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Alfred L. Alexander Interview

Alexander, Alfred L.
Desmarais, Melinda
Date of Interview: 
civil rights, Brooklyn community, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, school desegregation, race relations
Mr. Alexander is the son of local, state, and national NAACP leader and businessman, Kelly M. Alexander, Sr. and Margaret Alexander. He served as the local NAACP president in 1990. Born and raised in the Brooklyn and University Park communities, Alexander describes race relations in Charlotte, his family`s role in the community, and his activities as a youth in the context of the civil rights struggle. He talks about his personal experiences as a child during the bombing of his home.
Charlotte, 1960-2000
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at the home of Margaret Alexander in Charlotte, North Carolina
NAACP Leadership
Collection Description: 
Former leaders of the NAACP and individuals active in Charlotte's civil rights movement were interviewed as part of the Digital Sound Archive project.
Interview Audio: 
MD (Melinda H. Demarais): This is Melinda Desmarais, the interviewer. Today is May 10th, the year 2001, and I'm here with Alfred Alexander at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. And I'm conducting this interview for the digital sound archive initiative for the Special Collections department, at UNC Charlotte's Atkins Library. Please state your name.
AA (Alfred L. Alexander): Alfred Louis Alexander.
MD: And will you spell that for me please?
AA: A-l-f-r-e-d L-o-u-i-s A-l-e-x-a-n-d-e-r.
MD: And what's your date of birth?
AA: November 10th, 1952.
MD: And tell me your parent's names.
AA: Kelly and Margaret Alexander.
MD: And where were you born, Mr. Alexander?
AA: Charlotte, North Carolina. Good Samaritan Hospital. At least that's what they told me.
MD: [Laughter] Tell me about where you lived, where you grew up in Charlotte.
AA: I grew up in the Brooklyn community of Charlotte, which was on East Stonewall, Brevard Street area, which is now a parking lot behind the Convention Center. [Laughter] But it's an area that for many years had all the major churches and business activity, which was on Second Street, which was right above that area. Our business, Alexander Funeral Home, was located on Brevard Street, which was right around the corner from where we lived etcetera., etcetera.
MD: So did, was it sort of a self-contained community? Was your school in that community?
AA: Pretty much. The school was down the street, I guess about four, five miles down the street, which was Myers Street Elementary. Second Ward High School was in that same vicinity. Trying to think of the other may.... Like I said major churches were on McDowell, St. Paul, which I'm a member of now. Friendship was on the other end near the funeral home. You had the Congregational church there. You had all kind of different denomination churches in that area, so pretty much the hub of the black community was in Brooklyn.
MD: And was it, I'll ask you to think back, I know you probably didn't think bout this as a child, but was it a group of diverse people in terms of socio-economic status?
AA: Correct. You had all different socio-economic levels, from educators to teachers to same as educators and teachers but that pretty much the same. You had people that were doctors, pretty much every aspect of the community, blue-collar workers. You know, you name it was in the Brooklyn community. It was a public library that was around the corner also, no, I think it was called the North Branch Public Library. You had all kind of, you had a theater in that area, which was the Lincoln Theater. On McDowell you had the Savoy Theater, so you had, I guess the recreational babysitting arena for young people in that area also. You had drug stores, barber shops, you name it, groceries, little grocery areas, whatever, night clubs. You name it, it was all in that community.
MD: And were you that community for most of your childhood life?
AA: Until 1962 when we moved to Senior Drive. So pretty much growing up we were in that area, and we would, you know, go all over the neighborhood and of course we knew to be at end at a certain time. The neighbors pretty much would watch out for everyone's children in terms of any trouble you got into. Everybody knew about it and everybody had the, I guess it was a right of making sure that your child was doing the right thing and and parents-it was the was the community-type atmosphere that, you know. I know your child, I know, you know, so and so's child was here and was supposed to be somewhere at such and such time and why aren't you there? So it wasn't any missing school or anything else because everybody knew that at such and such time of day you were supposed to be in school. And so, you know, you needed to be there, you needed to be on your way to wherever you needed to be, be it school, be it church, be it whatever was going on at that time. If you were playing, you played with so and so's child and they, you know, you, Mother knew who I was playing with pretty much, you know. One day you'd be playing, and the next day you may even be fighting with those same kids in that neighborhood, so it was one of those kind of things.
MD: A close-knit place?
AA: Very close, very close. And as we grew up, we were very much attuned to the closeness of Community as well as the closeness of family in itself, because we've always been closely knit family. And we were brought up that way to look out for each other and the whole nine yards.
MD: What, in your descriptions of Brooklyn, you know I had kind of said, "Well its sort of a contained community" in a sense because you had everything there,
AA: Very much so--
MD: that you needed. Can you describe for me what race relations were like in Charlotte when you were coming up in the '50s and the early '60s? Did, did you have opportunities to go to town a lot?
