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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Conrad Odell Pearson, April 18, 1979. Interview H-0218. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Leadership of James Shepherd and C.C. Spaulding

Pearson speaks at greater length about the prominent role that James Shepherd and C.C. Spaulding played in Durham, particularly during the 1930s. Shepherd, as the president of North Carolina College for Negroes (later, North Carolina Central College), and Spaulding, as the president of North Carolina Mutual, were both highly successful African Americans who exercised a considerable degree of economic and political freedom, despite the dictates of Jim Crow segregation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Conrad Odell Pearson, April 18, 1979. Interview H-0218. 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 WEARE:
I've looked into the NAACP records, just looking up something else, and there is a letter in there from Spaulding to the NAACP in which Spaulding says that "Some of our lawyers"—and he mentions you and McCoy—"are interested in a case that would do much good," or he says something like that. And he seemed to be actually inviting the NAACP. Do you ever remember him at the first being supportive, and then getting frightened? Do you ever remember going to him initially and asking …
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
The only person we consulted, talked with first, was Dr. Shepard. Of course, Dr. Shepard could control Mr. Spaulding. If Mr. Spaulding listened to Dr. Shepard, Dr. Shepard would have controlled him. We were talking about Dr. Shepard a few minutes ago. If he had been born white, he'd have been governor of the state. He had come up through that rough-and-tumble politics during Reconstruction. He knew his way around. When he built and started this school, the National Religious Training School, if you started a school and Booker T. Washington didn't okay it, you couldn't get any money from the northern philanthropists. And he never gave Dr. Shepard approval. Dr. Shepard went directly to people in Boston and raised money. He kept raising money and going almost bankrupt and raising money, and finally he got the state to take the school over.
WALTER WEARE:
To get back to Spaulding, if he hadn't been worried about the impact—that is, the possibility of race riots—do you think he would have offered support? That is, what was his general philosophical-political outlook?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
I would say Mr. Spaulding was a very cautious man. I don't think Mr. Spaulding had education beyond that of a high school graduate, but you never would have been able to tell it. By talking to him and so forth, you wouldn't have been able to tell it. He was a kind man, a gentle man, and he was really interested in advancing his race.
WALTER WEARE:
You mentioned Merrick reacting to being called a "handkerchief-head." Would anybody have ever called Spaulding or Shepard that?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Probably somebody would have called Mr. Spaulding that, but they wouldn't call Shepard. Because Shepard went down there to the Capitol to see somebody, and they told him to get on the freight elevator. He refused. He was going down to see about getting money, and he refused. He told me of an incident. It was customary that if a white man came to your office, he wore his hat, wouldn't take his hat off. He said this white fellow came to his office to see him about something. He kept his hat on. So Dr. Shepard said, "Well, now, let's go outdoors and talk, because I don't want to embarrass you and ask you to take your hat off, and I think you'll be more comfortable on the outside."
WALTER WEARE:
Did the fellow take his hat off?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Yes. And I think they went on outside to talk, but the fellow got the hint. He got the hint. And that's the reason why the North Carolina Mutual made its growth for us, that the insurance man come to your house keep his hat on in your house, and they capitalized on it. And that helped their insurance company grow.
WALTER WEARE:
In looking at Spaulding, you see him as a different kind of person altogether than Shepard? Is it mostly a matter of education?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Shepard had a better education and a far better mind, but I think Mr. Spaulding was a kind, gentle man who had a deep concern for his fellow man.
WALTER WEARE:
How do you think the black community saw the two people? Did they see Shepard or Spaulding as the leader, or both working together?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Shepard never left his office to attend any meetings or anything, yet he controlled everything through other people. He was a politician. You don't see no politician out there carrying nobody to the polls; he's sitting up in his office pushing buttons. That's the type of fellow Dr. Shepard was.
WALTER WEARE:
So you might see Spaulding more out front, but Shepard was behind pulling the strings.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
That's right, pulling the strings.