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Interview with James Cuthbertson

Cuthbertson, James
Cuthbertson, James
Sanders,Bridgette; Stickel, Lois
Date of Interview: 
University of North Carolina at "Charlotte, NC", Civil Rights, Student Government, Black Student Union, Black Panthers
James Cuthbertson discusses civil rights and activism at the University of North Carolina at "Charlotte, NC" during the 1960s and 1970s.
"Charlotte, NC", NC; 1960-1979
Interview Setting: 
UNCC library
Oral History, UNC Charlotte Civil Rights Series
Notes to tagger: For names and organizations, reference interviews of T.J. Reddy, Benjamin Chavis, Humphrey Cummings, Dorothy Dae, John Lafferty, and Dr. Ronald Caldwell. LS (Lois Stickell): Questions but they're not set in stone you know, whatever you want to say or talk about is fine. But we're going to start by asking you what is your name.
JC (James Cuthbertson): James Oscar Cuthbertson, Jr.
LS: OK. And when did you come to UNC-"Charlotte, NC"? What year?
JC: I was here from Fall 1968 till the, I graduated May 1972, Spring 1972.
LS: And what was, do you remember your first impression when you got here?
JC: The university was small then. There were only about fifteen hundred students my freshman year. So I wasn't exactly overwhelmed, but anytime you're stepping into a college situation you're so unsure. And, you know, first thing is registration. And registration can be a shocker, so. I was just apprehensive, that's all, apprehensive, about what I was going to have to do to be successful.
LS: Were you a Charlotte, NC native?
JC: Yes, I'm from Charlotte, NC.
LS: Oh, you were. So it wasn't an entirely new place for you?
JC: Well, it was the first time I had stepped foot on campus.
LS: Oh.
JC: Cause then the university didn't have dorms. There was no dorm and there was no gymnasium. It was just five or six buildings.
LS: OK. And when do you think the college started to become a little more political or there started to be some activism on campus?
JC: I think my freshman year, you know, with Ben Chavis and T.J. Reddy. And Dr. James Grant. Etc. It was 1968. Martin Luther King had been assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated and people were in a different political mode. Some people were in a different political mode. Now, I was totally... Ben Chavis and I were totally two different people, and our philosophy and our modus operandus was entirely different. He's a very smart guy, so was T.J. Reddy, and I really used to like Dr. James Grant. He was very, he was very nice person. He was older. He was a little bit more older and settled. But our, their goal was exclusion and some of the rest of us had a goal of inclusion. And that was kind of different.
LS: You wrote for the student.--
JC: Newspaper.--
LS: Newspaper.
JC: Yeah, I wrote four years for the Carolina Journal. .
LS: Oh, four years.
JC: And I was in student government.
LS: Your freshman year?
JC: Sophomore, well I was, I won the election. I was sophomore class, sophomore representative, junior class president, and Moore Hall Dorm representative my senior year. I ran for senior class president and lost by fourteen votes.
LS: Oh no. [laughter]
JC: To the guy that I had beaten for junior class president. So, you know. [laughter] And I worked with, Ms. UNC-"Charlotte, NC" 49er pageant and I was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and I was on the tennis team. So we were.--
LS: You were busy.
JC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That. My goal. Our goal, some of us, was more inclusion. Ben's goal was kind of exclusion. I didn't really see where that would work. It was good for a shock technique, but to really get involved and start doing things, you kind of had to work within the system a little bit. For instance a, the first constitution for the Black Student Union was turned down by student legislature. And we got together and I authored pretty much the first one that passed, and that's how the Black Student Union got started, officially. Because before that it was kind of unofficial. But we called for, there were two people. Myself and Dorothy Conley on legislature and I just called for a roll call vote. And people have a tendency when you call for a roll call vote to, when you put them on the line like that there, they're going to show how they really feel. And it passed with no problems.
LS: OK. Well a, this question may not even apply. But, you were mentioning Ben Chavis and there were, I guess there were meetings, organizational meetings for the Black Student Union or even just the black students had like meetings. Were, did you attend any of those?
JC: Of course, I mean. I was actively involved in that. It's just that we had two different ideas. But a. There were meetings, there were seminars, etc. The Black Demands, I think that was the fall of 1968. We wanted the same things, but I was a little bit different and in that I was willing to work for it in a different way. I was, I was one of Ms. Bonnie's boys so, you know, I worked very closely with her because I thought very highly of her and still do as a person that really early on led this campus through integration and then Dean Colvard came behind her. But yeah, we were friends. We just didn't agree eye to eye all the time. But we were friends. I thought he was a very smart guy. And, you know, as a little freshman I wasn't quite willing to put myself out like he was as a junior or a senior 'cause this was a whole new world for me. But we took some of his ideas and we went with them. We just went about getting it a different way. And the university at that time was flexible enough to absorb some of this new ideology and to move forward. It wasn't, everything wasn't so set in stone like it might had been at some of the older universities in the country where stuff had been the same way for so long. Everything here was new.
LS: Now, and you mentioned Bonnie Cone and the, the black student demands. What's your memory of how that happened? The, we've talked with like well a couple of different people. We have a couple of different views or memories, I guess, of how that happened. I just wanted your impressions.
JC: First of all, Bonnie Cone was the type of person where you could just pop up in her office and you could talk to her. It wasn't, you didn't have to go through a big screening process to get in her office. The way I remember it in the fall when they lowered the black flag which a, made a lot of people take notice. And some of the demands were for instructors, and more inclusion, and like we did get an instructor that spring. He was an African guy that taught African history, that was the early part of the probably the African American history program, African American studies program. And unfortunately, he died. But he died with my ( ) ... I ended up getting a P. [laughter]
LS: He got ?--
BS(Bridgette Sanders): In the middle of the semester he died.--
JC: He died in the middle of the semester, yea. --
BS: You got a "P" instead of an "A".-
JC: I got a "P" instead of an "A". But all of us got in his course, and then shortly after that Dr. Bertha Maxwell came to start an African American Cultures program and I took her course, too. And that's when she started the African American Cultural program. But, you know, my memories are the university took a look at the demands to see what they could implement, long range and short range. And I thought they went about trying to find ways to implement. I don't know what other people said, but that's, that's the way.--
LS: And, and. --
JC: [laughs]--
LS: Pretty that's much what they said. That Bonnie Cone kind of mediated the whole process and made it start happening.
