To the Editor: The Real Paul Cale

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My sister Suzanne was visiting me in South Carolina on October 18 when a cousin from Charlottesville emailed us an article from that date’s Daily Progress. We were totally shocked to see the headline “Cale School Namesake Made Racist Comments.” We had to decide how react to what we and many others in Albemarle County, and especially Crozet, consider to be one of the cheapest, most inaccurate, and poorly researched public reprimands we have ever witnessed.

Since then I have submitted two letters by email to: Dr. Kate Acuff, Albemarle County School Board chair; Dr. Matthew Haas, the Super-intendent of Schools; Ms. Ann Mallek, Board of Supervisors chair; and Ms. DeeDee Jones, Paul H. Cale Elementary School principal. The goal was to get the true story out of what Paul H. Cale faced and accomplished from 1947 to 1969 as Superintendent of Albemarle County Schools. 

The family decided that the letters should get a public showing. The Daily Progress had unworkable word limits, but I am still hopeful they will publish a letter to the editor that I sent them. 

Our mother was born in Brown’s Cove and her family moved to Crozet when she was a year old (1911). Her father, Ernest L. Sandridge, was a well-respected businessman and one of the founders of the Crozet Baptist Church. Mother and Dad lived their entire married life in Crozet, on St. George Avenue, where they were called “pillars of the community” by many.

What follows are the key points of the letters.

Dr. Acuff’s actions and words at the Albemarle School Board meeting on October 18 have caused extreme angst for the extended family and friends of Paul H. Cale. The sensationalist, virtue signaling, writing style of [Daily Progress reporter] Mr. Hammel made it sound as if Dr. Acuff had exposed a major criminal. I am very troubled by the admittedly limited research that she had completed before she felt the need to go public. She took a few sentences that were at best the author’s paraphrase, from an article written over 62 years ago, to try and define a man whose body of work covered 22 years. With the help of his school boards, staff, and the reasonable people of Albemarle County, he accomplished the following:  upgraded the facilities of the school system from the dark ages into the 20th century; kept all the county schools open (unlike the neighboring Charlottesville School System) during the “Massive Resistance” strategy designed by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia; and did not retire until the Albemarle County School system was totally integrated. To the best of his ability, he always put the best interests of all the students, both children of color and white, as his number one priority. I use as reference newspaper and magazine articles that my mother saved. She kept every article that mentioned his name, well over 600.

Here are the three paragraphs that Mr. Lorenzo Dickerson discovered and showed Dr. Acuff on October 16. Forty-eight hours later they presented parts of the following paragraphs to the school board and press and described them as racist comments made by former superintendent and Paul H. Cale Elementary School namesake. Dr. Acuff continued by saying that what they had uncovered so far seemed to suggest Cale had a history of racist rhetoric (reported by Tyler Hammel, Daily Progress).

If integration is practicable in Norfolk, with 39 per cent of Negroes in its school population, why isn’t it practicable in Albemarle County, in central Virginia, with only 21 per cent? “It just isn’t,” replied Dr. E. J. Oglesby, professor of mathematics at the University of Virginia, who had served on the Albemarle County school board, “not in this part of the world, in the foreseeable future.” This was also the conclusion of Dr. Paul Cale, the Albemarle County school superintendent.

The Negroes of Albemarle County, pointed out Dr. Cale, are scattered all over the county, whereas in cities like Norfolk and Baltimore they are concentrated in colored residential districts. Even a token attempt at integration would generate dangerous conflicts in connection with bus transportation. There would also be insuperable administrative difficulties. White parents would not permit their children to receive instruction from inferior Negro teachers—and they were inferior, Dr. Cale said. Citing instances of misconduct by Negro school principals, he declared that an M.A. from Columbia didn’t necessarily make a Negro teacher either professionally competent or trustworthy. (But the same judgment might be applied to white teachers; certainly Negro principals and teachers have no monopoly on either personal misbehavior or professional incompetence.) If integration were to be enforced, the white parents—said Dr. Cale—would withdraw their children and stop paying school taxes; then, unless Federal money was funneled in, it would be necessary to close the schools. In 1950, four years before the Supreme Court decision, Albemarle County had built a comprehensive high school for Negroes which had cost more per pupil than the white high school, and the county’s future building program embodied genuine equality for white and colored; now, however, the board had paid off its architects and suspended all construction.

“What did the Negroes expect to happen next?” asked Dr. Cale. “What did they want?” He had been trying to find out. But where formerly his Negro principals had been willing to talk frankly with him, now they refused to confer except publicly, in the presence of their entire staffs.

The author of the above three paragraphs was James Rorty (see Wikipedia), a 20th century American radical writer and political activist who addressed controversial topics that included “McCarthyism,” “Jim Crow,” American industries, advertising, and nutrition, and was perhaps best known as a founding editor of The New Masses magazine, a Marxist magazine closely associated with the Communist Party, USA. The paragraphs above were a small part of a 12+ page article written in Commentary magazine in July, 1956, titled, “Virginia’s Creeping Desegregation:  Force of the Inevitable.”

Mr. Rorty, who apparently had never been to the South, was trying to figure out how certain areas of Virginia seemed to be making more progress towards desegregation than other areas of the state. He was mostly critical of the rural areas of southern Virginia. He pointed out that some cities, such as Norfolk, were leaders in the process, mainly due to social advances made by the nearby military bases since World War II. Ironically, the Norfolk school system offered Dad their superintendent’s job at about this same time. If they had felt that he was opposed to desegregation, that offer would never have happened. He declined the job even though it would have meant an increase in salary of over 20 percent. Mother and Dad loved Albemarle County and I believe that he didn’t feel it was right for him to leave at that critical time of change. 

