Interviewee: Will Campbell
Interviewer: Susan Glisson
Date: May 17, 2003
G: This is Susan Glisson, and I am here with Will Campbell in Mt. Juliet,
Tennessee. It is May 17, 2003, and we are here to talk about the Southern
Regional Council. How are you doing today, Mr. Campbell?
C: I am doing very well.
G: Could we talk about how you came to know the Southern Regional Council and
what you knew of their work?
C: Before I graduated from Yale Divinity School, I knew about it. I knew about
George Mitchell [former director of the SRC] and was with him on a few
occasions, casual occasions, conferences and such where he would be
speaking. When I graduated from Yale Divinity School, I took briefly a parish
church in north Louisiana and lasted weeks and weeks. I was there a little over
two years. They thought that I was cute. You know, this was a little mill village,
and the mill was owned by five brothers and their wives, their families. They
thought they were very sophisticated college-educated people, and they thought
that they had a cute little preacher because he'd talk about how our children are
going to go to school with little darkiess" and labor unions. I would go to speak to
where there would be a strike, a paper mill strike, and that would get in the
Shreveport Times, and they began to kind of say, what's going on here? I went
there in 1952. But then, May 17, 1954, not too long after that, they began to
notice that, well, maybe this little idiot knows something we don't know, because
prior to that, they'd go to the club in Shreveport or wherever and say, we've got
the cutest little preacher. He talks about how our little children are going to go to
school with little darkies. Isn't that cute? Then after May 17, though, they
[thought], wait a minute, maybe he knew something we didn't know or suspected
something we didn't know. Even still, I was fairly secure, but then in August, I got
the job at the University of Mississippi. I had not been in any close touch with the
Southern Regional Council while I was a pastor at Taylor, but when I got to the
University of Mississippi, I deliberately sought them out when there would be a
conference. I remember once Paul Anthony was speaking. Paul was about as
low on the totem pole with the SRC at that time as you could get, just a
youngster, and he was meeting with a group at Jackson State, which was about
the only place you could meet interracially. It was unthinkable to have an
interracial meeting at the University of Mississippi, but we met at Jackson State
and Paul Anthony was there. That was my first close introduction to the SRC,
and then after that, I was with them often because I represented a constituency
that they didn't have much contact with, the religious community. After I left Ole
Miss, I worked for the National Council of Churches. But even when I was at Ole
Miss was when we had the Religious Emphasis Week fiasco. No use going into
that because it has all been reported so many times. George Mitchell was still
the head of the Southern Regional Council when he came to Cincinnati, and he
was pretty much calling the shots. He was a funny man. He said, you've got to
go, and some of the New York people who worked for the national YMCA didn't
want [Jack] Kershaw to go. They said, what if they kill him? And Mitchell said,
they don't kill white people in Mississippi, yet. He's the one who told that funny
story about Uncle Remus and things that he couldn't get away with today, you
know, stereotypical language. Kershaw, who just died recently and I just talked to
his widow not many weeks ago in Louisville, wasn't sure that he should go to Ole
Miss to speak at Religious Emphasis Week. He had been on a national
television program answering questions on religion and jazz and won a bunch of
money, $32,000, and dropped out and said he was going to give this money.
Now, one thing that has never been cleared up in any account... All of the
accounts say he said that he was going to give the money to the NAACP. That
wasn't what he said. He was giving it to the Inc. Fund, which was a totally
different organization from the NAACP.
G: I didn't realize that.
C: Yes, but that has never been written. In any account that I've ever read, it still
says he gave money to the NAACP. [The NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund, Inc?] was the legal arm of the NAACP and was a totally
different charter and everything, and that's where he gave money. But he said,
one of my wife's and my favorite charities is the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People. Somehow, Kershaw knew Mitchell through the
Southern Regional Council. The man who was head of the Southern Region
College YMCAs was headquartered in Atlanta he, incidentally, was a very
conservative fellow and he did not want Kershaw to go, either. Without
boasting, I prevailed that he had to come. Mitchell went along. He said, they
don't kill white folks at Mississippi yet, and they may meet you at the border, and
probably will, and not let you in, not let you cross the Marshall County line into
Lafayette County, but nothing is going to happen to you physically. I was very,
very close to the Southern Regional Council because there weren't a lot of
resources for neophytes such as I at the time. Mitchell was a legendary figure;
the Mitchell family was [legendary]. He didn't last a long time after that, a few
years, and then Harold Fleming [another former director of the SRC] was the
next one to run the show, and there was some friction between those.