JC: Yeah, she was a great lady.
LS: Yeah. I saw you wrote in the obituary on her online eulogy thing.
JC: Yeah, she was a great lady.
LS: Now, you said you were 'Bonnie's boys.' Now, those were the students that?--
JC: Well, that's kind of just a phrase. I mean I was her.--
BS: Was her favorite.--
JC: Right. Exactly.--
LS: Oh, oh.--
BS: I've heard of Ms. Bonnie's boys before.
JC: And I really admired her and she thought highly of me, too. She a, well, for instance, I wanted to go to Chapel Hill. So they sent me a rejection letter because I had a 2.5. That's all. I mean when you're in a fraternity. And back then fraternities were something else. My average kind of dropped from 3.0 to 2.5. And they sent me a rejection letter one day, so I went to her office and showed it to her. I was kind of upset about it. The next day, I got an acceptance letter.
BS: [gasps]
JC: I got an acceptance letter. I got a summer job with The Charlotte Observer. , and I got in, I got some money to go to Chapel Hill. So. It was just like that. That. And that's when I realized what real power was. And she had power and connections. But she was the type of person that I don't really think color mattered to her. It was just; she was just very human, for the human being. And she was. Everybody liked her.
BS: Yeah. I heard she was fair.
JC: Yeah.
BS: She would listen
JC: Yeah.
BS: Even if she couldn't do anything about it she would listen to you and try or offer alternatives and stuff.
JC: And you know. That was a lot better for that period than. A lot of people didn't have that opportunity so for that I was grateful. I picked UNC-"Charlotte, NC" because I had full scholarship to go to Chapel Hill and I had a full scholarship to come to UNC-"Charlotte, NC". And I'm probably one of the few people that turned down a full scholarship to go to Chapel Hill to come to UNC-"Charlotte, NC". But I'm glad I did. A, I was just too scared to go to Chapel Hill. [laughter]
JC: It was just too big.
LS: Back then it was probably was just a few thousand students, compared to today.
JC: You know, but this. But this place. Actually, it was twenty thousand when I went to grad school. So it was still big, it was big. UNC-"Charlotte, NC" grew from fifteen hundred my freshman year to when I graduated we had sixty six hundred students. So it kind of.--
BS: Wow.
JC: So it grew by six fold in four years. So I got to experience a lot of change in the university, and got to do a lot of things and I was really grateful for that.
BS: Now, now when you were here do you recall an approximate number of black students that were here at that time?
JC: Oh yeah. Let's see. My freshman year less then twenty. OK. My sophomore year, that would be Dot's year, probably about fifty maybe.
JC: And then my senior year maybe about seventy or some like that, it started growing. And after that it started to really grew, one hundreds, two hundreds, etc.
LS: Now I'm fixated on this incident of the flag.
JC: Um-hum.
LS: Where they took down they took down the American flag and put up the Black Power flag. Is that right?
JC: Yes.
LS: And what was the atmosphere on campus?
JC: It was very tense. It was very tense. [laughs] A lot of the people did not like that. But they served notice that this thing was serious that we were asking for. But a lot of people did not like that.
LS: And they called in the police.
JC: If I remember. I don't, I don't think city police came in. I don't know. I don't remember. It was so quick. I mean, like, it wasn't like it went up and stayed up forever.
LS: Mm-hum.
JC: It was so quick. But there were a lot of people upset about it. You've got to remember, there were a lot of veterans on campus. Vietnam War was going on and a lot of people had been to Vietnam. So. That was like kind of, looking back.
BS: Mm-hum.
JC: Looking back that was kind of an affront to them. But for us it was like look let's take notice, we've got to get rid of some of these injustices. So you had that balanced with that basically. That's how, that's how I remember that.
LS: And so, what happened after they took the flag down? And?
JC: Pretty much nothing. They said there was some discussion the next few days about how to, how to listen to these demands and what to do about them. And I don't think, that semester. I don't think anything was done as far as the demands were concerned. I think basically... And there were ten of them. I don't remember what all of them were. You've probably got that written down somewhere.
BS: Yeah. But we actually.--
LS: We have it up in the archives.--
BS: There's a picture of them in here.--
LS: There's a picture of him in the paper, but you can just read the like the last two or three. Did they, they posted them on the doors to buildings?
JC: I think. Well they were all over the place. But I think on, the building is King now, because that's where the flagpole was. So then, I don't remember what it was.
BS: Can't hardly read them but.
JC: Oh my. I can't read that without my glasses. [laughter]
BS: They do talk about them. They wanted more black faculty.
JC: Right, more black faculty.
BS: They wanted.--
LS: More black students.--
JC: More black students.
BS: Where did I see those demands? [sound of papers being moved]
LS: We have a copy in our office.
BS: Yeah. The Black Student Union. They wanted the Black Student Union. And there's another of these. [sound of papers being moved]
JC: The Black Student Union we got rather quickly. Well, no, not really. That would have been first semester of my sophomore year is when we got Black Student Union. The faculty and professors was real slow, I mean. I don't know whether there was a demand nationwide for all these faculty and professors to go to all these different schools. But that part was real slow. That didn't really; it hadn't really come about in full while I was still here. Maybe my junior year a few and my senior year a few. Probably, maybe that was the hardest to do. That wasn't coming as quickly as some of the others.
LS: Now, and you mentioned Dr. Grant.
JC: Mm-hum.
LS: Who was he?
JC: Alright. Jim Grant was a protegee of Ben Chavis. He was a chemistry professor who wasn't working, but he was working with the black movement. It was, he was from up North. And some people had come down in the Charlotte, NC area. He was one of the guys that was a, charged with burning down the Lazy B Stable off West Boulevard.
BS: Oh.
JC: Matter of fact, that was right by the neighborhood where I grew up. It was a horse farm when I was a kid. And I think they were convicted on that and went to jail. I believe.
LS: Yes.
JC: Yeah. And I think he died, not too long after that. Maybe he died in jail. I'm not sure. I don't think Ben was in that because he was still on campus. Because he finally graduated, I think he took a semester out, but I remember Ben graduating. Ben Chavis. T. J. Reddy. I don't think he was in there. But it, it was three people at the Lazy B Horsefarm--
LS: Yeah. It was T.J.--
JC: T.J. was?
