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Interview with Sidney L. Freeman

Interviewee: 
Freeman, Sidney L., 1927-2012
Interviewer: 
Desmarais, Melinda H.
Date of Interview: 
2003-05-21
Identifier: 
OHFR0291
Subjects: 
Freeman, Sidney L., 1927-2012; Jones, J. Charles, 1937-; Swann, James E.; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963; Unitarian Church of Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.); Johnson C. Smith University; National Conference for Community and Justice; Civil rights movements; Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights; Segregation; Discrimination in education; School integration; Education--Political aspects; Trials, litigation, etc.; Equality; Race relations; Racism; College teachers; Unitarian churches--Clergy; North Carolina--Charlotte; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral histories
Abstract: 
Rev. Dr. Sidney L. Freeman, the longtime minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte (UUCC), recounts his involvement in the city’s civil rights movement. Originally from Wisconsin, Dr. Freeman moved to Charlotte in 1957 to take the ministerial position at the socially progressive UUCC. That same year he was invited to join the faculty of Johnson C. Smith University as the second full-time white faculty member, and would continue to teach there until 1987. It was through his teaching position that he became a more active participant in the civil rights movement. Dr. Freeman explains how student Charles Jones invited him to participate in the first Charlotte sit-in, stressing that Jones and other student leaders managed and organized the sit-ins in such a way as to reassure the university faculty and also open a line of communication with the Charlotte Police Department. Dr. Freeman describes what the sit-ins were like, including the strategies of the participants and the reactions of the lunch counter staff and patrons. He also describes how his congregation was active in supporting the protesters, and explains that it was through his role as a Unitarian minister that he was invited by President John F. Kennedy to participate in a meeting of civil rights leaders at the White House in 1963. Dr. Freeman goes on to discuss school integration, both as a member of the clergy and as a father who had children in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system at the time. He discusses Charlotte’s transformation into a diverse multicultural city over the past thirty years (1970s-2000s); in particular, the growth of the Muslim community and the positive work organizations like the National Conference for Community and Justice have been doing to bring diverse religious groups together. The interview concludes with a discussion of the end of busing to achieve racial balance in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, due to a 2002 court decision, and the damage he feels it will do to students and to the city as a whole. Dr. Freeman expresses his view that the only way to overcome the persistent racism in our society will be through education and exposure to diversity.
Coverage: 
North Carolina--Charlotte; circa 1950 - 2003
Interview Setting: 
Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte; North Carolina--Charlotte
Collection: 
Oral History, OH
Interview Audio: 
Transcript:
Notes:
SF: Sidney L. Freeman
MD: Melinda Desmarais

Minidisc 1 begins.

MD: This is Melinda Desmarais the interviewer and today is May the 21st, the year is 2003 and I'm here with Dr. Sidney Freeman here for an oral history interview for UNC Charlotte's special collections Atkins Library. And we're here today at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte and we are at 234 North Sharon Amity Road in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Freeman let's start off first by getting some background information some biographical information on you. Tell me where and when you were born?

SF: Yes I was born in Madison, Wisconsin on January 23rd, 1927.

MD: And tell me your full name.

SF: Sidney Lee Freeman. And as I was asked once in Virginia, no I am not related to the Lees of Virginia.

MD: And tell me you parents' names?

SF: Jack and Gertrude Kaifetz.

MD: And spell that last name.

SF: K-a-i-f-e-t-z

MD: And tell me about brothers and sisters did you have any?

SF: I was the third of three boys. I was an afterthought apparently of my parents. My next sibling is seven years older than I am. And the oldest brother is ten years older than I am. Both of whom were somewhat upset when I came along I was told.

MD: And tell me how you got to Charlotte from Wisconsin, you came here in 1957 is that right?

SF: Yes. Well I grew up in Madison, which is a wonderful place to grow up in, in those days and I guess it still is and on one of the curious events when I was a senior in high school the guidance counselor just happened to cross my path in the hall and said Sidney go to the library they're doing some testing for the navy. I don't know what it's all about but go." I said, "well I'll miss class" and she said, "that's all right I'll take care of it." But what it was it was, was what was called then the Navy B12 program. And this was a college program in which you went to college for four semesters. You went to Med fitness school for ninety days. And became what they called in those days a ninety-day wonder, became an ensign and went out to sea. So I thought okay. And I passed the test there and then much to my surprise I passed the physical. Because I was not what you'd call athletic, but apparently I was in good enough health. So they sent me. I was dreaming of Harvard, Princeton or Yale, they sent me to Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, which turned out to be a wonderful place to be. Well, we’re in the second semester and all of a sudden, much to everybody’s surprise, the war in Europe ends. So they consolidate us into the Naval R.O.T.C. units, and I go to the University of Notre Dame. Fourth semester in, no--. Yeah. Fourth--, no, well, it was--. Yeah, the fourth semester at Notre Dame, and the war in Japan ends, so then they didn’t know what to do with us. So they sent us to wherever we wanted to go to complete our education, which for me was right back to Madison, Wisconsin, and I go my bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin. Well then we were planning to go out to sea, because we’d heard such wonderful things about the peacetime Navy. We got to the captain’s office, and using very salty language, he said, “We don’t want you jerks. You have done nothing but go to school, you’ve never been aboard a ship”—which was true—“so sign these papers and you’re relieved from your seven years of duty.” Big disappointment. Curiously we got the G. I. Bill, so I decide why not; I’m on a roll. Went back to Bowling Green, got my master’s degree. They encouraged me to go to Cornell, which was a wonderful choice. Got my Ph.D. at Cornell. Got a job teaching at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, wonderful place: five hundred students, about eighty faculty members, very rich young women and a very elegant school, which I enjoyed. But while I’m there, our denomination is running short of ministers. We’re in the, in the 50s now. And I was thrust into the pulpit of the Lynchburg, Virginia Unitarian Church, because they didn’t have a minister at the time. One thing led to another, and I was credentialed as a Unitarian minister, without benefit of seminary. They said you--, we’ve always have had a three-year trial period in our denomination. And lo and behold, to answer your question, the church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was open, and I was encouraged to come here, which I did. And they called me, which is what we do. And I came here, was ordained, and they couldn’t get rid of me. I was here for, for almost thirty-two years, and it’s been a wonderful experience.

MD: Now when you came to Charlotte, what were your first impressions of Charlotte in ’57?

SF: Yes. I came to Charlotte on the train. Big train station down on Trade Street. (clears throat) Wonderful station. Everybody bustling around. Fantastic place. Small, compared to now of course, but a wonderful place. And you know growing up in Madison I was a real train buff, because we had the Northwestern Railroad and the Milwaukee Road. Both went through Madison, so I traveled the trains a lot. And alas, that’s all gone. The congregation here was small but very, very cordial, very open and, and friendly. I was a bit of a, of a celebrity even before I got here because my predecessor had done some interesting things. The Reverend Ed Cahill had run for the school board on two platforms, on a platform with two, two planks in it: one was get rid of prayer in the school, and the second was to integrate the schools. And he got one hundred more votes than the number in the congregation, and he wondered where those other one hundred people came from (laughs), so he was not elected. So I came and, and filled his shoes, tried to anyway. The congregation at that time were, were primarily professional people; some very distinguished people in the congregation, as a matter of fact. I felt very honored to, to have them in the congregation. Especially--. You know, I was, I was thirty years old for crying out loud. I was really pretty raw, and they really taught me how to be a minister. No question in my mind about that. At the time, the parsonage was on Lilac Road. It became too small as the children came along, and so we, we got a house off of Woodlawn Road, and this was in the county at the time, in the county. Two-lane Woodlawn Road. No curbs or gutters, or sidewalks. That is now a four-lane road—curbs, gutters, and sidewalks. We are in the same council district that includes uptown, so I am in district number one to vote, which is ridiculous, because in those days I was out of town and now I’m center city practically, so been quite a change over the years.

