Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Black History and the North Carolina National Guard

 By Obie Oakley

(In commemoration of Black History Month, I wrote an op ed piece for the Observer should they choose to use it.   Since  it hasn’t appeared, I am assuming they “chose” not to.
In any case, it was a significant time for me and our Band of Brothers in 1965 and one of which to this day I am still very proud.)



By Obie Oakley

          Terry Sanford was elected Governor in 1960.  Across the South, he and other governors were dealing with a growing civil rights movement and in states like Alabama and Mississippi; it was dealt with in a manner that served only to further divide the races.  Sanford led the state in a different direction, bringing together the civic leaders to seek ways for a peaceful end to racial discrimination in the eyes of the law.  Certainly Charlotte Mayor Stan Brookshire was among the more progressive voices.

          Sanford could not change the hearts of the people, but he could move to enforce the law, and the Supreme Court had struck down laws which discriminated based on race.  In the spirit of his sweeping changes, Sanford removed any barrier that prevented Blacks from joining the North Carolina National Guard.

Bobby Mobley
          With that as a background, it becomes significant that, according to the limited records available, Company B of the 20th Special Forces Group (Green Berets) in Charlotte was the first unit in the state to integrate.  The soldier was Bobby Mobley and the year was 1965.  Mobley had been a paratrooper on active duty.  He worked for a company with whom I did business and though our friendship I recruited him to join the unit.  The color of his skin had nothing to do with it.  He was a paratrooper and we had an opening.

          Looking back and interviewing those who were members of the unit at that time, including Roddey Dowd, Joe Epley, Fritz Mercer and Harold Eddins, no one remembers it being a “big deal”.   Considering the civil rights climate of the time, this was a rather remarkable position for the Green Berets so Mobley took his place alongside others in this Band of Brothers.

          There was one incident however, the infamous Orange Bowl confrontation, that illustrates Mobley’s courage and the unit’s support of one another.

          The men were en route to Fort Bragg on a Friday evening and Rockingham was chosen as the rendezvous point.  Plans were to stop at the Orange Bowl restaurant, eat and proceed on the Bragg for airborne operations the next day.

          By best accounts, troops in the first truck were being seated in the restaurant with others waiting in line.  When Mobley came in the waitress informed the group that the restaurant refused service to blacks.  They would seat everyone else and prepare a take out for Mobley.  Almost as one, all those who were seated stood up; leaving plates that had been served and joined the group at the door.  By that time, those in the second truck had arrived and were inside the restaurant and words were being exchanged.  Rockingham was a known KKK hotbed.

          It was a very tense moment.  The locals were all waiting to see what would happen and the members of the unit were rallying around their brother.  Former City Councilman Joe White recalls how, in a very short time, there were a number of police and law enforcement cars coming on the scene.  No one doubted whose side they would take.

          After ascertaining their unwillingness to serve “all of us”, every man walked out, en masse.
          I think it was one of our proudest moments.

          Thanks to the courage and conviction of men like Bobby Mobley, the cause of civil rights was furthered and what he did continues to be an inspiration.


Robert Mobley

( Mobley is retired from his long employment with Arts Engraving Co., still in Charlotte and is a regular attendee at the unit’s reunions.

Obie Oakley

Oakley was the Executive Officer of the unit.)