JC: Did he get convicted?
LS: Yes.
JC: OK. So he went to jail?
LS: Mm-hum.--
JC: OK. So T.J. went to jail. T.J., James Grant, and I don't remember who the third one was.
LS: I don't either
JC: But they said they. I saw the place after it was burned, of course. It was, evidently they went to try ride horses or something and they told them no?
LS: I, I.
JC: OK. [laughter]
LS: I don't know the whole story.
BS: Yeah. You showed me a copy of that. But I didn't read all of it. I think you're right. They went to ride horses.
JC: Yeah. And they told them no.
BS: And then they got angry.
JC: Mm-hum.
BS: Angry.
JC: And came back. Cause those people are kind of racist. We a, we used to go pick blackberries in that horse farm during the day and sometimes they would run us out on horses and stuff, you know. We still sneaked in.
BS: [laughs]
JC: Cause that was, I was in middle school then. We, those blackberries were delicious. [laughter]
LS: OK. Alright, that's good to know, good to know. And. I'm trying to stick with my list. But I'm not very good at this so
Bridgette has to prompt me every once in a while. And so after the flag incident, do you remember kind of what the atmosphere was? What, did the tension get better or worse, or did the whole thing just blow over?
JC: I think the attitude of most people around here was how to make this thing work. It was obvious it wasn't going to go away. I think after the tension people started exploring why. I think, if I remember correctly, I think there were some committees where people just talked about it. Because the university was very receptive to listening to us as black students, especially Miss Bonnie. She didn't want any problems, no hassles whatsoever. And that's when I think they started to work on, on getting people in here. Now we had a few other incidents like, we had a big thing about getting more black cheerleaders. Because for us it was all visible, it was all.--
BS: All.--
JC: Where are we in the university on different things, on different committees? Course after that we were always on committees. Like, I was on Tate Culbertson scholarship committee, Humphrey Cummings worked for Sanskrit. Dot, Coco, they ended up being cheerleaders our junior year. And then, I went out my senior year, and I did it for one year when they had, finally decided to have boys on the squad. So we were all about getting in these things so when people look at UNC Charlotte they see black kids, and they see black people instead of just, you know, totally white thing. And slowly but surely, the university was receptive to that. Well, not slowly for us, but looking back it probably happened all rather quickly. A lady from New York, Jewish lady, Alice Tate Culbertson, I believe.
BS: Mm-hum.
JC: She came up with money for scholarships for, because I got one of them.
LS: How was she affiliated?
JC: She knew Miss Bonnie.
LS: Oh.
JC: She knew Miss Bonnie. She was a philanthropist who knew Miss Bonnie. And she put money in to endow scholarships solely for black students. And. Ya'll might still have that scholarship.
BS: Mm-hum. I think we do.
JC: Yeah. Yeah. And a.--
BS: And I think we have actually have a Tate collection here.
LS: We do.--
BS: That's hers.--
JC: Mm-hum.
BS: That she.--
LS: Donated.--
BS: Donated.
JC: She's probably dead by now.
BS: I believe she is.
JC: Yeah. Yeah. She was a very wealthy lady and she sent this money out here to endow scholarships for black students. So they were trying to encourage more blacks to come to UNC-Charlotte.
BS: Now is that how Diane Scoggins became Ms. UNCC? Wasn't that right around that time period? Like 1970?
JC: Yeah. Yeah.
BS: '71, so is that a part of --
JC: It was a. The way that they pick Ms. UNCC back then was by vote. And she was a pretty popular person.
JC: And she was a pretty, pretty young lady, too. Yeah. Yeah. So, people were willing. Like we got invited to join a white fraternity. Which we did not, but about five or six of us got invited. Once they started fraternities here. It was about 1969 they started fraternities. 'Cause there was nothing. I mean everything was new. APO [Alpha Phi Omega], service fraternity, and the business Alpha Kappa Psi, those were the big ones. But then social fraternities came in and Rotorac. I was in Rotorac as a freshman. That was a big freshman, big club. So there was a lot of attempts at inclusion. It was coming slow because there weren't just many black students here. So, you know, one person couldn't be in everything. A and. Basically there were a lot of attempts of inclusion. Like we were invited to join Kappa Alpha but we decided not to because we had a man on campus named Sammy McGriff who was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity so he talked to us and we ended up pledging Kappa.
LS: Now, in some of those pictures,
BS: Go ahead. --
LS: Oh, in some of those pictures Chavis is wearing the Black Panthers beret and even in the "Charlotte, NC" newspapers of the time they were talking about there were Panthers arrested. On campus or even in the "Charlotte, NC" community were you aware of.--
JC: Black Panthers?
LS: Black Panthers.
JC: No.
LS: OK. You think the beret was an affectation?
JC: The beret. Well, red, black, and green was a big color, were big colors back then of the black power movement. I think Ben might have been affiliated with the Black Panthers. But the Black Panthers as I really know them were basically people who kicked ass and took names. I mean, these weren't people who were going to cooperate with white people. These were people who were totally a, to themselves. They hated everything white. And I just didn't gather that. I didn't even get that from Ben Chavis. I got, from him I got he was attacking some of the ideas and old guard and the way things had happened. But not necessarily the type person who would kill you just because you were white. And that's the way I perceived the Black Panthers. They were, they were kind of ruthless. They didn't play. I think Jim Grant at one time might have been affiliated with them but he was a much milder person by the time.--
BS: [cough]--
JC: By the time I met him.
LS: So he was black?
JC: Mm-hum.
LS: And he was a professor in the chemistry department?
JC: No, no. He was a PhD. He had a PhD in chemistry. But he wasn't working at all when he was down here.
JC: He just like, people that come from up North down South to tackle causes and that kind of stuff. He was that kind of a person.
BS: Now you were here when a, Ben ran for student body president. --
JC: What year was that?--
BS: A.--
LS: It's near the front of those papers.
BS: Near the front? [sound of pages being turned]
JC: I'm trying to think if remember him running for student body president.
LS: He ran against John Lafferty.
JC: I don't think I was here then.
BS: '68.--
JC: What year was that?--
BS: That was before you.
