Arthur Raper, 1899-1979: A Life Looking ‘for the Heart of the Thing’
Interview by Cliff Kuhn
Vol. 9, No. 2, 1987, pp. 4-10
No Southerner had a deeper commitment to regional reform than sociologist Arthur Raper. Born on a farm in Davidson County, North Carolina, in 1899 and schooled at the University of North Carolina, where he studied with Frank Porter Graham and Howard Odum, Raper mirrored the South’s problems and promise. His books on sharecropping-Preface to Peasantry, Sharecroppers All and Tenants of the Almighty-powerfully described the causes and devastating human and environmental consequences of plantation agriculture. His work The Tragedy of Lynching remains the classic work on the subject. Through his work with Gunnar Myrdal on An American Dilemma and as research director for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, forerunner of the Southern Regional Council, Raper played a leading role in interracial activities that informed and anticipated the transformations of the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1979, Arthur Raper gave what proved to be his final interview for community radio station WRFG’s “Living Atlanta” series, depicting life in Atlanta between the World Wars. The interview ranged broadly and represented a looking backward by one of the South’s seminal figures shortly before his death. Following are excerpts.
Parts of the interview can be heard on two radio documentaries produced by non-commercial station WRFG. In addition to the fifty-part “Living Atlanta” series, in 1986 WRFG produced a three-part series, “A Southern Profile: The Life and Times of Arthur Raper,” addressing such issues as Raper’s place among the regional sociologists and intellectuals, the etiquette of race relations in the South, and the transformation of Southern agriculture through a look at Greene County, Georgia. For more information, contact Cliff Kuhn c/o WRFG, P.O. Box 5332, Atlanta, GA 30307.
Radio Free Georgia Broadcasting Foundation, Inc.
BEFORE I CAME to Atlanta I was at Chapel Hill with the Institute for Research in Social Science, Odum’s operation, and there I worked with Guy Johnson and Rupert Vance and the other fellows. I was very much interested in what Vance, particularly, was doing in his work.
The way I got to Atlanta was that I was in my little cubbyhole one day and I heard Odum and Alexander-Will Alexander-coming down the hall. I’d met Will Alexander at Fisk or when I had been at Vanderbilt, one or the other, in ’24 or ’25, getting my master’s. They were coming down the hall at Chapel Hill, and I heard Odum say to Alexander, “Now, let’s stop in here. You might like to talk with this fellow a little.” So they came in and Alexander-I recognized him of course, and I think he remembered me a little bit. And he said, “Why don’t you come down to Atlanta where the people are? You have brick buildings and things here. Why don’t you come down there and work with us?
He said about two more sentences and I said, “When do you want me to come?”
And so he named some time which wasn’t very distant away. Maybe that was in the spring and I went down there in the fall.
My original position in Atlanta was secretary of the Georgia Interracial Committee. The Commission on Interracial Cooperation had state committees, and my original job was to be secretary of that state committee. They had urban or county committees, mostly urban committees in the leading urban communities in Georgia. Practically every place it was the elite whites and the elite blacks in their separate worlds that were on these committees. I don’t think that’s wrong. I think that’s the kind of committee you need. If you’re going to do something in a Southern community as of at that time in the field of race relations, that’s exactly what you needed. Now, what could come later in a way was built on that, because that had to happen first, I think. I think those people had to be so they could be in touch with each other and be known and be appreciated and respected across the line. I think much of what happens grounds back on that.
And they would talk about what the situation was. Maybe some trouble is threatened over here because there’s so many people unemployed, or there’s people over here–
likely to be some trouble because it’s said that a black man, a Negro, insulted some creditor when he challenged his debt, or something like that. These people would sense when something was coming up that was going to get hot, and they tried to take care of it before it got to that stage. It was not a committee to solve problems. It was a committee to anticipate where problems might arise. And in that extent, it’s a very, very basic concept, and you can’t have-you can’t have a good interracial committee without that kind of insight and that kind of commitment. They were committed to this community and to this relationship.
