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

George Tremontain served as the Charlottesville Superintendent of Schools in the mid-1960s.

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: George what is your full name?
Mr. Tremontain: George C. Tremontain.
Mr. Gilliam: And what is your date of birth?
Mr. Tremontain: September 27, 1922.
Mr. Gilliam: You came Charlottesville in what year?
Mr. Tremontain: We arrived in Charlottesville, October of 1960.
Mr. Gilliam: And in October of 1960 the schools had just reopened after having been closed for six months during the previous school year.
Mr. Tremontain: Right.
Mr. Gilliam: When you made the decision to come to Charlottesville were you aware of the turbulence that had buffeted the school system?
Mr. Tremontain: What's very interesting is, I came and spent a whole day. Talking with the school board, with the administrators and with some of the teachers, and nobody, not one person mentioned the history of the schools being closed. I had absolutely no idea during the interview that what the history of the closing of the school were - was and the problems we would be facing. They talked about the need for curriculum, which is the only reason I was interested, because that's the thing I was most interested in rather in than administration or anything else was working on instructional programs. So, the whole time. The whole day was devoted to what were their instructional problems and in what were some of the ways we could remedy them. But, nobody mentioned integration or segregation.
Mr. Gilliam: You came as an assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum.
Mr. Tremontain: Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: When did you become superintendent of schools?
Mr. Tremontain: In 1963.
Mr. Gilliam: Between 1960 and 1963 did you regularly attend school board meetings?
Mr. Tremontain: Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: I want to ask you some questions about what the school board was doing which you observed. Vis-ô-vis, what the court was ordering. Between 1960 and 1963 the school board came up with at least three separate plans to carry out the court's orders to integrate the schools. And painting with a little bit of a broad brush, the basic element of each of the plans for the elementary schools was that the city would be divided up into zones and children would be assigned to a school within the zone in which they lived. And if a child wanted to transfer to a school within a different zone they would have to take a test. Their academic readiness would be tested. And I believe it is accurate to say that during that period of three years a number of black children applied for transfers but the school board did not approve a single one. And I believe it's also accurate to say that during that period not a single white child applied for transfer and again I think that it's accurate that in each of the plans that came forward while testing of any child who wanted to transfer was a component of the plan. In point of fact, no white child was ever tested and the tests were only administered to blacks. Is that sort of an accurate summation of what went on in those three years?
Mr. Tremontain: My general impression was that the school board wanted to do no more than they absolutely had to. They wanted to stay legal, but I don't remember the specific kinds of things except that I do remember that they had to apply to the super - the blacks had to apply to the superintendent to go to the white school and I know of one specific case where one of the - where the black elementary principal asked to have his child enrolled in the white school and the superintendent told him that he should not apply and so he did not apply, but at that time I was really not that intricately involved in it. I was working, I thought, I hoped on improving instructional program. And I had no direct contact with this. It was in no position to have any kind of a leadership role anyway. I mean this was the superintendent's responsibility and anything I did would interfere with that.
Mr. Gilliam: Was it your impression, being a close observer of the - of what was going on. That the school board was willing to exercise leadership or were they simply responding in a minimal way to what the court was ordering them to do?
Mr. Tremontain: It was my feeling that they did only what they had to do. There was no talk of going beyond. There was no talk of predicting where this was going and getting ready for eventualities. I remember none of that at all. I remember that they were concerned that they would stay legal but no more than that.
Mr. Gilliam: The federal court, both the District Circuit and then the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals neither of which have earned a representation as hot beds of liberalism or judicial activism both were scathing of their indictments of the Charlottesville School Board and said things like, "School authorities are applying the plan directly contrary to its expressed provisions." And were really castigating what was going on. Said that the high school plan is discriminatory that segregation was being perpetuated by applying achievement test an aptitude test without guidelines. That there was too much discretion and finally in 1962 the Fourth Circuit said that the Charlottesville plan is clearly invalid and that the purpose and effect was to retard integration. From where you - all that happened before you became superintendent and things changed after you became superintendent. But, from where you sat was that a fair evaluation? That the purpose and the effect of was to retard integration?
Mr. Tremontain: Yes. I think that's fair to say.
Mr. Gilliam: What was the -
Mr. Mills: Have him explain that?
