbors get to know each other. I know when we started
dialogue, there were a lot of people who would be glad to invite you to come to
their neighborhood, but they were really not comfortable coming into our
BW: How difficult was it to make conversions, because in a sense, it is a sort of self-
selecting group. It was people who were already interested in having a dialogue.
What about those strict, die-hard segregationists who did not want anything to
do with the group? What sort of publicity, what sort of efforts could you make to
reach those people?
W: I do not think we ever made any public effort. I do not recall any. My own feeling
is that as you get to know people and as you communicate, a lot of these fears
and prejudices and all do sort of dissipate.
BW: Would you say that was the major role and function of these Human Relations
Councils, to promote dialogue and to perhaps undermine stereotypes?
W: I think that was a good part of it, but they got on other issues. I know one issue
that I got involved in and ended up as the chairperson for social action. We were
concerned about the conditions in the jail. The jail was the pits in Richmond.
BW: What years were those initiatives?
W: I think these were in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
BW: So, this would be after the height of the civil rights movement proper, if you like.
W: Yes, but the integration did not go fast. I do not think they had any bloodshed in
Richmond, but it did not go fast.
BW: Sorry to interrupt. I want to get to the late 1960s and early 1970s in a little while,
but what about during that period in the early 1960s when suddenly there are
student sit-ins, freedom rides, the March on Washington. This seems to be the
rising tide of activism. What was the CHR doing in Richmond when, really, the
momentum is gathering in the movement?
W: I think they were involved when they started the sit-ins at the eating counter.
When the college students started that, we had all kinds of demonstrations here
picketing the big department stores that had the segregated lunch counters and
dining rooms and things. The city of Richmond used police dogs to help control
and scare the daylights out of the picketers and the people who sat-in and things
BW: Were they biracial demonstrations?
W: I think they were. I know the sit-ins started off as black demonstrations, and I
can't remember other picketing until you came to the students picketing the
campuses. That was around 1965 or 1968 or something like that. But white
people joined the picket lines, and they also went and bailed the folks who got
locked up. There was one incident where the wife of a very outspoken black
dentist, when they attempted to arrest her, she wouldn't walk, and they dragged
her just like you would a dishrag across the street. At that time, the jail was
being built or something, and they had temporary quarters a block from the
department stores. They dragged this lady across the street, and there were
pictures taken. They put the students in patrols [patrol wagons or "patty wagons]
that already had drunks and winos and things like that.
BW: Did you participate in these sorts of demonstrations?
W: I participated in the picketing on the street. I did it during my lunch hour at work
because we got messages from the administration that if anybody was caught
picketing during work hours that you wouldn't have a job. People who did not
want to participate used that as an excuse, but those of us who were convinced
that it was the thing to do, took the position that we weren't paid for lunch hour.
The city of Richmond had nothing to do with what we did for our lunch hour, so
then we were very careful to rush out to the line and rush back. Then we would
squeeze in something to eat on the side or something so that the time that we
were observed picketing was on our time. The same verbal messages that
came, we sent them back, and nobody ever really was bothered. You know, you
get all of these innuendos, but they are faceless kinds of things a lot of times.
BW: As the movement moved into that sort of direct action phase with people sitting
in and marching and picketing, did you get a sense that there were some whites
who had been sympathetic in general terms to black aspirations but that this was
W: Yes, there was some of that. There were people whose comments were, you
have made some inroads, how much do you want? My answer is, I want it all,
and I am willing to work for it. Now, my youngest son did a different kind of
activism, but he did picket and somebody spit on him. That ended his picketing.
He never again picketed, but he was interested in writing. He really didn't come
out with his writing until he went to college. He went to college at the University
of Southern California. He had a little teen column he had written in the black
paper here, and he had been on the junior reporter staff with the newspaper and
had some articles in the Richmond paper from time to time. But when he went
out there, he hadn't been involved in the rights movement, and when he was
talking to some of the maids in his dormitory, I think it was about his second year
in college, and they were upset that some of the students had poured milk or
something into the vending machines, you know, the pranks that kids do,
because this made a mess that they had to clean up. When they talked to him
about it, he wrote an article. I think Southern Cal had a daily newspaper. Some
of his friends were really disappointed and shocked that he would take up such
an issue. That was just a foolish prank and blah, blah, blah. But he stood his
ground on it. That was the beginning that I could see in him really taking a stand
BW: Your mentioning the writing and the press reminds me to ask you about the black
press in Richmond and then the media more generally about how it treated the
growing movement. There are also some black radio stations here, as well, and
I am wondering how they may or may not have played [a part]?
