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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 >>

Foreman resigns from Black Mountain College in protest

Black Mountain College operated on policies of democracy and unanimity, but its faculty splintered over issues of fairness and accountability. Foreman left to support his colleague and to protest the policy against black students.

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

CLARK FOREMAN:
Well, there were some members of the faculty who were refuges from Germany. Al Biers was the chief one and a fellow named Erwin Straus. They looked upon us as radicals. As we were saying last night, militants and radicals. Hard to say what's what. We probably did have different ideas about what was going on. But the main thing at Black Mountain was that Ted Dreier, who started it, had established it so that he and Al Biers had permanent tenure. They could never be fired. Everybody else came on contract. But they also insisted on unanimity. This was supposedly a Friends [Quaker] concept of consensus. Ted Dreier lay very heavy emphasis on that. Well, it turned out to be a fraud because he and Albers could then block anything they didn't want. Because they had veto, so to speak, if you had to have unanimity. They could block it. And they could never be fired. Then came this girl, Frances de Graaff, who had had her contract just renewed. And because she approved of two of the girls going over to Fisk University for some conference and they were arrested on their way back for hitchhiking-which they weren't supposed to do-the older members of the faculty felt that somehow or other Frances had embarrassed the college and so they voted to fire her. Even though she had a valid contract for two more years. Eric Bentley andFritz Cohen and I and several others felt this was a pretty outrageous thing to do. And if they could do it to Frances of course they could do it to us and would have done it to us the next year. So we resigned. BILL FINGER Have you read Martin Duberman's account of that? What did you think of it?
CLARK FOREMAN:
I thought it was pretty good.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was it about Black Mountain that attracted you in the first place? Were you interested in educational innovation or in the communitarian aspects of the place?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Yeah, I was interested in education and in the freedom in which they worked and the fact that the students were allowed to have such initiative. The students were the ones who took the initiative in getting me there in the first place and getting me going. And I thought that was fine.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was it like to live there?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Well, it was like a summer camp but very informal and a little bit detached from life . . . from the rest of life. A little bit too idyllic in a sense for living.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you like the communal aspect of it? The intense personal relationships.
CLARK FOREMAN:
Well, I didn't like eating together in the dining hall. I thought that the privacy of our own home was much more desirable. I don't know of any other communal aspects . . . . We had our own house and we had our own meals there, later. But the communal aspects, I don't know what you mean. BILL FINGER Did the men help take care of the children and cook and things like that? As well as the women.
CLARK FOREMAN:
Did I help . . . [Laughter.] Sure, always. Before and after Black Mountain but my wife says I'm not geared to housework. BILL FINGER But the Black Mountain environment didn't encourage sharing of the child rearing responsibilities.
CLARK FOREMAN:
No. I don't think so.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you went there in the first place did you think you could push the school toward becoming an integrated school?
CLARK FOREMAN:
No, I didn't have any such idea. Once I was there . . . it came up sort of gradually as to why we didn't have Negro students. I was in favor of it and I think that Frances deGraff and Eric Bentley were in favor of it too, the same. But the older ones were frightened. They were frightened that we were going to be persecuted, you see. And they had been through very hard times in Germany and they had reason to be frightened, I suppose. We were going to antagonize the community by doing something . . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you all resigned over Frances de Graaff's firing?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Yeah.