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah. Could you - I'll go back and start again. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1962 in the Dillard case said that the purpose and effect of the Charlottesville School Board's plan was to retard integration and the Fourth Circuit said that the Charlottesville plan was clearly invalid. From where you sat, was that a fair evaluation of the plan and if so why or why not?
Mr. Tremontain: I think that's true. I think that assessment that they wanted to delay probably not even delay they probably wanted to prevent integration as much as they could. I think they believed that they were not ever going to be forced to totally integrate the schools; so, their whole attitude reflected that of the state which was to resist and to resist as long as they possibly could.
End of Resistance
Mr. Gilliam: When did the resistance stop? Was it after the court said the resistance had to stop? Or were there other things going on in the community that caused there to be a shift on the part of the school board?
Mr. Tremontain: I don't remember that there was much community pressure. If there was I was unaware of it. I think what they did was to comply. It changed a little bit. I think. I can only talk with you on a very - accurately after I became superintendent. And one of the things that happened because I think we were beginning to - they were beginning to realize that total integration was going to come. We had a black speech correction teacher who applied for a position and she was extremely well qualified. We did not hire her because she was black. We hired her because she was extremely well qualified. And I went to the Board and said to them we had this applicant. She was well qualified. She should be hired. We don't have to hire her, because the courts were not saying that we had to hire black teachers. But it would be wise for us to have this as proof that could work. And to their credit they did say yes, hire her. So, that by this time they were beginning to move, and I think they were beginning to realize what some of us realized a long time ago that this was inevitable and maybe we should start getting ready for it.
Mr. Gilliam: The hiring of the black teacher occurred after you became superintendent.
Mr. Tremontain: Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: Was there reaction from the parents of students to the engaging of a black teacher?
Mr. Tremontain: Absolutely. I got telephone calls simply saying, from parents, that no black teacher is ever going to teach my child. And I said speech correction is not something you absolutely have to have. This is a service that's provided over and above. And therefore you have two choices Either your child is with that speech correctionist or he doesn't have speech correction. And I said this is a marvelously respectable person, very efficient, we've had no problems with this at all. Some parents would say, "I want a white speech correctionist assigned to that school." And I said that there are no others and we're not doing that. I couldn't believe that some parents felt so strongly that they took their children out of speech correction and let them go without that benefit because they felt so strongly that no their child would not be under a black teacher.
Gradation in the White Community
Mr. Gilliam: When you arrived in the fall of 1960, was the white community essentially of one mind in opposition to integration of the schools; or, were there gradations of opinion?
Mr. Tremontain: There was a lot of gradation. It was obvious that there were some that felt so strongly with real hatred actually. There were others who didn't want this to happen, but felt no personal animosity. They didn't want their children involved and they didn't want the schools integrated but they didn't personally hate. There were those who were finally willing to say okay, my kids can sit in a classroom with some black kids but no black teachers. And then there were those that said that I can accept both of this. And then there were those who, not many, but they were very vocal. In terms of you're not going fast enough. You're not doing enough. You're only doing what you have to do. This isn't moral. Actually, some of my own staff would come to school board meetings and say this kind of things. And these were the people I trusted least. Because when the time came that we had to close the black schools. When we had to integrate all the faculties, put all of the kids in the schools, we had a black principal, an outstanding man, Booker Reeves. And I had to get white teachers to - we moved him from the black school put him in McGuffey and I had to get some black teachers or some white teachers to move with him. So, I obviously went to these people who had kept saying that we haven't been doing enough. To a person they refused. They said not me. Why are you asking me? And I said I'm asking you because you're the ones who have been saying that we are not doing enough. What else would I expect you to do? The ironic thing, is some teachers, women teachers who had been at McGuffey for years about six of them came and said, "We know Mr. Reeves we have great respect for him. We just as soon finish out our years teaching at McGuffey. And we will agree to stay and work with him. These were the last people I would have asked only because they were born and raised in Virginia all these years. I never talked with them, had no idea where they stood on integration. I'm not- I know they weren't out fighting for it. But it was more important, they had some kind of value system that first of all they respected Mr. Reeves, they would not have done this for everybody. So, fortunately they we had a man whose reputation was such that they could work with him. But who could finally say that there are more important things than this?
