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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0144. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Approach to desegregation

Friday discusses his approach towards desegregation as the president of the University of North Carolina from the mid-1950s into the 1960s. According to Friday, his position mirrored that of Frank Porter Graham's position from the 1948 Civil Rights Commission Report. Namely, Friday agreed with Graham that the university should not use "federal fiscal power" to exact change. In addition, Friday discusses the impact of the <cite>Brown</cite> decision, emphasizing his close attention to the unfolding of that case in 1954. Above all, Friday emphasizes his wish to avoid conflict and confrontation during the desegregation process and the necessity of "changing the hearts of people" in order to effect social change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 19, 1990. Interview L-0144. 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

WILLIAM LINK:
Tell me a little bit more about the manner in which the University was desegregated in the 1950's? Or was it before? Were you involved in that, at all?
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Well, I was not early on. I've been doing a little reading about that lately, for another reason. And I asked Carlyle Sitterson the other day, and John Sanders, if Dr. Graham ever really openly advocated the integration of the University. And he did not. And then that led me to say, "Well, where was he, when it came to a hard position?" I knew where he stood, because I had read the 1948 Civil Rights Commission Report, in which he took the position that you don't ever use Federal fiscal power to course action in an institution. That was precisely the position I took twenty years later. And didn't know it. I just didn't know what he'd done. I suppose it's much like we said the last time, that once the issues begin to be drawn, you went to litigation, so that you had the protection of the federal court decision. That took a little more time, but it also prevented all disruptiveness afterwards. And you noticed this place never had one semblance of that. There was some tense days here. People didn't know, you know, where anything was going to land. Special session of the legislature to decide the Brown decision. Public television aired every word of that debate. But it was so sensitive, that we had an arrangement with the then Speaker of the House, that if it got out of control, and people started using the camera for publicity purposes, that he would give the signal, and we would've taken the cameras out of the building. We're just not going to allow demagoguery. He didn't want it that way. But that was the beginning of something very important, I thought. Sharing with people what really does happen in the public process, as it happens, raw, unedited television. But when you look back on it now, and people are so willing to criticize, you know, everything that was done then, it's so unfair. Because if you're not caught up in it, and faced with it twenty-four hours a day, you don't understand it. Because you realize the enormity of social change that was taking place. But you couldn't destroy every social institution you had to affect change, in that process. There were people who were willing to do it, alright. And they cast you in the role of being an opposition to them. But one of the things you find out as a university president, is there's no more lonelier job in the world, than that one. You have to eventually come to that point of decision, and then make a decision. But happily, I like to work on a team basis. And I had the benefit of all the bright minds that I could draw from. So when my time came, that was the process that we used. But these separate, but equal case, which was tried over in the Federal Court over in Durham, and Thurgood Marshall was Counsel for the NAACP, when I heard that I asked if I could be allowed to go over to every appearances. I wanted to watch this thing. Because I knew it was very significant. And he was just as skillful. Just as thorough, an exceedingly well-prepared man. And he knew he was going to win the case. It was just a matter of process. Because Judge Hayes ruled with us in that decision, and when we got to Richmond, it didn't take but just a few minutes for the Federal Appeals Court to wipe it out. And then that was the pattern from then on. Every undergraduate admissions; law admissions; graduate admissions. The whole cycle. And I think the University has been fully accountable here. It done its job. But, there is a long, long story about the relationship of Title Six. That reached all the way back to John Gardner, then David Matthews, then Elliot Richardson. All of these people took a turn at it. But no one was willing really to dig into it. Mrs. Patricia Harris, who was, she @ I think in a way, her own good way, she and I had worked together on the Carnegie Commission for years, you know. And when she became Secretary she asked us up there one day @ did I tell you that story before? Q/
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
No.
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
And she was very abrasive, and very hostile, when we first got in there. And I had the Chairman of the Board, and all of my team with me. I was really caught by surprise. I didn't expect her to do that. I thought she would be straightforward with me. In fact, it was so hostile, that I had something to happen that never happened before or since. But that night when I got home, I had a call from somebody in the Bureau, who had been there that day. And the voice said, "Mr. Friday, I'm not going to introduce myself, because there's no point in it. But I want you to understand, and I want you to tell all of your fellows, that what happened there today [Phone ringing] , all of us regret. And we want you to know that most of do not agree with that. That we don't understand this kind of conduct, and we felt so deeply about it, we wanted you to know." Now that was a very interesting thing coming out of the Bureaucracy in Washington. But it just went on and on, until the Reagan days. And I think I've gone over that with you. So, it took eleven years to work through that cycle.
WILLIAM LINK:
I know with the case @ back to the '50s, that in the case of Greensboro, the first black students came to Woman's College about 1956, or '57?
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
I don't remember.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. Similar things were happening at all three campuses at the same time.
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
All orchestrated. All planned.
WILLIAM LINK:
I gather there was a great deal of planning involved in terms of putting the students in the right place and avoiding ߞ
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Yeah. You knew it was happening and it was wiser that it happened that way. But you wanted to avoid, at all cost, was confrontational tactics that led to guns, and that kind of thing, which was so disastrous, at the other places. I didn't want @ I hoped and prayed that the Universities that there name would not be damaged. And we came out of as well as anybody could expect. And today I think we enroll more minority students than any public university in the south. But that was a long, long struggle. And, you know, the interesting thing about it, when you got into this, and you began to look at the historically black schools you @ the only way I knew there peace about it, was that I retained an architectural firm, and said, "You're an impartial body. I want you to go into every building, on each of these five campuses, and give me an analysis and report. One campus at a time." And now, that cost some money. But it laid the ground work, and I later got with Governor Hunt's intervention, and he was wonderful about this. Forty million dollars to correct what had been a very bad neglect on the part of the State. Now, I don't think anybody ever really asked. I guess they were afraid to ask. And I'm not saying that I was heroic about it, but there was the opportunity. We set out to correct these things. And we've done it. And it pleases me very much when I read that black students now take so much pride in their campuses, that they say, "I don't really want to go anywhere else." Well, that means the quality is up. And that's what you've got to hope for, that in the process, at least at the undergraduate level, there is a growing relationship that shows there's quite a bit of parity here. And we've put minimum standards in, and salaries, and library financing, and building construction that I don't think that it can be said now, anybody can show under the law there is any kind of discriminatory practice. It's just not there. But Frank Graham always believed, and he's eternally right about it, you never achieve the ultimate objective of the Brown decision. In other words, without changing the hearts of people. And regrettably for us, we just saw in an election that we still have a long way to go in our state. That's a deeply saddening experience.