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Interview with Charles B. Myers

Part I: Merger

Audio (first part)

Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History Project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is Wednesday, March 8th, 2006 and the interview today, in the Peabody Library, is with Dr. Charles B. Myers, Professor Emeritus at Peabody College. To begin, please talk about your connection with Peabody and the capacity in which you served at the time of the merger, with an overview of the Vanderbilt/Peabody situation at that time.

Charles B. Myers: I should start by saying, when I became a faculty member at Peabody, which was in 1970, so I was a faculty member at Peabody for nine years before the merger occurred. Previous to that, in the early 1960s I had been a graduate student at Peabody College. At the point of, well, let's say in the mid-1970's, actually 1974, Peabody reorganized as a college and changed its departmental structure into what we will refer to as interdisciplinary program areas and I became Chair of one of those program areas, which was called Programs for Educators of Youth. So, in the -- that translates to some extent to secondary education. It was at that time that Peabody did eliminate some other departments and chose to focus more just -- more narrowly on teacher education than broad liberal arts as well as teacher education. I was selected by the then president and I guess other administrators at Peabody to be the program director for that area. Interestingly enough, I was one of the youngest, maybe the youngest faculty member in that whole group of faculty. The program area included all of the academic departments that had existed before that time in Peabody so, what was called the Social Science Division, which included History, and Economics, and Geography, and so on, as well as English, and so on, were all put into that one area. So, when the merger occurred in 1979, the faculty who worked in the division that I, in essence, chaired directed, I guess, since I was called a director, were the ones that were most directly affected. One of the, I guess, interesting points in that is that many of those people who were most directly affected by the merger had been my own professors when I was here as a graduate student, so I was very, very centrally involved in what was happening and also in their welfare. Now, I think what I ought to do is now shift, at that point, to talk about how I heard of the merger and then what happened in that period of about six months time. First of all, in that structure that I just outlined, it was a very flat structure. There was the president, the upper-level administration and then us, Program Directors, so there wasn't a lot of tier level arrangements. When the program directors met, it was with the Academic Vice President who was Tom Stovall and very often with the president and so it's -- we were involved in lots of things that dealt with the overall operation of the college. However, I and I think this is true for the other Program Directors, had no idea what was going on in terms of a potential merger with anyone until mid-February of 1979 when the morning paper, the Nashville Tennessean, had as its front pa -- one of its front page stories -- probably it was the main story that day -- that Peabody was going to merge with Tennessee State University. We didn't know anything about that. As soon as I got to campus, I called Tom Stovall's office the president, interestingly enough, had the flu and was sick and wasn't available and we immediately had a meeting of the Program Director's to go over and we were briefed on what was going on. So, for a period of time the fee -- the information and what seemed to be the pattern or seemed to be the sequence of events all had to do with potential merger with Tennessee State University. And the primary reason for all of this, as far as I knew and surmised was the financial situation of Peabody College. I think we had, if my memory is correct, about $13 million total endowment, so we were very dependent on tuition. We had, five years earlier, focused just on teacher education or, to a great extent on teacher education and enrollment was down. And it was in terms of who wanted to become a teacher in the 1970's because in the early '70s there was an oversupply, supposedly, of teachers. So there was a merger. There was a period of time then, where people were trying to deal with what does or doesn't happen with Peabody as part of Tennessee State and lots of people took sides. It was basically, I think -- now this is a long time so I'm going with my memory a -- two sets of people. People who wanted to keep Peabody separate and independent and people who wanted Peabody to merge. I think -- and this is really just my guessing that -- that -- those two types of groups continued when the issue shifted from Tennessee State being the entity with which we merged to Vanderbilt and still being the same. The issue seemed to be who -- who favored merger and who didn't. I was rather uncommital, I guess, during the period of time with the issue of merger with Tennessee State. I didn't quite know how that was going to work and I don't even know how I would class -- classify myself except I was trying to keep the process going, meaning the college, the operation of the college, not the process of merging. Whenever it happened that the shift came to what we were probably going to do is merge with Vanderbilt instead of Tennessee State, then the whole process had progressed to the point that some people, and I guess some entities within Peabody, had to begin to decide what we would look like if we became part of Vanderbilt University. And I played a significant role in that. The -- there were probably two roles that I played in all of this -- as merger was being ferreted out, it became obvious that lots of people were going to lose their jobs so I wh -- thought -- took upon myself a role of trying to, what I refer to as save people's jobs. I was very unsuccessful at that. As best I can tell, as I am looking back now, we saved one person's job, but probably at the expense of one other person and I'll come back to that. The other thing was how would we organize ourselves as a subset of Vanderbilt or as a faculty and there were three committees, as I remember it, that were formed. One, I think, a title that was something like Faculty Affairs, handled the faculty in it anyway and its main focus was what to do with the 30 to 40 people, I think it turned out eventually to be 43 faculty members who were not going to be continued in Vanderbilt University, so it dealt with a lot of severance issues on those. I was not directly involved in that. There were two others. One that dealt with curriculum and one that dealt with organization of our entity as we went into merger. I was centrally involved in both of those committees and I took the position in both of them that Peabody would be better off discontinuing the program areas and forming academic departments because that's the way Vanderbilt was, someone had told me that Vanderbilt, at one point earlier in its history, had played with interdisciplinary organizations and they never seemed to have worked. It was my own ide -- thinking that if a researcher entered