bhcp437.jpg (20691 bytes)
Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, UNCAsheville Ramsey Library
William E. Roland: bhcP77.

I attended public schools in Asheville, was married in 1938, and now have two children. During the first few years after marriage, I attended night school and took correspondence courses in Watchmaking while working. I took a Defense Job, which was to be as a Watchmaker in Norfolk, Virginia in 1942. Things not being as they are now, I was not given the opportunity as promised. I remained there for two years and worked in the inside machine shop as a Material Checker where I was in charge of two helpers. I went to night school on a Government Vocation Program during the two-year period and completed a course in Electricity. In addition, I ran a part-time Watch Repair Shop. I was called from Virginia to return home for induction into the Army, after three deferments. I returned, had my examination which I passed, but was not immediately called, so I went to night school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and complete a course in Welding and was hired in that field.

About January, 1945, I returned to Asheville at which time I went down for the purpose of being inducted into the service. Within six months I became Staff Sergeant, approximately two months later, a Technical Sergeant where I served as a Battalion Sergeant Major, promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major and then to the position of 1st Sergeant. On November 1946, I departed from the service and returned to Asheville and practiced Electricity (house wiring) under the late Alex Gaston. Until I could be enrolled in a school of Watchmaking, I continued to practice electricity. This became a reality in February, 1947, when I attended Western Pennsylvania Horological Institute and graduated July, 1948 (about six months ahead of schedule). I again returned to Asheville to set up a jewelry story operation and the study of Salesmanship. I took a correspondence course in Accounting, Gemology and on-the-job training in Jewelry Manufacturing. This, I enjoyed through the years.

My volunteer work in the community of Asheville began to take root about 1959. In early 1950, I began work as an advisor to a student group working with interested local white persons who undertook the task of bringing about a oneness of community. This group was instrumental in opening the lunch counters, removing color signs in department stores and opening the library, etc. In the area of employment, this group made the first step in merit employment for Negroes in department stores. I was also serving as President of the Asheville-Buncombe County Citizens Organization -- predominately Negro. This group being the voice of the Negro. It is composed of members of ministers, fraternities, sororities, the professionals, the middle class and the lower class. During the Negroes' struggle for freedom, I served as a mediator between national organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee, The Committee on Racial Equality, the NAACP, and our local organizations such as the "Y" Affairs Committee of the YWCA, and the Asheville Area Council On Human Relations. I was a member of a six-man committee headed by the Mayor, which drew up the plan for desegregation in Asheville. I served as a committee man on the "Y" Affairs Committee which was responsible for conducting the Workshops on Integration each being held at the YWCA. This Committee called men from every walk of life --- education, health and management. It was responsible for screening the community to find out which persons would be interested in an Adult School, and worked with the schools to find persons who were potential dropouts. This group along with other achievements pertaining to community development was responsible for persuading the City School Board to set up study halls for seniors and the adult school which is now in progress. I also headed two citywide voter registration drives.

In church life, I serve as Superintendent of Sunday school, member of the Building Committee, member of the Board of Trustees, where I am often called to deal with special grievances. I also was one of a four-man committee responsible for the building of our church (at approximately $125,000). I also designed and had built the Beauty Parlor on Market Street and have tiled about four business places in the area.

I was engaged in Merit Employment of Negroes --- finding and interviewing persons in this connection for jobs particularly where Negroes had not been hired heretofore. I have worked with the Governor's Office (Good Neighbor Council) American Friends and local schools' Distributive Education Program.

As a result of my widespread participation in the community, my business became what might be called a social center; so much so, I felt that I must think in terms of a little change. I became so involved that I found it extremely difficult to withdraw from community work. I was wrapped up in the work and loved it, but I also had to make a living and in doing this type of work, I would still be able to make a worthwhile contribution.

On June 1, 1967, I accepted the position of Rehabilitation Advisor with the Redevelopment Commission of the City of Asheville, then in a planning stage for an Urban Renewal Program.

My work there consisted of working with the people in the area inspecting homes and giving advice on renovating their properties. I also assisted in setting up and maintaining an organization geared toward having a voice in planning the Urban Renewal Program for their area. I remained at this post until such time as it appeared that a referendum would not be held as scheduled and the Office, which we occupied, would no longer continue. I then left the Redevelopment Commission on September 15, 1967, to join the staff of the Opportunity Corporation September 16, 1967.

In this new position, I serve as Director of Neighborhood Centers managing a staff of thirteen workers engaged in a community action program where we received training through workshops, seminars, etc.