MD: Well, how about, you know, race relations in Charlotte when you came in ’57?

SF: Well, it was a, it was a segregated community. The--.

MD: Did it surprise you that it was?

SF: No, because I’d had some training in Virginia. (laughs) And Virginia, around Sweet Briar, it was the benevolent South. And I say that in a very warm and friendly way. Everybody got along just fine, but there’s definitely a caste system, and you know we know what that was: the, the whites were on top the blacks were on the bottom. And of course the student body, the faculty all at Sweet Briar were white. The only black people you saw on campus were in, in servant roles of one sort or another. And there, there were some good people though, there, especially some folks who had grown up there in, in the community for generations, and they were very open about discussing integration when, when the subject became popular. And many of them said, you know, it’s long overdue. We should have gotten around to this a long time ago.

MD: People here in the Charlotte congregation?

SF: No, in Virginia.

MD: Oh, in Virginia.

SF: Oh, well, when I got to Charlotte, this was a hotbed of radicalism (laughs) by comparison. The--

MD: How so?

SF: Well, everyone in this congregation was, was interested in, in what we called then—I guess we still do—social action. One of the physicians in the congregation, Dr. Raymond Wheeler, was largely responsible for the food stamp program because of research he did in the South on hungry children. The member of the school board eventually, Dr. Watkins, Dr. Carlton Watkins, he ran for the school board, and as he would tell people publicly, “You voted for me even though I am a Unitarian.” (laughs) But he was such a gracious man. I miss him. His wife, Charlotte Watkins, integrated the PTA statewide. And she, unfortunately, perhaps isn’t given as much credit as her, her husband, but what she did was in a way more radical than what Carlton did, because this was, this was not easy to do. But she did it, with the help of a lot of people, as she would certainly say. It, it was a very active, tuned-in group. And, and as some people might have thought, they were not Yankees. Of course, you see, I’m not a Yankee. I come from the middle-West. Ed Cahill was a Yankee. He had that New England accent and was proud of it. But--, and people would ask me when I came to town, “Are you a Yankee?” I said, “No. I’m from Wisconsin.” And I’d get this sort of vague look. You know, nobody really knows geography in this country (laughs), and so they wondered where in the--, where in New England is Wisconsin but-- (laughs) So I was more or less accepted. But no, both of these physicians and Charlotte, all Southerners. Well Charlotte came from the middle-West, actually, but she, she fit right in. So the congregation really encouraged me, as I’m so pleased they did, because I was--, that was my mindset, too, to be involved. One of the things that Ed Cahill left as sort of a gift to me, he was active in, in trying to get the clergy association to be more open. At the time, it was strictly a Christian ministers’ association. But thanks to a Lutheran minister, especially, who was in the Christian--, and Ed, they managed to open it up, so it became the Charlotte Area Christian--, (laughs) the Charlotte Area Clergy Association. And interestingly enough the Catholic priests came in, the rabbis came in, and the Unitarian came in. And as a matter of fact I was on the first executive committee.

MD: And who was that Lutheran minister? Do you remember?

SF: I was afraid you were going to ask that. (laughs) He was the minister of the big church uptown at the time. I, I can’t remember.

MD: That’s okay.

SF: But he was a fine man. And, oh, eventually yes, the blacks came in. And, so this, this was I thought remarkable. First of all the first step of, of opening it up to everybody. I was, I’ve been thinking so much lately, that I bet they never imagined that there would be Islamic Imams in the, in the association at that time. Wow. And even Baha’is now. I mean it so it goes, it really is a very open association.

MD: And when did that opening begin?

SF: Well, it was not long after I got here. It was probably the late, late 50s, early 60s. Yeah.

MD: Tell me a little about--. And I want to come back to, to talking about the clergy in Charlotte in, in just a, a bit.

SF: Um-hum.

MD: Tell me a little bit about your work at Smith, at Johnson C. Smith.

SF: Well, you, you just never know. I, I’ve almost become a, a believer in karma or fate. The congregation had already arranged for that next year’s--. I came in, in the end of June. For in the fall, starting in September, once a month they had what they called a town meeting. And this was an evening gathering, and they invited someone prominent in the community. And it was open to the public, and it was quite unusual back then. And we had the speech and questions and then coffee and cookies. (laughs) Well they had arranged in September to act, to have as the new president of Johnson C. Smith University speak. His name is Dr. Rufus Perry. I’ll never forget that name. A remarkable man, a, a public scientist who reluctantly became a university administrator, and frankly they make the best kind—those who are reluctant to do it. And he was the speaker, and he gave a wonderful talk. And afterward over the cookies and the coffee he said, “Now I understand from what I read in the Charlotte Observer that, that you have an academic background, that you taught at Sweet Briar College.” “Yes.” Well we talked about that. He said, “Well, I would like you to come out and teach at Johnson C. Smith.” He said, “There’s one full-time white faculty member, and I think these young people need to be exposed to some white teachers, because if they, if they aren’t they’re missing something in their education.” So that gives you a clue of what Dr. Perry was all about. And I said, “Oh, I’d love it.” So actually I didn’t think too much about it because you know how people talk. Next morning the phone rings. He says, “Come out and sign a contract.” So I started, since that semester had already started, I started in the winter--, spring semester and taught there until 1987. This, this was in 1957.

MD: What was that experience like? Integrating almost the other way?

SF: (laughs)

MD: What was it like for you, and how did the faculty and the students--? What was your reception?

SF: Well, I’ll tell you. The faculty was overwhelmingly warm and friendly and encouraging. And in effect, you know, the message to me was, “Well, why haven’t we done this a long time ago,” really. And I start out in the English department, and, because I, I my undergraduate degree. It curiously is a bachelor of science degree. That’s thanks to the Navy. But the major was in English, well it was also a major in naval science. Big Deal. But anyway, and the head of the English department—just a gracious, gracious woman—Mrs. Jones, whose son Charles Jones will come up in the conversation in a little while, just, just took me right in under her wing. And the students were puzzled, I think. Now they already have, those few of them, had taken courses from the other white ins--, professor. But this, this was a new experience for them, and I, I was well aware of that. But I don’t know. I just assumed it was a college and it was kids, and I’d do pretty much what I did at Sweet Briar, which is what I did. And we seemed to get along very well. I think there were some who were suspicious. Now this, this is the truth because I would remember this. There was only one class in the whole time I was there, and this was fairly early on where there were a couple of rowdies from New York City—now you know how rowdy New York City young men can be—who really were very disruptive that first day of class. And I tried to deal with it, with limited success. The next class period, everything was fine. So after a few weeks, I pulled one of the students aside who seemed to be knowledgeable of what’s going on on the campus. I said, “How did this happen” He said, “Oh, we took care of it.” A little internal, within the class discipline, which I appreciated very much. But it, it was really an, an experience in which I felt I was on the spot. I tried not to show it, and that, that as you said, it was a kind of reverse situation. But I never felt, how shall I put it, discriminated against. I, I consciously did a few things (clears throat) which, you know this sounds kind of corny, but I purposely ate lunch there. That shocked some people.