AA: Well downtown was pretty much right up the street also, so we would walk downtown of course, and back then you would dress up to go downtown. It was not like you could just go downtown in whatever you had on. So we would dress up and go downtown and of course that's where the larger stores were, I guess, to antiquated from this day and time. It was like if you lived maybe in Concord going to the big city. So we would live in the neighborhood going to downtown, which was a big trip for us cause we had to go downtown, but of course we, I guess, was fortunate enough to also in growing up we had the opportunity to go other places as well in other cities etcetera, etcetera, so it wasn't like we were not aware of what else was there, out there as opportunity-wise. We knew that we were not supposed to go certain places according to the what was prescribed in that day and time, or even when you went downtown and you saw that water fountains had one marked colored and one marked white that you said to yourself that that pipe under there seems to be going to the same separate water fountain. So maybe that water is different in some kinda way, but I don't know. It was just something that always puzzled us about some of these idiosyncrasies of the time that, you know, didn't seem logical, I guess, you could say.
MD: As a child and you thinking about...
AA: Even as a child it didn't seem logical in our minds that certain things were blatant as it related to keeping things separate but it didn't make sense and if you logically stood there and thought about some of the things that, you know, they were trying to keep us from. And it's just like if kids got into the swimming pool the water did not change color but even though folks thought it would for some strange reason. So, the creek was a lot of places where a lot of kids in our neighborhood went to swim or whatever because you didn't have the opportunity to go other places... you. And, and it's a lot of aspects of the time which you didn't quite grasp or understand that why is this the case, you know, and people didn't want you to eat at certain lunch counters and you know it, it just didn't make sense. You had black parents going to white homes to clean up, to cook and to whatever, and in your mind you said these folks are good enough to do certain things but not good enough to go to church and sit, and that's pretty much the same today, in a lot of instances. You can't go to same church, you can't do a lot other things together. If you're in a, riding on public transportation your were supposed to sit in the back, you know, whites are in the front. In a movie theater, you were in the balcony where you can throw things down to the people sitting on the other good seats, I guess. And now it seems like the best seats seem to be pushed up where you used to....
MD: [Laughter]
AA: You know so, amazing you probably had to the better seat in the house, but you were mentally kept inferior. So, as we grew up we we saw these things and of course our father was very active in trying to change these things, and we kinda got a feel and a better explanation then probably most kids in the neighborhood.
MD: What sort of things did your father and your mother tell you about, you know, how the, how that climate of race relations was here in Charlotte, and how, did they coach you on...
AA: Well, I don't know whether it was coaching, but they would definitely....Because we, I guess, growing up were kind of inquisitive and wanting to know to ask certain things. And they would tell us that that's just how things were, however it can be and will change one day. And one of the things that he was doing and our family was doing was trying, and of course mother was very active in family, keeping the kids and raising the kids etcetera, etcetera. And daddy was out working and trying to change things for the betterment of the community etcetera, etcetera, socio-economic situation / pitch at that time. Of course growing up we were, I guess you could say coached and that especially in terms of not upsetting certain things in certain ways or starting certain things in certain ways. It was a way to do any and everything as, as we, you know, found out and as he was doing, working within the system to change things as opposed to as what came along as more militant folks would want to change things more rapidly. And of course that didn't work so-we know the history on that- but the point is we would try to work within a system to assist other people in seeing how this is not going to harm you, you know, let's work together to achieve a goal, you know. And the goal is a common goal and this is the same common goal that we, even today, try to live by, work by etcetera, etcetera. So we grew up understanding, knowing, and probably working within the overall aspect of helping folks understand that there is a better way, and you can achieve certain things by working within a system as opposed to working around the system, or going through the system, or forcing the system at a point when they couldn't understand or didn't want to understand, but you need to work with folks to make things happen. And that's pretty much the philosophy we've always lived in and gone by.
MD: When you personally look back at race relations during that time, I'm just curious how you would describe them. I've heard some people say that there was a dialogue, a good dialogue between sort of the white power structured, the leaders of Charlotte, and the African American leadership. And then I've heard others say that that was sort of a false dialogue, that people were pretending to do the listening and the, you know, accommodating and moving very slowly but they felt that it was a false dialogue, that it wasn't one that was earnest. So, you know, obviously there weren't police dogs and fire hoses, you know, in downtown Charlotte like we might see in a another-you know say in an Alabama or Mississippi. So if you had to kind of, you know, characterized race relations. You've got a great job in sort of explaining what your philosophy, your family's philosophy was, in terms of what this is, how we are going to deal with it and how we think others should. What was kind of idea now as you look back about the state of race relations here?
AA: Well in general I think it kind of worked both ways. It just depends on who you were talking to at that time or you know, and I guess it depends today who you talk to in terms of how people actually reacted to what you were talking about. You had people that were trying to work with you as it related to changing things.
MD: And you mean both white and black?
