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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Raymond Dawson, February 4, 1991. Interview L-0133. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Background of <cite>Adams v. Weinberger</cite> and the key players

Dawson briefly describes the background of <cite>Adams v. Weinberger</cite> during the mid-1970s. Specifically, Dawson focuses on why North Carolina was included as one of the ten southern states scrutinized for the state of desegregation in institutions of public education. In addition, he disentangles the role of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), and the University of North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Raymond Dawson, February 4, 1991. Interview L-0133. 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

But the next big step wasߞagain, I'm not sure of the chronologyߞthe next big steps were these. There came to be a debate on the Vet School. Then there came to be a lot of pressure on the Office for Civil Rights and HEW to reject not only our plan, but everybody's plan. This seemed to have been occasioned by a motion filed by the Legal Defense Fund, the LDF, in the same U.S. District Court in Washington. See, the case was up there, and it's important to remember through all the discussion that we were not parties to the lawsuit. This was a lawsuit brought by Adams, et. al., supported by the LDF, against the United States government for not enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in ten Southern states which had historically had de jure segregation in public as well as elementary and secondaryߞin higher as well as in elementary and secondary education. So the suit was against the Federal government itself to force them to enforce the law. And the LDF attempting to tell them exactly how it ought to be enforced. And not all the states, not all the southern states were named; it was a curious kind of mixture. Maryland was named. Virginia was named. North Carolina was named. Not South Carolina. They were not named. Georgia was named. Florida. Alabama was not. Mississippi and Louisiana were not. Texas was not. Arkansas was. Oklahoma was. I believe West Virginia was, in the initial thing.
WILLIAM LINK:
Was there any logic to that?
RAYMOND DAWSON:
The logic was, in the case of Louisiana and Mississippi those two states simply refused to submit plans. They, as I recall, they said, in effect, "We're not in violation of the law. If you think we are, sue us." And so the Federal Government initiated separate legal action against them. Mississippi's case is still going through the courts. And the Louisiana case, I guess, was settled with a consent decree after ours, and I think it's back in the courts. So those two cases are still going on. I was reading something today about the Mississippi case. The Justice Department has filed another motion in the Mississippi case this past week. South Carolina and Alabama were just out on political grounds. I mean, this was the early days of the Nixon administration, and I don't think there's any question that George Wallace and Strom Thurmond, you know, had some muscle to pull in the Republican party and they were simply not named. And Texas, I think, was the same explanation. Tennessee was under separate litigation, so that was straightforward. So anyway, we were among the main states.
WILLIAM LINK:
Just to get this straight, the suit went against the government, went against the Federal government. The Federal Government then named the states that were requesting plans?
RAYMOND DAWSON:
Right. The suit named the states in a very careful selection, interesting selection of states.
WILLIAM LINK:
This selection occurred on the part of the HEW, then?
RAYMOND DAWSON:
Well, on the part of the LDF.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yes, in consultation with them.
RAYMOND DAWSON:
The essence of a lawsuit is, of course, that there really be a case in controversy. And as time went on, it was not at all clear that it was really a controversy between the LDF as the plaintiffs and HEW as the defendant. And this began to show during '75, I think it was, when the LDF went into court and filed this motion to order the court to overrule HEW and declare all these plans invalid. At about that juncture a man named Martin GerryߞG-E-R-R-Yߞbecame the Director of the Office of Civil Rights. We read the ruling, we read the LDF motion in the Adams case, trying to get all these suits declaredߞthese plans declared unacceptable. The Board of Governors even debated for a time whether we should intervene in the suit because it was a very sweeping brief that the LDF filed. It made no distinctions whatsoever, between public and elementary and secondary education. Higher education and elementary and secondary. It seemed oblivious to all that. It called for some highly punitive measures against the states, and for the first time clearly surfaced the proposition that in the case of public higher education, where you do not have mandatory attendance and you do not have assignment for schoolsߞpupil assignment plansߞthat you do have as a mechanical device to move students around, the assignment of programs. And that figured pretty prominently in that first LDF brief in '75, saying that, you know, if you move programs, you can tell students to move with them, and that's the way you mix up the institutions. It quoted at one point the Swann decision, the Charlotte case, Charlotte-Mecklenburg case, which said that, "What our goal has to be is no black schools and no white schools, but just schools." Now the people who were really alarmed by that brief was the organization called NAFEOߞN-A-F-E-O. That's the acronym. National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. Now NAFEO is an association of black colleges. That's their group. Public and private. 512 of them. They saw this as a threat to the historical identity of the black college. They filed a motion, a counter-motion in the court against this and said that since they had been themselves ߞthat is the institutionsߞhad been themselves the victim of discrimination and segregation, that they should not be singled out as a part of the remedy. And so their position was that, you know, that they were in full compliance with the law and that insofar as the make up of their student bodies were concerned, they had always been open to all. The fact that they were, were of a clearly racial identifiability was because of the law of the oppressors. And so the dire consequences ought to fall on the oppressors and that what should be done as a remedy was to build up and strengthen the black institutions. Now, as I say, our board talked about, "Should we intervene in the Adams Case?" And wisely said, "No." Said, "We do not want to put ourselves under jurisdiction of a Federal court up in Washington, D.C.