Rorty uses direct quotes throughout his entire article and identifies them by quotation marks. For example, Dr. E.J. Oglesby’s remarks in the first paragraph above must have been direct quotes. However, the only direct quotes attributed to my father were the short sentences in paragraph three. Neither of these are controversial and were not addressed by Dr. Acuff.

Obviously, Mr. Rorty asked Dad why wasn’t desegregation moving along faster in Albemarle County Schools like it was in Norfolk where there were 39 percent of “Negroes” in its school population as compared to 23 percent in Albemarle County.  We don’t know if this conversation was in person or by phone. You would think that they talked for longer than the approximately one minute that he writes about in his article. Why doesn’t he use quotation marks? Maybe Dad wasn’t really in agreement with the words of Dr. Oglesby. 

Rorty identifies Dad as Dr. Cale, the five times he uses his name in the article. My father’s highest degree was a Master of Education /Administration from the University of Virginia. I have personally heard him correct someone who called him “Dr.” Cale. He was a modest man and Mr. Cale, not Superintendent Cale, was the name he encouraged people to call him. So did Mr. Rorty misread his notes and apply words to “Dr.” Cale that were the words of Dr. Oglesby?  He definitely paraphrased those words and was not comfortable in portraying them as direct quotes. So, let’s not be so hasty in surmising what Dad actually said or that he was in total agreement with Dr. Oglesby. I do believe that Dad did try to answer Mr. Rorty’s question about the progress of desegregation in Albemarle County. I feel certain he talked about the logistical problems that were listed in the article and probably more. I am sure he talked about white parents telling him that they would not permit their children to be taught by a Negro teacher. Both my sister and I heard him talk about the pressure that certain prominent citizens of Albemarle County, including members of the school board and Board of Supervisors, were putting on him to try to prevent desegregation. Many thought the movement was going too fast, while a few others, like Mr. Rorty, thought that the process was way too slow. The key goal for Dad, at this time, was to keep all the schools open for all of the children. He had a plan that he followed to its successful conclusion. 

Now let me deal with the description of the term inferior Negro teachers. Again, Mr. Rorty’s words were not Dad’s exact words as he, Mr. Rorty, would have used quotation marks. Again, more importantly, we don’t have the entire conversation. 

Let me provide you with some facts about desegregation in Higher Education in Virginia in the 20th century (provided by Encyclopedia Virginia).

“Educational opportunities for blacks were vastly inferior to whites, and segregation in higher education was entrenched in Virginia from 1895 through World War Two (1941 – 1945).”  This sentence is a direct quote.

It was not until 1937 that a black college in Virginia could boast having faculty members with doctoral degrees. It was that year that Virginia State College for Negroes in Petersburg could offer a few advanced degree programs in education.  It was about this same time when the Virginia General Assembly enacted a new law that would provide financial assistance to black Virginians, in order for them to go out of state to take courses for which there was no in-state equivalent to the courses available to white Virginians.  This act resulted in many of the more gifted and ambitious black students to leave the state for obtaining graduate degrees in northern universities.  This program exacerbated the already short supply of properly educated black teachers in the state, as many of them who left for these out of state schools, never returned.

It was not until the 1960’s that more than a handful of black students were allowed to enroll in undergraduate programs at most of Virginia’s historically white colleges and universities.  However, admittance into programs did not mean an immediate end to unfair and unequal treatment on campus.  It was not until 1972 that black students could enroll in any curriculum, live and eat in campus facilities, play varsity sports, promote black student programs, and form black student unions at “all” Virginia public institutions of higher education. Surprisingly, both black and white women undergraduate students did not gain total open enrollment at U.Va. until 1970.

Therefore, if Dad actually said that Negro teachers were inferior, it was definitely not because he thought there was an innate difference between blacks and whites. Obviously, segregation during the decades of the Jim Crow era prevented black boys and girls from receiving the quality of education that white boys and girls received. That trend also continued in the four black colleges of Virginia until after World War II. The pool of black college graduates in Virginia who were trained to be teachers was small and almost nonexistent for black graduates with advanced degrees in education until the 1960s. Dad hired all the teachers for Albemarle County Schools from 1947 until approximately 1961, when he started to share that responsibility with the assistant superintendent. Therefore, he was well aware of the limited opportunities and training that most of his black teacher applicants had received and often relied on character references and judgment to make hiring decisions. Likewise, it bothered him personally when he would hire a teacher and that person didn’t perform at the level needed and required. The fallacy of “separate but equal” was never more evident than in these situations. So he responded to this frustration of inadequate training for many black college students who aspired to be teachers by doing what he could on the local level. He first devoted his efforts to improve the antiquated school facilities for all students. The first new school built under his watch was Burley High School, the first consolidated high school in the county and opened in partnership with the city of Charlottesville for all black high school students (1951). Then he campaigned for higher salaries to attract more qualified teachers (annual pay was almost doubled in 5 years). Finally, he continued to work through the process towards the goal of total desegregation in Albemarle County Schools. He did not retire until after that goal was met in 1968-69, four years before the same could be said about all traditional white colleges and universities in the state of Virginia.

What the school board does with the names of schools is not my concern. However, when they wrongly tarnish the reputation of a good man by using a paraphrase and show it as a direct quote and then imply that he was something that he was not, it is time to stand up and be heard!

Thank you for taking the time to read this information.

Paul H. Cale, Jr.
Hilton Head, South Carolina

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