G: Between Fleming and Mitchell?
C: Yeah, between the younger breed and Mitchell. Today, it would be interesting to
see him work. I remember one of the first times I was with him. It was before I
was working for the National Council of Churches. We were at Tuskegee for
some kind of a conference, and it was at night, and we were going to meet in the
gym. We saw this student, a black student, of course, and stopped the car.
George Mitchell was driving and he said, hey, girl, where the gymnasium? We
were young fearless prophets, liberals, you know, and we were all taken aback.
She said, sir? He said, whereabout the gymnasium? He was that kind of guy, I
suppose because of the reputation that he and his brother Clarence Mitchell
[had]. Actually, they were an old Mississippi family.
G: I didn't realize that.
C: Yeah, they came from down around Water Valley. Daddy or Granddaddy ,
but I'm pretty sure those boys were raised there. I am not clear on how they got
to be the young church liberals that they did, but they did, the whole family. One
of the stories I remember was Clarence, George's brother, was getting a haircut
in Water Valley and got his shoes shined. When the kid finished shining his
shoes, he said, now, you get up there, and I'm going to shine your shoes. He
said, you're going to make your living shining shoes, and you don't know how to
shine shoes. I'm going to give you a dollar, and it's not worth a dollar, and
nobody else [will pay a dollar]. Everybody else is going to give you a nickel or a
dime. And, I'm going to teach you. He got down there, you know, spittin' and
spent twenty or thirty minutes shining this little black kid's [shoes]. The little black
kid was probably terrorized because all the other white people, the farmers
around there, were looking and seeing. What was Mitchell doing, shining this
little nigger boy's shoes? They were an interesting family.
G: It sounds like it.
C: I had a close relationship with George Mitchell, and then he went off to Scotland
and got seriously ill and died.
G: But the nature of the tension between Mitchell and Harold Fleming, was it just
sort of different generations?
C: I think so. I had a very high opinion of Mitchell. I remember saying once, and it
was Fred Ralph who commented. I said, well, you know George Mitchell is a
man. He said, he's a self-made man. That was the first time I realized there was
that tension there. Later on, I would go in and George would be sitting in his
office with his feet propped up reading a magazine or something and I'd say,
what are we going to do about Little Rock? He'd say, ask the young Turks. They
run the show.
G: Do you think he was okay with that?
C: No, I don't think he was okay with that. I think he was deeply hurt by it, but we
never talked about it. But later I could tell, and I understand. God knows Harold
Fleming and Fred Ralph and Paul Anthony... I never heard Paul say anything
negative about George, but the others, I did. And I understand that they were
different generations. Here was Harold just back from commanding black troops
in the Second World War and a graduate of Harvard and all this and Mitchell
using stereotypical language about, hey girl, where the gymnasium? Harold
knew better than that.
G: Can you characterize the post-war SRC, maybe before the Brown decision? At
the time, it would have been seen as very progressive, and then there were folks
who came in and thought that they didn't do enough at the time that they maybe
could have. What do you think was their role in that post-war time period?
C: The ones who thought it should be doing more?
C: I was agreeing with them, though I was not very active at that time. I think they
were sort of preparing the way. They were sort of the John the Baptists of what
was to come. Some of the people, like what was his name, the newspaper editor
up in Virginia?
G: [Virginius] Dabney?
C: Some people just quit. They pulled out and said, we're not going to go this far.
We're not talking about integrating the races. Did I tell you my grandson's story?
G: About mercy?