JC: That was before I --
BS: '60.--
JC: That was before I.--
LS: And then he had to resign I think.--
BS: The Spring.--
LS: In the Spring.--
BS: '69. Yeah.--
LS: Because he didn't make your grades.--
JC: Oh, that was before I came.
JC: Yeah, that was before I came. But I think I vaguely remember that.
JC: Now I remember John Lafferty.
JC: Because he was on student government when I was on student government.
JC: But he was a couple, a few years ahead of me. Maybe he was a senior maybe when I was a freshman.
BS: What do you a, I mean how was he? Was he, what was his reaction to black people? I mean, was he friendly? Was he, didn't want to have anything to do with you, or?
JC: OK. In my opinion there were very few people that were just out right racist. At least on campus. Now I don't know how this would have been in their house. I don't know.
BS: Right.--
JC: But out here he was alright. --
BS: OK.--
JC: He was a good person. I don't have anything bad to say about him. He was a nice person. He was a friendly person.
LS: He was, he was the judge on the student court that tried Ben Chavis. And I guess the charge was putting up the flag.--
BS: Yeah. --
LS: Putting up the black flag.--
BS: No wasn't the charge that they did it wrong? That they did something wrong. Did something wrong. Not the flag, but some procedure.
JC: I don't think Ben got thrown out of school for that, though.
LS: No, but they had a student court and he brought lawyers. He brought James Ferguson and.
JC: Ben did?
LS: Yeah.
JC: OK. Yeah.
LS: And but, but.--
JC: They were big lawyers then.
LS: But well, they threw him out. They said this is a student court.--
JC: ( )--
LS: But John Lafferty was the student court judge.--
LS: And, and in fact he and Ben Chavis seem to keep crossing paths because they ran track together.
JC: See I didn't even know that Ben ran track.
LS: Oh you didn't?
JC: Uh-uh.
LS: It, his first year here he ran track.
LS: And then a, what was the other? Oh and then they ran against each other for the student body president, they just seem to keep crossing paths.
JC: But they were both two strong people. So at that time with a lot of people commuting and not really buying into the university. --
BS: Mm-hum.--
JC: A yeah, they would. Because they would be two of the strongest people on the campus probably.
LS: So nobody lived on campus?
JC: No, no. They didn't get--
LS: Everybody drove in everyday?
JC: Mm-hum.
LS: Well then it wouldn't seem like there would be a very strong social community. You know, it seems like people come. go to their classes and go home.
JC: Yeah. --
BS: Hang out in student union?--
JC: Yeah. Yeah. Downstairs in student union was the big hangout. Now they did get dorms my sophomore year which was in the fall of 1969. But I didn't stay on campus then. I moved in the fall of a, 1970. Cause I was an RA. But people would come and there were ballgames. I mean, there were things unifying us. There were basketball games, that a lot of people went to. We didn't have a gym so we played down in Harrisburg.--
BS: Oh.
JC: Which is right down the street. Intramurals. We had a, that was one of the best things that UNCC had. A very strong intramurals program. Football, and basketball, cause we played and we used to play over at Derita and then we played down in Harrisburg and then they finally go the gym my sophomore year. But even though it was small and a commuting college there was a lot of a pretty good social life. I remember seeing the Five Stair Steps and Cubie, we used to come back for dances and stuff. I didn't really dance. Not back then. [laughter]
JC: But we used to come back to school for dances and stuff and people were drawn back. That was one reason why I finally decided to live on campus because I was spending half my time riding out here anyway going back and forth from home. So I just decided to finally move out here. But it was strong community and you know people, Sherry Drake, Phil Wilson, again Humphrey Cummings, and Ben, then Tracy, Barbara Macon, it was kind of like a family. It was small enough to be kind of like a family, white and black.
LS: Who was Sherry Drake?
JC: Editor of The Carolina Journal. .
JC: And then Mike McCulley. [laughs] I don't have anything good to say so I won't say anything. [laughter]
LS: Now and Bill Billups, do you?
JC: He was student body president, yeah, yeah. Bill Billups. He was an OK person.
BS: How about Joe McCorkle.
JC: Yeah.--
BS: Was that.--
JC: I remember Joe.
BS: You remember him?--
JC: Yeah. Joe and Charlie, Charlie Sutton, and Stanley Patterson. Then there were a few people that we didn't quite see eye to eye with but a, most of them, most people were willing to at least listen and to try to do something. That was uniquely different for UNCC and I think a lot of that came from the top, from Dr. Bonnie Cone. And then while I was here, they replaced her and people were really upset about that, the fact that they didn't give her the chancellor's title. 'Cause they were saying that she didn't have a doctorate. Well, since then we all know that there have been chancellors in the UNC system don't have a doctorate, and she did have an honorary one anyway. But a lot of people were upset about that but Dean Colvard came in. We didn't know then that he was from Mississippi and that he had been involved in, you know, integration encounters in Mississippi. So he same in and didn't, pretty much didn't lose a beat. He wasn't as personable or, we couldn't get to him like we could Ms. Bonnie, but he was still a good chancellor. [pause]
LS: You answered all of our questions. [laughter]
BS: Yeah. Ben was, he was charged with causing the sponsoring of a non-authorized press conference without seeking permission from the proper authorities.
JC: Yeah. And that was happening all over the country so. [laughs] So what did they do? I don't recall, I don't recall.
BS: Let's see, what did they do?
JC: Cause they didn't kick him off campus. He was still a student.
BS: He was judged guilty and was officially reprimanded.
JC: Oh, OK.
BS: That's it, reprimand stayed on his record for ninety days.
LS: He refused to speak at the trial. He had Reginald Hawkins and James Ferguson come to moral support or whatever. And they wouldn't let them stay in the meeting.
JC: [laughs] Whew, they got Hawkins to leave? [laughs] I know that was hard. [laughter]
JC: He's one of my frat brothers, and boy, when he starts talking. -- [laughter]
JC: You can't keep him quiet.-- [laughter]
LS: Well, yeah. And then Ben Chavis. Their advice to him was don't say anything so he just sat mute through the whole trial I guess and wouldn't answer there questions.
BS: Do you know what press conference he sponsored? Do you know what they're talking about?
JC: Probably when they raised the flag.--
BS: The flag, they're calling that a press conference?