W: I will let Laverne [Byrd Smith] tell you about the radio stations because she was
more involved in it than I was. I came across a couple of things I had here, but
the Human Relations Council took on the radio stations when they went for
renewal of their licenses and [did so] very successfully. I came across some
article I had here where somebody who had been listed in the material that the
station prepares for the licensing and had somebody there as a witness, an
affidavit, of how fine the stations were and all, and this was a white man in city
government. The Council people had him sign an affidavit that he was a white
man. I don't know. I have it hear somewhere.
BW: Okay. I will look at it afterwards.
W: But we took on the radio station. We took on the jail and tried to clean the jail
up. We were a part of the group that brought offender aid and restoration
program to this city jail.
BW: Now, Jay Warrall was a major part of that.
W : Right. Is he still living?
BW: He certainly is. I spoke to him on Tuesday. He wishes to be remembered to
W: He lives somewhere in Keswick.
BW: He is in Charlottesville.
W: Yes. Well, Keswick is a little whistle stop on your way to Charlottesville. I met
Jay Warrall at the Human Relations Council. Then he introduced the concept of
offender aid and restoration. I think it was the Council on Churches that took it
over. I was the Richmond chapter's representative to the Council on Churches,
so that is how I got more directly involved with offender aid and restoration. We
had given up on trying to bring it Richmond because you could not get to first
base with the sheriff who ran the city jail.
BW: What was his name?
W: Cavedo. I don't remember his first name, but it was an elected position. Some
news reporter got a picture he took of the women's quarters in the city jail. It was
unbelievable. Somebody organized a tour, and I got invited to go because the
person from the Human Relations Council who was invited to go had to go out of
town. That was the same Father McMahon who headed Catholic Charities. He
called me and told me that they were having this tour [with] some of the activists
in the community. There were some people who were not really a part of the
Human Relations Council as such, but they were activists in every sense of the
word. Their language was not polished. They had not gone very far
educationally. They had street smarts, and they did things that made them
constantly get arrested and put in jail. By being inmates at the jail, they became
very much aware, perhaps more than anybody else, as to what the conditions at
the jail were. It was a very difficult job to get citizens [interested]. Nice people
like Human Relations people had never been inside a jail and never thought of
going inside a jail and really were completely removed from that whole set of
problems. At that time, there were maybe fifteen or twenty women in the jail.
There were mostly men. They had built a new jail. The jail that was replaced
was even worse than the pits, but the new jail had this sheriff who had his own
private enterprise operating within the jail with no control. That was something
that in the Human Relations Council, we could not understand. We tried our
best to find out who monitored the jail because the jail is operated from funds
provided, one-third from the city and two-thirds from the state. That is the
Richmond City Jail. The overall supervision or oversight for the jail is the
responsibility of the judges of, I think it is, the district court. It is one of the higher
courts, and I think there were three judges at that time, and we wrote to them.
Somewhere, I came across a correspondence that I had written from the Social
Action Committee asking what their procedure was for monitoring and what the
problems were as they understood them. They wrote back that they did not have
any problems, that the state department of social services did the quarterly
reports and sent them copies of them. These reports showed that everything
was fine and if they ever had any problems within the jails, then they would deal
with them, but they did not have any. Then we asked about the commissary,
and they did not deal with the commissary at all. Now, they stopped people from
bringing anything into the jail, [such as] food. People used to carry food to jail
and take money to the inmates and things. All of the money had to be deposited
into the inmate's account. Everything the inmate wanted had to be purchased
from the commissary, and the prices were sky-high, you know, for an envelope
with a stamp on it or a sheet of paper and all this kind of stuff.
BW: This was just a scam, essentially.
W: Nobody was monitoring it, and we even wrote to the Commonwealth attorney or
the attorney general for the state, somebody who should have known, and he did
not have any information on it. When this tour was organized, Father McMahon
said, I think this will be a good education for you, and said, it will be an excellent
experience. I did not know most of the people who were involved with it, and he
said, that's alright, you go and you will be safe. Some of these street activists
were involved and the head of the Urban League. By this time, Richmond had a
Human Relations Commission, which our organization was the forerunner of
BW: It was a building block for that.