AA: Both white and black. You had people in the black community that wanted to tear things down. You had people in the black community that wanted to work things out for the good of everybody. You had all kind of ways to go about achieving probably the same goal in both communities, and the white community, for what we could see, you had people that wanted to sit down and work things out and try to make things better for all. You had people that said that now was not the time for any equal treatment of you, or whatever you know in schools, in public accommodations, and anything. This was not the time, was not ever going to be the time. You had people that you can't change their minds, no matter what. And it came across that way in everything that happened at that time. If you were talking to people as it related to the school issues at the time, we were never going to have an equal school. We were never going to have black and white kids going to school together, living together in the same communities. You've had white flight for years. You still have it today, so it just depends on who you talking to at that time. You have people that are working closely with elements of the black community to keep things on the straight and narrow, and you have people that quietly are working to keep things, even though we are progressing, giving the image of progression, we still want to keep things separate. You know just give folks enough, but not enough. So it was somewhat of a facade at the time, and somewhat of we're moving, but we're moving at a slow process to. We'll pacify you, we'll give you a little bit, make you happy, and then, you know, we're taking something else away from you, you know. So hey it's a mixed bag. It always has been and probably always will be, and go ahead I'm sorry.
MD: No, go ahead.
AA: No, I was finished with that, but you go ahead.
MD: One of the things that you mentioned that I think is really interesting that I'd like to explore a little bit, is you talk about the nuances within the black community. That there were some people that wanted, you know, to take action immediately and if that meant taking to the streets, demonstrating, or, you know, tearing things down or whatever. And then there are groups of people you mentioned who I think would be more along the lines of your father who, "Let's work within the system what, you know, in the NAACP leadership and, you know. Were there tensions like that between these groups? And you know--
AA: I think at even one point, in the '60s you had the Black Panther party that came through here-did not take off like, you know, possibly it did in the other areas. Very militant group, it excited some people because of the way they were doing things. All the atmosphere they brought with them in terms of wearing black carrying guns, and nobody could do anything about it. That attitude was very much thought of by a lot in the black community as scary, you know. [Laughter] And by others it was well accepted so, you had the kind of mindset of, yeah we need to do that , black power you know all this kind of stuff. And let's get it on, you know, with the opposition as is was termed back then, you know, opposition being the white folks, because they are not going to move fast enough for us, they not. Then it was the fight of the philosophy of an NAACP, the working within the system, moving things at a pace that would be acceptable by the white community to get them to see what needs to be and to work with them in achieving their goal. Took probably more time then speeding up the process, but it seemed to have worked better. It became more of the accepted way to do things as time moved on and as other groups, who were more radical, more militant, phased out, didn't have the kind of followership in a lot of areas that an NAACP had. This created another kind of atmosphere, because a lot of people in the black community or some people in the black community felt that the NAACP was moving slowly, was a bourgeois organization, was a this, a that and the other that was moving too slow. But consequently, it would seem that the NAACP and other groups with the similar mindset had the right idea. Consequently, things were changing, did change and are still changing by using that method, methodology, and even other groups have adopted that methodology. And the SCLC, the whatever, they have, you know, come to realize that maybe they had the right idea all along, and we are now formulating co-ops and whatever that work along the same guidelines as the NAACP. Even PUSH, when it was started, it basically does the same thing. CORE came around, I think, in the same kind of philosophy. All these groups that came in as somewhat a radical group ended up quieting down to following the NAACP lead.
MD: So what your saying is that these radical groups even when they came in didn't have a big following?
AA: No they didn't. No they didn't.
MD: And do you think that's because of the leadership of the NAACP?
AA: I think a lot of it had to do with those that were chosen to lead the NAACP, and those that in a lot of instances were chosen to do these other things based upon the climate of the time. It did not go anywhere because there again the NAACP was a group that was there, you know, and then too with its national followership. It's kind of like you could depend on not only the people in your community, but you had others in other communities going through some of the similar things that could back you, you know. And you had a national organization that could back you with be it lawyers, be it expertise, be it whatever. You had a feeling of somebody's got my back, you know, and that always helps. Whereas in a lot of instances you had other groups that were kind of trying to get started, did not have the kind of national prominence that the NAACP had because they had proven in a lot of instances that working within the system and working with people worked better than trying to jump on you, smack you down, and let's go on about the day. It don't work like that
MD: Especially here in Charlotte, it seems?
AA: Here in Charlotte, and here and in a lot of other places, you know, it just doesn't work that way. And it was very important to have a person like a Kelly Alexander who was very active, had his own business, could be very vocal when others could not. We had a lot of people that joined NAACP back then who were very afraid to come forward, on any issue. He was very vocal, strong in his belief, and out there in the forefront of of the struggle even before you even heard anything about Martin Luther King or some other folks that got national prominence based upon the time things happened, because it was discrimination going on long before you heard about all that. So those kind of persons were out there in the front of the struggle and trying to change things, get things going long before other things were happening, but you didn't hear about. And they did not necessarily need any publicity to go on about the day, you know. I've never seen my father be a press hog or whatever. I mean sure the press would come along, or whatever based upon the time, based upon how things were happening, but it wasn't done for that. It was done because this was something that needs to happen, you know. This a belief that he had. This a belief that the organization had. He felt that get on that bandwagon because that organization was an organization that had the same-type philosophy he had. So that was the, I guess, [Pause] the motivation or the tool that he used to change things or to try to change things because it was a never-ending struggle.
MD: And I know that you say because of his situation owning a business and being able to speak out and not being afraid to lose his job, or something for example--
AA: Right, right.
MD: that really helped propelled him. Were there experiences that you know of from his childhood or the way his parents brought him up that gave him this sense of equality and quest for civil rights for all people?
