We are here with Bob Ensley from the Community Relations Service:
Bob, when did you begin working as a mediator or conciliator for
In September, 1970.
And when did you leave?
That's quite a healthy span. What were you hired as?
As a conciliator, to deal with the desegregation of schools. Judge
Pratt was a Federal District judge at that time and he ordered schools in various areas to
desegregate. It was our mission to try to help in that transition.
What were you doing prior to joining CRS?
A number of things. I was working as an insurance representative, and because of my
knowledge of certain geographical areas of Georgia, CRS thought perhaps that would be to the
agency's advantage. I had contacts with schools then, because I was selling insurance to teachers
on a payroll deduction plan and therefore I had contacts with a lot of local education systems.
Prior to that, I lived in New York and had a number of different jobs there.
How did you hear about the agency?
I was at a community meeting and my late partner, Fred Miller,
wanted to meet with a group of people in the Macon area. He showed a film showing some of
the aftermath of the riots in North New Jersey. Somehow or another, he selected me to meet
with him after this viewing of the film and we started talking, and he indicated that they would be
hiring some temporary employees. He asked me if I would consider it for about 90 days. I told
him I might, and sure enough the 90 days, as you know, ended up being 18 years-plus.
Were you involved in other Civil Rights or conflict management
at all before CRS?
Oh yes, in New York, and even in Macon prior to becoming a member of the CRS family.
Would you say a little more about that?
My mother-in-law lived in Macon, GA. She was the first black in
that area to house students who were involved in the voter registration project. She was very
active, and so was my niece. When I moved here, I automatically was taken into the group that
was marching and demonstrating. I participated with them and helped organize and raise money
and different things. So I was looked upon as being one of the group that was organizing
demonstrations, and I traveled to Atlanta to meet with Andy Young and the King family, and
that sort of thing.
What kinds of things attracted you to the Community Relations
The comradery among the people that I met for the short interview. I was really taken in by
their commitment and their willingness to go beyond that which was required. So I said, "Well,
this appears to be fine group of people to work with."
Now, I am going to ask you to think kind of on two levels. I am going to ask you to think of
a specific case or a couple of cases that typify your work. During the time that we have together,
I'll ask you specific questions about approaches that you took, and things that you learned from
that case (or cases), so hopefully that will be where the examples come from. But I am also
going to ask you to speak more generally about lessons that can be learned. That's kind of how
we will spend our time.
So to start, can you think about a case that typifies your work and
might be particularly good at illustrating for people now what a civil rights mediator might do?
We know that there's no such thing as a typical case, but is there something that particularly
comes to mind?
Well, I think this is going to require somewhat of a short explanation,
but at the time I joined CRS as a special, the Judge Pratt decision was a big issue. During
that time, it was decided that, because of the unrest in the Southeast and in many other areas of
the country, they needed to organize a crisis response team -- a team that would respond to crises
as opposed to involving ourselves in five programmatic areas: education, housing,
administration, justice, and economic development. So somehow or another, I was selected to
become part of the crisis
response team and we would respond to the crisis and then bring the mediators in to do the
mediation work. We would set the tone,
temperament, and the ground work, and bring the mediators in. They would then move toward a
mediation agreement or some sort of conciliation agreement. But most of the time we could, in
fact, resolve it through the conciliation. That did not require a signed agreement, as mediation
often does. This is primarily the way we function. I was a partner
of the crisis response team on a number of cases that made national and international news.
don't even know where to begin, because we were involved in so many. We had, for instance,
the JoAnn Little case in North Carolina. The young black woman was accused of killing a jailer
with an ice pick. We had a shootout between the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Workers'
Party in Greensboro and the days following that were spent making funeral arrangements and all
of those things. Then of course, we had Birmingham and Montgomery, and so I don't know
what sort of case you would like.
All of these are good. Why don't we start with JoAnn Little? Maybe for starters we can use
a little background on the case, and then how you got in and how you got involved.
JoAnn Little was a young black female that was incarcerated in the
Buford County Jail. We were working in Greenville, 18 miles away. Golden Frinks, who was a
recognized SCLC leader who lived in Edenton, NC, but was very active all over, called me
knowing we were approximately 20 miles away. He said, "Bob, we have a situation here, a
young black girl has been charged with killing a jailer." I said, "Golden, we have flights
leaving out tomorrow morning. Call the office and get somebody else." So I got back to
Atlanta, and they assigned me to go back on the case. It made national news, to the extent that
Maurice Dees and Julian Bond started a fund raiser and they raised sums of money for her
defense. The trial was moved from Buford County to Raleigh, and it was there that the marches
occurred. There were demonstrations. The trial judge was named Judge Bailey. He set the
ground rules. In fact, there was a time or two when a man was jailed for contempt of court and I
had to arrange with the judge to release him, because it did nothing to keep the peace on the
street. There were millions of dollars raised, nickels and dimes from many sources to help in her
defense. She and all of her friends lived like royalty from those proceeds, living in air
conditioning, having pool parties every night. Everybody had a rental car, and things like that. I
couldn't accept that. I called it to the attention of the attorney representing JoAnn
Little, and he realized what I was saying. Once the news filtered down into the various
communities and across the nation where this money originated, they stopped that. JoAnn got
into some very serious trouble. Even while she was being tried, she stabbed her boyfriend.
I had to keep that out of the media, because that would've sent a wrong
message. Despite the fact the jurors are not supposed to hear that, you know that quite often,
they do hear. Some way or another, they find out what's happening on a daily basis, so we
struggled up there trying to keep things normal. Because around the courthouse there
were large numbers of police and state patrolmen and many of these young people tend to want
to incite a confrontation. On a daily basis, we had to go out and put ourselves between law
youngsters who were sincere in their support for JoAnn. As you know, she was found Not
Guilty, and then they wanted to have a big celebration. I said "No, we'll send out the wrong
message." The sheriff from Buford County -- his name is Red Davis -- I couldn't make a move
without him. He said, "I am a country sheriff and I don't have any business up here with all of
these people. I only got a high school education and I feel like a fish out of water." I said,
"Sheriff, all you gotta do is stand and look like you know what's going on, and people never will
question you." And I said, "You don't have to get into any dialogue with
these folks. Just say 'yes' or 'no' or 'I don't know.'" Then don't enter into any conversation
with them, because all of the news media from across the nation and the BBC -- and one from
Hong Kong -- were there. They were all there, so I arranged every
morning for us to meet with the media. We
would have a press conference, and in the evening we'd have a debriefing with the press to
satisfy the media, so they were not as aggressive as they normally would have been. So this is
the kind of thing you do in order to keep things from escalating. It wouldn't have any effect
upon the trial, because had there been demonstrations outside the courtroom, it certainly would
not have helped her in her case. It wasn't only CRS, it was the Wake County Sheriff's
Department, the North Carolina State Patrol, the State Bureau of Investigation, and we all
worked harmoniously toward keeping the peace with JoAnn Little.
So that was your goal, to keep the peace around the situation?
And when they invited you, what was it that they wanted from you?
They wanted us to make sure that the facts would be accurate, and
that she wouldn't be hurt, because there were threats against her life. There was also a division
within the community in Washington, where they could not find a black church in which to hold
a mass meeting in support of JoAnn Little. So Golden, being an innovative
and creative leader, invited all the people to go to the park and he got chairs from all of the
funeral homes there and he started holding church services in the park. And of course, that had
an effect upon the monies that usually were contributed to the church. We saw what was
happening, so one or two of them started supporting -- and then the community started
supporting -- JoAnn Little, and that's pretty much what we did in Washington. Then a division
appeared. It happens many times, in any movement, when money starts flowing. It attracts
some attention away from the real issue, and people start worrying about the money and how it's
being used. So there was a division between United Church of Christ,
SCLC, and various other organizations. We had to keep that from escalating to the point where
it attracted the attention of the media.
Talk about how you did that.
I met with each group separately, and just
asked them, What is it that you think SCLC is not doing? How do you think it should be done?
Would you be willing to make a commitment to work harmoniously with any of the other
groups? One by one, I got the two of them to
meet. It was about three weeks before I could get all three groups to sit down and talk about it.
When they sat down to talk about it, they found out their differences weren't that great, so they
were all focused on JoAnn Little as they should have been.
Would you talk for us about how you knew which parties were
That results from looking and listening and
making a detailed assessment. You look at people and see who they're talking with, and try to
make a determination whether they are sincere in their efforts, or they're just promoting
themselves at the expense of the group. And many times you're fooled into supporting or
associating with the wrong person. But you just can't go in and assume
that a given person is the leader. You have to find out who the real leader is. It may not
be the one up there talking, the one who has the microphone. Sometimes it's the person standing
there with a pair of coveralls on and his hands up into the bib area. So you have to do an
accurate assessment to find out who the leader is. Then you begin to talk with those persons.
And then the most important thing is, don't you try to take credit. When I did this, you always
say, "Well, thank you." You give them the credit for what they're doing, and you will find out
that the result is very rewarding and productive.
Let's go back to assessment in this case.
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.
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
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.
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.
Once you get them together, that jump-starts the process. They'll suggest to
you what steps you need to take. And then, we all start moving as one in that direction. Not the
Justice Department, not Bob Ensley, but all of us. And we begin to pick up people along the
way, you know, who are supportive. But keeping in mind that you only go as far as a
community's going to permit you to go. You cannot go any further than they're going to permit you, because many times you'll
get way out there in advance of what they think or where they think they need to go, and they're
going to leave you and you're out there all alone. So you just go along. And when you feel as
though it's time to stop and re-strategize, you do that. Many times, you strategically stop, so
you can re-strategize and set some additional goals or priorities. Or, if this is not working, you
move to another objective.
Will you talk a little bit about setting goals?
Well, in the JoAnn Little case there was one
group that was always concerned about the amount of money -- who was spending the money,
who had control of it. I had to say that the money wasn't the important thing. The thing is that
we needed to see that justice prevailed in this case. If this young lady's innocent, then she need
not be sent to prison. If she's guilty then perhaps you need to have money set aside for a good
appellate lawyer. Because many times, our people are in jail because they don't have any money
to hire a competent appellate attorney. Then there are others, who are concerned about what
effect that's going to have on the community after JoAnn Little leaves. Then there are some who
say, "Well, she was a prostitute, so she'd better go to jail," and we're not going to get involved in
that. She was a 4th St. prostitute, she'd been in jail for this and been in jail for that. And you say,
"Well, it goes beyond that." This is a young black woman, and I said, "You know it could
happen to any of them." I said, "Whether she's innocent or guilty, she needs to be afforded due
process in court." Then you have to tell some people, "Say now, so-and-so, that was wrong --
what you said at that meeting. It was not the time or place to say it." You get them, one by one,
to do this. You don't embarrass a person before a group, because they are going to come out
fighting and try to do anything they can to damage or attack your credibility.
So you helped them to save face?
Oh yes. Then, I would often suggest things gently. The person who'd get the message
go back and say, "You know, I think such-and-such," and that's exactly what I want him to say.