C: Mercy, yes. They were talking about mercy. They really weren't talking about
justice. Maybe a form of justice. Then it was the Ms. Tillys and people like that
who were really serious. I got to know her fairly well because the women who
were most active in integrating schools, like the Little Rock example, were church
women. That was Ms. Tilly's role; she was in charge of church women,
particularly Methodist church women.
G: For the SRC?
C: Right. She worked for the SRC. Of course, there was always a party at 5:00 on
Friday afternoon, and they'd always have to wait till Ms. Tilly [was gone] because
she would read you the riot act if she found any liquor in anybody's office. So,
they would have to wait till Ms. Tilly, who was a saintly woman, [to leave]. Before
she died, she reverted back. She would say nigger. Then, it really bothered the
young church that she formerly would read the riot act to if she heard them using
that word or saw them with a bottle of bourbon in their office. She was a holy
woman, but some of that old South rearing came back. Maybe it will to all of us. I
don't know. Maybe the woman was right getting after me.
G: I don't think so.
C: I don't think so, either.
G: How would you characterize the way the SRC responded to emerging mass
black activism in the mid 1950s and into the 1960s?
C: Harold Fleming was a very wise man. He was a little bit cautious, but he knew
when it was time to get to know Martin Luther King, Jr. and when it was not time.
Now, I can't tell you the exact sequence of events there, but I do remember that
there was a time when a part of the not mythology but actuality when there was
some party or something and Harold was a part of it, and then he got to know
[Dr. King?]. But he never saw the Southern Regional Council's role the same as
the role of SCLC. We were pals, and he called me his pastor and all that, but he
thought sometimes that I was in a little too deep. Like when Little Rock was
going on, I would call every half-hour and report on what was going on. Always,
the inference was, where are you guys, why aren't you here? And he didn't see it
as their role to be there.
G: What did he see their role as being?
C: Propaganda. He would say, I'm a propagandist, and he meant it in the finest
sense, as a writer and a news...
C: Yeah. He was very close to John [N.] Popham, who was then covering the South
for the New York Times. [He] came into that through Ralph [Waldo Emerson]
McGill [editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution]. That's how he haggled to
get the job. He was very close to Popham and McGill and the man in Little Rock
they are all dead now Harry [S.] Ashmore [editor of the Charlotte News and
later the Arkansas Gazette] and all of that fraternity. They were real characters
and played a role, and they knew what their role was. Harold would say, my role
is not to get out there and get my head bashed in. What's that going to
G: Do you think that there was any unease that African-Americans had ceased the
initiative and were taking action?
C: No, I don't think that at all. They approved of that, but they saw their role as
getting the news out to Johnny Popham and later after Johhny [the guy] who
took Johnny's place [Claude F. Sitton]. Anyway, their dispatchers were getting
the news all over the world, not just in the White House. Harold was very close to
a number of people in the legislature. He and Gary__ the senator from
Wisconsin, had commanded black troops together in World War II. They were
friends, and Harold had a lot of friends. Some of this is splashing over from when
Harold left SRC and went to the Potomac Institute, where he was a highly
efficient propagandist, as he called himself. He said, I'm a propagandist, that's
my role. He didn't mean by that gossip, of course, [but] news gathering and
getting the news out. They all saw the role of Southern Regional Council as
being kind of the leader of [the white liberal]. They never quite got over is not
the term I want to use here, but quit being kind of the leader of the white
liberal. They saw that as being an important role, and I agree that it was an
important role, but a role beyond that was absolutely essential. I mean, to stop
with, say, the celebrated Birmingham meeting...
G: The one in 1938, you mean?
C: Yeah, and that was a wonderful thing, but if you stop there, what have you done?
What have you done without Montgomery? Also, what would you have done
without SRC, because they got the word out to an awful lot of people and they
interpreted it through the literature and through their contact with the news media
people like Harry Ashmore and Johnny Popham and Ralph McGill and had a lot
of influence on them. McGill, for a couple of years there, after May 17, McGill
didn't do anything on that paper. Now, how much Harold and his association with
them had to do with his coming out as being a truly crusading sort of editor, I
don't know. He was a part of one package in a sense.
