See The Greensboro Sit-Ins for background & more information.
Posted by permission of Civil Rights Greensboro, University of North Carolina Greensboro, and the Greensboro Public Library. Original located located at Oral history interview with Jibreel Khazan and Franklin McCain.
Jibreel Khazan and Franklin McCain, interviewees
Eugene E. Pfaff, interviewer
EUGENE PFAFF: We are continuing in our discussion with Franklin McCain and Jibreel Khazan concerning the sit-ins in the Woolworth and Kress in Greensboro in the spring of 1960. And I'd like to ask you now, how extensive were the protests? Were they focused on Woolworth and Kress, or did they include other stores, other types of establishments that also practiced segregation?
JIBREEL KHAZAN: Well, as I can recall, the protests were originally designed — Joe calls it — we call it — I call it the sit-down movement, you know, in equal rights. It was really designed to be carried out at the Woolworth lunch counter originally.
[BACKGROUND: Lunch-counters were the fast-food providers of that era (McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King, and others were just getting started). Suburban malls were still few and far between, and in most cities "downtown" was the main shopping district. Most large stores had lunch counters where a cup of coffee cost a dime, and you could get a cheeseburger, fries, and Coke for 60 cents. Lunch-counters provided quick cheap meals for shoppers, students, and workers on break, the same way that shopping-mall food-courts do today. Nationally, there were more than 30,000 lunch counters in drug and department stores, bus terminals, office and public buildings. Many were part of large national chains such as Woolworth (2,130 stores), McCrory (1,307), and Kress (272).]
But I remember Frank making a statement as the protest developed during the week. We didn't want to put the world on fire, we just wanted to eat. But behind it, we, I feel, did have the idea that this would catch on. We were hoping it would catch on and it would spread throughout the country, but it went even beyond our wildest imagination. But the main instance was upon Woolworth's. And I think, during the third day, on Wednesday, the Woolworth lunch counters became — they were filled to capacity. And there were people walking throughout the store. Woolworth's may have had over three hundred people in that store, and that store was only designed to hold a hundred. [laughter]
FRANKLIN McCAIN: In order to accommodate the enthusiasm, we had to go someplace else. So, we elected to go to Kresge [sic — Kress] which was some one or two stores down the street. After going to Kresge — or Kress, I think at that time it was called — the thinking was we ought not just to single out these two stores and let everyone else go as though they'd gotten off clean. And thereafter, we went to places like the hamburger drive-ins, where, in fact, you didn't go in to sit down or anything. You just got curb service to your car. But you still couldn't get service. We went to places like that. We went to what was called The Hot Shoppe on Summit Avenue. We went to Eckerd's Drugs that had a counter as well, and also the O. Henry Hotel, which, I think, is torn [down] now in Greensboro. We went there.
PFAFF: Did you receive service at any of these places?
McCAIN: Not any of those places did we receive service.
KHAZAN: There was also Meyer's Department Store.
McCAIN: Meyer's Department Store, as well. And one restaurant I always wanted to take a lunch in — because, I guess, maybe because of the way the ad was written and the way it came across over TV and radio. That was the Apple House Restaurant. And as I remember —
KHAZAN: Yeah, the Apple House. That's the one I was trying to remember.
McCAIN: That was one of the toughest nuts to crack in terms of — the Apple House was probably one of the last to integrate its eating facilities.
KHAZAN: They stayed open half the night and where they were located it was very — you'd better not be caught there after a certain hour because there was a long run to A&T's [North Carolina A&T State University] campus.
McCAIN: There was a small restaurant we spent some time at on Summit Avenue as well. One of the — I don't remember whether it was White Tower or the Little Tavern. It was one of the two. Very small restaurant that specialized in —
KHAZAN: The Toddle House? Is that? The Toddle House, you remember? It was on Market Street.
McCAIN: Okay. Right. Okay. They specialized in economy burgers and that sort of thing. But we thought as though we couldn't leave any — well, into the late spring we felt as though we couldn't leave any places untouched that practiced discrimination that purportedly were places of public accommodations. And that's why the theatres became involved as well. I think Carolina Theatre was the first one we started to picket. And there was a theatre on the main avenue in downtown Greensboro.
PFAFF: The Central [sic — Center] Theatre.
McCAIN: Was it Central? This was actually a year or so later.
KHAZAN: It may be after we achieved our initial successes during the summer of '60 at Woolworth's and Kress's. Then —
McCAIN: You're talking about — you're talking about the beginning of our sophomore year.
KHAZAN: Yeah, the beginning of our sophomore year.
PFAFF: Did you go home after the end of the spring term for —
KHAZAN: I went home.
McCAIN: And most people wonder what happened to the movement when the students left. We were fortunate enough to have some high school students involved before we left for the summer vacation. Bill Thomas here in town — in Greensboro —
KHAZAN: In Greensboro —
McCAIN: — who was a senior at Dudley High School, was very instrumental in picketing, in being on the strategy planning, and that sort of thing. And it wasn't so difficult for Bill and other high school students and other summer students who were in summer school at A&T to carry on some semblance of picketing and protest. So it's not like we lost all of our momentum. In fact, the momentum, or some activity, carried through the summer until we returned in the fall.
