Interview of David F. Cooke. Interviewed by George Gilliam, Mason Mills, of The Ground Beneath Our Feet project.

David F. Cooke served as the basketball head coach at Lane High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, one of the schools that was closed in 1958 and was integrated in 1959. Cooke coached the first integrated teams at Lane High School.

This interview was taken in 2000 for "Massive Resistance," episode four of "The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Virginia's History Since the Civil War," a production of George H. Gilliam and the Central Virginia Educational Television Corporation. George H. Gilliam is the Producer of the series, William G. Thomas, III the Assistant Producer, and Mason Mills the Director of Photography.

The transcripts represent what was said in the interview to the best of our ability. It is possible that some words, particularly names, have been misspelled. We have made no attempt to correct mistakes in grammar.

Mr. Gilliam: David, you graduated from the University of Virginia in 1954.
Mr. Cooke: My undergraduate degree in 1954.
Mr. Gilliam: And then you got your graduate degree?
Mr. Cooke: In 1965.
Mr. Gilliam: And in between those two, did you go into the service?
Mr. Cooke: I spent two years in the Corp Engineers stationed at the Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Mr. Gilliam: Now when you got out in 1957 -
Mr. Cooke: '56.
Mr. Gilliam: - '56.
Mr. Cooke: September.
Mr. Gilliam: What did you do?
Mr. Cooke: I started teaching and coaching at Lane High School.
Mr. Gilliam: And racially what was the composition of Lane at that time?
Mr. Cooke: It was completely white, or all Caucasian.
Mr. Gilliam: And where had you grown up?
Mr. Cooke: I'd grown up in Charlottesville, Virginia on Preston Avenue.
Mr. Gilliam: And was Preston Avenue a racially mixed street?
Mr. Cooke: It was very close to Washington Park and was a mixed area in the city of Charlottesville.
Mr. Gilliam: And when you were growing up, did you play in racially mixed groups?
Mr. Cooke: I played basketball on a number of occasions in Washington Park in Charlottesville, and in those days that was a segregated park as far as the blacks were concerned. It was all black.
Mr. Gilliam: How did you as a white man get invited to play in these - in the black facility?
Mr. Cooke: Well, I lived on Preston Avenue, which was very close to Washington Park and of course I had grown up and knew an awful lot of the kids in that area. So they were close friends and people that I saw on a day-to-day basis.
Mr. Gilliam: Personally, did you have any racial problems?
Mr. Cooke: Never in my life do I remember having any racial problems or any concern about color. I looked at each person as an individual and that's how I accepted them.
Mr. Gilliam: So, when you went to coach at Lane High School and you were confronted with this sea of white faces after you had played with and against blacks in other settings, what was your reaction?
Mr. Cooke: Well, I knew that there were some other kids out there that could play as well if not better than the kids that I was coaching at Lane High School.
Mr. Gilliam: Did you - were you in favor of changing the racial composition at Lane?
Mr. Cooke: There was no question in my mind that that was a plus as far as we were concerned. Not only from a social standpoint but for also the athletic ability. I had known of the success of the kids and the teams at Jefferson High School. So I knew that it would add to the possibility of - for success as far as our programs were concerned.
Mr. Gilliam: Was it your experience that the kids got along pretty well and oftentimes it was the parents who wanted to inject race into it?
Mr. Cooke: I think that was probably an exact explanation of the situation. That I think - I don't know of many of the kids -
Mr. Gilliam: Can you put that in your own words, can you say, in your experience the kids did this and the parents did -
Mr. Cooke: Start me again - I've lost -
Mr. Gilliam: [laughter] Now, in your experience, did the - was the - the kids of both races could get along pretty well. Particularly in sports -
Mr. Cooke: I, I -
Mr. Gilliam: ...without parents?
Mr. Cooke: I don't think that there was generally ever a problem between the kids themselves. I think if there were a problem, it was probably from the parents of the kids themselves and not the kids.
Mr. Gilliam: Were the kids - did the kids sort of work it out when you got kids of different races playing sports?
Mr. Cooke: They worked - among themselves worked it out and to my knowledge it was never a problem. They were competitive with each other. They were competing for playing time and positions and it worked out. They didn't look at each other, in my estimation, as one being black or one being white. They were competitors and they were on the same field, the ones who performed best were the ones who were going to get the most playing time.