G: You mentioned Montgomery. What do you think SRC's take on nonviolent direct
action was? Did they encourage it?
C: I think they were sort of baffled by it, to tell you the truth. That's what we all were,
black and white, for the most part. There is a lot of that story that I think has not
been written right. [Who was] the man who was so active with A. Philip Randolph
and who was so active in organizing the Washington March?
G: Baird Rustin?
C: Baird Rustin. A very, very important character in terms of nonviolence becoming
[big], because Martin was not a nonviolent cat when he went there. He had the
day before, was my understanding, applied or was about to go down and apply
for a permit to carry a gun or have a legal pistol in his possession. Another
person who worked for the old Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Methodist
preacher back East...
G: Was it Reverend Jim Lawson?
G: Was it Glenn Smiley?
C: Glenn Smiley, exactly. Glenn Smiley was, I think, one of the...unsung heroes is
probably not the term, but he was very influential with King and in talking with
him because FOR [Fellowship of Reconciliation] was a nonviolent organization,
and the truth is, [for] the black southerner, not the group, that wasn't part of.... It
took some doing. I remember one time Kelly Miller Smith at a meeting. Kelly was
the leader of the Nashville part of the movement. Things had gotten pretty tough,
and we had a meeting early in the morning, six or seven o'clock in the morning,
and he said, we are talking strategy here, now. White people make all the razors.
We don't make them. We've got some, and we talk about using them, but they
can be taken away from us because we can't make them. White people make all
the guns. White people make all the dynamite. He went on. White people have
all the laws and so on. This is all we've got, is to go in there and sit down with our
mouths shut. This is all we've got. I forgot what your question was, but that's the
G: If nonviolence initially baffled folks at the SRC, did they come to appreciate it as
C: Oh, I think so. I think without question they came to [the conclusion] that we are
colleagues, that we are brothers, maybe step-brothers, but we are in this thing
together, but we have different roles to play, and we are not going to get in the
way of your role. We will get the news out and all of the other things. By the
same token, they would expect, now, don't y'all get in our way, either; try to
appreciate that we're not against you just because we're not out there marching
G: Now, on the other side of the coin, what, if anything, did SRC do to try to get
southern whites to comply with the Brown decision? Do you know?
C: It was all that, you know, the literature that they put out, the conferences that
they were holding, and the state organizations on human relations, the Alabama
Council on Human Relations being one of the more successful ones with Bob
Hughes and Father __ from over at Spring Hill College who was president of
the Alabama Council. So, yeah, I think they were very supportive of all that.
G: Were the vilified by folks who resisted integration?
C: Who, the state council?
G: The SRC.
C: Oh, yes. Maybe not as much as they should have been sometimes.
C: Well, I mean, maybe they weren't as tough as they should have been to get the
criticism, but there was criticism. The truth was that the person on the street
really knew very little about the Southern Regional Council. This was a
movement of not of the intellectuals but of the sophisticates. The press knew
about it. The university community knew about it.
G: We were talking about whether or not SRC had been as tough as they might
have been in trying to encourage whites not towards integration. You talked
about how they weren't really known by the man on the street. They were more
sort of known in the university circles. Do you think there was a difference
between the SRC Atlanta-based organization and the state councils? Were the
state councils more activist?
C: In some places. In Alabama, in Mississippi, somewhat in Tennessee. We had old
Baxton Bryant here and Kay Jones. Georgia, of course, with what's her name,
just died recently. She was about 100 years old. I can't remember her name
now, but she headed the Georgia Council on Human Relations for a long time.
G: Do you know anything about the Voter Education Project that the SRC worked
C: Well, I don't know how much I'm expected to know about it, but I know when it
started and how it started.
G: How did it start?
C: Harold Fleming said Les Dunbar said John Lewis was Les Dunbar's ninety-
six theses that he nailed on the cathedral door. Here you are, here I stand, God
help me, I can do no other. Of course, Field Foundation funded it and went
broke. Not just on that, but it gave away.... I guess it was the only one of those
big foundations that I know of that said it's immoral to just keep all this money for
gratuity, that it should be given away. I thought Les was right in that. That was
what kicked off VEP [Voter Education Project], and then Vernon Jordan, of
course, came to run it. He came over an intellectual. I believe I have this right.
