Blacks sue to enforce integration order
Thompson remembers how the city of Lumberton tried to resist integration. The city decided to charge families who lived outside of the city limit to send their children to school, knowing that many African Americans lived outside of Lumberton and would not be able to afford the fee. Thompson took action and brought in African American civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers. This excerpt offers some details on the plan Chambers devised to derail the town's plan and substitute a district map of their own.
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: Maybe we could talk a little bit then about after the Justice Department came in and said there had to be only one high school, the City of Lumberton tried another tactic.
AT: Oh, yes.
MM: Right, to keep the schools segregated. Let’s talk about that.
AT: Now, after the city built these two schools, two black high schools and had to shut them down. Then the City of Lumberton’s next tactic was they’d keep them from heavily mixing. Blacks had never, never in their life, paid one cent to come to the city high schools and never been asked to if you lived out in the county. Whites had always paid, if you lived in the county to come to the city schools. But after it was forced to integrate the school, the city used the tactics, “We’re going to charge the black now if they don’t live in the city. We’re going to charge them to come to school. Thirty-five dollars a head. We’re going to charge them.”
They knew that would eliminate a whole lot of blacks because they didn’t have the money. And they were right. They were exactly right. So they put that fee on. They had a right to put it on if they wanted to. They had been charging the white, but we knew the reason they were doing it, to keep you out.
There were some parents, black parents had five, six, seven, eight, nine children in school, and they couldn’t pay thirty-five dollars a head. The majority of the blacks over in the South Lumberton area, the city limits at that time started up at McMillan Funeral Home. Well, the city school board had already bought property out here where the junior high is now, and had the city board to extend the city limits out there so they could build a school and have the property. Our city council did that. They actually did that, but they didn’t include anything but just the highway. The residential and east side between McMillan’s Funeral Home and the new high school was in the county. Nothing but the highway ( ) road.
MM: And who lived in those houses?
AT: Blacks. Nothing but blacks on both sides. It’s still that way now. So these people came. They couldn’t pay thirty-five dollars a head. They came to me and asked me what they could do.
Well, at that time my daughter had finished high school. I just had a son, and he was just entering high school. Some of these parents had five, six, seven, eight children. My response was well, “There’s only one way in the world that we might be able to get in here, and that is through legal counsel. We cannot use any counsel here Lumberton,” because it was nothing but white.
MM: So you couldn’t hire any lawyers because they were all white?
AT: You could hire them, but it wouldn’t make a difference. They asked me if I knew anybody that might help.
END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE A
BEGINNING OF TAPE ONE, SIDE B
MM: Now go ahead for us. Julius Chambers.
AT: Julius had just sued UNC so he could go to school there. So I contacted Julius, and he agreed to come and look our situation over and help us. So we were meeting at McMillan Funeral Home. He came down twice to talk to us and look the situation over. The second time he left and went back he called me. He said, “Angus, I’ve been in communication with your black city councilman. I’ve been in communication with your school board superintendent, Dr. Carroll.”
MM: Is it Gale, G-A-L-E?
AT: Carroll, C-A-R-R-O-L-L.
MM: I’m sorry, okay.
AT: He said, “Neither one of them want to compromise. In fact, the superintendent told me that he wasn’t interested in meeting with our group over there. Nothing he can do for them.” He said, “The city councilman said there were two different bodies. The school board was independent. The city council was independent of the school board.” He said, “Well, they ought to know that I know better than that. All city councils work together with the school board on certain issues.” He said, “In the first place the school board didn’t zigzag that line out there like it did to build that school.” He said, “The city council had to put it out there. They did it for the school board.” He said, “That councilman insulted my intelligence.” He said, “He really made me hot, so I’m going to tell you what you do.” He said, “You get your group together down there.” He said, “When they did that they broke a statute of the state of North Carolina.” He told me what that statute was. At that time if you extend the city limit you had to take into consideration all the ( ) of the residents, and they did not, not one. He said, “We’ve got to put heat to the seat, sue the school board and the city council.” So he came down the third time. He said, “Be ready to show me what you want in the school district.” That’s the way he was going to approach it and soon.
So he came down the third time. When he was getting ready to go, as I’ve said we always met at McMillan Funeral Home, our black city councilman was in the rear. I didn’t know he was in there, but when he heard Chambers make his plan of what he was going to do, he immediately jumped up and said, “No, don’t sue. We can help you. I can help you.”
MM: The city councilman jumped up and said that?
AT: Yes. So I said, “I didn’t know you was back there. You could have been helping us a long time ago and saved us a little money to put in our pockets.” Julius said, “Angus, it’s whatever you all want to do.” I said, “We’re ready to go and show you where you’re wrong.” I said, “This councilman didn’t ask for to go along with us.” And Julius asked me, and I said, “Sure it’s all right. All we want is him to go along.” So he did, he came right along with us and joked the whole while we was out there.
So after we began to show him what we was going to do, I never will forget, we got down to McCollum Street, and when we got to McCollum Street the next street over was Starlite Drive. That’s where the Indians lived on Starlite Drive. Nothing but blacks living on McCollum Street. So I suggested, I said, “Let’s go down half way between Starlite Drive and McCollum Street out to Fairmont Road.” That’s what it was at that time. It’s Martin Luther King now. This councilman says, “No, lets go to Starlite Drive.” At that time I said, “Look, I have not talked to those people on Starlite Drive,” which I hadn’t. I said, “I don’t even know what they want.” I said, “They’re Indians.” I said, “I haven’t talked with them. They might throw a monkey wrench in it.” Julius said, “That’s all right. Whatever you want.”
So we came on with the line coming half way between the two streets and got to Fairmont road, and then we had make a decision, “Where are we going now?” This councilman said, “Well now, we’ll just go straight on across here to Allen Street.” That’s kind of a left horizontal.
Well, now I’m living, my residence is sitting now on the other side of Starlite Drive right here where it is now. My son, he’s in school, and I want him in school. This councilman said, “Why don’t you pay the thirty-five dollars?” I said, “Yes, sir. I could pay you thirty-five dollars to get my son in school, but when we get through drawing this line I can just see the city council and the school board ain’t going to let nobody just beyond this school district line come in there.” Chambers said, “You’re right.” He said, “What do you want me to do?” So I just suggested, I said, “In order that my son may continue go right down the highway south, down to the south line, include my residence and then come back up, then we’ll go across the other streets.” He drew it on a piece of paper and wrote in there to include Angus Thompson’s residence. It’s in there that way by name now if they didn’t throw it away.
Then we came on back to the funeral home. This councilman said, “Now, I could take this and get it through for you all.” And Chambers said, “What do you want to about it, Angus.” I said, “He can do anything. It don’t make no difference as long as it’s done.” We just handed it over to him. He took it and went to the school board, and it was okayed. It was okayed just as beautiful as ever.