PFAFF: What happened on campus during — I'm sorry — were you going to say?
KHAZAN: Well, I was going to say that I think Bill Thomas played a very instrumental role. There was also, there was a young man in junior high school named Bryce Smith who had leadership right behind Bill Thomas later on. But there were people like Frances Herbin — now Frances Lewis — and Ann Saunders, who's now Ann Shelton. They're all from Greensboro who stayed here during the summer. And their main activity was to continue the movement. Without them, I don't think we would have been very successful.
But this is very important, because later on when we returned in the fall of 1960 and began our sophomore years, a lot of momentum we had was lost. So, more and more pressure began to fall upon a few students at A&T and Bennett College and a greater responsibility fell on students from Greensboro, you see? The Greensboro group began to take up the greatest support of the movement, because they were here.
PFAFF: What happened to your lives on campus that spring? Were you celebrities? Were you singled out as, "those are the four who began the movement"? How did it affect your lives at that time?
McCAIN: You certainly had the recognition on campus by your fellow students. The people knew who you were and what you had done and what you were part of. In terms of — except in a few cases, there was sort of a none type of relationship between myself and members of the staff or the administration, save, Dr. [Warmoth T.] Gibbs and maybe persons like Virgil Stroud, who was very interested in what we were doing, and he was always eager to talk about it. And one other person, Dr. [William H.] Robinson — [Both interviewees are speaking]
KHAZAN: Yeah, Dr. Robinson.
McCAIN: Dr. Robinson.
KHAZAN: Leonard [H.] Robinson Sr.
McCAIN: No, not Leonard.
KHAZAN: It wasn't him?
KHAZAN: Oh, Dr. Robinson. Dr. Robinson is a professor of English now at the University of Rhode Island. Yeah, I remember him. He's dead.
McCAIN: That Dr. Robinson — at that time who had wanted to write a book about the sit-in movement. And you're talking about two years after the movement had begun. You're talking about 1962. But we did have a special kind of relationship with him. Later on, I think we had a special kind of relationship with Dr. [Samuel D.] Proctor as well.
KHAZAN: Sam Proctor.
McCAIN: Sam, yes.
PFAFF: He was then president of A&T?
McCAIN: Sam came — no, at the beginning of the sit-ins, Dr. Gibbs was the president. And I think perhaps the greatest contribution, in retrospect, that we got from Dr. Gibbs, was to leave those guys alone and not say, "Hey, you gotta clean up your act or get out of here and go some place else," as they did in other southern universities at that time. A lot of people were expelled and just kicked out of school for participating in a movement like this. And Dr. Gibbs said on two or three occasions, "Hey, as long as the students maintain responsible grades, as long as they don't break laws or be a tremendous source of embarrassment to the college," then he had absolutely no control over them.
KHAZAN: That was a shock — believe me — to a lot of people because —
McCAIN: It was indeed.
KHAZAN: They had a preconceived conception that Dr. Gibbs quote, "was conservative," end quote and in the mode of being Uncle Tom. But that was far from what was true. I found out a year ago that Dr. Gibbs is one of the founders of the black ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] program in the United States, one of the two leading founders. And they honored him at our university last year. This man was what we would call a militant in his time. He went to Harvard, but we didn't know this twenty years ago. I didn't know this twenty years ago. But I respected him because everyone expected him to be the one that says, "No, you have to stop this," and he took his stand, and that shocked a lot of people. And that had built a lot of — really — school pride. He made us even feel greater.
But also there was Dr. Willa B. Player at Bennett College. Those people speak of liberated woman. She was always feminine, but she was always liberated. And she took her stand. And she said — she told the managers of Woolworth's and Kress's and the city officials when we met Friday night, February the fifth to discuss this matter downtown — she told them, in essence, that she would back any students to the hilt, said these students are doing nothing but fulfilling the rights that are spoken of in the Constitution of the United States and, also, being at this time what they called good Christians, or good religious people — what was in the Bible. So she said she had to support these students.
And you couldn't — you should have seen the beaming smile that we broke out with. We looked at each other and said, that's telling them. But so far as the leadership part is concerned or being — you mentioned about celebrities. I personally felt good about it. I wrote one of my girlfriends and told her, I am involved in it. But, you see, we were under tremendous pressure. So I didn't have too much time to think about being a big celebrity. Because my folks reminded me who I was; "You are the son, you will have to go to work this summer." There's no way to sit down and think about it. And my sisters reminded me, "Oh, you're nobody special. You're just our brother. You're involved in stuff and we're proud of you, but I don't want to hear all those weird theories." That's what my older sister told me. "Get away from me with all that civil rights talk." She says, "You talk about those things too much."
Well, of course, I was — my mind was dwelling on that. But like I said, when we go to people on campus, they respected us, and we respected them. But you might say it did give us an advantage in some ways, that we were a part of this movement. But there was no advantage any other time outside of being, "You guys participated." The teachers didn't let us know it.
McCAIN: No. You didn't. You never knew. You never know that they knew.
KHAZAN: And you better not talk about — I wouldn't even think of the idea of saying to an instructor, "Will you please let us go, pass me?" Even though I was flunking two of my courses, right, in engineering. I would not even dream of asking a professor to have mercy on us. Because we had to live what we were telling the people to do. If you go out and demonstrate, you got to do your homework. So even though I may have been failing it —
McCAIN: We never forgot the central mission. I'm sure that none of us put forth as much time into our central mission as we would like to have. But, then again all things aren't always possible.