I just suggest it and let them take the credit for the group agreeing to what direction they need to
move. The power of suggestion in mediation and
conciliation is a powerful weapon, as long as you're not going to be selfish about it. You have
people moving as you think they need to move. Then again, sometimes you're going to make a
mistake by putting too much confidence in the wrong person, or suggesting alternative march
routes. I've made a number of mistakes, but thank God I was able to survive and profit, and
realize that I won't do that again. But you have to know when to move on and when not to.
What are some ways that you know when to move on?
Well, it's a number of factors: money, the weather, the climate of the community, the
that you see coming from the opposing forces -- are people not sympathetic to what you're trying
to do? Sometimes I've just known -- the times when we had to get out of town as quickly as we
could, because we saw the hostility building up. Then again, you had people who were coming
in and joining the movement that you did not want to join -- people from other areas that you had
contacts with, from other cases, and other situations -- people who were there to promote
themselves or to try to get their hands on a few dollars that was being raised. This happened
many, many times. There were some that would be there to extract whatever they could from
the local merchants, the business community. So rather than have them there, I would suggest
that we move on to the next town. We did not want to build their power base or have the
credibility of the people that had sincerely involved themselves destroyed by those greedy
people who had a habit of following the movement for personal reasons.
What do you do if the people that you identified as key parties don't
want to meet with you?
Oh, quite often they did.
Then what did you do?
If we were in Atlanta, I would say, "You know, perhaps if we would go to them and sit
down over lunch...." Get them out of town. Change the locality and you'd be surprised what that
does. They couldn't afford to be seen with you one-on-one, because they think it would look
bad. You say, "You know, Mr. Hill, you're protected by a confidentiality clause. That means I
cannot repeat or reveal anything that's said without your permission. So therefore, anything that
you say to me is confidential." That has had a powerful effect upon meeting with people.
Did you ever find that any of the assurances of
Well, I'd rather not answer that question if you don't mind.
You can say yes or no . . .
Did parties, either in this case or others, ever ask you to do things
you were either unable or absolutely unwilling to do?
Oh yes, many times.
Can you give me some examples again?
Well, one thing you've got to realize is that people can speak for themselves. If you're sincere at what you're doing, you don't have to be concerned about a person's
grammar, diction, or correct use of an adjective or verb. So I would always say to these people
that want to use me as a messenger, I'd say, "No, you're going to have to come. You live here,
you can say it better and more factually than I can. I'm not going to be a messenger." Some
people would say, "What are you here for? You're here to represent us. We pay your salary,
we're taxpayers and you know, we can get you fired." In fact, we had people call the
President, call the Attorney General many, many times.... simply because we would refuse to
tell. Particularly from the power structure, in the white business community to do what they
wanted us to do to stop the marches. And they would always want to impose curfews that would
only have an impact upon the blacks and we would protest that. At times, many blacks would
say, "you know, so-and-so doesn't need to be involved because they're so dirty, they're nothing
but crooks and gangsters. If you're gonna continue to associate with them then, of course, we're
not going to be involved." I would never do that because it takes all of us. Ozell used to have in
his office a sign that said, "None of us is smarter than all of us." So I would always try to be
very inclusive. There was a role for everybody, and I would try to explain that to everyone
inclined to let them just blatantly write off people. Write off ideas, suggestions and different
things like that, but don't write off people.
And along with that, how did you determine your role?
Many times, I didn't. There wasn't any role at the time. I would just
stay around and sometimes a week or so after getting into an area, I would finally decide what
role, if any, that we had. There were some instances in which there wasn't any role for us. We'd
just decide, "Well we don't need to be here at this time, because there's no definite role for us."
Sometimes people are working towards some sort of solution, and you're just going to interfere
with what progress has already been made. So it's something that you feel your way through.
So it sounds like that's part of your assessment?
Yeah, it is.
Did the parties influence your choice of goals?
Let's talk about the JoAnn Little case to be specific.
Well as I saw it, it went beyond JoAnn Little. You had a school
system that was different: a black system and white system. You had blacks
that were not employed in any of the banks and a lot of industries there. blacks were in low-
paying, menial jobs. Then there were comments that were appearing in national magazines
attacking black women's character. So it was beyond the JoAnn Little case. The goals and
objectives were not only related to the administration of justice, but economic development and
housing. Some of the housing in the Washington area was really bad. If you made the wrong
turn you would be in trouble. But then there were other areas where blacks had beautiful homes.
By and large, it was economic development. There were employment problems and a whole
range of things, so our goal had to be looking at what we could do as a result of the people
coming together. Abernathe was there. At the time, he was President of SCLC. He wanted to
call attention to economic development, housing, and education. Because of JoAnn Little,
suddenly you saw a change in the education system. You saw a change in the industry when
they started hiring blacks and putting them in supervisory positions. You started seeing roads
being paved in the black communities where there had been just mud holes and pot holes before.
So the broader picture resulted from JoAnn Little's case. The type of people who came could be
very objective. You talk about 4th Street, well, 4th Street was run-down. I wish you could see it
now. All of those houses are gone. Nice homes along there, Section 8 homes built for the first-
time home buyers. Had JoAnn Little not been tried, I doubt if any of this would have resulted.
So you're saying that the publicity resulting from her case attracted
other people to that and highlighted the other conflict?
Did you ever have a problem -- in either this
case or others -- maintaining or retaining your impartiality while providing assistance to one
group or assisting the other group?
Not in this case. This was clearly a case where this young girl was being tried for murder. I
objected to some of the things I saw, as I told you earlier, about how the money was being spent
and all of that. That did weigh very heavily on me, knowing how hard it was for many people to
give their dollars and two dollars, but I was convinced that she had adequate representation and,
in fact, I felt that she was going to be acquitted. I was so sure, that I prevailed upon them not to
hold any rally or demonstration rejoicing or a celebration in the streets of Raleigh. That
would've sent the wrong message.
What message do you think it would've sent, and to whom?
It would've sent the wrong message to perhaps some of the people who were marginally
supportive, and some of the people who were right there with her, who were some of her
supporters who would not have wanted that. They wanted her. Right
after the trial, they all went back to the hotel and, of course, the media was there. I couldn't get
to her and she was talking about how she wanted to play herself in a movie that would be
forthcoming and about writing books and all of this. I was trying to get her to shut up and be
quiet, because that turned off a lot of people who were right there in that area at the time. So I'm
just always trying to keep things from going beyond that which I know, in many areas, would
send a wrong message. Not so
much about what the white people thought, but what black people may have thought about it,
because the white people already made up their minds that she was guilty. Many of them
thought she needed to go to prison if not the electric chair. What really got me involved was that
North Carolina has a law that escapees can be shot by anyone. After killing the jailer she
escaped from the jail. So they declared her a fugitive, which meant she could've been shot on
sight by anybody. So that being the case, I contacted some of the people I knew and prevailed
upon them to try to get her to turn herself in. That was really the one thing that got me back up
there a lot sooner than I normally would have responded.
When you started the case did you have a sense of whether you thought she would be
acquitted? Was that because you thought she was not guilty?
After getting involved, getting an assessment, and hearing some things about the jail and the
You know, it's interesting. In other parts of the country I think JoAnn Little was portrayed
kind of "this innocent girl who's in jail and she has to stab a guard to save her honor . . ."
That's not entirely correct, but then again you know she was a young black female. She was
entitled to due process and not to be shot like an animal. That's what
would've happened had we not gotten up there and prevailed upon some people who were very
influential, who had contact with the family and other people who got her to turn herself in.
And you communicated that by word of mouth?
Yeah. After getting up
there I attended a meeting and they didn't even know who I was. So finally, I had to identify
myself and the people just looked at me. They didn't understand what I was going to do. "Why
are you here? Are you going to be part of the investigation?" So I explained to them as briefly
as I could, because it was getting late and I stayed around for a few days talking to various
groups. I set up an office in an undertaker establishment, and he even allowed the SCLC to pitch
tents on the grounds of the funeral home. From that, I started making
contact with various people and organizations, but initially they looked at me very suspiciously.
Then, I moved through with talking with the sheriff and talking with some other people. The
sheriff, somehow or another, just humbled himself. We met very quietly in the wooded area late
at night. So we talked about everything in confidence. Then I was led to believe that maybe this
young girl was not as guilty, or it didn't happen in a manner that it was said to have happened.
This man (the jailer) had a terrible reputation, but he was from a very prominent family.
Everything in that general area was owned and run by his family. They just wanted to prosecute
her and send her to the electric chair if they could, in order to uphold the family name.
So it was really about a lot of different issues?
Did you, at any time, have a problem keeping your objectivity or
Yes, a few times particularly around the court house, with the attitude of the some of the
state troopers. You know, when you have state patrol cars lined up, people are going to lean on
them. Some of the troopers would say things like, "Will you get off of
my car, Boy?" This attitude really angered me. I just had to say to some, "Who are the hell are
you talking to? He's no boy, that's a grown man and that's not your car. That car is a state car.
If you don't want any of them leaning up and touching it, go park it somewhere else, or else I'll
get the judge to just have all cars moved from this area." And he'd say, "I see now where you
stand." And I'd say, "No, you don't see where I stand because you're blinded by racism. You
can't even begin to see where I stand." And then, a State Patrol Captain called me aside and said,
"You know that young man needed that and you told him just right. He's been itching to whip
some butt, but he's not going to do it here." So incidentally, all of these young troopers that we
worked with over the years in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi..... all became commanders.
Barefoot became the commander of the North Carolina Highway Patrol because of
JoAnn Little. Hugh Hartisan became head of the Highway Patrol in Georgia because of the
Columbus, Georgia riot.
Is that good or bad?
Well, it's good because these men worked with us when they were young troopers and they
knew the powerful influence of conciliation and mediation, and talking with groups and
everything. Therefore, I did not always just stay there and maintain a
neutral position. I had to speak out at times. Like the merchants would always come out and
some of the merchants along there would always want to come out and start sweeping and
watering and all of that stuff. They were willing to take the dollars that were being spent, but
they didn't want them standing in front of their stores. They wanted the blacks to come in and
buy stuff and get out of the area. So I had to speak up about that.
So what did you do to maintain that sense of impartiality?
Well, once I dealt with that, it was over and done with. I would go on and move toward the
next situation as it would surface. I didn't dwell on it or anything else. I would just move from
one situation to another, but it's almost continuous. When you're in a conflict situation, it's
always one situation after another. Sometimes you just have to get in your car and go
someplace, and sit out on the river and think through a lot of this. Get away from it. You can't
solve all of the problems I don't care how much you do. Sometimes you just need to get away
for two or three days. Let them miss you.
You mentioned some of the conflicts in the black community among
the various parties. I am curious about whether or not you also saw cracks in the white
community's side? Were there internal conflicts?
In the white community people would say, "I am going to say this but I can't be quoted."
They didn't want others to know what they really thought. They'd say, "I can't be quoted, but
she's not guilty." Or, "I need to talk to so-and-so." They wouldn't say anything until they found
out what was approved to say. Or, they would point you in the direction of some other people
with the power in the white community, or point out people who you should avoid. Then you
would begin to find out that a lot of the blacks that you thought were being supportive of JoAnn
Little hadn't been that supportive at all. The whites would tell you, but then again you'd find out
for yourself. Don't take their word for it because they may have a personal reason for saying
what they do. You have to find out for yourself .
