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AAHP 177 Interviewee: Lawrence Goodwyn Interviewer: Dr. Paul Ortiz Date: June 23, 2011 Paul Ortiz interviews Lawrence Goodwyn about his experience in St. Augustine during j ournalist. Goodwyn describes how the St. Augustine police allowed member of the Ku Klux Klan in the area, operating as the Ancient City Gun Club, to chase down Civil Rights marchers. Goodwyn believes he heard the Klan members performing the historical Rebe l Yell as they chased down Black Civil Rights activists. Key Terms: Civil Rights Movement, St. Augustine, Ancient City Gun Club, Ku Klux Klan, Civil War, Southern Rebel Yell, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, Student Non violent Coordinatin g Committee, SNCC O: Are you r eady to go? G: Yeah. O: Alright. Larry we've been talking about oral history and what it can reveal, its strengths, but also its blind spots or its deficits. And you have been a person who both have used oral history, but the event that we're gonna be talking about today or the series of events, really involves you as a historical actor. I wouldn't expect you though to completely draw back as a historian as you think about this series of events -
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 2 G: I didn't hear you. You wouldn't expect me to do what? O: I wouldn't expect you to completely separate your life as a historian from your experiences in St. Augustine. G: Right. I understand. O: But those experiences are really, really critical. Because in Florida today, what peo ple know about the Civil Rights Movement is almost nothing. And what the city of St. Augustine has done to the history of the Civil Rights Movement is to completely suppr ess it. G: Yeah. O: Now you were there in 64 and you wrote a piece, it's called Anarchy in St. Augustine," and you interviewed a lot of people. Can you talk ab out that, about that experience? G: Yes, yes. I made a tour through the south in 64 and the first stop was Mississippi Delta, which was undergoing Mississippi Freedom Summer And they'd had what they call the Freedom Vote in 63 in which they were trying to teach people who had never had the social experience of voting how to do that. And in 64 they were going beyond that and they learned many things about what they th emselves had to know as teachers of a civic art, voting. And i t was an active insurgency on the party of Black people in Mississippi Delta even to have meetings on their own time to have classes on how to vote. That was an activity that would be considered uppity by some. So that experience was behind
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 3 the movement in 64. It was something they had done in 63 and in 64 they had created this program, it drew a lot of attention in the nation. They recruited nine hundred people who were not from Miss issippi, who were from non Mississippi areas of the United States of America, all over the North, from college campuses, White schools, Black schools, all kinds of schools. People willing to come south, to the Delta, and participate in the activities of re cruiting people for the Civil Rights Movement. This is based on the prestige that, particularly with the young people and with young Liberals who were in college at the time, they were deeply impressed with the Civil Rights Movement and the idea was that t hey would volunteer to put their bodies on the line come south. Now we present the North with a different kind of problem which was that these were not faceless people who were in jail, these were their sons and daughters. If some of the recruits who want ed to come happen to be the sons or daughters of bankers or executives of corporations or of the Democratic Party or whatever, that was fine too, to the people who were doing the recruiting who were field secretaries of the Southern Christian Leadership Co nference or of SNCC, mostly of SNCC. SNCC was the pivotal ci vil rights organization behind Freedom S ummer. It was an outgrowth of internal discussions among SNCC field secretaries and CORE another urban based organization in the north, was also a particip ant. Certain members of the NAACP also were participants. Dr. King had his own reservation s about it, as we saw, and he went to Florida because of it. That's relevant to what we might talk about with respect to Florida. But I started out in the Delta and t hen I went to Montgomery, Alabama where I met Bevel,
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 4 James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who was quite willing to share his irritation at Dr. King for not participating and not letting people like Bevel a nd all his young minions, h is young recruits, why they weren't all in the Delta of Mississippi helping this national effort w hich Bevel considered more import ant than anything else going on; m ore important than acts of Congress or anything else. Bevel was quite adamant about that an d said to me, Dr. King got something going on in St. Augustin e, Florida and as you can tell from the newspapers, it's gathering momentum. So after that conversation I spent three or four days with Bevel who had his own indigenous just walking around in the South Bevel was an active movement in himself, he was so creative. His people invited me to do some things, which I did and then I went on to St. Augustine where I had some other experiences that we just talked about. So it was later in the summer afte r I finished with Mississippi and Alabama that I went to Florida and by that time it had really heated up in St. Augustine. The National Press Core was there, it was also in Mississippi. The movement had gotten the attention of the nation by that time. The re was a Danish television correspondent with a camera man who waded into the Atlantic where they had activities on the beaches of Florida, integrating the beaches and so forth. Much hilarity about integrated the Atlantic Ocean was big enough to take two r aces at the same time without crumbling into anarchy and chaos. O: Now Larry, you mentioned James Bevel in Mississippi. Who were the movement leaders in St. Augustine? Who were the people who really -