MD: So down in the cafeteria?

SF: Well, at the time it was a lunch counter, interesting enough (laughs) on campus. And then later in the dining room. No, we, we had table service. My goodness. Well by that time heck, I was just--. They didn’t know what race I was I think. I hope. (laughs) But, no, it—interestingly enough—the very fine early childhood education program we have here, one of the faculty members sent his boys here. And that was another part of it. So that we really-- I don’t know, it just, just began to work out. Well obviously I stayed quite a long time.

MD: And during that early part when you were there--

SF: Um-hum.

MD: And I, I assume that would have been in the fif--, late 50s?

SF: Um-hum.

MD: Did more and more white professors integrate? So it was just the two of you guys.

SF: Not for a while. But then later on, then more and more and more, and I have no idea what, what the situation is now.

MD: Who was the other professor? Do you recall?

SF: He taught political science. He had a very strong accent, which some of the students had trouble understanding, but he was a great guy.

MD: What kind of accent?

SF: Well it was, I guess Polish or some, one of those countries in that area of the world. But, but he was a pistol. I mean he, he didn’t put up with anything. I tell you, I mean he was, he was tough. They all said he was tough, but they liked him. Yeah.

MD: Let me ask you about prior to the sit-ins in Charlotte. What was the atmosphere on campus like? I mean were, were students at Smith pushing or meeting or--? You know I’ve heard Charles Jones sort of talk about how the folks in Greensboro inspired almost a spontaneous kind of thing. But, you know, and, and we hear so much about how after World War II, things are starting to change how people are coming and going to school with the G. I. Bill. Did you see anything evident in the students or their attitudes or anything that they did here in Charlotte? From the Smith students prior to the sit-ins?

SF: Well, yeah, but a lot of it wasn’t apparent. You know, Charles Jones tells that story which he told at the reunion of the sit-in people. What really, I think, motivated him as much as anything was one of those chance remarks that the then-mayor of the city said. When Charles was, was off here and there on so-to-speak kinds of scholarships at, at various places, even outside of the United States. And the mayor said to him, “Mr. Jones, you are a credit to your race.” And that, I think, as much as anything (laughs) lit-- Well the fire was already lit under Charles Jones, but that, it burst into flame, you might say. Yeah. So there was a lot behind the scenes at least to-- And I was still, you know, a part of the white community. I wasn’t totally brought into the picture that, that was going on. There, there were a lot of activists in the, in the black community at this time. The funeral director, Kelly, was a dynamite man, and--

MD: Reginald Hawkins.

SF: Dr. Reginald Hawkins the dentist, oh yes. So there was a lot percolating, and it was probably very little known outside the black community until all of a sudden it was the sit-ins that everything just came right out and long over due in my opinion.

MD: So students didn’t necessarily consult you or you didn’t-- Even as they were starting this night before they were having this impromptu meeting about, about sitting in.

SF: Oh no, no. No that was all settled, and Charles Jones came to me and, and said we’re planning this and explained it and he said if you want to come along you’re welcome. I said thank you; I’ll join you. But I was, I was very much-- I was not among the leadership, and I want people to know that. Charles and the others, they were the leaders. They called what was going to happen, and we, we took direction from them.

MD: Did he tell you beforehand that, that he was doing it and--?

SF: Well it was that, that little committee, very impromptu committee. But you know Charles Jones is the son of a Presbyterian minister, and he was very seriously thinking of going into the ministry but then he got sidetracked and became a lawyer. But he is still a preacher (laughs), and even in those days as a very young man, I mean he, he, he had charisma--, and he still does. Much more so now. He’s of course matured. (laughs) But it was, it was really strange how, how simple and yet complicated that whole thing was. It was simple because these, these young men said let’s do it. They’re doing it in Greensboro; why not do it in Charlotte. But then it got complicated, but they worked out all the details, and there were a lot of details: logistics, transportation, dealing with the faculty and the administration, who were very nervous about all this. (laughs)

MD: Yeah. Tell me about, tell me about them. And about how they dealt with you as a faculty member participating.

SF: Oh they didn’t mind that, but, but they were--. Well, they were--, I don’t know if they were--, if they minded I never knew about it. But they were nervous. How would this affect the relationship between the university and their community, and, and how would it affect them in all kinds of different ways. And let’s face it, not the least of which was financially. And they, they spent, you know, a 100 years building up good will in Charlotte and just destroy it? I could appreciate that. I don’t think the students could, but it was there. But, but they were supportive, I mean, I mean really. The, the dean of students particularly, who fortunately at the time, if I can remember correctly, his background was philosophy. What a wonderful person to have as a dean of students. He was, he was I’d say a, a real strength in the background, and the students were aware of that as I recall. So it was, it, it, it just--. I don’t know. One of the big factors, too, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again because it, it, we did not have violence in this town. And a lot of the credit goes to the chief of police, Jesse James. I, I tell people that, and they think I’m kidding.

MD: But that was the name. (laughs)

SF: That was the man’s name. He was very tall, very authoritarian. Called me into his office once. Said, “Now I don’t mind you doing this, Mr. Freeman, but you realize you might be in some danger. I said, “Well maybe so, but I’m, I’m going to do it.” I mean I’m paraphrasing; I don’t know what I said. I was probably scared to death sitting in there in the chief of police office. But the, but the--. I don’t know what the, obviously what the policemen thought privately--they were all white--but publicly they, they maintained order. There’s one really interesting episode that I was in. Really the only one. We were at one of the lunch counters having just come from Ivey’s department store, and we sat down. And I’d noticed out of the corner of my eye that, that George Ivey, Junior had followed us from Ivey’s over to this dime store lunch counter. And we sat down, and, and he was very upset. And he came over to me and he said, “Look you,” (laughs) or words to this effect. I don’t think he knew my name. “I, I can deal with these other folk,” meaning the blacks, “but I’ll deal with you in another way.” I mean he said very threatening things. Policeman came right over and said, “May I help you, sir?” And he sputtered something, and he didn’t have to be escorted away, but he left. Well, that evening I get a telephone call. It’s from him, George Ivey, Junior. And you see, I was so naïve. I found out later from a lawyer in the church that that was verbal assault. I could have pressed charges against the man, but I wouldn’t have, I don’t think. But anyway, he said, “Could I come over and talk to you? I need to apologize.” I said, “Well certainly.” Well he came over with his lawyer. And I thought now that’s interesting. I guess he wants a witness that he apologized. Well we had a nice chat, and he just said it was way, way beyond what he would ordinarily do or feel, but I mean he was very apologetic, and I accepted it. But that’s about as, for me the only difficult time that, that I had.

MD: No one called you or--?

SF: Oh well--

MD: On the telephone?

SF: Sure. Heck, that happened about the first week I was there, and this is before I’d even been in the pulpit for crying out loud. (laughs) It had been in the paper. As a matter of fact at the time the publisher of the Charlotte News happened to be a member of the congregation, Mr. Robinson, and we got more space than we deserved I think in the Charlotte News back then. But oh yeah, that, that was, those were the days of these phone calls, and you just had to put up with them.

MD: Well, what would it be like?

SF: Oh, at those, those early ones regarding the church was, “Well, I see they got another atheist in town who pretends to be a minister.” (laughs) And then of course after the sit-ins, you know, all the typical stuff. But it, it--. That sort of faded out, and I’m not sure why, this telephone harassment. Because there’s really not much, those days there’s no technology to deal with it, but it, it was there. Yeah.

