Struggling to find successful desegregation plan
Thompson recalls the Pearsall Plan, North Carolina's gradualist desegregation strategy. Thompson does not describe the plan in details, but remembers busing in Lumberton, North Carolina. He describes the busing as a success, but focuses on the Justice Department's scuttling of a bond issue in the 1960s that would have allocated much more money to build a school in the white part of town than for the same project in the black part of town. He describes integration in dramatic terms, arguing that school integration heralded an era when a smart black man could fight for civil rights without ending up "hanging in a tree."
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Angus Boaz Thompson Sr., October 21, 2003. Interview U-0017. 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
MM: Was that happening here in North Carolina?
AT: Oh, no. Not at that time.
MM: What was happening here?
AT: Well, the first thing after that, that was national. That was for nationally. If it was for Arkansas, it was order for everybody. They passed an order to start desegregating the schools. The Justice Department told them to do it. I’m trying to think of the word that they used, but slowly do it. That was what they was telling them to do. But, as I said, all of them bucked up. After they were moving slow, then the Justice Department turned around and kind of give them a time to speed up the integration. Of course, then it was just that the schools had to be integrated, but every school system in the South. The boards were trying their best, and the state, even our state legislature, what they did, they drew up a plan. They had been ordered to do it, how they were going to integrate.
And our plan, the State of North Carolina legislature, was named the Pearsall Plan. Pearsall was a legislator up there. Now, the Pearsall Plan places in it to still keep their schools integrated. They started building schools for blacks after they had been ordered, to build schools in the black communities and white schools in the white communities. After the Justice Department got onto that they told them, “How are we going to integrate them?” They said, “You have to bus them. You have to bus them to integrate them,” because if you use neighborhood schools they wasn’t integrated. School in the black and ( ) go to it, that’s black. School in the white, go to it, it’s white.
They started busing, and that busing was very effective even right here in Lumberton. They asked for a bond issue to build two high schools, a high school over here in the south, South Lumberton, which was predominantly black, and a high school over in Lumberton, North Lumberton which was predominantly white. Now for the two schools the bond issue was a million and a half dollars, one and a half million dollars, and it was stated the half million to build the school in South Lumberton and a million to build the one in North Lumberton. Well, I was fighting that myself just hook, line, and sinker.
MM: So this was the early 1960s, right, the bond issue?
AT: Yes, ma’am. I was fighting it hook, line, and sinker because at that time I had my oldest child, Mishelle, she was four years ahead of our second child ( ) child, academically. She was four years ahead of him. After the bond issue passed at the second count, it fell through the first time but it passed the second count, they built two schools here. They build two, one in South Lumberton, one in North Lumberton. After they did that, and that was taken to the Justice Department, they found it out, they ordered this school system, “You won’t have but one high school in Lumberton.” So my daughter was a member of the last class that finished the black high school over here. They had to shut it down and use it for a junior high. That’s what it is today, a junior high. It was the only junior high in the city, and the white one became the only senior high school in the city. So regardless of what color you were, if you were a senior you had to go to the same school. You had to go to the same junior high.
MM: How successful did you feel like the Justice Department’s solution was?
AT: It was just what we needed. I’ll tell you what, if that hadn’t happened today we’d be right at the brink of where we were when we was freed from slavery. That started, not only in schools, it started integration at the lunch counters, integration of the buses, integration of motels, and all of these establishments. They were fighting it, but the Justice Department was pushing it. That was all over the South. And today, today it caused one race to realize that there’re smart people in all races. It caused them to realize that blacks as well as whites have to have an opportunity to advance, progress just as they have. Through the generations it has caused even this younger generation to become less-- well, basically they’re color blind now. The children, the white children of today and the black children or any minorities, Indians and all. Naturally now I must say this, there’s discrimination and segregation amongst these races themselves to a certain degree. You’re going to find that, but today the races intermingle, they co-mingle. What has brought it about is just this initiation of the school desegregation plan.
It’s true right now that we have a lot of whites. We also have a lot of blacks. But still, we got some blacks, of course most of them are by gone by now, they don’t like mixing the races. And whites, they don’t like it. But we’re at a place where we can’t help ourselves because after our children reach a certain age now, we lose control over them. They go for themselves, and that’s the way they should be going. You can’t wait until they’re forty or fifty years and then turn them loose. It’s just been a blessing.
You know, I’ve seen things take place that if they’d been during my time I’d of been hanging in a tree. Hanging in a tree. I’ve seen a time in this area a smart black man couldn’t show it but so much. He just had to shut up. If you did, they’d call you smart, and maybe flog you to death. I give God the credit for all of this, but it just brought the races closer together.