Interviewee: Harry Bowie
Interviewer: Susan Glisson
Date: November 20, 2002
G: This is Susan Glisson and it is November 20, 2002. I'm in Greenville, Mississippi,
with Harry Bowie. I very much appreciate your time. We're here to talk about the
Southern Regional Council. Tell me a little about how you came to be affiliated
with the SRC and what capacity you held with the organization.
B: George Esser had just been named the Director of the Southern Regional
Council. I really don't recall how George and I had interacted previous to his
contacting me, but he called me and asked me if I would like to come and be the
associate director at the time that he was coming. I was an organizer here in
Mississippi working with the Delta Ministry. I thought about it and decided it
might be interesting, so, I agreed to come.
G: What did you know of their work before you came? Were you very familiar with
what they did?
B: Not very. The Southern Regional Council was an organization that had been
involved in voter registration and voter education through the Voter Project. I may
have known of some of their publications. I did not know intensively, their history
back to 1919, which I learned more about when I got there, but I had a vague
awareness of it being a moderately liberal to aggressive organization in the
South that was working with both the black and the white community.
G: What was the makeup of the staff? Who were the personalities that were there,
and what were the kind of projects that they were doing when you came on
B: First of all, I have not thought about this interview, so, I don't know. I'll probably
have to start thinking about it. The makeup of the staff ... There were a
number of people of different backgrounds, and I don't remember their names. I
remember Leon Hall. Leon was a young man who had worked for Dr. King. [He
was] aggressive, hyper, [and an] activist. On the other hand, there were older
guys who had been around for a long time and had been with the Southern
Regional Council for a long time who were involved. To recall their names would
be difficult for me at this time because I haven't thought about them or their
names in all these years. They tended to be, some of them, more moderate.
They were not conservative. They were good people who wanted to do good
things, but they did not want to tilt the boat too much. One of them had a strong
involvement and relationship with the labor movement. If you can remember his
name I could say, yeah, that's him. There was also, a black lady there, Jeri
somebody, who was involved in housing who was very aggressive. Another guy
who came about was George Harris. He came on as a student intern during my
tenure there. Paige Crossum, I believe, was doing public relations. A basically
decent person who worked that side of the street. There was an older lady with
white hair, I don't know if I can remember her name, but she was good. She was
our demographer, helped develop the maps of the region, and generally, on the
side of the angels. She was there when I came and there, when I left. There
was another guy who handled a lot of the functional stuff around the office. He
tended to be somewhat on the conservative side, not a bad person. Later on,
shortly after I came, two young ladies came on staff. Alexis Herman and Paulette
Norvell came aboard to do the woman's project. [Alexis became the Secretary of
Labor]. There was K.C. Chavis who was a really great person who was there,
not as a staff member but as a consultant. He was in and out and a part of it, a
great man, very resourceful, [and] influenced my thinking perhaps more than
anybody else even though he was not staff. And [there were] a number of other
folks. [They were] all, obviously, decent people. Some were more conservative,
were less conservative, but as a whole, the staff was a good staff and it had a
history of relationships with various types of organizations and people. I probably
should remember more of the names, but I don't.
G: You did a pretty great job for thirty years. That was pretty great.
B: Oh, Lucy. She came with George, also. She was in research. She was very
G: So, it sounds like a good number of women and men in the office?
B: Oh, yes.
G: Was there a good mix of black and white?
B: There was a decent mix of both. I didn't mention support staff. A good number
of them were black as well. Paige was white; the bookkeeper was black; [and]
there was an assistant bookkeeper who was black who came from North
Carolina with George. George brought a lot of his people from North Carolina,
and relationships, with him.
G: Do you feel that the roles of African American's and women in the organization
were changing? This is the post 1960's, so-called, post-Civil Rights' Era. Do you
think that was having an effect on the roles of the staff?
B: I was not cognizant of a shifting of roles. The roles, as my distant, foggy memory
records them, were pretty decent. There were women in charge; there were men
in charge. There was not a predominance of men. There was one or two guys
that I think sought that predominance but did not achieve it. I think George was a
fairly able administrator who worked well with a variety of people of different
backgrounds and races and genders, and kept a balance, there.