a university, which clearly Vanderbilt was, that people established their reputation nationally and to a great extent, internally because of the nature of the discipline they worked in. So the interdisciplinary types of organizations really were not eff -- not in the individual faculty members interests as much as straight disciplines so we -- so I took that -- that position. That became a very, very heated argument within the Peabody faculty. Up right til the point of merger and the perspective that I had a part in -- what I just outlined -- if you could characterize the situation as winners and losers, our side won. We became dis -- we became more of a discipline area and then we organized within that. Now, I'm going to set that aside just for a second to go to one other thing. Now, all through this period of February to July of '79, there were outside protests of not wanting to merge and various people, including people marching and demonstrating on the Mall. And I want to just re -- bring that up because there is one specific thing that involved me that was kind of interesting. I had a meeting with Tom Stovall, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, along with a woman named Joanne Whitmore, who was the Program Director for Programs for Educators of Children, as opposed to mine, Programs for Educators of Youth. And our major goal -- the major purpose of that meeting was try to carve out responsibilities to save jobs. It just so happened that our meeting with Tom was, at the time that the demonstrators were out in front of the Administration Building and ear -- very early as that meeting was getting started, maybe in the first 10 minutes or so of it, Tom just kind of stopped the conversation and looked at both of us and he said, "Do you folks feel uncomfortable being here?" And we said, "Yes, we did," and so we suspended our meeting and Joanne and I, I think and Joanne did the same thing, went outside and participated in the demonstration. When the demonstration was over, then we went back inside because we were trying to save people's jobs and continued the meeting, so that's a specific personal anecdote that I would toss into this. Now, back to the point though that as things developed through the process and we started to reorganize the issue really became one faculty after another would or wouldn't continue. The Music School of disbanded, so everyone that had a music assignment did not continue. Most of the other areas, it was almost an individual assignment because, for instance, my field even though my doctoral degrees and master degrees in history, my assignment as a faculty member at Peabody was Social Studies education. I taught the methods course of the teaching of Social Studies in secondary schools and -- and supervised student teachers as my main teaching responsibility. Therefore, I was considered more education than history. I didn't teach history classes, so my job was preserved, but people who were my senior, people including a person like Bob Thomson, who was my major professor as a graduate student and Kenneth Cooper and Jack Allen were -- were not continued. Jewell Phelps in geography were not continued because they taught straight discipline courses, not the teaching of courses. Now, in that context there were a couple cases where people were just about evenly split and this is where the one job that, in hindsight I think we saved, which had some irony to it. There were two people in math education who did elementary methods in math -- methods of teaching mathematics. Elizabeth Goldman and Linda Barron who, when the original design was presented, Linda Barron was the one whose position was going to be preserved and Elizabeth Goldman was not. In our discussions, one of the things that came out and I don't know who pointed this out, if it was Joanne Whitmore, or Tom Stovall, or me -- I don't think it was me -- that both of them shared about the same assignment, but at that point, Elizabeth had more tenure and, I think I'm right on this -- I could even be wrong on this -- I think, Linda had not quite gotten her doctorate, or it was relatively new. Someone needs to check to see if my facts are correct on that. But the essence of the conversation was -- is Elizabeth's position ought to be preserved. Now, we thought what we had done was preserve both, as it turned out, we didn't, but later Linda got kind of brought back in as a part-time faculty member and she -- as far as I know, she's still here. She was as of two years ago last I -- I saw her here. And -- and Elizabeth Goldman has retired. The thing that is particularly interesting on this is Elizabeth was on the edge of not being a faculty member. After merger and some more years passed, she ended up being Associate Provost of Vanderbilt University for a number of years and up until she retired. So, there were a lot of close cuttings of who did or didn't get in and I remember in one of my arguments for people, John Dunworth, the President said kind of acknowledging, I guess, some of my rational that the lawyers, I think is the way he said it, the lawyers are making these decisions now and the arguments of who -- what makes sense academically wasn't going to carry weight and although he was saying that what I was saying made sense to him, it wasn't going to carry anybody as we went along. So, what we did is we reorganized into departments and my department -- actually, I named it, it still exists with the name, the Department of Teaching and Learning. We did that because the typical name would have been Curriculum and Instruction and I personally felt that we needed to stress the fact that preparing teachers wasn't just a function that focused on curriculum. That it had a lot to do with psychology and the nature of learning and the melding of learning and teaching together. So, when the faculty whatever the group was, decided on that title, I think it was the faculty that was being carried on into the merged department, we basically said well, no one could think of a better label so let's go with Myers Teaching and Learning and here, you know, whatever number of years later it is and it's what it's still called. But that Department of Teaching and Learning then included both Programs for Educators of Children, except for special ed. which was, prior to merger in the same program area as what would have been elementary and early childhood ed. So, elementary ed., early childhood ed., and all of the fields that you would think of as secondary ed. became part of Teaching and Learning and then I was selected to be Chair of that and I chaired that until 1986. I finally decided I had chaired things -- if you put the tenure of both the Program Director and the -- the department together, it was 12 years and I thought that was about 10 years longer than I should have done it so, I finally said no to continuing. They were three year appointments as we were in the merge situation. One of the things that I would want to mention here that I think is really critical in terms of the overall merger situation, is that after a transition point in which there was a -- an acting dean who was Hardy Wilcoxon and Vanderbilt hired Bill Hawley as the dean. Willis Hawley. That in my judgment, was a very, very fortunate move on the part of Vanderbilt