Title: Southern Regional Council Conference [ SRC-31 ]
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Jane Dailey:

Thanks Doug for your very interesting papers. I'll be brief. Recently, an

international team of literary scholars came to the startling conclusion that

Humpty Dumpty was a Virginian. [Laughter] Had he lived in our century,

the rotund albino would no doubt have identified himself as a white

southern liberal. For as he explains to Alice through the looking glass,

when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more,

nothing less. Like other white southern liberals, Humpty Dumpty would

also have been interested in issues of labor equity. When I make a word

do a lot of work like that, said Humpty Dumpty, I always paid extra. The

word liberalism has been drawing time and a half for southern historians

for years now. A lot of take our sources seriously have

somehow been translated along the way into a reluctance to question our

sources' terminology and classification. Is it really possible for historians

as opposed to historical actors to talk seriously about a mid-twentieth

century racial liberalism that takes at it's starting point the preservation of

segregation and white social dominance. Gunner Myrtle didn't think so.

In the middle of World War II, Myrtle was mystified by the incongraments

of white southern liberal support for the Jim Crow system of racial

segregation and subordination. You can almost hear him shaking his

SRC-31, Conference, Page 2

head, "Southern liberalism is not liberalism as it is found elsewhere in

America or the world," announced Myrtle in 1944, "it's a unique species."

It's probably an analytical error to assume with Myrtle that there is a

stable taxonomy of liberalism by which white southerners may be

measured and be found wanting. Even if we take the most basic

definition of liberalism, as most of the world understood it in 1944, as a

commitment to equal rights of all citizens with a liberal democracy, most

southern white liberals fall short. I'm not suggesting that because people

like Virginia Stably and Jesse Daniel Aimes sought to maintain racial

hierarchy that they were not liberals. If there's one thing that we've

learned from the past twenty-five years worth of scholarship on liberalism,

it's that liberalism has historically, if not ideally, been founded on

exclusions of women, of children, of racial and ethnic minorities. What I

am suggesting is the way that we use the word, liberal and liberalism,

today and the way that many mid-century white southern liberals used

these words is fundamentally dissimilar. In this, Gunner Myrtle was

right. Liberalism in the south did not necessarily imply racial equality.

