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Interview with Jerrold Burks

Burks, Jerrold
Rieke, Robert
Date of Interview: 
University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Liberal Arts; Career; Alumni; Civil rights; Charlotte, NC
In an interview with Robert Rieke, Jerrold Burks an alumni of UNCC reminisces about his education and his learning experiences at the University. Jerrold talks about working a fulltime job while attending fulltime classes at UNCC. He discusses how he not only received an academic education but also learned many social and survival skills. Majoring in History, Jerrold talks about his academic search for a well-suited major. Jerrold started off as a very good student in the sciences but slowly learned to enjoy and excel in the liberal arts. Jerrold was a fraternity brother with Alpha Pi Omega, and discusses the various events he participated in as a fraternity brother. He reminisces about some events that stand out in his mind as being influential in the realm of the civil rights movement in Charlotte in the late 60s.
Charlotte, 1969-1974
Interview Setting: 
Mr. Burks was interviewed at UNCC.
A Retrospective Vision (UNCC History)
Collection Description: 
Interviews with students, faculty and alumni of UNC Charlotte were collected by Robert Rieke during research for his book, "A Retrospective Vision" which explores the history of the university's first decade, 1965-1975.
RR (Robert Rieke): Well the recorder is recording and this April 3rd, 1974 Robert Rieke talking to Jerrold Burks who is a graduate of UNCC class of 1969 . Jerrold you don't know what I'm doing this for, this is part of a project for the history of University which I've been given a leave of absence to do this term and I have been talking to faculty, and students, administrators. I've had little chance however to talk to alumni, I've talked to--. Maybe you knew Jay Eaker .
JB (Jerrold Burks): ( )
RR: Or Mike McCauley and then there are one or two others around campus that are, I can find who are in town but I'm not finding too many and that's why I'm so happy to have you on campus today and sort of reminisce a little bit because of, oral history is a way of getting the flavor of things that we otherwise can't get. I can look up documents and read student newspapers and so forth but I what I need is sort of the memories and impressions and the insights and meanings that maybe you can help me with. Now, you've already told you about what you've done. Now you've spent a few years with the Connecticut Mutual as an insurance salesman and then you switched to Dual Pharmaceutical where you are now, and what brought you on campus today?
JB: Well it's a combination of two things. Dual Pharmaceutical is one division of the (Dieteene) Cooperation and the other one is (Del Mar) Institution Foods and it's for the institution food line that I was on campus today seeing the cafeteria.
RR: Would you call yourself a salesman then for them?
JB: Well I'm still learning what a salesman is but that's what I was hired for.
RR: Well now, how long have you been with them, enough to feel that this is interesting work something that has a little future for you?
JB: Oh yes, I'm not quite the type of individual; I don't think I can sit behind a desk for very long.
RR: You've been with them how many months?
JB: About say a year and a half.
RR: A year and a half. And you still consider yourself a sort of learner.
JB: Oh yes, yeah [laughter].
RR: What was your major when you were in university?
JB: History.
RR: Did you ever think of a history major going to end up as a, in this kind of job.
JB: Well, Uncle Sam had predetermined my future a little bit more so than normal and I was due for flight school when I graduated and so history was something that I enjoyed and so I took it for that reason, the enjoyment.
RR: Well I hope you didn't regret it I'm not trying to get a compliment, but--.
JB: I kind of do regret it.
RR: I know. Well Jerrold what I really want you to talk about are some of the impressions that went through your mind when you were here, maybe they're not something you want to recall but that's the kind of thing that would have meaning for me in my project and is there any special thing that you, that sticks in your mind some memory or some insight that is through reflection has reached deeper meaning since you've left that you've thought about and would like to tell me about.
JB: I think there's one thing which I realize more and appreciate more is the fact that college itself is an academic education but it's, I think it's just as much as a social education. Now, for example like when I was on campus they didn't have dorms and I would, stayed at home and was able to work and you know come out here sort of a as a drive-in student and but there's a certain amount of I think very good education that comes in from a adult life experiences in the Navy . And we get together at night say after dinner and start talking. And the first thing you know its two o'clock in the morning you've touched on a lot of different things so from that stand point learning how to communicate, exchange ideas with people which is something that is perhaps more available right here now than it was then, but just the fact of meeting people in colleges also--.
RR: In other words if you look back on that was a thing that you missed because we did not have dormitories?
JB: Yeah I missed it but I didn't know I had missed it until after I had left.
