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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 >>

Reflections on partisan politics, relationship with local advocacy groups, and optimism for success

Holmes offers his opinion on the issue of partisan politics on the efforts of what the OCR could accomplish during the 1970s. Additionally, he discusses the impact of relationships between the OCR and local advocacy groups in determining desegregation policy, concluding that although amenable relationships were helpful, they did not necessarily translate into the development of "reasonable criteria." Finally, he concludes that at the end of his administration he remained hopeful, despite remaining obstacles, that desegregation of higher education could be achieved.

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

My perception later is that OCR and LDF are working hand and glove, past your administration, I mean during the Carter administration. What you're describing here is some distance between your office and the plaintiff's. Is that accurate?
PETER HOLMES:
Some distance? They're in my office all the time. There wasn't any distance between us at all. [Laughter] I mean, they were there all the time. As I said, I spend most of my time being deposed and giving depositions in connections with the Adam's Case. I don't know. I mean, I think it's an interesting thing to analyze. What is higher educationߞif you had a closer, a closer relationship between the LDF, and the Carter administration, and the Civil Rights operation, it would result in a more effective enforcement of higher education desegregation. Well, I mean, they were more comfortable with Democrats, than they were with Republicans.
WILLIAM LINK:
A very peculiar situation, nonetheless.
PETER HOLMES:
I mean what's the issue? Is the issue politics? Is the issue whether it's a Republican or Democrat that runs the Office for Civil Rights? The issue should be: Are we achieving our objectives in terms of higher education and desegregation. Whatever those objectives might be.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah.
PETER HOLMES:
And, you know, if there was a comfortable relationship I would hope that it would be shown substantively in what was accomplished in higher education and desegregation. I gather you're telling me, and I don't know about myself because I haven't looked at the record, but I gather from what your telling me that there wasn't any more progress in that area than there was with it.
WILLIAM LINK:
Oh no, I don't think so. One of the basis of the UNC case in the administrative hearings was what was essentially an excessive cozy relationship between LDF and OCR. Not in your period, but in the period of '77 to '79.
PETER HOLMES:
That was an issue that was brought up?
WILLIAM LINK:
Yes. This is a follow ߞ
PETER HOLMES:
I mean, I don't critߞnow, nothing's wrong with a cozy relationship. If there's a cozy relationship between the civil rights community and the enforcement agency in terms of defining reasonable criteria in, you know, in setting forth policies, that they are going to accomplish legal objectives. If you know what those legal objectives are, nothing's wrong with that. I mean, we worked very closely with the civil rights community in terms of local school, elementary and secondary school enforcement. We worked very closely with women's groups, Chicano groups, black groups, Jewish groups, with regard to Higher Education Affirmative Action in the policies and the guidelines that we issued. There's no problem with a cozy relationship. The proof is in the pudding. What does the relationship translate into in terms of effective criteria. And reasonable criteria. In the whole area of higher education desegregation, and I'm beginning to repeat myself, nothingߞthese issues just weren't clearly defined.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. And no problem working with advocacyߞadvocate groups, such as these, because they provided a lot of information, I guess.
PETER HOLMES:
Oh, heaven's no. Never. Never any problem working with the advocacy groups. None whatsoever. I didn't particularly like the advocacy groups, as a result of the Adam's order, you know, setting my daily schedule for me.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah.
PETER HOLMES:
As to what I could do and what I couldn't do, which it almost came to. Okay? But that was an issue separate and apart from sitting down with some of these representatives of the advocacy groups and saying, "Now look, what should be the proper approaches and criterias in dealing with these issues?" We welcomed that. By the same token you've got to sit down with the Bill Friday's of higher education institutions and getߞI mean, from the people that are responsible for running these systems, who have got the political challenges of getting a budget through the state legislature to support these systems, and what is the best way to approach it in that context.
WILLIAM LINK:
Yeah. By the time you left OCR were you optimistic, pessimistic, somewhere in between about the progress of desegregation of higher education?
PETER HOLMES:
Well, I think I was probably optimistic, because I'm an eternal optimist, number one. Number two, the fact of the matter is that while the enforcement may be ineffective, to quote my successor, Martin Gerry, the issue was being discussed. And the issue was being focused on. And the issues were beingߞattempting to be addressed. And so you were starting. You were in the early stages of a process of trying to grapple and deal with this issue. So, I was much encouraged by that. I mean the fact that you're causing the higher education system in North Carolina to think positively, hopefully, about these issues, one has to feel a sense of accomplishment. Even though there wasn't a resolution that you could wrap your arms around to the issue. There is no resolution today to the issue. I'm encouraged by the fact that what you're telling me right that A&T is attracting almost one-fifth of its student body in white students. I mean, it says something. It says, sure, it's a black institution, but it says that whites are comfortable there. And you're telling me that at N.C. State, there is twelve percent, thirteen percent black enrollment, that's demonstrative of the fact the blacks are comfortable in that setting. And so what have you, the racial biases, or prejudices are being eliminated, hopefully, by that.