and Peabody within Vanderbilt. Bill, I felt, was an excellent Dean. He was very thoughtful and very deep in his thinking about teacher education and he managed what we did in a way that I thought took the best advantage of other people's decisions and authority and insights at the same time that he was a leader. He was not very strong in follow-through, which everyone kind of knew, but if he had other people who did the follow-through I thought he was excellent. I -- of all the people that, I guess, I worked under, I still have -- still put Bill at the top of the list. He stopped being dean sometime toward the end of the 1980's. I don't remember exactly when, but it was in that process and I think he stabilized and he did two things that are very significant for the history of Peabody. One is he -- even though he came out of a policy assignment, he had been at Duke and before that at Yale, really an educational policy and he's a political scientist by training. He became within, at least I would say at the longest, two years of his being appointed very visible nationally as a leader in teacher education and I think that carried us in lots of ways into the nat -- in the national setting. He, I said two things, there is actually a third that I thought up. He really established us within the Educational Research Association in American Edu -- AERA, American Education Research Association where we went from almost no people being on the national programs of AERA, to a point at which, toward the end of the '80's, I guess it may have been in the early '90's, there were more presentations at the annual meeting of that organization by Peabody faculty than any other faculty in the United States, including faculties that had hundreds of people and we had -- I don't know what the numbers were, but it was well short of a hundred. So he established us that way. Another thing he did, he came up with an idea that since Peabody in 1974 shifted just to teacher education, we were actually cutting ourselves off from a student body that needed to have a higher number of people based on the way Vanderbilt was financed, which was, to use the term, each tub on its own bottom. We just didn't have enough people who wanted to come into teacher education to support all the things that we wanted to do, particularly our graduate programs. So, he came up with this idea and I think it came from Northwestern University. It could have been Wisconsin, but I think it was Northwestern. It was a program that he called Human and Organizational Development. In his mind, it was to be kind of a liberal arts or, I would say social scie -- social and behavioral science approach to undergraduate education that actually led to internships that led to jobs. In his view, it would be highly selective and very small. Well, it's now the biggest program at Vanderbilt University. It didn't stay small, it didn't stay as selective as he originally had in mind. I think the tuition and the need for students pushed that, but then, of course, by somewhere in the '90's we got another problem in terms of Peabody did that Human and Organizational Development was attracting more students than we could handle and more students than was the Peabody allotment within the undergraduate student body. So, it evolved in a different way than Bill thought, but it's a very popular program, it's a very big program and he's the one that thought about it and I'm not sure other people who knew the history would have remembered it, but I remember meetings where he kept trying to sell it to the rest of us and he eventually did and partly we thought he would never sell it to the upper-level administration at Vanderbilt and, lo and behold, he did and so that's kind of all history there. So, I think a point that comes out of all this is the issue of so, how successful was it? And what was the value, in my judgment, of the merger? And what I am about to say may be colored by the fact that as I said, I earlier took the position that we should have gone ahead with the merger. I was on the pro-merger side by -- especially by the time we got to the point it was going to be Vanderbilt. We are the -- probably most noticeful -- most noted teacher preparation and research college in the United States. Peabody had a long-term 100 year reputation of preparing teachers for the south. Big, big summer schools. When I was a graduate student here in the early '60's and so on, but it didn't have the reputation of superior quality. It didn't have the reputation of the research entities that Peabody developed. Seemed to have it in psychology and in the areas that were involved with the Kennedy Center, but not broadly, especially as it affected our own programs and it became exceptionally solid. So, my view is the merger was very good. I think there was a -- my judgment though -- on both at the point as well as in hindsight, was the merger could have been handled very differently. I think that a lot of very good people, faculty members who would have made a very solid, intellectual, academic contribution as Vanderbilt faculty members were terminated. The -- without knowing the specifics of the finances, I think the money that was spent on cost of merger, which was a term which was several million dollars, much of which was termination money to faculty members, especially tenured faculty members actually could have subsidized those same people staying on as part of their respective academic departments at Vanderbilt University. Some eventually did Eva Touster in English eventually became -- somehow got back into being a long-term Vanderbilt faculty member in the English Department. Linda Barron I referred to earlier got brought back in as part of Peabody. Some of the history and social science people did not, some of them were older and approaching retirement age anyway. In fact, an anecdote about that, right in the middle of my trying to advocate for jobs one of the ones I was advocating for was Jewell Phelps who was a Geographer and when geography was a separate department at one point, he was chair of it and he stopped me one day and said, "Chuck, I know what you are trying to do, but don't do it. I'm 65. It's in my interest to be terminated rather than to be continued into the merger." But someone like Kenneth Cooper and Bob Thomson, extremely capable, extremely knowledgeable and intelligent faculty members and exceptionally good teachers would have made major contributions, would have continued their major contributions at Vanderbilt University if -- if they had been continued on. That didn't happen and maybe it goes back to the old John Dunworth statement that the lawyers are making the decisions, so it was traumatic. I think some people got hurt that shouldn't have gotten hurt, but in the long run, the Peabody enterprise is better off and I don't know what would have happened if we had not merged, but it's been -- it's been a good history. My personal history through til I retired in 2002 wa -- has been very positive and I even though I stopped being Department Chair in '86, a few years later I did come back into administration as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for three years, but mainly I was a regular faculty member, but did a number of special projects, especially with local schools.