AA: Well, knowing he and my uncles as I did, I would think that our grandfather and grandmother had a strong belief in the same kind of ideals that they had, and I am sure it came along, because even my grandfather was very active in trying to change things when he was coming up, so because he was very implemental in trying to do something as related to the school, Myers Street Elementary School at the time. I think that it was a wooden building, and he was trying to get them to make it a brick building-the school system. And he was very vocal in getting changes done right there in that community. Same little community I'm talking about, because he he was very active in it. He was also very active throughout the nation as it related to Masonic things. So he was being in the, he was like an Imperial Potentate in the Shriners, in Masonic affairs. A lot of things, even as my daddy came along, and his involvement in other organizations like Masons and other activities as related to that helped motivate, stimulate and and bring about change even in the mindset of these organizations. He had, I guess you could say lieutenants of whatever that were very active in these organizations. People like the Ferguson brothers who were local folks here, and they could get members to, you know, do things like register to vote, come out to vote. You had his brother Fred who was very active in changing the political aspect of things here locally. My father ran for city council years ago and of course the powers that be brought in a another prominent funeral director to run against him, so those kind of things were done by the other side to stop progress. You know to--any movements you made to try to become a voice was broken up based upon, "I will put a one of you in to stop this."
MD: Split the vote?
AA: Split the vote, split the conscience, split the, you know, whatever. You had people like Dr. Tross speaking that I was the time, this not the way you do things. You need to be slow, you need to slow things down, backup, don't upset the apple
MD: Was he here local?
AA: Yeah, Dr. can't think of his initials, but he was Dr. Tross. He was a religious leader and he was very conservative or whatever as it related to how things should be implemented
MD: So a bit of an accommodationist?
AA: Very much so, very much so. So you had these elements in the community trying to pull the activists back, slow them down. You know, you don't need to move that fast, you don't need to do things that way, you know. "Now is not the time" as he would always say. So people like that was very prominent and trying to change the mindset of the people that you were trying to bring out of the wilderness, you know. So this was a problem even.
MD: What do you remember about your parents pushing for reassignment in the late 50s? I know that they were pushing for you all to be reassigned to different schools.
AA: Um hum. Well, they tried to get Kelly and I in Dilworth Elementary during that period of time.
MD: And this is sort of right after the Brown decision?
AA: Yeah, yeah. So, you know, of course it didn't work, but you know we got some publicity as related to try to get into the schools.
MD: You would have been pretty young then?
AA: Oh, yeah. Yeah, don't ask me how old. I was born in '52 so.
MD: You probably would have been around maybe 6 or something. Yeah.
AA: Yeah.
MD: So do you have vivid memories of that or?
AA: No, I was doing what I was told. Probably had no idea as it related to why we were doing this or why I was being moved from where my friends were going to any school but, you know that's one kind of things you do. [Laughter] So you know. But as I got older, and because I did
AA: there again, I guess I did have some kind of knowledge of what was going on, but it was still that, you know, my friends aren't going over there why I have to go over there, that kind of thing, you know. But as you grow older, you see why things were done and understand why things were done and, and you see that that's the way you, you know, needed to be moving in that direction anyway
MD: So you were never assigned, reassigned before?
AA: No, No, because I went to Myers Street School. When we moved in '62, I went toUniversity Park, then I went to Northwest, then went to West Charlotte, which was definitely a neighborhood school--
MD: [Laughter]
AA: right across the street. So I did not have a feel for, you know, going anywhere. But when integration or desegregation of schools came along in '70s, you know, first of all we had Second Ward was closed. Then the Second Ward students were reassigned all over everywhere, and West Charlotte was one of the schools the Second Ward students were reassigned to. So the year I was at West Charlotte, my sophomore year, that was the year when the second ward students came over, and they had to change everything as it related to how the school operated to accommodate the Second Ward students. They had two drum majors. They had two student body presidents
MD: One black one white?
AA: No, No this was black, black at that time
MD: Oh, ok.
AA: So you has a black school merging with another. See these were two enemy schools, so they came into a merger, and you had all kind of problems as they related to the black-on-black merger. The next year you had the desegregation where whites came into the school. So you went from the black-black situation to the, we're going to throw in everybody with the blacks at West Charlotte. So you had the desegregation of schools. You had the same scenario, but I guess we had practiced a year before, because we had two chairman of the student body; I was one of them. You had two drum majors. You had the whole nine situation again.
MD: Now when the white students came, then did you have one white, one black, one white, one black, one white, one black?
AA: In terms of?
MD: Drum majors, student body presidents?
AA: Yeah, yeah
MD: Okay, so okay.
AA: Right, right we split. I think I got the most votes as it related to the student body, so the other guy came in like second or whatever. So what we did.... We had a council, you know, and we split the term up in terms of he took one half, I took another half. So it was like that. You had to be very considerate, thought conscious of the whole think as related to the. You had new students in, you had the whole....And we had problems that year, you know. We had a few people that wanted to get upset, and you had. And this is another thing I never could understand about when, students now have differences of whatever, its called one thing and back then it was called a riot or whatever, you know. When, black students and white students couldn't get along and the process, it was...automatically the press would jump on and say they had a riot over West Charlotte today. They had a riot over at West Mecklenburg, East Mecklenburg, wherever all these students had co-mingled. It was always a problem as it related to. They would blow it up, blow it out of proportion. So that was another media thing.