RR: Alright. Well that's sort of a meaning that you, that has come to you since you've left. What, what sort of an impact did the University have on you when you were attending? Did you, did you, you were working at that time. Where did you sort your priorities out, did you really say forty-sixty or was your job really strictly something that you just had to do in order to pursue ( ) where were you putting your interests and where were your interests then?
JB: I think my interest is on everything other than sleep. And I had jobs that required forty-eight hours a week.
RR: How much of a class load were you able to carry during those times?
JB: Oh it was a normal class load; it was sixteen, fifteen-sixteen hours.
RR: That would be about right.
JB: Five classes whatever the hour load was.
RR: Did you do all right in your studies?
JB: The first two years the liberal arts suffered, I was a biology major at that point and the sciences literally kept me in school. See things like English, and mathematics, things like this I hadn't really learned to appreciate. And it was through taking well at that point I was taking history classes simply because I enjoyed it, and the more I learned about history then eventually the better the grades became in the liberal arts area.
RR: Good.
JB: And from that standpoint I never will forget I took an English course, this was after about four history courses of general background and I took an English course and it was, I think they called it Shakespeare or Chaucer or something like that--.
RR: Who taught the course?
JB: Let's see.
RR: Robbins ?
JB: No this was, was a young lady forgot her name now, but what I was getting into, was I getting into old English literature and by that time I had enough stimulation via history to where it was not just people and ideas but something was beginning to fit into a pattern which three years later I appreciate more than I did then, but it was the first course I ever--. English course I ever made an A in simply because I enjoyed it and I think if it hadn't been for some background history then it would have been just another course. But--.
RR: Well going back to some of your work, this was, this is will become a little personal now what, what personalities on campus do you like to recall either professors or students or administrators--. Who do you think of when you think of the University , what names fly through your mind?
JB: OK. I think, I think of the University , as I'd say two groups blasted through my mind and then one or two individuals.
RR: Alright.
JB: The groups being fraternities brothers and the--.
RR: What brother were you?
JB: Alpha Pi Omega .
RR: Alpha Pi Omega .
JB: Right and the other group being the professors of the history department and then after that when you have when you think of the University I always think of Bonnie Cone , and when I was out here we had Bonnie's Boom-Boom Room which a lot of people now wouldn't have the slightest idea what
RR: Where was that located?
JB: That was down in what used to be the Student Union and everything. At that point it was the cafeteria, student union.
RR: It was the big dinning area.
JB: Right.
RR: Or part of it.
JB: Right it was just reconverted for Friday night or Saturday night, whatever.
RR: Was that, did that name emerge on just on special occasions or was it called that all the time?
JB: Now from what I remembered this was my freshman year and I'm still trying to find out--.
RR: What year would that have been?
JB: That would have been '65 .
RR: Uh-hum.
JB: And they had a party one night I think it was right after we got started with freshman year and they decorated up the bottom of the ( ) the cafeteria and they named it Bonnie's Boom-Boom Room and I think when you talk to some of the people who started about the same time I did and a lot of them were there that night and a lot of people remember it--.
RR: What was noteworthy about that night, just a good time?
JB: Just a good time.
RR: Any special musical group that was brought in for the entertainment or--? What was the entertainment do you recall?
JB: I remember we were doing some dancing but whether it was live entertainment or what I have, I have no idea.
RR: It was one of those little memorable occasions?
JB: Yeah a lot of people enjoyed it.
RR: Alright. Well you can mention the individual professors if you like I won't have to make specific reference to them in my, in my history but this tape may be preserve and it may be interesting for someone else sometime to have your recollections of campus characters or personalities that impressed you. Say what you like.
JB: Well I think I'd have never been a history major had it not been for one individual and that was Michael Grant when he was an instructor at the time and I think that what thoroughly interested me about his approach to history was that it just was not facts and figures, you know this is a war, this is a political development but threw something in there which I had never been exposed to which was the fine arts. The music, the idea of visual arts, things like this and I've never had exposure to that and I appreciated that a lot and perhaps as a result of that I saw history as a little bit different.
RR: So he was your entree into the field of history. Just for the record and for your information I'd like you to know that Michael Grant is now the director of the, of New Bern in Grand Palace . That's where he is; he's in charge of all--.
JB: You're kidding.
RR: Do you go out that way?
JB: Well when I was in the Navy I was in Pensacola and Michael was over in Mobile , Spring Valley .
RR: Right, right I knew that too.
