Oral History Interview with Dr. Andrew Best November 3, 1999


ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH DR. ANDREW BEST November 3, 1999 Inteviewer: Ruth Moskop Trancribed by: Sabrina Coburn 9 Total Pages Copyight 2000 by East Carolina University. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from East Carolina University.

RM: Good morning Dr. Best. My name is Ruth Moskop and the date is November 3, 1999. I would like to record an oral interview with you. Do I have your permission to do this?

AB: Yes, you do.

RM: Great. Thanks so much. We were just talking about, trying to focus in on the contribution that Judge Frye...

AB: Henry Frye.

RM: ...Henry Frye made to the foundation of the medical school at East Carolina University. (00:31)

AB: To the creation of the medical school, the approval and creation of the concept of a medical school in North Carolina. For review purposes, the question came before The Board of Governors and the Committee on Education for the Board of Governors, composed of five people. I was one of the five, the only physician on The Board of Governors and naturally, I was on that medical committee concerned with medical education dealing with doctors and nurses. On the question of the establishment of another medical school, the committee, The Medical Education Committee of the Board of Governors got stalled. There were two for two against, so they were stalemated and the chairman at that time, Bob Jordan, who was an Assemblyman; he had served years in the General Assembly, was the chairman of that committee. He really didn't want to vote to untie the vote. We were in constant contact with Dr. Friday. He was the president of the university system and he recommended, and we all agreed that this question was of sch importance that we would create a commission of five distinguish medical eductors, a Blue Ribbon Commission, to come into the state to make interviews and examine information, pro or con and give The Board of Governors a recommendation as to whether there was a need for another degree school or not. This was done and the committee, or this commission, made its report. When it came down for the final action though, the report, there were 18 votes to adopt the report in effect saying there was no need for another degree-granting school. Ther were 14 against. Now, the seven minority members of The Board of Governors were solid in objecting or rejecting this board report. We were joined by seven white members made out of a total of 14. Well that figure of the rejection of the idea, or by the acceptance of that report was only a margin of four votes, 18 for and 14 against. So, I am told that that was one piece of the puzzle that Dr. Jenkins used. He was able to influence Ralph Scott in the Senate and Jim Ramsey in the House to introduce legislation so we could do by legislative mandate what the academicians had failed to do through the academic and administrative channels. So, the legislation was introduced. It was referred to a reference committee. Now, if that committee does not report that legislation out of cmmittee, it cannot be considered on the floor of the House. It's dead already. They can kill it in the committee. They got to the point that this reference committee was stalled. Two of the westerners were against and two of the easterners were for and Henry Frye was the odd man out. The westerners said, "Look Henry, you are from Greensboro. Your constituency is against this whole idea. Why don't you vote with us to kill it?" So, Henry sat back in his chair and said, "Well look, I have some concerns." So, everybody wanted to know, especially the easterners, wanted to know what were his concerns. He said, "I have concerns about the training of minorities." So, the easterners said, "Well look, whatever it is that you want to put into this legislation, whatever your concerns, write them in and we will go along with it in effect." So, the story is thatby Henry casting a vote with the eastern block, they got the legislation out of committee where it could be discussed and debated by the House and either killed or passed. Well, there was great lobbying against this legislation. The whole Board of Governors were bought over to lobby against it, but we got the legislation passed and the school was created. One of the most beautiful about faces I have ever seen and of course, President Friday's stock went up 1,000% in my estimation because I knew how hard he had fought to get the whole idea buried and rejected. When we won in the General Assembly, his comment was, "Well, since we have to have it, we might as well try to make it a good one." He turned around and started fighting as hard for us as he apparently was against us. The ey thing was the vote from Henry Frye on the reference committee to get the legilation out of committee. (06:52)

RM: At that time, Henry Frye was a Representative or a Senator?

AB: He was a Representative from Greensboro and was a member of the House of Deleates.

RM: Since then, he's been...