Dohrmann: Do you have anything else you want to share? About the merger? Special stories, anything else?

Myers: Not unless you have something that you can lead -- that you can raise a question that I can think of.

Dohrmann: OK. I think you've covered most of the questions on -- in here, so thank you very much.

Myers: Let me add -- let me do this -- just cut you on this. This -- this is an anecdote that maybe very far out, but somewhere about at the time of the merger, I guess just after the merger happened. It was probably the next year in another role that I had, I had the context to -- I was president of a national organization and the man who was asked to be our keynote speaker at our annual convention was Terrel Bell who was Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration, so this would have been after the Reagan administration started, so it would have been at least a year la -- after the merger. And I, as president, was the person who met him at the airport. It happened to be in Kansas City and met him at the airport and rode back to the hotel in the limousine and (inaudible) basically was his host for -- for the day and a half that he was there. I had never met him before and he walked off the plane and it was a very interesting thing. To this day, I remember him walking off the plane, a secret service man was with me, waiting to meet him to be with us the whole time he was there. He was carrying his suit bag with his finger over his shoulder like some people do and he walked up to me shook my hand and said, "Hi Chuck, how's Peabody?" And that started a conversation in the limousine back to the hotel and he made it quite clear in a very nice way, not in a pointed way that he still wished Peabody had remained independent. He had been on our board, he was secretary, I guess he was on the board at the point of merger, but I don't know if anyone else would have ever heard that unless he or I would have said it, so we'll toss that in for part of the history archive.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.