MD: Well do me a favor. You know I, I’ve certainly seen the photographs of the protests. But if you would kind of take me back to what it looked like, smelled like, felt like.

SF: (laughs)

MD: You know, what was the atmosphere? Was it highly charged? Was it calm? Take me back a little and give me some description about your experience. Maybe the first day. I bet that might stand out to you, the first day or something that you were there.

SF: It was. We had a meeting place, the Seventh Street Presbyterian Church, uptown Charlotte. Which the church is still there. Very historic church, not just because of this but for other things as well. And we met, and Charles gave a speech I remember about non-violence and what to do. Don’t talk and don’t sass. Just sit there. And have money; everybody got money. If you don’t have money we’ll give you some money, because if by some strange luck you get served, you’ve got to buy something. Everybody had money. And just sit there and wait to be served. And take your cue from me. When I feel that we’ve been there long enough, I will get up, and we’ll go to another one. And that, and so those were pretty much the instructions. We didn’t do any training, as such, as they did in some communities. But then we’d, we’d start. And I don’t know how, what went on in his mind as to which of the dime stores --. Of course you know this requires some explanation, too. What is a dime store? And they’re gone. The closest to it now is the Dollar Store, but that isn’t even any comparison. A dime store, F.W. Woolworth was the most famous. There was Kresse’s, Grants, several others in Charlotte, all in the uptown area accept one, Woolworth’s at the Park Road Shopping Center, interestingly enough. We left them alone. But they all had a lunch counter, and that was, as it suggests, a counter with stools, and they served food. And as you can well imagine, anybody was welcome to shop in the store, blacks, whites, whatever, buy thread, paper. They had all kinds of these, these things you know that you would expect to find in a general store, but the blacks were not invited to eat at the lunch counter. They could spend their money anywhere in the store but don’t sit down to eat at the lunch counter. And so that was the genius of the lunch counter sit-ins, where you had stores. And of course Ivey’s and Belk’s also had lunchrooms, but you could buy anything there, but don’t, don’t, please don’t eat in the eating facilities. So that was the genius of it, of it. We were not trespassing. We were, were in the store. Glad to have you in the store, but the minute you sat down at the lunch counter--. The most embarrassed people were the people who worked at the lunch counter. This was so, so sad, really. These poor people, many of them black, not all, just didn’t know what to do. And of course they were instructed to do nothing, which they did. But they, they stood there, you know, on one foot and the other. I think we felt with, without ever saying so maybe, we had safety in numbers. You know, this, this, these were, this was maybe fifteen, twenty, thirty people at a time. Now when it got to be bigger, we didn’t all go obviously to the same lunch counter, but we could pretty well saturate uptown (laughs) when the thing really got moving. But I think everybody behaved with great dignity, and everybody dressed, you know--. Guys, we wore suit, tie. Women wore high heels and, and--not exactly go-to-church dress but, but very nice. Looked, looked wonderful, and pictures show that. I mean we were a classy looking bunch. (laughs)

MD: And, and was that by design?

SF: Oh, definitely. Oh, def--. Oh that was part of the instructions, oh by all means. Yeah.

MD: And, and the, the, the first day that, that you joined in and you went, did you carry a sign yourself?

SF: Well, we didn’t use signs at first. We, we just sat in. Now the signs were, were rare actually. The, the only time I remember (laughts) was, was that wonderful day around the Fourth of July--I don’t think it was the Fourth of July but it was around the Fourth of July, and this picture of course is in the Museum of the New South--when some members of this--, of the Unitarian Church congregation decided that we, we need to participate. And there had been other whites participating. But this, this was--. If you knew the women, you’d, you’d fully appreciate. Well, you may know one. One at the time was named Jan Orth, but later went on to become a famous author named Jan Karon and her Mitford books. But Jan was in her probably in her late twenties, early thirties at the time. Beautiful blonde woman, still is. And Lucy Ross and her two maiden sisters, the three Ross sisters, they decided that they were going to show the public that even southern women were behind this. They wanted to look like they’d just come out of Gone With the Wind. Well, they didn’t quite manage it. They, they came close--white gloves, big hats, very elegant dresses. And that was the day they, they decided they wanted signs, so they, they had signs. “We support the students” was the message. Well, that, that, that was about as dramatic as we got, I think. We all had little American flags, and it, it was--. That picture in the Museum of the New South was actually taken by a photographer for Life magazine. They never published it. Somehow the Charlotte Observer got a hold of it, and then the Museum of the New South got a hold of it, and I have copy of it, which I treasure. But that, that is--. And they, they, they didn’t know that was Jan, now Jan Karon in that picture. I wanted them to get a hold of Jan. I wasn’t going to get a hold of her, but they didn’t for this, for that--. I don’t know whether she’d of come or not, I don’t know.

MD: Now the police kept a lid on things. They kept the order.

SF: Oh they were there. And, and they were informed. Charles or somebody would call them and say now you know today--. Because we didn’t go everyday. You couldn’t do it every day. And sometimes it was a weekday afternoon. Sometimes it was Saturday.

MD: Were there hecklers on the sides of the streets?

SF: Yeah, but with the police there, I--. Yeah, you’d hear some remarks, but they were often soft enough that you didn’t quite get it. You know, they weren’t shouting at you or doing anything or, or making obscene gestures. I didn’t see any anyway. So it was, it was curious, because other cities just--. The lid blew off the place, and we were so blessed here in Charlotte, I, I swear. A lot of it was Charles Jones, and lot of it was Jesse James, and lot of it was the people of Charlotte. I mean, you know, the saying back then used to be as far as integration was concerned there are ten percent of the people who say never, there are ten percent of the people who say it should have been yesterday, and eighty percent of the people are waiting to see what’s going to happen. (laughter) And that was about it. You know, people were curious and what’s all the fuss about. You could see that on some people’s faces; some were embarrassed. I don’t think it hurt the businesses as much as we wished it had. Although one of the things we did in the church, and we got some other people to do, was to cancel our charge accounts at Belk’s and Ivey’s and tell them why. And I don’t know if that had any effect or not.

MD: So did you actually--, I mean business as usual in the stores? Was the lunch counter still operating for whites? Or did any whites come in and eat when you were sitting in?

SF: Well, no, because pretty much we took up all the stools as time went on. But, and that was sort of an economic boycott in a way. But we didn’t stay there all day or sometimes less than an hour in, in one place, but you made your point. (pause)

MD: Were there any other local students from other places than Johnson C. Smith who participated?

SF: Not that I know of. There were some other adults. There was one other clergy person who, to me was quite a surprise. I always thought the Society of Friends, the Quakers, did not have ministers. At that time, the Charlotte Friends meeting had a minister, and he participated. He was a very nice man. But other than that, during the sit-ins that was about it. Now in other demonstrations, more and more clergy participated. And one, one demonstration you might--. Well, it wasn’t a demonstration, but it was a when the schools were integrated, they clergy was actively solicited as a matter of fact.

MD: And I do want to, I do want to get to that.

SF: Do like, do you like that segue way there?

MD: I do.

SF: (laughs)

MD: But, let me--, but I--. Let me ask just one more thing if I can

SF: Sure.

MD: Before we get on to that. Did your congregation have qualms? Obviously there were some women who participated, and you’ve talked about in the, you know earlier interviews you’ve talked about sort of the Unitarian approach toward social justice or support for social justice. I, I’ve read in some old newspaper clippings that there was some indication that maybe that donations to the church had suffered as a, as a result. I mean what was that like? Did you encourage your church? I mean tell me a little bit about that.