G: What were the kinds of programs that were ongoing as you came on board?
B: We no longer were involved, per se, in voter registration. That had been moved
out. Vernon Jordan had taken that with him and John Lewis had it set up, but
there was an interrelationship between the two organizations and we were
supportive of one another. [Our programs were] largely research. We did an
awful lot of research on issues as they affected the South, not so much with a
bias, but with a point of view that was trying to open up the region. I'm not going
to be time-sequential because it's all blurred. One program we did, and Leon
was there, [was] a study on the problem of young people and dropouts, which
was an excellent study. I thought they did a good job on the study. As a
consequence of that, we took a more activist role in Memphis. I led a team in
Oh, Happy Lee. I forgot Happy Lee. God knows! Yes, Happy Lee. I led a team
into Memphis. When they got ready to integrate the school systems in Memphis,
they called for Southern Regional Council to come and be of assistance to them
as they went through the process. I think our book on dropout prevention and all
that helped. I went in and met with both the black and the white community and
we made the decision that we would send in a team to assist them with
integration. We decided that the team that would be on ground would be Happy
Lee and Leon Hall. They worked very well, together. I was in and out and I had a
minor involvement in helping with that. They were the really good guys, the
heroes for that, and they worked with both the black and white community quite
well. If you go back, if my memory serves me well, it was probably the most
peaceful of the large city school integration in the South. That was because of
the willingness of that school system to have a peaceful transition and the ability
of our staff to work within that context. We would not have been able to walk in
there and have mandated that they have a peaceful integration had there not
been a commitment on the part of both the white and black community
leadership to have a relatively peaceful integration. There, we moved from our
tendency to be more research oriented, to be a bit more activist, but behind the
scenes activism, if you will. I've never gone back and read about that, I don't
read a lot of history of that time period, but if there's much history, whether we're
mentioned or not, I think that the action of that integration would be recorded
very favorably and very fairly.
We did other projects. One was very much of an activist project. Because of the
work that Ray Marshall did from the University of Florida on job development, we
started the black woman's employment project, and that's where Paulette and
Alexis came aboard. There was [also] another guy who was involved with that
who worked with Ray Marshall. Last I knew he was working with the people who
have the airline, [Federal] Express. [He is] a very competent, young, black man.
Anyway, they demonstrated very clearly that there was a market and there was
an abundance of black women available for jobs both through Ray Marshall's
studies and through their active participation. It started with just women and
black women and it was expanded across the nation to include women of
different nationalities. It was an excellent opportunity to showcase, through their
activism, that women can move right into the upper scale job markets that were
available in the professions and what have you. I don't remember the statistics
at all, but I know that when we moved in and started this project, we so
outdistanced the previous employment of black women, and then minority
women, compared to what the regular system was producing, that it was
amazing. It was a very successful project. With Ray Marshall, we worked
across the South with [other] studies that we were doing about changes that
needed to happen. It was sort of like a state of the South vision of where we
should be, what we should be doing, and what kind of economic development
should occur. We formed a commission and we did both studies in the sense of
a pure academic study, but also studies that involved interactions with people.
Like I say, I have not thought about any of this until just two or three minutes
ago, and it's kind of a stream of consciousness flowing back into it. Did that
answer your question?
G: It does. So, I'm wondering if it's fair to say that SRC shifted its focus from
electoral politics and Civil Rights more towards education and economics in the
1970s, or if these were things that were added onto that prior vision.
B: I don't know whether it was a shift or a growing from one phase into [another].
It's like the maturation of a child. You can call what happens a shift, because it's
different than what you have been doing, but what one does at thirteen is
different than what one would do at eighteen. Because the world around us was
growing and changing and adjusting, I think the role/function of Southern
Regional Council was also growing and functioning and changing in context of
what was happening in the Civil Rights' movement as opposed to it being a
cataclysmic shift of emphasis or focus. [But, it was] the focus that was more
germane to that time.
We also did a lot of stuff with books and writers. One of the greatest
experiences [laughing] was being able to [meet] with the lady from Texas. A
great, big, tall, statuesque lady who was in congress. The black lady from
G: Barbara Jordan.
