Finding People to Talk With

Bob Ensley

CRS Mediator, Atlanta Office

[Full Interview]

Question: Would you walk us through how you assessed? What were you looking for? Did you call people in advance? Just tell me all the steps that you can think of.

Answer: When I first went into Washington, NC, following SCLC's request, I had never been to Washington, NC in my life. It is a beautiful revolutionary town. There were houses built during that time. It has a beautiful river front. I was simply amazed at the beauty of it. Then I start inquiring. The first thing you do, you go to the black mortician. They're independent of the system. The barber shop, the beauty parlors. Then after talking to them, I tended to ask, "Who's the pastor in this town?" You know, the one pastor I think that could give me an overview of really what's going on this town. Then I would go to the schools. And I am going to say this with caution, and I hope you fully understand what I'm going to say -- but in the nature of this work, I'd try to find a Jewish business person. Because they have in some time suffered the effects of discrimination, the same as we have. And they would be very honest in telling me who the people were that I needed to deal with. And another thing that I would use, I always would ask the black people, "Who are the white people you think I need to see?" They would tell me. Then I would ask the white people that I would meet with, the white business leaders, and the elected officials, "Who are the blacks I need to talk with?" And nine times out of ten, they are the ones you didn't talk with.

Question: You didn't?

Answer: I wouldn't or they'd be the very last. They would not be at the top of my list, because they are the so-called hand-picked blacks that the white community has always used. So I made it a point for them not to be the first blacks that I would contact. Then I would go to the schools because, at that time, most of the schools were predominantly black. I'd meet with the principal and some of the teachers, and then try to find a teacher who's had the most difficulty, actually the one that's very outspoken. I try to bring little groups together and let them talk, and I listen. I mean you don't just sit there, you gotta listen to what people are saying. Then sometimes it's important to realize what's not being said. You just go on from that point.