This is why white southern journalists like Dadny and Rumple McGill

could, as Mort Susnick explains, "base their existence to fascism on

democratic ideology while denying that this same ideology implied any

basic change in the south's regional status quo." Liberal on the white

southern context does not mean liberal on the race question. It's

SRC-31, Conference, Page 3

important to remind ourselves when we talk about liberalism as modern

scholars that white southern liberals of the hyrodium variety simply

believe what two generations of white southern liberals before them

believed, that there was a way to reconcile regionalism (i.e. white

supremacy) and segregation and democracy. At the heart of southern

regionalism and at the heart of white southern liberalism lay an

undemocratic commitment to racial hierarchy. It's the great virtue of Mort

Sesnick's paper to point to this tension, a tension that explains in part the

disillusion many African American's felt with liberalism and their openness

during the 1930s and 1940s to non-liberal alternatives, particularly

communism. This tension may also explain why when another group of

southerners gathered at Highlander and stood up in Montgomery and

Birmingham and Jackson, they spoke in the language of Christian

universalism and not liberalism. Richmond editor Virginia Dabney is as

good an example as any to reveal the limits of liberalism as practiced by

self-identified white southern liberals. Dabney was not, however, the only

southerner advocating an ameliative approach to race centered on

making separate truly equal in the New Deal South. This was, in fact, the

end of Lacy Pea's legal strategy in the 1930s. Rather than mount a

frontal assault on Jim Crow, the NAACP decided to bankrupt it by forcing

the south to live up to the equality explicit in the Plessy decision. There's

a difference, however, in using the separate but equal doctrine

SRC-31, Conference, Page 4

strategically to reveal its essential infeasibility and unconstitutionality in

trying to implement it in order to save a broader system of racial hierarchy,

as Virginia Stadney aimed to. Treating Virginia Stadney and other

white southerners interested in making segregation more humane as

representative of liberal sentiment pushes those southerners actually

dedicated to liberal democratic ideals to the sidelines as radicals. In this

scheme, all southern liberals are white, the NAACP isn't southern, and

James DeBrosky, Aubrey Williams, and Howard Kesner are

communists. What were some of these radicals advocating? In the

spring of 1945 as Allied forces occupied Berlin, a panel of experts

consisting in the words of a critic, 'one buck negro, one Jew, one New

York social service official, and Congressman H. Jerry Voyers of

California,' was asked to discuss the question, are we solving America's

race problems on the popular radio show, America Town's Meeting of the

Air. The 'buck negro,' referred to by the outraged letter writer was none

other than Richard Wright, someone who might fairly be considered a

southern liberal, despite the fact that he wrote from outside the south. On

this occasion, as ending on most, Wright spoke directly on the point. At

once let's define what me mean by solution of the race problem, he

advised. If the race problem was solved, we would have no black belts,

no Jim Crow Army or Navy, no Jim Crow Red Cross Blood Banks, no

negro institutions, no laws prohibiting intermarriage, no customs assigning

SRC-31, Conference, Page 5

negros to inferior positions. We would all simply be Americans and the

nation would be better for it. This was exactly the kind of broadcast that

kept Virginia Stadly awake at night. Desegregated public transportation

was not going to satisfy Richard Wright. Richard Wright wanted

equality, nothing more, nothing less. It is to Virginia Stadley's credit that

he recognized this, although it was precisely this understanding that

underlay his resistance to subsistent change in the south. Doug Smith

tells us that Dadney was opposed to school integration, even the

integration of the graduate school at the University of Virginia, because he

believed that integration would lead to racial imalformation. This

position, as tells us, was a standard chipila of the white

supremacist south (i.e. it was truism, empty of all meaning). Smith says

furthermore that late in life, Dadney continued to express his own

personal disapproval of miscegenation, no doubt a comforting position for

a man that never recognized that African American aspirations had

nothing to do with interracial marriage and sexual relations. African

American aspirations did have to do with interracial marriage and sexual

relations. Restricted marriage laws were the foundation of the Jim Crow

system. Every African American leader, from W.E. Duboise to Martin

Luther King, recognized this. Duboise wrote the right of freedom of

association into the Niagra Movement, the predecessor to the NAACP.

Roy Wilkons upheld that pledge when he insisted that blacks and whites

SRC-31, Conference, Page 6

belonged on a plain of absolute political and social equality. Martin

Luther King could not have been clearer when he said on television in

1958, I quote him, "the thoroughly integrated society means freedom.

When any society says that I cannot marry a person, that society has cut

off a segment of my freedom." Hannah Orent, by the way, made the

same argument in 1957 when she said that the Supreme Court should

have declared antimiscegenation laws and not segregated schools

unconstitutional. It's worth wondering what the history of the Civil Rights

Movement might have been if the courts had not ducked that question in

1955 and only returned to it in 1967. As far as Virginia Stadney goes,

however, he foresaw the progressive path that desegregation would take

from integrated public transportation to integrated schools to integrated

marriages, its thoroughly liberal path, one that upholds constitutional

notions of freedom of association, even as it protects individual rights. It

was a path that Dadney was unwilling to follow. What could be avoided

in 1945 could no longer be avoided in the 1950s. Jeff Norell claims in

his paper for this conference is that, I quote, "the only southern liberalism

of any significance in shaping events in the 1950s was SRC's." This is a

rather large claim for a world that included organizations like the

Montgomery Prumont Association. It does seem to be the case that the

SRC became more, rather than less, devoted to liberal ideals after it's

eleventh hour denunciation of segregation in 1951. To use Guy

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Johnson's terms, "the SRC aimed it's guns at the distant peaks only after

others had captured the foothills." The organization did endure and it

made a difference. Especially at the local level in the forms of state

visional councils. In South Carolina, for example, the council on human

relations was there to mediate when African Americans turned a direct

action in that state. Perhaps more importantly, though, the southern

regional council changed and advanced towards what even Gunner

Myrtle would have recognized as liberalism. Indeed, one of the clearest

pieces of evidence of the SRC's eventual and decisive turn towards

liberalism is that Virginia Stadney quit.

We do have some time for questions. We're running a little bit late

because we started a little late, but please direct your questions to our


?: Jane, could you also ask that people identify themselves when they ask their


Jane Dailey: Please identify yourselves. Otherwise I'll identify you.

