Joseph Califano


Joseph Califano


Joseph Califano served as the Secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) from 1977 to 1979. In this interview, he explains HEW’s strategy for integration involved strategically placing programs on either historically black or white campuses. HEW felt that North Carolina would be one of the first states to comply since North Carolina Chancellor William Friday had a reputation as being one of the most progressive southern educators. However, Califano found North Carolina to be the most resistant of the southern states because of the large number of HBCUs. He also felt that his involvement in the anti-smoking campaign hurt his ability to negotiate with North Carolina politicians. (pg. 4-8)


Southern Oral History Project


Interview with Joseph Califano by William Link, April 5, 1991. L-0125, in the Southern Oral History Program Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.






oral history




William Link


Joseph Califano


The objective was to promote the desegregation of higher education. The techniques, as I recall, were to, you know, have courses in white colleges that were not in black colleges, and vice-versa, among other things. We expected, as a general matter, that North Carolina would have been, since Friday was regarded as a progressive—one of the most progressive southern educators, that North Carolina would have been one of the first states to agree. As it turned out they were the last to come to terms with desegregation. I guess what we did not account for was the number of black colleges in North Carolina, which I guess created a serious problem for Bill Friday.

Made it a more complex problem, you think, from his point of view? Or your point of view also.

I don't know whether—Look, I know one thing, in my years at HEW, that when we tried to desegregate or enforce civil rights laws for women, for the disabled, for hispanics, we had virtually no resistance. When we tried to enforce the civil rights laws for blacks, we had resistance everywhere.

That was true all along —

North Carolina was no exception. That was true north, south, east, and west. But, in this case, North Carolina was by far the most resistant of the southern states. I think it was numbers. I think there was just larger numbers of blacks. Larger numbers of black universities. And that's why the resistance was larger. But you'd have to ask them. I can't judge their motives.

In general, in the negotiations, that involved the Department, there was—obviously, you were a very busy person and you delegated responsibility. At certain points you must have been involved. Did you work through the political leadership to any great extent, for example, Governor Hunt, did you —

I'm sure I talked to Governor Hunt about it. But, not —

Not a lot?

Just to urge him to do it. I mean, I talked to other southern governors. You have to remember there was another thing going on at the same time. I was in the middle of the anti-smoking—I was mounting the anti-smoking campaign. And there was, you know, North Carolina was the number one state fighting that. And that was being fought by Governor Hunt. Jesse Helms was trying to get riders on appropriations bills to take away our funds for any anti-smoking effort. I mean it was—so, it was kind of—I mean, there were cartoons. In fact, I've got one on my wall. They did cartoons of me down there. Political cartoons. So, it wasn't—just trying to see this one. [pause] Uh, [pause] I mean I just—I think that problem, that complicated and made less effective my ability to deal with the political structure. I could call the governor of Virginia, I could call the governor of Alabama, or the governor of Texas, and the governor of South Carolina, I didn't have any problem. And I could call Jim Hunt, whose a friend of mine, but there was, you know, he was under—he was at war over the smoking campaign. Hunt and Jesse Helms went to President Carter asking to fire me. So, it was not a, you know, we weren't having a—it was—that element, in terms of making the situation more complicated. The element of the ability to have a discourse with the political leadership was very difficult in North Carolina.

So there was a definite connection between the desegregation case and the smoking—the whole smoking campaign.

Well, it made the political—it made my ability to use the political structure to get the colleges desegregated, it really hindered my ability to use the political structure.

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Southern Oral History Project, “Joseph Califano,” The State of History, accessed June 30, 2022,