SF: Well, I would--, I of course gave some sermons on the subject. Obviously I had to. I mean it was important. And yes, there were, there were some nervous people in the congregation, but not particularly. I don’t know about the financial side of it. The church survived obviously. And there were, of course, really very outspoken supporters, Dr. Wheeler and Dr. Watkins among them but others as well that said yeah, go, man, go. (laughs) They didn’t participate, but they were encouraging. The one, the one, the only two people resigned from the church were when Dr. Reginald Hawkins the dentist wanted to integrate Charlotte Memorial Hospital, and this was a little different because we picketed outside the hospital, carried signs. And this very nice man and his wife asked me to come over and see them. And this of course was after the sit-ins. Said, “Well, you know, we, we really didn’t mind you sitting in on the lunch counter, and we really do believe that the hospital should be integrated. But I just can’t abide my minister marching around as if it were a union picket line.” And that was his objection. He was, he was definitely anti-union, and he just visualized me--. Well, I guess he had a point. I was carrying a sign like a union picket, but that wasn’t the point of course. Also interestingly enough, Dr. Watkins, Dr. Wheeler were a little upset with me because they had been working and were going to be successful anyway at integrating Charlotte Memorial Hospital. Both of them were on the staff there: Dr. Watkins, pediatrics; Dr. Wheeler, internal medicine. And they were negotiating and pulling strings and exerting influence, and, and the hospitals would have been--. They were a little ticked off at (laughs) our good buddy because they, they thought maybe he was trying to steal the limelight. As a matter of fact, Dr. Hawkins ran for governor. (laughs) Was not elected. But anyway it all worked out, and again long overdue.

MD: Now, now the, the folks who were sort of you know saying, “This looks too much like a union picket line,” where they Southerners by--? (laughs)

SF: Yes, yes they were.

MD: How about other white congregations in Charlotte? Just talking just specifically about the sit-in movement. Where--? Did you support from any other clergy or other congregations who were white congregations involved at all?

SF: No. And like I say, the then-minister--they don’t have a minister anymore. They’re a silent meeting, the Society of Friends in Charlotte now. But he was the only one.

MD: Do you happen to recall his name?

SF: No I don’t. But I think it was Morrison. I, I can’t be sure.

MD: Okay.

SF: I think it was.

MD: Tell me, did you celebrate with students in any meaningful way or any kind--.

SF: Oh we, we, we--.

MD: Official way when you broke through?

SF: We had, yeah. And it was really very informal, and we thought well we accomplished something. And of course you know it went on and on. This was months before it was over. And the perseverance, the, the willingness to see it through. And you know the decision actually, you just got to face was an economic decision that integrated the eating establishments. No question about it. And do you want to know the story on that?

MD: Yeah.

SF: Well, Stan Brookshire was the head of the Chamber of Commerce, and in those days politically first you were president of the Chamber of Commerce and then you were mayor. Well this was before he was mayor. He decided enough was enough, and he talked to his friends in business, and he said, “Look, we really ought to get this over with.” And obviously they were right. It was beginning to take its toll. I don’t think in any big way, but it just enough to be irritating like a stone in your shoe. “Let’s get rid of this.” And so he initiated this take a black person to lunch day, and he had all these big time business people invite a black business person, of whom there were plenty around town, to go to lunch. And that was it. That was it. At the time, the Barringer Hotel had an elegant dining room, and this is where the big shots went to lunch. The, the--

MD: The movers and the shakers?

SF: That’s where they were, at these beautiful tables with the white tablecloth and the linen napkins and all, and in other places around town. Of course, whatever works, you know. It wasn’t really intended to be an economic boycott. It was intended to demonstrate how stupid this whole thing was. But then it became more and more apparent that what was happening was it was an economic boycott, but whatever works. And it didn’t, didn’t really hurt anybody I don’t think seriously.

MD: Do you remember--? Did you have an occasion that was some of the students or Charles or someone that you actually went out after it got integrated and sat down and had a meal?

SF: Yeah, we did. We did. Of course, Charles has that wonderful story of taking his dad to lunch.

MD: Right.

SF: Which is, is a real something. He tells that story extremely well. (pause)

MD: I, I saw in the newspaper that you actually went to meet with President Kennedy in like ’63 or something based on race. I mean what, what was that about? What was that experience? Was that based on what you’d done?

SF: I’ll tell you, I, I couldn’t believe it. I thought what is this? There’s been some mistake here, because I didn’t consider myself a civil rights leader. But I have this wonderful framed Western Union telegram. And I regret we don’t have Western Union telegrams anymore, because that’s something you could frame. It’s signed John F. Kennedy. Doesn’t even say president on it; just signed John F. Kennedy. “I’m inviting some civil rights leaders to the White House to discuss the next steps in the civil rights movement. Would you please attend?” Blah, blah, blah. Oh sure I’ll attend! I mean my goodness. I couldn’t believe it. At the time my mother was living in Washington, D.C., so I had a place to stay. And I flew up there, you can, you showed the telegram to the person at the gate, and you got in. And we, we gathered in this room where there was coffee and cookies and White House napkins, which of course everybody took one. Why not? Paper napkins, of course. And then we were invited into this other room, and we were just sitting around. It was sort of like a large living room. And you could sit or stand. It was sort of like a cocktail party in a way. And without any fanfare or announcement, in the room walks (clears throat) the president of the United States. And he says--I don’t want to imitate his accent--but he was wonderful and a big, big smile. And he thanked us all for coming. He knew it was something that (clears throat) required some effort on our parts. And they were from all over the country. There were about fifty I would think there. And, “I just want you to, to talk here to the attorney general and explain to you what we can do. And now I’d like to introduce you to the attorney general. This is Robert Kennedy.” (laughs) And he walked in, and that was his introduction. And Martin Luther King, Jr. was there. People whose names I recognized from around the country. And there’s a lot of give and take, and it, it, I would assume, did prod the civil rights legislation that, that eventually came about.

MD: Did you guys share with them what your experiences were in your different--?

SF: Well yeah and our attitudes. (clears throat) And it was about two-thirds black and one-third white, as far as the participants. All men I’m sorry to say. But it was, it was quite an event. Gosh. I, I don’t know. Apparently, I learned later. You know it just amazes me how things fit together. (clears throat) But Kennedy’s speechwriter was named Sorensen, Ted Sorensen. Ted Sorensen is a Unitarian, a very active Unitarian. And when he heard about this, he, he called the president of our denomination and said we need to get one of our ministers to that meeting. And Dana Greeley, who was our denomination president at the time--. I as--, I was told I was picked because I knew him and he knew me. And I guess we liked each other, and he knew about what I was doing in Charlotte. So I think that’s how I got in. (laughs) It pays to know the speech writer of the president of the United States. (laughs)

MD: (laughs) It does.

SF: It, it’s so crazy. I’ll tell you. Go figure.

MD: Now you’ve talked a little about you know the protest in health care that happened. How, how, how long--? I didn’t do a lot of research on that before I came, but I do know--. I have interviewed Dr. Hawkins as a matter of fact.

SF: Wonderful.

MD: How long did that go on?