Paul Gaston: You all talked about the meaning of words, and they said, they never get

fixed in time. We're all prisoners of them. All of you have sort of

praised Mirgal, and yet he committed one of the worst errors in

naming his book, the subtitle, the negro problem. It wasn't a negro

problem. There wasn't no problem with negros. It was a white

problem. Mirgal had not yet evolved to that point where he

SRC-31, Conference, Page 8

understood that he was mistaking the problem. We, at the

American Glem, it's a great book, but we're all prisoners of words.

I feel the same way about the use of the term liberalism. Eric

Goldman was writing a book, you younger people may not

remember when it came out as I do, Rileyho destiny, a History of

Modern American Liberalism. A reporter came out to speak to him

about this book he was writing. He said, Mr. Goldman, what does

liberalism mean? Mr. Goldman said, well, I guess it means

dueces are wild. It's enormously important that Doug and Mort

and Jane identify this particular branch of cautious southern

liberalism that folks in the 1920s and 1930s that tried to be

compatible with segregation. It included people like Hogan

Gardner and Virginia Stadney, but it seems to me that the

important thing is not that the white southerners that you described

at the end of your talk made SRC sort of the cockpit of the Civil

Rights Movement in the 1960s, but that liberalism changed. There

remained a very distinctive brand, very hard to identify. Goldman

was right. Liberalism does mean who can survive. It's very hard

to identify. People themselves changed, and they were educated

by their black comrades as well as by their old reading. I think

what I wanted to see and what we see in this department is the

evolution of thought and action. The council still has a lot more to

SRC-31, Conference, Page 9

learn in the 1960s. It's a constant program of awareness and I

hope somebody will be aware enough sometime to reissue an

American dilemma and entitle it the white problem.

Jack Davis: I hesitate to follow that with my comment, but on the subject of Howard

Odem in regionalism, it's interesting to note that Odem's two sons,

Eugine and Howard T were both ecologists. Eugine was at the

University of Georgia's prominent college, and Eugine was at the

University of Georgia and Howard T., H.T. as they called him, was here

at the University of Florida. I found that interesting for a couple of

reasons. One, that somebody so brainy as Howard, Sr. was usually

produces freaks as offspring. Also, his two sons went into ecology. Yet,

when you think about it, their careers in ecology were not such a great

detour from his. Odem saw, in regionalism, he saw each region as a part

of a larger whole. He saw that within each region there were unique

features within the physical and the cultural environments that constituted

an integrated system, an American system. I would argue then that racial

discrimination was not regional. It was, in fact, systemic. I wonder then,

Mort, if you think that the criticism of Odem and his regional model, or

regionalism, was in fact the disguise?

Morton Sosna: I think that's a very interesting question, especially the way that you

approached it. In my paper, I was mentioning both Odem and

Dadney together, but I would really draw a distinction between

SRC-31, Conference, Page 10

them. Odem wasn't the committed separate-but-equal

ideologically that Dadney was. I don't think miscegenation was a

major issue for him. I think he thought in terms of the time wasn't

right. I don't think he had a severe ideological. In fact, he

stepped out and he was one of the people preventing the southern

regional council going on record as supporting segregation. To get

back to regionalism, I think you're right, the way you've phrased

Odem's conception of regionalism. One of the things that really

upset him about Myrtle's book was that he not once mentioned his

southern regions of the United States. Hell hath no fury in any

case. I think regionalism for Odem, it was conceived in national

terms. At the same time, the south really had a special place in

that regional framework in so many ways. What I think he was

proposing, and the people who supported regionalism as a

workable ideal was a kind of regional affirmative action program for

the south that would draw in national resources, governmental

resources to do things in connection with educational reform,

economic reform. At the same time, certainly make steps towards

equalizing race relations in the south but never go so far as to

fundamentally challenge the whole assumption of Jim Crow. That

was a workable regionalism as far as Odem is concerned. I would

argue that the war and all the things we've been talking about made

SRC-31, Conference, Page 11

it so irrelevant and out of place. It was a very advanced deal in

1935. Odem and to some extent Dadney were not only ahead of

people in the south but they were ahead of people in Chicago and

New York on most of these issues.

Jack Davis: As the Civil Rights Movement showed later on, those are the issues that

were needed in all the regions around the country. Wherever blacks went

in this country and wherever they educated for the constitutional rights,

they encountered the same sort of racial discrimination, and in some

cases in great intensity.

