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Elmer Browning Oral History<hr>
This oral history was conducted by Dr. Mary Jo Bratton on June 21, 1984 as she was conducting research for her book, East Carolina University: the Formative Years, 1907-1982.

Citation for this article is: Record Group FS0000, Series 1 Mary Jo Bratton Papers, Sub-series 1 Oral History Tapes, Elmer Browning Oral History, June 21, 1984.  The audio files are played using Real Player which you can download here.

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MB: This is an interview with Dr. Elmer Browning in my office on June 21st, 1984.

I have written about the [Leon] Meadows matter, it's not, it's not written in stone in any sense. I have I guess spent more time on that particular period in 1942 through 45 than any other time.

EB: I was hired by him when he first came in office, about the first 2 years of his administration. And then I saw the problem at that time. And then I went overseas during the war and therefore can say I don't know because when the trial, when the critical time came, I wasn't on the campus.

MB: When were you in Germany, you were in Germany or . . ?

EB: In the war?

MB: Yes.

EB: I was with OSS, the Office of Strategic Services and not a fighting soldier, in England and in France. Not in Germany.

MB: When was that?

EB: '43 to '45.

MB: Oh, you weren't here during the time.

In '36, is that you right, you came and that was the beginning of the Commerce Department, you started that in January 1936.

EB: That's right. I started that. I came in January alone and by fall we hired a second teacher. Just the two teachers, that year, just the two of us, offering the work. And basically back then it was a emphasis on typing and short hand and the office skills.

MB: Secretarial education for people to teach in the high school primarily though they could go on.

EB: Yes, it was a teacher education entirely a teacher education program.

MB: As it first began.

EB: Then we started in Jan '36 we graduated four people four years later with a certification. In '40 we graduated the first certified teachers.

MB: I believe that was a program Dr. Wright had been wanting to implement . . . freshmen . . . and they had been waiting until funds were available.

EB: Dr. Meadows I recall told me that he had started out to find someone who was, anyway, the treasurer of the college had died I believe and he was looking for a treasurer and wanted to start the business department and couldn't find any one person who would agree to do both things. So Dr. Meadows hired me for the teaching job and Fitz Duncan as the treasurer.

MB: I didn't realize he was trying to have a combination.

EB: Yes, he was trying to have a combination.

MB: And that's pretty hard to do.

EB: I recall Fitz telling me that. And that he had offered it somebody who didn't want that combination.

MB: Well, it would be a pretty hard one to hold down.

EB: I would think, it doesn't do. It's not feasible, I wouldn't think. I wouldn't want the treasurer's job and a treasurer wouldn't want the teaching job. It was just two different jobs.

MB: How would you characterize Dr. Meadows, or what were your impressions of him when you came and began?

EB: Well, you might talk to a lot people who would disagree. I'll just tell you my thoughts. I liked him very much, enjoyed working for him and had absolutely no problem because he was very interested in building a Department of Business and was compatible in every sense. But the problems were beyond my knowledge at that time, what they really were, so I was very surprised when he got into such serious trouble.

MB: I have heard, I'm sure over any controversial issue such as this you expect to hear different things, but I had gotten the impression that there was a growing I guess what they call a faculty rift or some hostility developing between him and some of the other department directors before the issue of his financial dealings came to the surface.

EB: There were two others that I would not call by name who were irked at not being given the job and were I thought were still working to try to get the job of president. I don't know that, I was new here, and I wouldn't have much perception of what that inner politics were but there was some.

MB: Uneasy relations . . .

EB: Uneasiness and competition among the faculty. The financial thing I didn't see that he had really mislayed any funds, but he had done enough minor things to cause a little stir. That's all I saw, I didn't see anything that serious.

MB: Now you were the manager of the Student Store weren't you, the faculty manager?

EB: There before I left to go overseas I was interviewed quite a few times by the auditors who were here. Not in the court, but the auditors, about the funds and all I knew and the other, the man ahead of me who managed the stores

MB: That was Frank or Wright?

EB: Frank.

MB: A.D. Frank managed it.

EB: A.D. Frank.

MB: And Wright had it sometime, M.L. Wright had it sometime.

EB: All I could say was that some of the funds had been turned over to him. It wasn't a secret at all. But apparently illegal that it didn't go through appropriations at all. But I don't think that he knew or realized he was doing such an illegal thing of taking those funds from the college stores and using them for construction on the campus. I don't believe he put any of it in his pocket.

MB: There you go. One of the major charges against him was that he had presented you with some receipts which you legitimately paid. I mean he presented you as manager of the store with some receipts for some materials that he had bought and you reimbursed him. And some of that was later called into question, not with your reimbursing him, but what he had done with those funds.

EB: As I recall it, he didn't give me bills to pay to the person who had done the work. I gave him money, I remember, usually $2000 at a time. And he would say that it was for this or that thing. I know that's what the auditors were looking into.

MB: And that you had legitimately given it to him for legitimate purposes that the question was what he had done with it.

EB: I had the impression, Flanagan Building was built and he was using some of those funds to complete the basement of Flanagan Building. My department was moved at that time from the attic of Austin Building over to the basement of Flanagan Building. And every bit of that basement, the partitions, everything, the classrooms, was done with that money that I was giving him, I think he had other sources, I don't know now what they would've been but I think the student stores was the main source of money with which he finished the basement of Flanagan Building.

MB: There was some question also as to whether he had actually paid some of the workmen the amount that he said he had. I believe that was part of the problem.

EB: Yes probably so.

MB: Well you were here, weren't you, when all this sort of erupted? And I understand there was a real devisive quality on campus between those who supported him and those didn't. And I don't see you in any of it, so it seems to me you must've kept neutral.

EB: I was so new, I guess I was neutral, but another thing was that those elements for and against him, were elements that were at that time old timers because they had been through Wright's administration. And some of them liked Dr. Meadows and some of them worked against him. And I know who they were, I know what, who was at bat, in other words. I knew the elements. And the elements against him, as I saw, three men who were working against him were department heads. And as I said, I thought at that time, jealous of the fact that he had been the one made president. But the auditors came in and these funds came up and that gave them something to work on.

MB: To work on. Then there have been some that have suggested that these, dissidents, I guess one could say, had in some way involved the auditors in it or called their attention. I think some people felt that, but I haven't seen, I couldn't find any.

EB: Well I would agree with those people. That when the auditors interviewed me, came to the store to check those funds and talk about those funds I really did feel that that was true. That they came representing those three men or one or more of the three men who were cooking at the stove. And then they immediately saw they had something, something that was scandalous, or at least they thought it was. And that is absolutely true, that he was always on the defensive. He didn't have a friend among the auditors and I thought that was a little tragic. Auditors are auditors. They don't really go out to find illegal things. They really want to find the truth. And I wasn't sure that was what they were doing. I don't know that because the trial, as I said, came after I left. I don't know how it came out in the trial. They were only asking me to identify the funds. And I don't think at that time he was denying it either, that he had these funds. As you said, I think it's more that they weren't after it being illegal maybe for him to take those funds, but depended on what he did with them.

MB: Right I don't think there was ever any question that he could use the funds for school purposes.

EB: There was one thing that came up at the time that I thought was senseless, irrelevant to guilt or innocent. They took the garbage from the dining room, dining rooms, about two or three. And he fed, he and another person had hogs they fed. It didn't seem to me to be important because that it was so illegal because noone else would have done that but it was a black mark on his record.