JB: And so we used to go over there and see him quite a bit and last time I was in Mobile , I gave him a call and, well I thought I'd give him a call but I couldn't find the number and so as far as I'm concerned I lost total contact.
RR: Well he's there; he may not stay that much longer. Do you travel that far out the state?
JB: I get very close to it--.
RR: Well look him up. He's looking probably for a another post similar, he'd like to stay in museum work but he feel's as though it's just a, an early stage of his career and you may want to follow him.
JB: Grand Palace eh?
RR: Grand Palace . Who else was there that you remember with any particular impact?
JB: Well I think it was one thing that the history department threw up together one day and it came under the category of Meck Dec Day and I never will forget Dr. Morril and his, in his sheets.
RR: The trial of Meck Dec in person.
JB: Right.
RR: Do you recall any other figures from, I have a memory of that crowd too I'd like you to get your, do you recall other people that were in that trial?
JB: Right, Dr. Perzel was there I forgot the role he played, Mike Carmichael was there.
RR: Did he play a role in it?
JB: Yeah Mike and Dr. Perzel played some sort of role, I don't know if it was--.
RR: Witness or--.
JB: Prosecutor perhaps and so that was one aspect of it and I think Ben Shapers was there in some form or another.
RR: Good. I remember Abernathy and ( ) and ( ) were on the jury and John Hall was the judge.
JB: Yeah.
RR: And that's about all I remember of it now, I think Robin was the prosecutor.
JB: Yeah maybe he was, yeah but I can't remember exactly what it was, I've got, I took some photographs of them.
RR: Did you?
JB: Of the event that day right.
RR: Did you ever save them?
JB: Yes, I still have them.
RR: I wonder if they couldn't be made a part of our little archives somewhere, if you've got some off prints of them I'd like, think now it's appreciated more than then. There may have been some taken for the journal but just for our history department that would be a memory why don't you mail them to me some time.
JB: I've got Dr. Morill with one of the biggest cigars and a just a little crazy.
RR: Alright. Well that was sort of a little incident that we want to remember if we can work it in. Was else do we remember?
JB: Well, there's a personal experience I think when I first came out here the first two years I seemed to be a little bit more concerned about trying to get the good grades than trying too hard with being concerned with work and I hadn't discovered that other outlet being social outlet for about the first two years and I think to a certain degree that may have been some of the effect on the grades and then for the last two years I was out here I got into a fraternity in which opened up all sorts of social contacts and just another way to spend time and get less sleep. It seemed at that point for some reason the more outside activities I seem to have, when I did study I paid more attention to it because I was very limited.
RR: Yeah, you were happier so your work, your study work was--.
JB: My studying wasn't studying then, it was--.
RR: Fun.
JB: Right.
RR: Right. Well what are some of the other developments now, this was a rather quiet period. The nationally, the University hadn't gotten in trouble yet, there was some rumblings in California and around but as I recall by the time you graduated in the spring of '69 things hadn't really broken useless, loose yet, but there may have been something that you remember that was moving sort of exciting period of '70 , '71 when there were a lot of demonstrations. Do you? Was the black that came in the spring of '69 as I recall did you remember that at all?
JB: Yes then--.
RR: You spoke of Ben Shapers was, do you, did you have contact with Ben at that time?
JB: Right now Ben he was a pledge with my fraternity.
RR: Is that right?
JB: And then he was I think at that point he was also chairman of the student union elected to that position and I remember you know the Black Student Union, Black Student Caucus whatever you called them at that point and then putting on post cards, well not post cards but
RR: Placards.
JB: Placards. And students then taking them down the sidewalk when as you walk onto ( )
RR: Uh-hum. I remember that too.
JB: And this was, Ben was undergoing a change then, he dropped out of the fraternity and began to get more interested in other.
RR: Activities.
JB: Other yeah. But he underwent quite a change there but I enjoyed being ( ), when I think of Ben I think of him perhaps as, as I originally met him and not from the fact that ( )
RR: He was always even at that time a very sensitive person was he not?
JB: He was, but he helped me out. I remember ( ) senior year I ran for vice-president of the SGA against another fraternity brother and Ben helped out tremendously with the campaign, but Ben and Mike Carmichael also.
RR: Mike is around have you made contact with him?
JB: Right, I see Mike from time to time. I haven't seen him in about a year.
RR: Is that right? Well I've had some rather close contact with him in last year as a matter of fact he comes on campus two or three times a week. And planned to be out here today but I don't think you are going to catch him because he usually comes in the afternoons. Well you are touching some things Jerrold that really have opened some things up to me I'm beginning to remember myself, something about the ( ) black ( ) was T. J. Reddy on campus?