AB: Since then, he was appointed by the Governor to the Supreme Court bench, where he has served admirably really well. At the resignation of the past Chief Justice, Henry was the number two in line in seniority and so, Governor Hunt went on and appointed him. He is now the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, which is a hih-class position, a position of great responsibility. I have no doubts that Henr Frye will serve well. I'm sure Governor Hunt deserves a few orchids to be placed on his pillow at night for having the courage to go ahead and make that appointment irrespective of the people like the Jesse Helms and some of the othes who have been involved in racial lines and have not hesitated to bring race batig into a political campaign. So, we are very proud of Henry. The thing that I'm hoping...Personally, I think that the whole university and especially the medical school people owe Henry a great debt of gratitude which cannot be paid by anything that they can do. A token of appreciation to my mind would be well deserved honorary degree of some nature. If people at the universities have delivered honorary degrees as Doctor of Laws, which noted being a Supreme Court Justice, I think that would probably be most appropriate. But then, there is a degree known as a Doctor of Humane Letters, when the service that person has rendered has touched so many levels of humanity and human advancement and huma welfare, and if we look back at this legislation of what this medical school has done and its capability of doing in the next hundred years, a Doctor of Humane Letters to me would be perfectly in order. Let us suppose if the university gets tied up in red tape and decide that this is something they can't do. Then, my suggestion would be, "Well, we can give him a very nicely designed plaque, which would be a Distinguished Service Award." At least it can... (10:29)

RM: Like appreciation.

AB: Yeah. He deserves it. I haven't finished Author Williams' textbook yet.

RM: Yeah, Wayne Williams.

AB: Yeah. But, so far as I have been...

RM: I don't think he mentions that.

AB: ...I haven't seen anything relative to this final key piece...

RM: In the puzzle.

AB: ...in the puzzle that went along...

RM: Dr. Best, you mentioned what Dr. Jenkins had done with regard to the whole university system, with regard to minority medical schools and smaller colleges. (11:18)

AB: Well, the smaller colleges and universities. See, the forerunner to this whole university system being under one umbrella was the regional universities. Dr. Jenkins' position was that East Carolina, instead of being a college, deserved the name university status. He talked to me and in order to gather momentum as we pushed it along, he was amiable to all of the five predominately black colleges to become universities, too.

RM: Did you say five?

AB: Let's see. We have A&T and North Carolina Central. We had Elizabeth City. Thatwas three and Fayetteville State is four. We had one more, which made five predominately black colleges, who came in for maybe a couple of years, I don't know it to be exact, but they were regional universities. Under this Board of Governor's plan, which was conceived by Bob Scott who was governor then, it was designed to get rid of every one of these institutions having to go to the General Assembly to present its budget and then lobby for enough money to do whatever it was that they needed to do to keep operating. That is the kind of degenesis of this whole bit where we got everybody under the university system. Now corning up to the formation of the board, they looked at ways and means of the Board of Governors, "How are we going to do this, to have a board, an ultimate board to handle the affairs of all of the constituent members which there were 16 of them in the university system?" Well, they did so by selecting, by giving each, they figured out the plan and they wanted it on the terms of the members of The Board of Governors staggered so that everybody wouldn't go off at one time and you would get a whole new bunch. There was great value in that. Eachuniversity was notified whether they had one or two members and they were alsonotified of the terms. Like, A&T had two people, two of its trustees and one of those positions was a four-year term and the other one was a one-year. There was a fellow trustee at A&T named Howard Barnhill. Howard incidentally grew up here in Greenville and had moved into Charlotte after he got out of A&T. He had done some work in the field of health education down at Chapel Hill, one of the forerunners and pioneers in this whole integration scheme. Howard Barnhill and I were the two trustees from A&T to be voted on. Each local trustee board selected two of its members to serve on this August board. Howard Barnhill and I were selected by A&T's Trustee Board. Then, the question came as to who was going to take the one-year term and who was going to take the four-year term. I suggested to Howard that he should take the four-year term and I should take the one-year term. My thinking was that all of that public service was requiring a whole lot of time away from the practice. Of course, Howard being employed as he was in the academic professorship where he could be off, I said, "You have some more time than I do without it affecting your livelihood. So, I realize that we hve some responsibility for community service, too, but we still got to live." He sid, "Okay." Howard was a very meaningful person. (16:17)

RM: What was his profession?

AB: He was teaching. He was a health educator and he studied at Chapel Hill. He was one of the early people who helped break the color bond down there. Then, he was coming back and he was doing some work as a health educator back and forth in some kind of arrangement doing some teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

RM: When you say health educator, what kind of health, general health like... (16:55)