So when you came across all of this
conflicting, what were you doing?
Well, one thing about being with CRS: you're never on your own. You have Ozell Sutton,
and you have other staff people that you can consult with. Somehow we would go over what
information we had, and gather more information when we needed it. We would discuss it and
make a decision that we needed to proceed, or needed to stop, or needed to rethink this whole
process. You're never alone. It's never any one person's decision. It's a team effort.
We stayed in Raleigh three or four weeks -- for the entire duration of the JoAnn Little trial.
What was so significant was that the Wilmington Ten were all there in support. They had been
free on bond, and they were all out there outside the courtroom. In order to get their
cooperation, they wanted me to let them know the verdict before everyone else. I told them, "As
soon as it's announced I will come to the window and wave my handkerchief." That way they
were the first ones to know. I don't know why they wanted to know first. Whatever the reason, it
was something small in order to get them to not cause trouble. It didn't take any effort on my
part to go up and wave that to say she was acquitted, but somehow it was very important for
them to know before anybody else downstairs, where all the crowds were gathered. You know
your credibility with that group skyrockets when you do little things like that.
Speaking of trust, lets talk about how you
gained trust in this case and how significant you think trust is in general.....
It's extremely important in this business to be honest. Tell people only what you can do.
Don't say what the Department of Justice is going to do, don't say what Mr. Hilliard's going to
do. Say what you yourself are going to do. If you can't do it, then say, "No, I can't do this." If
you say you're going to do it and some inhibitor gets in the way, tell them, "You know I made an
attempt to do it, but I couldn't because..." Another thing: don't be seen consorting with the ladies. That's something that you cannot do in this
business and maintain any credibility. In any type of business you cannot consort with women
that you meet. You know, during the struggle, most people stay at hotels or motels and some of
the things that I've seen over the years have destroyed a lot of people's credibility and reputation.
Sometimes they will try you. A group in Mississippi sent two of the most beautiful women to
my motel in Memphis. I mean, they were gorgeous ladies. I was in the dining room and I saw
them. I had my dinner and I went back to my room, and about an hour later somebody knocked
on my window and said, "Mister, do you have any battery cables?" I said, "Yes, but just give
me a chance to put a shirt on." So I went out and they said, "Well, we know you're there by
yourself and we just thought you needed some company. You know, we're here alone too......."
so they'll set you up. Another thing: don't be pretentious and dress like they do. Never be
pretentious and again, let them do the talking and you listen and you take notes. After it's all
over you say, "Well, I sure thank you because without that information I don't know which
direction I would be able to go. Never borrow any money from local officials, and
never let people give you gifts or favors. I don't even accept a Coca Cola from the sheriff. Now
when we go into a real crisis area, the riots in Georgia for instance, it's the obligation of the
sheriff to pick up the tab for all the food that's being served. In the time of curfew you have to
eat where they eat because otherwise you're not going to eat because the restaurants are closed.
With that exception I don't go in wanting the sheriff, the chief of police, or anybody do anything
for me. No you don't accept small favors. And tell people the truth. For example, sometimes I
would say to them, "Well, I'd rather not go to the meeting because I know there's some people
there that I wouldn't want to be seen with." Your support or association with certain people
tends to give them elevated status, a little beyond where they need to be. These rascals don't
need to promote themselves at your expense. So just tell them no, I can't go at this time. And if
you tell them you're leaving town, leave town. If you tell them you're going to be staying, make
sure you're staying there. Don't lie to people. These little things are where you gain trust.
Were you able to detect when you were successful in building trust?
Oh yes. I would detect when I wasn't successful too because they would follow you. They
would even call your hotel room at night and give you some erroneous information.
They'd test you?
Oh yes. They'd test you. They would test your
confidentiality. There's so many little things that you have to be aware of. They will tell you
something and if you go to the sheriff, the chief of police, or the mayor with this information,
you know you've been set up.
How did you know when you were set up?
It got to the point where I had to get the state patrol to escort me to the state line and the
state patrol escorted me 60 miles into the next state for fear of my life. It was a shooting over in
a small town. Two of the local black leaders tried to set me up. The first and only time I ever
took my wife with me because she wanted to so some sightseeing in the area. The leaders said,
"Mr. Ensley, will you come on Sunday? We're going to have this mass meeting at the high
school and we want you to come because you've done so much in this town." They had seven or
eight hundred people in that auditorium. One of the leaders got up and said, "you see that little
n****r there? He's the one who killed Martin Luther King. He's come here to assassinate me.
He's an assassin for the Department of Justice and when I'm in heaven I'm going to look down
and ask all of you to forgive him for killing me because that's what he's here for." Here I am
with my wife and with seven or eight hundred people. The mayor said, "Bob, you got a pistol?"
I said, "No." The major replied, "Why if you don't have one, I do. You go up there and kill that
son-of-a-bitch, and you'll never do a day in jail because every dollar I have I'll put it up there to
defend you." He said, "He needs to be dead." I said, "No. What you need to do is go out there
call this number to Colonel Jones right away, because he's only five miles away and he's waiting
for a call." I already said that you gotta be careful with these rascals, they tricked me before. So
Colonel Jones had 20 troopers 5 miles away. So as soon as they heard that, they came, because
these people would've lynched me, and probably killed my wife too. I was set up beautifully.
You know, I was going to thank them for all they did and everything and get in my car and
leave, and they had planned to do me in.
Why did they do that?
Well, this guy was in a lot of trouble. He had made a lot of unfounded accusations and was
exposed and he misused government funds. He was even caught burning homes and poisoning
wells. They had the blacks in the county scared to open their mouths.
And these are black people?
black people, black against black. He was forcing them to pay so much money a week to
his organization that they were following me every place I'd go. They
even had one black fellow call me and say, "You gotta get here right away, meet us at this
store..." So I got there and this elderly woman was coming out of the store with two bags. They
rushed up to her, knocked her down, and stepped all over her groceries. And they said to me,
"What are you going to do about that?" I said, "I'm not going to do anything. If she has a
concern let her go to the police." I knew I was being set up again. They had wanted me to go
over there and confront the two men that had knocked this woman down, but this woman was a
pawn. They used her, set it up in order to get me to respond.
Well, that's a story! Did you ever feel like your own race or
was a factor in gaining people's trust?
Yes, most certainly. Because they know no matter where you come from, what area in the
country you're raised in, there's a commonality. We just gravitate toward one another because of
our color and pigmentation and there's a certain measure of understanding. I know what
suffering they were going through. I've been the victim, I've been subject to a lot of that myself.
So I fully understood. And I didn't go there saying, "I was born and raised in New
York." We did have one staff member who went down to Wilkox county where a truck driver
ran through a march and killed this young black girl with this big tractor trailer. Well, the staff
told the people in essence, "If you don't do it my way,
it's not going to be done. I'm here to tell you how to do it and when to do it." That was his style
and that's why he was forced out of CRS. Because he lacked compassion and then I had to go
down there and try to set things straight.
How do you decide when to meet separately with people or bring
You have to realize when you get into these meetings, there's some people who are going to
be role-playing in order to get whatever attention they can from the media. There are other
people there that get the attention of the young women. There are other people there to see how
they can take advantage of whatever money is going to be raised. Then there are people there
who are very committed to the cause. So the only way you're able to make that decision on
who's going to be the people you're going to continue to work with, is that you just have to attend
meeting after meeting. Then you begin to narrow down, and just more or less start sitting closer
to them. And asking them, "Who is he or what do they do?" They will
ask you, "What are you doing after the meeting? Why don't we go have a cup of coffee or
something like that?" And then you learn more about who's who and who you can trust.
Sounds like that's pretty important?
It is. It's very important.
How did you help one party understand or accept the other party?
That's a very detailed process. You can't do it collectively, in a group, you've got to do it a
person at a time or two people at a time. You try to get them to realize that their common
objective is greater than their little personal differences. That they can do more together than
they can using all their energy, time, and talents opposing one another. You try to get to the
point where everybody in a community says, "Let's start trying to find a way that we can
cooperatively address the problem." Just start with a few and then invite another person. Some
people say, "No, as long as so-and-so is involved with them I won't come. You don't know that
SOB, and you don't know what they've done to me, and done to my father. They've never been
good." I'll meet with them and say, "You know, never's a long time but
can you imagine what's going to happen if you refuse to meet and what could result if you do
meet? How much is doing nothing going to benefit those little boys and girls out here in the
street today?" He said, "You know, you don't plant a tree today to enjoy the shade. You plant a
tree where someone else will enjoy the shade. You are going to have to understand that. I said,
"Can you really afford to be that selfish or that concerned about something that you didn't have
any control over?" I said, "I'm not defending that person, you may be absolutely right. But I'm
going to be here with you as long as that person is going to do what we all agreed to do. I'm not
going to leave you."
So you set up some ground rules?
Yes, oh yes.
What did you do when you came to an impasse -- when you couldn't
parties to come to an agreement in North Carolina?
Well, in North Carolina, I would say to the head of the Black Panthers, "I've fooled with you
long enough. If I leave you, some of these rednecks would need to get in there and start beating
heads. You can't win so you need to fall in line." I said, "We're all here for the same thing, but
you cannot get out of here and then start criticizing us as being a bunch of Uncle Toms and
white men and n****rs and all of these kinds of derogatory terms because we're all the protection
So the Panthers wanted
to have a ...
They wanted confrontation. They wanted to
always engage in this confrontational rhetoric. They had a slogan, talking about the power of the
ice pick, and this didn't help anybody. So finally I went him and said, "What would happen if it
became known that you said that? You know, when you get out here in the limelight, you
attract an awful lot of attention. Why don't we just try to find a way that we can all work
harmoniously? I said, "I have no problem with you out here, nobody else does, and you're out
supporting JoAnn Little." I said, "Most of the people out here are supporters. Why do you feel
need, you have to be the dominant group?" I said, "Come on now, you don't need all of this." It
was enough to persuade him. But then he got into a fight with a local minister. They were
going to kill one another. So I had to step in and get them to stop this nonsense. I had to use
some unkind words. Sometimes you have to talk tough, because if they feel you are a little weak
then they can run all over you. I said, "I may be small, but I'm one mean SOB. And I'm going to
show you how mean I can be," I said, "if you don't stop all that bull. Now it's time to sit down
refocus and let's see where we're going to go. Here we are, all of us black, but I can guess that
a redneck out here with a badge and a gun scared the hell out of all of you. But you're big
bullies, and bad with one another. Now it's time to realize that you are powerless without unity!"
So to end an impasse, to bridge the differences,
you used persuasion and force?
Persuasion, with some knowledge of the history of their movement, or history of their
organization, and some of the people they know from their respective home towns and previous
involvement with different groups and organizations. Also I tried to
determine what their personal objectives were, what they were in it for.
And once you know their personal objectives, how would that help you?
It would help me to just go up and speak on
their behalf. Then I say, "Well Dick, I have a commitment from John and his group and they are
committed to do such-and-such, and without their assistance we cannot do it alone. Could you
them this?" It worked at times.
What other techniques would you recommend to newcomers?
