Title: Samuel Dubois Cook [ SRC 7 ]
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Title: Samuel Dubois Cook SRC 7
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Language: English
Creator: Interviewer: Susan Glisson
Publication Date: June 22, 2002
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SRC-7 Cook, Page -1-

Interviewee: Samuel Dubois Cook

Interviewer: Susan Glisson

Date: June 27, 2002

G: This is Susan Glisson. It's Thursday, June 27, and I'm in Atlanta, Georgia, with

Dr. Samuel Dubois Cook. Thank you very much for your time.

C: Thank you.

G: We're here to talk about the Southern Regional Council. I'd love it if you could

tell me your story. How did you come to be associated with the Southern

Regional Council?

C: When I came to Miami University to teach in 1956, I had known about the

Southern Regional Council for years. It was an outgrowth of the old Interracial

Council, if you will. They (a group of whites and blacks) were supposed to try to

go down and convince them in the legislation increasing the

consciousness of People from Atlanta like Dr. Mindy Maize

North Carolina, Dr. Frank Graham and Dr. Will

Alexander, who had a lot of influence and he lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

He had a connection with university by way of [the] serving president

and I had a portrait of him in my office, and I always referred to him as Uncle Will

who's watching over me. There was a group of courageous individuals, black

and white, working together to change the South and to eliminate the worst kind

of evils. They did not at that time, of course, assault segregation, or even,

confront it. They concerned themselves with more limited issues like lynching









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and trying to get a handle of that situation. Out of the old Interracial Council they

grew, they humanizing the men of the South and improving the

conditions within the framework of the course of segregation. Up to the North all

of them were opposed to it. It was sort of impossible to think of getting rid of

segregation, so they tried to educate people, white people, to the higher

possibility of a biracial society based on an essential equality. When I got a

chance to get involved in it, in the late 1950s and essentially meet Les Dunbar,

[I did]. I knew John Wheeler, who was very highly commended, who was

president. Les Dunbar was in his second track. So I knew of the great work of

John Wheeler and govern John Wheeler, a good friend of mine, had

gone to Moorehouse and built up a reputation There were others

involved like Wright in North Carolina, and several [other] people. It's amazing

that several people from North Carolina were there at the Southern Regional

Council. So that's how I got involved in the Southern Regional Council and got

involved in a variety of activities, and Les Dunbar, a good friend of mine, came

with me.

G: You were involved in your own specific work, but then also served on the

executive council?

C: Yes.

G: What was the work that you were doing at the time?

C: At that time, I was chair of the original science department at Atlanta University,

Racker School.









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G: So you're coming there, and you came in and you were on the executive council

starting in 1956?

C: I didn't start on the executive council. I was elected to the executive council in

the early 1960s.

G: Okay. You were sort of aware of SRC's work?

C: Oh, yes.

G: That's a pretty potent time. The Montgomery boycott has occurred [and] there's a

growing sense of mass activism by blacks. How do you think the SRC responded

to that growing activism?

C: I thought SRC responded in a creative way. It was not one to get in the streets

but it was quite supportive. It supported it.

G: How did it support it?

C: Moral support mainly, and I suppose some financial support here and there,

though it didn't any money. But mainly moral support and carrying this

vision of this genuine biracial society. This was always a motivating force in the

life of SRC and one of the reasons I always referred to it as a noble organization.

A noble legacy in heritage is to have that vision of a genuine humanistic child, a

genuine democratic child.

G: Do you think that there was any unease on the part of SRC that African-

Americans were seizing initiative?

C: I don't individually remember that, [although] I'm sure there was some. Those

were the days of great uncertainty. You didn't know what the next step would be

or what the views of the South would be, what the reaction would be, and that









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must be with one of great hostility in the mid to late 1950s. The Supreme Court

decision was outwardly, kind of an organizing, central point. So you had all this

massive resistance, schools closing, churches closing, swimming pools closing.

It's hard to imagine the kind of chaos that existed and how the political

leadership in the South just advocated it, and that's what was sad and sinister. I

remember Radley Hill saying to me, he says Samuel, I wonder how differently

modern, Southern leadership, had Virginia (which occupied a very special place

in history), had Virginia served any real leadership or created the leadership

instead of leadership creating this. Virginia lead a massive resistance

and all the governors of the south

G: I know a Mississippian who went up to Virginia to learn how to set up a separate

school so that white children didn't have to go to school with black children.