SF: Not too long, because this had already been working behind the scenes. And I think the combination of the demonstration and the work that had already been done, it, it happened fairly quickly. It was kind of a shame in a way because the, the Good Samaritan Hospital, which the Episcopal Church had set up, was the hospital for the black people. And both Dr. Wheeler and Dr. Hawkins worked there. And it was their hospital, and they had great pride in it, but it didn’t have near the facilities of what was then Charlotte Memorial. And so, and, and you know, there were times when it was sticky I was told on the wards where there would, you know, people in the same room of different races. And some people said it was inhibiting their recovery. (laughs) I don’t know. But it all smoothed out. You see, there’s really a tremendous amount of goodwill, and this is, is what a lot of people overlook. You know, that ten percent of the, the folks who are just so set in their ways they didn’t want to see anything change were getting to be intimidated by what was going on. And the eighty percent was saying, “Well, this makes sense. You know, why haven’t we done this before? Okay.” And, and it, it just began in a very human way, in my opinion, to, to just begin to be the thing to do. And let’s not forget someone else here. I wish you could do an oral history with Harry Golden, because he was the, the sage of Charlotte. The newspaper writer, the Carolina Israelite, speaker, and he, he kept things involved here on a, on a humorous plane.

MD: Sort of his whole vertical integration doctrine?

SF: Absolutely. The way to integrate the lunch counters was to take all the seats out, because people don’t minding standing in a lunch counter together. But if they had to sit, that’s not good. The white baby plan: any black woman can go anywhere she wants if she has a white baby as her charge, being the governess or the nanny. Oh yeah, he was great. So there, there was just a lot of good stuff in this community, and it’s a great credit to this community that it, it went as well as it did. Because it didn’t in a lot of other places. Horrible stories in other cities.

MD: So you all didn’t face the same sort of physical abuse that many people did at the lunch counters.

SF: No, no.

MD: Well, you, you’ve touch on and made a beautiful segue way that I, I shut off a moment ago (laughs) about the clergy’s role, and, and your role, and others in, surrounding the Swann [Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education] decision and the desegregation, integration, depending on how you want to term that, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

SF: Yeah.

MD: Talk to me a little bit about, about that.

SF: Well by this time, more and more of the clergy I think realized that this was obviously, as it always had been, a moral and religious issue, and it was time that the clergy began to do something about this in a more positive way. And it, it a lot of it depended on who was president of the association, and Jimmy Johnson, the Moravian minister, was president at the time.

MD: And was it integrated by that time?

SF: Yes. That we should be actively participating and invited the, the people in the school system. What can we do? Well they said one of the biggest problems at the high schools was lunch hour--that things usually went pretty well otherwise, but during lunch hour some of the kids just get horsing around and before you know it there’s a fight and it’s a racial incident and it’s bad. So came up with the brilliant idea of the clergy who wanted to volunteer. And of course I did. Big, big name tags that said “clergy,” and we’d just hang out. We’d hang around.

MD: (laughs) And would this just be black and white clergy?

SF: Yeah, during the lunch periods. And you know we just sort of just hang around and chit chat if anybody wanted to talk. And some of the kids would say, “What are you doing here?” And we’d tell them. And apparently it helped. This didn’t go on terribly long, but apparently it was enough to send a message. And let’s face it, maybe more so than (laughs) is now, the clergy had a certain status in Charlotte, that is we were supposed to be looked up to, respected. And I guess it’s still true, but, but back then it was definitely true. And so that little--. And that was Jimmy Johnson’s idea as far as I know.

MD: Now did you have children yourself in, in the integrating years?

SF: Oh yes. Oh yes.

MD: What were their experiences like? And your experiences as a parent?

SF: Well you know, my oldest child is a daughter, Lynn, and she reminded me the other, oh month or two ago--I’d forgotten it--that she wanted to participate. That she wanted to march. Now at the time, I guess she was around nine or ten years old. I said, “Lynn, you can’t do that. It’s just not right.” Well we had a big to-do about this, and, and she was very upset with me that (laughs) I wouldn’t--. The guys, they were, they were smaller. They didn’t know what was going on really. But I, but I think if they’d been older they would have probably made the same request. They were six and eight I guess at the time.

MD: And when you say march, march in what?

SF: Oh, the, the--. I mean the lunch counter sit-ins, the sit-in--

MD: Oh.

SF: And then subsequently. But yeah, they--. I think at the time, you know how kids are at, at that age. They know they’ve got parents. They know their parents do something, but they’re never sure quite what or why or how. But Lynn was, Lynn was sharp enough to know, and I really, I still admire her for that among many other things, of course.

MD: How about in integrating schools? Would they have been during the Swann [Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education] decision, would any of them have been in school?

SF: Yes. Just, yes, yes, they were.

MD: And were they bused to a different school?

SF: No. I’m trying to think. They were older. No, I don’t think--. No, I would remember if they were. They weren’t, no.

MD: Do you think, Dr. Freeman, that what you, what had happened in the sit-ins and things earlier impacted the way Charlotte either embraced or did not embrace the Swann [Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education] decision? What, what do you think about that?

SF: Oh yes, I think so. I mean it (clears throat)--. Actually there was more emotion (laughs) over the schools than there was over the lunch counters, which I guess is understandable. But you, but you know the story there. I mean there were ugly, ugly incidents at the early stages of integration. Of course one could argue it wasn’t handled very well, but whatever. But then as, as time went on and people began to see that, you know, the world wasn’t coming to an end and actually people could get along if they made an effort and so on, it began to smooth out. It’s very, very regretf--, I regret very much though that more wasn’t done in, in terms of helping the kids themselves to help their parents. The kids handled it; it’s the parents who were the problem. I think in almost every instance, they’re the ones who got bent out of shape. The kids by and large said, “Well, OK. So what’s all the big fuss about?” I mean there are obviously exceptions, but as a group, it was the parents that were the problem, not the kids. And if the kids were the problem obviously it’s because they picked it up from their parents. And there wasn’t as--. The PTAs tried to do a lot with this. And, and of course it depended on what school the kid was in at the time. Over at Collingswood where my kids were at the time, I mean everybody there was--. We, we had a psychologist come in and talk about it. And she, she was a pistol; she was great. And we all ( ) pretty much. Sure, sure. I don’t know. I didn’t see anybody bent out of shape by someone advocating that we handle this thing intelligently. So I don’t know. For many of the parents, both black and white, it was pretty scary, perhaps more for the black parents than the whites. And not a whole lot was done in, in terms of supporting them, unless it was done within the churches, which it probably was up to a point.

MD: Did you all, in the Unitarian Church, do anything for your congregants or--?

SF: Well I’m being really arrogant here. And I say (laughs) there wasn’t much we--. It was already been done. I think they were--. I don’t think--. I think I could say pretty much without exception, they were behind it and promoting it. If they weren’t, Charlotte Watkins, the person I mentioned PTA, well she would have gotten them in corner and straightened them out pretty fast. (laughs)

MD: Tell me a little bit, if you can, around that time, I know that there were some more radical movements in Charlotte. And people like T. J. Reddy for example come to mind. Tell me a little bit about how that evolved from what you saw in the sit-in movements, very you know restrained and straitlaced, if you will. Did you see an evolution in, and momentum gaining? Or you know I don’t know necessarily if Charlotte was a hotbed of radicalism necessarily with the Black Panther Party here, but, you know, tell me a little bit about that because I know you were in the situation in working with T. J. Reddy as students, working with these people.

