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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Peter Holmes, April 18, 1991. Interview L-0168. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Addressing charges that the OCR was ineffective in enforcing desegregation

Holmes addresses the deposition of his predecessor as director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Martin Gerry, that the OCR had been ineffective in enforcing desegregation during early administrations. Overall, Holmes agrees that the OCR had not been as effective as it might have been and he discusses the various factors that prevented the OCR from arriving at more efficient and effective policies.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Peter Holmes, April 18, 1991. Interview L-0168. 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:
After you left the office, right in between the Ford and Carter Administrations, Martin Gerry, who succeeded you as director, was deposed, as part of the Adam's CaseߞI guess fairly frequent event for a director at OCR to beߞbut the deposition is rather remarkable, really, I don't know if you're aware of this. He was deposed in early 1977 and in the deposition it essentially said that enforcement of desegregation in higher education had been ineffective in previous administration. Is thatߞare you aware of that deposition?
PETER HOLMES:
I'm not aware of it though it wouldn't surprise me that Marty would say that. I mean, what was his point? That there is going to be under his directorship there is going to be a new, more effective enforcement of higher education desegregation?
WILLIAM LINK:
Well, that's why I find it so curious. He was an out-going director. There's been some suggestion maybe that he was positioning himself for another positionߞfor some place in the new administration there.
PETER HOLMES:
In the Carter Administration?
WILLIAM LINK:
Of course he's ߞ
PETER HOLMES:
No.
WILLIAM LINK:
ߞ he's pretty solidly Republican. His dedication.
PETER HOLMES:
He's back there now.
WILLIAM LINK:
He's back there now, I know.
PETER HOLMES:
Right. Right.
WILLIAM LINK:
Can you offer another explanation?
PETER HOLMES:
No. I mean, you know, was enforcement ineffective? Is that what he said? The enforcement wasn't effective?
WILLIAM LINK:
Yes.
PETER HOLMES:
Probably was ineffective, you know. It probably was not as effective as it could be. Because we're dealing with issuesߞwe're dealing with matters where we, again, still, we didn't have any clear legal standards. You did not know how to proceed with any degree of specificity. And into that vacuum, into that vacuum, into that legal vacuum, you bring a bunch of bureaucratsߞand I say that affectionatelyߞbut you bring a bunch of bureaucrats who are faced with the fact that they are remnants of a racially separate higher education system out there. A bunch of bureaucrats whose principle experience has been with successfully dismantling the duality of a elementary and secondary school system and there is complete frustration, with this group of bureaucrats, on how you dealߞon how you grapple with these higher education issues. Particularly when there's no unity, lack of legal standards, no unanimity within the civil right's community, and, in fact, outrightߞoppositionߞyou said ambivalenceߞon the part of the black university presidents. And so you try to dealߞyou try to develop suggestions, policies, approaches, in the hopes that you can nudge, conjoin, inch higher education systems to focus in on this system. "This is a problem. Let's focus on it. And you help us resolve these issues." We can doߞour people go in and do the analysis all the time. You can find that per capita expenditures, capital expenditures, for example, that the black institutions substantially less than the white institutions. I mean, thatߞthat blatantly, I think, is discriminatory.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah.
PETER HOLMES:
So, the response to that is they're not toߞyou know, they're going to correct that and you're going to make damned sure that your capital expenditures at the black institution are equal to, if not greater than, what they were at the white institution. Good. That's a good first step. Does that eliminate the racial undefinability of the institution? Now it's coming into question as to whether the racial identifiability of the institution should even be eliminated. So, my point is it was a difficultߞbecause of the actions of a prior director of Office for Civil Rights and a prior administration, to embarrass a new administration coming inߞone that they viewed as going to be ultra-conservative on civil rightsߞthey initiate this legal process, we're caught up in it, then we are exposed and sued in the Adam's Case, and then forced, in effect by the court order to comply with it, to pursue it ߞ [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
PETER HOLMES:
ߞ at least '76 or '77, in connection with the Pratt Case, with all [unclear] you could make the point that the higher education desegregation enforcement program has been ineffective for the last several years. Because it hasn'tߞbecause we didn't know how to resolve with the issue. We thought we knew how to resolve it. We had suggestions for it. But theseߞthere wasn't any unanimity on it. Andߞwell, I'm sort ofߞI'm going on at the mouth here.
WILLIAM LINK:
No, that'sߞwell, everything you've said is very useful.
PETER HOLMES:
And, you know, in the elementary and secondary education area you had some very clearly distinct policies and standards, and legal standards, and some precedence of cases that had gone into the courts and they'd decidedߞthey'd given you guidance on how you dismantle a dual secondary and elementary education school system. Higher education had nothing, nothing. We were operating from the seat of our pants in that respect.
WILLIAM LINK:
In the absence of the legalߞa kind of an extensive legal framework if you had from the ground all the way through.
PETER HOLMES:
Right. Right. And we probably, you know, if we'd been left to our own devices. If we'd been left to our own devicesߞand I'll probably get into trouble saying thisߞbut if those letters hadn't gone out to that prior administration we would have thought twice, three times, about whether you are going to initiate a legal process of requiring action to dismantle the system before we wereߞhad a good notion, or there was a understanding, or there was some history in the courts, as to what were acceptable remedies.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. Yeah.
PETER HOLMES:
But, we were well-intentioned people. We felt that it was not unreasonable to suggest to the states that their capital expenditures per capita should be equally, if not greater, at the black institutions and the white institutions. That that we seemed comfortable with that. We seemed comfortable with the idea of eliminating duplicate curriculum, particularly at nearby institutions. That became a major issue in the Norfolk area, with Norfolk State and Old Dominion, virtually side-by-side campuses, offering the same curricula. And the result was that there was no, there was no impetuous forߞor there was no reason for a white student to go to a black, or a black student to a white, because they can get, what, the same curriculum at a racially identifiable school. Suggestions of shared curriculum between those two schools, were excepted in some respects. This helped bring some white students into the former black institution.