KHAZAN: Our central mission was to go to school and —
McCAIN: That's right, to get an education.
KHAZAN: — get an education.
PFAFF: Did your schoolwork suffer as a result of —
McCAIN: It did suffer, but I don't know of any of us who didn't graduate without honors.
KHAZAN: Frank is modest. But let me tell you about the background of Frank. See, Frank, David, and I went to Dudley High School together. We knew each other. Joseph McNeil went to Williston High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. Now, unknown to all of us — or we didn't discuss it too much — all of us were generally pretty good students, in our grades. We came to A&T College already having established personalities and being known by people in different communities. Joseph McNeil was going to A&T College as a thousand dollar scholarship winner. And he's won four, full scholarships every year. I have always admired Joseph McNeil for being an exceptional mind and brain. I thought he was genius. I still think he is.
McCAIN: He's pretty close to it. [laughter]
KHAZAN: [Laughter] Frank McCain is saying, "What?" I was in class with Frank McCain. And Frank McCain, I always felt that I knew him. He was a leader, he was a leader in his own right. And he was a scholar in high school. He was heavy into chemistry and science. He had a brilliant mind. He still does. And it bears witness to where he's at today, twenty years later.
David Richmond — well, I won't even talk about David, but I'll just say this. Although people think he's quiet, David Richmond was an established leader from the time he was a kid. When he was at White Oak [Elementary School], going to school at Lincoln Junior High School and Dudley High School, he was very popular. He was not only known in Greensboro but other places throughout the state, because David Richmond was an exceptional athlete. He was an all-state, what we would call our little all-America high jump record holder for the state of North Carolina. I think his record stood for almost like ten years. So David Richmond won't talk about these things, but I respect all of my companions, because I knew where they were coming from.
And we all respected each other. So it was like one of those once-in-a- lifetime relationships. We never agreed always on everything. One time we fought until the wee hours of the morning — drunk, you know — fell out, right? [laughter] But when all that was over, we always respected each other, as we do today. We may have different opinions of how we view a particular event, but somehow twenty years hasn't caused it to fade away too much, you see.
PFAFF: In the course of your remaining years at A&T, did you remain involved in the civil rights activities that were continuing to go on?
McCAIN: From a personal standpoint, I had some involvement, yes. My involvement in terms of the picketing type things and the additional sit-in type things were becoming less and less. At about the end of our junior year, Joe and I had begun to think about other things, but still things that would ultimately be concerned about civil rights — things like employment discrimination, things like housing discrimination.
We spent considerable time trying to look into the plans for the urban displacement — what was called urban renewal of the area on Market Street down by the underpass, for example. We knew that this was going to happen. Our plan at that time was to come to develop a plan of our own for urban renewal, which in fact was urban renewal, without tearing down the houses of people and pushing them off into dark corners of the world someplace. But to rehabilitate the places they were in and let them stay where they had their birthright and where they had their neighbors of long-standing years, and that sort of thing. And make a presentation to the Planning Commission or the City Council. We spent considerable time on this kind of thing and this kind of thinking.
PFAFF: Did you ever follow through on it?
McCAIN: We didn't — we never made a complete plan. In fact, we had facets of the plan that we left that we wanted to talk about. We wanted to come and talk about it in part. And we decided that's not the way to do it. Let's take a complete package. And I think trying to develop a complete package, for two little guys who happened to be full-time students, got to be just a little bit too much. We'd begun to spend a lot of time in thinking about and investigating things on that order and moving away from the more, the very activist type thing in terms of total involvement. Not that we lost commitment, by any means. But I think that we were just moving to a different realm or a different level of looking into discrimination or segregation or looking into reasons to, ways to restore or achieve the full rights for people.
KHAZAN: For myself, along in my junior year, after I used — I said I used it, because I began to understand the influence of politics on campus. I was fortunate enough to be able to be in a position where I could run for class offices and representative of the class in student government —
McCAIN: He's being modest. He was president of the student government.
KHAZAN: Well, that was in '60 — '62, '63, by the grace of the good Lord and support of like Frank McCain and also all you friends and fraternity brothers who said, "Run for office." But I was always in mind — I was always a person who was kind of shy. I used to get nervous getting before a group. And I think that still exists.
However, this type of preparation started in childhood, in the grade school, and church programs. Every Christmas or Easter, Reverend Otis — Reverend J. T. Harrison's wife, Mrs. Harrison, would have me in the program. I didn't want to be in the program. And even to the point whereby one girl's mother called my mother up and asked her would I take her daughter to the prom. You know a lot of these, a lot of things I was forced into doing. But, like Frank said, divine providence or God or Allah, Dios, had something planned for us. We were always preparing.
So after my senior year, after the freshman year, like Frank said I still stuck with the movement with David and others. But David was married at the time. He had other responsibilities. And we were still working with other people like Lewis Brandon and Donald Potts and planning on different, other movements at the theatres and voter registration during the summer in the year of 1962. I was still involved with CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]. I became involved with CORE in the summer of '62. But that was only for the summer then Bill Thomas took over as chairman, because I became president of student government that year.