JC: Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause for the Charlotte, NC media that would be a big event. You know, anytime something happened on university campuses that was different they would have been out here. Especially in that that period where protests were happening all over the country. You got Jackson State, you got people getting killed at Jackson State. People getting killed at South Carolina State and Kent State. So you've got all these states, and here in Charlotte, NC they see UNCC, so it's an opportunity to go out and really probably hope that something happens. [laughs] It would have been nice if everybody just started fighting but that didn't happen. [laughter] They probably would have loved that.
BS: Yeah, yeah. [laughter]
JC: Breaking news from UNC-Charlotte, NC. There were a lot of people upset. Especially the veterans, but there wasn't any fighting or anything like that.
BS: No storming the administration or any?
JC: No. But people were really upset, especially the veterans and there were a lot of white kids were upset. This was [pause] radical. I mean it wasn't something. It was radical--an American flag, you know, now I would probably be upset if someone took down the American flag, but I'm older now and I'm a little bit more conservative than I used to be then. But this was radical, but what they couldn't see was the nation had to change. The climate of the nation had to change so more people were inclusive and they really couldn't feel what we felt. And we didn't really feel what people before us felt, because coming in 1968, like I went to an integrated high school first time in eleventh grade. So eleventh grade and twelfth grade. And Charlotte, NC was kind of mild compared to what was happening around the rest of the country. I mean. We didn't have anybody like Dorothy Counts, there was nobody spitting on us or.--
BS: Ok--
JC: Telling us that, using the "N" word and say go home, nothing like that. So we hadn't experienced nothing like that. And then we get out here and we didn't experience it either. But we knew that there had to be some changes for appearances sake and for us to feel more comfortable. Like no black professors, more students so you have more people that look like you.
BS: Yeah.
JC: And you just tend to feel more comfortable, that's all. Well, since then every university in the nation has learned that. So now diversity is a big issue. But then it really wasn't a big issue.
BS: So do you remember, what was that incident,
Lois, that happened at West "Charlotte, NC" [high school] that a girl downstairs was telling you about?
LS: I thought she said it was some kind of riot and they called the police out. It was a race thing.
JC: Mm-hum.
LS: But I'm not sure that I remember the exact incident because it was around the same time only it was at a high school. I think it might have been a recently integrated high school because it was in North "Charlotte, NC" and I think that it was in some kind of farm community with all white kids.
JC: That would have been North Mecklenburg.--
BS: North Meck, yeah.
JC: The problem with North Mecklenburg when I was in high school, their nickname was the Rebel so they fought to change that nickname. So they had a riot to change the nickname from Rebels to Vikings. And North was, we played tennis against them when I was in high school. North was, there was the black school was Torrance Lytle and you've got to remember there were some. When they were all black schools, most of the black kids went to a black school, so the high schools were West "Charlotte, NC", Second Ward, and York Road. And then there was a, Torrance Lytle out in the country, and J. H. Gunn. Now York Road was only a high school from say maybe 1962 to '66. So it was only a high school for about four years. So they were planning on, they told us they were planning on building a brand new school off South Tryon Street. Which is, would be right in the middle of interstate 77 right now. But then, when, I don't know what ruling came down or whether Charlotte, NC just decided to make a decision. But all of a sudden the school board just decided ok we're not going to build the school up there, we're going to build it out in the country. So there were going to be two schools, Independence and South Charlotte. Alright. So what they did was take the Independence plan, modify it, stopped South Charlotte, moved it out in the country and decided to fully integrate. So in my high school was probably thirty percent black even in 1966. And that's when they were moving toward integration. Back then there was no choice, no magnets, basically they just drew lines and wherever it was you would go. And then eventually.
BS: ( )
JC: Yeah. Because Second Ward was so close to Myers Park.
BS: Myers Park. [spoken rhetorically]
JC: Myers Park had this status symbol even back then. But because Second Ward was so close to Myers Park so Myers Park students was going to have to go to Second Ward, they closed it. OK. And sent those Second Ward students to Myers Park, Harding, and to West Charlotte. And that's how they completed integration back then. But, a lot of those riots and stuff. Now the North was different because they really had an issue. But when one school inCharlotte, NC back in the '70s would start rioting, and it would come on TV, then every, they go just like clock work.
JC: Because the kids wanted to get out of school.
BS: [laughter]
JC: So, when the schools figured out that the kids were using the system to get out of school, they kind of stopped. But--
BS: [laughter]
JC: Riot at Independence, and it comes on the news. Then next is Myers Park, then South, then Olympic, the West, then a, Garinger. They just used it to get out of school basically. And then when people finally got smart it stopped, yeah.
LS: Now you said you went to, that your high school was integrated like your senior or something. Ben Chavis went to. I think he went to an all black high school. And then he went to a historically black college his first year. Saint Augustine.
JC: I didn't know he went to Saint Aug. OK.
LS: And then a, and he must have been really low profile because I went up there to find pictures in year book. There was just one tiny, little mention that he was enrolled.
JC: At Saint Aug?
LS: Mm-hum.
JC: Did you go to Oxford?
LS: I did. But, but when I went to Saint Augustine he seemed to be low profile.
JC: Mm-hum.
LS: Was my point, and then when he got here, he wasn't low profile. What do you think changed or happened, or made him so active, made him become an activist?
JC: I think number one he was smart. Very smart person. The times were changing. After Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were killed, a whole lot of people started thinking differently. Probably in Raleigh there were no activists to be able talk to him, and when he got to "Charlotte, NC" there were some activists in the community. Like Reginald Hawkins was a big activist, and I think some of those people talked to him and he started changing his ideology and his philosophy. But I don't think Ben Chavis was a person who hated white people either. He just wanted some things, but he was very radical in his attempt to try to get them. Where some of the rest of us were more patient and willing to go slow, but he wasn't, he wasn't the type person that wanted to go the slow route. And some of the rest of us were willing to go slower and be more patient. And then, our experiences at that time as freshmen and sophomores. We weren't as experienced as he was either. We had experienced racism, of course, because we grew up in the South. But, and I. Then again I don't think Charlotte, NC was quite as bad as some of the outlying areas. Even today if you step over, you go to West Lincoln County and I stepped into a store and everybody looked at me like, OK, why are you here. So, OK. So you know all the local people, I'm just passing through. And up in Union County you can still hit some pockets where, where, there's still some racist spots. But I think, I think pretty much he was listening to people, there was a need, and I think he just decided to help that need, really. Because Ben Chavis was a very valuable person, he was very needed to shock the community. And spur them into change. It's just like if you've got two politicians and you got one of them over here saying the same thing but they're really, really radical. And you've got over here that's being more patient and milder and willing to work within the system. Well, they know the, whatever the problem is, is going to have to be fixed. And the conservatives know, it's going to happen, they've got deal with one of these people. They got to deal with the radical or the moderate. It's easy to deal with moderate when you have radical. So.--
BS: So, so he would have been the one who started everything. Who started. Was he the guy who said we need to start a Black Student Union, we need more black.--
JC: Yeah, he spurred it.--
BS: He spurred everything.
