Thomas Walter Gaither oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2011-09-12.
JM: Dr. Gaither, let me have you, let me have you describe the youth chapter of the, the NAACP in, in, on the campus then and how it connected you to the state NAACP apparatus and how it then led you forward.
TG: Okay. Um, the first year I was president of the campus chapter, I would say maybe out of, uh, two hundred students, we may have had twenty-five or thirty people who were members. Once -
JM: Out of how many? Sorry, I’m sorry. How many students?
TG: Uh, it was, I think it was less than two hundred. It wasn’t a very large university. We knew every -. If you were a student, you would know everyone on campus. You would know which year they were in and you would also know their hometowns and all of that. It was a very small, very closely-knit community. Now after the sit-ins started, almost everyone on campus joined the NAACP chapter. There were a couple of, uh, young people or students there who were afraid to join because they thought that word of their joining as youth members of a college chapter of the NAACP might get back to their communities and there would be reprisals against their parents. And I can remember a couple of those people actually coming and apologizing to me that they could not be members of the youth chapter of the NAACP.
Now as a youth chapter NAACP president, uh, I was permitted to, uh, attend regional meetings of the, uh, NAACP. That is where I would have met first people like, uh, Ruby Hurley or, uh, Amos Brown or Medgar Evers. Uh, there were people there from South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, not Alabama. Alabama at the time, the NAACP was, uh, illegal. So we didn’t have anybody slipping through, uh, who were, uh, parts of the, uh, Alabama civil rights, uh, scene.
Uh, so when the sit-ins started in Greensboro, North Carolina - February first, 1960 - the first sit-ins in South Carolina were at Rock Hill, and as soon as we heard about that, we said, “The same problems that are being addressed in North Carolina and north of here in Rock Hill are here. So we’ve got to organize too.” And that’s where we sort of expanded out from this NAACP youth chapter to, uh, organizing and participating, uh, in the, uh, sit-ins. Um, yeah, maybe that’s -
JM: Tell me, tell me about the process that you undertook then to bring the campus, to bring the campus chapter and, and the wider campus forward into active -