Whatever little success you have, don't take personal credit. Give it to someone else. Don't
take any credit, because every time you start taking all of the credit, you are darn sure going to
get all of the blame. So I would always try to get the message out that without Larry, this could
not have happened, or without the investors it could not have happened. Little things like that.
And just as soon as you get back to the hotel, pick up the phone and call him and say, "Larry,
thank you because it couldn't have happened without you." Just little positive things. Better yet,
if you can visit, don't ever use a phone if you can visit. Just drop in on somebody and say,
"Larry thank you, you made it so much easier for me, and I am going to be counting on you for
support from now on."
So what I'm hearing you also say, is that you use yourself to build
your relationship in order to guarantee trust and to get information?
Going back to the beginning, when you needed to personally contact people,
did you call them on the phone or did you write, or what?
No, you never write when you can call, you
never call when you can visit. on-site assessments are essential in this business.
You can look at them and they can look at you?
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean you know coming from New York, the first two cases I ever
had, one in Dublin, GA, and one in Cairo, GA. The sheriff said to me, "You sound like one of
them Yankees. You don't know what a n****r problem is until you get down there and see some
of these n****rs." I said, "Well Sheriff, I just may do that." I flew into Tallahassee, rented a
car, drove across the state line, and I went into the sheriff's office, and the female deputy said,
"Can I help you?" I said, "Yes, I am here to see sheriff Lane Waldroff." She said, "Go out there
and have a seat around the corner where the rest of the black color people are." I said, "Thank
you." I saw him come out, walk around and everything, and that's when I said, "Darn, he
should've been here by now." I called the airport, that plane landed. So after a while, he came
and said, "Can I help you boy?" I said, "I'm Bob Ensley." He said, "Well I'll.....You're a
Dr. Porter, who's son is a senator here, he's a doctor in Dublin, GA, 150 miles away. He invited
me down for lunch to discuss a problem in Dublin. They have a large hospital. I went to the
front door, and the black comes and said, "You gotta go around to the back, boy." I said, "No,
Dr. Porter's expecting me. Would you call Dr. Porter and tell him Bob Ensley is here?" So he
came to the door, and he looked, and he said some unkind things too, and he's a doctor. So after
he left, the lady said, "You're the first colored man ever had his feet under that dining room
table." I said, "Thank you." But the thing is, that's why it is so important to do on-site
assessments. You can look at people, know who you're talking to, and you can detect a sense of
sincerity, or you know sometimes when you're being mislead.
How do you know when you are being mislead?
One of the things I see with people who don't
trust you, is how soon they want to get rid of you, and get you out of town. On the other hand, if
people really are wanting you to assist and make yourselves available to help, and bring a better
resolution to their problems, they will begin to talk in terms of additional meetings, who else to
see, who else to contact, where to stay, where the good restaurants are,
and all of these little things. But when they're trying to get rid of you, looking at their watches,
that means they want you out of town. And then they start telling you about what can't happen
and what's not going to happen. They have taken a rigid position and there's nothing anybody
can say. "This is our problem, and the people in Washington don't have a damn thing to do with
it." So you know, you have some resisters there. But when you find people who are beginning
to listen, and start talking in terms of who else to see, where to stay, where to eat, and all of this,
then you know you have someone or some group that's willing to perhaps look at another point
of view and try to work with you.
So in a way, how willing they are to be in a working relationship with you?
You mentioned the media and particularly with JoAnn Little, which was such a high profile
case. Did you find the newspaper or radio media to be an asset to your
presence in the community or a hindrance?
In the JoAnn Little case, it was definitely an asset. And from that case, I established a
relationship with most of your major news media. People who exist to this day, and they were
fair and impartial. They were not aggressive, like a lot of these young people who are trying to
get some recognition and trying to get a byline or something. I found them to be very fair. One
of them even said, "Bob, you know the Time Magazine reporter? He said we need to get you in
a Time." I said, "No. I function better behind the scenes, without any attention being directed to
me." By that time, they were in effect using a night camera, some sort of technology
that they had developed that would allow them to take pictures at night. So I always stay. But
when I saw the cameras, I would move away. So we were in a night session out there, and I
went out and leaned against the pole like that, wishing to get back. I was tired, so the next thing,
my mother calls me and she said, "You know, you're in Time magazine. I bought up every
edition." So they had taken a picture of me leaning against that pole and I said, "Clarence, why
did you do that?" He said, "Bob, you never would have agreed, and we were just testing out this
new camera to see if it'd work, and we couldn't think of a better subject than you." But they
were very cooperative. You'll find that when you're dealing with people
in the media, they have their contacts as well as you have your contacts. Many times, they will
steer you to situations and to people that could really help. Then again, it's a measure of trust.
So the media was very fair, very impartial, and they didn't try to make it more of a sensation than
what was actually going on in the trial itself. The charge attracted a lot of people, not the media.
Did you ever have a situation where the news and media were
contrary to you, or interfered with work? How did you deal with the problem?
Well yes, a couple of times. In the riot situations, when you know very well that the media
doesn't need to be involved in the meetings. But they tend to want to be very aggressive, and
they're poking cameras in every hole and nook and cranny, trying to get a shot of such-and-such
a person, and trying to get people to go and get on camera. And you know very well this person
cannot represent a group, or even themselves accurately. But it's not the national media, it's
always the local media people. The national media people all have, to me, been very, very
You know, you mentioned after the trial, when JoAnn Little was talking about her future
plans, you suggested she was using the media in a way that you felt was not appropriate.
Did you have other experiences where people would maybe make
statements to the press that you thought weren't a good idea?
Oh yeah, we had some people that were involved in a movement that
would use the press to give misleading wrong signals to the opposing groups and everything.
In this case?
No not in this case, but in some other cases. I would take exception to that, because I think
what is reported should be as honest and as factual as can be -- it shouldn't be used for personal
sabotage, to draw people into something unnecessarily or without having actual knowledge
of why they're getting involved or having them react to something that's not true. I don't approve
of those tactics. But some young media people fall for that, and then people are victimized as a
result of it.
How did you determine when to end your involvement? Let's talk
about JoAnn Little.
Well, as soon as the trial was over, we
went back into Washington where the incident took place and worked with the community on a
number of occasions. In fact I'm still working there today, dealing with some of the problems
related to schools. We had a number of meetings with the superintendent, the board of
education, and even helped them undertake a massive voter registration program, getting blacks
elected and helping them with some economic development plans and different things like that.
Then they put together one of the largest NAACP chapters in the state. They even had billboards
erected: "Join the NAACP." And I saw that they were beginning to move on their own and had
built enough confidence that they could do it themselves. I told a story many times about how
people have enough talent in any given community to deal with their own problem, but it's just
recognizing it and being aware of what they have and using what they have.
So gradually, you pull away from that. They are still very active today. But you don't just
leave them after the incident is over.
It's very rewarding to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody in Washington, North
Carolina and say to them, "You know, I need you to help me out in the Rocky Mountains. Some
of things you've done in Washington would help the folks out in Colorado." That's what I'm
doing today, still using some of those same people.
Did you provide technical assistance to any of the parties?
Can you talk a little bit about that?
Well not directly. Through the North
Carolina Human Relations Commission, because North Carolina has a
statewide Human Relations Commission with the commissioner in Raleigh. With their
assistance, we were able to get into the communities and assist them. Then, luckily, North
has a number of major learning institutions like Fayetteville State, North Carolina State, Bennett
A and T, and all these institutions. You're able to identify people who are quite resourceful and
very knowledgeable. Then you always had HUD that could provide some financing. You had
reconstruction -- what was it -- RF reconstruction financing? Whatever. The banks are required
spend X number of dollars for the purpose of helping minority development. Then there was the
Department of Agriculture. But the thing is that the blacks in that area of North Carolina start
coming together county-by-county over multi-county areas, pooling together their resources and
they have grown stronger and stronger. Now you have a number of black principals that are
gathering in that area. You have black businesses that are thriving, you have one black minister
in Washington now. He's done so many things. He has a computer program for children, he has
a senior citizens home, he even has houses for victims of AIDS. So it's really come as a total
community involvement spreading over several counties.
Can you think of other kinds of technical assistance that you might
have provided to the non-black parties?
Yes, with the sheriff. He realized that training for his officers is
extremely important. So he started instituting a whole new training program for the Sheriff's
Department and the Board of Education, to get them to realize that the responsibility of recruiting
minority teachers wasn't mine, or the blacks'; it was their job. Not to put that burden or that
requirement on us, or by saying, "You find them, we'll hire them." No, you're the Board of
Education and you have the money and you can find qualified black teachers. To the white
bankers, for instance, I would say, "There you have X number of dollars coming in on deposit
from the school system or the health department, and all these tax monies coming in and you
don't have any black tellers or anything else. You need to start having some black tellers." I
went to the merchants and told them that they needed to start having black employees in the
supermarket. Not in a
demanding way, just showing them how unfair it was for them to continue to have all these
positions available and no minorities working in these positions. The first thing they say is,
"Well, we don't have any that're qualified." Well, how many whites do you have that were not
but they were trained? So a lot of good things have happened in Washington and Wolford
county. You know it just got, by and by, better and unfortunately because
of the JoAnn Little situation. I wish it had evolved in some other manner, but such as it did at
least something good has resolved from it.
How do you measure success?
Well, success is measured by: poverty level being raised, more students going to college,
better SAT scores, better blacks employed, more visibility of blacks and better positions, better
homes, and lack of -- as Ozell was saying -- conflict. No, peace is not the
absence of conflict but the ability to cope with it. And these people are being able to
cope with their own problems and resolving them without any need for anybody from the outside
coming in. And you see blacks in the police and fire departments. When I went to Washington
they had one black in the police department and they eventually got rid of him and they got with
the sheriff. He started training programs because the blacks started going to the state patrol. So
that shows there was some progress being made. And then people staying in a community, a lot
of these children were graduating from high school with a percentage who wanted to go to
Raleigh-Durham, or Chapel Hill, to get away from there. But now they are beginning to
graduate, go to school, and come back and stay. So that in itself is an indication that things are
better instead of them wanting to leave as soon as they get a secondary education.
Did you ever help the parties to design a contingency plan?
Oh yes, oh yes. We're engaged in that right
now, in a study circles project. They are going to re-institute their Human Relations
Commission with subpoena power in Washington, North Carolina.
So you've maintained an involvement the whole time?
Oh yes, even after I left CRS and started working for county and state government here in
Georgia. After I retired I still maintained a relationship with them all. Even when I wasn't
employed they would call me I would go off and meet with them. It never leaves you.
Did you plan for that follow up? Was that standard?
When? After I left government?
Right after you left?
Well, we always do follow-up. That's part of our mandate. Do whatever
you can to follow up. But sometimes it's very brief. When it's just
getting rid of a closing case, but I was always reluctant to close cases. I
always hung on because I always felt that there was a little more that I could do, a little more that
I could get the group to do. So it became difficult for me to close these types of cases. My wife
would tell me, "You become too involved and you have to learn when to back away." In certain
cases, yes it was true. It was true I'd become too attached. It's human nature. You get attached
to certain caring people who are aggressive, doing things particularly well. Young people -- I
am addicted to young people doing things and I'm just..... I just can't help it when I see young
blacks or young whites who are committed and involved in things that are going to make a
difference. I am right with them.