PFAFF: You mentioned that you, at the outset of the sit-ins, you were very adamant about not letting CORE or SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] or the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] or anyone else come —
McCAIN: Well, at the outset of the sit-in, there was no SNCC. There was no SNCC. Remember that SNCC originated out of the sit-in movement, per se.
PFAFF: Did either of you participate in the formation of SNCC?
McCAIN: Actually, yes we did. [laughter]
KHAZAN: Yes, we did. [laughter] Maybe sitting in the back seat of a Volkswagen. I didn't like that. Go ahead [to FM] [laughter]
McCAIN: Well, it was during the Easter vacation of 1960, I think it was, we met over at, was it Raleigh? Raleigh, we met —
KHAZAN: At Shaw University.
McCAIN: Yes, with Carson Flagg, Hank Thomas and Julian Bond, Marian Wright Edelman. And I think Marian is probably now —
KHAZAN: Marian Barry [Sic]
McCAIN: Marian is the individual who's heading up the Year of the Child organization.
KHAZAN: NAACP — the lawyer from Mississippi?
McCAIN: No, no. Well, she did work for the NAA[CP], yes, after graduating from Yale. But, she's since left the NAA[CP].
KHAZAN: Then Marion Barry.
McCAIN: Marion Barry as well, who's now the mayor of Washington, D.C.
KHAZAN: John Lewis and Deon Giman [Dion Diamond], and Henry — what's his name? He's a minister at Howard University. His name is —
McCAIN: Laurence Henry.
KHAZAN: Laurence Henry, who said when we went to Washington during the summer of '60 for a meeting concerning the civil rights movement, he went to the meeting of the NAACP and all these celebrities. And he says, "I did not come here to drink tea and speak sympathy. I came here to get involved with rights for my people." And then he left. And it shook everybody. "What did he mean? Tea and sympathy?" But SNCC was formed during the Easter of '60. But no one knew we were there. We were observers — like we were sitting back watching everybody. And they were talking about, "This is the way it should go. This is the way it should go." Nobody knows anything about the people in Greensboro. As far as they were concerned, we did not — we were not there until —
McCAIN: We were nonentities, really. I think — I'm going to try to remember that Stokely was there as well — Stokely Carmichael.
PFAFF: Why was Greensboro so —
McCAIN: Was Stokely at that meeting?
KHAZAN: No, he didn't get in the movement till the spring of '61 when they had the freedom rides. But —
PFAFF: Why was Greensboro so passed over, given the fact that the sit-ins had started there?
KHAZAN: Well, after the seventh day God rested, so the Bible says, right? But the seventh was on a Sunday. And we had meeting on the sit-ins Saturday night on February the sixth to discontinue the movement to negotiate. So when we stopped to negotiate for what we thought was a week, which really turned into like almost two months, the rest of the people around the country, the other students said, "Well, the Greensboro movement is dead, so we have to pick it up." And this is why they said, "Well, Greensboro was dead." But Greensboro was not dead. We knew eventually they were going to have to do the same thing we were doing. It took a lot of heads knocking a lot of times, a lot of arrests, to get this point over somehow or other to our compatriots.
McCAIN: A lot of people saw negotiating as submission. You know, "We've got them on the run now, so let's keep them on the run. Don't give them a chance to regroup their forces. Don't negotiate." And of course that's great, you know, if you're in the middle of a real vacuum and you've got the enemy on the run. But that wasn't that kind of battle at all. Yes, there was a prize to be won, but we weren't going to win it by just eliminating the enemy. We wanted to convert the enemy more than anything else.
KHAZAN: And plus that, we had to deal with the spirit of compromise. We're not going to lose the concept of principle, as Winston Churchill said. But what we were interested in was keeping this spirit of compromise. We knew we had to give some if we wanted the other side to give some, you see. But many people figured we were just four dumb black freshmen students out on some kind of prank. But we kept trying to tell people, "No, this is not the case." We had been prepared for this by our teachers, by our community, levels of organizations that we'd been in as young people. We were just not coming out as some — with some wild idea. Leadership did not start, you know, like all at once — you can be put in situations, but gradually, all the things that we were in school, in our communities, and in our families, came out. And this is one reason why I think this movement was successful in Greensboro. And we had the minimum amount of injuries, loss of life or even personalities damaged, because of that.
McCAIN: There was one thing that helped us to believe in a negotiations session. And I want to call some names because I think they're important.
KHAZAN: Go ahead.
McCAIN: At that time there were very few white people to believe in, and very few white men, in particular. But people like, who stand out in my memory, are people like Mr. E. [Edward] R. Zane —
KHAZAN: E.R. Zane, yes.
McCAIN: Who was a — he was a white man at that time who really convinced me that he was sincere and that he was to be trusted. Mr. Moses Kiser came fairly close to Mr. Zane. But I think probably Mr. Zane, more than anybody else, was most impressionable from the best impressions on me. And I said to others that, "Hey, here's a guy whom I believe we can really trust."