There was the assumption that if you didn’t have more equitable educational facilities, if you didn’t have more opportunities for people to participate in the political process, if you didn’t have more opportunities for people to have access to health facilities, equitable health facilities, why, you were building up problems for yourself. Well, this one I remember was used in the field of health, and this was told with great relish at one of the annual meetings, about the Negro maid who was in the home of her employer, and she says, “Why, that child there is coming down with diphtheria just like my children have had for a couple weeks.” Okay. You can see that. You can respond to it. You can get a public health facility understood and financed. You can illustrate the whole way through the same type of things. You don’t ignore and demean a part of your common life of a community without paying the price for it.
And I began going to those communities and talking with these interracial committees, and I soon found that I wasn’t too excited by that. It wasn’t too challenging. But something that was tremendously interesting to me was that when I got to Atlanta I realized, of course, that Floyd Corry who I had been very closely associated with at Vanderbilt, lived down in Greene County. He was there, was running his own store, and his uncle was one of the leading lights left in the county.
And when I got there, Father Corry, Floyd’s father, just latched onto me. He had lost his property. He was sort of a scion of a rundown part of the family. But he still had the name and he had the kinship contacts. He was buying cows and selling them. This was in the Depression there. And he would tell me about, well, now, this old house up here on the hill with these pines all around it and everything gone to pot here, but this was where somebody lived, and he told me his name and who his connections were and what had happened to him and the whole business. And so part of what comes out in Preface to Peasantry and later comes out in Tenants of the Almighty was because I had this entree to this family that had roots there way back, and had status. Because I was accepted so utterly by this family who was so genuinely a part of the picture there.
The plantation was already crumbling. It was already propped up with very high-priced gear and fertilizer, and propped up with a lot of borrowing and propped up with a lot of tenants that couldn’t pay back their credit-priced stuff that they had consumed while they were producing a crop, and then that threw the landlord into a hard place to handle. Well, all of that was going on, and then came the boll weevil, and it just knocked it down. And that was well before the ’30s. It was ten years before the ’30s, in 1918,’19 and ’20 in that particular area. Plantations closed down. In Greene County, more than half the people left some parts of the county. The cotton crop fell from 20,000 bales one year to-I don’t remember the exact figures, but this is the order of it-from 20,000 bales to, say, 6,000 bales to 1,500 bales to 323 bales, I remember, from 20,000 just two or three years before that. And, actually, the fertilizer that they had spent on the cotton crop-not this last year when it was 323, but the crop before that-the cotton hadn’t even paid for the fertilizer bill, to say nothing of all the rest of the expenses you have in growing cotton. It just simply went broke.
And when I’d get back to Atlanta I would go over to the city welfare office there in Atlanta where Ada Woolfolk was director, and she wanted me to help her think about, now, what can we do with these people that are coming in here, and they’re stranded and they don’t have anything and they’re not well and they have no skills and no education, very little, most of them, and what can we do with them? And I began to develop maps to see where they came from
in Georgia, and a lot of them had come from Greene County and surrounding counties where the situation was practically the same as it was in Greene. And it was then in 1926 end ’27 that I got the lead into this refugees to the city that later became tremendously significant and an evident fact. But I saw it very, very early.
Then they set up this study of Lynching and they asked me to be secretary of that, which I did. They had 20 more Lynchings in ’30, and they said, “What the heck happened here? Let’s find out.” You’ve got to prevent Lynchings with facts about why people Lynch. Well, who got Lynched? What was he accused of?
See, the irrationality quotient in the Lynching phenomenon was tremendous. There was just an assumption in some areas that you had to have a Lynching every now and then to preserve equitable race relations. The phobia was black men abusing a white woman. And part of that is reflected in this tremendous emphasis that your Southern politicians in the filibusters and what not had always been talking about, Southern white womanhood.