Mr. Gilliam: George when you arrived in Charlottesville in 1960, the NAACP had a membership of about 500 and they had never run candidates for city council. And had never been politically active. Was there from what you could see a gap between the leadership of the black community that was active in the NAACP and sort of the rest of the black community in terms of their interest in the issue?
Mr. Tremontain: I didn't ever have that feeling. The only contact I had was with Eugene Williams and the other leaders of the NAACP. And I had minimum contact with them until I became superintendent so much of what I knew about them was secondhand. Which was, you know, listening to the superintendent and the board talk about them. But once I was superintendent, I sat down with them and we talked about what we were planning to do and how we could do it. They turned out to be the only support group I could consistently depend upon.
Mr. Gilliam: Apart from the leadership, the Eugene Williams, and the relative small handful George Ferguson, Ray Bell, that group who were out front. How frequently did you hear from everyday black parents?
Mr. Tremontain: Not very often. I don't remember having much contact. I don't remember that they ever called. The only contact I would kind of have with them would be through Booker Reeves who was principal of Jefferson School. And much of that was to gauge through him what people were thinking or feeling, or how were they seeing what we were trying to do. But I trusted, pretty much the black leadership in terms of - I thought they pretty much represented what the rest of the group felt.
Mr. Gilliam: Were you surprised that you didn't get large number of contacts from everyday black parents? I mean, after all, this program was to enhance the opportunities, expand the opportunities for black children. Did it strike you as strange that this was a silent community?
Mr. Tremontain: No, because, I wasn't hearing that much from the white community either actually. I wasn't getting, except for things like this black speech correction therapist; I wasn't getting telephone calls from parents about this thing. So, there really - It wasn't a case of why weren't they doing something that the others were doing. So, it was simply a case of whatever was going on was not overt and not directed towards me.
Mr. Gilliam: In the minutes of school board meetings, again, particularly in the earlier years of this period. There are references to people whose name only appear once or twice from the white community. So, one assumes that they just came to one or two meetings because they had something specific to say. Whereas in the black community it was a much smaller group and the same people kept speaking over and over and over and over and over. And I was struck by the absence of broad participation in the meetings by the black community. What would be the reason for that?
Mr. Tremontain: I could only assume that they figured that their interests were being taken care of pretty much by the black leaders. I also think that people were being very careful not to do or say something that would hinder the cause. And certainly when we were once we were having to integrate all of the schools and all of the staff. Nobody publicly - none of the black community publicly said anything, even the black leaders didn't. And I'm sure that there were times when they wished I were doing something different; but because, they, I think they trusted me, but because they really felt that I was trying to make this work as much as they did that nobody wanted to upset anything. Nobody wanted to do or say anything that was going to make the problem worse. And I truly believe that they were waiting to see that until they had some reason to do something else they were really willing to let us try to work this out and not rock the boat.
Segregation Academies
Mr. Gilliam: In the fall of 1960, the tuition grant schools reopened in pretty high gear at several hundred students on both the primary school and the secondary school. Who were the people that pulled their kids out of the public school and put them into these tuition grant schools?
Mr. Tremontain: I think it kind of crossed all economic lines. I don't think it was any one certain group. I'm not sure the kids felt that strongly. In all of this, and of course I didn't do any kind of research on it, but I never got the feeling that the resistance was so much from kids as it was from their parents. And I have to say to you that that really upset me at the time. That they were pulling these kids out instead of staying and help us work this out. But in hindsight, it really was a safety valve, because it took off some but not all of the people that felt very strongly that could have been some kind of a impetus to have some problems happen or to create incidents where there could be a problem. So that in hindsight it wasn't bad, but at the time I kept thinking they should be helping us work this thing through because eventually they're all going to have to come here anyway.
Mr. Mills: Could we have you kind of go over that again. I think. Because I think that was real important. Your thought is that private schools were a safety valve.
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah, I'm going to. I'm going to. Some observers have said that the reason Charlottesville experienced less in the way of violence and contention when the school were reopened as integrated schools was because of the availability of alternatives. What were the alternatives available in Charlottesville and how do you assess the role that those schools played?