Mr. Gilliam: As a coach, you of course, wanted to field the strongest team you could and was it your opinion at that time that that team would include some black kids?
Mr. Cooke: There was no question in my mind that if we could include some of the black kids in the - on the teams we would have improve ourselves.
Social Integration
Mr. Gilliam: Were you concerned that if you got some black kids on the team that it would inject any tensions into the social scene at Lane High School?
Mr. Cooke: I think when we got blacks on the - on each of the teams, I think that would help with the social situation. I think they accepted each other, not only as athletes, but as individuals and students.
Mr. Gilliam: When black kids finally went, or were able to go to Lane, first under court order and then when complete integration came about, there was a lot of concern about black kids - black boys mixing at dances with white girls and in fact, they actually closed down one of the dances because of a concern that there would be racial mingling. Did you - as a teacher there, did you pick up on any of that tension?
Mr. Cooke: Oh I - George, I don't really remember a lot of that and I think if that had been a concern, I think it probably was a parental concern and not any concern of the students on either side.
Mr. Gilliam: When did you leave Lane?
Mr. Cooke: June of 1965.
Mr. Gilliam: When you went back to graduate school?
Mr. Cooke: No. That was the year I stopped teaching and went into private business.
Mr. Gilliam: And you've been a businessman in Charlottesville?
Mr. Cooke: Been involved in business in Charlottesville since.
Mr. Gilliam: What's - obviously in the early '60s there were those who felt very strongly about the racial issue. They felt so strongly that they let the schools be closed and then a group of them went off and formed a separate school. And now that the climate has changed, what do you think caused the climate to change?
Mr. Cooke: I really think once the integration took part and the people on both sides saw that the - that there was really no problem and I think the acceptance of individuals because of who they were and not what they were was the key to that particular situation in my estimation.
Mr. Gilliam: You have also been very active in UVA affairs. And you have seen the integration of the University of Virginia and a lot of people think that sports was one of the driving forces there. That if UVA was going to be a competitive on the athletic fields or on the gym floors, they were going to have to make the school attractive to black kids. What can you tell me about that?
Mr. Cooke: I think that that's a very true situation. I think that the coaches could look at the teams that they had to compete against and they needed to improve their competitive situation and that mean that they had to recruit the best athletes that were out there and available for the scholarships regardless of what their color seem - was.
Mr. Gilliam: Did that consideration, do you think, hasten the basically peaceful integration of UVA?
Mr. Cooke: Well, I think that was a very important step in the integration of the University was the recruitment of not only the athletes but of other individuals of color.
Mr. Gilliam: Who were the ones who were really stirred up about race? Was it the younger kids?
Mr. Cooke: George, I think the entire situation pertaining to segregation and integration was brought on by the older generations. I think the younger people had an entirely different outlook on it and it was more to be involved with individuals and not what color those individuals were.
Mr. Gilliam: A lot of people - several people have said to us, in the course of this, that one reason integration was relatively smooth in Charlottesville was because of the presence of the University of Virginia. And yet integration of the University of Virginia to any appreciable degree followed rather than preceded integration in the city of Charlottesville and the schools. What do you think the influence of the University was on the town and the influence of the town on the University? We've got a little bit of a chicken and an egg problem.
Mr. Cooke: Well I think- still back in those days, I think the political influence in the state of Virginia itself probably had an awful lot of influence, especially on the University and I think, that probably trickled down to the local situation and some of the local politics. But - I still think it reverted back to the individuals in the younger generation that was coming along.
Mr. Gilliam: In many of the areas that had court cases over integration, just as you say, it was the parents on one side or the other who started the problem. The pictures that we've all seen of the parents at Little Rock, when the little colored girls were trying to go in. It was the parents that were standing there yelling and screaming. It wasn't other students. The people that tried to get the schools integrated in many cases were the parents. But, down in Prince Edward County in Farmville the litigation was actually started by the kids. The kids are the ones who said we want to integrate the schools. Why were the kids not more active? I mean- I think you're right. I think for most of the kids it didn't make any difference and this was a grown up issue. Why weren't the kids more active, do you think?
