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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 >>

Durham narrowly escapes a race riot, 1937

Pearson describes the closest Durham came to having a race riot in 1937. Joe Louis had just defeated James Braddock as the heavyweight champion of boxing in Chicago when a group of African American kids began to celebrate in the streets of Durham. Pearson explains how the police tried to stop the children, beating several of them in the process. Pearson explains that the events didn't cause a riot, but if they had he believes that community leaders such as C.C. Spaulding would have been able to bring it to a decisive and quick end.

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:
Do you remember in 1937, there was what was called a race riot—I don't believe it was—in Durham when Joe Louis knocked out James Braddock?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Oh, yes, I remember that.
WALTER WEARE:
And it was always said that Spaulding stopped a race riot there. Do you remember anything about that?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
I remember. I don't know if Mr. Spaulding was involved in it. What happened was, when the fight was over some kids started going down the street beating pans and things. And the police were mad about it, and they beat up Ed Avon (), who later became a lawyer, and a fellow named Lathrop Austin (), who was promoting dances. They just happened to be coming down the street in an automobile, and the police stopped them and beat them up. There wasn't any riot.
WALTER WEARE:
But do you think if Spaulding …
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
But we tried to push it, but Ed Merrick, who was a mentor of Lathrop Austin, didn't want it pushed, and we didn't push it.
WALTER WEARE:
Pushing what?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Taking action against the police.
WALTER WEARE:
If Spaulding had come out in the street and counseled the citizens to stop, do you think he would have had …
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
But it wasn't any riot. It was just these kids who were coming down the street, and the police didn't like the idea of Joe Louis knocking this fellow out, and they took it out on… I don't know but two people that were involved, and that was Ed Avon and Lathrop Austin. They were beaten up by the police for no reason in the world except that the police were mad. But I do believe if the Negroes had started a riot and Mr. Spaulding had come down the street and asked them to cool it, I believe they would have followed his advice.
WALTER WEARE:
What about Shepard?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Shepard probably wouldn't come out. He would probably have sent somebody. [laughter]