PFAFF: Now, how did he come, oh —
KHAZAN: In fact, I want to comment about him. I sent him a Hanukkah card. He told me he's not Jewish. [laughter] That was after five years. He said, "Who is this Jibreel Khazan? I don't understand it." He doesn't know yet, but he knows now. The thing about it is that I noticed that Mr. E.R. Zane had finesse. He was — I knew when he came into — from western Greensboro to eastern, southeastern Greensboro, to A&T's campus in the black community, that he was more than just a regular man. He was in between, I think, maybe between the powers in Greensboro like Cone Industries and the people who owned Vicks Chemical Company. And he was a lawyer. And I really began to appreciate the type of lawyer that he was, because he was a man who, I believe, who knew how to do a bargain.
McCAIN: I think Mr. Zane, first of all, was an ethical business man.
KHAZAN: He was an ethical business man, yes. He had good ethics, because he told me in his letter, he says, "I happen to be a Christian." And I said he was a darn good one. And so that's how I remember him.
PFAFF: Do you recall how he contacted the Student Executive Committee for Justice [at A&T] and what were the nature of your conversations involved —
McCAIN: Well, Mr. Zane's involvement, I think, began with his appointment to the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights or Human Relations, Humans Relations Committee. It was an ad hoc committee, at any rate, that the mayor appointed to deal with this, with this group of four blacks over at A&T. And as I recall, most of the correspondence or the setting up of sessions was done through Dr. Hobart Jarrett, who was on the campus at Bennett College at that time.
KHAZAN: He's the other one —
McCAIN: He was sort of the ad hoc administrator for the black side, if you will. And I'm sure there was a lot of conversation between Mr. Zane and Dr. Jarrett. And Dr. Jarrett, of course, was in contact with us on a daily basis to — not to tell us what's happening, not to tell us what to do, but to say to us that we've got the opportunity to — or give some consideration to — that sort of thing, and working clearly in an advisory role or as a liaison type person more than anything else. And I'm sure he had quite a number of conversations with the mayor of Greensboro [David Schenck] at that time as well and other persons of influence in the Greensboro community.
KHAZAN: I was going to say Hobart Jarrett to me was the type of man that we had discussed about when we were reading Langston Hughes' book, Pictorial History of the American Negro, because that influenced us a lot. And later on, I found out that February the first was not only the day we started the movement that was Langston Hughes' birthday. And I found out later on that February the first was declared National Freedom Day by Abraham Lincoln in 1865. So what we did was kind of prophetic. It was the hand of destiny that got us to this occasion.
But I do remember Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes never told me his birthday was February the first, but he became friendly with me. He came to A&T's campus. And he would always drop little notes, like now and then. But it was his book, Pictorial History of the American Negro, that we read about all the outstanding achievements that people had made, people of color had made in America. So Hobart Jarrett reminded me of the type of man that [W.E.B.] Du Bois was. He was not a vocal, loud man. But he was a learned man. He was a scholar. And he was a person who had — was well disciplined and had much self-control.
McCAIN: Well, he was our diplomat extraordinaire. That's what he was.
KHAZAN: He was like Ralph Bunche, you know?
McCAIN: He was our Ralph.
PFAFF: Did either of you participate in the negotiations with the Zane committee and the business community, the managers of Woolworth and Kress, and any city officials?
PFAFF: Could you describe those negotiations?
McCAIN: I thought at the time that they were somewhat strained for the most part. But reflecting on that, it was probably more diplomacy than anything else. You know, if I were to participate in those same kinds of sessions today, I would say that people were cordial and probably exercising diplomacy. But then, to me, it sounded like a bunch of people getting together and not really wanting to discuss the issue.
KHAZAN: I thought about BS. The "bull speech," all right. "Bull speech," all right. But this is what I observed. Like Frank, that this was basically like a feeling out period where we would come, and they would talk about an hour, but there was really no resolutions made except, "Well, we resolve to meet next week and talk about the same subject again." And I found it kind of boring, but I learned to understand it's just getting together to have the opposite sides just to look at each other. Sometimes we would sit for five or ten minutes before someone made a statement and just look back and forth.
McCAIN: We had one negotiating session, in particular, that to me is still demeaning. It took a lot of gall to even think about it. And that is, the Woolworth Company — I don't know whether it was from the Woolworth Company in New York or Woolworth Greensboro — sent an attorney out to meet with us and I'm going to try to recall that his name — his last name was Sapp.
KHAZAN: Yeah, Mr. [Armistead] Sapp. [laughter]
McCAIN: Okay. He came out with the very brilliant proposal that the Woolworth Company would build within that store a comfortable facility, but downstairs some place, for black folk to eat at. [Quoting Sapp] "We're gonna build you a nice restaurant right in the store that's even — that's as nice as, or, in fact, a little bit better than what the white people have there now."
KHAZAN: That's right.
McCAIN: And, [quoting Sapp] "Hey, you really ought to jump at this, because we're doing something for you that we don't even do for white folks."
KHAZAN: That's right. That was sort of an insult.
McCAIN: That was, that was really a putdown. I mean that was the biggest insult I think that we've ever had throughout any negotiations sessions with anybody. And we rejected him outright. And he proceeded to tell us that that's probably his last offer, because he was a very busy man. I remember the thing that stuck with me more than anything else was the figure he quoted. He said, "Hey, when I do this kind of work, I'm a hundred dollars a day in expenses. And I just don't have time to fool around." So, meaning, you better take this offer now because you're dealing with a guy who's really high power. And this is the best you're going to get.