MD: So was it, I mean just a couple of kids having, exchanging words or getting in a scuffle?
AA: It was usually a minor situation that if not had been blown out of proportion, would have just ended. But of course it was blown out of proportion, and it took a little longer to end it but it would, you know, we would work it out, you know. We would have a meeting in a auditorium, and discuss things. Work it out, and it was over. Everybody went back to business as usual. Blowing off a little steam, you know, that was, you know, just it was like two students would get in a fight there would be "Bam! It's a riot!," you know, because it would escalate into that, or whatever. It will be called that, and it really wasn't that, because a lot of times it was just a few students in an altercation and other students saying, "This is my opportunity to get out of school today." [Laughter] So you had, I mean, you know, folks being more intelligent, I guess, than, than.... You know how students are, you know, I mean this a opportunity. We're going to break out today, you know. They will close this sucker down!
MD: [Laughter]
AA: So, you know, you're going home, early.
MD: Yeah
AA: So that was more of an opportunity than anything else.
MD: Did it go relatively smoothly or?
AA: Very smoothly, because we would, like I said, we would call a meeting as a student body and talk things out, you know, work things out and move forward, and find out what needed to be done within the school. There again what goes in the system to what the problem, find out problem was, work it out and let's move forward. Be it was that somebody wanted a, it might have been as small as somebody wanted an area to smoke in, you know. For, for seniors as opposed to being co-mingled with everybody else. It may have been something as it related to bathroom, cafeteria, whatever. It was, it was something that was not a major problem, it was just needed to be talked about. And then it might have been a student saying that, "I don't like the way you look." I don't know, you know kind of small thing that.
MD: Petty?
AA: Yeah, exactly.
MD: Were there race related issues that were sort of coming to a head to? I mean, do you think that any of that had to play, came into play when you--?
AA: Well, I am sure it did at first, but everybody, as time went on, learned that everybody had to get in their pants and dresses or whatever the same way you know, every other person did, and everybody was competing for the same scholarship or whatever, and everybody was trying to do the same thing on the football field or in the band, and everybody, you know. It's either, you know, you couldn't sing and the black kid couldn't sing either. [Laughter] I mean, you know, at first sure I'm going to look at you differently. But as you moved on that year, you saw that more things were similar as opposed to different. So you saw that things were, you know, pretty much the same everywhere, you know. If you got up that morning and take a bath and that person didn't get up that morning and take a bath, you pretty much stunk, both of you. So it wasn't like, you know, hey this person's got a problem. We all got a problem, you know.
MD: You think the kids handled it?
AA: Exactly!
MD: How about the, how about the//
AA: Just like when kids in elementary school get their see it's not a black-white issue, you know. It becomes a black-white issue when parents say you're not supposed to be sitting next to a black kid, or you're not supposed to be sitting next to a white kid. And when you talk about growing up, see we never heard that kind of thing growing up, you know, about you can't, you know, go in there because that's white, or you can't do this and that because that's for the white kids or, you know. We've always heard that you're just as good as anybody else, or you can learn like everybody else, you can do the same things that the white kids are doing, or we all are in this thing together, you know. It's an equal situation. It's not a I'm bigger than this person or I'm better than that person, you know. If you read that book you can get something out of it just like that other person does, you know.
MD: Do you think a lot of the white students came to class?
AA: With a preconceived? Yeah.
MD: Charlotteans, their parents?
AA: Of course. Of course they did. And some come with no preconceived notions. Those were the people, there again, just like in the adult world, could work with you , you know. So it doesn't change, you know. Its just a mindset. It's one of those kind of things where you were taught to climb that tree and throw bananas down in growing up, that's what you were going to do as an adult until somebody pull you to the side and lock you up, you know. [Laughter] So it all comes into focus, it all comes into play. And it, it has to do with how your brought up, and pretty much in the black community, people were brought up to live decently and try to achieve because it was education that moves you forward, not ignorance and not acting a fool. Sure you had a few in the community doing that, but you got that everywhere.
MD: In every community?
AA: In every community. But on the whole as you said earlier about the diverseness of the areas, and we had different communities. Brooklyn wasn't the only quote unquote black community. You had the Third Ward, you had the First Ward
MD: Greenville?
AA: You had Greenville. And sure we knew not to go across the tracks to Greenville or whatever because those black kids-and it had nothing to do being white-they didn't want you over there, you know, so.
MD: Sort of turf?
AA: Turf, just like everywhere else. So, and I've always learned no matter where you go in America, if you act like somebody and act like you got some sense, people don't bother you anyway. Its when you start talking junk, coming in acting you better than this person or that person and can't get along, that's when all the tension starts. That's when a problem starts. But if you act like you're decent and act like somebody with some sense, don't nothing nine times out of ten happen to you. So if you go to a school with Billy Bob, and you and Billy Bob got equal situations, just as like when you, when your playing football, any other sport, you know. It ain't about color, its about your ability and what you can do out there. And that's what people have found out that black folks can be quarterbacks just like white folks. Just, they just paid Vick all this money to be a quarterback in Atlanta. He's going to come out and kick butt, trying to play ball, just like everybody else, and its all about playing ball. It ain't about--. It's about his educational level and learning them plays. And he can achieve just like anybody else. Is all about education and achievement. And it's about learning, and it has nothing to do with the color. I can sit down in any room with anybody else and, and hold an intelligent conversation I hope and just like anybody else.