Mr. Tremontain: I think they - in hindsight I think they did serve a purpose. And that is to give an alternative if you absolutely insisted on it. And it did siphon off some of those who had not only strong feelings but really were antagonistic. Later on when we had to integrate all of the schools and all of the staff, one of the reasons why I think people went along with it no matter how reluctantly, was because the schools closed down five years before and they didn't want that to happen again. I - And there is no way of knowing, but I almost think we might have had a much more serious problem integrating all of the schools and the staff if the schools had not closed down earlier. And when you look at it, it was only four or five years before we started putting the first black children in classrooms and here we were putting black teachers in charge of white children in that short of time span with no preparation, with no kinds in-service kind of work, with no kind of time to get people prepared or to start working with people on how to do this. We simply, because the cut-off date was you will do that and you will do this starting in September. We threw all in on their own resources. And I think that's one of the tragedies of this whole thing, is that if this massive resistance had not started, if they had accepted the fact that it was going to happen and really said to the federal government and the judges let us give you a plan on how we'll do it and we won't take ten years, but give us time and let us prove little by little, not even little by little, but by incremental steps that this is possible, the whole history of this integration could have been different.
Mr. Gilliam: Where did the tuition grant schools get their teachers?
Mr. Tremontain: Where did they get them?
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah.
Mr. Tremontain: There were some of the - some of our staff who did go, but most of the staff did not. They tried to lure them away. Some of them stayed, a majority I think. And there were some leaders I have to give credit too. Leaders among the teachers, who once they decided to stay, others said well if you're going to stay I'm going stay too. But again, there was a monetary consideration because they weren't sure what happened in terms of retirement and the rest of it. I think there was a thought that these temporary schools may not last and I may have to come back anyway. So, I that I don't think all the teachers who stayed necessarily were terribly enthusiastic about integrating.
Mr. Gilliam: Do you have any idea how many public school teachers were approached by the private schools about making a switch? Were they -
Mr. Tremontain: No. There was no kind of - They never, nobody ever told us who they were, and everything that the private school - The private schools had no contact with us at all. There was no case of, what are your next plans. What's going to happen? There was absolutely no interaction whatsoever.
Mr. Gilliam: Some of the people who were involved in the formation of those private schools give us a justification for forming the schools. A fear that the public schools would be closed a second or third time. Was there ever a fear once you arrived in Charlottesville? Any realistic fear that the public schools would again be closed?
Mr. Tremontain: No, the only time we really had any concern was the year we had to do away with the black school and we had to integrate all of them. It wasn't a grave concern. That's the only time I ever had any thought that this might create a problem again.
Mr. Gilliam: That was what 1967?
Mr. Tremontain: That was 1965.
Mr. Gilliam: But, so between 1960 and 1965, would anybody have had any well found reason to fear that the public schools would close?
Pace of Changes in 1960s
Mr. Tremontain: No. No. Maybe I was living in a fool's paradise. But I had no thought, nor anyone around me. Nor did I hear anybody from the school board to parents to neighbors or anyone else, ever thinking that the schools would ever close again. I think that the closing of those schools was such a traumatic experience for everybody that I think, black, white, parents, kids would almost do anything to prevent that from happening again.
Mr. Gilliam: Did you ever spend time walking in the schools, listening to teachers and students, their conversations. Do you have a good sense that you knew what was going on in the schools?
Mr. Tremontain: Yes, but I think that once your there people's behavior changes. The mere fact - anytime you go into a classroom it's not a normal classroom anymore, everybody is on his best behavior. I didn't ever get any type of feeling when I walked through it. But then I depended a great deal on the principals who there to kind of determine how this happened. And incidentally some of the principals were not real advocates of integration. I mean nobody tried not to make it work, but it wasn't a case of everyone of them was so excited about this thing that they were going to make this work at whatever cost.
Mr. Gilliam: Based on the reports you got, did you believe that the kids, the students were opposed to integration and there were racial epithets used by students or was there an attitude of acceptance among those that expressed an opinion. What I'm trying to figure out is were the parents acting out their own conflicts or did these conflicts affect the kids also?
Mr. Tremontain: To some extent, I think, the kids were affected but not greatly so. And actually in the six years that I was here, I saw some movement actually. I saw some movement in a staff member who came to me. He was a guidance counselor, and lived all - three generations back, and knew and liked black people very much, but simply said I just don't think I can work with a black child and be effective. At which case I said we will use other people then and we will let you work with what you think is effective. Before I left that person was not only working with black teachers but had hired a black secretary. That's rather dramatic obviously and not typical of what happened. But it also showed that once people started living with this the sky didn't fall and they began to see that this wasn't as bad as we thought it was and maybe this will be able to work.