C: Yeah, Virginia was the leader in it. I remember seeing on television last year the

interviews on channel two in Atlanta [of] all the living ex-governors of Georgia,

George Busbee [1975-1983], Carl E. Sanders [1963-1967], Ernie Vandiver, Jr.

[1959-1963], and a lot of them listened to it. I couldn't swear what they were

saying then or what they had said and done during the crisis. All of them, in

effect, said even though it was Atlanta they believed in (they never

said desegregation). [They said] they knew change had to come; they were

opposed to violence. I remember hearing Vandiver and all

on television saying we can afford to have integration But to hear

them, and they reenforced each other, you would think that the South never had









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any real problems, well Georgia, turning to desegregation. It was a time of the

brave to what was going on, a great deal of violence, people trying to

subjecting all kind of types, telephone calls, [and] threats. At SRC,

you know, I had to be moderate, and by moderate, I don't mean hedge on an

issue, but equality. But in terms of strategy types it had to operate within a

framework, a reasoned response, otherwise, we would've been eaten alive. It

was denounced, of course, as white trash, and called all kinds of names,

socialist, communist, a gash in the southern way of life. So it had to be, it had to

be. It wasn't my type of but it was very individual, very, very

vindictive

G: So as there was increasing black activism and mass demonstrations, how did

SRC respond to those challenges?

C: I think SRC encouraged them. I remember _, except through

publications at the New South, which was a big voice. This is one of the great

strengths of SRC in trying to educate, some of the education _, and

trying to reach people through the media.

G: Of the print.

C: Through the print, yeah.

G: Did they use any other media to try to reach people? Did they use radio for

instance?

C: Not radio, but primarily the printed paper. [It was] not only the New South, but

there were all kinds of special publications dealing with lynching, dealing with









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voter registration, dealing with desegregation of the schools. The best thing was

[that] every time you turned around they were publishing something. [We] had a

lot of special projects.

G: Do you know what their attitudes were about non-violent, direct action?

C: Oh yes. They were strictly an issue of non-violence. I said Martin Luther King

joined He was my godfather and obviously and of course,

legal mediation, legal direction,

G: So SRC would have encouraged non-violent tactics?

C: Oh yes, absolutely. Larry tried to encourage of this country, but all

lawlessness on the part of the segregation forces. They were ready

but

G: And it did that how? It tried to curtail that how?

C: By warning against it inconsistent, you know how America can be. Of

course the segregation forces paid no attention and they were opening homes,

schools, and all, right and left. You didn't have to worry about lines, and liberal,

white forces in the South It's bad enough just that people believed that

moderate, non-violent resistance, peaceful change, and things like that, they

received enough hell just with even that. There was no chance of

whatsoever, and that's why I go later in the 1960s with the hot

summer of 1964 and some of these SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating

Committee] people _. shocked they're coming because no

one, Montgomery had succeeded, Martin King, Jr. and all the and find









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a way of non-violence and a way of bringing about social change. It's hard now

until you imagine the kind of atmosphere, lawlessness, threats, intimidation, and

all that. Being there are people killed just for advocating social change and racial

justice. It's hard to imagine. You know, in the midst of it with all that going on,

white citizens townspeople, Klan mentality, the Klan, you didn't know what the

would bring. The SRC was a voice of decency, a voice of justice, a

voice of harmony, and a voice of humanism. I knew that.

G: Did the SRC try to encourage compliance with say, the Brown decision or any of

that?

C: Oh yeah.

G: Do you know what they might have done to try to encourage that?

C: They just advocated obedience to the law. The Supreme Court is open, this is a

nation of laws and of men, and this country believes in the rule of law

and all is chaos. you know it

G: Which is a more educational.

C: Yeah, an education. But the rule of law, that was a chief principle. Les Dunbar,

as I recall, was not only a political theorist, but also taught constitutional law, so

he was a great advocator of obedience to the law. We had the law on

our side, though sometimes it didn't mean very much. The atmosphere was so

terrible. Sometimes, and one of the reasons why I have so much respect and

admiration for the white liberals, Southern liberals, in the South was

they during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The races were harder on









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them than on blacks because for blacks they say, well I don't like them, well

they're victims so you'd expect them to do this so they didn't expect any better,

but the whites should know better. So they were really hard on them.

G: So they were harassed and vilified.