 

Part 2: Civil Rights and the Early 1960s

Audio (second part)

Dohrmann: We are continuing our interview with Dr. Charles B. Myers, Professor Emeritus at Peabody College and today's date is Wednesday, March 8th, 2006. Please talk about your civil -- your work in Civil Rights on the Peabody campus during the 1960's.

Myers: OK. I came to Peabody in the summer, late summer of 1962 and was here as a graduate student in what was called the Social Science Division for three years. I got my master's -- Master of Arts and History and a Ph.D. in History. I worked with Jack Allen and Bob Thomson, Kenneth Cooper and those were the key members (inaudible) members of both the education and social science faculty. Sometime early in that process a -- I and a group of people who were in the same program became aware of Civil Rights, civil disobedience activities in Nashville that dealt with the integration of Nashville restaurants and we, I guess, in our lunchtime conversations, having come from lots of different places around the United States, a small group of us just didn't think that was right and we were, I guess, activists in some ways. Now, this "we" part is just a small group of people. There was a National Defense Education Act Fellowship Program, actually, there were two of them, maybe more, but I know at least two of them at Peabody at that time. One in education and one in the Social Science Division. I was part of the one in the Social Science Division. There were three people who came the year before I did, which would have come in '61. I and two other people came in '62, one of whom left after one year, but two of us continued through -- for the three years beginning in '62 and then two came -- were appointed to the position the next year and two the following year over the four year part of the funding. The -- so in our process of discussing what was going on downtown, we started to go to several meetings and what was going on downtown has a historical part to it, which at the -- initially, we didn't even know about, but we got to know about so, I will say a little bit about that. A man who came to Vanderbilt, James Lawson, as a graduate student at the Divinity School, was actually part of a national effort to train people in non-violence activities that dealt with restaurants and there is a whole lot been written about him and his work. In fact, Vanderbilt is now recognizing him as a outstanding graduate, even though Chancellor Branscomb dismissed him from school and he didn't graduate. But Jim Lawson's activities were before we got here, before what I'm ab -- describing now occurred for us. And so some activities had occurred downtown and some people who were very, very active who were in up in literature a whole lot, people who, in hindsight, I've idolized, were leading a movement which really was a -- the first big push that led to the Freedom Rides. Buses in Mississippi and Alabama. The key people in Nashville prior to our small group being involved had the -- were named the most visible names were a woman named Diane Nash, who was a Fisk student and Lawson himself and John Lewis, who is now a Congressman from Atlanta in the United States Congress and John was at American Baptist College and also at Fisk as a student. Well, they had been pretty active in organizing people downtown that led to demonstrations that got lots of national publicity and, in effect, integrated restaurants in downtown Nashville. Now, how I and my friends got involved in this is, there was a restaurant right at the inter -- at the point of contact, I guess you would say, on 21st Avenue. It was called the Campus Grill and it's a the point where Vanderbilt campus, Peabody campus and Scarritt College, basically come together. It's now Ben and Jerry's. It's on the corner of 21st Avenue and a little street called Scarritt Place. That was a segregated restaurant and a man named Mr. Putnam owned it and the word came to us one time that there was going to be a meeting on campus because a black student, we thought, or at least in hindsight I thought we thought, that she was from Africa. I found out in more recent years that she actually was, I think, from Fiji, but she apparently went in that restaurant and she was a black woman -- black student. She, at least the way it was described to us, had no idea about the segregated policies there in which she went in, asked to be served, and Mr. Putnam apparently was very verbally abusive to her. I don't know what that meant, but the stories were such that I'm not sure what was true, but she wasn't served and she was supposedly driven out, shouted out at which she was in tears. She was a Scarritt student. That led to some meetings on campus. It led to some people who would, I guess you would say now, demonstrate in front of the restaurant. It was a very critical point because of some of the other activities that were going on. There were injunctions about what people could or couldn't do on sidewalks in front of restaurants. That had the effect for our little group that we could hand out informational sheets, but we couldn't have signs on sticks that were a protest. I don't really know why that was the case or if it was really true, but we did hand out this bro -- these sheets, which say please do not -- or something to the effect -- please do not frequent the Campus Grill. In fact, in the Civil Rights Room in downtown Nashville now there is a table that has major documents of the Civil Rights activity of Nashville imbedded in the whatever it is the material that has made this round table, it is almost like a diorama and one of the documents is our sheet that we handed out. So, we were involved in the integration of the Campus Grill. At the same time, I guess, we were probably into late '63, maybe early '64 our group was approached by some people from the political structure of Nashville. Not quite sure ho -- our euphemism for it -- our term was people from the Mayor's office. I am not sure they were really from the Mayor's office, but someone and I was not a leader in the group, but someone would approach them and say, would you do X, Y, and Z and Mr. Putnam will integrate if you do X, Y, and Z. And Birmingham, Alabama had become big national news because of the opposition to the Integrationists by a Police Chief named Bull Connor in Birmingham and the expression among the Nashville business community seemed to be, at least from our perspective, don't