SF: Well my observation, which is not very scientific, is that I think it all boils down to personality. If, if, if Charles Jones hadn’t been sort of the leader that emerged out of all this, it would have been a total different story. But his personality was very persuasive. T. J. Reddy, he was in a poetry class that I taught. Wonderful student. We, I, I still have wonderful memories of that, and he was also in a literature class that I taught. But, but there’s a totally different personality. I mean T. J. is an artist. He’s creative. Not that Charles Jones isn’t, but I mean totally different personality type. And when, when T. J. got concerned about something, he became passionate. Now Charles would get passionate, but in a totally different context. (telephone rings). Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know I had this on.

MD: That’s all right.

SF: Hello.

Minidisc 1 ends; Minidisc 2 begins.

MD: This is May the 21st, the year is 2003. This is Melinda Desmarais, and this is the second disk in a continuation of my interview with Dr. Sidney Freeman. Dr. Freeman, we were discussing T. J. Reddy, as a matter of fact, and we were talking a little about sort of I guess a more radical turn in the civil rights movement and maybe how that manifested itself in Charlotte. So go ahead and continue with what you were saying.

SF: Well, at least openly, there wasn’t very much really. And again, I think generally speaking in terms of, of the religious organizations in town, they, they, we tend to be kind of conservative. And probably the only thing I can think of in the whole time I’ve been here since 1957 that has been radical in the sense of, of really shaking people up has been the growth of the religion of Islam in (laughs) the Charlotte area. Now this has shaken people up. I mean not me, but, but a lot of people. And that back then, it just wasn’t polite to be that way. Really. It was a, it was a matter of taste, the way you do things in Charlotte. You just don’t do things that way here. Thank goodness. I mean this, I think is probably a very broad statement to make about a whole community, but that generally was the tone. You know there was a curfew the night that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. There were some memorial services held all around town. And we were told if we were at the memorial service and we were stopped by the police to tell them where we were and that would be okay. Well not a thing happened in this town. In other cities, boom all over the place. I wasn’t even stopped on the way home. I felt sort of where’s where are the police when you need them. But I mean I was kidding of course. But it was, I mean it’s just that sort of attitude.

MD: Well, you, you brought up a point that I’d like to--. Because I’d like to talk a little bit about now and the future in Charlotte. And you brought up a point about Islam, and go ahead and, and talk a little bit more about the introduction or the growth of the Islamic population here and what that means in terms of clergy. And the receptivity particularly in today’s context of 2003 about that. Expand on that.

SF: Well in terms of the Charlotte, the greater Charlotte metropolitan area, if anybody doesn’t realize this is a cosmopolitan community they, they haven’t been outside their house. I mean it isn’t just the growth of Islam but the, the people from all over the world. I, I teach part time at Central Piedmont Community College. I teach communication; the students give speeches. And it’s fascinating because every, every semester I kind of take, take a chance for them to introduce themselves. And I ask them, just tell me where you’re from, what, what’s your background, where were you born and raised. And I tell you, my catalog is, is the geography practically of the Western world and Asian world. Don’t get many from the Pacific islands, but these, these people come into Charlotte from all over the place, with their different backgrounds and religions. And we absorb them. Why wouldn’t we? It’s good for business, and Charlotte is a business town. It’s a bankers’ town, we say. But it, it also, again you know when you get right down to it, why do they come? Well they could come and they could be disappointed and they could leave. But my gosh, they are welcomed. People who, who can’t speak English, we help them. It’s wonderful. And so there’s a general mood I, I think at least maybe I’m living in a, in a idealistic world but I don’t think so. Where on the whole it is a, an opportunity for people who haven’t had the opportunity to go anywhere ( ) anywhere to come here. And you name it. If you’re interested in the Hispanic population, if you’re interested in the Asian population and of the various populations among all of that you know. It’s, it’s always fascinated me that I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and the only people I recognized as sort of being from somewhere else were the Scandinavians because up there that’s where they’re from. They’re from Sweden, Norway and especially Sweden around Madison. There’s a town near Madison called Stoughton where Swedish was spoken on the streets. They spoke English too but you could walk down the street and you’d hear Swedish being spoken. Oh in Virginia what you heard was English and now I mean you know it’s wonderful, to me it’s wonderful and to a lot of people it is too. Because it it’s the way the world is we better figure it out sooner if not later it’s going to be too late. And generally speaking though I think, there used to be the old saying that Charlotte was the buckle on the Bible Belt. That’s the home of Billy Graham. It’s had a long and, and wonderful history of being a very Christian city. And even when I came in ’57 this, this, this was one of the jokes around town. Herman Cohen who was a very outgoing and wonderful man said the greatest compliment he ever gets in Charlotte is “Mr. Cohen you’re a fine Christian gentleman”. Well Mr. Cohen was Jewish of course but that was a compliment and it didn’t have anything to do with religion necessarily but that was, that was the epitome of a compliment. “You’re a fine Christian gentleman. You’re a fine Christian Woman.” Well what are you going to do now I mean really for one thing we, we, we have a sizeable Jewish community. Well okay. After all, the Bible was made up of some Jewish scriptures and therefore we probably know a little bit about that. But what is this Islam? Where is that coming from? And of course it’s in the headlines it’s all over. And it is some would say in the United States as far as conversions are concerned the, the fasting growing religion. Go figure. So it’s, it’s been hard. Especially interestingly enough getting back to, to the black population. So many of the congregations here are converted from Christianity black people who convert to Islam. And of course that goes back earlier, ten, twenty, thirty years when there were these very outspoken leaders who made the Islamic people nervous as I remember it saying that you know what have the Christians done for you. This is, this is where you belong in, in the religion of Islam. I’ve had students in class who were converts. I’ve had students who were born and raised in, in the Islamic religion. And as a matter of fact I, I’ve had one of the speeches we have to give in, in the class as a demonstration speech, I’ve had students demonstrate the Islamic form of prayer, with the prayer rug. So it’s a whole new world folks and welcome to it. It’s, I don’t know. One of the most fascinating clergy social meetings that I can remember in the recent past was the, the cantor of one of the synagogues and Imam from one of the Islamic groups in a, in a discussion of what to do about Israel and Palestine. Oh my goodness it got heated I mean. All these dignified clergy were wondering what’s going on here. And there may have been more, more smoke than light. But good gracious to think of that thirty years ago, un--, unreal.

MD: And do you think that the clergy in particular here in Charlotte or other congregations or even just folks in general, are making meaningful strides toward addressing racial inequalities and differences?

SF: Well the one group that I think is, this is their agenda is the NCCJ. And this is so interesting. You know it used to be the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Now it’s the National Conference for Community the ‘C’ and Justice the ‘J’. Because you can’t just talk about bringing Christians and Jews together. One could argue maybe, maybe that’s been done, I don’t know it depends on who you talk to. But it’s not Community and Justice. And it embraces this issue and they, they have camps where they, they get children, well teenagers really from the different religious groups to come together for a week to get to know each other. That is by far as I know the most specific program along those lines.

MD: Here in Charlotte?

SF: Yeah.

MD: Now whether you necessarily cast yourself in this way, you, you’ve played some really important parts, roles I think in a quest for racial equality in Charlotte. Certainly you are identified with the sit-in movement, and you talked a little bit about the role you played as a clergyman in the integration of schools. Tell me a little bit about what you think, where, where is Charlotte today? Obviously we’ve had a Swann II [Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education] and we have this new sort of choice plan and notions of neighborhood schools and this whole debate that’s going on now. What do you think that means for Charlotte, is that a step forward a step backward or you know tell, speak on that?