KHAZAN: And we said, "No. We think we can get better." And, but I think he was one of the adversaries. You know, you have to have opposition, in all things. Not that you have to, but there's going to be opposition when you strive for social change. So we kind of understood him to be our opposition. And we used him, the stumbling stone, as a stepping block. See, we can go around him. We can be greater. We can be greater than what he's giving us. We can do greater. And we used him as a motivation, reverse motivation. "Y'all heard what he said? Now, are we going to listen to what he said, or are we going to keep pushing?" They said, "Let's keep pushing."
McCAIN: We had to keep ourselves psyched up as well. We had other sessions with another individual who was certainly more learned and into the twentieth century than the previous attorney. And that was McNeill Smith — incidentally, whom I'd vote for today if I were in Greensboro.
KHAZAN: Is he still here? McNeill Smith?
McCAIN: He's still here. McNeill Smith came on with a different kind of approach altogether, and not so much with a proposal, but sort of as an individual to clear the air and to find out what the options really were, in terms of our thinking anyway. And of course, we still don't have — the only option we wanted to exercise was to have the same privilege as anybody else. We didn't want to be treated special. We know what special means. Special means that you're going to get screwed. And we had a belly full of that. But McNeill Smith came on very different, very polished, very diplomatic. And appeared to be somewhat — well, he was much more open than [Sapp] — Sapp's mind was made up when he came, okay? But McNeill Smith led you to believe that he was willing to hear some of the things that you might say.
KHAZAN: And being that he was a lawyer, he was somewhat in the role of an Archibald Cox [Watergate prosecutor], I would say. He was very meticulous about his understanding of the law. He didn't speak too much. He did a lot of listening. And he was all — he gave the opinion he was always calm. [Quoting Smith] "And I'll take this report back to the committee." And he would come back to us and we'd say, "We don't like this. Students don't like this." He was still calm. He said, "All right, I'll take this report back to the committee and I'll give you their report." And sometime we'd say, "Let's go talk to the committee ourselves." And, of course, our advisor would say, "Now, that may not be advantageous." Over a period of time, though, I began to sense, I had a feeling that actually we were out of, the students were actually out of the whole process of negotiation. I felt that at times, because we had 16 so many intermediaries, you see. And we wanted some time to talk with the people face to face. But I guess patience has its virtues.
McCAIN: I think that's the reason we were both sides, since that it might be more productive in their judgment if they were to ease the students out a little bit. And the students were naturally suspicious about that kind of attitude or attempts of that sort.
PFAFF: Did you participate in every meeting that was held between the Zane committee and the managers and yourselves? Or did people act as your intermediaries?
McCAIN: We did not participate in every one of those sessions. We did have people acting as intermediaries or our emissaries, yes.
PFAFF: Given the fact that the breakthrough in segregation or desegregating the lunch counters occurred during the summer, and that the management of Woolworth and Kress dealt with the established adult leaders of the black community, do you think they did, indeed, bypass the students in the final negotiations?
McCAIN: No, because I recall that the Meyer's cafeteria [Tea Room], for example, was integrated along with — Hobart Jarrett, two or three persons from that committee, one representative from A&T and myself, and I really didn't feel left out. I didn't feel as though we'd reached success without the students being involved. No, I didn't feel that way at all. In fact, our feeling was — and I think I can speak for all of us on this — there is enough success, there is enough trauma, tragedy, weariness to pass around to everybody. No one's going to have a corner on it, and no one should feel as though that he ought to. Success to us was whatever comes good to the movement, because of the movement. And success wasn't a personal thing. I think that's probably one key to the success of the movement, that we didn't equate success as being personal. We didn't look at it on a personal level. What — well —
KHAZAN: Well —
McCAIN: We were bigger than that.
KHAZAN: Yeah. We didn't do it for personal recognition or anything like that. If recognition came to us as individuals — sometimes I'd say, "Franklin, you go to Chicago to represent us at the Catholic Interracial Human Rights Award dinner." Another time Joe might go, another time David might go, or I might be delegated to go to Washington or somewhere like that. But the whole idea behind this was we were one body with many parts. I think the Bible speaks of it, the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, meaning the Messiah, the anointed one, has many parts. So we were one body with many parts, and, as an organism, to function, to arrive at its goal of equal rights in places of public accommodation.
The long-range goal was hopefully to get Congress eventually to pass a bill that would, that would make equal rights in all places of public accommodation because that was our long-range goal — to see this thing happen. And about three or four years later, I think under the Johnson administration, you did get something with Robert Kennedy's help as attorney general, you did something, you did get something of a public accommodations bill under the commerce act [Civil Rights Act of 1964] — under the economic clause of the commerce act — -interstate commerce.
[The Constitutional foundation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the commerce clause (Article 1, Section 8).]
But there were some issues that still are prevalent today. And that is, which is most important, human rights or property rights? And that issue was never resolved. And I guess, as long as we have the present economic and political system, it probably will never be resolved. It's still up in the air. [laughter]
McCAIN: Well, it's resolved in the minds of some people. [laughter] They've made that decision already.
KHAZAN: Yeah, it's resolved.
McCAIN: They made the decision already.
