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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0056. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thomas Pearsall's later guilt over the Pearsall Plan

Pearsall reveals that her husband had misgivings about his role in hampering progress toward integrated schools. Thomas Pearsall crafted the Pearsall Plan after the <cite>Brown</cite> decision. The Plan, approved by the North Carolina General Assembly, included a moderate approach to school desegregation by granting local school boards the option to desegregate their schools. Pearsall contends that Thomas's motives were pure and not intended to cause racial strife between whites and blacks.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Pearsall, May 25, 1988. Interview C-0056. 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

WALTER CAMPBELL:
So, do you think he saw his activities with this plan as one of the major achievements of his life? Would you think that he would say that, that that was one of the major things he was proud of?
ELIZABETH PEARSALL:
Yes, I think as he grew older, he worried that maybe the blacks felt that he hadn't done quite—I remember once, he felt that some of the blacks thought he hadn't done enough or something. I don't know what it was. After he became ill, this is so hard for me to go back to all this.
WALTER CAMPBELL:
I'm sure.
ELIZABETH PEARSALL:
But you see he developed lymphoma almost a year, it was just about a year before his death, and we went to Duke for treatment. The doctors told him, in the beginning they did a biopsy, and the doctor came in and told him the next morning there was a 30% chance that he would live. But I remember before the biopsy that night, the doctor came in to tell him everything was in order. And Tom held out his hand, and said, "Well, doctor," the doctor was Jewish, "We both believe in the same God." And those things nearly killed me, you know. But then the chemotherapy wasn't effective. The radiation wasn't. But he said to me one day that he worried. He loved the blacks so much. He felt so keenly, he said so many times, "They've been so much more patient than I would have been." He meant over the generations. He had that deep feeling for them. So when he said at the hospital one day that he hoped that the blacks felt that he had done the best he could for them, it worried me. So I wrote a letter to Governor Hunt and told him the circumstances. That this seemed to be on Tom's mind, and I asked him if he knew any outstanding black person who could come and talk to him and give him comfort. So the governor did, and that man—I wish I had followed it up, I had gone down for lunch—and that man came and he left his card. The nurse was there. But I didn't follow it up. I was so distraught. But Tom felt a lot better after that conversation. Apparently that was some highly regarded person in the community. Then I also wrote to Bill Friday and to Paul Johnson and told them that that was how Tom felt. So they came over together, and I remember Tom said, "I don't want to go to my grave feeling that I haven't done the best I could for the blacks." And they assured him that nobody could have done any more. But that was the measure of his sympathy for them. I guess that's one of the reasons that he was successful in his plan. His motives were right. And I believe right will prevail, don't you?