SF: Well, in my very considered opinion I think it’s a huge step backward and it, it’s really distressing. Dr. Watkins was on the school board. He was in the middle of the, the original court order. And he came up with a plan that if had been implemented. Now I’m not saying this just because he was a good friend of mine but the fact is it was a good plan. And it was rejected probably because it was too rational. But it, it came up pretty close to what is going on now but much more intelligently. And back when this community was smaller I’ll grant you that makes it easier. But nonetheless I think no matter how you slice it, it is absurd to talk about white kids being discriminated against. That is the biggest bunch of balderdash that anybody could present. And they do it with a straight face. Oh my goodness it’s, it’s pathetic and to stand on high moral ground we’re going to ignore race well maybe in a hundred years but not, not in the year 2003. And that, that is very sad and I think people are trying to maintain their, how shall I say, their dignity on the school board in spite of all this and it’s very difficult. I think we literally ran off a wonderful superintendent, Smith. He, he was, well he practically killed himself literally trying to make the thing work. And then that, that, that court case which I don’t know, it, it, it, it reminds you, let me say it reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. Everything’s topsy-turvy. And then there’s this case of Michigan about the college admission thing. It is, it is not facing reality. Now there may be if you want to look at it from a strictly legal point of view, there may be some legal issues there. There obviously were or I guess it wouldn’t have happened. But from a moral and sociological point of view it makes no sense. It makes no sense at all. And, and look what’s happening now. Everybody is all messed up. The, the schools that are being built are they say are built in the wrong place. Well you plan to build schools ten years in advance and the time they’re open from crying out loud and it was all based on the other concept. And now there are some kids who are traveling farther on busses than they were before. And that was supposed to eliminate all that. And I don’t know. It is such a tangled mess. And I used to be so proud of, of Charlotte when I visit other places would be asked about it, that our plan was working and it was working. And it was working beautifully and I don’t know I, I am very, very pessimistic about this situation.

MD: Knowing what you know about, and I’ve heard, I think I’ve heard you say that you thought that the earlier plan. The first implementation of Swan was successful.

SF: Could have been better but it was good enough.

MD: And then looking at where we are today, not just based on school integration but looking at sort of the racial climate in general in Charlotte. What do you, what do you see for the future in Charlotte?

SF: Well what we’re in kind of is an interesting mode I think speaking very generally. We, we, we have polite racism now. I mean it’s couched in other words but it, it amounts unfortunately sometimes to the very same thing. We have the results you can see it in the young people who have gone through the integrated school system and who have totally different views than some of their parents. I mean it’s worked. It, it is part of life to learn about other people. You don’t just learn from the textbooks and your teacher. You learn from interaction with, with, with kids as a kid. And blacks who have benefited from that have really benefited. I don’t think it’s hurt one white kid anymore than it would have if they had been totally segregated. I don’t know I may be wrong on that but I don’t think so. And so sure it was a success. No question about it. You, you can see it everywhere. Among the age group that has benefited from an integrated education in this community. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen to some of these kids coming along now. And it is pathetic to me to, for example, open a charter school to have a segregated school for blacks and there’s one of them around here. I mean that is ridiculous, I’m not a black kid and I’m not a black parent obviously but what is that proving, nothing. Obviously there are a charter schools for all white kids well yeah sure. Well of course there have been some of these groups popping up which probably wouldn’t have because they, they say it’s to give them a special kind of education baloney. They want a segregated school atmosphere. There are a lot more home-schooled kids, which is even a more radical view. I had a home-school kid in one of my college courses. That young woman was so glad to be with other kids I mean she just was in heaven. Now she got out and about a little bit I know as a homeschool kid but my gosh, she missed a whole part of her education by being cooped up with her parent in, in her home school for crying out loud. Now and then some of the home-schoolers get together but you know darn well they’re all white kids who they get together with. It’s a shame. So I don’t know what the answer is. Obviously I’ve never been political so I don’t understand it as I should perhaps. But it’s, it’s I’m, I’m really very sad about it. I think it’s, it’s an issue that no one in this town has really tackled and it, it is not considered polite to bring it up politically except very rarely. The, I don’t know.

MD: Do you think the atmosphere is, surrounding issues of race in public discourse are different today than they were in the time of the sit-ins?

SF: Oh yes it’s much more--

MD: Here in Charlotte.

SF: Yeah it’s, it’s hidden. It’s, it’s the hidden agenda behind what is open is one thing what’s, what’s the real agenda is, is hidden. At least back then you knew where people stood because they told you, often in very strong language. But now it’s, it’s different. The, the, you know you wonder. I wonder sometimes. Take the professional basketball team. Here we’re going to have a new time with a black owner. And possibly Michael Jordan. Okay I’d say hooray, hooray. Now what will this do for race relations, I don’t know but I’ve been, been really thinking about that. It could be great. It really could especially you know this has always been a town pretty much run by the business people. I guess any town is pretty much like that. But here’s a very wealthy man. Mr. Johnson is in the public eye. He’s going to be more in the public eye. And no matter what you might think of professional basketball, which frankly I don’t think much of, but that’s beside the point, you’ve got something going here that might be well beyond it’s sports value or any other kind of value I don’t know. And it is this wonderful enigma that, that you see in sports. Who would have thought even five or six seven years ago that someone like Tiger Wood, Woods or Veejay Singh would be marched around a golf course. I wonder how they feel looking at all those white faces out there. And here they are and they’re winning and I bet you they just are chortling over it. (laughs) You know they talk about getting women into Augusta, shoot the way those two gentleman slipped into the professional golf game it was to me wonderful. And they’re accepted. Of course they’re accepted why wouldn’t they be accepted, they should be accepted but it’s, it’s, it’s one way to go. And you know you look at those crowds, at those golf tournaments on the TV and they applaud those black dudes perhaps more than they applaud the white dudes when they’re winning. And it’s wonderful. So maybe, maybe Mr. Johnson when he comes to town can shake, rattle a few cages and shake people up a little bit more. And heaven knows if Michael Jordan came oh my goodness! You know basketball state and a basketball town. Lordy people would think the millennium has arrived and it really could, could make a big difference. Another thing I wish--but I have no idea what’s going on anymore unfortunately out of Johnson C. Smith really--is I wish they were more prominent in the city. It’s a shame they used to be; they’re less so I don’t know why. I regret that. It’s, it’s, it’s a question of people appreciating people for who they are. And no matter what we might say in this country we admire people who can put together a lot of money. Why not, I mean that’s the American way and if Michael Jordan’s a role model I think it’s great. If, if any of these men and women who have succeeded who happen to be black can, can be shakers and movers that, that maybe what it takes. And of course all these commencement exercises with all their speaker. Some of the snippets I’ve read (but it’s still true) the final ultimate solution is education it’s got to be. And if we don’t get the kids when they’re young you know, there’s that wonderful song in the South Pacific you have to be carefully taught. And it’s got to be more than the books and the teachers. It’s got to be diversity. I’m delighted I know a young black, he’s going to be a senior next year who’s studying Spanish. He says I need to get to know some Spanish-speaking people. There you go. There you go.

MD: Anything else you would like to add?

SF: Well thank you for this opportunity. Well you know as a person who teaches communication I mean you just pressed the button and I love to talk. But I do like to put this down in your program because it, it the more this sort of thing you bring out and bring together it, it, it makes a difference to future generations.

MD: Well I appreciate your time thank you.

SF: You’re welcome.

End of Interview.
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