JB: Yes T. J. was working in the, we had a, it's a literary magazine that it was put out on campus at that point.
RR: The Armstrong.
JB: I don't know if it was that, he did work--.
RR: Or Three.
JB: It could have been either one or Sanskrit or whatever it was, but he worked I think perhaps on all three of those writing poetry, writing various articles and things like that, but yes he was here.
RR: Well you know where T. J is now?
JB: Unfortunately yes.
RR: Yes he's in Cleveland County Correction Unit and I've been in correspondence with him. I had a report from Bertha Maxwell just today who's our director of black studies she visited him yesterday in Shelby and T.J is finishing up his last course, he had an incomplete in our history course with Mr. Clover and he arranged to remove an incomplete by his taking a three hour examinations, three, two hour examinations whatever they were. He's done one of them, he's to take another one on Thursday this week and he'll set the date for the third one and when he's clear of those he's free. He will have removed his incomplete and just this morning I turned in his application for a degree which he paid for earlier when he thought he was going to graduate so it looks as though he's going to get his diploma. And we're real happy because there's some chance that if he gets his degree he will be admitted with a masters program at the University in art. And if he's admitted I think that will help him in his present situation. It may have a bearing on whether he'll get a part, in the timing of that part and so we're hopeful things will work out, we're not sure they'll work out but we're trying to make sure ( ).
JB: Sure I hope that they do.
RR: OK, well anything else?
JB: Yeah there are a couple of other areas that in talking that I never will forget the day that Stuckley Carmichael was on campus and how everybody tried to catch him in his talk but he's an, he's an excellent debater and there was, there was, there was no way you try to twist something that he'd said and that was interesting I thought.
RR: Ben introduced him ( ).
JB: Right Ben introduced him and then he lectured for a while which--.
RR: Thing, I remember two things about that, one is his playing of the theme of Africa which was the Pan-African English it was just emerging then as a sort of concept among the active blacks or those perceptive blacks that were newly emerged leadership and the second thing which was almost frightening about the incident is the, was the fact that he had these black bodyguards who stood up throughout the whole meeting and faced the audience in different positions of the audience. It was sort of a security force do you remember that?
JB: Very much so, I was ( ) perhaps one of the thing that he said.
RR: And there was a student, I wish I could remember his name, who stood up, Jones, he was one of our history majors, or political science majors, he was a fellow who had been away and come back and very much matured, took this very painful questioning line about does this mean those of us who are white and working for the cause or reject it. You are on to a, and he gave a sort of ambiguous answer. Do you remember that?
JB: Yeah.
RR: Do you remember the person who made that? Jerry something. You wouldn't remember him because he was a political science major but I remember his question as being one that sort of, the really the most sensible question asked in the question period. You don't remember that?
JB: No I don't remember too much of the questions but I remember that everything that everybody tried to fire at him he was--.
RR: ( )
JB: ( ) he was able to turn it around to his advantage.
RR: OK you said you had two things to remember what was the other thing?
JB: The other one was the fact that the day, or the day that they took the flag down on campus, the Black Caucus removed the flag and--.
RR: Had the little armband, black armband controlling the administration building, Reese Building .
JB: There was quite a few, quite a few I don't know how many there were but it was almost a temptation to do something that day.
RR: On whose part?
JB: Me personally.
RR: Speak about it.
JB: I felt like for some reason I don't know if I was just overly patriotic that day or what but, but that bothered me from--.
RR: You felt offended, disturbed by it is that right?
JB: That's right and but a couple of other people around me--.
RR: Calmed you down.
JB: Taught me not to do something that I may regret later--.
RR: There was, there was some gathering on campus as I remember, various groups and just sort of a, I don't believe they brought in the security forces on campus as I recall weren't there some security forces called who were needed to be on campus.
JB: Right they had several highway patrol units and county patrol units and things like this that were on campus and I don't remember but it seems like they may have had some additional other than the regular security personnel that we had on campus that day. But I think something that sort of hurt more was I always think the year prior to that was when I was getting to know Ben and the fact that he and if I'm not mistaken it was one of the same people who were perhaps part of the Black Panther unit here in Charlotte who also served as a bodyguard for Stuckley Carmichael . That individual bodyguard type fellow in being one of the fellows that took down the flag and that probably bothered me to a certain extent there also, but it was sort of strange like we went through our rebellions against Vietnam so to speak and after this movement, anti-war movement, the emergence.