You lose your impartiality?
I do, and in a hurry. I am truly supportive of our young people: black, white, Hispanic, or
anyone, as long as they're involved with things that are going to make a difference and make life
beautiful and easier. I'm going to be right there with them until the bitter end, as old as I am.
Great, and you know young people need that too.
Yes, I have young fellows who are professional basketball players,
football players, and in the service. One fellow is being kicked out of the Marines by a
commanding officer who's name is Robert E. Lee. This is the 19th young black he's kicked out,
had railroaded out of the Marines rather than promote them. He called me "my daddy," they call
me "Daddy." Another one over in Germany, he wants to come back, is deciding whether to
come play for the Celtics or stay over there. So I have all these young people and I just listen,
advise them, and keep them focused. Never tell them I don't want anything they have, because
I'm not going to have anything for them if they go broke. But I try to help them and I'm a sucker
for it all the time. I love every minute of it.
CRS measures success the same way you do?
More or less, yes.
How did the changing nature of the civil rights movement shape
challenges that you faced as a mediator?
I can honestly say that the civil rights movement has provided me an opportunity to realize
how much more work needs to be done. We are just beginning. You've been able to look inside
to get to see the bigger picture. And, quite often, you're able to discern what actually needs to be
done and how difficult it's going to be to get there if certain things aren't addressed. Once
certain policies and procedures and methods actually become legality and it's not challenged or
anybody's going to contest it. With all these things in place, I realize that we are just in the
beginning stages to address all the inequities in this world. It results because of people having a
feeling that they are superior, or certain people are not deserving, or they don't have the need
for it, they don't appreciate this. Well, you can't appreciate that which you've never had. So this,
perhaps more than anything else, the civil rights movement has provided me with this. It also
has allowed me to meet and work with a lot of people who's efforts will never be recognized.
People who have been involved in the "struggle", as they refer to it, without a lot of fanfare and
a lot of notoriety. There are people who could make a lot more money doing other things, but
no, they are still involved in the struggle. I tried to keep some of them from becoming
disillusioned, saying that they've been there long enough and certain other people have
benefited from it and are still benefiting from it. I try not to let that detour them at this late
stage, because they've been there all these years and they don't know another way of life. They
have made a difference.
That's another thing, I've been able to stay in contact with a lot of people who have made the
difference. It's very rewarding for me as an individual to say I work with John Lewis, that I
know Jesse Jackson, Coretta King and knew Ralph David Abernathe. I know Jimmy Carter, Bill
Clinton and these people. It's made a difference in my life. It's also had me realize that, as I said
earlier, we have this struggle. It goes beyond black and white. You have the people who are
very, very wealthy. The only thing they're trying to do is maintain their margin of credit and
level amount of money they have on deposit, and certain stock. They watch the stock market
fluctuate everyday. But people out here now down in South Georgia are watching the water
table because they are without water. The wells are not pumping. The rich farmers who have
the irrigation systems wells are deep and are still enjoying all the water. So therefore, you have
to realize that the people will care less about the people without. There has to be a balance
where certain people, not all people, are giving to the less fortunate who have been in a terrible
state. So there has to be some more parity and more equity, and it's only going to come about
when we can get more people to realize that this world was made for all. We should share as
much as we can together.
I'm glad that you raised that question of equity. In your case work, as you dealt with people
who were like this one, you referred to tremendous power inequity.
What did you do and what sort of techniques do you use to make it easier?
One of the most powerful white families in Eastern Carolina was the Wilkins family. He
also acted as a friend of the court in order to prosecute JoAnn Little. That generated an awful lot
of animosity. It already was there because of a tremendous amount of wealth on the land that
these people owned. After the trial was over, I got back to the Washington, Buford County area.
Her acquittal somehow or another was viewed as a victory and a sense of empowerment to the
blacks. So they started holding meetings and one time I said to them, "you know, Mr. Wilkins, it
might do well for you to come and listen. You don't have to say anything, just come and listen
to these people who are sincere. They're concerned about the school system and about other
things here in Buford County. You've just got to listen."
So you just called him up?
Yes. I called him and I told him I was going to be in Washington and I
needed to talk with him. He said, "Well, I'll be. I don't have anything on my calendar at such and
such a time, come on." From that day on until today -- he's an old man today, but he's
different. He had never before been invited to sit and talk or hear what the blacks were saying.
In turn, in that part of North Carolina, they had a lot of Mexican day laborers living in
dilapidated housing. Even today you can see the difference in the housing they had then and
what they have now. Mr. Wilkins employed hundreds on his plantation. The housing that he
now provides has air conditioning and everything else. Before some of them were nothing more
than old chicken coops that people were forced to live in. He has set a
standard. Other whites in that area now see what Mr. Wilkins is doing and they're going to get
the message. There were a couple more whites in the area. One family owned a couple of
hotels and they start helping a young black get a restaurant started. It used to be that there was
one section of hotels which were relegated to blacks. I knew, every time I registered, it was the
same section. And you go in the dining room and you have to wait. All that changed. Then you
started seeing one or two black state troopers in the area. Different little things. So I thought it
might help to show some of this to the richest man in the area. Well, he came and listened and
then just said to them afterwards, "You know, I appreciate you all inviting me to come." He said,
"Now I heard a lot of things tonight and I am going to look into some of them. And if
find out that they're true and they're wrong we're going to get together and do something about
them." But he had never been asked before. He had never been asked! Last year they asked me
to meet with some congressmen and senators. You know, as old as I am, I know a lot of these
congressman and senators. I knew Congressman Charlie Norwood from Georgia, so I went to
him and said, "Congressman Norwood, I know you're aware of the church burnings. You even
had your staff working with us on a church down there." He said, "Bob, you know it." I said, "I
need a letter from you to the budget committee explaining exactly what CRS does." He said,
"That's no problem Bob." Another fellow introduced himself, saying he was from North
I said, "What part?" He said, "You wouldn't know where it is. It's a little place called
Washington." I said, "Buford County?" He said, "Yeah. You know my brother-in-law is Don
Wilkins." I said, "Oh yeah, that big brick house that sits along the beautiful canal that
runs back to everything else. I'm thinking about buying that house!" He said, "You know it?" I
said, "Yes, I am quite familiar with your family up there." So after hearing that, Charlie
Norwood wrote a letter -- I was really embarrassed -- about me to Attorney General Janet
Reno, talking about what work I had done over the years. That was not my purpose, it was for
the agency to get more money. See again, I don't do it for Bob Ensley. I don't need it.
Everybody likes to say, "Thank you, you did a good job." That's human nature. But the credit
goes to the community and to the people who have everything to lose. I was paid for the years I
worked. I wasn't out there as a revolutionary. I had commitment, but I was being paid for
every day that I was there. These other people, they have everything to lose.
I am dealing with a situation even today in Rocky Mountain, where all of a sudden this black
man who has been doing an excellent job as a teacher at the community college is in trouble. He
called me on Tuesday saying, "Bob, despite a favorable evaluation, when the school's out now
suddenly they are questioning my professionalism because I registered to protest." So they have
everything to lose. I didn't. I could just back up and leave and go out of town. So they are the
ones who need the credit, the respect, or whatever else positive is associated with my
I'm going to ask you to not be humble for a second and ask
what are your strengths, your greatest skills and strengths as a civil rights
Number one: being truthful about what you can and what you cannot do. The second is
being honest. The third thing is spending as much time as it takes. I mean just don't rush in and
rush out. Spend as much time as it takes with the minority community. I have been in places
where people still have dirt floors. They have burlap bags as partitions hanging from a string. I
would see an old calendar there, and I'd walk up and I'd say, "You know this is beautiful. Where
did you get it? How long have you had it?" Find something complimentary to say about it.
offer you a glass of water that's probably drawn from a well out of a jelly glass. Sip it. Don't
stand up. If a child comes up to you with dirty hands, jelly or peanut butter you don't move
away, let that child touch you. You understand what I'm saying? Find something
complimentary to say to them.
With white business people, be on time, be prepared, and don't flinch when you hear the "N"
word. Some of them are going to apologize or say I'm sorry. Don't respond. Oh yes, even
today, 1999, they're going to use it. Another thing is, don't accept any of their small gratuities.
If we're in a room like this and there are cokes here that's one thing. But don't let them take you
out and buy you a coke, or buy you a dinner or anything else. Be on your own. Don't let them
try to move you away from the reason why you're there. There has to be a certain commitment
in order to survive in a job such as this, but you have to know when the commitment ends and
where it begins. Know your limitations. There's always somebody who knows a little bit more
than you know. Everybody can contribute. That's been my strength, just recognizing that
everybody is somebody and wants to be recognized. But if any credit is to be given, give it to
the community or those individuals who have everything to lose and very little to gain. Spend
time with them, just listening. Go to the churches and listen to these ministers. Sometimes go to
their homes and sit there and look. Some of these places -- they defy description.
So you just adapt. And you know, what would I look like going to the
Nubians? They put on a suit, collar, and a tie. There are times I would keep a suit in the
car. Now I was up in Elizabeth City, NC last weekend where a church burned. I met with all
the AIM officials who were at a funeral. I went to the funeral. I put on the suit and went to the
funeral. I met the bishop and the residing elders and got all the information I needed. So you
have to adapt, be prepared to do what you need to do, and go where it needs to get done, what
you need to have done.
I'm sure it was also important for them to see you. To send a message. To see you at the
Oh yes. To see that I was that concerned, that I would come. The bishop said to me, "I want
to be completely involved, and kept abreast of everything that's done when we start rebuilding
the church." So that's the sort of little things that I do. It comes as a result of many years and
experiences dealing with people. Then I serve on so many boards, I'm boarded out. The lottery
board, the Georgia music hall of fame, the Macon arts alliance, the NAACP, the housing
authority, and all of these things.
You know, you mentioned learning from mistakes. Certainly some of the people who will
reading this will be newcomers to the field and who will be very concerned with not making
mistakes. So if you had to look back over your career, and think about a
mistake that you learned from, something that at the time felt horrible, but in retrospect you
learned the most from, what would that be?
Where's the boss button, I'm trying to really think.
You don't have to tell me the situation, just lessons learned. What should people not do?
The one mistake being a male, and particularly a black male, is consorting with women at
night clubs, bars or even having them in your room.
When you're on a case?
When you're on a case that is so damaging, so damaging! Another
thing is, don't tell people you're going to be there when you have no intention of showing up.
I guess I felt kind of bad, but I told the people I was going to be at that church but then
Because not showing up at a designated time, and people are gathered, it sends a wrong
message. It's so critical to be there, no matter what.
Well you mentioned the consorting with women. Why is that?
Because they say that's the only thing black men want to do, you know, just lie around with
women. That's totally untrue. Let it be known in my case, that it wasn't true.
I'm interested in hearing about the managing of emotions. This work, obviously, can be so
intense and the issues that you deal with can be so intense, and you're a human being with
feelings. So I'm interested in how you manage emotions. What do you
do with them, how does that affect your family, to whatever degree that you are willing to share.
