"In a Nice Way": Moderation as a Tool of Racial Oppression During North Carolina School Desegregation from 1954-56 Public Deposited

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  • February 26, 2019
  • Cooksey, Abigail
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • As Thomas Pearsall lay dying from cancer at Duke Hospital, he reflected back over his time as one of the most important actors in the desegregation of North Carolina schools nearly a quarter of a century earlier. A man who prided himself on his racial tolerance, he was distraught over the idea that African Americans in the state might have misperceived his actions during that time. Though Pearsall honestly believed that he was working to preserve public education in the state, many African Americans disagreed. They believed that his actions, and those of the special policy committee on desegregation that he chaired, purposely slowed implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown and actively made it more difficult for them to access quality education. Pearsall lamented, “they have been much more patient than I ever would have been…. I don’t want to go to the grave feeling I haven’t done the best I could for the blacks.” His torment was so great that his wife, Elizabeth, felt compelled to call then-Governor of North Carolina, Jim Hunt, and ask him to send “a respectable member of the black community” to come relieve Pearsall of his burden. Hunt sent a man from Durham, though Elizabeth was at lunch when he visited and, significantly, never felt the need to get his name. The conversation with this unknown man settled Pearsall’s soul, and he was soon able to pass away in peace.
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  • In Copyright
  • Funding: William W. and Ida W. Taylor Fellowship
  • Leloudis, James
  • Bachelor of Arts
Honors level
  • Honors
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 86 p.

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