Before we’d gone very far we had these statistics about how many of them had been-the South, how many of them had been black, how many had been for this crime and the other, and what the relationship was between the number of lynchings and the price of cotton, and all this and that and the other. Most of it was not for sex or sex-related crimes, as reported by the white newspapers. It was mostly economic and etiquette matters. Even the statistics that we had where about one-sixth of them were accused of sex-related crimes-it wasn’t that much. It wasn’t as much as a sixth, because there was an element-and everybody knew it-there was an element of fabrication built into that to protect the status quo.
When we had got that research together and got the thing said, and it was getting into the newspapers getting accepted, because the kind of people we had on the Lynching commission in the South, you don’t say-when those men-and, incidentally, there wasn’t a single woman on that Lynching commission-but when those men came out and said, “This is our report. These are our findings,” they were accepted, and they’ve been accepted ever since. Well, when you find out what you’ve been Lynching for, and when you get it from a source that you can’t challenge-and it wasn’t challenged-well, then you are on a different basis to call the sheriff or say, “Well, let’s just don’t let this thing happen.” And of course the women did come in and played a tremendous role there.
WOMEN HAD been sort of shut out of the church: they couldn’t become preachers. They were shut out of the courts: they couldn’t be judges. They were shut out of the sheriff’s office. They wanted to do something. They were hurting to do something. So here, now, was this Lynching thing, and we’d done the statistical work on it. Jesse Daniel Ames just grabbed onto it like a puppy that’s hungry for a bone-or like a big dog that’s hungry for a bone. “This we will do.” And she got them organized very quickly. They were women that had ability and they wanted to do something. And she had this emphasis on working with women and knowing how to work with-and she did know how. So she got the women organized here pretty quick, and she’d call them in there to a meeting, you know, and they would come. And what these women have done-they have signed that they are going to prevent Lynchings in any way they can, and that they are going to call on the sheriffs and they are going to call on the police and they are going to call on the judges and they are going to be active in this thing. And, my gracious, they were. And they were going to tell the politicians, “Lynchings don’t protect our virtue. We don’t need anybody to protect our virtue. And if you get up in the Congress of the United States and say that you are Lynching to preserve our virtue, we’re going to call you down. Now, don’t you do it.” And all of this filibustering, that’s full of that stuff, up till 1930 and ’31, it dropped out.
It gave them something to do, something that was important, something that was vital. And they had a very good organization there for nearly a decade, and I think it did have something to do with the decline of Lynchings. I think the overall situation was moving in that direction anyway, but that was one of the things that was in the overall situation was these alerted women throughout the South to be on their toes about this thing.
When the federal anti-lynch legislation came up, she was very much opposed to that. I don’t think she ever concurred in it as a desirable thing. I didn’t think it would be easy at all. I’d never been in a community where I’d really gotten acquainted with the people where I didn’t find some people willing to testify against the Lynchers, if they could do it without their barns getting burned down or without their church being split wide open or people stop buying at their drugstore. They wanted to. They wanted–it seemed
to me, they wanted to be put in a position where they would take an oath and say, “Well, yes. I didn’t want to bring this into the open, but I had sworn on the Bible to tell the truth. They asked me this question and I answered it.” They sort of wanted to do that, I thought, and I thought we’d be way ahead if they did and had the opportunity, had a protected situation within which they could give their testimony, because when you’ve got a Ku Klux Klan judge and a prosecutor who sympathizes with him, and then jurymen that they select by their own processes with Negroes not on it and women not on it, at that time. a very closed operation.
Why, you could do anything in the courts. And they did. And this, I thought, would open that thing up some and would be real boon for the region.
I was with Myrdal, because I thought, well, what Myrdal was doing here was important. I didn’t run away from Alexander. I just, with Alexander’s not too enthusiastic permission, went to work with Myrdal.