I am very fortunate in that respect, because having a brother in law and a nephew who are
both considered outstanding, they have taught me very successfully what they call stress
management. It's nothing more than a form of self-hypnosis and at times I go back to my motel
room and I go through these exercises and they really work. Sometimes it's absolutely necessary
just to back away from the situation and go 15 or 20 miles to some historic site or some place
that has some name recognition associated with it and just relax. I don't frequent movies that
much and I'm not a movie-goer, but I do like various scenes and scenery and different things and
rivers and water in the mountains. I would just go to the parks and engage myself, and forget
about the purposes of where I am, and just not think about it. Sometimes I go there to give it a
great deal of thought depending upon the situation. The stress management exercises that I go
through really relieve all the tension and stress associated with the case.
Would you say what some of those are?
I would go over to the hospital, police
department, sheriff's department, the schools, and all of these different places because it's
important to know the geographical area that they're talking about. It was very important for me
to know where everything in town was located, so that way I didn't have to ride with the chief or
the mayor. I could get by on my own so if they said, "Meet me at so-and-so cafeteria at such-
and-such a place," or "Meet me at the school or at the police department or city hall," I would
pretty much know where all these places were located sometimes.
It sounds like you have a very methodical and thorough way of getting to know a situation.
Well, after all these years you learn simply by doing and not making certain types of little
mistakes and errors and so forth.
You have a good sense of direction?
Oh yes, 'cause in the Army I was fortunate enough to be able to do certain things and it
always helped a lot.
What skills did you bring with you from the
Army that enhanced this particular job?
Consensus-gathering -- getting a consensus as to what needs to be done. The best
approaches, they call it
now best practices tactical agreements, strategizing and these kinds of things. Don't ever be in a
hurry and rush into something unless you thoroughly assessed it, or feel quite comfortable with
the best approach.
And does that translate into time? In other words, does it take a lot
time to make a good assessment, or is time a critical factor?
Timing does weigh very heavily on some decisions, but then again, make sure, if timing is
an issue, to
do as much as you possibly can to be sure that your assessment is accurate and factual.
Sometimes it's going to take a lot more time because you have so many different factions,
groups, and organizations, and the problems are a lot more complex than what you've
anticipated or what has been told to you. Many times it's not the problem
itself, it's so many underlying problems that if you're not careful you'll be responding to one
thing when really it's another. And then you have to listen to what people are saying, and many
times pay attention to what's being said. A lot of times people say things that will get them in a
great deal of trouble afterwards. I can remember we
had a situation where Oscar Lawreck was a black farmer in a time when they were foreclosing a
lot of loans. This black farmer, in rural Georgia, attracted all these militia men out of Oklahoma,
and even had armored buses to protect his property. Every day at 4 o'clock, they'd get bails of
hay like that and go out there and blast them with machine guns and everything. They were going
foreclose, only because his three sons mismanaged all the loans. They were buying new tractors
every year which they didn't need. They were just being built by their local distributors and they
ran up a debt with the farm administration and local banks, so they were initiating foreclosure
procedures. Farmers from all around were there in support of Oscar Lawreck until this one
white farmer from about 50 miles away said, "When you come to my farm, you'd better bring
damn caskets and your undertaker because somebody is going to die." What in the world did he
have to say that for? Do you know the next thing that they did? They went to his farm.
Law Enforcement and Federal Agents called the wife and told her to
come back and get everything out of the house that she wanted because they were foreclosing
and taking possession of everything else that she couldn't move out. So his mouth got
him in trouble. I tried to prevail upon them and they said, "No, we don't take this kind of threat
lightly. We need to show that we're serious about this. He said it and now we're going to do it
and show him that he's not bigger than the Federal government." So, many times people say
things and they act without thinking. I understood what he was saying. He was angry, and I
don't know how sympathetic he was with this black man. I know he understood that the man
was about to lose everything he worked a lifetime to accrue. He had a family, a wife, and
children, and to come home and tell her he can no longer go on that property, and that his wife
had taken everything that she thought was of value would have been very traumatic. I was there
the day it happened, but I never went back. There's always something else I should have done.
I've never been completely satisfied with myself. Could I have done more? I
remember a case with a young fellow named Roosevelt Green and Kazell Moore. They
kidnapped this college student from a convenience store where she worked. A 19-year-old
young white girl named Theresa Allen. They kidnapped her and drove her around for several
days raping her. Then they finally killed her in the most inhuman manner that a young woman
can die. They were apprehended and jailed in Monroe County about 60 miles south of here on I-
75. Roosevelt Green escaped from the jail. The black people said he was lynched. "We know
where his body is; they threw it in the well and they poured lime on top of it. The sheriff let the
Ku Klux Klan in there to apprehend and take this young man away and lynch him." There was a
lot of notoriety associated with their concern. He called me, his name was Sheriff Bitty of
Monroe County. He said, "Bob, I need to talk with you." I normally passed through there on
my way home, so I stopped by. He said, "Bob, this is becoming very critical. I am going to
show you something." So he pulled out these telephone records showing that this young man
had made calls from this particular house, where an elderly black couple lived, to his mother in
This was the fugitive who was supposed to be dead?
Yeah, the one that was supposed to be. The sheriff said, "But I can't tell this to the public.
The white people are going to have my hide for not locking up the elderly couple for being
accessories to his escape. I'm between a rock and a hard place. Those people were scared to
death, but see we've got some rednecks here that could care less. They want me to lock 'em up.
The old people were scared to death?
Yeah, they were scared. I don't know how he coerced or threatened them, but he used the
phone. He made five calls from there within a short period of time. They had to harbor him,
had to eat and different things. So I said, "Sheriff, I'll handle it." So I got together with some of
the black people in the area I said, "Sheriff Bitty's father was a sheriff here and you all said he
was a fair man and carried himself. You always had a great deal of respect for him." During the
other incidents that occurred there, he had intervened and helped. "Let's give him a chance."
So, the police knew he was in New York and they finally apprehended him and they eventually
him. His mother came to Jackson, Georgia where they had the execution chamber. She came
there dressed as if she was going to a cocktail party to witness her son's execution. I tried to
get it across to her that this was very solemn. It wasn't any type of occasion where she was going
the star attraction. The media was there because of an execution, not because of her. So I said to
her, "Perhaps you don't even need to be here." "Oh no, I want to be here" she said. So you
know what I did? I got in my car. Jack Barker was the captain in charge of the State Patrol and I
told him, "Jack, I'm leaving." He said, "The hell you are. You gotta be here with us. All hell
may break loose over there." He was referring to two different groups across the road from each
other, including anti-capital-punishment people. I said, "No, I'm going home." I was to stop
and see Sheriff Bitty because he was the one still suffering the pains from the accusation that
was made about him allowing Roosevelt Green to be taken from the jail and be lynched. He was
still very upset about that. So I stopped by there and I talked with him. It was late and we talked
for awhile. I said, "You've got to be bigger than this. You've got to reach out and tell those
people that you understood their feelings. Just tell them you're going to be sheriff as long as
you want to be. There are going to be certain times where they will get a feeling and they're
going to have to verbalize those feelings. You understand that these people have never had
the opportunity to even speak out on anything of any interest or any matter. Understand why they
did it." He did, so he was elected to become the head of the National Service Association and
to Washington, and his son is now the sheriff. This is the third generation of sheriffs. His son
was just elected last week as the President of the Georgia Sheriff's Association.
This was a case involving a whole series of events and many people were
affected, including the
family of the young girl who was viciously murdered. Kazell Moore is still on death row and
he's been there about 20 years or more now. Roosevelt Green had his mother come out there
dressed as if she was going to a cocktail party. A sheriff was hurt by the people making the
accusation that he had allowed vigilantes to come in and lynch Roosevelt Green.
How did that rumor get started?
I don't know. All I know is that I got a call from a black councilwoman up there. She
called me and told me that I'd better get up there. I only live 22 miles away and they were
a mass meeting at this church, talking about how the sheriff allowed these vigilantes to go in
how he knew where the body was and how they had poured lime into the well. This is the kind
of thing you have to be very careful with, and the media didn't give it that much attention. We
were able to nip it before the media got a hold of it and sensationalized it. Nobody would
benefit from it being plausible because it would have caused a lot of damage. It would've
damaged the credibility of the sheriff. After the fugitive was found in New York, it would've
created a lot of doubt in the credibility of a lot of the black leaders up there who were involved.
In a crisis situation, one of the first things you do is take into account what rumors will do to
you. In large cities we always set up a rumor control center. That's the first thing we do
because of the people. The most notorious people for spreading the rumors are the wives of
white law enforcement officials.
They're the world's worst. The officers go home and talk about it, and then their wives get on
the phone. The first thing, you know, we have all these wild rumors going. So that's
why it's extremely important to set up a rumor control center and check it
out and verify it and get back to the person who's calling.
So in a small community, how do you separate the issues from the rumors?
A: First of all, you have to get credible people. You call so-and-so,
they'll tell you there are certain people in every community that both black and white feel
comfortable talking to. That's the only way to do it because you cannot do it yourself; you don't
there. You're not familiar with anyone there. You have to get people that are respected, who are
honest. You let that rest with the community, don't try to take on that burden yourself, because
you can't win.
You mentioned time. How do you balance the amount of time that it
takes to do a thorough
assessment with the fact that there's a crisis happening? How do you balance these two
I don't know, I just take as much time as necessary. Sometimes Ozell would say to me, "Do
you know how much more time you're going to spend there? How much more time, how much
more help are you going to need?" I'd say, "I don't know, but I am not quite comfortable leaving
this yet. I'll need a few more days." Then when the people in the
community begin to realize that they have a stake in this issue, they become more involved.
Then I pretty much know that I can leave and tell them I'll be back at a certain time.
But you've got to realize that this is their
and the only lasting resolution will be one that the people who live in the community agree to.
We can say this is what the Department of Justice has decided to
do, but it's only going to hold for so long as we're there. But if they
come to an agreement on their own and begin to realize this is their problem, then you can feel a
little more comfortable with leaving and saying, "I'll be back." You do go back and
follow up and see if they've made any progress; you look at your checklist.
Then sometimes you'll say to them, "You know,
your effort and everything you're doing is fine, but wouldn't it be a good idea if you would call
the state Human Relations Commission to come in to give you some assistance in this?" Or,
"Wouldn't so-and-so in the governor's office come in to help you? Think about it."
You mentioned a checklist -- is this a mental checklist that you
A mental checklist, yes.
And what's on this checklist?
Who's to be involved, certain time limits, what goals and objectives did they set that were
different than what you had originally thought of terms of. Who else they are involving and any
money that is involved.
Also, what additional role is there for me? What will I be able to do? Who am I going to assist?
Am I going to assist a Human Relations Council, or am I going to assist the people, or do I assist
them together? It's much easier if we can work harmoniously with all the groups as they come
together, than to assist one over the other, because it may appear as if we're taking a position
with the Human Relations Commission and have forgotten about them being able to represent
themselves and speak for themselves.
Let's say that you have a group of people who come from elsewhere and set up an institution
in a community. And the community, for any number of reasons, maybe because these new
people coming in look different, maybe because they have some kind of political history, but for
some reason this community feels overtly opposed to the presence of this group. How do you
to tease out the issues, and make peace? What needs to happen?