B: Barbara Jordan. Oh, my goodness! I had never heard her speak up close, I'd
[only] heard her on TVs. She has a magnificently great voice that can reach out
and grab you and hold you up close to her as she talks to you. She was our
guest speaker for something and I sat there in utter amazement. I was
dumbfounded. What she said was great, but the voice was superb. That's an
experience that everybody should have, to be that close to Barbara Jordan. She
was an incredible woman in terms of her intellect and her integrity and her
personal carriage. I know this is totally out of context of what we're talking about,
but I was thinking of one of the programs that we had that she was involved in.
I think one of the things that did help is that we had an opportunity to intermix
with people of different backgrounds, different capacities to give and affect the
shape and form of the movement. From the Barbara Jordan's to the Vernon's
[Jordan] and the John Lewis', people who are noted in history, [but also] to the
other people who made exemplary contributions but are not so much noted in
history. [They] are the linchpins of the shift in the movement from their local
environments and their local communities. We interacted with them as well as
[with] the folks who have the [big] names.
G: I really like your conception of the maturation process. I think that sometimes
when folks look back over that history of the SRC from say, the 1960s to the
1970s, it may look like a retreat from racial issues, when in some ways it really
seems to be a reconceptualization.
B: Oh, absolutely, there are racial issues involved in [what we were doing].
G: So, you would agree with that latter part?
G: You mention not only that there may be internal dynamics of growing and
changing, but the larger context. It's no longer the Kennedy's or Johnson in the
White House, but Nixon in the White House. You have the popularity of the third
party candidate, George Wallace, obviously, coming from Alabama. How did
those kinds of events shape SRC and the work going on?
B: I'm not certain that they did. They were a reality. George Wallace was a force
and focus in Southern history for a long time. His ascendency may reflect
something different than what we, ourselves, think it meant. Many years after I
was at Southern Regional Council I was helping a local union in McComb,
Mississippi, to become organized, and there were blacks and whites involved.
One particular white man, an older guy, decent, he had lost his job, was helping
with the union. This was outside the regional council, I'm sorry, I think I was at
Southern Regional Council at the time I was involved in this. Every weekend I'd
come home this white guy would come by my house and tell me what he had
done with the union effort and what happened. I was helping him sustain himself
as a volunteer. He put George Wallace into a perspective for me that I had not
previously had, because I also tended to see George Wallace simply as the
racist, as the bad guy. This white guy, much older, for some reason really liked
me and wanted to work with me. It was in election time. He said, [Reverend
Bowie], how you gonna vote on this, cause I'm goin' to follow whatever you do
with one exception? He says, I know you think George Wallace is a racist and
he don't like you black folks. Uh-uh, George is just good for the peckerwoods
[red necks]. Now, he talks for us and he don't mean you all no harm. I'm goin
to have to vote for George, [but] I'll vote for everybody else you tell me to vote
for. I said, here's this guy who drinks coffee at my house, sits in my kitchen
every weekend, telling me that George Wallace is not a bad guy, he's just a guy
who talks for the peckerwoods. I'm quoting him, I'm not calling anybody a
peckerwood. I pulled back. Later in life, as George went through his apparent
transformations, they may not have been transformations, I viewed George in the
context of that man who worked with me in the unions during the same time I
was at Southern Regional Council. I saw George, in retrospect to that time
period, as a man who represented those folks who felt that they had been left
out, who felt they had been abandoned by their leadership. He became a voice
for an important part of the struggle, and that was the struggle of the working
class white person. Are some of them racist? Absolutely. Were some of his
positions racist? Absolutely. But there was more going on within the context of
who George Wallace was and the sense that, hey, you can't just leave me out. I
need a voice. George was that voice. I don't think George affected [the]
Southern Regional Council in any significant way. That probably doesn't answer
your question, but that's what comes to my mind. Nixon, yeah, he was there. He
stopped the money; he did wrong. He was a crook. What am I going to say
about him? We went on with our business. He was like some of the other folks
who had been in office.