Myrdal comes down to Atlanta and says he wants to talk with two people. Well, who are the two people? The head of the Ku Klux Klan and Mrs. J. E. Andrews, the head of the Association of Women for the Preservation of the White Race. So he gets out with Mrs. Andrews and is talking with her, and she was saying that what I was doing at Agnes Scott was that I was over there pretending to teach but what Raper is really doing is making white women available for nigger men. And Myrdal knew me somewhat, and he said-it just got too much beyond him, and he said, “Well, wait now, Mrs. Andrews, have you ever had sexual relations with a Negro man?” And she didn’t know what to say and couldn’t say anything hardly. And they went on with their conversation and he left.
AND MYRDAL CAME back to our office. He was somewhat agitated and what not. And we went on out to the house with Ralph Bunche and we ate a meal out there at our house, which was verboten, of course, but we did it anyhow. And then we went on down to Greene County. And by the time we got to Greene County we learned that Mrs. Andrews had sworn out a warrant for Myrdal, that Myrdal had insulted her. She got to thinking about it later and she decided she had been insulter!. So she could get a warrant all right, because she had connections in the political set-up with the Klan. So she got her warrant, and called up Martha to know where I was. She wanted this warrant served. I was with Myrdal. So Martha kept her on the phone for-how long? Half an hour? Forty-five minutes? Then she got in touch with me as soon as she could.
Incidentally, we’d had dinner that night with the chain gang in Greene County. Because somebody raised the question some little pipsqueak said, “What do we do with Dr. Bunche?” And once the question was raised, everybody had to protect his flanks, you see. But if the question hadn’t been raised, why, they’d have done the same things that we did with Ralph Bunche when I took him to my house and we had dinner. We’d have just eaten and then gone.
Oh the piece de resistance on this one is the people, when they decided that they wouldn’t let Bunche come in and eat with the whites, they had sent him a plate of filet mignon, just like all the rest of us, out into the black camp.
I said to Myrdal, “Now, look, they’ve got this warrant sworn out for you.”
He said,”What do we do?”
I said, “Whatever you decide to do.”
He said, “Well, hmmm. What do we do?”
Oh, he’d been asking me to run for governor of Georgia. I should run for governor of Georgia. “What else can you do here if you won’t take political responsibility and stand up to these bozos and he]p educate them? Let them count the votes. Go out there and do it. You’re scared, Raper.”
I said, “No, I’m not scared. I live here.”
He said, “What we going to do?”
I said, “Well, the best lawyer in town was with us down at that convict camp dinner tonight-Colonel Fawlkes. You can go talk with him and he can tell you.”
The sheriff was there, too. So we went down to Colonel Fawlkes house, and Colonel Fawlkes called the sheriff. The sheriff said, “Well, I will not be in my office for official business until 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.” This was about 10 o’clock at night. So I said to Myrdal, “You just decide what
we’re going to do. I live here all the time, and this stuff is going on always, as you heard Mrs. Andrews this afternoon.”
He says to Colonel Fawlkes, “Well, look. What would they do?”
“They’d have a trial.”
“Have a jury?”
“Yeah, they’d have a jury.”
“Who would select the jury?”
“Well, they’d be selected by the outfit in Atlanta.”
“This would get in the papers, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would get in the papers.”
“Well, I’m an international figure.”
And although he wanted me to run for Governor of Georgia and stand up for my principles, I noticed that he wasn’t taking the warrant and standing for his. He said, “This would make it an international incident, and I’m here for the Carnegie Corporation. They put a lot of faith in me. I’m a well-known social engineer.” So we decided that he’d better leave before that warrant got there at 9 o’clock the next morning.
So we rode all that night and we went across the rickety bridge-it was then-down between Fort Benning and Phenix City, Alabama, 2 o’clock that morning, and got over to Tuskegee, and we took our rooms and they had a little bath connection between us, you know. We went to sleep, and the next morning about 8 o’clock he came stomping in there. “Raper, what in the hell happened at Runnymeade? Now, you tell me. What happened at Runnymeade?”