W: Uh-huh [yes]. It was interesting how it got started, though, because one day the
Human Relations director I do not remember whether that was Curtis Harris or
somebody else but whoever it was got a call from the person who is head of
the Catholic diocese here telling him to make an appointment and go and have
lunch with a certain city councilman and ask him to introduce an ordinance to
create the commission. It turned out that the person he was sent to have lunch
with, to invite to lunch, was himself a Catholic. The Catholics had apparently
gotten to this council person and leaned on him to do the right thing, and then
they sent the Human Relations person to make the entire, and it was done.
BW: A good example of how human personal networking worked.
W: Uh-huh [yes]. It was never all that we wanted it to be, but at least it was a start.
I later was selected to serve on the Human Relations Council. I think I served
part of the time when Peeples was there. Anyhow, mine was a stormy one. I
really had been nominated earlier by the Human Relations Council to go, and I
asked them not to submit my name because I felt that the problems I was having
with the city weren't going to get me selected and that I would rather see them
use their clout to nominate somebody they could get.
BW: Actually get on, yes.
W: And I let it go the first time, and then the second time, the man who was serving
as chairman of the commission board called me and said he wanted to submit
my name. I told him the same thing I had told the folks before. I said, people
who don't like what I do have their own names for me, like a troublemaker or a
rebel or whatever, and so I have just veered away from this. He said, but you
are the kind of person I need down there, and he said, please don't tell me no,
and I am going to try to submit your name. He came back to me and said, let me
ask you something. He said, are you suing the city? I said no.
BW: What did he think you might be suing them for?
W: He had gone to a member of city council and asked him to put my name in
nomination. The man later left city council and went to [congress]. He just
retired from congress, the House of Representatives. [Thomas Jerome] Bliley
[Jr.]. He served there about twenty-something years [1981-2001]. But he told
the chairman of the commission that I was a troublemaker and that I was suing
the city, and the man came back and asked me about it. I said, I am not suing
anybody. I said, now, I did try to file a complaint with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, and your present chairman of the Human Relations
Commission for the city blocked it by telling the EEOC that they could handle it in
Richmond, and he handled it. He did nothing because I had a good case. My
case was that as the director of a model city project that the city was funding, I
was not permitted to earn salaries comparable to the male directors' programs.
The excuse they had was I had a small staff, but I knew I had a good program.
BW: Okay. I want to ask you a couple of questions about the relationship between
the VCHR [Virginia Council on Human Relations] and the statewide organization
which Curtis Harris becomes executive director of and Happy Lee before that.
What was the relationship between the Richmond branch and the statewide
W: The state organization was always in Richmond, I think. Wasn't the state office
BW: The state office was in Richmond, but obviously, it had responsibilities...
W: For the state, yes.
BW: ....overall so that the Fairfax and the Alexandria and the...
W: Well, we always worked very closely with them. I saw in the paper down at my
job last week that one of the people who's name is [associated with this], a
reporter here, had just died, Annabelle Sideman. Has her name come up? She
was from northern Virginia. But we worked with the state office. One time when
I headed a program for a high school, a neighborhood youth corps, we had some
people working at the state office.
BW: What about the Southern Regional Council? Did that ever come across your
W: Yes, but to be honest with you, I never really understood exactly how the
Southern Regional Council worked, except that it was sort of an umbrella
BW: Right. Did you know about the sort of things like the voter education project,
which the Southern Regional Council would have been administering in the early
to mid 1960s with Vernon Jordan directing it? I mean, I guess they were sort of
somewhere in your consciousness, if not...
W: Yes, but like I said, when there were voter registration or voter education
programs, a lot of us were involved with them, and then we had local
organizations that were doing that kind of thing.
BW: So, the national office really didn't come into play in Richmond proper.
W: One of the things that we did at the jail, we had a banquet at the jail and invited
[End of Side A2]
W: If they ever could be enticed to go inside the place, they would have a different
view of what it was. We accomplished that purpose. This was after this Cavedo
died and another sheriff was elected. When we met him, invited him to one of
our council conferences, we found out that the new person was a human being.
We immediately told him about offender aid and restoration that we had given up
on even trying to bring to Richmond because you couldn't get to first base with
Cavedo. He was interested, and so we had to really move because we almost
didn't have any funds left to do it. We had gone to other places where we had
people interested. So, we brought offender aid and restoration to the city jail.
BW: We mentioned Jay Warrall who was instrumental in putting together these...
W: Yes. It was [from] Grand Rapids, Michigan, I think, that he said he got the
BW: Right. Now, his wife was also very important in Human Relations Council work.