G: But you didn't think that there was a conservative shift or a conservative swing to
the country that made some of the things that you wanted to do more difficult or
B: No, actually it helped.
G: In what way?
B: You see, when you have a conservative swing, it's easier to harness your own
people in reaction to that swing.
G: That makes sense. How would you characterize SRC's relationship with those
post LBJ administrations? Did you work with people in Nixon's office, or was it
later when Carter came in that SRC worked with them?
B: I don't really know how we worked with people in the Nixon office. I really, per
se, can't speak to that. We dealt with the opportunities we had at that time. We
maintained a relationship with some folks. Something Vernon Jordan did for me,
and I can't remember when it was, [we had] a meeting [in] West Point at Mary
Holme's Junior College. We had Vernon as the major speaker. Vernon came in
and talked to us about positioning ourselves to make change and to work within
the context of where we were. There are two points that Vernon made that to
me were exceptional. Vernon talked about the inside/outside game. He said
one of the things that black folks [need to do], and this would apply to anybody
who's on the outside but he was talking about the context of black folks, is to
work the inside and outside [game]. He said, you have people who they sort of
like and they're comfortable with and they bring them in, and all the rest of you
are outside banging on the doors, calling them Tom's. No, no, no, no. You
need to tie a rope to the guy on the inside and put the other end on the wrist of
the guy on the outside. When the guy on the inside can't get them to do
anything good for the black community he needs to pull the rope so those of you
on the outside start raising hell and screaming and hollering and what have you
then the "man" will make adjustments to keep you guys quiet. But the guy on the
inside has got to then take advantage of that opportunity. On the other hand,
when the guy on the inside gets so comfortable that he thinks he's arrived, the
guys on the outside have got to be able to pull the rope to make him [realize], no,
no, no, no, you're still part of us. That concept of an inside/outside game has
enabled me in many instances to accomplish goals, because many times, I've
been on the outside. I've been more on the outside than the inside, but
sometimes, I've also been on the inside. I've tried to learn from what Vernon
taught us. At the same time that he was talking about [the] inside/outside [game],
the other point he made was role and function, and it goes with that. What we
have to do is [to] very discreetly and clearly define our role and function in
whatever position we may be, whether it be on the inside or the outside, so that
we effectively do our job and still remain one community. That's a gross
paraphrase of what Vernon said. He'd probably say, no, I wouldn't have said it
that way, I would have said it better, but that's how I remember what he said.
G: The other way that I've kind of heard that message is through two words, organic
and dynamic. Dynamic in a sense that movements require lots of different
strategies, but organic in a sense that they should all be coordinated, or at least
networked in some ways, so as not to try to be competitive. I think that's a really
receptive assessment of how you do things.
B: For me it was because Vernon just made it seem that way.
G: Were you still at SRC when Carter was elected?
B: I don't think so.
G: Okay, so you wouldn't have any sense of if SRC was sort of particularly hopeful
that a seemingly progressive Southerner was elected, and that might mean more
support for SRC programs or anything like that?
B: I have no sense of that. See, Carter was the governor of Georgia when I was at
SRC. We had decent relationships with his office as the governor or Georgia,
not great, but decent. I have no sense of his impact, or whether he had any
impact, on SRC at the time. No, I don't.
G: Okay. Let's talk a little bit about regional politics. What was SRC's relationship
with some of these new progressive white, liberal politicians and new African-
American politicians who were coming into office in the 1970s who hadn't been
in those positions before? Do you remember if ya'll worked with folks like that?
B: No. I'm just trying to stop and think where and how we may have worked with
different people. Obviously, out of Georgia we worked with the Carter
administration, so we responded well to the more moderate. I have a difficulty
seeing many of the moderate and decently good politicians that were elected
from the white community as more liberal. Liberal to a white person is not
exactly liberal to a black person, okay? That which you might perceive as a
more liberal, white politician may have been, he don't want to lynch me, so he's a
pretty good guy.
B: I'm serious.
G: I believe you.
B: That doesn't mean he's a bad person, but I do not accord to them the things
[that you do]. Carter was more liberal, but let me think back to Mississippi, uh-uh.