Lewis headed it up first out of New York, but then Vernon came to Atlanta and
ran it from there.
G: And there was a gentleman named Wiley Branton, I think.
C: Wiley Branton was a lawyer from Pine Bluff who handled the Little Rock Nine
case. That's how I knew him. He would come here and work. My office was in
the same building as the Tennessee Council on Human Relations. I'll never
forget, once the Florence Crittenton Home, do you know what that was?
C: Florence Crittenton Home I suppose they don't exist any longer was where
pregnant, unmarried girls and women went to have their babies. Maybe
somebody from Colorado would come to Nashville, and, well, where is Sue
Ellen? Well, Sue Ellen is in a very fashionable school in Nashville or wherever,
while Sue Ellen was [really] up there in this Florence Crittenton Home. I gave
work to six or eight of them doing jobs there. Wiley was up there doing his law
work. Incidentally, he claims that __ was his great-granddaddy, and it's
probably true. Anyway, these young girls in their various states of pregnancy
were trotting up and down the hall going back and forth to the bathroom. Finally,
Wiley came into my room and said, what do these girls do? I said, they do
clerical work here for the National Council of Churches, and we pay them a little
salary. He shook his head. He couldn't figure out who they were and said, why
are they all so big around the middle? But he was a great guy. Did he actually
run the VEP for awhile?
G: I think he worked with it.
C: I knew he worked with it.
G: I don't think he ran it. I think he was kind of a field person.
C: Yeah, I think so. Vernon was running it then, I think.
G: What were some of the obstacles for black voting, and what did VEP do to try to
C: Well, it was what it said, voter education. They would have schools to teach in
places where you had to interpret the Constitution or memorize something. They
would teach people that, but they also encouraged them to try to register. It was
really SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], of course, who made
it what it became. Later, some of the SNCC kids would look down their nose at
VEP, you know, and call John Lewis an Uncle Tom. Well, if John Lewis was an
Uncle Tom, then we needed more of them in this country. Vernon may [have
been] an Uncle Tom, but he was a damn rich Uncle Tom. He was our rich uncle.
G: Do you know how they decided which projects they were going to fund through
C: I don't. I think they sort of recruited, like they would come to someone like Baxton
Bryant here in Tennessee and say, we want to start a chapter in the two counties
in west Tennessee. Would you help us introduce [it] to the people? But I really
don't know for sure.
G: Do you think that there were any pitfalls in terms of the SRC being the conduit for
the money? That because they were the power brokers, per se, of the money,
did that cause any problems?
C: Well, by then, there were some problems more, I think, imagined. The young
Turks, and I don't mean that as a derogatory word, but the young blacks with
SNCC coming along and so on were beginning [to feel], this Uncle Tomism, you
know, and we don't really need that. People like Vernon knew that it was
needed, and John Lewis knew that it was needed. I think SRC handled it pretty
well in that they just didn't pay much attention to this kind of criticism. They went
on with, this is what we do, and we're not going to turn the world upside down.
We're not front line soldiers, we're support troops, [and] that's all we've ever
claimed to be.
G: And that's an important role.
C: That's an important role, and we're going to go on playing it.
G: How would you sort of summarize the philosophy and role of the SRC as the civil
rights movement gained momentum in the 1960s?
C: I think it was still important what Fleming called the propaganda role. When you
say SRC, to me, you're going beyond this little two or three rooms up there in
that church on Alban Avenue. You're going to Washington, and you're going to
the Field Foundation, and you're going to the people who came through there
and then went on. By the time Harold got to Washington and set up the Potomoc
Institute, with this, too, the Southern Regional Council, he had cultivated a vast
order of people he knew from foundations, like the couple who gave all their
money away and then died in an airplane crash.
G: I know who you are talking about, but I can't remember the name.