KHAZAN: [in agreement] They made the decision already.
McCAIN: We see the effects of it.
KHAZAN: [laughter] Yeah, we see the effects of it. But —
PFAFF: Were you both present at the meeting when the final solution was arrived?
McCAIN: There was not a final — well, I'm thinking about other things. When you say final solution- -
KHAZAN: You mean during the summer of '60?
PFAFF: When the managers decided —
McCAIN: All places did not agree to open their facilities at the same time. That is, the agreement didn't say that on June twentieth all restaurants or places of public accommodations in Greensboro were going to integrate their facilities. It didn't happen that way. It was pretty much in piece — well, not really piecemeal fashion — but like you had no more than 50/60 percent of the facilities in Greensboro that agreed to integrate, okay, with that — as part of that agreement.
KHAZAN: And you know who all those were?
McCAIN: You had places like the Apple House, who still —
KHAZAN: We went there, they said, "We don't serve you here."
KHAZAN: We knew that meant that we had to work more. It was what you call a protracted movement. It was a phase — it was phases, whereby, "we'll open up these three restaurants today, and the Chamber of Commerce" — the attitude was, "We'll let the members of the Chamber of Commerce decide which ones are going to go along with us." Some guys said, "No, not from my company, not right now, maybe two months from now. I've got to see what happens with Woolworth and Kress's." You see, the trial and error thing.
I must say this, although in this movement there were various factions in opposition as to what we thought the goal was, or how fast we should achieve our goal, we were fortunate in Greensboro to have people on both sides who were learned people and who knew how to conduct themselves in a manner which brought this thing out for the better of everybody. Now nobody was pleased, you know with having their own way. But we did learn a lot about the spirit of compromise and how to attain goals and how to do it so that at the end, everybody could hug and kiss and say, "Hey, we're still friends." Something we still [unclear] —
McCAIN: I'm remembering one thing in the very early days, before the store managers and restaurant managers ever thought about integrating their facilities. Chamber of Commerce made a survey of all the places, the public accommodations in Greensboro, particularly eating places. And I'm going to remember something like 72 to 73 percent of the facilities that took part in this survey said that they had no problems with integrating their facilities if the next door neighbor would. Okay, and you're talking about — well, there are a few who are undecided and something like 20 percent who said, no. I thought that that was a source of strength to me, anyway. That hey, here you've got almost 75 percent who're saying, "I'm only doing that which is unjust, or not right, simply because my neighbor's doing it."
KHAZAN: Yeah. And then you get to the question, am I my neighbor's keeper or my brother's keeper? Right? And of course there were innkeepers, you see, by English common law.
McCAIN: By English common law — the old innkeepers' law says that you must take in any traveler or anybody who is on the roads and if he's got money, put him up for his lodgings and feed him. You must do that. My goodness, that's three hundred, four hundred years old, that law is.
PFAFF: By way of conclusion, I would like to ask, what are the special kind of pressures on an individual who challenges something as entrenched and as awesome as racism and segregation, particularly when it's four individuals without any legal or institutional backing such as you had that first day and for much of the early months of the movement.
McCAIN: The pressures were, in my case — well, I was relieved quite a lot when my parents said to me that, "Hey, it's fine — it's quite all right," because I have a strong sense of family. Yes, I did and do care what my parents think and how they feel about the things that I do and the kind of image I'm projecting and the kind of person I am. If I didn't have that sense of family, then that wouldn't have been important to me at that time either. Once I passed that as a potential hurdle, there weren't a lot of things that gave me a lot of difficulty in terms of pressures.
There were some pressures, yes. The pressures to do some of those things that Franklin — well, first of all, to get an education. I came here with a strong sense of mission. And that was my central mission, to get an education. I continually reminded myself why I was here and continually reminded myself about what my future could or could not be, depending on what I did or did not do. The pressures also to continue to do things —
McCAIN: It sort of — I got part of the avalanche type syndrome, too, sometimes. Sometimes I truly wanted to curl up in a corner and read a very good book, okay? But because there are twenty-two people downtown at the Carolina Theatre picketing, and six people at Woolworth's, and five or six people someplace else — and maybe we were five months into the movement, four months into the movement, or in my sophomore year now — and we can't find enough people to do an adequate job of picketing. Pressures say to me that — the resulting pressures say to me that "you were instrumental in getting people down there, and you've got an obligation. You've got to be there as well, to support the movement, to support them and to support the outcome."
So, those are some of the pressures that I felt. Not that I was pressured each time I went down to picket, my goodness, no. But as I mentioned earlier, there were times that I wanted to do something else. And you feel as though — well, I felt as though, hey, I've got a special obligation, and I can't do that something else that I'd like to do at this time. The obligation also to live somewhat like Caesar's wife — and that is, you know, beyond reproach. [laughter by Khazan and McCain] Because again, all eyes are fixed on you and there are certain factions who are looking for character, what could be termed character flaws — any way to discredit the movement of people who are part of it. So you felt that — I felt a special need and a special sense to keep my skirts clean, so to speak. To keep things inline. [laughter]
McCAIN: Skirt's just an expression, rather than a reality? [laughs]
KHAZAN: I felt pressures. First of all, I wanted to check with my folks, because I wanted to make sure I wouldn't do anything to embarrass them, because both my parents were working for the public school system. And I knew how my father felt. I checked with him first. And then, I think that the night before we went down, I went to see my mother. One of us, Joe and me, or all four of us, I'm not sure — and I asked her, I said, "Mom, we're going to do something tomorrow that may change history, it's going to shake the world," I felt. I said, "Would you be against me if I did this?" She says, "Well, what is it?" I said, "Well, I can't tell you right now." But I said, "Do you, do you — I want you to understand that something may happen tomorrow that's going to change things in Greensboro — maybe around the whole nation, I don't know. Will you support me?" She said, "Yes, as long as you don't do anything that's going to be is going to bring disrespect upon the family or yourself." So with that, I felt at ease.