MD: Well sounds like the kids, like you say, did a good job, you know for the most part....
AA: Exactly!
MD: What about the parents? What do you remember about, sort of, the parents and the whole Swann issue when it was going on? I know that there were, you know, concerned parent association meetings, you know. What do you remember about that kind of aspect of it?
AA: I remember that parents were raising all this saying about the same issue that we just talked about and that pretty much they were the people that were trying to, about the busing about everything else. You didn't want to ride on the bus with anybody, you didn't want to be bused from this area to that area to go to school. You didn't want to do anything as it related to that. And you had all these white associations, or like you said the Concerned Parents, I think it was, was it Poe or somebody who started that? Yeah, but anyway it was all of this uproar that that if you had left folks alone to work things out, young people, you wouldn't have had those problems. If you'd of put us on the bus, you know with the person and, consequently, that happened, you know. The NAACP Youth Council that I was involved in, we, one of the things that we said, and did buttons, and went down to the school board and talked about it. And walked to the font of the school board and talked was that whites can be bused just like us. Because they had this thing about busing black folks for years anywhere in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, and whites could walk anywhere in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system to go to school. So we were saying that we believed that whites could be bused just like us, make the integration work, desegregation work in a whole nine yards in terms of, you know, getting everybody together, you know, and working this thing out.
MD: So was the Youth Council, sounds like the Youth Council was politically active during this time?
AA: Very much so, very much so. We used to meet in what now is a library- used to be a garage right out there and make signs and do everything and sit down and talk about methodologies and go to school about what we were going to do. And having a, you know, writing up your position papers, everything that you needed to do in terms of who's going to speak, who's going to do this, who's going to do that. As my dad used to say do your homework don't go to out of town looking like, you know, you don't know what you're talking about. And it was like, we worked it out, you know, and he would be there or whatever, as I said like got your back. But it was the young people coming up with what they wanted, how they wanted do it, etcetera, etcetera. And that's what we would do as a NAACP. We would map strategy and work things out and move forward.
MD: How were you received by like say the school board when you were out marching or how did they?
AA: They were scared to death because they thought maybe that would lead to something bigger, not necessarily as quiet, but it would spill over into the overall community and create havoc. But of course that was not it was designed to do. It was only designed to make change within the system, as I have indicated earlier.
MD: Did they try to, you know
AA: Stop them?
MD: Yeah, stop you from?
AA: Of course they did, course they did, through the paper, through this, that and other. But, you know, it worked, you know. We brought about a change, a positive change. So those are the kind of things that we as young people instead to going out and breaking windows and knocking down doors or whatever, we learned through that process and other processes that you can change things if you go about it the right way.
MD: I know that you are indicating that, you know, there wasn't a great deal of violence here in Charlotte in terms of taking to the streets, or retaliations, or things like that within a civil rights movement. Now, I use that term.
AA: The only time I saw any havoc in the street here in Charlotte was well a couple of times. The first time was, I think, when Martin Luther King was killed. You saw people. Then of course, my father went out that night, getting folks to go back in their homes and don't, you know, create any violence because that would only get you in trouble or put you in jail or whatever so, you know. So let us work this thing out in a different way. So he was out and others were out trying to get folks to do the right thing at that time. But you had that all over the country.
MD: Right.
AA: Misdirected emotions. Then of course when our house was bombed, you know, that was another time that I saw people really get upset. It was four homes in the community, of course, that got bombed Julius Chambers, my uncle Fred, Reginald Hawkins. Reginald Hawkins, of course, was another political activist, a civil activist, civil rights activist who ran for governor at one point, who, matter of fact I saw him the other day. He was very active. His home was bombed. Julius Chambers, of course, who was very active in the civil rights movement. These are persons who that night, you know, the community was in a uproar, and again my father and others said now is not the time to, you know, go out here and do anything that we may regret. We need to, you know, come together. And you had white community leaders that came in and also pushed to keep things quiet and, and "We're going to do all we can to find out who did this," etcetera, etcetera. And you saw an overwhelming support from certain segments of the white community, even, to bring folks together as opposed to let's let this thing escalate into something that's going to tear down the overall community. Because people that particular night was ready to go downtown and destroy things, and, you know, and then it was like let's arm ourselves and have a front against the white community. You could walk down the street possibly and just get shot because somebody tried to kill some of the leaders in our community, so lets not do that, lets, you know, calm things down as opposed to blowing things up, you know. Lets retaliate by going downtown and blowing up Nations Bank. It didn't work that way.
MD: The, the impulses were there?
AA: Oh, they were there heavy.
MD: But the leadership--?
AA: The leadership brought everybody back into focus and, and this is not the way, you know. Let's get back to reality.