let Nashville become a Birmingham, it will hurt business. That seemed to be effective for us. The other expression that we heard was you guys, meaning those of us on the Peabody, Scarritt, and a couple of Vanderbilt students are not going to get involved with those radicals out at Tennessee State. They called it Tennessee A and I. And that was John Lewis and his group. What was interesting is some people, and we thought it was John Lewis, it may not always have been John Lewis, someone later told me it was probably a man named Lester McKinney who was also active. We would come to our meetings and sit in the back of the room and we real -- and he didn't ever say anything or, at least, not that I remember either of those people or whoever it was that would be at one of the meetings, ever say anything. But we realized later that some people in the room were reporting back to the political structure -- we called it the Mayor's office -- that these radicals from Tennessee State were at that meeting and those white kids, which we were mostly white, white in the group, were going to get involved in this group, which they were trying to isolate, I think, as mainly primarily a black group from Fisk and Tennessee State and American Baptist College. So, we thought we had a role and being the white kids from the other side of town that would also be so it wasn't all black -- black role. At one point, someone approached our leader and asked if we would not picket for two weeks after which Mr. Putnam agreed to integrate because he wouldn't integrate while we were still doing our -- I use the word picket -- handing out the handbills. There was a big, big discussion about that in the meeting and I was on the side of saying, what do we have to lose, you know, the whole point isn't confrontation. The whole point is having the man serve all folks. So, and that was the side that won -- won the argument that day. So, we didn't picket for two weeks. Just as the two weeks were about to end. The word came back, Mr. Putnam wants one more week. Again, whole big discussion and what do we have to lose folks won again, so it went for a third week and at the end of the third week the restaurant was tested. Now, what we mean by tested is white people and one black person would go in together and order a cup of coffee seeing if the black person would be served and up until that point it had never been. They had just been rejected or they had been allowed to sit there and no one asked their -- took their order. At the end of that third week, the testing occurred and the black person was served. At that point, a waitress who Mr. Putnam later told me worked for him 22 years I think he said, 21, 22 years, took off her apron threw it on -- threw it somewhere and stormed out. She quit, and his comment to me lat - Mr. Putnam's comment to me later was, "You radicals caused me to lose my waitress." And, of course, my bias was I'm sorry, that's the price to pay. She did have a choice, but even if she felt she didn't have a choice, you're losing her and her losing her job is just one of the prices you pay for, in our view at least, was a greater good. Now, when the Campus Grill was kind of going on and kind of winding down the one area in Nashville that one place in Nashville restaurant structures that was an environment that wasn't integrating was Morrison's Cafeteria, which was on West End Avenue somewhere between, I guess, near 17th Avenue and West End. It was in a building -- first floor office building that is still over there, I believe, but their headquarters was in Alabama so, demonstrations, picketing, whatever didn't have an effect on them. I bring that up for two reasons and this is the final part of what I have to say unless you have other questions, is that the Morrison's Cafeteria caused a type of thing to occur that many people have forgotten it. It hasn't gotten written up much in the Civil Rights literature and it was called a sip-in. S-I-P I-N. Not sit-in, but sip-in and this was done at Morrison's and apparently other places but this, as far as I know, this is where it started. What happened is a group of people, and they were primarily the larger group that were involved in the Campus Grill people and some of them from downtown, but they were basically Scarritt, some Peabody and a few Vanderbilt students and faculty members. I don't know of any Vanderbilt faculty members, but there were Peabody faculty members and Scarritt faculty members involved. What the group would do is they would identify the same number of people as there were seats in Morrison's Cafeteria and just before dinner hour in the evening, I think it was 4 o'clock, they would all go in, fill every seat in the cafeteria and get a cup of coffee and sit until 8 o'clock. So no one else could get a seat. They filled, filled the entire restaurant. And of course, no one did anything so, there wasn't any violence, you know, you sat and at 8 o'clock they all left after which the dinner people were gone -- who would have wanted to have dinner had left and of course, after a couple days of that, no one practically -- most people didn't want to come because they didn't want to be involved in the potential trouble. So, I mention this because the sip-in was very effective. Now, it had to be done by white people. It couldn't be black people because black people couldn't get served. In some cases, they couldn't even get in the door, but white people could fill all the seats and that's what this group did. That was occurring about the time that the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was being debated in Congress and it was being filibustered. When the sip-in still didn't seem to work for Morrison's the next stage of ratcheting up activity was a decision that people, both the people who were doing the sip-in and the people who had already integrated the downtown restaurants, a big group, did have a big demonstration where they sat down in West End Avenue, stopped traffic, and many of them were arrested, including some of my friends. I chose not to do the in-the-street activity and I -- also interestingly enough, I was never picked to be one of the sip-in people. I think they thought I was too small and skinny, I am not sure. But I never I per -- chose not to do the sit in the street because on the same thing I said earlier with the Campus Grill, I didn't think you should do confrontation if you could get what you wanted