Did you know her, Cara Lynn?
W: I can't put a face on her, but he was Quaker, wasn't he?
BW: That is right. He has that background, as well, and I think that is important to the
way that he thought of his work or what he was actually doing. I really want to
encourage you to put a little flesh on the bones of some of these characters I
keep just reading about. Tell me about Happy Lee.
W: I can't put a face on Happy Lee, and I remember the name, so well. That is one
reason I wanted to go there last night. Where is he, now?
BW: He is in, I think, Cedartown in Georgia, not too far from Atlanta, with his wife.
They have retired down there now. What about your first experiences with
someone like Curtis Harris?
W: I met Curtis in Human Relations. Curtis is an entirely different personality. He is
sort of, I was going to say, laid-back. I remember when he took the job here, he
had been threatened [by] the Klan. They had burned crosses in his yard and
things like that. We worked with him and enjoyed it. I don't know whether it was
before he left the Human Relations job, but I know he got involved with the
Southern Christian Leadership [Conference].
BW: In fact, I think that predated it. They were going on simultaneously.
W: Okay. Then, when I was working at the college, I met his daughter, and when I
was working with the Office for Aging, I met his wife. They had a childcare
center down in Hopewell, so I kind of got to know [them]. I keep in touch with his
daughter, one of his daughters. She may be his youngest daughter. She works
in Washington, I think.
BW: Who else looms large as you remember particularly the times in the late 1950s
and 1960s as important figures, or charismatic figures even, in Richmond?
W: There was a man named Abner Lee. At the time that he died, I think he was the
treasurer or the financial secretary or something for the Council. He was
outspoken. There was a doctor from Roanoke. I can't remember his name. I
used to see a lot of these people at the state meeting. There were people from
the Union Theological Seminary. Doctor Isabel Rogers. I haven't had contact
with her for a number of years now, but she was very dynamic and she was quite
outspoken. I think she influenced a lot of the young people coming through the
Christian education program to get involved. There were a lot of Presbyterians
BW: Did you know Frank Adams? He would have been the predecessor to Curtis
Harris as executive director of the statewide.
W: I can't put a finger on that. I saw his name in some of my papers that I was
BW: Of course, Laverne Byrd Smith would be another.
W: Now, she became president, and honest to goodness, she was a slave-driver.
She really had quite an organization. There was a girl named Dawn Reed who
was very active during that time. Marie Hasegawa was a Japanese-American
who had been in concentration camps during World War II. Her husband, I
think, worked at Phillip Morris. He was a scientist. She was also involved with
International Women for Peace and Freedom. She just left the area a couple of
years ago. Her daughter is up in New England somewhere, and her husband
BW: It seems like on both the African-American side and the white side, women were
extraordinarily important in these human relations efforts.
W: There were quite a number of husband and wife teams. The Council hasn't
been active for so long. Really, once we got the city to set up a commission, the
Richmond Council did not really remain as active and a lot of people who had
BW: It sounds almost as if you did yourself out of a job by being successful in some
W: The hope always was that we could get a city and a state organization. The city
came early, but it was not all that we wanted. As a matter of fact, I saw a letter in
here that after the city had set it up and had appointed a director or something, it
was a long time before it met.
BW: What year did the city establish its Human Relations Commission?
W: I don't remember.
BW: What years did you serve on it, do you remember?
W: I was a member in the 1950s. I served as committee chairs and stuff like that
probably during the late 1960s [and] the early 1970s. I have notes in here from
the 1970s and some from the 1960s.
BW: Is this the Council on Human Relations or the city's Commission?
W: This is the city. I don't have too much because most of the state meetings were
at intervals. We set up an organization which did not go anywhere, a nonprofit
organization. We really did it to raise funds for a man who had come to our
attention who had been jailed as a vagrant. He was picked up near the medical
college downtown on a freezing night. Maybe it had been snowing or something,
but it was a very cold night, and he had apparently passed out on the street and
was arrested as a drunk and put in the lockup over the weekend. When he went
to court on Monday, he was sentenced to a fine or thirty days, and he didn't have
any money, so he went to jail. The man complained in the lockup that nobody
paid any attention to him. Nobody paid attention to him at court, and he was
sentenced to jail. When he got to jail, he had to have help in undressing and
putting on the jail uniform because his hands had been frostbitten. He stayed in
jails for maybe something like ten days or more, and it was my understanding
that when the guards would walk through and they would look at this man's
hands, they thought it was funny and a joke, and they started making bets before
how long it was going to be before his fingers dropped off. After more than a
week or so, somebody got concerned and apparently they went back to the
judge, and they reconvened the guy. He had been denied an opportunity to
make a call when he was arrested. Everybody is supposed to get one phone
call. It depends on who is handling the phone, I guess.
