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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 >>

Refuting UNC's liberal reputation

Pearson refutes North Carolina's reputation for liberalism, particularly in relation to desegregation of higher education. Pearson cites the work of Howard Odum and Frank Porter Graham at the University of North Carolina, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s, as being responsible for the state's reputation. While Pearson does acknowledges some of Odum's and Graham's accomplishments in breaching racial barriers, he ultimately argues that UNC resisted desegregation by using the legal system whenever possible.

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:
There's this outside image of North Carolina as very liberal.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
It's not deserved.
WALTER WEARE:
That it's different than the rest of the South.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
The way it started, way back there was a fellow named Odum, a sociologist over there.
WALTER WEARE:
Howard W. Odum.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
And they used to write articles about the South. And in it they would point out that holding the Negro back was holding the South back and things of that sort. And Langston Hughes came over there and read his poems. And that created quite a stir, because it was the first time any Negro had ever been invited to the University of North Carolina to appear as an equal.
WALTER WEARE:
Did Odum support that?
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
I don't know whether he did or not. Odum did a lot of research in the field of sociology, and he used to tell me, "If you just let me handle this, I can get things done in a way that you can't. You just let me handle it my way." And Paul Green's books, and wasn't there a fellow named Streeter?
WALTER WEARE:
Yes. James Streeter.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Their novels and writings and so forth. They created this image. Frank Porter Graham, the President, had quite a reputation of being a liberal, but the University of North Carolina has never been liberal, in reality.
WALTER WEARE:
There's this idea that they have the outside image, but internally …
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
That's right, they've been …
WALTER WEARE:
How do they keep the image, other than people writing about it? That is, you don't get the violence, as a rule, here. Nobody stood in the schoolhouse door.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
No. Like George Wallace did. No, they didn't go that far. But they've resisted legally, using the judiciary, and every concession made has never been, except in one instance, and that is the Medical School. They did admit a fellow in the Medical School. Well, they knew good and well they had no defense. But the undergraduate school, the Law School, and the Graduate School… I forget the girl's name; I could find it in my records here. She had been to Mexico to study, and she was teaching. She had completed her master's and wanted to start working on her doctorate. When they turned her down, we filed a lawsuit. Then they called me one day and said, "Well, we're going to admit her. She's fully qualified, so you can just drop the lawsuit." And I dropped the lawsuit, and she was admitted. She was from Johnson C. Smith. But every concession they've made, they've been forced to do it, just as they're fighting HEW.
WALTER WEARE:
Maybe this is the first time they've gotten so much publicity out of their resistance.
CONRAD ODELL PEARSON:
Yes, maybe so. The only thing the people outside of the state receive is probably something in there, "Lawsuit Filed Against the University of North Carolina," and that wouldn't damage their reputation at all.