MD: Gosh,how was your father and folks like your father able to have, you know, able to get out so quickly to quell that?
AA: Well, probably because of the confidence he had in what he was trying to do. All the along and how things had developed over the years and how he had gained the, I guess you could say, respect of both segments of the communities, both black, white, whatever. And it was kind of like, if Kelly said it, we can, you know, go to the bank on it, you know, because he had a way with people and he could. It was very believeable because nine times out of ten what my daddy has said to folks came to fruition, and even if it didn't--. They saw that he was in there pushing. It wasn't like he was pushing other folks, he was actually there doing it himself, to change things. So it was like, it wasn't like anybody was going to whisper behind his back, "Well, he ain't even trying," you know, "He full of crap," you know. "He's talking a good program." But you see he walked the walk and talked the talk. So you had a feeling that Kelly was working to try to get things done and doing it his way, the right way, or whatever. And we may not agree with him all the time but at least he's in there trying. And it was an affront on him, his family etcetera. It was an affront on the other families. And if they are saying lets look at this thing and work things out then why the heck are we getting upset? You know, lets think about this, and that's what happened.
MD: What, I know that the bomb here actually sort of exploded into your bedroom
AA: Yeah right. Next to where we were sleeping.
MD: Do you have any vivid recollections of that?
AA: Sure, I do.
MD: And the kind of events that followed it? Can you tell me more about that?
AA: Yeah, yeah very much so. That particular night of course we were quote unquote peacefully sleeping [Laughter] and the bomb went off, and I guess I am a deep sleeper even today but I woke up, saw the smoke coming through the room, and I looked and saw my brother running out the door. And I am saying to myself, this is not a dream [Laughter] you know, and I jump up also, because I said if he is running out the room, I guess I need to be running out the room, too. And I was run out of the room, and of course glass is everywhere on the floor, and normally, I guess I would put on my slippers or something but I didn't even take time to do that. I just jumped up and ran into our parents' room. And miraculously wasn't any glass on my feet, or anything. I guess I flew over the glass or something, you know, and it wasn't any damage. But, Daddy assessed what was going on as most quote unquote men of the house are, I guess, supposed to do, and he saw that the doors were, you know, bent down. There was a big hole in the front over here, and the house must have been very well constructed because that was pretty much the only thing that happened out there And of course the windows were blown out everywhere. The kitchen had, the cabinets were all open; stuff was all on the floor, I guess, due to the sound of the blast and all that kind of stuff . Then the next thing that goes about is that we all you know kind of like--. RECORDING PAUSED RECORDING RESUMED
AA: Yeah that was a very emotional time for us. We all gathered. I'm all right. We all gathered in the room and prayed, and thank God that we were living still.
MD: Was it something that was surprising to your father that this would happen?
AA: Well we lived with knowing that anything could happen to us anytime. All of us. So, because of what he stood for, and we were always trained to, you know, even when we lived on Stonewall we knew that people may try to take pot shots at us or whatever, and we had to fall and know, you know, if we heard any noise, strange noises or whatever. We had to, you know, like they do in the military, or whatever, drop and roll or whatever get out the way and kind of do just like people in the fire drills or whatever. We had all kind of drills on, you know, what to do in case something happened and where to go and all that kind of stuff because it was crazies. I mean people were even probably more crazy then, then they are now.
MD: So your parents tried to prepare you for situations
AA: Of course, of course, of course
MD: that might come up?
AA: We had to be prepared. It was a difficult time. Difficult, you know we had a different kind of growing up experience then most people. Due to the nature of what my father was trying to do. We not necessarily always got to see him because he was traveling or whatever and because of the nature of his business he spent a lot of time at work, so you didn't get a chance to spend the kind of time. And the hatred that was out there among the people and what he stood for indicated that anything happened anytime.
MD: And did you feel that hatred? It was here in Charlotte?
AA: Oh yeah, oh yeah. It was there, it was there and it probably still is. I mean I don't know. But like I said, it was a different kind of experience for us growing up and that's, I guess, why we had to be very close, because a lot of times that's we had, each other.
MD: Tell me, what kind of impact do you think that violence here in the community on, you know, and your assault on you family and other families. Did that have an impact on Charlotte at all?
AA: I think it brought Charlotte closer together, because a lot of people probably didn't believe that folks would go to that extent to get rid of folks. And it kind of changed the mindset of even those that were probably against you to say that that "Hey, it might be something to this, what they are talking about," you know, "We've better rethink our thinking and try to help these folks and make things happen the right way to show these other folks that its going to happen, and you might as well get on the bandwagon." And I think that kind of helped bring the elements of the community together in a big way at that time, and even the show of force at it related to both black and white folks getting together at the, I think we had a big meeting at, I think it was at Ovens Auditorium and brought in some national leaders and everything. And the show of support from all segments of the community that, you know, we are going to work together, as opposed to not at all, kind of made folks say, you know, "Hey, well let's get it on and do it the right way," and I think Charlotte has progressed in a lot of ways , you know, as it relates to race relations and the socioeconomic impact that it possibly have had that goes far and beyond what I even know about, you know. So yeah. I think it had a major impact on this community.
