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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Gettysburg park officials stop protesting their new black officer

The Secretary of the Interior hired the first black park officer because the army would not hire any skilled black employees. The other workers at the Gettysburg office protested until they realized that Dr. King, the new employee, did excellent work.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. 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

I found that the CCC was set up, you know, to give employment relief to people. They had Negro camps and white camps, but in the Negro camps they would not employ any Negro skilled, intellectual labor or any . . . . And the army people there were all white, even in the Negro camps. So I went to the head of the CCC to complain about this and he said "Well, there's nothing we can do about that. The reason we can't do anything about it is that the army is in charge of assigning people to the camps and they are assigning white officers. They don't want the white officers to be eating with Negroes." I said "Well, I better go and see the army about it." So I went to see the army and the man in charge was a Major Major. His name was Major Major. As soon as I made him aware of who I was and what I'd come to talk about, he said "Well now, Mr Foreman, I leave here usually at 4:30 and it is now 4:20." I said "Well, Major what I have to say won't take more than ten minutes. Really, the problem is, why can't we have Negro officers in the Negro CCC camps?" He said "Well, it would never work. You don't understand. Obviously you don't understand the South." I said "Well, in the First World War there were Negro companies in the South and Negro officers and no trouble as far as I know and I don't see why you couldn't have them now. It doesn't make sense to me to give employment only to the most ignorant, illiterate Negroes and not give employment to the officers who are trained and to the educated Negroes." He said "Well obviously you don't understand the South. Where are you from?" So I said "Well Major, I'm from Georgia. Where are you from?" "Well, I'm from New York, but I've lived in the South a lot." "I don't think I need to take any more of your time, Major. You still can get out on time. It's not 4:30 yet." So I got up and left and I went back and reported this conversation to Ickes and said "I have found out that you have a right, as ecretary of the nterior, to appoint the people in the camps in the parks of the country." Because the National Park Service was a part of the Interior Department. And any CCC camps that were set up in the parks, he could appoint the people. He said "Well, all right, you write me a peremptory order to the Park Service saying that the next job that becomes available in"-intellectual work, I've forgotten what they called it-"should go to a Negro." So I wrote up the peremptory order, all right, and sent it down to the Park Service. A few days later they came in, a delegation to see me and said "We have this order from you but it's not going to be as easy as you think. The job that's become available is that of an archeologist who will do some work for us in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania." Finding an unemployed Negro archeologist in 1933 was not an easy job. But we scoured the countryside and found a very fine fellow named Dr King from West Virginia and sent his name down to the Park Service for the job. A few days later a delegation came back to my office and said "Well, the man's name that you sent down is obviously the best qualified that we have for the job. But we don't believe that you can understand what the situation is in Gettysburg, Pa. There the CCC office is in the same building with the post office, just above the post office, and there are only white people there and they're not used to working with Negroes and not used to having Negroes around. If you insist on this, there will be riots and bloodshed and it will be on your head." He was trying to scare me into backing away from it. I said "Well now look, my grandfather fought at Gettysburg to keep the Negroes slaves. And your grandfathers fought there to liberate them. If there's any more blood to be shed on this issue, there's no better place for it than Gettysburg. So I think you should go ahead, get the job done and give it to Dr King." They got up and were furious and marched out. For days after that I looked at the paper every day to see if there were any riots or bloodshed in Gettysburg, you know. But weeks passed by. I got a call later, from Gettysburg. It was some colonel there who called, said he was coming to Washington the next day and could he see me. I said yes. He came in. I didn't know what to expect. He said "Well, Dr Foreman, I understand you are responsible for recommending Dr King to take the job with us in Gettysburg." I said "Well yes, that's true. I was responsible." "Well, I just wanted you to know that if you have any more like him, we'd like them. Like to get them. We've never had a better person. We haven't had a bit of trouble. The whole time he's been there, everything's been fine." So that's always stood out to me as an example of how, if you allow yourself to be intimidated, you see, you can lose an opportunity. But once we went through with it and King got the job, then the whole question of Negroes eating . . . Dr King was a Negro and he sat there and he ate with the officers. Then they put Negro officers in, later on. Other jobs they gave to Negroes. It was a question of really trying to intimidate me on the part of the Park Service.