Mr. Cooke: Probably because of the parental influence on those children. Even today, I think, when you have mock elections in the schools, I think the results that you are seeing in most of those cases are a reflection on the parents and not on the students themselves.
Mr. Gilliam: So, you think the students are mirroring what their - their parent's attitudes more than any thought of their own?
Mr. Cooke: I don't think it's any question about that. I think it's a mirror of the family situation at home and that's reason I think once those children and students were able to intermingle, they found out that a lot of the things that they were hearing at home were not true statements. They were able to accept those students equally without any problem.
Mr. Gilliam: A little experience like that, it doesn't wash off.
Mr. Cooke: No. It doesn't wash off. And they do basically the same thing that we do every day. The color is only skin deep. It doesn't reflect what those individuals truly are.
Mr. Gilliam: You think it's- the period of Massive Resistance is over in Charlottesville, or do you think there are still some echoes of it?
Mr. Cooke: I think probably there are probably some small pockets that feel that way. But-and I think maybe for the next two or three generations that that probably will remain true. But I think the majority have accepted integration and have no problem with it whatsoever.
Mr. Mills: Do you have some specific stories you may recall how maybe some of those students at the black high school - how they felt when you said hey how about coming over and play - playing? I don't know how that happened. Did you go to some of them and say why not come over to Lane?
Mr. Cooke: Okay. Well, I really think that when it started out as I remember back, I think the first - and I don't really remember how many it was - maybe five or six or so - black students that came to Lane the first year. But I had a feeling that a lot of those students were kind of a hand picked situation so that they knew what they were doing in putting those there so they wouldn't end up with a lot of problems and then it just continued to increase and move from that standpoint. You know, I -
Mr. Mills: But did you personally contact any of them and say -
Mr. Cooke: No. We couldn't - we wouldn't have been able to do that. We would have been - I used to- I teased a couple of coaches that we were going to get some of their players, but I don't remember that exact situation.
Mr. Gilliam: Well, I heard a story about the guy who was at Burleigh and transferred over to Lane and he didn't feel like he was being well accepted - a Lane basketball player didn't feel like he was accepted there and so tried to go back to Burleigh and then they said go back and play with the white kids. Did you ever -
Mr. Cooke: I don't remember that. It would have been - unless it was - you know, it would have been my team along in those lines, I don't remember anybody like that. It may-it probably was not that he would have been - not accepted as an athlete it may have been something, you know, from a social standpoint he didn't want to do. But I don't ever remember that. The football coach that's there now, Garwin DuBerry, was one of the first, there was a boy named Paul Scott that I remember, and a Jackson kid that I remember but I don't really know a lot of the names of the -
Mr. Gilliam: As a coach, did you ever have to mediate any racial tensions?
Mr. Cooke: No. I really don't. We -
Mr. Gilliam: Did you ever talk to the kids and say, "Now we got a black kid that's going to be coming on the team", or -
Mr. Cooke: I don't ever remember ever feeling that we had to do that sort of situation. That they were - I think that the kids were excited about having the potential to have some more good players. I just - I don't remember anything of that nature. I really do not remember any great tensions once it started. You know, none of the teachers - and of course I had gone to school there and I knew all the teachers and I had a great relationship with them and I think they would have said something to me had, you know, there been in the problem one way or the other. But I don't remember any of them having any objections whatsoever to that situation. I just had a feeling that it was a small core of politically strong individuals who controlled that situation and created that Massive Resistance effort, you know.
Mr. Gilliam: And that's right. You're right.
Mr. Cooke: They had worked it out so there were classrooms in the churches and that sort of thing. I'm sure that wasn't anything that was done by the School Board or anybody else. It was handed to them on a platter, I think.

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