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 5 G: Now we're getting into an area where -I've written a n article that was published in Harper s magazine in April of 19 65, I think it's April 30 th I don't remember correctly, and anything I say in this oral inter view can be checked against that written source which was fresher in my mind at the time than it i s now. But the leader of the movement in St. Augustine was a man named Hailing, he was a dentist and he was a local man. A strong advocate and true American by my lights, he was an impress ive man. He was active because h e was ready to be free himself and f or all the people in St. Augustine to be free themselves. He thought he could help get it going and he was right on all counts. A nd he persuaded, after a while, to get Dr. King and Abernathy and Andy Young and the brothers and sisters to come to St. Augustine. And they generated a movement around the slave auction site which was still there and for all I know is still still there, it s n ow a historic site. There was this national rights party with a man named Stoney, somebody, maybe it was Stoner. Anyway, the Klan made inflammatory speeches to counter mobilization of large scale to crush this movement, if they dare do anything, wh ich they did dare to do; they being the participants in the Anti Apartheid movement in St. Augustine, the Anti States Rights Party, the Civil Rights Movement so to speak. So all of that was going on at the time when I got there and Hailing was the leader a nd I wrote about them and I have not refreshed my memory since then, but it can be checked against that article. I interviewed Hailing at great length and he had his repository of written sources on the conditions in the State of Florida were enormous. He had reports from the Florida Civil Rights Commission, which is composed of Florida
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 6 people who did not look upon the Black people of Florida in the same way the Klan did, they were sympathetic to the idea of integrating America and ending Jim Crow in Florid a. Florida w as a state that needed it badly; it ha d a separatist White supremacist state policy that rivaled that of Mississippi and Alabama in terms of shear tenacity and ruthlessness. It was tough, Northern Florida was tough and the state was tough. St. Augustine was rig ht in the center of all of that. Hailing knew it and he was determined that America would know it. They set in motion a series of events that succeeded in bringing Florida to the attention of the world, actually, with the corporation of th e Klan, the organized Klan; which had a formal presence in the city with a name, the Ancient City Gun Club. T hat was the name of the St. Augustine Ku Klux Klan, the Ancient City Gun Club. Most of them, as I detail in the article, were deputized as deputy s heriffs of that county, the county in which St. Augustine was a principal city. The contest there was that everywhere the Klan went, the cameras went. Everywhere the movement went, the cameras went. It was rich material for the world to take a look at, whi ch was in the self interest of the movement and the self interest of the Klan for that matter. These were willing warriors on both sides. O: Now you have described, in an earlier conversation that we had, a particular moment where the movement organizes a march and there're different protagonists. There're the marchers, the movement in the street, there are the police that come out, ostensibly one would think to keep order, whatever that means in 1964, and then members of this Ancient City Gun Club that ar e there obviously against what's happening, against the movement. And you describe
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 7 hearing something that breaks out when people attack the march. Can you talk about that? G: I did and I have never written anything in which I used my own eye witness inform ation that I'd garnered by the simple act of being in the presence of historical events with greater interest and belief and a complicated combination of conviction that there was something here that was deeply true and interesting and revealing about Amer ican culture. At the same time that I had confidence in it, I also had some trepidation that it was factually accurate as historical evidence. Now this is an event that takes place fifteen years before I get a Ph.D. in history. This is Lawrence Goodwyn, in vestigative journalist. This is Lawrence Goodwyn, civil rights activist. This is not Lawrence Goodwyn, gatherer of historical evidence. I've come to have a number of different stages of evolutionary insight into what I did or didn't do, what I said and did n't say; it's value or it's lack of value over time since then. It has been f orty six years since this event happened and my understanding of the fragility of history in the presence or in the absence of oral sources is much more elaborate and quiet than i t was then. And I think I bring a sober skepticism to the whole process, but it's not an evenhanded skepticism of all sources. I'm more skeptical of certain kinds of sources than I am of other kinds. I have profound skepticism of White America's understand ing of their own beliefs, including their own retrospective beliefs on that era and their non beliefs at this point that any of this is relevant to anything. The ubiquitous nature of White supremacy as a product of this culture and its blinding effect on W hite people as well as its real effect on Black people,