That's what I'm dealing with now to some extent. It goes back to
1970, down in Sumter
County where President Carter's home is in Plains, Georgia. They had a group of
people down there that started living in something like a commune. I
went down there to look into brutality in the county jails and I called ahead and told the sheriff
and other people that I was coming.
So as soon as I got into Americus, I found the street and a place to park. So I pulled up to back
into this parking space and this car pulls up right behind me and wouldn't let me in. I refused
to move. So somebody ran and got the police and the police told me to move on. I said, "No, I
am not going to move on. I'm trying to back up." "You don't know who that is. That's Mr.
Satter White." I said, "I don't care who it is. I'm going to back up here." "He's the justice of the
peace." I said, "I don't care if he's the governor. I'm going to back up and I'm not moving."
"We'll haul you to jail." I said, "That's what you're going to have to do. Who does he think he
is? Just because he's the justice of the peace? If he's the justice of the peace, he should have a
designated for him to park over at the courthouse which is across the street. I'm not going to
move." I didn't move so I got hauled over to the courthouse. So the
sheriff had heard about it and said, "We let you come here to see what you could do about those
commune people out there. You don't have anything else in this county to talk about." I didn't
know anything about who they were talking about. I said, "I came here to see about those people
who have been beaten in this jail. These are people who have been beaten and denied bond and
the speedy process." "That isn't any of your business, Boy." I said, "Well, I'm going to make it
some of my business. If I don't, somebody else will be here to see about it." And so here comes
this justice of the peace. He said, "You got some nerve Boy, coming down here talking to us
people like that. You don't know where you are and I'll..." I said, "You're going to do what?
You're used to talking to blacks from this area in the manner that you're trying to talk to me. If
you come out here and attempt to do anything to me, I'm going to defend myself any way I know
how. I can assure you that you will not be victorious. Are you understanding what I'm saying?"
So this big bully says, "I won't let no n****r talk to me like that." I said, "You go to hell." I was
scared to death. I got in my car and I knew it was time to go. I went across the street and got in
my car. When I looked around there were two cars following me on that rural road, so I stepped
it and got across the county line from Sumter County. I drove right up past Andersonville
Cemetery and I stopped my car and went to the trunk like I was going to get something out.
They stopped when I opened my trunk. I stood right by my trunk as if I had a shotgun or
something. I didn't have anything in there but maybe a jack or something. They sent
word to me that I better not show my black self in that county again and what they were going to
do to me. I said okay.
They knew you were the Department of Justice?
Yes. So at that time, Carter was the governor and I got Carter to find out about
Cornelia Communal living. These people were all
people who had gone and bought this land down in Sumter County and had started teaching
black people how to farm properly; how to rotate crops, the fertilizers used, the various
herbicides, and how to grow hybrid corn and all of that. They also started helping them build
decent homes. The reason the townspeople were objecting to it was because it was draining off
all of the cheap labor. These people had still been working on those plantations down there for
three dollars a day and some of them were doing share-cropping. But then came the communal
people buying up all of these large tracts of land, irrigating farms and building homes. It was a
self-help project; they were very progressive. These black people had never lived so well.
Years before this, these white people voted that no more taxes would go into public schools.
The public schools started deteriorating, so Governor Carter took it upon himself as a private
citizen to sue the Sumter County School System. The leaders of the public schools were sending
all their kids to these private schools and doing everything they possibly could to break the back
of these black people. They didn't understand it. So now they feel threatened by this small
group of white people, some of whom have advanced degrees in horticulture and agriculture.
Habitat for Humanity is an outgrowth of that project. The mother of Hamilton Jordan, who was a
assistant to President Carter, was one of the ones who lived on the commune. She was
ostracized by her family for years. Hamilton Jordan's mother, until the day of her death, was the
one helping those poor migrant workers and those tenant farmers. She led them and showed
them a better way of coming together and pooling their resources. They worked hard. We could
go down there today and see what has come as a result. You don't hear anything about it today
at all. Up in Putnam County, the same thing is going on where people dress differently, eat
differently, act differently. It's always a threat for some reason. There's nothing that
says that you have an option to go beyond what God has offered to all of us on this planet. So
they're not in a position to be the dominant group, to dictate people's lifestyles.
The most difficult thing is having people sit down and talk and
communicate. The one thing that the whites have always had, is the presence of the police
department or law enforcement. In different ways, they've used that in order to deter,
threaten, intimidate, or coerce other people who come in with different lifestyles or different
cultures. It's pretty much that way in several of the areas where I helped work. But you need to
try to get people to sit down and just listen, no matter how much they protest against it.
Whatever objections they raise, beg them, "Please just come on. Just sit down."
How did you, in either that situation or a recent
one, get people to the table when there's so much hostility?
You have to become the target. Let them blame you, let them blame
Bob Ensley. I let myself be the target.
How do you do that?
By telling them that I'm the one that's asking them to do this. I said, "It may not work. If it
does work, it's going to be to your advantage. If it doesn't work, blame it on me because I'm the
one asking you and I'm going to be right here with you." "Now, the one
thing I will say is that I'm going to chair. It's going to be my meeting and I'm going to be in
control. When I feel as though it's getting too complicated, we're going to adjourn the meeting
and go home. But I want you all to know this is my meeting and everybody's going to have
the opportunity to talk. I don't want any side remarks. I don't want any profanity. I don't want any
reference made to a person's color or anything else. This is my meeting. I will adjourn it unless
you come prepared to hear what people are going to say, no matter how they say it." I keep
emphasizing that because they always talk about ignorant and uneducated people. "It's going to
be my meeting and we're going to sit and listen."
You hear this from both sides?
How do you decide when to stop dealing with them separately and bring them both to the
It varies. Sometimes you have to do it in the heat of the conflict and have them realize that
unless an agreement is reached today, there's going to be serious consequence and everybody's
going to suffer. Then again, it takes time to build and you gotta spend days going back and forth
from one group to the other. It's usually hot, you're tired, but you say, "I can't give up now. I
have to go, I have to keep on going." Then when you start seeing little cracks and people saying,
"Well, let me call so-and-so. Call me in a day." I'd say, "I don't have a day or two. Can't you
call them now?"
So first you do this
preliminary work with either side to kind of soften them up?
Yes, oh yes. You've got to move between each, yes. But sometimes you don't even have
that luck. You have to go to them and say, "Listen Frank Ford, you have to meet today." He's
the county attorney up where I am working now. I said, "We don't have the time to wait until
I'm able to meet with the mayor or the sheriff and everybody. With one phone call from you,
you can have the people together."
Why wouldn't you have the time?
Because sometimes, like right now, the urgency in Putnam County is to get the building
permits in order to start building before the cold weather sets in and the rainy season starts.
That's in October, November, and December. They can get an awful lot done this time of year
in the absence of the rain and mud.
It sounds like you've taken the position that
you're going to support them in establishing their community.
Oh yes, because they're right in what they're doing. They are right, they have every right to
building permits. There were no building codes until they became interested in building that
village. And all of a sudden, the establishment came up with all these building permits, and a
ordinances and so forth. So do you know what I'm going to do? I've already thought about it.
Shady Dale, which is a place about as big as this room, is an incorporated community. Cornelia
presently has 5 times more people in their village than Shady Dale does. So, as soon as they get
the surveying done and all the other things, I'm going to have them become a separate
independent community and have them incorporated where they have their own government.
I'm going to suggest that to them. They can have their own city council, their own
commissioner. They will probably have a few thousand people there in a few years. Right up
the street from where they are located, the woman who designs all of Tony Morris's clothing
lives there, and she's building a bed-and-breakfast place. A beautiful place, it's a thriving
community. These people have money and they have a lot of talent.
Did the whole situation remind the town of a group-compound situation, like Waco? Is that
what they were afraid of?
No, no. And that's what they're trying to make it out to be. It's not going to be a Waco
situation. I have almost given up on this. They've had all this trouble now for 5 years, getting
permits for what they're trying to do. Two weeks ago, I was in the Planning and Zoning Office
and these three white men came in, in their business suits with their briefcases and everything. I
was sitting there, back on the side, listening as they were making an application for a landfill
operation where they will deposit debris. A dry landfill as they call it, with building materials
and stumps and all that. A lot of that building material is very toxic. The landfill is only within
a mile of where they get their water supply. So afterwards, the lady knew I heard everything that
was going on and I just sat there and read the paper. Later on she said to me, "You know, there's
going to be a protest and in yesterday's paper, that much space was given to it. The surgeon's
going to hold this rally. And you know who's in there with them protesting? The Nubians.
You see how relationships and alliances are built? So I encourage the commune members to go,
because they're drinking from that same water supply. So now you have a common cause to
come together. So now they're going to be at the next meeting in numbers. So, God is good.
When the Nubians initially came in, did they not want to be part of this community?
No, they came in with the idea that they were going to develop this land that they call East of
Egypt and that it was going to be like a theme park. There would also be residences for people
to live in, as well as a teaching facility and a place for worship services. Many people want to
call it a cult or a group but it's not, and it's not a compound. I'd refer to it as a village, and the
commune wants to term it and describe it as something that's going to result in another Waco or
Ruby Ridge. These people are highly intelligent and I've spent an awful lot of
time there and I've learned so much about some of the things they do. Dr. Urich, Moaki Urich
has a great deal of vision and they have money from their bookstores. Also, they have what they
call they're Zedfest, which runs from June 24th to July 4th and it's a period of eating and
and praying and so forth. One rainy Sunday they had 6,000 people come. They had 300 from
England. They could charter a plane. They had them from all over the world -- Hong Kong,
Japan, all around. They had over 35,000 people
there during the days of the Zedfest. So here's what the city did. This shows you how
calculating and how hypocritical some of these officials are. They went out to the compound, as
they called it, and closed every one of their food centers, where they would sell food. They said
they didn't meet sanitary codes and this and that. Everything. You want to know why? They
want them all to buy food from the local white establishments in Eatonton, Ingalls Department
Store. Ingalls is a food chain here in rural Georgia. That parking lot stayed full. That
delicatessen counter would sell out everyday. All of that and it was done simply to increase the
sales of the local establishment.
Sure. And that definitely benefited the city?
Oh yeah. Especially when you have 30 thousand people coming in hungry and wanting
So you see how hypocritical they are? They didn't want them there, but they want their money.
Well, I'm excited for what will happen in this.
I know it's going to happen, they're going to get everything they want. They're going to get
their building permits, everything. I had their leaders meet last week and do everything that they agreed to do. I told the
county official to put it in writing because we didn't want another stumbling block once they got
their permits. So they did.
So what would be the enforcement mechanism so that they don't go
back on this?
Federal court. Get a temporary restraining order to keep them from making these
So did the people, when they came in, not
understand that the building restrictions would exist? Were they not willing to be cooperative
with the local environment? Did they misread it?
No. See, these people are intelligent. They would go down and make application permits.
They had access to the other applications for everything and they saw that other people were not
being required to do the same thing.
So it was just blatant discrimination?
