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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Contentious project studies race and American schools

Fleming helped publish a report on black Americans and education in preparation for the <cite>Brown</cite> decision. Few others were willing to take the project because the subject was too contentious in the 1950s, and southern universities were generally unwilling at the time to sponsor research on race issues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

HAROLD FLEMING:
Yes. Because the Fund for the Advancement of Education was essentially involved in education. And they approached this as an educational question. The feeling was, "look, the Supreme Court is going to issue a decision that could be the biggest thing that happened in education in this country in our time. Shouldn't we be doing something to prepare people to provide information?" This thing was in no sense intended to be an advocacy even indirectly. It wasn't conceived as an advocacy thing, it was conceived as an informational and service kind of thing. It was to help people to know how to cope, what the history is, what the demography is, what the background is. It was not to be to take sides or urge the court to go one way or another or anything like that, or to urge any particular solution or ruling.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did they turn to SRC to look for someplace to make this work or did they put this package together?
HAROLD FLEMING:
They wanted this to be as respectable as possible. They first tried to peddle it into all the universities they could think of in the South that had any prestige, but none of them would do it.
JOHN EGERTON:
Including Chapel Hill?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Including North Carolina.
JOHN EGERTON:
Of course, we have to remember this is post Frank Porter Graham.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Oh, yes. Nobody would do it, none would take it on. It was too high of a potato. I didn't know anything about it or have anything to do with it until it was all decided, I mean, until they were ready to go on it. I came in through the a side door, actually. They couldn't get any southern university to take on the sponsorship of it. Time was flying and the court decision could come down at any time. So, they said, "shit, we will do it ourselves. We'll sponsor it and put up the money and get it done." Then, on some other issue, I can't really tell you now, it has slipped my mind since it has been so long, but they knew Harry Ashmore, he had done some things under their aegis through cooperation with them and they thought well of him. Harry had a good reputation and he was not the certified liberal, and wrongly perceived crusader that he later became. And they decided they ought to get Harry to be the head of it. They needed somebody, they needed a name to put on top of it or something. Harry, after some back and forth, agreed to do it. As he said, "running for the son-of-a-bitch without opposition."
JOHN EGERTON:
And he put the rest of the staff together?
HAROLD FLEMING:
No. Bill Kuntz, that fund, really played the lead role there. Harry said, "look, I'll do it, though probably I shouldn't." He first talked to his publisher, of course. He said, "they have asked me to do this and I know the consequences and I don't want to do you guys in and your paper in here." Old man Haiskill and even Moore and Patterson said, "if you don't do it you will really be letting the side down." So, he had their backing. He said, "I'll do it, but I've just finished some stand and if you'll get a good operation to do the research and the spade work and so on. . . ." The main thing he really consented to do was to write the report called, "The Negro in the Schools", what became The Negro and the Schools. So, Kuntz and I don't know where he got his name, although it is not so surprising, taped Phil Hammer to direct the research phase.
JOHN EGERTON:
Who did Hammer work for at that time?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Hammer at that time worked for the Southern Office of the National Planning Association, something like that. So, he took leave and the first thing he did was to ask me to take leave from SRC and work with him on it. Then we got John Griffin, Mozell Hill, Hylan Lewis and I may be forgetting some but not many. Our job was to get all these scholars, there were forty of them involved, on the case with assignments and commissioned papers and so on. The idea was to do a series of items. Some of them never got published. The one Guy Johnson was supposed to produce was never finished. There were several, notabaly the statistical one. What does it cost? What will it cost? That was Griffin and Swanson. There were maybe one or two more. The main one and the one that got out first was the national run of The Negro and the Schools, which is basically an Ashmore-ized version of what Phil and the rest of us produced in the research phase. We really did that fast. We gave them a research draft. Everybody else went home but I stayed on the case to be a liason to Harry and between Harry and the research phase of the project.