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 8 and it's a serious subject in itself. None of those things that happened, none of those insights, if they are insights or possible insights, were in my mind at the time I went to check out what was ha ppening in St. Augustine, Florida in 1964. So on this particular day I knew Dr. King, I knew Abernathy, I knew field secretaries of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, just as I knew S NCC field secretaries. I knew I was present in the organizing of this march in the Black sectors of a segregated southern city where I spent the night before the march. I had touched base with city authorities, I knew a man whom I quoted in the article who was a major player in the community of the business community of the city of St. Augustine. There was no one attitude, I learned from him and confirmed by events, the business community of St. Augustine was not monolithic in its response to the Civil Rights Movement. It appeared to be monolithic because those who wa nted to do things did them and others who decided to keep their powder dry, and that was most people, didn't act. And those who did act made the statements they made and that's what the country saw, they saw actions. They didn't see debates, they didn't se e internal debates, they simply saw actions that could be recorded. So on this day, toward twilight of this evening, here comes the Civil Rights Movement. I was in a group of people waiting near the square where the slave auction site was, it is a green sq s oblong actually. And there's a street leading to it from the ghetto, here comes the Civil Rights Movement down the street. I was with a group of people, I happen to be waiting for them looking down that street and I wasn't alone, there was some other White people waiting there and I heard this woman say, h look, the
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 9 colored people are marching again. was a sympathizer. It was a young woman, I would say age thirty and she had two of her own children there, about seven or nine, something like that. Her husband was there and there were other people besides that little fa mily that I remember who said, h the colored people are marching again. And sho' enough, as we say in I hurried over to the square, closer to the square, and I moved down to about half way in the middle. I was on a street, but half way down this block that lead to the Atlantic Ocean from this street that was not the Atlantic Ocean. I observed that they w ere spaced on the side of the street separated by three or four yards between each one. They were on both sides of the street, but it was not a line of protection, it was a line that was leaky and in between these uniformed officers there came non uniformed members of the Ancient City Gun Club. And it was obvious that they had been doing some planning, neither was surprised by the presence of the other. It was almost a p ositioning of troops. The Klan wa s located between the officers, it would be: officer, two or three Klan's men, officer, two or three Klan's men, officer, two or three Klan's men; all the way down the block. Many officers, many more Klan's men all the way around this block that th is movement was channeling itself to come down and it did; and here they came, they had banners. These were now, in the summer of 1964, veteran civil rights organ izers. They're strong, they have been there before, they have an entirely internalized non vio lent philosophy, which they've learned from Dr. King. Now he is not there that day, this march is
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 10 led by Abernathy, I believe it was Abernathy, it could've been C.T. Vivian; the article will be clear about that, the written article. Here they came and it w as palpably evident that all mayhem, all hell, was gonna break loose sometime during this evening, the tension was palp able. Here came this movement and a bout the time they got in front of me about half way down that block, maybe a little more than half way, when it became apparently evident to the Klan's men that if they didn't move now, these people were getting too far past them and all of a sudden they just rushed the movement. The scene disintegrated in mayhem and people began running. There were young men and young women, the movement was young, but there were some older people, thirty thirty five forty, but it was not a movement of old folks coming d own the street. They would run and they were chased by the Klan and I don't remember nor does my story reflect the fact that there were officers running after the demonstrators or not running. I didn't notice, I just saw fleeing demonstrators and fleeing K lan's men -chasing Klan's men. Then I heard this eerie yell, a loud yell. I became conscious of it and then after I became conscious of it, it seemed to grow. I don't know whether it was my consciousness of it that was growing or whether it actually grew. But all of a sudden I heard this huge roar, which I said, it just struck me that my god, I think this is the rebel yell. Now that's a whole different set of circumstances, my father was in the United States army, I myself was born on an army post, a cavalr y post in Arizona, Fort Huachuca. He had been stationed in Schofield Barracks in Honolulu and at the war department in Washington and he was a regular army instructor of the Texas National Guard when I was a boy in