C: Anyway, he knew all of these people, you know, who did for a time give millions
and millions of money to the SNCC element. I don't mean that derogatory, but
the young Turks who really didn't know how to account for this money very often,
who were, I understand, a little loose with their bookkeeping. I understand that
because, my God, I would have been, too. I don't even have a checkbook. I don't
know anything about paying bills and stuff.
G: There are some scholars who have argued that after a period of relative
impotency that a revitalized SRC was kind of a response to this dynamic
grassroots effort. How do you respond to the idea that SRC was reactive rather
C: I don't because I was a, I suppose for lack of a better term, a dropout by the time
that happened. I was not [a part of that]. I had moved on. I had my own little
thing and my own magazine to edit and my own books to write. I wasn't hostile
toward it, and I saw this revitalization and actually received the Lillian Smith
prize. I think [I was] the first or second one to get that prize when that process
had already begun. So, I was not hostile toward them, but I simply wasn't close
enough to be any judge of anything. I didn't go to the meetings.
G: Do you know what the relationship was between SRC and, say, SCLC [Southern
Christian Leadership Conference] and SNCC?
C: Kissing cousins, I would say. I don't think they were close. Again, when you say
SNCC, you say a number of different things because there were different
elements, different periods. I mean, you're talking about John Lewis, and you're
talking about Stokely Carmichael [Black Power advocate], two individuals who
couldn't have been more dissimilar.
G: Would SRC have had a different relationship with those two different
incarnations of SNCC?
C: I think so.
G: Maybe more favorable with John Lewis.
C: I think so.
G: ...and not so much with Stokely Carmichael. In fact, maybe Stokely Carmichael
wouldn't have wanted to have a relationship the SRC.
C: Yeah, well, he said [things to that effect].
G: What about with the Kennedy administration? Do you know if they had a good
relationship with the Kennedys?
C: It was a friendly relationship, but, again, I think it was, you know, this is a very
complex problem and it's going to take many individuals and many organizations
playing many different roles. The wisdom that the organization attracted over the
years is appalling to me. I don't know of a stupid person they ever had sitting in
that chair. But I think Fleming was there at its heyday and its development, and
then the Lincolnesque Dunbar comes along who had but different skills, not
different interests but different skills. What was your question?
G: What was the SRC's relationship with the Kennedys?
C: It was friendly. King [Kennedy?] was a gentle man. I am surprised Jose
Williams would even speak to him, you know, because he was gentle. That was
the way he had grown up. He'd gone to the finest schools and courted the finest
women, or so I've been told. Who knows about that. It was a genial relationship,
but, again, people like Harold would say, this is a very complex problem, and it's
going to take many different individuals and many different organizations playing
different roles [to solve it]. We're not going down the same path, but we're aiming
in the same direction.
G: What about their African-American membership? Did they work to try to increase
that? Did they see that as a problem that they didn't have very many African-
Americans on the staff?
C: I don't know. I know it was certainly true that there weren't very many blacks on
the staff initially, although the treasurer, as I recall, was a black woman. It was a
fairly important position in an organization that is using foundation and public
funds. Ruth Alexander. Is she still around?
G: I don't know.
C: A very important person. You ought to find her if you can. There was another
woman who ran for the school board and, I think, was elected to the school
board. A middle aged woman, a dark-skinned woman. Ruth was tall and comely.
My guess is that this was not something that Harold and Fred and Paul and Les
thought [about]. I think Les would think more about it, that this would lead to
Harold Fleming's take that here is this thesis nailed into the __ door, and then
went on to giving all the money away. This is not fair as long as there are poor
blacks when he was thinking about it, when we were sitting on all this money.
G: I have a couple of general summing-up questions left. How would you
summarize the strengths and the weaknesses of the SRC as you were involved
C: That's a difficult question because it attracted people like myself who were what
would now be called moderate, who weren't ready to go to Jerusalem. Now,
there were those who tried to nudge us to the cross, but we didn't deserve it. We
weren't worth their nails and boards. But again, playing an important role, I think.