I said, “What happened at Runnymeade was that the people made King John sign some papers.”
“Yeah. And what? What happened?”
I said, “Well, one of the papers was that you can’t arrest anybody unless you’ve got a warrant. But Mrs. Andrews has a warrant for you.”
Well, there we were. I haven’t ever been inspired maybe but once or twice in my life. But that was one of the times. And, incidentally, he never did ask me any further about running for Georgia.
Then I went back to the study of rural Georgia. I went with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Argicultural Economics, to Greene County in the fall of 1940. And I was busy as six bees, keeping myself propped up on every leaning side down there so I didn’t get thrown out.
In the meantime I was running all over the South, checking on things, and going to committees and conferences, and accepting invitations here, yonder, and there, to help write a report and the like. I had an advantage. I had a travel account. And all these organizations that are looking for a speaker-well, they’re frequently looking for somebody that don’t cost them anything. So, from that point of view, I was very attractive, just from the logistical point of view. But they also was willing and even eager, seemingly, to have somebody get up there and talk about the plantation system, and have somebody get up there and talk about the unevenness of education between whites and blacks, between the educational expenses in Atlanta and in the rural counties, of the soil washing away and filling up the rivers and rendering people very, very poor.
I was amazed and frankly very pleased at the invitations that I had to speak. I remember to the Kiwanis, I guess, in Atlanta, the name of my speech was “It Could Happen Only Once.” And I took the forests and the soil then the installment buying and this and that and the other. I had the thing worked out on about ten points. And I look back at it every now and then and I think it was quite insightful. But they took it. They listened to it. I saw those folks later and they would talk. I’d meet them in other meetings, you know.
Then came the New Deal, and it did have an NWA program, and it did have a WPA program, and it did have something for the schoolteachers, and it did have some notions about some clinics and the like. And Gay Shepperson presided over a sort of resurrection of hopes and spirits of the people of Georgia. I had ready access to her office on any kind of public information that she had, and I worked out for every county in Georgia how much money was going for CWA, Civil Works Administration, for the whites, and how much for the blacks, and how much per capita, if it was on a basis of people employed; if not, on a basis of the population. And we had that whole thing for all of those, all of those agencies. And we had, with the Rosenwald Fund, worked up some figures on what the disparity of costs were for education for whites and blacks in Georgia by counties, then when this New Deal program came in for education and they were going to give something to the teachers, how much of it went to these that were getting so little and how much went to these others, how much went to Atlanta to the whites and how much went to Atlanta to the blacks.
Wherever the general standard of education was the highest, the differential between the whites and the blacks was the least, and where the general education expenditures were the lowest the differentials were the greatest. And that was something that we’d documented to the hilt. So we were interested to see where these New Deal funds went. And they were usually on the side of the angels. If they didn’t get the whole way to heaven, why, they at least were sort of in that direction.
WELL, MR. TALMADGE thought this was all pretty bad. And in his Statesman, you know, the weekly paper that he had, he railed about this, these programs every week. But they just went right on. He was railing, and a lot of people were asking him to snap his red galluses. But a lot of other people were glad to have some money coming down to the county. And somehow or other they had said “We like Talmadge. We like old Gene. But we also want the WPA money to come down here. We want the money to come. Whatever money is to come down here, we want it to come.” And I think they wanted that to happen more than they wanted to praise Talmadge.
I don’t know how much of the renaissance in the South came out of the New Deal, but I think–I expect if you analyze this back–and this would be a good thing for a historian to do–analyze that back, you will find more coming out of the New Deal than almost any one thing that’s happened in the South in the last 100 years. I would be pretty sure of that. Especially changing attitudes of people toward themselves is the greatest change it made. The NYA helped some kids get an education. The CCC helped some kids plant some trees and get their stomachs full of good
food and get their faces clean and their feet clean. But the main thing it did is it gave these people maybe a first chance they had had to believe they could ever be anything except a sharecropper’s son or a sharecropper’s daughter. More poor kids got to school under the NYA than anything else that’s happened in the South-the National Youth Administration. This is what they went out there to do, and this is what they did. And they-they just saw a different world from what they had up until then been able to even envision.
