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School Desegregation in Franklin County, N.C.:
A Preliminary Chronology of Events

1962

Franklin County Board of Education (BOE) denies request of several African American students to attend all-white schools under the Pearsall Plan.

1963

At opening of schools in September, students boycott Riverside High School (African American school in Louisburg) and parents march in front of it, complaining of discrepancies. NAACP, which sponsored the demonstration, meets with BOE and resolves differences.

1964

June – Eight African-American students apply for admission to white schools. Applications are rejected by BOE.

July - President Lyndon Johnson signs Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2, calling for an end to discrimination on the basis of race, etc., including in public education.

1965

April – Franklinton school board sets school plan for 1965-66, to meet requirements of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: freedom of choice in all twelve grades.

FC School Supt. Warren Smith, BOE members Clint Fuller and Jones Winston, and board attorney Edward F. Yarborough go to Washington to confer with staff members of the office of Commissioner of Education to get clarification on how to comply with provisions of Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fuller, Smith, and Yarborough had been charged by BOE with task of developing a plan for FC. They were told by one official that schools should already have been desegregated, but that the government was willing to give some latitude in effecting this.

May – BOE, after marathon session, releases compliance plan that met the “minimum” requirements of the law. Grades 1, 2, 9, 12 designated as freedom of choice grades for 1965-66. Other grades would be assigned as in the past. 1967-68 school year designated as cutoff year for final compliance. Work had begun on research for plan in January.

July – At request of U.S. Office of Education, BOE makes minor amendments to plan. Four grades to be integrated in each of three years: 1965-66, 1966-67, 1967-68.

August – U.S. Office of Education approved FC plan to desegregate grades 1, 2, 9, and 12 in the 1965-66 school year. Other 8 grades were to be integrated the following year. Provided for lateral transfers in these grades to gain a subject in another school not being taught in the student’s current school, or when the parents changed addresses. Cross burned in front of The Franklin Times office because it printed The Carolina Times, a black paper in Durham.

September – FC Schools open Sept. 7. Three blacks assigned to Bunn, seven to Louisburg schools. (Franklinton schools open 10 days earlier.)

October – BOE meets with African American leaders (Rev. Sidney Dunston, Rev. Luther Coppedge, and Booker T. Driver) concerning denial of requests for lateral transfers. Board affirms its decision not to grant the transfers. Transfers were only for four grades and only if courses needed by a student were unavailable in their current school.

December – FC Board of Education (BOE) authorizes board attorney Edward F. Yarborough and any additional councilors, if needed, to defend the board against a lawsuit brought by African Americans in the Eastern District of the United States District Court for discrimination in refusing to admit twenty Negroes to all-white schools. Plaintiffs were the Rev. Luther Coppedge, Booker T. Driver, Otis Gill, Willie Pettiford, Henry Satterwhite, Paul Engram, Dena? Arrington, Carrie H. Comer, Sandy Jones, and Osceola Cogswell, parents of the students involved. Attorneys for the plaintiffs were Conrad O. Pearson, Durham attorney; Julius L. Chambers of Charlotte; and New York attorneys Jack Greenberg and Derrick A. Bell, Jr.

Suit asks for admission of the students and the development of a unitary plan of assignment, without regard to race. The suit attacks the board’s Plan of Compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had been approved by officials in Washington. Suit seeks to enjoin BOE from:

According to The Franklin Times, the twenty students had applied under the Lateral Transfer portion of the school desegregation plan, but did not meet the criteria set up by the federal government and approved by the BOE.

Yarborough named Man of the Year by Rotary Club for his work with the BOE in developing a compliance plan based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for his work to attract industry to the area.

Commissioner of Education Francis Keppel writes county, threatening to take away federal funds to the school system because of complaints by blacks that the BOE did not grant lateral transfers. Much of the money was earmarked for black schools. Superintendent Warren Smith, Yarborough, and BOE member Jones Winston had made two trips to Washington earlier in the year to try to resolve the issue.

1966

January – BOE announces that attorney Irvin B. Tucker Jr. of Raleigh, former assistant federal district attorney, had been hired to help defend against the lawsuit. HEW official John Hodgdon asks Yarborough to keep the matter “on ice” until his superiors could respond.

Supt. Warren Smith testifies in U.S. Eastern District Court before Judge Algernon Butler in regard to a preliminary injunction brought against the BOE by the U.S. Justice Department. The department seeks injunction against the BOE to stop it from continuing to deny transfer requests. Attorney General Nicolas Katzenbach certifies the lawsuit as “meritorious,” which results in the federal government joining the lawsuit against FC. Motion says that the BOE had caused to be published a list of names of those wishing transfers, which resulted in intimidation, including the shooting of firearms and cross burnings.

February - Supt. Warren Smith testifies in U.S. Eastern District Court before Judge Algernon Butler in regard to a preliminary injunction brought against the BOE by the U.S. Justice Department. The department seeks injunction against the BOE to stop it from continuing to deny transfer requests.