another way and I thought that everything was going to work out ok in -- with Morrison's because Congress was going to eventually vote to end the filibuster and order restaurants to integrate. That's what happened. In fact, the same newscast on the national TV that said the Civil Rights Bill had passed in Washington included a statement from the Morrison's people in Alabama saying they would abide by the national law, they didn't have any choice, so they did, in fact, integrate. But in the meantime, there were a lot of Peabody students and a couple of faculty members who were jailed and were kept in jail for a period of time because the judge -- it was a very interesting thing on television. The judge that was about to hear the cases had all of the documents that said that people were guilty, already signed before the cases came up and the lawyer poin -- pointed that out to the judge that he had pre-judged all these cases before anything happened and the judge suspended the hearing and kept them all in jail for a weekend. So, in a sense, he kept everyone in jail. They were eventually released, but he kept everyone in jail for a weekend because he got caught doing something he shouldn't have done or his clerk or whoever did it. But one particular person who would probably also be an interesting person to interview if you can track him down in all of this is a man named Richard Myers, Dick Myers. Spells it the same way I do. He was a doctoral student here, I guess in education. He was not part of our Social Science group, but Dick had a large family, six or seven children. He was in jail when he was supposed to be taking one of his major tests. I think it was one of his (inaudible) exams for his doctoral qualifyings and Dick never did finish the doctoral program and I think a lot of it was because of his strong commitment to those issues and the fact that he was very vocal. When some of the activities were going on, just one last anecdote, someone called my wife to say that I was in jail. I wasn't and I don't know why that -- that happened other than to think that maybe when Dick was jailed, they thought it was me, but I that -- I only thought of that years later and it may not even have been at the same time that she may have gotten the call the time it was different from whenever the activity was going on that led to Dicks's being jailed. I don't know what else to say about that. I could talk a whole lot about it. There is a doctoral student or a doctoral dissertation just about the Campus Grill. I can't tell you the name of the young man and when of the active people from Scarritt is writing a book about just the Campus Grill incident and I have that information. I should tell you one other thing, I guess, now that I think of it. A couple of years ago, I guess it was two years ago, probably was in the summer of 2004 that would make sense. There was a reunion of a group of people, a conference for several days that happened at Scarritt Conference Center now, what used to be Scarritt College. And the group was called in the '60's the Southern Student Organizing Committee, SSOC. They called themselves SSOC. That committee was the overall umbrella group that was integrating -- I have to say it differently. That group was the predominantly white subset of the people that were involved in the integration of restaurants in Nashville. Most of them were Scarritt students, I think, a lot -- a big portion of them were Scarritt students. A few of them were Peabody students. I was never a member of that group, in fact, I didn't know it existed as a group, but it had a conference or this whatever you call it, three or four day reminiscing series of things and one of the things that I found out when I and I accidentally found out about it. It was announced in the paper that one of the meetings was going to be at the downtown library. I called the man -- one of the men who had his name in the paper who you could call to get more information and he told me it was a three or four day event and why don't I come for all of it? So, I did. But the reason -- one of the things that is interesting about this is in those days that I have already described back in the '60's and the people were always worried about us being involved with those people out at Tennessee State and these Communists that they always talked about. These radical Communists and we kept saying, you know, there aren't any communists. They aren't this -- what do you mean this group, we don't even know who this group is. And we didn't. Our little subset was involved because we felt what was going on was wrong, it was happening right where we were. It was the restaurant where we went for our coffee breaks. And we wanted to be involved and so we did and then when it kind of escalated to be involved with Morrison's, we did that. That was the summer that got written up in the "Mississippi Burning" with the two white guys from Ohio and James Cheney from Mississippi, Goodman, Schwermer and Cheney being killed in Mississippi. In fact that -- in that was part of our whole milieu because when Schwermer and Goodman were killed as part of those three people that were killed it was kind of like the big national event where hey, white kids are getting killed here, too. It's just not black people so we were all involved in this, but I bring all this together in the sense that even though we were involved case by case, situation by situation because we wanted to not be part of what would be wrong by not acting. There was this larger group that became, actually, organized and continued after, actually after I left Nashville into the late '60's of white people and a lot of them actually were involved in Communist activ -- Communist Party activities, some of them were and probably what Joe McCarthy would have called Communist sympathizing activities, which we never knew, but I found out in this reunion that, yeah, there were -- there were some people who thirty some years later openly admit that sure, sure we were. And a lot of them went on to do activities in other states. A lot of them did voter registration in Alabama and Mississippi. Once I finished my program in 1965 I went on to teach in New Jersey. Still was very sensitive to racial kinds of issues, in fact, Martin Luther King was assassinated during my time there and -- but just carried on as a social studies educator not as an activist -- direct activist in integrated activities.