Mr. Gilliam: When you arrived in 1960, the schools were fully segregated and there were the plans to gradually integrate the schools through permitting academically qualified black kids to transfer into white schools. As we know the plans were administered in an improper way, but that was the plan. Was their a feeling, and did you share the feeling, that black kids by and large were not academically qualified and to put significant numbers of black children into white schools would significantly pull down the quality of education?
Mr. Tremontain: No. Another thing that was a misperception is that the black teachers were not going to be as effective as white teachers were and what we discovered which was a surprise to nobody was that just like white teachers there are some that are very good and there are some that are not as adequate as they should be. The same thing happened there, but there was some excellent instruction going on. I would not have been in favor of putting the academically nimble only into those schools, because it would not tell you very much unless you really had the wide range. If we'd had our choice on how to do this, I would not have closed them down overnight and in one year. I would have worked with the black community and worked with the staff oh where do we do this, how fast do we do this, and how do we do this so that everybody's comfortable. Because it must not have been that comfortable for these black kids to be thrown in with all these white kids overnight either. There was no chance to work with them and to help them and to help their parents understand this. But the fact is that because the resistance was so obvious I can understand why the court said we're not going to work with you, we don't believe you; we don't think you're going to do it. And therefore, we're going to tell you that - we're going to give you no choice.
Mr. Gilliam: Where did the money for tuition grants come from? Did it come out of funds that would otherwise have been available to the public schools?
Mr. Tremontain: That I don't remember. I would assume it did. Because we got money from the state on the number of the students that were enrolled. So, that if we enrolled fewer students then we would obviously get less state money, but at the same time, if we had fewer students we didn't have the expense because they didn't have to pay for that many teachers either. But other than that, I have no idea with how the private schools ever financed what they were doing. We did not feel a sudden drop. There was no kind of thing, that oh all of sudden we don't have the money we used to have. It was never adequate. We really - and today I'm amazed at what people are able to get. Because we were bare bones back then, the white schools as well as the black schools in terms of resources that we would get locally and from the state.
Mr. Gilliam: One black man has suggested to me that in many respects the black schools during the 50s and 40s were more academically rigorous in a traditional sort of way: reading more books, memorizing poems, studying in the bible. Sort of three R's kind of education. Was it your impression that there was a difference in the curriculum of what black students studied and the white students studied and the way those curriculums were administered?
Mr. Tremontain: Not dramatically, no. You see back then the white schools were doing that too. And during that time, and that's one of those things I wanted to come for- to Charlottesville for, was that I believed in shifting the emphasis from teaching to learning. And there is a difference in how you do it. And I think we were starting to do this. And I do think, I had great respect for what Booker Reeves was doing with his kids. I went to his kids programs the same that I did to the white kids programs and I saw absolutely no differences in them. Their musical programs, I thought they even beat the white schools in the musical and chorus things that they had, I frankly thought they were superior to what the white schools were. So in terms of emphasis on what's important in education. I really saw no difference. There may have been a difference in approach and I think the black teachers had a better understanding of, you know, where these kids are coming from and what you do. But it wasn't that radically different, because if the white teachers, if they were doing their job, should have been modifying what they would do to each kid. And I think this idea that the white schools were far superior to the blacks [cough]
Mr. Tremontain: The idea that the black schools were inferior to the white schools was a tragedy. Because, I think they were meeting their kids' needs sometimes better than the white schools were. Now, that's a general statement and there was a lots of excellent instruction going on in the white schools but it was not universal and it was not total. And this idea that the black instruction was inferior was a tragedy, I think. And I think it was not based on anything in the public's mind except prejudice. There was no kind of proof. Even marching bands, and I know that the Lane High School Marching Band walked off with honors forever. But I also know that the Lane Band, you had to reach a certain level before you could be in it. Because we wanted the excellence regardless of what you wanted and if you were interested in music. But I watched the Burleigh Band, and they got the crowd so excited at the Christmas parades because of the way they swung on down that street. I thought they were far superior to the others. So, it isn't the case that one was superior to the other. So, it isn't a case of one was better and that you should put them into the white schools, because the white schools will be better for them.