See, when I was working in Greene County, working on this Tenants of the Almighty that we published, MacMillan, 1943-I had working in my office five NYA youngsters, and those kids-no one of them would have ever been associated with a project like interviewing farmers and asking them what they would have expected to get from the Unified Farm Program, and what difference has it made when they had canned fruit, or what difference had it made when they had a fenced garden, or what difference had it made when they were able to get a production loan at a low rate of interest, what difference did it make when they had a clinic, and this and that and the other. Well, those kids just simply saw a new world when they were working with that material. And then the pictures that Jack Delano made there in Greene County-and we had them up on the wall, and we were talking about–“This is what they’re doing for the land erosion back over here, and here’s what they’re doing in this area to get a forestry going. And fire towers–be sure if the fires break out that they get them put out before they burn the whole business up.” And the whole way through, those five kids there were just an illustration of the process that was going on.
And another thing that happened here was this tenant purchase contract that they had with the Farm Security Administration. I can tell you a story about that. Alexander had been saying, and he wrote in Preface to Peasantry, that what we had to do was get the ownership of the land into the hands of these producers, that that was the only way we could have an adequate civilization here. He had worked on that. We had talked about it. He had promoted it in every way he could. And so he called me into his office one day– this was before he left Atlanta–says, “I think we got it. I think we got it. I think we got it.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “I think we got this tenant purchase thing. I think we got it. John Bankhead thinks he thought it up.”
Well, Alexander was the kind of guy who had very practical sense, and if he saw that it was the way to get John Bankhead to promote that legislation, why, he would devise every scheme in the world he could to help get John Bankhead reconfirmed every morning that he had thought that up.
Well, these tenant purchase contract folks-there was, back here, this dream of 40 acres and a mule, and that had been dashed. Then here comes along an agency that says, “You can have this land. It’s yours. You can pay off your indebtedness with a low rate of interest.” And there was practically no hanky-panky in that program. It was done by local committees, and the elite, again, made up most of the local committees. But the elite didn’t get the farms. The rung down, not the bottom of the tenant but the top of the tenant group got those farms. And out from those farms went children who have done anything that has been done in America.
We know one family in Greene County. They lived right next door to us. And we said to the Hopkinses, “Now, look. Why don’t you apply for one of these tenant purchase contracts?” They were right beside of us and were working on the land there on that old plantation we were living on when we were in Greene County.
And they said, “No, we won’t do it.”
Why? Well, I talked with the man about it, Mr. Hopkins, Frank Hopkins, and Martha talked with Mary Hopkins, his wife, that, well, this would be a good idea to do.
“No, there’s a joker in it. We’ll get squeezed again.” He said, “My father tried twice to move from sharecropper into ownership, and each time bad years came. he had to give up everything he had and go back into sharecropping. I’m just going to sharecrop.”
Well, we kept saying, “No, you don’t need to do that now.” I think they saw we were sincere, and then they saw some of these other people moving onto these farms. And
they did move onto their own farm. They paid for it in five years. Well, there it is. I’m glad that it happened. I’m glad that I was associated with something that is that vital.
Of course, I didn’t anticipate, then, frankly, agribusiness and what that has done in terms of this tremendous emphasis on bigger units to finance and pay for bigger machines and to pay bigger fertilizer bills and pay for bigger insecticide bills. I didn’t anticipate that then.
