Slapping Together a Coalition. . . To Win Below the Mason-Dixon
Vol. 12, No. 1, 1990, pp. 6-7
Virginia Durr: There’s no sense trying to reform capitalism, because it can’t be reformed any more than slavery could be reformed. It’s a very bad system. You’ve got to realize that you have lost the power of your government. You do not own your government. It is owned by the people who have the money. And they pay the money because they have to get on television or else they can’t get elected.
Now, you can complain, and you can talk about waste and you can talk about the Russians and you can talk about the Germans, but you can’t do much unless you have the power of your government. Now, it’s a democratic country, you’ve got the vote, you can control your representatives if you work at it. You have to work at it day and night. You have to form government clubs, voters clubs, you have to watch them, you have to write letters to them, you have to see what kind of devilment they’re up to, you have to see who’s slipping them money. To sit here and complain is just a pure waste of time.
We have a congressman [from Montgomery] who is paid by the military contractors. And we know how much he’s paid. Now he gets on the TV every fifteen minutes; he gets elected every time because he’s got the money. Now here we sit, black and white, and we might as well be talking about the moon as be talking about the President of the United States. And all I can say is I’m too old to do it. I’m eighty-six years old. Now, I did help to get the poll tax removed, and I did really a good job. And I sure did help to get segregation removed, and I think I did a damned good job there because I helped Mrs. Parks. On the other hand, I do not know how to solve the economic situation. That is left up to you. And I’m not gonna say you men anymore; fifty years ago I would have said you men. You people have got to do it. And it’s just a waste of time to talk about the chemical flowing down the Mississippi River. You have to control the government that controls the corporations. Unless you do that you’re just wasting your time, and mine too. What possible solution have we been offered here, not any.
Rev. Andrew Turnipseed: I’ll offer one.
Mrs. Durr: Pray?
Rev. Turnipseed: Well, no, I’ll go beyond prayer.
Mrs. Durr: Thank God.
Rev. Turnipseed: We’re all talking about politics…my name is Turnipseed, just like it sounds, TU-R-N-I-P-S double E-D
Mrs. Durr: He got thrown out of the church in Montgomery because he let a black soldier in [during WWII]. So he gave up his life, his church…
Rev. Turnipseed: You’re sweet to tell that. I’m seventy-eight years old. I never was too quick, and I’m less quick now. I think if you are going to get into politics, and that is the only place you can go…the only power in the world that can deal with the corporations would be a peoples’ government. Now, how you gonna do that. Politics as I understand it is a matter of coalitions. I know that word is overworked; you give me a better one, I’ll use it. It would be better if we had a comprehensive program. What are those? Well, first of all there’s the black vote and, thank God, that has come to us lately. That’s the basis of a coalition. But unfortunately the blacks are not in a majority in the South. I wish they were. The whites are in the majority in the South. We’ve got to have a pool of white people who will collaborate with the black vote and have a composite vote. Now, where we gonna get those white people? We don’t have to have a majority of the white people.
Now, I will digress to say that in the last four years we have elected a senator in Maryland, and a governor in Virginia just the other day, and a senator in North Carolina, a senator in Georgia, a senator in Florida, a senator in
Alabama, and got one coming up here next year, and in Louisiana. I count five major offices. How did we do it? I say we because I played around with it in Alabama. We had a black vote that was 100 per cent. We had to pick up about 45 percent of the white vote to slap together with that black vote, and you put ’em in. And how did we do it? First of all, there’s the labor movement. I know it’s bow-legged and tired and run so far it needs to rest, but time to reassert itself. We need the labor movement.
Right here in Birmingham. The industries are gone, and you [John Gaventa] very brilliantly showed us why they left. All the heavy industries have gone abroad. We’re left with a service economy, and I’m not an economist, just a country preacher. But I know the steel mills are closed. I graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 1933, and that was in the depths of the Depression, and this town was dirty black because of the smoke coming from the operating industries then, the furnaces, then. They can come back. People do need steel. And you made that point very brilliantly how at one of those three stages they came here because we had the resources. In spite of all of the rape against the soil and our natural resources, we still have them….Now back to where I was on the coalitions. I said we need the labor movement. Some of you people here have had experience with the labor movement. . .
Mrs. Durr: and the women’s movement
Rev. Turnipseed: All right, I’m gettin’ to that. Just hold on. And second of all…I’ve got to stand up. I preach better when I stand up…we need a block of school teachers, public school teachers. The public school system is absolutely being shot through with a propaganda that we’ve simply got to eliminate. And those school teachers, I don’t care what their husbands might do to make a living, these school teachers, most of them are women, and that’s my next point, but before I get there. You’ve got a school apparatus here. Most of the folks who are against us have gone off to private schools and they call them Christian schools–God forgive me for using that cuss word–all right, they’ve gone to private schools. I live in a little country town, a village, called Remar. A lot of folks in Birmingham have never heard of Remar, and a lot of folks in Remar have never heard of Birmingham. Anyway, that’s where I live. And my people in the church where I am, and I’m retired…but they’re too good to go to public schools. And we have a public school there that goes back to the experimental days when we first had consolidated schools. And they won’t go because we live in the Black Belt and 90 percent of the students in those schools are black. And so my people pull up and go down the road five miles and have a private Christian school. Now then, those people are not gonna go with us ever.
But there are millions of white people below the Mason and Dixon line who are white and have the same interests as your constituency has [Louisiana State Rep. Avery Alexander]. I understand you’re in the legislature. They have the same interests. I know. I’ve lived here for three hundred years, and I’m just gettin’ started. We’ve got to do this. And now, back to the ladies, that’s the third element of this coalition . . .
Voice from the audience: the “women”
Rev. Turnipseed: Well, women. Whatever they are, they’re my people and yours too. By the way everybody here had a mother. All right. There is discrimination. And everybody knows which party loves to discriminate against the ladies, or the women, or the females–I won’t go into that. Scared to. I think everybody here knows what I’m talking about. If a woman does the same work as a man, and a man does the same work as a woman, is it right to pay one one level of pay and the other another? Is exploitation right wherever it’s practiced? Of course not.
Well, I’ve already listed three levels of supply for this white coalition. Then, too, there are a few left, never have been too many–well, I hate to use the word intellectuals. I don’t know what that is exactly. But add those harum-scarum intellectuals, put them with those other three elements, add them to the black base, and we can win any election we want to below the Mason-Dixon line.
Edited comments of Virginia Durr and Rev. Andrew Turnipseed at a workshop on the Economy of the South; Southern Conference 51st anniversary, Birmingham, Dec. 2, 1989; sponsored by the Southern Organizing Committee.