Mr. Gilliam: Much of the leadership for the second half of the century of Charlottesville first came to public notice through service on the school board, or on the city council, or in opposition during the '50s and early '60s. Hovey Dabney, Harry Michael, Eugene, George Ferguson, Tom Michie. What would be your assessment about the effectiveness of the leadership of Charlottesville during the '50s and '60s?
Mr. Tremontain: The '50s I know nothing about. The school board in the first couple of years of the '60s, despite the fact that they weren't going to do any more with integration than they had too, I felt Chester Babcock was on their, it was - editor of the Daily Progress and a fellow from the bookstore, Rosco Adams. Edith Rudy, the man who was the manager of Leggetts. They were really honorable people. It never personally bothered me that they weren't doing more. I disagreed with it. But I never felt that there was any viciousness or hatred involved in any of their decisions. But I trusted them, I knew where they were. That board had changed in the '65 and '66 and I could not feel comfortable with where they were, despite the fact that I kept them abreast of where we are, what we were doing it why we were doing. I was never sure, at least that other board I knew where they were, they were honest about it. The other board I thought was all over the place. If it succeeded fine, we were for it. If it didn't succeed man you're out there by yourself, you never should have suggested this in the first place. So, I don't mean to be unusually critical of them. It's just that I didn't feel that they were the base of support that I would like to have had. And that they were backing it as enthusiastically as I would have hoped.
Mr. Gilliam: Your term as superintendent started in October of 1963? No, it would have been June of '63?
Mr. Tremontain: I think, the superintendent, Fendall Ellis resigned, I thought it was somewhere in the spring of '64, '65, '66, and left to take a job at the State Department.
Mr. Gilliam: So you were appointed April 5th of '63.
Mr. Tremontain: Of '63?
Mr. Gilliam: April 5th of '63.
Mr. Tremontain: But I was acting superintendent then, wasn't I?
Mr. Gilliam: Ellis resigned on March 22.
Mr. Tremontain: Then I was acting superintendent in April. I didn't want the superintendency. Never wanted it in my life. And set up appointments for the board to interview candidates from all over the state. Then there was a petition from some of the teachers that I get this job. And then the school board pressured me to take the thing, and I very reluctantly agreed with a whole lot of conditions, because I knew it would be giving up the thing I was most interested in was working with the instructional program, which I felt was in great need of improvement. I came with no background to handle integration kinds of problem. I was born and raised in upper Michigan. The first blacks I knew went to the University of Michigan with me and they had more money and cars and that was my introduction. And so, I - under no condition did I ever profess to have any kind of background or knowledge to handle integration kinds of problems.
Mr. Gilliam: You left as superintendent in 1966, so you were really able to see the change over a period of six full years. Can you sort of sum up the change that you saw? How would you categorize that change? Quantitatively and qualitatively, was it a big change?
Mr. Tremontain: I thought it was a big change. I think, as I look back now it was more of a change than I thought then. As I said, when I came I was totally unaware of the schools being closed so that there was absolutely no integration and a great deal of time that should have been spent on instructional considerations were spent on court cases and lawyers and preventing this integration from taking place. In '66 I really could see, and I gave you one example, of where there was beginning to be acceptance. Not overwhelming, but more than I expected frankly. Because changing people's minds is one of the most difficult things that there is, and changing prejudice is I think even more, because prejudices aren't built on fact there built on feelings, I think. One of the things that helped us, I think, was that we had facts. We could show that kids could sit next to each other. A very personal example was my second son at Venable School, who never has problems with anybody, was having a problem with this kid. And he kept saying that this kid is bothering me all day long. And that was so unlike him that I finally went to the principal and said, what's going on? Cort doesn't usually have problem what's causing this? And the principal said that this little black boy is not satisfied or comfortable with all these people. It was the first time I knew this child was black, because my son never - it wasn't important enough to tell me that this was a black child who was doing this. I don't mean that's universal, and maybe not all kids were living in my house. But it wasn't isolated either. It was an indication that finally we are going to be able to accept this. When I left in '66, I thought this is going to work. I don't have fears. That doesn't mean that there may be problems coming up, that we'll set some steps back again under certain circumstances. But this is really going to work. I felt comfortable that at long last integration has finally come to Charlottesville.
