BRATTON: Through the Board of Higher Education, do you. It's been said that that was set up to muzzle us.
JENKINS: Oh, of course it was. It was very obvious that that was the case. You could look at the personnel at the time. The young fellow who headed it up did a good job of trying to keep us down. The fellow owed his career, sort of, to me really. Because he was a striving little principal down here with a couple of children and not getting anywhere in life. And I talked him into getting a loan from the bank, quitting his job and going to get his Ph.D. degree. I said, "You're young enough to do it. And you ought to do it because you're going to be struggling all your life if you don't." He took my advice and did it and got himself a job up here and became executive secretary to this board.
They used every trick they could possibly think of to belittle what we were doing. You know, "You don't have class and you just can't do this and you can't do that." But this is not unique though. Many states had this struggle. You can almost, take Arkansas, many of these places. Just flip them around and it would be the same types of leaders, the same types of approach, the same problem. It's been rather, rather common. As I said before, Trinity's fight for a place in the sun. It's just the same as ours, almost identical.
BRATTON: And the common way to attack is quote, "Mediocrity."
JENKINS: Oh yeah.
[interruption in interview deleted]
Jenkins discussing John Messick and the upcoming dedication of the Messick Theatre Arts Center, April 3, 1982. The first portion of this is very difficult to understand.
JENKINS: Dramatics was not even his big thing. People in music, anything with the sure sound of music [unknown], but dramatics was not his thing.
BRATTON: Not his thing.
JENKINS: [Unknown] He encouraged athletics. He encouraged English. He encouraged music. He was very much pro-music though. He liked music. He went to every concert. He was a real good music lover. If there had been that building [A. J. Fletcher Music Center] then it would have been logical. But see, A.J. Fletcher got us that building, you know.
BRATTON: From Raleigh?
JENKINS: Yes, God it was that simple. I'm the guy who was there.
BRATTON: In the legislature?
JENKINS: No. Here's what happened. We have a custom in North Carolina that when the budget is what they call "locked up" there is a gentleman's agreement never to open it, because if you open it, they will come in from all directions wanting something. So the budget was closed up and my good friend, Terry Sanford told me he couldn't do anything for me. He said, "I know you need a music building and I know that you have a marvelous program down there. It's probably one of the best in the nation." It was at the time. He said, "I'm sorry, but they just closed it without your building." I said, "Well, gee, we've got to have the building."
So I went to Mr. A.J. Fletcher and he was a very powerful man. His commentator was Jesse Helms. And that was one of the most powerful television commentators in the nation.
JENKINS: But in North Carolina they could either make or break a fellow with that program. Fortunately, he was very pro-East Carolina and he was very pro-Medical School. Jesse's two daughters were students here. Jesse and I were very close friends. So I had that connection and Jesse got me to know A.J. Fletcher.
So A.J. said, "Well, you just sit tight. We'll see that you get the music building." And he called in the people who could make such a decision. The only people in the state that could have opened that budget and he called in for a breakfast. And he told me, "Don't you say anything, except you just sit here and eat and be nice. I'll do all the talking and that's all we need." That's what I did. I ate and greeted them and sat down. He said, "Gentlemen, it's just this simple. We're going to have a music building down at East Carolina. I don't want to take no for an answer. There's going to be a building there." Sure enough, we got the building.
I went back and told the governor about it and he said, "Well, I declare!" He was just as surprised as I was, as a matter of fact. So what choice did I have after that? It was his building.
Now the same with the, I had the honor of recommending about 21 buildings on this campus, the names. And fortunately, the Board went along with every one except one. The chairman of the Board at that time said, "Over my dead body will you name this building after this particular man." I didn't wait for his dead body. When he was no longer chairman, I resubmitted. And now we have a building there named the Kerr Scott Building. This gentleman did not want there to ever be a Kerr Scott building here, but we have one.
So when this building came up, here's the man who gave it to us. It was logical to name it for him.
Another building that was obtained by the man who had the name was the Willis Building. I never lifted a finger other than to cooperate. But Tom [Willis] found some federal money. He found some state money. He found some private money and after struggling here, there, and yonder, he put the thing together. I said, "After all, if a man can put a building together and get us one we couldn't have got otherwise, why shouldn't it bear his name? So it's the Tom Willis Building.
And one building I named, I recommended, I didn't do the naming, I recommended. I recommended that we ought to honor a teacher. I looked around and [Lawrence] Brewster was a fellow the kids seemed to like and he liked us. And he helped the History Department with contributions constantly. And I said that it would be logical to name a building after Lawrence.
Then, a lady, a school teacher who saved all of her money, didn't have a tremendous fortune or anything, but when she died, she left everything she had in this world to East Carolina. [Sarah Clement] It was about $50,0000 plus. I recommended, why shouldn't we honor her? She was such a fine person, so we had one of the girls dormitories down there in her honor.
Then, of course, Mary Greene was an institution here until she died. She was a one-man public relations. We have a crew doing now what she did as one.
Also, Ruth White was an institution here for years and years and years. She was a modern type Dean of Women and the girls loved her. And she played a role in developing this place and building it in tough times.
So there was a reason for all this, this business. Our most distinguished Superintendent of Public Instruction was a fellow named Joyner, so J.Y. Joyner. We named a building after him. Of course, one of my favorites was Governor Aycock. From just a sentimental, personal reason, I recommended Aycock. He was the fellow who in the early days, when it wasn't popular to say so, he recommended that every child in North Carolina, black and white, ought to be able to be given the opportunity to burgeon forth all that's within them. He was the daddy of our schools. So there has been a little bit of logic here and there in some of these things. Fortunately, they went along, as I said before, with all but one and we finally got that one.
BRATTON: Pretty soon, we are going to have to start naming rooms. We're running out of buildings.
JENKINS: Or halls.
BRATTON: Or halls.
JENKINS: Well, we've got the Nursing building yet that hasn't been named and we've got the Home Ec. Building. You could split that up into two buildings, probably and get away with it.
BRATTON: Yes. They never named the dining room, but they may not.
JENKINS: They never got around to that.
BRATTON: They may tear that down.
JENKINS: But, yes, they may tear that down.
When one building was moved, we recommended that the name follow the building. Because they were delightful women, Miss Coates and Miss Wahl. They were very delightful type of women. They were like Peter Pan with kids, very, very fine women.
Then when the Austin Building was torn down, I told Austin's daughter and son-in-law that I saw no reason why it shouldn't follow up to the new building. So we carried it over to the new building.
The Inglis Fletcher, Fletcher Dorm, we said we ought to honor someone who has done much for the East. Her writings have really popularized the whole history of our East. No question about it. So there has been a little bit of reasoning.
BRATTON: So Saturday we do the [Messick building dedication].
JENKINS: We do another one.
BRATTON: That's quite a building.
JENKINS: Well, it's taken over the old Wahl-Coates Building.
BRATTON: Yes, but it has turned out very nice.
JENKINS: Yes, it is going to be a nice center there. That theatre is going to be beautiful. The theatre remains McGinnis.
BRATTON: [Howard] McGinnis was here when you came.
JENKINS: He was acting president. Yes, he was acting president.
BRATTON: And then he continued on.
JENKINS: He continued on as Registrar and then he retired and wrote a book on the Bible. He was a very fine gentleman. He and his wife were delightful people, real nice people. We'd visit them periodically and they'd visit us. They planted a peach tree up in Brookgreen in honor of my little daughter at the time and it's still up there. One of the professors says it is in his backyard.