RR: When?
JB: When I was on campus, it was just beginning to develop and then you look back at it now and anti-war movements and things like this are, it's not there, it's, it's other things that people are interested in.
RR: Do you remember the Bitch In?
JB: Oh yeah, I attended a couple of Bitch Ins.
RR: I remember the history department sponsored Bitch In, who was our president of the History Club that year, his name slips away from me? They went down and taught school in South Carolina with Barry and I can't think of Barry's last name.
JB: Rick Arnett .
RR: Dale Barrett . Rick Arnett , Rick Arnett right he was the one who sponsored it and I remember Ben speaking actually that Bitch In was my first insight. I remember the black student who was there and it was the expression on his face and his body movement as Ben was speaking that suddenly I saw what was going on with his clenched fist and the, the intensity of the identification of what Ben was saying I said to myself "I understand it now" these young men are being robbed of their manhood and their, their identity unless they have pride and goodness of the particular cause that they're trying to ( ) here, and I think, you know I have been ambivalent up until that time. But I, I saw, and I was a very valuable experience to me as I recall.
JB: You know you think about it, would a less, I would say the radicalism so to speak if you can call it, what a less radical approach have done or would have accomplished the same objective for them and I doubt if it would have.
RR: I don't think so. I think they did it right. And on this campus they never overplayed it to where there was a distinct backlash I mean it, it was very cleverly done, they really beautifully done psychologically they made their point and they, they would never, I imagine there was some mumbling and grumbling but there was never a kind of confrontation that led to disorder to the point where somebody got hurt or what they were trying to accomplish was lost in, in overplaying it. Yeah I mean yeah, yeah I was rather impressed to what happened on this campus it was mild compared to other campuses.
JB: Very much so and it was, I haven't thought about some of these areas in a long time but I think that was a good education also.
RR: It sure was, it sure was.
JB: And on a lighter side, remembering the forums we used to have in the Spring of every year and--.
RR: Yeah the University Forum.
JB: Right and I'll never forget the year that Dr. Kissinger and Dr. ( ) came down and a few other individuals and this was the year I think of--.
RR: That was the spring '68 .
JB: Right ( ) but on the lighter side at the fraternity we had the obligation of chauffeuring these fellows back and forth to the hotel and the airport and things like this and Roland Deloach and I were--.
RR: Say the name again.
JB: Roland Deloach .
RR: Roland Deloach .
JB: Right we were, it was Friday night, Thursday night something like this and we were working graveyard shift at UPS . Then going in about 9:30 and working till about 3:00 and the forum was over about 8:30 and Dr. ( ) had a flight that left Charlotte about 9:00 or something like that and we Roland was supposed to, supposed to drive him out to the airport and Roland had packed the car, had his luggage in it and all of that, and the only thing Dr. ( ) had was his notes for that particular lecture and Roland thought he could go home and catch a couple of hours of sleep till about seven o'clock and then get up get a bite to eat and come back here and by the time before we had just gotten started and so he could me Dr. ( ) afterwards he was leaving early but Roland didn't hear the alarm clock [laughter] and I remember we were calling the highway patrol, the Charlotte police trying to find out if there had been an accident some place ( ) I called him up--.
RR: You were out here?
JB: Yeah I was out here because I was backup.
RR: Oh you were back up?
JB: Yeah for carrying Dr. ( ) out to the airport and they called Roland's house several times and couldn't get an answer because he was just dead to the world and I remember Bonnie Cone that night she was thinking well should we call or report a stolen car. Campus car, a state owned vehicle and I was trying to figure out what to do and so eventually I took him out to the airport, he borrowed a, a raincoat from--.
RR: Loy Whitherspoon .
JB: Yeah Dr. Witherspoon and we took him out to the airport. He had no baggage he had no notes for the lecture he was supposed give the next morning and then after we got him on the airplane then trying to find his luggage so we could send that up to him and which had his notes in it for his next lectures and, but that was one of the humorous things that--.
RR: Yeah I remember that, I remember being there and probably asking where Roland Deloach was and he just wasn't there. Jerry it's getting to the point where, Jerrold it's getting to the point where we've got to, at least I've got to get ready for a senate meeting and gee I wish we could go on but this has been a real, real help because you've touched on some things that I know about but I've forgotten about and you're, you are recalling from your point of view and this has been great.
JB: Well I appreciate the opportunity it's been interesting ( )
RR: It thought you'd enjoy it, OK thanks a lot we'll stop right now.