C: Oh yes, absolutely. I remember Margaret Holmes worked at SRC and was

better known to our college _, a really decent lady that worked up in my

office. She had a daughter she called Sissy who went to Tulane. She was

involved in a demonstration and a white Southerner at the demonstration called

her all kinds of names, and she was just a high school or college kid. It was an

atmosphere of incivility and meanness. When I remember people like Meghan

Roan, Pat Waters, who worked for SRC, Margaret came over from

SRC

G: I'd like to move now more toward talking about the Voter Education Project. Why

do you think that the SRC was considered well-placed to administer the VEP?

C: Through various studies that SRC had conducted in terms of voter registration, in

terms of black participation in the political process. I remember SRC engaged

two very distinguished political scientists, Don Matthew and Jim Kroker at the

University of North Carolina. They did a study concerning black participation in

politics and not in terms of registering for voting, but also in terms of

financial contributions to political leaders. They discovered that in proportion,

blacks had contributed more money to politically campaigning whites. This

shocked all of us, including me, that they had contributed this money. So SRC









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had a lot of knowledge of black political participation, but also we were very

centrally located in Atlanta, had already a black university __

and the geographical location. I remember the first got the grant, the first

of it, it was something like I suppose Les Dunbar named

the political science director and that he understood the special laws

of voter registration; how the political system influences in a cold culture. So

that's how we got involved in it. You had so much Negro-phobia up there with

races and in Mississippi, and you had towns in Georgia,

South Carolina. So clearly the political system was one that demanded

performance.

G: Tell me some more about that. What were some of the impediments to black

voter registration, and what did the VEP do to overcome those impediments?

C: They had a league of defamation and the literacy test, by which it is

impossible to go to the and hold the You had to interpret

the constitution say Article Three, but you had to interpret the

constitution in a way to satisfy the very afraid people who were determined that

you wouldn't satisfy. So it was an impossible task, this literacy test would

determine. I remember when I taught at Southern University one of my

colleagues Dr. went in to register and the registrar told him to interpret

the _, and the fellow told them no and denied them the chance to

register.

G: He denied two professors of constitutional law? Amazing.









SRC-7 Cook, Page -10-

C: So one was a literacy test. Another one, of course, [was] the poll tax, a big

hindrance at the time. To a lot of people it was Another one they had

[was the] good character test. In fact, VEP said that the South had more conflicts

with congressman, a way to disenfranchise voters, than any other system in

western culture. It was a good character test, literacy test, poll tax were the three

that were achieved. Of course, you know, the stubborn thing is inertia. Those

things guaranteed the whole system for it to minimize voter participation, not to

maximize voter participation.

G: What were some of the things that the VEP did to try to circumvent those

obstacles?

C: Voter education did a lot of that. We held seminars, all kinds of workshops,

and interpret the constitution.

G: Were the workshops with people who were trying to register to vote?

C: Yeah, and, given time, they were designed to help them to overcome inertia.

They hadn't been in school in so long, they had fears to go in the voting booth, or

we'd go down to register. And you had real fears because they didn't want you

to register. There were a lot of black people who lost their lives and lost their

jobs, lost their because of their very attempt to register to vote. I can

remember when I was teaching at American University ____ this is in the

early 1960s. There was a young lady in my class from Mississippi and she had a

major fear. Now, this is Mississippi, [but] it could've been Georgia, it could've

been South Carolina, anywhere in the South. Some of my students in Atlanta,









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said, Oh, register to vote I said, it is easy for you in Atlanta, whether

you can vote or not, you have taken the vote for granted and this and that. I had

sort of curried to somebody in Mississippi, You don't know the circumstances.

After all the blacks did not get to vote in Georgia until 1946, all kind of barriers. I

shall never forget this young lady So VEP wanted to design its parts

to encourage blacks to overcome this apathy, overcome this fear, and to realize

the positive fruits of voter participation. So they had all kind of around

the house

G: What were some of the organizational challenges presented by running the VEP

project? How did they run it?

C: How did the organization run it? Proudly they would make grants.

Two organizations would say it's rural Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama

So they could buy gas to get people to register to vote. Of course

there were big staff members, too. It was a full time job. They had the support of

the job. They made grants throughout the South.

G: How did they decide which ones to fund?

C: You had to submit applications and show the feasability of it, how that money

would be used and there had to be something to convince people that the money

would be given to the fund and something would be done to get people

registered to vote. Some grants that I recall are __ as far as Kentucky___ ,

but the eleven states of the old confederacy had a lot of Ford


Foundation,___.