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 11 Austin Texas. So I had grown up as an Ar my Brat in a military environment, I read about the Civil War, I knew about the Army of Northern Virginia, I knew about Robert E. Lee and all the brothers and so forth, I knew about Frederick Dougla ss, and I had many accounts of Battles that I had read wri tten by people who were histori ans years after the Civil War was over. Northern historians, Southern historians, it was a cottage industry. There have been more books written about the American Civil War than any other subject in our history, North and Sou th. We're going through another wave of that now and we're coming up on, what is it the -O: The 150th anniversary of the -G: Of everything! O: Yeah, yeah. I was just gonna -G: And eventually of Gettysburg and Appomattox and so forth right? O: Yeah. G: So, I'd always wondered about the authenticity of these accounts about the rebel yell. I thought it was inherently self serving for Southern rebels to focus on it. In most accounts of the rebel yell that I read as historical evidence in books on war itself were written by Southerners, but Northern historians would al so mention the high pitched rebel yell sounded again, things of that kind. Not particularly embellished, but just there as an acknowledged component of t he American Civil War strugg le and the social experiences of that. It would be many years, you
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 12 see, before we mainstream American people, that is not historians themselves, not researchers, but just readers could learn about the Fifty Fourth ny years after that, that I learned that one of every eight soldiers in front of Richmond on the Ri chmond Petersburg line in 1864 and the spring of 1865 when the Confederate line finally broke and resulted in the abandonment of Richmond and the abandonment of St. Petersburg and the march to the west that ended at Appomattox courthouse -that one out of every persons in the Union army at that moment was Black. And the country is learning now and will continue to learn -America is learning about itself on raci al lines with an increased intensity as a result of the Obama presidency and the rise of the Tea Party and the racial implications of the recruiting possibilities for the Republican Party and for the Democratic Party -what is politics and what is racism. A t the time of the war itself the South recruited in the name of rights, not in the name of preserving slavery, although every now and then it was in the name of preserving slavery. The education of the c ulture itself precedes the pace. So I can not testify to you that I ever had any particular interest in the rebel yell until I thought at a brief moment I just might have heard it mys elf. And then wondered what I'd heard, and wondere d was it in fact the rebel yell? A nd what does it mean that I don't k now and that I'm asking these questions of it later ? The validity of the oral source that I'd heard, that I am a s I speak to you at this moment forty six ye ars after the moment I wrote the article. Interesting, isn't it?
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 13 O: Yeah. It reminds me -this is pr obably way off, way, way off. Years ago I read Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner and I recently reread the book and I love this book. In the book there is a moment where the narrator talks about the fact that by the time a White child growing up, boy p articular, is aged thirteen he ha s thought about, and not just thought but experienced, that moment before What interesting -G: But it hasn't happened yet -O: Buy i t hasn't happened, yeah. Th e Longstreet, the interplay between Lo ngstreet and Pickett Arm i st ead Garnett, Kemper and it hasn't happened yet. To me that passage just strikes me. G: Yeah. O: It's amazing. G: See, t hat's a revolutionary passage. That survivalist is revolutionary. That's an insight that only comes to you when you're probing the deepest interior of your own mind trying to write the next paragraph of a document you're creating yourself and it pushes you to the limits of human imagination. And in this case, l ook what the need to say a few words, appropriate words, significant words, politically necessary words that Abraham Lincoln discovered he faced on a given da y in October in 1863 when he found himself on a train going to Gettysburg. And he writes on an envelope t he Gettysburg address, which he could say in four or five minutes in which he did say in fou r or five minutes. These are words he did not discover he had in him until that moment, amazing words That's William