Dohrmann: Did your group have a name? (inaudible)

Myers: No. Well, the larger group, I think, had an organizing committee type name. Our subset of these eight or so, the Peabody graduate kind of Peabody graduate students didn't but part of that -- I'm sure part of that was just because we didn't think to do that. There was -- but there was another reason, too. There was a court order against having organized meetings to plan protests, so even when there were meetings of the Scarritt, Vanderbilt, Peabody group which were in Wesley Hall, which is now a different building, it's a parking garage and whatever (inaudible) but it was a classroom building. We couldn't advertise that there was a meeting of a group. It was, I forget even what little term we used, but we would say something about there are some people who are going to get together and so we would show up, but they would always say now this is not a meeting and -- and go on. Maybe we overplayed it or the people who organized it overplayed it but no, we didn't call ourselves anything. We were well-known, though, at least on Peabody Campus. We asked one time -- or I don't know if we even asked -- I went to put some notices about a get-together in the Peabody Post Office to try to let every -- other students know and I was told I was not allowed to do that. That we -- we were -- that was too divisive or something. I forget what it was. People were quite aware of what we were doing and not happy that we were doing it. I just thought of another anecdote which might be interesting that someone actually checked to see if this is actually true, but in the midst of all of this we used to -- this small little group -- we -- our study tables were in the -- what is the room next door to where we are talking right now, which was the graduate student study area. I guess -- or is it maybe, well it was on the bottom floor of this building. So, we would have sandwiches in bags and we used to go out and sit on the lawn. Actually, the place which is now the Kennedy Center, the MRL building, it was just a -- kind of a woodsy area. We would sit and eat and we got to know one of those years, it may have been the very last year '64, '65 a black man who had come in as a master's degree student and I don't even remember his name anymore and he ended up having lunch with us and one day, he was telling us that he had a problem with his academics that he had been admitted as a master's degree student, but after he was already here, someone had decided that because his undergraduate degree was from a non-accredited college, they couldn't recognize his bachelor's degree. And it was one of the historically black institutions in Mississippi, but I can't remember which and therefore he had to be an undergraduate and finish a bachelor's degree. I guess, he had to be here for one year, although I am not sure of my facts on that. Before then, he could continue on with his master's degree. And as he was telling us this kind of being depressed it occurred to one of us, one of the other people who was there, it might have been me, that that meant he was an undergraduate student at Peabody which, as far as we knew meant that he was the first black undergraduate student at Peabody. Don't know if that was true or not, but I know -- I know the story is true. If that made him the first black undergraduate student, I don't know but at that point, Peabody said that it was an integrated -- racially integrated institution and it's evidence was it had master's and doctoral students who were -- who were black. They never talked about undergraduates and they didn't, I think at that point, live in the dorms, but I could be wrong on that, too. So someone might want to check and see of their is any validity to that fact that whoever the guys is if he was the first undergraduate black student.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.

Myers: All right.

 

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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.