MD: What about Swann? The Swann decision and the bussing decision? Did that have a good impact on Charlotte or did you see that as having a negative impact on Charlotte?
AA: No, it had a very positive impact on Charlotte. The mere fact that it happened, the mere fact that you were still trying to change things, make things happen in the right positive way. And there again you saw that it is going to happen, you know, the decision nationally indicated that things were going to happen the right way, and that we needed to, I guess, get on, again, the bandwagon, you know. You can't do anything about it; it's going to happen. So let's go on and work together, live together, play together, go to school together and that kind of thing.
MD: So you said nationally, you know, there was the idea of this happening nationally. Do you think that helped impact, sort of, you know, say for the example the Civil Rights act of '64, Voting Act of' '65 and sort of--. Do, do you think that a made a difference here in Charlotte that people felt compelled because of that or ?
AA: Yeah, yeah. I think all of these elements of positive change have an ongoing positive effect on every community, you know, be it the Little Rock Nine. Be it the Rosa Parks. Be it whatever. Every element of any positive change has an overall effect on what other communities do, how they handle things, the whole nine yards. So we look at any change, and we still do that today. We look at what happens in communities, and base that and how they handle that on what we're going to do here locally. What we're going to do overall. So every community, even when kids were, I mean, people were getting gunned down by even police offices, here locally, and how the community brought, you know, the NAACP affected that, how the--. Now we use cameras in police cars, the whole thing. That has an overall effect on how things are done in other communities, you know, people look at that and even say that in that community we need to do the same kind of thing. We need to, and maybe that kind of thing was done in Cincinnati or whatever START TAPE 2, SIDE A
AA: that may not have happened recently. I'm sure that it will now change as it relates to that community looking at other communities, and what they have done to work this kind of problem out. So everything has an effect in one community to another as opposed to another community.
MD: Do you think that people who were leaders in this community and in the black community felt that they were being supported by the federal government at that time? Did that, did that translate or was it we have this local situation and we, you know? Do you think it was more of a local story or do you think that those kind of issues pushed the change here. Or do you think it was the people here who pushed the change here?
AA: A little bit of both. Little bit of both.
MD: The whole context?
AA: The whole context. Of course it couldn't have happened if the people over here didn't make it happen and work to make it happen and then of course the, the national, as I said, again, in terms of your own organization having you back, you feel the federal government had your back and that no matter what these folks did something's going to happen to make this change be implemented. Even if you didn't survive, it would it would definitely work. So, yeah. It had a strong impact and affect on what was going on.
MD: I know that you have been involved in so many things since a child in terms of the push for civil rights here in Charlotte. Is there one particular event or thing that you think you've been involved in that had the biggest impact on Charlotte's history? For civil rights?
AA: The biggest impact. That's one I'm going to have to think about. [Laughter] Because like you said, you know, seeing a lot and being involved in a lot here locally, I guess it kind of hard to put my finger on one particular issue. Because I think they altogether collectively have helped bring about major changes. So it's kind of hard to put your finger on one, so I guess I can't do that. I'm sorry
MD: It's ok. [Laughter] That's honest; that's what we want. Well let me ask you one last question. Well you've kind of talked about why you think desegregation was the way it did in Charlotte because of black leadership and sort of a whole national context and you know many different facets of life, you think sort of things happened the way they happened here. And we didn't have major, you know violence in the streets or problems like that. Where do you think Charlotte stands today in terms of civil rights?
AA: Today Charlotte has come a mighty long way, but yet it still has a long way to go, because there are still aspects of what's going on here that we are not equal partners in. We still have problems in certain communities in terms of the way certain communities are developed even if you go down Beatties Ford Road, you see that Beatties Ford Road is a lot different from Providence Road, or whatever. So you don't have the kind of businesses that are comfortable and come in, in certain communities, and usually those communities are black or those communities are Latino or whatever. So, as this community gets more diverse, we need to have a different mindset as it relates to what we're going to about making the community more equal, making the housing patterns more equal, making jobs more equal. So we got a long way to go still, and I think now that this community is getting more diverse, we even got people downtown that's trying to figure it out and trying to say well where are we going, which direction are we going to go in and how we're going to get over this hump, like we had to get over the black hump. So now we got a new hump to get over. So, we got to still learn to live, work, play together and until we do that we're going to have these same old problems. It's just going to escalate into a different arena. But Charlotte has to develop strategies to master these problems and start thinking about how we're going to improve all communities and not just a certain community like a Ballantyne or Myers Park. And one of the smallest things that I, I guess, equate this to is a speed bump. In the community I live in, speed bumps are a lot higher and rockier then they are in Myers Park, where they are smooth and easy. [Laughter] Simply that. A little thing like that so, you know, it's funny but not funny. It's strange but its not strange and, and I guess nobody else would look at that, but I just happened to drive in Myers Park one day and I, I knew the speed bumps in my community were a lot different. And I say, "Well why can't I have a speed bump like that?" You know, so, until we get to the point where all communities are equal, and all school systems are equal, and all schools are equal within our school system and, and all people feel comfortable about coming into your community like they do in my community, and you feel safe as you drive down this street as opposed to that street, we got a long way to go.