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Click image to listenOral History Interview with Harvey E. BeechHarvey E. Beech was born in Kinston, North Carolina, in 1923, the youngest of five children. Although Beech's father could not read or write, he saved his money and opened barbershops throughout the Kinston community. His business acumen afforded most of his children the opportunity to attend college. His youngest son, Harvey, however, was sent to Harris Barber College in Raleigh, North Carolina, since his older siblings' education had taken its toll on their father's bank account. Harvey's academic drive and passion for education led him to pursue a college degree. He earned enough money to attend Morehouse College, and his self-reliance, independence, and passion for changing social injustices propelled his interest in a legal career. To earn money for law school, he promoted black entertainers and opened a general store. In the early 1950s, Thurgood Marshall asked Beech to join a pending case against the University of North Carolina School of Law. Beech joined the case, along with J. Kenneth Lee. In 1951, Beech and Lee, along with James Lassiter, Floyd McKissick, and James Walker, became the first African American students to enroll at the UNC law school. Beech candidly discusses the psychological impact of desegregating an all-white institution, including his anger at having to give up his swimming pool privileges because of his race. He evaluates the strength of racism in American society, while adamantly arguing that the abandonment of racial discrimination and racial identities would eliminate barriers among all races and ethnicities. September 25, 1996
Click image to listenInterview with John Kenneth Lee Ann S. Estridge conducted this interview of J. Kenneth Lee in 1995. In it Lee talks about his family, childhood, college career and military service. He also discusses his experiences attending Carolina Law, his careers in engineering and law and the impetus for his involvement in the formation of American Federal, the first federal bank in North Carolina chartered by African Americans.September 26, 1995
Click image to listenOral history interview with J. Kenneth Lee by Eugene Pfaff
In this transcript of an oral history interview circa 1980 conducted by Eugene Pfaff with J. Kenneth Lee, Lee discusses his experiences as a plaintiff in the lawsuit that integrated UNC and subsequently as a law student there. He describes what it was like to be an African-American attorney in the 1950s and 1960s, several specific cases and other black attorneys, and the role of the NAACP. He also describes his involvement in the integration of Greensboro theatres, and why he stopped his involvement with civil rights issues. Circa 1980.
Click image to listenOral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr.
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Floyd McKissick discusses a lifetime of politics and activism in this interview. McKissick was a devoted civil rights activist before and after World War II, integrating the law school of the University of North Carolina and aiding students in sit-ins in the 1960s. In 1966, he took over leadership of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the nation's most prominent civil rights organizations. Shortly thereafter, he left CORE to contribute to the development of Soul City, a town in rural North Carolina intended to showcase the economic potential of a new kind of community. In this 1973 interview, McKissick reflects on the civil rights movement and its legacies. McKissick held that African American leaders needed to find pragmatic solutions for solidifying the gains won with legal battles and public protests in the 1960s. One such solution, he believed, was to demonstrate the economic and social viability of a town free from racism: Soul City. In addition to considering broad themes of the civil rights movement and Soul City, McKissick moves through the interviewer's list of questions about race and rights, answering queries about busing, averring his support for the legacy of former Governor Terry Sanford, and offering one civil rights leader's evaluation of the movement and hopes for the future of economic and racial justice. December 6, 1973 Click image to listen
Click image to listenOral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr.Floyd McKissick was born into a prominent black family in North Carolina. The racism he witnessed and experienced during his formative years and early adulthood—including during his tenure in the Army—had a profound impact in shaping his racial consciousness. After World War II, McKissick enrolled at predominantly black North Carolina College (later known as North Carolina Central University), where he discovered that the resources and facilities were inequitable, leading him to picket the North Carolina legislature to improve conditions there. He discusses how and why he decided to integrate the law school at the University of North Carolina, and he describes his three-year legal battle to enroll there. Once enrolled, he faced more battles, including his struggle to eat at the campus dining facility, and his successful effort to integrate the UNC pool. He received support from two whites, Reverend Charles Jones, pastor of the pro-integration Community Church of Chapel Hill, and Anne Queen, leader of the Campus Y. He also forged a friendship with Daniel Pollitt, a law professor and faculty advisor of the student NAACP. McKissick notes that though white students were afraid of being labeled "nigger lover," they began to accept integration relatively quickly. After completion of law school, McKissick advocated for civil rights and took part in Chapel Hill civil rights demonstrations in the early 1960s. He later worked as the director of the Congress of Racial Equality. McKissick argues that UNC could be doing more to integrate the university. Desegregation's success, he argues, requires the desegregation of faculty and staff, not just of the student body. May 31, 1989
Click image to listenOral History Interview with Conrad PearsonConrad Odell Pearson grew up in Durham, North Carolina. In 1932, immediately following his graduation from Howard School of Law, Pearson became involved in legally challenging segregation in higher education. The first part of the interview is dedicated to a detailed discussion of his work with fellow attorney Cecil McCoy on a case that challenged the decision of the University of North Carolina to deny admission to Thomas Hocutt, an African American, to the school of pharmacy. After the case failed in the state legal system, Pearson helped to reintroduce it at the federal level as a challenge to the Fourteenth Amendment, where it was ultimately thrown out on a technicality. Pearson continued to litigate against institutional segregation from the 1930s on, and in 1935 he helped to found the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs. In addition to describing his legal and political work for civil rights, Pearson offers an insider's perspective on race relations in Durham, primarily from the 1920s through the 1940s. Pearson devotes considerable attention to describing the ways in which James Shepard, president of the North Carolina College for Negroes (later North Carolina Central University), and C. C. Spaulding, president of North Carolina Mutual, were leading members within the African American community. In so doing, Pearson offers numerous examples of Shepard's and Spaulding's leadership qualities and their ability to work closely with white politicians for the benefit of African Americans. Throughout the interview, Pearson expresses admiration for the leadership capabilities of these men while simultaneously drawing distinctions between their moderate politics and his more radical politics regarding race relations. In addition, Pearson emphasizes that he saw Durham as more progressive in terms of race relations than many other southern communities, citing a general lack of racial discord as evidence. Whereas Pearson devotes considerable attention to describing the role of African American leaders in shaping race relations in Durham, he also offers commentary on the ways in which industrial leaders, like the Duke family and Julian Shakespeare Carr, also shaped the social and racial landscape of Durham. Finally, Pearson discusses the organization of tobacco workers as it affected African Americans in Durham. This interview offers a lively and complicated portrait of race relations in Durham, North Carolina, and the struggle for socioeconomic equality in that city.April 18, 1979