Judge Butler denies the injunction, saying that the BOE had acted in good faith in implementing a desegregation policy as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

March – HEW issues new guidelines for school desegregation for 1966-67 school year. They require more time for parents to make a choice of schools (from 10 to 30 days), remove the requirement that a reason be given for choosing a school, and prohibit the disclosure of which families chose a particular school (to avoid the possibility of intimidation). In the case of both the Franklinton and Franklin County systems, this would apply to all grades in 1966-67.

April – FC Schools mails forms to parents of all children for choosing a school for the 1966-67 school year; to be returned by May 4, 1966.

In U.S. Eastern District Court, the U.S. Justice Department, represented by attorney Howard Fink, criticizes the FC BOE for abetting intimidation of black families by releasing the names of those who applied to attend a formerly white school. He says that the families should not have to be subjected to well poisonings or shootings. He and Julius Chambers call the FC plan inadequate. Clint Fuller, vice chair of the BOE and editor of The Franklin Times, denies that the publication of the names in his paper could be connected to the intimidation.

July - Judge Algernon Butler upholds FC desegregation plan but calls for a new request period in August for families to request assignments. Order requires substantial progress on desegregation and encourages integration of faculty. Both sides in the case agree not to appeal the order, but depositions are taken in case the case is reopened later. Butler threatens federal action if intimidation of the public occurs.

August – Lawyer Julius Chambers (on behalf of eleven blacks in FC) and U.S. Justice Department attorney Frank Schwelb file separate objections to court-ordered “Objective Standards for Teacher Hiring” by the BOE. Complainants say the standards are subjective and make no provision for disestablishment of current total racial segregation.

Delegation from HEW visits Franklinton schools to present demands for further desegregation. Board agrees to transfer 7th grade classes from black B. F. Person Albion School to Franklinton High School.

September - After protest by a citizens group, Franklinton school board reverses itself and refuses to comply with the HEW requests (move of two seventh grades and two teachers from a black school).

October – U. S. Justice Department files motion in U.S. Eastern District Court to require the FC BOE to eliminate racial disparities in the county school system, stating that black schools remain all black and white schools remain overwhelmingly white. Signed by Frank Schwelb and two other attorneys, the order lists disparities in white and black schools (value of school property, amount of land per student, teacher/pupil ratios, number of school buses).

December – Franklinton BOE votes to answer charges by HEW and to request a hearing.

1967

January - Franklinton City Schools loses federal funds for vocational equipment because of its non-compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. School system charged with non-compliance because of low number of African Americans applying to attend formerly all-white Franklinton High School.

Three sticks of dynamite explode on the property of 86-year-old Mamie Kearney near Franklinton, possibly because an African American family living on her property, the Kingsberrys, had two children enrolled in the previously all white Franklinton High School.

February – Franklinton City Schools adopts desegregation plan for 1966-67 school year—essentially the same freedom of choice plan as in 1965-66. Plan calls for further integration.

July - Hearing held in Raleigh on July 25 in case of Coppedge, et al. vs. Franklin County BOE. Supt. Warren Smith and board member Clint Fuller ordered to appear. Also at hearing are board attorneys Edward F. Yarbrough and Charles Davis and Raleigh attorney Irvin Tucker. Plaintiffs represented by J. Levonne Chambers, Conrad O. Pearson; government represented by Frank E. Schwelb and Francis H. Kennedy. Hearing conducted by U. S. Eastern District Judge Algernon Butler. Smith and Coppedge testify. Coppedge testifies that he had received 10 to 15 annoying calls daily during the free choice period earlier in the year. He says that a fire bomb had been set off near his home. Additional testimony held that there had been three other instances of intimidation since preliminary order was given the previous July (homes of Willie Davis, Katie Perry, and J. C. Fogg). Smith rebuts a report by William Stormer, an authority on schools from HEW. Smith says that the consolidation of pairs of schools would result in loss of teachers and that the county is having difficulty recruiting teachers. Government asks that pairs of schools be consolidated, so that one became high school and the other elementary school. Government points out that students from Epsom bussed to Riverside, even though Epsom is under capacity and Riverside over capacity. Schwelb says that “everything is theory” in Franklin County, and that there had been seventy-five cases of intimidation since 1963. “It is unreasonable to assume that the choice is free,” he says. Yarborough says that the BOE had “nothing on earth to do with any terrorism.” He points out that law officials had not indicted anyone for acts of intimidation. He says that the BOE had done all it could to comply with the July 1966 order and had done all it could to eliminate intimidation and violence. Yarborough says that the county has desegregated its schools “to the degree which Negro citizens of the county wanted.”

August – Judge Butler rules that the county must end its freedom of choice method of school desegregation. At least two African American teachers to be placed in every mostly white school and vice versa for coming school term. 10% of black population to be assigned to predominately white schools. BOE directed to submit by October 15, 1967, a plan for the assignment, at the earliest practicable date, of students based on a unitary system of non-racial geographic attendance zones or a plan for consolidation of grades or schools, or both. Butler asks BOE to develop a timeline with steps outlined. BOE vows to appeal the decision. Butler says there is “marked hostility to school desegregation in Franklin County...”

Meanwhile, BOE works to assign 282 blacks to mostly white schools. Opening of schools delayed from August 31 to September 7.

