Asking Native Americans to desegregate
Herring remembers an integration controversy in eastern North Carolina. A group of Native Americans were receiving tuition grants from the state to attend a segregated school, and it became Herring's job to explain that they would no longer be able to do so. He credits his tactful approach for avoiding a messy confrontation or a court battle.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. 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 want to show you something. I'm dwelling
too long on Hodges, but I should bring it out, if you've got
time, one incident that I had during the Sanford
administration about integration. I did not approve of this local option
idea that Sanford—in special session of '56 I
believe it was—proposed.
- JAY JENKINS:
You mean Hodges.
- WILLIAM DALLAS HERRING:
I meant Hodges. I'm sorry I used the wrong name. The so called
Halawar Indians—it's a made-up name taken from
Halifax and Warren counties' names. As apt as any, I suppose.
They were probably remnants of the Tuscarora, and white and black
populations that had segregated themselves. They didn't want
to go to school with the blacks. The whites wouldn't let them
go to school with them, so they built themselves a school. Under this
special legislation that they adopted, they had a tuition grant
arrangement so parents could apply to the state for a tuition grant, and
they were going to operate that school on that basis.
Well, Hodges in his characteristic manner picked up the phone and
commanded me to go up there and tell them they couldn't have
it. It had been before the state board of education a couple of times.
We had the money to fund a school over there. It wasn't that
expensive. The problem was that they knew that the courts would not
support such a policy to evade integration. For the state to grant it,
to support a segregated Indian school, would be all the evidence that
the opposition would need to knock the thing in the head. It was
intended as a pacifier, a safety valve, to keep the people quiet while
the public opinion matured—useful in that respect, though
somewhat dishonest, I thought.
Anyway, he told me to meet his legal assistant, Bob Giles, New
Year's Day. I forget what year, '58 or
'9. It was sleeting. I drove all the way to Warrenton and met
with their board of education. Bob Giles came in, and in his usual
dignified legalistic approach to things, he told them what they had to
do. It reminded me of the time when old man Hunter came down here and
told us we had to shut down Magnolia School. I didn't like
it, the way it happened. They didn't like it either in Warren
County. They were not about to do it. We had a little recess. I said,
"Bob, you go on outside and smoke a cigarette and let me handle
We went in behind closed doors, and they had an Indian with them. I think
there was an Indian on the board if I remember. I said, "I
understand your problem. I'm from Duplin County. I was raised
in the old-time tradition. I didn't change the law. My
problem is to maintain the educational opportunities in the
state." Somebody said, "Well, I've been
deer hunting down your way." He asked about so and so and how
things were, and we got a little social conversation going. They began
to relax a little bit. I said, "I'm not up here to
cause you all any problems or tell you what to do. It's
against my whole philosophy. I'm here because the governor
asked me to come. I want to explain to you what the problem is from the
state's point of view regardless of what you do here. You
need to understand that. It'll be only a matter of a month or
so, in the judgment of the attorney general's office, before
the courts will throw this whole idea out if you make a grant to these
people. Then where would we be? You
won't have that as a safety valve that could be used possibly
under more favorable circumstances somewhere to prevent a real
tragedy." I said, "You haven't got a
tragedy here. You've got people who want to do the right
thing." I said, "Your schools are segregated, and you
can go on and fund them under the state plan without any direct tuition
grants. I don't see what objection you have to
that." And they began to see the logic of that. If you go the
route they wanted to go, it wouldn't last, oh, sixty, ninety
days. If they went the way of taking them into the public school system,
even though they were segregated, it would last until a federal court
integrated the whole thing. So that's what they did.