AB: General health. You see, during that time health education had become popular and it was one of the pieces that most of the universities would try to have a department where they taught health education where there were skills from teaching health to actually working in industrial health. See, the thing that they were taught actually would prepare a person going out to get a job in industry and would have the background necessary. See, they didn't teach those final skills like any of the drug companies would need for a person corning in, but if you are going to go into a finely skilled professional work, you need the background to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. So, this was the thing that we were doing. In the end after my first year and some of this I'm saying now s purely speculative, after the first year of tour, I would have to be elected. I was upposed to be nominated and confirmed by the Senate. They had their own thing. Some were appointed by governmental appointments. You had to have so many minorities on the Board of Governors. They had their rules and regulations. Certain positions were elected where the Senates elects them or you have the House of Delegates and the Governor appointments and all of this kind of thing. Well in my case, for me to be reappointed, that would have been a purview of the Senate. There was some mix up as to some people who were recommended to go, you know for that particular position that I was holding, and I was aware. Of course, I wasn't going to go out and campaign for the job that was cutting my throat professionally for living. After one of my senators retired, he told me the history of some background maneuvering that was going on to get me off the Board of Governors. I was too much of a thorn in the side of some people. When they engineered to get me off the board, Earl Britt, who was then a lawyer from Lumberton, he was on the Board of Governors and he got to be a very close friend of mine, he found out that I had not been reappointed. He was fighting mad and he sid, "In my judgement, you're one of the best people we got on this whole boar. I can't understand it." I said, "Earl, that's the way things go. Life is like that with its ups and downs." I took it philosophically. He said, "Well look, I am the chairman of this trustee committee on the Board of Governors." That committee had the responsibility for placing trustees at the university level. One of its responsibilities was to see that all of these boards of trustees were integrated. See that was the integrated system. Of course, the black universities, mostof them already had some white members. So, they were not really affected. The hite universities who had not had any black members now had to have some black trustees. (21:38)

RM: That's how it carne to pass that you were on the ECU Board of Trustees.

AB: Yeah. So Earl told me that, he said, "Now, I have some universities that have asked for you." One, A&T wanted me back. UNC at Wilmington wanted me. East Carolina wanted me. So, when he mentioned East Carolina, I said, "East Carolina." Knowing full well that I could be in the office and in 15 minutes after leaving the office, I could be at a board meeting. So, I picked East Carolina and of course, I felt right then that this gives me a better opportunity to fight for the medial school. That's why my expression you'll see somewhere back there in our tapings, it was just like throwing the rabbit in the briar patch. You know that story. (22:43)

RM: I surely do.

AB: Yeah.

RM: You worked twice as hard.

AB: Yeah. Twice as hard. That gave me the chance to really work better and work more effectively in terms of getting the medical school established. Of course, I was in the lobbying group when the legislation was considered after having then gotten out of committee by Justice Frye and so, the school became a reality. It became a reality along the lines that I had predicted in my last speech on the Board of Governors. I said that, "The politicians will do what the academicians have failed to do. We'll only toss the ball from the academic arena, where I think it belongs, to the political arena where it doesn't necessarily belong. The politicians are going to do the job." (23:48)

RM: They did. We have the school.

AB: We have the school.

RM: I know you're mighty proud of that school.

AB: Well, I'm very, very proud of the school and what it is doing for the community, the region, and the whole nation. The work and the accomplishments of this school here at East Carolina really passed the imagination of most of us who were pushing and working so hard for it. I have nothing to regret at all from the hard hours that I put in to bring this school about. I can feel some sense of satisfaction from having participated in the exercise. I don't say that it wouldn't have happened without me, but I wouldn't have wanted it to happen. (24:43)

RM: You were a part of the process.

AB: Yeah. A part of the process.

RM: An important part of it.

AB: Right.

RM: Do you ever think about the medical school and the way it has evolved since those early days in the seventies and wonder how it has or has not fulfilled the mission that Justice Frye want it to; to train minorities and serve the minority people?

AB: Well, I think ECU has a good track record, so far as recruiting and accepting the training of minorities. We have had anywhere between ten and fifteen minority students in every class. The class size now runs about 75 in round numbers. I think it has done well and we have had not many dropouts or fade outs in the process. Our record for graduating minorities at one time, the last time I looked at it seven or eight years ago, at some figures. Wayne State and Michigan, we were about second only in minorities graduating in percentage wise to Wayne State and Michigan. That makes me very, very proud. The only footnote that I'm a little disappointed is the fact that many of the minority students still go elsewhere. I would like to see more of them settle in eastern North Carolina, but we have them go and I would rather them practicing in Houston than not to have them at all. (26:44)

RM: Why do you think they leave the area?

AB: In most cases, it's economics where once they get a certain level of educational development, they go where the bucks are. Well, family considerations and money.

RM: I was going to say it's probably strictly, not wholly a financial consideration, but also perhaps a cultural one.

AB: Culture. That's true. That's very true. Influence on wives, you know.