And then, when the movement started, I felt somewhat comfortable that I had the backing of my parents. But still, there were pressures living in the dormitory. Every day you had assignments to do. And I was an engineering student at the time. And I was really more concerned about what was happening to those students who were downtown with no connection, really, no telephone in their hand, to call back to campus. And the pressure was on us. I lost sleep at night. I didn't eat properly. But this was already happening anyway, because I was a freshman living on campus trying to adjust to the life. I'd never lived away from home before, even though I lived in Greensboro. So there were the pressures by your peers that you had to hold up a certain image. I think I mentioned before, I was one of those guys who tried to meet everybody in the dormitory. And friends would say to me, "What's wrong with you? You speak to everybody you see, man. Boy, you're going to be tired before you get to class." Well, I somewhat — that was my nature. I wanted to make sure number one, I met everybody and made a friend with everybody because I didn't want to have an enemy in that dormitory because it was one thousand students, freshman —
McCAIN: No. He was already planning to be president of student government. That's what he's saying.
KHAZAN: No. No. I didn't have those ambitions really. But I wanted —
McCAIN: He's a natural politician.
KHAZAN: I wanted to meet everybody. Plus that — we had groups like the Athletic Association. They initiate you. They have what they called a greasing session. [laughter] and if you were not wise and you went to sleep in the dormitory at night, somebody would knock on the door. [knocking in background] You'd say, "Who's there?" They says, "It's Joe." I said, "I don't know anybody by the name of Joe. I didn't know anyone by that name." You open the door and there were ten or fifteen athletes that would take you up in there, take your clothes off, put shaving cream and grease — if you're listening, I hope this doesn't embarrass anyone. Put grease up your rectum. And I didn't want that to happen to me. So I made sure that I had a chance to meet everyone and have good relations.
But then there was also the pressures of being amongst the family, as I mentioned before, and trying to explain to them that I had to keep with the movement. I had to be in the movement. Then it began to feel like Frank said, there was feeling of being in an avalanche. Sometimes with all the — everything was pouring in on me at one time. And, of course, we were receiving telephone calls in the dormitory. Sometimes crank calls, "I'm gonna kill you if you go downtown tomorrow." You couldn't go out and tell everybody, they're going to kill us tomorrow if we go downtown, so you had to keep a lot of the stuff to yourself. It was like watching a cartoon with Goofy in there — it was all kinds of ways, all of a sudden. But the thing I think, also, there was pressures.
And I'm going to mention this. There was love life. There was our love lives, which are private — a lot of people won't talk about. But I fell in love during this time. And I thought it was love. I think it was love. But there was a strong feeling there; had I not had this attachment with this young woman, then perhaps I would have cracked at the seams. Because we were eighteen —
McCAIN: We needed some source of comfort and some place to sort of lighten up a burden.
KHAZAN: Yes. So there was A&T College and Bennett's campus and then some developed, dated girls that go to high school. And this relationship I had was very important to me because this person came to my life like on the seventh day of the movement. In fact, I found out she had a son that was born February the seventh, you see. But it's not mine; [laughs] I haven't seen this person in years. So, I told this person, I said, "If anyone ever asks you of our relationship, tell them, outside of God you were the closest person to me at that time." I'm not knocking my brothers. But I can relate closer to the young ladies than I could old hard here [FM laughs], the muscles. So that's why I said that.
But outside of that, it was my companions — Joe, David, Frank, and my parents and everyone else that was involved in the movement. There was a pressure of feeling that you should never insult anybody. We can't insult anybody in this movement. We can't overlook anybody. If we insult anyone or — I had this feeling personally — if I walked past one, I said, "I'm sorry, how are you today?" I said, "How did things go yesterday?" This was the way I felt. And once you began to have that feeling, it was like a feeling of shepherding a flock. Not that you were a shepherd. But it was that feeling of — you must keep contact with everybody. You can't let anyone feel that you won't — you can't look like you are depressed. Always keep smiling. But sometime behind that, there was a lot of neurological malfunctioning going on. And I'm going to say this — that our health was affected by this, mine was.
McCAIN: It certainly was. I lost a semester out of school.
KHAZAN: Frank was very ill.
PFAFF: Well, I'd like to thank you both for participating in the Greensboro Public Library Oral History program and giving us this detailed information on the origin of the sit-ins.
McCAIN: Thank you for the invitation.
KHAZAN: Thank you very much.
PFAFF: This has been a segment of the Greensboro Public Library Oral History program. It was filmed in the library on October 20, 1979.
[End of Interview]
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