Mr. Gilliam: Is the massive resistance story over? Or are there still those who are resisting?
Mr. Tremontain: I think, I'm beginning to worry that it's starting to rise again a little bit. And I don't know the reasons for it. I felt more comfortable ten or fifteen years ago, more comfortable than I do now in terms of acceptance. Despite the fact that there are all kinds of interracial couples, everything is integrated, the theaters, the country clubs, everything else. I don't think we've done away with it. But then it's never going to be 100% perfect. There's still some feeling about the Italians after all these years, some feeling about the Irish after all these years, there's some feeling about the Jewish people after all these years. So, that I don't think we are ever going to get to the point, but I'm not as comfortable as I was that its- the feeling of black and white.
Mr. Gilliam: What's caused you to have some concerns aroused?
Mr. Tremontain: Concerns about what?
Mr. Gilliam: What has caused to become less comfortable today than you were ten or fifteen years ago? What do you see going on that makes you uncomfortable?
Mr. Tremontain: Well obviously the thing most important now, is the flag over South Carolina. When you get that many people out. Not only when you get them out, but when they're flaunting it. Even back in the integration, before the integration, people weren't loudly proclaiming, "I don't want integration." It was underneath and it was quiet and it was passive, but it wasn't in your face. And I'm beginning to see right smack in your face now. I'm not only opposed to it, but I'm glad you know I'm opposed to it. And I think that could be frightening.
Mr. Gilliam: Could.
Mr. Mills: Do you think its better to be passive and quiet about it?
Mr. Tremontain: Pardon?
Mr. Mills: Do you think its better to be passive and quiet about it? And you can to George.
Mr. Tremontain: Oh, is this part of the interview? Oh, I thought you were just asking this.
Mr. Mills: No. I'm part of it too.
Mr. Tremontain: Oh, okay. Do I think it's better to be passive about it? Yes, I do. Because I think people are entitled to feel the way they feel. I'm not in a position to tell anybody, anymore than anybody else to tell how you should feel. I think I have a right to expect how you act. And you can feel these kinds of feelings, but when you express them on occasions that could result in violence and which could result in stirring people up, I have a right to say I don't think you have the right to do that. So yeah, passive. You can think what you want. I don't think that entitles you to act any way that you decide to do.
Mr. Mills: I'm going to mention one other thing, and then I think that will be it. When we talked with Calvin, he talked about even today, and you can bring this up. Even today, just a few months ago he went to the cleaners. Can you present that and just kind of see his perspective is on that and maybe comparing it to thirty years, forty years ago.
Mr. Gilliam: We had a very articulate black man say, he was a professional, say that when he goes into certain trade establishments, he cited the case of a dry cleaners. He notices that the white owners won't look him in the eye. They'll do business with him but they won't look at him. And it makes him uncomfortable. Even today in what, I think we all view as a pretty well integrated society. Do you see any of that?
Mr. Tremontain: No. But I have to tell you that when I came to Charlottesville I was a Roman Catholic, Kennedy Democrat. And they knew that before I came from the University of Chicago, so I hid nothing. And one of the things I did, because I have no respect for titles or degrees I called everybody by their first name and asked them to call me by my first name. If they were too uncomfortable with that, and many of them were, they could call me by my last name, and I would still call them by their first name. And after I was here about a year, somebody said do you realize you don't call black people by their first name. And I said, "No I didn't realize that." So, I went to Booker and I said that you pretend, or you profess to be my friend. You saw what I was doing, why didn't you tell me that that was wrong and that I shouldn't do it? And he said that it wasn't wrong, because they knew you were treating them like you did everybody else. They didn't mind you calling them by their first name and they were not insulted by it. Which is a long way around to simply say that I really don't pay attention to things like that. I simply think we're all doing exactly the same thing and I'm not going to be concerned about is somebody looking at me cross-eyed or any other way I'm going to treat you the same way I treat anybody else and expect that's the same thing that you are going to do. So, those kinds of things, he has reason to pick that up. I, of course, would not see that even if I went into a place where they don't like bald headed guys with glasses. That never enters my mind. I simply feel that if you don't like me that's your prerogative. But I'm not going to get upset about it.

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