JC: He spurred it. But just couldn't, couldn't get his passed, so every time he would bring it up, they would turn it down. So basically, the only thing I did was when we got ready for this thing to be passed. I was on legislature, a sophomore. I just took the student government constitution, and I wrote one exactly like it. So, if you're going to tell me this constitution is bad, then you got to tell me that the student body government constitution that the whole student government is resting on is bad. And people weren't willing to say that. But that was my more patient route. To, to get it done. Whereas his was, alright here it is, accept it, take it, and we want this. But I knew they weren't going to do that . So sometimes you have to take a different route to get around the mountain instead of trying to go over the top of it all the time.
BS: So when you wrote the constitution, would he have been a senior by then or was he gone?
JC: No, no. He wasn't gone. Huh-uh. He wasn't gone. As matter of fact, we wrote the constitution and then we didn't elect Ben as president. So [laughs]
LS: Now, say that again.
BS: They didn't vote him as president.
JC: No. We didn't vote him in as president.
LS: Oh. [laughter]
LS: There's an ego problem.
BS: Yeah.
JC: Yeah. We were slightly cliquish. The group we came in was just larger than the group he came in with and we just did not vote him as president.
LS: So who was president?
JC: I think, I remember Paul Hemphill was the first president. Because we're in the annual, I know we went over to and took a picture. Because I was vice-president. And we went over and took a picture over to this house that was over on Oaklawn Avenue. With all the black students. It's in one of those annuals. You've probably got it in this building, because, no, public library because I took my stuff down to the public library and they copied all of it. But a.--
LS: Was it the Black house?
JC: Yes.--
LS: And its?
JC: On Oaklawn.
BS: On Statesville Avenue?
JC: Yes, that was is, that was it. I had a nice big Afro.-- [laughter]
JC: Back then. -- [laughter]
LS: We've got to find that picture.
BS: Yeah.
LS: The public library has it?
JC: Yeah. And then Ben decided to kind of, just kind of took a step back.--
BS: He did.
JC: Primarily because he was still wasn't willing to go this inclusion route.--
BS: Ah.
JC: That we were going, but he was still supportive. And then he was branching out more from this college.--
BS: Into the community.
JC: He was branching out into the community and on a national level.
LS: Well, he ran for a, county commissioner or city council?
BS: City council.
LS: He ran, but when he was just a junior, I think.
JC: Yeah, he was branching out into the community. I think he probably in a way felt that we could take care of ourselves and things were changing here.
BS: Yeah.
JC: And he was going for the bigger picture. Yeah.
BS: Did you think that at the time though? I mean, because I guess you look back and say well maybe he was trying to, you know, make his move up, but back then I guess you just didn't. That didn't come to mind?
JC: No. Back then we just probably felt that we can handle this. And so [laughs] whatever you do is what you want to do, but we got this situation under control. 'Cause we were still after the same thing. A.--
BS: Just different paths.
JC: Yeah, And he had pretty much, I would say, birthed us more or less. He had brought us to a point where we were confident to keep this thing going. And then he went in another direction to do his other stuff. Yeah. But he was always, always a likeable person. And a nice person to sit down and talk to.
BS: Have you?--
LS: We're trying to get him to sit down and talk with us.
BS: Yeah, have you had any contact with him?--
LS: He doesn't return our phone calls.--
JC: Not since school.
BS: Not since school.
LS: He left here and went back to Oxford to teach and a, I think within a month when he went back there was a big protest that he led and a riot.
JC: Whew.
LS: And things were. Do you remember that?
JC: I don't remember that, no.
LS: Oh, OK. I mean even before Wilmington, Serial:BC29021A-DBE72B79
JC: Mm-hum.
LS: There was one in Oxford and then two months later one in Henderson which was is just fifteen miles down the road.
JC: A stone's throw.
LS: And he was in the papers again. So he was, active.
JC: Moving out in his agenda. [laughter]
JC: Moving out in his agenda. And then eventually, it was odd to see him as president of the NAACP. Because that just, his radical, excuse me, his radical mind, the NAACP is more about inclusion. --
BS: That's why he got --
JC: And yeah. I could have seen him more as a Black Panther. The group is gone now, of course. I guess they're gone, I don't think they're around. But they.--
BS: They're still around.
JC: They're still around? They didn't last very long.
BS: Yeah. Pockets of them are around. I think the whole focus is not so much the, as militant as it was.
JC: Mm-hum. They didn't last very long. But they were needed. They were needed to shock America into realizing that we had to do something cause, I mean, it was really, bad. You've got disenfranchised people, you got people, you can't hold people in slavery. Because I really firmly believe in affirmative action. You can't hold people in slavery for three hundred years and then expect them to emerge without any help at all and just be like everybody else, that's just not going to happen. Now I know there's a, people, some don't agree with it because they say OK I'm not a kid here. I wasn't, I wasn't back there when this stuff happened. And I'm not responsible so I don't think I owe you anything. But we do. If we're going to make the United States of America a strong place, then we have to do whatever it takes. And if it takes trying to correct past sins and you're in the present generation, you just need to do whatever it takes to try to correct it. We've come a long way, we've come a long way. Really, we've come a long way. Right now we're probably very, very diverse. Back then diversity was just starting. There weren't a lot of Latinos; they hadn't come from Mexico yet. And now they're here. So we've got everybody. And you've got. --
BS: We've got Asians.