The blacks who were getting elected at that time, and I was quite involved in the
Mississippi side of doing that. One of the things I had done before I went to
Southern Regional was I organized with a guy by the name of Lawrence Gayot,
G: I know Gayot, very well.
B: Larry and I did the initial workshops for the blacks in Mississippi who were
G: Is this after MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] or through MFDP?
B: It was through to after, it's in the transition period. He was still heading the
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, so it was both. Larry and I traveled the
state doing all the old original workshops. This is an aside, but have you ever
seen the comic books we use?
B: You need to get a copy [from] Jan Hiligus...
G: I know Jan.
B: Okay. Jan actually developed the comic books and we used them to describe
the duties of the supervisors in the case where we had some people who could
not read as well, and they were an effective tool. We used them in our training
program on how to run, and this sort of thing. I don't know where Jan's stuff is.
Jan had a library in her house. I don't know if she's ever given it up.
G: She hasn't. It's mostly in a storage unit in Jackson.
B: Okay. That stuff is too valuable to stay there. She really needs to let it go to
somebody if she can find them. This has nothing to do with what you're talking
G: I've had that conversation with her several times.
B: It's an incredible thing that she has, and I think it's all going to get destroyed. It
was her stubbornness that permitted her to gather it, but it's going to be her
stubbornness that causes it to be lost because she will not do better. What is
Jan doing right now?
G: Well I know she's active in the Green Party in the state, and I think she's in
conversation with some folks about a Civil Rights' museum of some sort in
Jackson. I think it's maybe the loss of control. She doesn't want to give it over
to somebody because she's afraid of what they'll do with it, so if she works with
somebody to start a museum maybe she thinks it'll preserve it that way. I'm not
sure how that'll play out.
B: I don't know, either.
G: I talked to her about donating it and bringing it to Ole Miss, writing for some
grants to even pay her to come and index the collection and save the collection.
It has bugs in it and that. It's not being preserved. She wasn't interested.
B: How old is Jan, now?
G: I assume she's in her sixties.
B: I have not seen Jan Hiligus in ten years I don't think.
G: You had those tools.
B: Right, we used them. We were electing people then who were incredibly good,
decent folks. Southern Regional Council was open to them and worked with
some of them. There [was one] in Virginia, who was elected to one of the cities
in Virginia. Benny Thompson came on our board during that time. A number of
the newly, elected, black officials became involved with Southern Regional
Council in a very positive and personal way. It was more the involvement of
those young black elected officials than it was, in my opinion, the involvement of
the more liberal white officials. However, having said that, that did not mean that
we were unwilling to work with the more moderate. That's why we went to
Memphis. Where there was an opening for us to work with the more moderate,
we did that, and it depends on their willingness to reach out and be called by us.
G: You really come into the SRC with a strong foundation in grass roots organizing,
and it's not typically the way folks think about SRC in terms of the kind of work
that they do. Were you frustrated because you came with that kind of world view,
or did you encourage others to take a more activist role or what?
B: Well, Leon also had a grass roots orientation. There was conflicts between my
having a very direct grass roots orientation, some of which caused problems
within the organization. Did I say that I was encouraged? No. Was George
supportive? For the most part, yes. I got called into a program in southwest
Georgia where Charles Sherrod had this big farm and there was a great conflict
going on there. A number of the foundations that had supported me in some of
my other grass roots organizing asked me could I go in, get on the board, and
help them resolve some of it. I think to some degree I did, but it also put me at
odds with the labor-movement people. The folks who were offended by some of
Charles Sherrod's dominance of that came and picketed SRC. They were
picketing me, in part. I can't remember all the issues involved. I was sort of in
the middle trying to resolve the problems that existed there, and labor ended up
taking the side of the people who were picketing us because it in part involved
the labor issue, I think falsely. Emory--whatever Emory's last name was--was
the more conservative guy who always had problems with me. Whether he had
a right to have problems with me or not, I don't know. We were different, we
came from different schools. He was the more moderate to conservative of the
persons, and clearly, I was not encouraged. There was labor leader named Al
somebody or the other, who was on our board who had problems with me, but
he also had problems with me because I brought Bill Gould [to Atlanta]. Bill
Gould is a professor of law at Stanford University, and earlier he had been a
professor of law at Wayne State. He brought a lawsuit [that was] at that point
the biggest lawsuit in the country against the unions. It broke open the closed
shops. The unions used to have closed shops. [It was] the Detroit [v.] Edison
suit. I had a conference on employment and law and what have you, and this
fellow by the name of Al was incensed that I brought Bill Gould in. Bill is one of
the foremost professors of labor law in the country, a really competent guy. I
brought him in for two reasons, one, he was competent, but two, we had gone to
Sunday school together when we were four years old. He's one of my oldest
friends. He was in the Carter administration [as] [chairman] of the Labor
Relations Board. He took a leave of absence from Stanford and came and took
on the chairmanship of the Labor Relations Board. I had severe conflicts with
[labor because of a] combination of two things. One, that conference and
bringing in [Bill], [and] I also brought in the unions who were organizing the
service employees. There were conflicts within the labor movement. My
involvement as an activist, and a more open activist, did create problems for
SRC. George for the most part, was cool. I think at some point it was more than
he could handle and I left SRC.