RM: Some people have shared with me that it is very difficult to recruit qualified minority faculty in this area because the social situation is such that there are very few cultural opportunities where blacks can feel comfortable in this area. (27:40)

AB: That's very true. That's been one of the great drawbacks.

RM: Our school system doesn't have a great reputation either.

AB: No, no. That's another...

RM: It's got a ways to go.

AB: A long ways to go and that's another reason that I fought and am still fighting the battle for human rights and human relations. All of those things belong certainly a piece of this whole jigsaw we're dealing with. When a young person who is qualified, young doctor married who has a couple of kids, and a wife who desires a cultural outlet herself ...

RM: Or even a social outlet. (28:36)

AB: That's what I mean, social and cultural outlet. She starts singing the song where you know we don't want our children corning up where the handicap...and that tunealways has a great residence in the minds of the bread winner, the person who's got to make the decisions whether we stay or whether we go. Finally, say you get a letter one day or you get a phone call and say, "Your name has surfaced for consideration for such and such position. Would you be amenable to send us an application." Then they'll apply and then the application process, which is followed by an interview and all of this kind of thing and all kinds of goodies that they are going to allow you to do. (29:36)

RM: Dr. Best, you stayed here in eastern North Carolina. What has kept you here, obviously a love for everything about this area?

AB: Well, there are several pieces of the puzzle that has kept me here. One is a love for community and family. See I lost my father when I was in high school. I was 18 years old and I was from a large family. My older brother, who was eight year my senior, and I had the responsibility to try to help pay off the debts incurred by dad's illness and death and helped the family to survive.

RM: Now your brothers have gone on. You have one up in New York. (30:25)

AB: Well, yeah. Two of my brothers are in New York. Boy number two in this group of four...I am boy number three. Boy number two married, but he stayed in the vicinity of our home place. He and I were more of the responsible people for looking after the part of the family, including mother who was left here. That's one piece, love for mother. I had some offers in California and the state of Washington. I did my internship out in the state of Washington in Tacoma and I had some offers out there. I said, "No," and I didn't even consider them. I am going back to Carolina where I can be near mother. At that time, out of her four boys, I was the only one who was single and so that drew me back. There were some efforts by some of the citizens to get me to settle in Kinston. I said, "No." My coming back to the eastern seaboard was to be near mother and at that time the hospital doors in Kinston were kept close by a group of private physicians who wned and ran the hospital. The doors were for open for staff privileges in Greeville, so I came on. That was the biggest, really one thing that drew to Greenville. It fit the place where I would have hospital privileges and my desire for hospital privileges and then, it certainly fit my requirement to be near enough so I could look after mom. Those were the two pieces that really decided that I would come back. Once I got settled to this fight for human rights and noting the disparity, even of opportunities in eastern North Carolina being far less than and a lot easier than western North Carolina, my decision was to stay here and fight the fight that I felt that somebody had to fight. Recognizing that I would never be able to accomplish everything within my lifetime, but maybe I would start some fires that will still be burning long after I am gone. (33:21)

RM: What kind of things would you like to work with still in your lifetime? I know you are working with the human rights issues constantly. Is there anything in particular you would like to see happen?

AB: I am a churchman as you know and I feel very endeared to being a part of my local church and local community. If we look at the great big picture, Ruth, as to what I would like to see, I would love to see the day that every individual is looked at as an individual and that his or her treatment is based on that person's personality; ability, and reputations within itself. In other words, to see, of course the whole is racism and I have found it in New York just like I found it in Greenville. In Greenville, it's more blatant and in New York, it's more subtle. Really, I would hope to see the day that the Pope talked about when every man is looked upon based on his own capabilities. That would be the dividing line. But, that's utopia, maybe. I don't know if it'll ever come, but there's one thing I know if people like you and I don't try to help bring some of these things about, I know it will never come and that's the premises I operate on, that I got to do what I can, while I can, however I can. (35:42)

RM: That's a valuable premise. It has guided you well.

AB: That's the premise.

RM: I hope we can share that with other young aspiring people.

AB: I hope so.

RM: Thank you Dr. Best. (35:53)

Oral History Interview with Dr. Andrew Best November 3, 1999
Oral history interview with Dr. Andrew Best, a longtime health care provider of Greenville, North Carolina. In this interview, Dr. Best discusses the participation of Justice Henry Frye in the political processes that brought about the beginning of the East Carolina University Medical School. He also covers the institution of health courses in the curriculum of East Carolina University. The information covered in this interview is relevant to the years 1950 to 1999.
November 03, 1999
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