02/26/08 — Civil rights thoughts

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Civil rights thoughts

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 26, 2008 1:57 PM

Wayne County residents who lived through the Civil Rights Movement discussed the changes wrought by the social upheaval of the 1960s and '70s and the residue of those changes at a panel discussion Monday night at Rebuilding Broken Places.

The forum was part of a series on the Wayne County Reads selection, "Blood Done Sign My Name," written about the era and its racial troubles by Timothy Tyson. His father, the Rev. Vernon Tyson, was part of the discussion.

Other panelists were Carolyn Buffalo, Betty Kemp, former News-Argus editor Gene Price, the Rev. Glenwood Burden, who was the first black student at Goldsboro High School, and Wayne County Commissioner J.D. Evans .

The book describes the murder of a black man at the hands of a white family in Oxford, N.C. In it, the author reveals how his father, the reverend, tried to help bring his congregation through the volatile time.

Goldsboro went through its own period of turmoil.

Mrs. Buffalo, who was a teenager at the time, read from a personal memoir. She was 13 years old the first time she demonstrated in downtown Goldsboro to protest two department stores that refused to serve black customers. She said protesters filled all the seats at the counter and tried to order before the police came and convinced them to leave peacefully.

But they were back the next day, she said. And the protests continued, day after day, until the stores relented.

In the summer of 1963, she recalled, she was among the demonstrators who picketed the two theaters downtown. She was 16 by then. Police arrested her twice.

The demonstrations continued until the newspaper ceased covering them. Price said he made the decision hoping to avoid stirring up more strife between blacks and whites.

But 900 blacks canceled their subscriptions and even a local fish vendor was boycotted because he wrapped his fish with old newspaper copies.

Price said given the chance to do it again, he would have handled the situation differently.

"In retrospect, I realize those demonstrations and the recognition they received was crucial to the movement," he said.

Mrs. Kemp recalled how her husband, the late Bill Kemp, would help his black employees during the hard times. He recognized that people are all the same on the inside, she said, and deserved to be treated equally. He was ahead of his time in thinking that way, she said.

When the school systems finally decided to integrate, Glenwood Burden was one of the first group of black students to sign up to attend Goldsboro High. But the other students backed out at the last minute, leaving him alone in a sea of white faces.

"I was on the back porch with Daddy, and he said, 'It's up to you. It's your decision. But no matter what you decide, I've got your back,'" Burden said.

With his family behind him and the support of the NAACP and the black community, Burden climbed into the back of the Hamilton Funeral Home limousine for the ride to school.

"We were going down Ash Street, and 1,500 white folk were gathered from Ash Street all the way to Goldsboro High School. It was like Moses and the Red Sea. It's like a sea opened and a human corridor opened up. An angel named C.W. Twiford stood at the door to greet me."

Principal Twiford was not be trifled with, and after giving Burden a brief tour of the campus, he helped Burden with the necessary paperwork.

But that was only the beginning of Burden's ordeal.

It took all of his inner strength to stay at Goldsboro that first year, he said. He endured name-calling and threats, but gradually acclimated himself to the daily routine. And some white students began to warm up to him.

"Much prayer was going on," he said.

Then the bomb threats started.

"Their parents had a problem," he said. "All the hatred from every angle was directed at me. Mom and Daddy would not let me listen to the (threatening) phone calls .... I was never physically abused, but the mental onslaught was unbearable."

Racial tensions continued, and in 1970, there was a racial fight at Southern Wayne High School, where Evans was an assistant principal.

Evans said his father had taught him that if you teach children right you won't have to worry about the parents.

He had learned each student's name and developed all the relationships he could.

"A janitor one day told me, 'I've watched you. All the others try to discipline by fear. You do discipline through love.' He was saying if you cause someone to change through love, it's long lasting. If you cause them to change through fear, they're like a rubber band. The moment the force goes away, they go back to the way they were," Evans said.

The black and white students had been forced together, and the rubber band tightened.

The fight at Southern Wayne broke out on a Friday. School board members held an emergency meeting. What should they do? Evans said he urged them to not close down classes.

"We must have school on Monday," Evans recalled saying.

"Every person here has a story you ought to tell somebody... You tell our story. There have been times you should have spoken, but you didn't. There were times I should have spoken, and I didn't. Let's rid ourselves of all that keeps us from being the people we need to be," Evans said.