G: Because of that ultimate tension.
B: George is a good man, I don't knock him at all. I had a blast. I was always going
to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I was not going to try and
embarrass the organization, but if it became an issue of principle, then it was
necessary for me to do it. [It's] no different than going to jail for something that
you thought was right.
G: Do you think that the SRC tried to figure out some middle of the road way to both
push people but not push them too much that they would backlash? In other
words, historians might [not] characterize SRC as activist as they should be,
B: By the way, the Ray I was talking about was Ray Marshall. SRC was alternately,
good at pushing and changing, and being careful. It depended on the time and
the issue. As I got there and I learned about their history and I saw them in
operation, there were times when they gently pushed, but [they were] not as
activist as they should have been, that's true. But there were also times when
they made the right moves to force change. I can't say what was the best
strategy. It tended to be a slightly more moderate strategy than say SNCC
[Students Non-violent Coordinating Committee], but slightly more progressive
than other white organizations. It was, at one point, pretty much a white
organization, but towards the end it was white and black. You had people like
Ray Wheeler, who was chairman of the board. [He was] a very competent and
decent man who had learned to work the system effectively for change, guiding
it, and I think guided it well, in his role function as chairman.
[End of side Al]
G: Let me ask a monetary question. Do you think that SRC had any difficulty
securing funding for its work in the 1970s?
B: No, George Esser was a marvelous fund-raiser. He came with the Ford purse
string. Now, he didn't get all the money we needed, but we did raise serious
money and I don't think that we were constrained that much.
G: Did you ever have a sense that foundations were trying to restrain or contain the
work of SRC, or did you have a sense that you could get the funding and kind of
do what you wanted to do with the money?
B: I don't like the way you asked the question. You asked two entirely separate
questions. One question is were they trying to contain or restrain SRC? I don't
believe so. The foundations with which we worked, particularly the Ford
Foundation [and the] Field Foundation, were very supportive in a very positive
way, but nobody ever gets money from a foundation and just does what [they]
want with it. That's an invalid question.
G: Okay, I see what you're saying. But you were able to suggest the kinds of
programs that you wanted to do and then get [the money]?
B: We proposed the programs and they either said, yes or no.
G: But you didn't have a sense that they were saying no to some things that maybe
you really wanted to do and so you shifted attention to other things?
B: I don't think they forced us to do that. They didn't always agree with everything
we wanted to do, so they didn't fund us.
G: Let me ask some kind of concluding questions. In your time with it, or even over
the scope of your knowledge of SRC, how would you sum up its strengths and
B: At the time I was there, and prior to my coming, it had inordinate strengths in
terms of research [and] in terms of providing knowledge and information to the
region and informing the region. It had strength in moving certain projects, like
the voter project and other projects, to the forefront of the South and what the
South was trying to do. That was positive. It's not so much a weakness, but
there was a limitation of what an organization based in Atlanta, could do in terms
of being out in the field to force change. They could be supportive, they could
provide information, and on rare occasions, they could make a foray, say to
Memphis or some other place. They could highlight a problem in a particular
place, but it was not, and could not be viewed, as an organization that was an
activist in the region. That's more of a limitation than a weakness.