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 14 Faulkner at his best. There's much evidence in Faulkner that his Black characters make more sense t han his White ones do. Although, only five percent of his work is about Black people. But they tried to survive and he tried to image what t hey would think of situations and he's not confined by anything except his own imagination. Now he's a very dependable Southerner in certain kinds of ways, but he's also an even greater novelist. So he imagines what it's like when it hadn't happened yet, i sn't that amazing? Yeah. Now he has a bunch of boys coming home from the war, a short story, it's titled "The Unvanquished." Wow, what a story. It says a lot more than I think. He probably had a kernel of this in his head, I know he did, that's why he wrot e the piece in the first place. He wanted to write about it and they're trying to figure out where they are in history and where they are in this war and where they are inside their own skin and where they are in the south and what's gonna happen to them. And he's writing about that, a short story, an amazing short story. He's a great American novelist; he and Herman Melville are my favorite American novelists. They are the greatest ones in my opinion. O: Mhmm. So you heard this yell, at the time did you stop and think, what is this? Was there an instant recognition? Was there a reflection? G: It was a question and I said, y god, listen to this. Is this rebel yell? It just hit me. It just hit me. Three seconds before that happened I was watching imp ending doom about to occur. The Civil So ciety in St. Augustine, Florida coming down the road, I was anxiety ridden, worried, intense, attentive, but not thinking about the Civil War and c ertainly not thinking about I was watching a
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 15 Civil War. I was watchin g political conflict at its most vivid, that I'd ever seen in my entire life. But I was not thinking about the rebel yell. And all of a sudden the scene breaks up, the scene disintegrates, people go in all directions. I hear t his sound and it occurs to me, y god, is that the rebel yell? That's the rebel yell, isn't it? as I'm running across the square, having taken my notebook out. I had a little notebook in my back pocket and I pulled it out, took a few notes. I had a note, O: What did it mean? G: Yeah. What it meant to me was, I had a new way to thin k about the American Civil War, that's what it meant. That's why it's a long war. America is just discovering itself still. One hundred and fifty years later we're still discovering who we are. We're learning that people who thought the election of -who announced him? I think it was a Republican stalwart and I think he said it ell, they'll call it a post racial society now. But t here're also some innocents, Democrats I think that thought, ell, maybe we made a huge step forward. make a step forward, but we made a step sideways and a step backward and a step inward most of all and name some things about White America that we never thought of before, never given ourselves permission to think of before. Black people know more about America than White Americans visualize. O: Was the rebel yell, was that about White supremacy?
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 16 G: Not consci ously, but the energy behind it was White supremacist in its manifestation, I think. It's a White man's country and we are proving t hat to the w orld as we charge across this field, I think. It's a speculation on my part. My father told me something when I was fourteen years old and he caught me reading a book by a famous Southern historian named Douglas Southall Freeman who wrote a four volume history of Robert E. Lee called R.E. Lee, four volumes, biography, Douglas Southall Freeman. You can't call yours elf a Southern historian if you haven't read that book, it's full of romance and amazing insight and lyricism and error. Then he wrote three volumes, Lee's Lieutenants : A Study In Command, it's about the Army of northern Virginia. And t hat's when you dis cover what an incredible army t his was. So my father, a colonel in the army, was watching me read this book. And it's not the first one, it's seven books, I'd been reading about the army of northern Virginia all summer long And he knew a few things, he's Georgian himself. His uncle, Pound, in Forsyth County, Georgia ran a milita ry school; later became Gordon Military I nstitute, named after John B. Gordon, core commander in the army of northern Vir ginia, etcetera, etcetera. And m y father, he called me over to the table where he sat and, a lot of reading lately, what are you reading? Oh, I'm reading about the army of north ern Virginia. Oh, what do you think about that army? of an army, I'll tell you that. h, tell me about it. He had that manner and so I told him abou t how Lee divided his forces in th e presence of the anti army, thus violating one of Napoleon's maxims of war at Chan cellorsville and descended on extreme flank of the Union A rmy and roll ed it back up onto the
AAHP 177; Goodwyn; Page 17 United States Ford of Rappahannock R iver and so forth and so on. And he saw the enthus iasm and God knows what else that was embedded in that recitation of Douglas Southall Free boy. Southe rners do the things they do because they don't know any better. You understand that? he only answer to that question in my father's presence w as yes, sir. Yes, sir, I understand. I had no idea what he was talking about. He knew I had no idea and he wanted to fix me in error so that when I grew up a little bit and knew more than I knew at the age of fourteen I might remember this conversation, which I did subsequently, of course. I can repeat it to you nuance by nuance this later. [End Interview]