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G: Do you think there were any particular problems with the SRC having this kind of

power working role? You know, they're the ones that have the money and they

get to distribute it. Were there tensions with the people on the ground trying to

get the money?

C: Not in a serious way. I'm sure there was a role there, go there with

money and were giving it out and whether they say yes or no. But that was not a

big problem. The situations were so very desperate, and so important, that the

people worked

G: Was there a benefit to the SRC being the mediator between the foundations and

the local projects?

C: Oh yeah, there were benefits. They could get in class and have them pay some

salary. It gave SRC more visibility. They kept the foundation, too

G: Could the local groups have gotten the money from the Ford Foundation by

themselves?

C: No, we'd have had to have a lot of cops to _, and the SRC had the

reputation.

G: Right. Because it had existed for so long and done a good work?

C: Yes. SRC always had a very good reputation _, good people. It was

unique. You did not have another biracial integration in the South at the time.

You had one of the Mississippi projects But the only thing we had

going for us in integration, and with some of the management of the SRC.









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Individually we imitate that committee It had a lot of clout (is the word

I want to use.) It had a good reputation.

G: Credibility.

C: Credibility, that's the word.

G: How would you summarize the changes in the mood or the personnel or the

philosophy of the SRC as the Civil Rights' Movement gathered momentum in the

early 1960s? Did you see any change in attitudes, or did it bring in new people or

get rid of old people? Were there any changes as the Civil Rights' Movement

gained momentum within the SRC?

C: I don't think there was any basic change in philosophy. As it became more

activists-oriented as circumstances commanded and required, sit-ins,

it became more activist-oriented. But in terms of the basic change in

philosophy [there was none]. But there was no change in direction

of SRC, as I recall. Les Dunbar, was a very reflective individual, scholarly,

reflective who would think before he speaks. Most of us [think] and hopefully,

it'd come out. Les is a philosopher. All of us are different and have a different

style, but no difference in philosophy.

G: What about in terms of personnel racial board by gender? Did that change as the

Civil Rights' Movement gathered momentum? Were there more whites working

for the organization and African-Americans were brought in, or were there more

men and women were brought in? Were there any of those kinds of changes,

demographic changes?









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C: That was a letter that caused some concern about having more blacks in

decision-making positions and SRC made progress on that. That was a

challenge for the SRC, and the SRC was They don't want a

secretary as decision maker. This is why voter education was very important to

the SRC.

G: It could involve both.

C: Voter education from VEP you had blacks that could vote.

G: Were there mostly males in charge?

C: Mostly males, yeah. Even in terms of the board, most were male.

bring more blacks into the decision making in the SRC.

G: But you felt like they made an adjustment?

C: They did make an adjustment. You always would have the feeling like you were

working for people who were very genuine, very decent. You might differ here

and there, but you knew that the thrust level was in the right direction.

G: This is a little more complicated question. There are some scholars who suggest

that after a period of relative impotency the SRC became revitalized, but became

revitalized because of this newly emerging dynamic Civil Rights' Movement. So

[they're saying] that the SRC becomes more dynamic as it responds to a

dynamic movement. How did you see that description of the SRC as being

reactive rather than proactive? Do you think that's accurate?

C: For the factor, and that's to be expected, that an organization operates within a

given social context. An organization is a fluid vibe, but goes home externally in









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the socially, orderly, political system. When you have a movement [that's]

dynamic and energetic, the organization would be foolish not to take advantage

[of it], to learn from it, get involved in it. But it's a reciprocal relationship. Just as

the pool men sit around outside I think the SRC also influenced the

movement through its publication writings, through its annual meeting, which was

but the annual meeting with the SRC was very, very special.

You always got a feeling, and there was nothing else in Atlanta to

compare with the annual meeting, to give _, to change society to bring

about more decency. You had a feeling of good will. Here again the sense of

nobility. My wife and I would always look forward to It provided a lot of

hope, and that's one of the major contributions of SRC. As you think about it, as I

think about it, it provided a chain for a hope of betterness, that change would

come to pass. It kept a lot of hope in the air. moral and

psychological.

G: Which you can't underestimated.

C: That's crucial.

G: Would you argue that he SRC should be given more credit for the emergence of

the Civil Rights' Movement?

C: Oh yes, there's no question about it. SRC helped capture the better ground, so I

certainly would. I have to single out Les Dunbar for his contacting, writings, and

invitations. I think Les Dunbar is on the side in As I have said









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numerous times before, he was one of the great architects of the Civil Rights'

Movement and the New South,




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