JC: Yeah. Asians, and you've got people intermarrying and you got a whole new group. So, there are a lot of different people. We're pretty diverse now. But back then we weren't necessarily so diverse. I mean, you were still have lynching, not in Charlotte, NC, but, but we would hear about stuff.
LS: In the '60s?
JC: Mm-hum. People. I think authorities now are more equipped to handle situations whereas then I don't think they really were. Maybe because some of the situations were new. That's why you had people real quick to shoot at Kent State, real quick to shoot at South Carolina State, Jackson State, whereas now I think they would approach those situations entirely different. 'Cause you don't have, college kids are protesting all the time. But I think college, law enforcement officials are trained to handle the situations a little bit better than they did back then. Then it was just-bang!-- [laughter]--
BS: Mm-hum. --
JC: You're gone. You're done.
LS: So you left here in '72?
JC: '72.
LS: And so what did you do after that?
JC: I went to grad school at Chapel Hill.
LS: And you got your--
JC: Masters in.
LS: Masters in journalism.
JC: In Journalism, yeah 1974.
BS: And then you came back to Charlotte, NC?
JC: Mm-hum, and I've never left. [laughs] I've been working at Johnson C. Smith University for almost twenty-three years.
LS: Oh yeah.
JC: Yeah.
BS: And what do you teach?
JC: I work with students with disabilities and I coach tennis. Men's and women's tennis.
JC: And actually I'm one of the advisors for Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity out here.
LS: Oh really.
JC: Yeah. So, I still, I'm still.
LS: Glad you mentioned that.
JC: I'm still on campus.--
BS: [laughs]I don't know why I'm making that face. That's a side bar, that's a, that's a, you named the people.--
JC: We've come a long way.--
BS: You've come a long way.--
JC: We had some rough periods.--
BS: You did because I was on a case.--
JC: Yeah we had some rough periods.--
BS: With the bunch of, where a big fight broke out at one of the dances. --
JC: Yeah.--
BS: This was a couple of years ago.--
JC: Yeah. 'Cause we had some.--
BS: That was a tough one.--
JC: We had to suspend them for almost two years and then we brought them back.
BS: Yeah.
JC: Because we just had some people who just weren't listening. [laughs] There are more important things then who's looking at me the wrong way.
BS: Yeah. Somebody stepped on somebody's foot, and then a big fight broke out. [laughter]
BS: And a fight break out all over that.
JC: And what's worse is the girls are even worse. The girls are even worse, I mean they would fight at the drop of a hat. I don't know.
BS: Yeah. And the hazing.
JC: Yeah. But we had to try of correct all of that. I'm not sure you can correct it one hundred percent but we're trying. We brought them back.
BS: When this year or last year?
JC: We just brought them back.
BS: I thought so cause I thought they had been gone for a while.
JC: Yeah. We just brought them back. [laughs] 'Cause we, we kind of did that to make sure that the university have to step in. We handle our own housecleaning, cause it was getting to the point where eventually--
BS: They were going to get kicked out permanently.
JC: Yeah. Like the Q's.
BS: Yeah. Never ever, till the last one graduates. [laughs] [laughter]
JC: Ooh, that's cold.
LS: OK. OK. Do you have anything else, any other thoughts of your time here that you want to share?
JC: Nothing other then, actually, I really enjoyed my experience here. I enjoyed my four years, it was a good place to be. Went on to Carolina, that was another good place to be. So I didn't, I didn't really have any problems here. You know a lot of stuff you look at as racial but it's not, it's more personality. And then, I really want to thank Ben Chavis for being the catalyst for allowing some of the stuff to happen and to make our stay more pleasurable by being willing to go out and take a chance and take a risk. 'Cause you know we were little freshman. We weren't, we didn't know anything about taking a risk. And he did. He took a big risk and made this place a lot better for all the students who came after him. And so I really want to thank him for that.
BS: And that's why we're trying to get him to come talk to us. [laughter]
BS: Reserved. What role did, this is my last question. What role did T.J. Reddy play in all of this? I mean was he like side-by-side with Ben Chavis through the trenches or was he just kind of one of the people who, you know, floating out there or?
JC: I think T.J. Reddy kind of helped me to develop my philosophy because, well, he was very close to Ben. And I think he was very much an activist. But I think he made me realize that you can probably be an activist and still have white people in the movement. Because his wife was white, and so then I started looking at it like this basically. I'm not going to condemn anybody because they're black or white. What I'm going to do is I'm going to trust you until you give me a reason not to trust. And I'm going to accept anybody, anything you do if they want to help us. And there were a lot of white students at that point in time that were supportive of our efforts. And some of the stuff wouldn't have happened if we hadn't had some white students supportive of our efforts. And I think that's what T.J. Reddy kind of showed me, and I think that's what he kind of showed Ben. Because there were some white kids that were working with Ben to get his points across and stuff done. And there were some. And of course there was the whole hippie movement that was going on at the same time. [laughter] So you had the black movement, the hippie movement going on at the same time. And that was a different movement.--
LS: War protesters.--
JC: Yeah, war protestors.--
BS: And women's movement, I think that went on too.--
JC: That was just starting.--
BS: Just starting.--
JC: Just starting, yeah. You had people smoking pot at the Bell Tower. [laughter]
JC: And.-
LS: They don't do that now.
JC: OK. [laughs] There were some jokes about the Bell Tower.--
BS: You got any names? [laughs]
JC: There were some jokes about the Bell Tower, because we could not. I think that thing cost two hundred or three thousand dollars. And we just couldn't see it.
BS: We, we still can't see it.
JC: OK. We said, how about scholarships? [laughs] So there was a lot of discussion about that cause it was, an ugly, non-distinctive thing. And I guess because it's been here so long it's got distinctiveness. No? OK. [laughs] It's still. [laughs]
BS: It's still this ugly, non-distinct thing. [laughter]
LS We can't be on tape saying that. We love and support it.
JC: But we didn't understand that Bell Tower. The victory bell was more important. It looked better than that, they had a victory bell out there and that was actually a bell they rang when we won at ballgames.
BS: You know, I think when I first came here that bell was still out there.
JC: But the university changed so much. Twenty thousand students?
BS: Mm-hum.
JC: Wow. Who would have ever dreamed this? I know Ms. Bonnie's probably smiling.
BS: Yeah.