G: How would you assess the role of the SRC in the larger freedom struggle? What
did it contribute to the African-American struggle for freedom?
B: It was a support organization to that. It was more than that, but I'm doing it in the
context of your question.
G: Tell me what you mean by being more than that.
B: Informing the white community that was progressive throughout its history, it
galvanized that part of the white community that wanted to see change. It was a
protecting-like role function for people who stepped out and took incredibly
heroic positions. There was somebody saying, go to it, boy. We're with you.
People forget that there were whites, and I'm not talking about the time I was
there so much, but prior to my coming, who when they took positions for change
that might have been to a black man, moderate, but to the white man living in
that community [were] incredibly daring and important, [it was a place they could
go to]. It was a not a haven [where] you could go and hide, but it was a safe
harbor where [they] could come and get replenished and find out that there are
other people like that in the world, you were not alone, and you should go on
fighting and pushing.
G: My question would have been better asked, in one part of its function it served as
a support to the African-American struggle for freedom, but it did more than that,
it served as a safe harbor. [I have one] last question. Why do you think the
historians, in particular, have not acknowledged, or misconstrued, the role of the
B: I don't know what the historians have said about it, so, it would be hard for me to
say. It's a different animal. SRC, because of the different things it's done, could
be like the elephant. Where did you touch it? You know the story about the five
blind men and the elephant?
G: No, tell me the story.
B: Well, somebody was asking them to describe an elephant. One guy grabbed it
around its legs and said it was a huge tree, that's what the elephant was.
Another guy grabbed its tail and said, man, it's like a big ol' snake. Somebody
else grabbed its belly and said it was like a ship. I forget what they said the
snout [was like]. Well, we were many things. Are you talking about our public
relations part or books or magazines? Because we were so many different
things, we're hard to describe. At times, we have been on the sideline
commenting, or more rare, but [it happened] occasionally, we have been a
leading edge. It all depends on where you come from. That could be. Like I say,
I have not read any of the history of Southern Regional Council, and when I
leave something I generally leave it and I try and do a memory block and erase it
from my mind. You're making me go back down into my computers.
G: Well I appreciate it very much. I thank you very much for your time.
14 pages- Open
November 20, 2002
Pages 1-6: Bowie explains how he was asked by George Esser to become associate
director of the Southern Regional Council (SRC) at the same time Esser was becoming
director of the SRC. Bowie describes the staff when he first came on board; who they
were and what their personalities were like. Bowie explains how both genders and
different races all had similar roles in the office; none were more represented than
others. Bowie discusses the different programs the SRC was involved with when he
came on staff. Bowie explains how the SRC's focus grew from electoral politics and
Civil Rights towards education and economics in the 1970s. Bowie describes how his
view of George Wallace, a third-party candidate, changed over time.
Pages 7-11: Bowie describes a meeting he went to that Vernon Jordan spoke at and
how Jordan really impacted the way he thought things should be done. Bowie
discusses the SRC's involvement with black politicians int the 1970s. Both Bowie and
Susan Glisson, the interviewer, discuss Jan Hiligus and what she is doing now. Bowie
describes his view on grass roots organizing, and the effect that had on society. He
talks about the lawsuit Bill Gould, one of the foremost professors of labor law in the
country, brought against the unions and how it broke upon the closed shops. He talks
about being an activist and the problems it brought for the SRC. Bowie discusses the
extent to which the SRC balanced pushing and changing with being careful.
Pages 11-12: Bowie talks about the financial situation of the SRC during the 1970s, and
the wonderful fund-raising of George Esser. He talks about the restraints that were
placed on the SRC by the foundations that funded their work and the process they had
to go through to get approval for programs.
Pages 12-14: Bowie talks about the strengths and weaknesses of the SRC, and the
role of the SRC in the struggle for freedom for African-Americans. He then tells a story
about five blind men and the elephant. He uses the story to show that the SRC served
many different functions and changed according to what the situation required.