I run into people all the time, [and] I don't mean this to be boasting, but who say,
you got me into all of this. I read such and such, and I had never thought about
anything like that. There was that role. You know, I didn't choose it. I didn't say,
this is what I'm going to do, that I'm going to be heroic but chicken-shit. You
know, I'm not going to go to the cross on this, because I almost did go to the
cross. I didn't know it at the time, but this fella told me just as he was dying that, I
was with them, [and] I wasn't going to let them kill you, but we were going to
have an understanding. We'd take you down there to __ and beat the hell out
of you. I knew all of them, even if they were wearing masks. I grew up with them,
went to school with them, cousins [with] most of them, no doubt. But that was
just something that just happened down here. I didn't choose that role. I'm not
sure anyone chose it. Fred __ maybe.
G: But it was a support for you? You felt like it was supportive of your work? The
Southern Regional Council?
C: Oh, certainly. By all means. They were sort of the conduit. I remember we had
this thing which was important called Southern Interagency Conference, SIC,
and they convened it. It was their's, and they convened it, and they presided. We
were to elect a chairman, but Harold or Paul or someone would always be sitting
at our right hand to say, here is what we are going to do on this. We are not
going to let.... What was the organization that was considered too far to the left?
SCEF [Southern Conference Educational Fund]. She is still living. I saw her not
G: Anne Braden?
C: Anne. I remember once it came to a vote whether or not SCEF would be allowed
to be a part of SIC, and it was voted down. What was the old white student group
which was kicked out of SNCC?
G: SSOC, Southern Student Organizing Committee?
C: Yeah. They had a meeting here and gave a little honor or something to Anne
Braden and to me, and I apologized to her publicly. I said, I was a part of the
ones saying, well, after old Carl, who knows? So much smoke, so much
violence. We were all scared of Communists, you know. We weren't scared of
them, but we were scared of being charred with that brush because it was the
height of the [Senator Joseph] McCarthy era. I said I was wrong, and I was
wrong, and I apologized.
G: SRC, I think, gave Anne Braden an award later, into the 1980s, maybe?
C: I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised.
G: I think Steve Suits....
C: That would have been in the last several years.
G: Yeah, as an attempt to try to rescind their earlier actions.
C: I never knew. I think Carl and Anne might very well have been Communists. So
what? I couldn't care less now, but at the time, I didn't want anybody thinking I
was a Communist, although that's what they thought down there in
that Will Davis is a Communist. I would say, I'm not a Communist, I'm a
Christian, and that's two different religions. I didn't have anything particularly
against Communists. I didn't know any, didn't know what they were. I just knew
that they didn't vote for [U. S. President] Franklin [D.] Roosevelt [1933-1945],
although most of them probably did.
G: Why do you suppose that historians misunderstand or misconstrue the role of
the Southern Regional Council?
C: Historians? I didn't know they did, but I probably just tore it up.
G: Well, the SRC has been relatively unacknowledged.
C: I think that's true, but at the admission of the pricks .. They don't understand.
They weren't around. It's easy to study these things and look back and say, well,
had I been calling the decision there, I would have suggested that perhaps [U. S.
President Dwight D.] Eisenhower [1953-1961] come down and meet with Harold
Fleming. What nonsense. Part of the academy, I guess, but it's not our greatest
hope. Don't ask me what our greatest hope is.
G: I was just about to ask you what the greatest hope is.
C: I don't know. It does not yet appear. It's down the road somewhere, but I don't
think it's the academy.
G: Is there anything else that I should have asked you about the Southern Regional
Council that I didn't?
C: I don't think so.
G: Last chance to immortalize yourself on this Sony tape.
C: There's a lot of mythology about who did what and when in the Southern
Regional Council. It's only human because we all want to cast ourselves in a
romantic light or a strong light or whatever. But I wasn't a leader in the
movement, and I always knew that. I never claimed to be. There really were no
white leaders in the movement in the sense of front line troops. There are still a
number around who claim to have been, but they weren't. They wouldn't have
been living if they had been.
G: Well, thank you for your time.