Morton Sosna: I think that's true, and I think other people have talked about this,

but during, especially in the war and the post-war period, the Civil

Rights period, certainly through the 1960s, the south suffered as

kind of a lightening rod for the nations conscious. The people

could ignore what's going on the west coast or the midwest or the

northeast in terms of the injustices and inequities and race, but

somehow was made easier to live with because all of the really

terrible stuff was happening in the south. At least I think that's the

way a lot of people outside of the south felt. The south served, in

the nations' psyche, it was good to have the south. I couldn't read

it in the paper, but I quoted a piece from Margaret Meade.

Meade, during the war, was serving on some national committee to

assess morale on the home front. She traveled all around the

SRC-31, Conference, Page 12

country. Of course, one of the places she traveled was the south.

In her papers, there's this wonderful memo. She had never been

in the south. She literally writes, oh my God. It's more like New

Guinea than it is like anywhere else in the United States. The

south was different. It really was part of that whole World War II

phenomenon, that shortly afterwards, and even Faulkner wrote in

one of his first post-war novels, that outlanders will just believe

anything about the south providing it's bizzare enough and insane

enough. I think the south taking on a kind of threatening distinctive

otherness, you were really going to back, not to the 1920s, but I

think you were going back to the mid nineteenth century and the

Civil War reconstructive period.

Matt Lassiter: I'm Matt Lassiter from the University of Michigan. I was wondering

if you would respond to comments about your

comments about Virginia Stadney and interracial societies.

During your paper, the first time it came up I thought, he's using this

strategically or this kind of language doesn't make sense in the

context of this larger language he's trying to explain, then you hear

he's still saying this in 1970s. I think the larger point is that the

story does have something to do with these issues is accurate, but

obviously the white segregation critique is all over the place. I was

wondering if you had a statement on that.

SRC-31, Conference, Page 13

J. Douglas Smith: Absolutely. Thank you for that. James' point is well taken, and it

would be very easy for me to add one or two words, but to say that

had nothing to do with it would be an overstatement. My point

certainly was that the point for African Americans and segregation,

not that they all wanted to go out and marry whites. That was not

the preeminent concern. That's the extent to which I meant to

suggest that. While Dadney and others focus on that, and it's

probably been ten years now when I interviewed Mills Dodwin in

the 1990s, that was still the parting line for him. That mass

resistance was about postponing interracial marriage. I just think

that maybe it would have happened in more frequency, but we're

not going to all of a sudden have one giant interracial world.

African Americans were opposed to interracial marriage as much

as whites were. You see that in literature all the time. James is

quite right to call me on the extreme language that I used to say

that. It had nothing to do with it. I think the point is very well


Matt Lassiter: Is there a sense that he believes this? There's questions about

what is talking about.

J. Douglas Smith: Dadney, the fact that he continues to make this comment into the

1970s and is certainly not alone in this, I thought it hard to believe

that given the absence of any actual evidence of proof that this was

SRC-31, Conference, Page 14

really going to happen, that we were really going to become a

nation of mulattos, I sort of feel like to that extent it was something

that people got worked up over and they used this as the reason to

oppose everything else. With a graduate education, in 1935, he

says, that's what's going to happen if we allow this. By the late

1950s he acknowledges that there haven't really been any

consequences for that. I think it's hard pressed to have to

acknowledge that you step along the way that interracial marriage

doesn't lead to a nation of mulattos.

Steve Suits: I want to take up Paul Gaston's southern liberals.

Presley Dunbar wrote his last book I said, you

can see southern white gentlemen. By that I meant

that he was a person who tried to honestly search the best principles to

live by and then actively engaged to try to bring the world to that place. I

happen to agree with his version many times with what the content of that

liberalism should be. I think it's dangerous to start excluding people

because after the fact you see that their version of liberalism was wrong.

I think what's important is struggling through the ideals of their content and

their achievement and doing it with a sense of humility and humanity.

Those are quite vague terms, but in the everyday world they were very

important guidelines. For the of Paul, I would ask that you

remember a little on that point on humility. I've heard this morning a little

of the tone that I would call the H.L. Menten analysis of the south. We

SRC-31, Conference, Page 15

know what was right and wrong then and we measure people today by

whether they were right or wrong by our standards. That's an important

judgment. It's not very insightful about what was strategies and

opportunities for people to make change then and to realize their version

of an honorable southern gentleman.