September – BOE denies appeals of teachers who do not wish to be transferred across racial lines.

Request by parents of thirty-two African American children to have them placed back in black schools, according to their free choice earlier in the year, denied by BOE. Parents are represented by Attorney Linwood Peoples of Henderson.

Shots fired into home of the Rev. Luther Coppedge.

Jesse Helms writes column on the irony of blacks being denied opportunity to attend schools of their choice.

October – Eleven African American parents representing fifty-five students file Notice of Intervention in U.S. Eastern District Court, claiming the plaintiffs in the federal case in FC did not represent them. NAACP says that FC BOE is adequately and properly representing the interests of these students.

November – Linwood Peoples complains to Attorney General Ramsey Clark that FBI agents had intimidated the parents he represented by questioning them about their petition to intervene in the federal court case (their motives, whether they were intimidated into filing the petition). FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover takes issue with FT article about this incident. Considerable controversy ensues.

Attorneys for FC BOE file brief with Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, to have the August 17 ruling by Judge Algernon Butler overturned.

1968

February - Attorneys E. F. Yarborough, Wilbur Jolly, Charles Davis, and Irvin Tucker along with Supt. Warren Smith travel to Richmond to represent FC BOE at hearing of Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs and NAACP represented by Julius Chambers and Frank Schwelb represents the government. Henderson attorney Linwood Peoples also speaks on behalf of the parents who requested intervention in the ongoing case. School board members also attend.

Concurrently, U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of freedom of choice as a mode of desegregation.

March – In response to Judge Butler’s ruling in August 1967, FC BOE files desegregation plan, which calls for elimination of all but three high schools and six elementary schools. High schools: Northern (formerly Gold Sand), Central (Louisburg HS), Southern (Bunn HS). Plan represents geographic zoning as ordered by the court.

April – Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms August 1967 ruling by Algernon Butler.

July - BOE files new plan for school desegregation, calling for a three-step process toward a unitary school system culminating in the 1970-71 school year. NAACP files plan calling for complete desegregation. Supt. Smith says that children would suffer if full desegregation took place in the 1968-69 school year. U.S. Dept. of Justice files its own plan calling for complete desegregation in 1968-69 but leaving location of grades to BOE. Plan forbids establishment of neighborhood schools.

Franklin Christian School and Franklin Academy officials announce plans to open private schools.

August – U.S. District Court Judge Algernon Butler on August 5 orders total desegregation of schools in fall for 1968-69. County divided into six unitary attendance zones, each to be based on area previously serving all white schools: Louisburg, Bunn, Youngsville, Gold Sand, Edward Best, Epsom. Black schools to be used as elementary schools. Faculties to be desegregated as well.

HEW rejects Franklinton school plan.

FC BOE files stay of ruling by Judge Butler. He denies the stay and schedules a hearing for October to discuss the matter.

August 8 editorial in FT: “A State of Shock.”

At a hearing of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, attorneys Edward F. Yarborough and Charles Davis state that it would be difficult to reorganize the schools in the short period of time available.

Franklinton schools open on August 28. Grades 10, 11, and 12 from the B. F. Person School are moved to Franklinton High School. Principal Wesley Jackson reports to The Franklin Times that the opening was orderly.

September - On September 3, The Franklin Times reports that a local organization planned a boycott of the schools.

Registration in Franklin County Schools takes place on Friday, September 6, and the first day of class is held on Monday, September 9. Superintendent Warren Smith reports that 72% of students attended the first day of school and that the previous year 81% had attended on the opening day. Second Congressional District Representative L. H. Fountain observes opening day and expresses “grave concern” about the manner in which the Department of HEW and the courts had handled the integration of schools. On hand to observe are two attorneys for the Department of Justice, Francis Kennedy and a Mr. Craven. FBI agents observe opening day at schools throughout the county, according to an account published in The Franklin Times. The BOE objects to this, and Senator Sam Ervin writes to the U.S. attorney general, complaining that a “national police force” intimidated the citizens of Franklin County.

A quarter-page ad appears in the September 10 issue of The Franklin Times. Sponsored by Franklin County Citizens for Preservation of Public Schools, the ad urges parents to “keep your children out of school until Freedom of Choice is reinstated.”

By Wednesday, September 11, attendance is up to at least 80% of students, and Warren Smith states that, accounting for students thought to be enrolled in private schools, the figure is closer to 87%. Franklin County Citizens for Preservation of Public Schools abandons its boycott.

On September 26, The Franklin Times reports that Julius Chambers, attorney for the NAACP in the Coppedge case, had written a letter to the BOE stating that students were being segregated in classrooms and on busses. The BOE states that students were assigned to classrooms based on test scores. The paper reports also that Franklin County Citizens for Preservation of Public Schools had circulated a petition asking Congressman L. H. Fountain to institute impeachment proceedings against Judge Algernon Butler.

October – Attorneys for the BOE attend a hearing in Richmond of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, to appeal the August 5 decision of Judge Butler.

DecemberThe Franklin Times reports on December 10 that the Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld the decision of Judge Butler to integrate the schools.