Absolutely, no question about it. So I called that to the attention of the attorney. The
day before yesterday, in fact. I
called it to his attention and because now they have what they call exclusive resources, like the
Reynolds Plantation. That is so excluded -- it's a lakefront area up there. The cheapest house on
the Reynolds Plantation is over $600,000. Jack Nicklaus designed the golf course and
it's got so much view! So the attorney said to me, "Mr. Ensley, you put in a
lot of time up here with us and you've been fair. We don't want to go through this again because
it's taking too much time and attention. We've all been going uphill on this. Why don't you
have the place become a resource community and become a planned development where they
don't have to make any more applications? Just give us one plan showing where the houses are
going to be and where the businesses are going to be, like the Reynolds Plantation and Javernt
Plantation. Become a planned development." They wouldn't even let them
entertain that idea before. They were just denying them on every opportunity they have.
I see. So we're not talking hilly, rocky farmland here? We're talking real estate property?
This is Putnam County. Georgia has 159 counties. Putnam County leads the state in Dairy
products. It's a dairy farm area. It's a very beautiful area. When you get up on the hill, you can
see for miles around. Dairy cows and dairy operations are scattered throughout the county. It's a
county with about 16,000 people. It's a very small county in size and population, but it's a
beautiful county and only 60 miles from Atlanta. You have access on almost all interstates.
Beautiful rolling hills and ponds and everything.
When you have issues that are so large like racism or class
economic issues, how do you
incorporate that into the mediation or the resolution of the conflict?
Well, the first thing, as you know, is that you've got to get people sitting down and talking.
them to the table is one of the most difficult things and it requires some skill. You develop skills
by practice, and participation, and involvement in similar situations. You have to get them to
realize it's all for the common good.
You also have to be sure they have time to devote to the problem. This is awfully agonizing
many times and so frustrating. A good deal of inner strength and inner faith is required to
continue to work through the processes when they're telling you it's not going to work, that
they're not going to change their position, that you're just going to muddy the water, and create
some additional problems by getting involved. Don't let them deter you. You've just got to keep
on begging them and insisting they've got to meet and sit down and talk. And it's the only way.
You can't force them to do it, but you've got to have them realize that it's not going to go away.
"Them" means who?
The groups that are involved, particularly the white power structure. I know the black
people that have been coached and instructed to say certain things to me, to make me think
things aren't that bad. But it's far greater and much more serious. They don't know that I've
already done my homework in many areas and know a lot more about them and how they were
elected and how they've been voting on issues and certain things.
There's still a lot of racism. There are a lot of
charges of past racism. Uncle Remis was a real living black man, who's body was taken to a
taxidermist and was displayed as a window front. Until people realized that it was actually him
and they had it removed. They had still taken meat to the store where his body was preserved in
order to display it in the window front there. All these people were still very sensitive. The
whites don't like to be reminded about what Uncle Remis depicted and portrayed, and how it
impacted many of the blacks. There are an awful lot of strong feelings that go back for
They had a terrible tornado that went through there a few years ago. Aid and assistance was
given to certain people before other people. These forms of discrimination -- the white people
don't want to be reminded of it. Some black people were not even aware of it, and just accepted
it as a way of life. But now with these younger people coming in who are highly
trained and highly educated, they have some sense of direction as to where they want to see
things start going, and there is a lot of suspicion directed against them. They are a little
different, some of the things they do. They have their own money out there, they have their own
security forces. Sometimes they are required to have their own passports to East of Egypt
and all this, but so what? They're still breathing human beings that aren't a threat to anybody.
Was law enforcement looking for illegal activities?
Of course. I was told early on that there were escaped murderers being harbored there.
robbers and fugitives and child molesters and child abuse going on out there. I wish you could
see those happy children. Neat, clean homes, mostly in the form of mobile homes, but they are
still neat and clean. Air-conditioned, carpeting, and they remove their shoes before going into
the houses and different things. Some things are just a little different. I don't understand the
language they speak a lot of the times. Some of them speak what I feel is similar to how Arabic
is spoken. But that doesn't detour me at all. As long as I understand what they are trying to tell
Racially, these are mostly blacks?
Mostly blacks. They are originally from New York and the Brooklyn area. Very intelligent.
They have their own contractors, their own builders, their own architects and everything. So you
can see that they have some knowledge of the way that these monuments are designed. There is
some talent, some skill and some training. It's the same thing with John
McCallin. When he went to Sparta, another community not to far from Edentown. Years ago
John received approximately 22 million dollars from the Ford Foundation. He was one of the
first people to suggest that they could earn a profit by raising catfish. Those people did
everything they could to poison his farms. They wouldn't give him access to water. It was a
threat to the white farmers who had blacks working on those farms with little or nothing. They
didn't want them to have any independence from this system. They did everything they possibly
could to destroy John and his operation, and they did. And now you can see the profit of catfish
farming throughout the South, but especially in Mississippi and Arkansas. A very profitable
John was one of the first black people to start this. Still today, they have about 150 to 200
houses that were built in the area they call Mayfield. John was the person responsible for having
people move out of tenement shacks into decent housing with running water and indoor
plumbing. So, this type of effort has come a long way and has really helped a lot. But, it's
always been seen as a threat to our way of life.
Was it in Georgia, Arkansas, or Mississippi that Janet Reno intervened in your case? It
could've been another D.A. -- the case around these two women who were lesbians, who had a
Yes, that was in Mississippi -- outside of Laurel, Mississippi.
Is that the kind of thing that CRS would've been involved in?
We were involved in it. I was out of the agency at the time, but because I had done a lot of
work in Laurel they still called me. The superintendent of schools called me, the chief of police
called me, everything. I said, "Now listen, I'm not with CRS anymore." "Bob, if you'll come
over, we'll pay you." I said, "No, I can't. I can't do it because I will still be looked at as the
Justice Department." I spent a lot of time in Laurel. In fact I trained two of our females from
there. One was Sue Brown, Jim Brown's first wife, and a lady who's now a Federal District
Judge. So I used them in Laurel at the time. This particular situation attracted a lot of attention.
But I didn't dare go over there as a private citizen because then I would just be going as Bob
Ensley, with no authority or no support from anybody and I would've been looked upon as a
supporter. No, I couldn't do that.
That's within this region?
So that's a case?
Oh yes, that's a case that Mr. Sutton is very familiar with.
Alright, I think we're actually done. Is there anything that comes to your mind that you feel
like we haven't talked about?
No, no. All I have to say is that it takes a
special kind of person to get involved in mediation conciliation. You've got to have some sort of
commitment over and above the salary and the job title, because it's going to cause an awful lot
of frustration at times, and you're going to say, "What the hell am I doing here and why did I get
involved in this?" And at the same time, you're going to double your own personal commitment
to take you through many of these situations. But then again, it's awfully rewarding when you
can ride through an area and say, "Remember this and all the good people that this job has
allowed you to meet?" I meet so many wonderful people. That's what I am grateful
It's sounds like you've been a great help and blessing to the region.
No, no. It's the people themselves that allow me this opportunity. So many of them, some
them who are dead and gone will never be recognized as the people who were really involved,
really committed. Like Rightsville, GA that Ozell was mentioning, with the racist sheriff. One
woman had the nerve to start standing up to the sheriff who would arrest people, particularly
those people whose parents or relatives owned large tracts of land. He would arrest them on
some frivolous charge and set up bond. These people would then put up their property and all of
the sudden, a man would disappear and couldn't be found. This sheriff became powerful and a
large-scale land owner. So this one woman, stood up and would come up here and protest in
the U.S. courthouse in front of the U.S. Attorney's office and start getting us involved. They
got a call last week when school started; the Chief of Police is now also the resource officer at
the school. He's in charge of security at the high school now. How can he be the Chief of
Police, being paid by the city of Rightsville and also paid by the Johnson County Board of
It sounds like a little conflict of interest.
A little. It's always one person and Mrs. Mumford. She's dead and gone, but that woman
in her 70s and she marched all over. She marched in Washington, marched in Laurel,
Mississippi, she was every place there was some sort of protest going on related to race.
Do you anticipate retiring?
Oh, yes. I was called back to deal with the Church Burning Crisis for a short period of time.
Now it's been over three years. There were certain groups and organizations that allocated a lot
for the rebuilding of burned churches, over 20 million dollars. The last thing I'm hearing is that
5 million went into the rebuilding of churches, the rest of the money was used for other
purposes. So all your major contributors are not contributing any more to the groups. They have
made me a National coordinator for the distribution of funds to be allocated and expended, to
help churches rebuild and recover. First of all, I'm too old. I don't have that expertise. They
need someone who has a lot of experience over and above what I have. I know my limitations, I
who I am, I know what I can do and feel comfortable in doing. I'm also smart enough to know if
accept it I'd have to hire people or contract with people that have certain expertise.
I am going to fly up to Raleigh next month and meet with these people. Some of them are
international corporations -- almost conglomerates -- who are going to put in initially about 15
million dollars with additional funding coming. I know there's a need
for this continuing effort. The church that I looked at yesterday is totally destroyed as well as
the fellowship hall. They have a total of 71 thousand dollars in insurance. The adjuster was
there yesterday, asking them for a value of the content when it was bought, how much it cost to
purchase. So out of the 71 thousand dollars, they may get 30,000-40,000 dollars. I also told
them that one of the other conditions was we didn't need to go beyond the burned churches in
many of the rural communities. The church is really the anchor of that community. They may
need an air conditioner, they may need a roof repaired, they may need security lighting and these
kinds of things. We may need to put in some sort of technical computer training or something.
They agreed to that.
I'm too old and I know I need to perhaps be responsible for people rather than the finances.
Now, I know what needs to be done, I know how to assess the needs, and all of that, but for
construction purposes, I know many of the churches that are being rebuilt, we need to have 2 or
3 different plans or designs. Even modular types. Some of these church organizations in the
process have built churches that they cannot even maintain. They went from a rural church to all
these Cathedral-type settings. One church in particular can't even pay the lighting bill now
because the organ they bought has to have a temperature that's constant, and they can't even pay
their electric bills. So all of these things I would have to get deeply involved in and I know
if I get involved in it, I'm going to work and get it done. So I'm going to go up to Raleigh and
meet with these people from the corporate world and listen to them and maybe suggest to them
the type of people they may need, and also suggest that I could work in an advisory capacity. The
there. Or else I may just stay here, play guitar and then walk away and devote my time to some
of the other projects I'm involved in. Got the lottery going. We have been the most successful
lottery in the history of the world because all of our money has gone for education, and
scholarships as we said it would. None of these greedy legislatures have gotten their hands
into that. In five years, we have given over 3 billion dollars to education. That's a lot of money.
And in your spare time?
I just piddle around doing things, keeping the lawn cut, and raising the plants and flowers
feeding the birds. That's my greatest hobby, feeding birds and understanding how they interact,
knowing which ones are the aggressive ones. It just gives me a lot of satisfaction. Also, helping
people. I have a lot of young men who look at me as their father-figure and grandfather-figure,
and I keep them focused in the right direction. Just being Bob Ensley, just being me, that's all. I
know I am the one that has to account for what I did and didn't do in this world. God forgive me
if I ever act as though I've done anything on my own. It's always been someone else or a greater
power. So many people have helped me and I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciate
some of the things.