Steve Suits: If I could respond for a second to what you say, I think you're right about

we need to be careful about not necessarily making these judgments after

the fact, but in looking at somebody like Dadney I'd argue that we could

judge Dadney on his own terms based on what the options were at the

time. My point would be that although there were all sorts of people in

the twenty-first century telling Dadney he was wrong, but there were all

sorts of people in the 1940s telling Dadney he was wrong, especially

people like P.B. Young and Jordan Hancock, he had served with for

many years and had a very good relationship. These were the people

telling him that you were wrong, that there are limits to your version of a

better world. The angle that I would like to approach this, and I have a lot

of sympathy for Dadney on a lot of levels, but glorifying Dadney

is somewhat tragic because I think that Dadney did know

better. I think he knew on an intellectual level that he was wrong on

some of these things, but he couldn't quite get there despite the presence

of people at the time who he respected who were telling him that he was

wrong. I think it is fair to make those judgements based on the options of

SRC-31, Conference, Page 16

that time.

Jane Dailey: I don't think it's the job of the historian to declare people right or wrong by

contemporary standards.

John Due: You have to remember that there was a war going on. I think the greatest

thing by Dr. King ever written was not the 'I Have a Dream,' speech, a

'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' should be required reading. I always

wondered, who was he talking about when he talked about moderates?

Was he talking about council? When he

was talking about moderates. Then somewhere else he was concerned

about liberals and their lack of commitment. Again, he responded to the

harmony that Martin Luther King had with the so-called white fathers. I'm

going to ask that question again tomorrow, by the way.

Morton Sosna: I think David's paper will be addressing that specifically later. As I

recall, it was interesting because while 'A Letter from a Birmingham

Jail,' King does complain about moderates, where are they

basically. How are they going to lead you when you're not saying

anything or doing anything for us. At the same time, he

mentioned, he exempted a few people, including Ralph McGill and

Lillian Smith, who were much more outspoken in antisegregation

that Ralph McGill. Nonetheless, I think it stresses your point, who

did he really mean if he includes both Lillian Smith and Ralph

McGill as if exempting them from the state where he was then

SRC-31, Conference, Page 17

portraying moderates under.

J. Douglas Smith: I would expect that by 1963 whether Dadney would even be

considered amongst the moderates by this point in time. At least

by this point he's been describing himself as a conservative.

Certainly, in the specific address to the people of the church who

claimed to believe that segregation is wrong, in one respect they're

talking about believing that segregation is wrong, but the time isn't

right, we've been waiting for 300 years. I think that certainly he is

including people who say, keep waiting, keep waiting, keep waiting,

and believe in a very slow gradualism. Yet, this speaks to the

point where this ideology has changed so much in twenty years.

He's not just talking about people, there's no such thing as a liberal

in 1960 who still believes in segregation. He's not referring to

people who still want to support Jim Crow at this point. People

who suggest that Jim Crow is wrong, but we need to take more


Morton Sosna: If I could also respond to Steve's point on liberalism and how you

define it and how you judge it and what he means. The question

now seems to be not happened to southern liberals but what

happened to liberalism. That's what people are raising right now.

When I was working on I was actually working

on that project in the early 1970s, at that time, I couldn't have

fathomed that politicians today would be afraid to even use what

SRC-31, Conference, Page 18

they called the 'L-word.' It just resonates in a completely different

way now. No one out there on the political horizon seems to be

identifying themselves with or trying to connect themselves with

"liberalism." That's really an astounding page in the last forty-five

John Boone:

Jane Dailey:


I came to this conference because I'm confused. You mentioned the

south. I'm all country. Inside though, I realized, too, that I was an ugly

American. It's worse than anywhere I've been in America. It's worse

than the south. The criticisms by Dunbar, I guess that's why I'm standing

here talking, because he, like Jesus Christ, in the way he founded

anybody in America. It's absolutely the worst country. Don't talk about

sections, talk about what's happening in America. It's very, very bad.

Thank God for this country. I hope the southern regional council can

operationalize so we can get on the real problem. Race is all over, it's

worse in Boston. liberty. It's too narrowly


Thank you. I want to thank our paper givers and the audience for your


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