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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Father's prominent advocacy of desegregation and Cary schools as pioneers

Adams describes how his father was trusted by the black community in Cary. Having had a visible role in the community as the owner of a drug store and of an appliance store, Henry Adams was well-known in the community and his reputation for advocating for racial integration put him in a good position to lead the campaign for desegregation of Wake County Schools. In contrast, Adams also describes where opposition to integration emerged. The passage concludes with a discussion of how Cary pioneered integration in Wake County (although he asserts that at this time the Raleigh schools were separate from the Wake County system) and offered a model for other schools in the area. Again, he notes the smooth process of desegregation once the decision was made.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. 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

PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Did you father work directly with the Black community?
CHARLES ADAMS:
Oh yes. And there was the Evans family, which was a very prominent family there. And I cannot recall the gentleman's name who was Principal of the Black school there in Cary. But he was the man that my Dad had the most confidence in and met night after night with when we were trying to do this, along with the Evans family.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Was that Joe Walters? (It was probably J. Estes Byers.)
CHARLES ADAMS:
I'm not sure. No. But my Dad had a tremendous relationship with the Blacks in Cary. They trusted him as a druggist and a pharmacist and an appliance man. And they believed that what he was telling them was in their best interest and was right and he'd never let them down. And as a result it went a lot smoother because they did trust him. And they thought that he was taking them in the right direction and it was in their best interest and they just believed in him, which made the whole thing a lot easier. Because he had been as a businessman and as a child growing up and all of their families one after the other knew them. A lot of them had worked for him, worked with him and they respected him and they thought he was okay.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Very important. I can understand that many members of the White community would be upset and threatened by integration, but were there a lot of people from the Black community who also fought against it and didn't want it?
CHARLES ADAMS:
No, I think the Black community saw the advantages to it and I think they realized that, well athletically for an example, we never knew whether we were better or worse than the Black school but we played in the nice facilities, we had the nice uniforms and we had all the publicity. The Raleigh News and Observer, the Raleigh Times. I remember I would play backyard basketball with a lot of the Black kids and they always were very envious of where we played. And we'd always play a preliminary game in Reynolds Coliseum before a state game, and then they'd read the newspapers and we were undefeated in football, or won the state championship in basketball and got publicity that, had they done the same thing in the Black school you would have never heard about it. So I think they saw tremendous advantages in what we had as opposed to what they had. And the Black community was probably much, much more receptive because Cary had a good Black population. They were good people. They were not racist, they were not radicals, they were not liberals. They were just good, solid citizens who grew up with good work ethics and got along with the White people and realized this could work. So I think the people who found it most distasteful, now it's easy to say, were the ones who were the most racist and did not believe in equal facilities. So I think it was the White people that resisted. And I think as I look back, my Mom and I used to talk about it, there's probably about a third of the Cary population that was very accepting of the idea. And then there was probably another close to a third that just kind of were waiting to see what was going to happen. And then the other element fought it and fought him and tried everything they could to keep it from happening.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So it was actually in the Cary schools that the first Black students attended a White school for all of Wake County?
CHARLES ADAMS:
Okay, there were two systems at that time. You had the Raleigh city schools and you had the Wake County schools. They were not one like you have now. And Wake County, I don't know about the Raleigh city schools because we didn't have anything to do, we didn't play them, we didn't have anything to do. But in Wake County, Cary was the first school to officially and formally integrate and had the first Black students.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
And was Cary a forerunner for other communities where, was Cary being watched by other communities?
CHARLES ADAMS:
Absolutely. And I remember all the articles in the News and Observer and the Raleigh Times about… and they were both pro and con about Cary getting out front, Cary was integrating first. And then there were those who thought Cary was progressive and then there were those who thought Cary had sold out. But yes, I think the Apex', the Garner's, the Milbrook's, the Fuquay's all over the county were looking at Cary to see what's going to happen over there, they're bringing those Black kids to school. And are they going to have a race riot, or have a war, or are they going to burn down the school? What's going to happen? And then it went so smoothly. And that's what my Dad had said to the Principal. He said, you know, we can't integrate Wake County until somebody's willing to step forward and do it locally. And he said, if I'm trying to integrate Wake County, I can't give it lip service and not do it in my own hometown. And so he felt very strongly that Cary should be the first and Cary could be the smoothest, which it was. And then the rest of the County followed suit.