JC: That she started something that is twenty thousand students.
BS: Yeah. And I heard that they, they first were going to cap out at like twenty four-, twenty five thousand, they've raised that to twenty eight thousand.
JC: Gosh.
BS: They, when, once they hit twenty eight that's it.
JC: So it's going to get pretty close to North Carolina State maybe larger because Charlotte, NC is going to spread out. And if you ever get a whole lot of doctorate programs or a med school or a law school then it's going to boom even more.
BS: Yeah, we need a law school.
JC: Yeah, yeah. Cause there's not one in the Western area of the state, I don't think. The closest is Wake Forest?
LS: Yeah. Queens, I think expressed an interest in starting a law school.
JC: They said no.
LS: Did they?
JC: Yeah. [laughs] They came back and said no.
LS: Yeah, it's expensive.
JC: Yeah. It would be really expensive. Your library, your books to support it, the professors.--
BS: Faculty.
JC: Professors, faculty and stuff. That would be an expensive proposition. And they probably feel like we don't need that many lawyers anyway. [laughter]
BS: ( )
LS: OK. Should a, how do we turn this thing off. -- [microphone interruption]
JC: Humphrey Cummings, he's a lawyer in Charlotte, NC, his office practice is over on West Morehead Street. He was a student; he was a returning veteran at that point in time. And very involved. His wife is Sandra Cummings, I think. The phone number is 704, it's either xxx-xxxx or xxx-xxxx, but he'll be listed in the phone book under Sandra Cummings, Humphrey Cummings law firm.
LS: Com or cum?
JC: C,u,m. Yeah, i,n,g,s. And he was a little bit older then the rest of us. But he was a freshman with us. So we graduated the same year, but he was very actively involved with Black Student movement and was pretty close to Ben Chavis.
LS: So do you stay in touch with people that you knew?
JC: Oh yeah. We all stay in touch. All my fraternity brothers, and then people like Brenda, Brenda Springs, Brenda Hogue Springs. And then Kenneth Simmons, the principal, he was a student here.--
BS: Was he?--
JC: Yeah, he was a student here.--
BS: Oh OK. --
JC: A.--
BS: He was at--
JC: Just retired.--
BS: He was at West Charlotte?
JC: Yeah, he was at West Charlotte one time and then up at Derita Alternative School.
BS: Yeah.
JC: Yeah. Stanley Graham he's still in town. Dorothy Dae, you might want to talk to her. She's the principal at J.T. Williams Junior High School or middle school. [pause] There's just something, nobody leaves Charlotte, NC. [laughter]
JC: Nobody leaves Charlotte, NC.
LS: They try.
JC: Yeah, I guess I'll retire here.
BS: But you know it's funny you don't see many native "Charlotte, NC"ans though people you know, everybody always says no I'm not from Charlotte, NC.
JC: Really, are you serious?
BS: I'm not from Charlotte, NC, she's not from Charlotte, NC.
JC: OK. That's what somebody was telling me at Smith, OK. I guess I'm a rare breed. [laughs]
BS: You are, you really are. OK. Dorothy Dae.
JC: Yeah, Dorothy Dae.
BS: Principal at J.T. Williams.
JC: Her husband played basketball here, but Norris isn't a-- [laughter]
JC: Won't get anything out of Norris.
BS: He doesn't talk too much.
LS: Well, even students--
JC: He doesn't talk much. [sound of pages being turned]
LS: See there's some.
JC: Mm-hum.
BS: Do you have any of your old Carolina Journal articles that you wrote?
JC: No. I gave them to-
LS: One.
JC: Hum?
LS: Do you want copies?--
JC: Of what, my old articles?
LS: Uh-huh
JC: Yeah. 'Cause what happened, was a, I gave them to Miss Bonnie because she wanted them.
BS: Oh.
JC: For her archives. So I gave them to her.
LS: ( ) Well, I don't know if we'll be able to find it. You can turn the recorder off. There was a.-- [sound of recorder being turned back on]- [laughter]
LS: Chavis resigned. --
JC: So he was Union Board.--
LS: Union.--
JC: Union president, he sure was. I remember that now.
LS: Now, you were here when Stokely Carmichael came.
JC: Mm-hum.
LS: And, and what happened?
JC: Everybody was there. [laughs]
BS: No controversy? Wasn't there some controversy surrounding him coming, and wasn't there an attempt to keep him out of campus? Or?
JC: I don't know. Because there was always. He was radical. So there were, there very well might have been. Back then all the, stuff, things like that were held in the Parquet Room, which is a part of the old student union, the old part. I think the Parquet Room is still there.
JC: But that was where all these types things were held when people spoke.--
BS: I bet you that's that a.
JC: But I remember, I remember hearing him.
LS: I'm still looking. [pause] Somebody said they thought he was a basketball player.
JC: No.
LS: No?
JC: No. That's not, I don't know. That's just somebody from the community. Because I know all the basketball players. And that's somebody, he wasn't even a student either.
BS: I think it all, all the students. The only students. [laughs]
JC: Oh yeah we've got to remember that people were coming from all over Charlotte, NC to hear Stokely Carmichael.
BS: Oh yeah.
JC: Yeah. All the activists in Charlotte, NC were coming out to hear him. 'Cause this was one of his rare appearances in North Carolina. Probably some people from outlying cities and stuff. What year was that? My freshman year?
BS: It's up at the top. [pause]
LS: Now you said you came in the fall of '68?
JC: Yeah. Fall of '68. Because.--
LS: This was December so you were a--
JC: Freshman.
LS: Your first three months here.
JC: Yeah. That's right.--
LS: You were in the middle of it.
JC: Eyes wide open. [laughs] But something like that I wouldn't have missed. --
BS: Yeah ( ).
JC: Whether I agreed with him or not, I wouldn't have missed it. But Stokely, I don't remember him as being. He wasn't a Black Panther type, he was radical but he was more we can make this work type. You know. He wasn't, he wasn't, he didn't offend anybody, he didn't offend me I'll put it like that. Real conservatives he might have offended but, he wasn't a Black Panther in that I just don't want to work within the system, I'm going to destroy. He was talking about ways to, to better the situation. Yeah. Very good speaker, very good speaker.
LS: OK. Anything else you want to say?
JC: Hey, that's it. [laughs]