There was, when I left, in, say, the middle of ’39-there was still the assumption on the part of most, I think, of the Interracial Commission members that segregation-we would make it as best we could. We wouldn’t openly challenge it. I had openly challenged it, but I just did it personally. And I think I didn’t earn any points with Odom and Alexander when I did it. I went to the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in ’38 [the first SCHW meeting was held in Birmingham in 1938] and took a very active part and was a sponsor to the one they had in ’40. Alexander and Odum both had the feeling that this Southern Conference on Human Welfare was sort of a flash in the pan, as indeed it was. But the people that I knew in the South were nearly all there, and I wanted to be there with them, and I was.
And in some ways they were right. But in other ways I think the South in race relations is very much farther along by having had the southern Conference on Human Welfare, even if it did later on peter out, and for good and sufficient reasons. But it did something. The people got together and they talked and they looked at each other. It was a plus, I think, and I’d do it again. If I had been ten years older, I think, I don’t know whether I would have done it or not. I was still under forty. But if I had been fifty, I don’t know whether I would or not. Maybe I would have been with Alexander and Odum. The Interracial Commission had its backgrounds and it had its committees and it had its-never did write down what it believed in. Alexander said, “We won’t do that. We’ll decide as we go along.” He was right in doing it, because couldn’t anybody pick it up and say, “This is what the Interracial Commission believes in.” The whites and blacks at the Interracial Commission had always chosen their place of meeting. It had always-it had never been secret, but neither had it been advertised in public. It was purposely kept sort of quiet because it didn’t want to be annihilated. “We can grow,” we thought, “if we don’t kill ourselves.”
Well, then, the police and some of the folks in Birmingham looked around a little bit: “Hmmmm, we better go over and check on this thing.” So they came over and decided they had to segregate us, and when they did it made us mad. We were here and we had this meeting set up, and this was the way we were going to go, and now you won’t let us go. “We’ll have a meeting only after this where we can have it unsegregated.” That came out of that meeting in 1938. “We will not have another Southwide meeting where we have to be segregated.” That came out of that meeting. That was a part of the findings of the meeting. It was put in the newspaper.
Okay. So that-and, as I say, I didn’t gain any points by having been identified with something that was pushing up on the mores, as that was. And that was exactly what it was doing.
Every member of the Interracial Commission was an ultimate integrationist. He had nowhere to go except towards integration or else deny his affiliation with the whole effort. Now that’s the dynamism of that earlier work that was done with the Interracial Commission when it was being careful, when Alexander wouldn’t put down, “This we verily believe.”
I think what happened was that the people who were in this process knew in themselves that, insofar as this better thing to be done, why, everybody was going to feel better. You feel better when you have been considerate of this other fellow who is treated inconsiderately by so many people. You feel better. You see he feels better, or she feels better. You sleep better. The doors on your house don’t have to be locked quite so securely. The laws don’t have to be quite so demanding in terms of restrictures here and here and here in life.
I think the people who were the farthest along with it were happy that they saw other people every now and then coming towards their side. They thought they were with the future. This is the future, therefore I can abide it somewhat. It hurts, but let’s keep going.
I don’t think your ultimate integrationist ever thought integration was going to solve the whole thing. I think some of the other people who had been against it and then flipflopped over to it made demands on it that some of us who had worked through the process never expected. We didn’t think it was going to make a tremendous, immediate difference. But it was a process which had to be entered into and carried on through. And the sooner and saner you can get started, why, the better off you are.
When you look at the Southern situation, the racial situation, so far as the mechanics of the thing is concerned, it has made more advances than many of us in 1940 could have expected. But these advances that have been made haven’t gotten the heart of the thing. The heart of the thing lies deep in the culture of the white man and in the culture of the black man.
So that’s where the real problem is-the integration, we had to come through that phase. But we ain’t there yet. We ain’t there yet, and we’re not anywhere close to that. But we’ve gotten up the mountain far enough that we car be over it and see what some of the other peaks are and how high they are. The latter and more troublesome half of the journey is still there.
Historian Cliff Kuhn was a co-producer of the “Living Atlanta” series and the producer of the “A Southern Profile” series.