BW: And so you set up a...?
W: So, the judge commuted his sentence to the time served. One of the guards
reached down and gave him a quarter for bus fare. When he left the jail, he took
the bus to the hospital, which it turned out was where he had been headed. The
man was accustomed to seizures, and he was going to the hospital because he
felt one was coming on. Now, he could have been drinking. The man did drink,
and it could be that the drinking brought the seizure on, but he was denied help
and he was denied medical care. When he got to the hospital then, he was
hospitalized, and he ended up losing about eight fingers. His hand was the
worst-looking mess you have ever seen. We got a lawyer interested, and he
filed a suit on the man's behalf. We were in the process of talking about a
nonprofit thing, and we set one up, but the biggest thing we ever did was help
this man. The lawyer sued for a $1 million, and he was only able to get a
settlement for $50,000. Because the city was responsible for one-third of the
cost of the jail, one of the members of city council who was a minister and who
was a member of our Council he was a Presbyterian minister he got an
ordinance approved in city council to pay the city's one-third. So, I think the city
gave the man $17,000. The state never paid anything. Well, I don't think the
state ever does. Maybe they are going to do something now because there were
a couple of claims filed in the last session of the legislature for people who were
jailed for crimes they had not committed. One settlement that the senator asked
for $1.5 million, I think they worked out something that will be equivalent to $1.2
million. One house of the legislature didn't want to give the man but $500,000.
Anyhow, this man did live to come out of the hospital, but he was never able to
do anything after that.
BW: That is a horrible story.
W: It was. I mean, his hands, you have never seen raw meat that looked as bas as
BW: Okay. We probably need to wrap up because I am two minutes late for seeing
Laverne Smith, now.
W: This is an article by Jay Warrall.
BW: Alright. I did want to give you the opportunity to add anything that we haven't
had cause to discuss, so maybe just sort of summarize in a way the sort of work
and the sort of contribution that you think the Richmond Council on Human
Relations performed, I mean helping change the face of race relations in
W: I think that they did, and I think that the concept of OAR that Warrall was
responsible for, that was a good thing. Our group came into very bad publicity
after we had a halfway house and one of the inmates who was in the halfway
house was convicted of murder. It really hurt the status of the program, but it is
still going on.
BW: But looking back into what the RCHR did in the 1950s, through the 1960s,
maybe the early 1970s, how would you characterize its contribution?
W: I think that they were there at a time when that kind of coming together of people
was very much needed, and I think that it had to have had a positive impression.
It certainly improved race relations for some people, anyhow. It had to have
made the school integration easier on the students. They certainly played a
major part in the Prince Edward County stuff down in Farmville. I later, had the
experience of working with some Farmville students, and it would almost make
you cry to see the damage that had been done to years of no education. You
know, they were older when they got to college, and some of them just seemed
so timid and all, those who got away. A lot of the various groups helped small
numbers of students go away to other schools, and so they escaped the
deprivation of their education. But for those who had nowhere to go, it was really
BW: We should probably wrap up after that. Thank you ever so much for your time.
You have been really very illuminating.
[End of Interview.]
Personal and educational background (p. 1-2), growing up in segregated Virginia and
civil rights activism in the 1930s (p. 2-3), the role of the church in community life and civic
activism (p. 4), voter education initiatives and registering to vote (p. 5), entry into social work
and graduate school (p. 6-8), interacting with whites in school and at work (p. 8-10),
discrimination on the job (p. 11), involvement with the Richmond Council on Human Relations
[RCHR] (p. 12-16), RCHR's role in civil rights movement demonstrations in the 1960s (p. 16),
white reaction to heightened black aspirations (p. 17), press coverage of the movement (p. 18-
21), relationship between the RCHR and the state branch of the Virginia Council on Human
Relations and the Southern Regional Council (p. 21-23), description of Richmond's important
leaders in the late 1950s and 1960s and the role of women in human relations (p. 23-24),
establishment of the Human Relations Committee (p. 24-25), overall contribution of the RHCR
to the civil rights movement (p. 25-26).