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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Richard Arrington, July 18, 1974. Interview A-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of the Alabama Democratic Congress

Arrington confirms that the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) is Alabama's strongest black political organization. He emphasizes the importance of organization in achieving progress for black Alabamians. He worries that black politicians are split in their support for the ADC, and he hopes that he can help mediate this dispute.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Richard Arrington, July 18, 1974. Interview A-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK BASS:
Do you see the national Democratic party of Alabama remaining a viable force?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
NDPA? No, I frankly do not. I think NDPA has a few strong holds. How long they will hold on to those in rural Alabama, I do not know. I know Cashen well. I've talked with him quite often. But I don't think it's a strong force. I frankly do not. Now I think it played an important role. I think it influenced some of the policies made by the regular Democrats in this state. I think when the NDPA came on the scene unknown and racist, it made the regular Democrats more sensitive to moving to try to include blacks, get blacks involved. But I just don't see in the long run that that's going to be viable.
JACK BASS:
Looking ahead, what black organizations do you project as having the most political influence in this state? What we understand and keep hearing is that the Alabama Democratic conference remains the strongest single black political organization.
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
That is true. It does and I expect it will continue to be. You see that council, like the Progressive Democratic Council here in Jefferson County, which is an arm of that council, is again the only organization here that really has an organization or anything like a machine. In that it is owned and organized. When I look at the council here in Jefferson county, it's the only group in this county that's organized and has bloc captains, precinct captains, house units and all this. And I see a lot of people . . . and I meet with a lot of young black folk who are concerned and the young . . . including most of those who have just been elected to the state legislature . . . who have been dissatisfied with what the council has done and dissatisfied with the Democratic Conference, Joe Reed's group. But being dissatisfied is one thing. Then getting out there, organizing. . . . You know, being dissatisfied and complaining is one thing. And cussing them and saying what they're not doing. But to get out and organize. To do something about your dissatisfaction, say, is still another thing. And that is what we have not done. I think that the Democratic Conference headed by Joe Reed will still be the single most powerful political group here. I think however, as was indicated in the last meeting we had with the conference, that the conference is likely to undergo some changes. It's likely to be not quite as . . . well, I don't want to say conservative because it has not been conservative but . . . it's going to share some of its decision making power. A part of the criticism that the conference has been subjected to is that all of the decisions are usually made by small groups of folk. Mainly Joe Reed, Arthur Shores, David Hood, about four or five people make all the decisions. For example, on the state level and the state Democratic party, there are three seats, at large seats unknown by the conference itself. Three blacks are appointed. We have to have a mechanism whereby there is input, particularly by elected officials and others who are Democrats in this state as to who those three will be, rather than letting the decision be made by three or four people.
JACK BASS:
How much potential is there for there to develop a strong black elected officials association? I understand one exists but that it is not particularly strong at this time.
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
It is not particularly strong. It is fragmented. I don't know. The extent to which we can do that will depend on the response we get from groups like Joe Reed's. I mean it this way. When there were no black elected officials, none to make mention of, a very small number, the Progressive Democratic Council . . . that's not the group, the Democratic Conference which Joe Reed heads up, was certainly in a very strong position because it provided the only black political leadership there was in this state. With more and more blacks being elected to office, blacks do have somewhere else to look for leadership. They don't have to look just to that conference or just to the Progressive Democratic Council. And I think that Joe Reed and the Progressive Democratic Council and all of those of us who work with it, we have got to realize that. That we have got to give some consideration to the fact that there are a large number of black elected officials and they were elected in most cases mainly by the black vote and that they do then hold some claim to being, providing some black leadership. And that they ought to be doing it. Now if they might come together to do this, I think they would undoubtedly be the strongest group. However, I think you're going to find that some of the black elected officials are very pro Alabama Democratic Conference and some are sort of anti. And as long as you've got that kind of fragmentation, the black elected officials will not be strong as a group. But we got a new group of black elected officials going to the state legislature.
JACK BASS:
They're mostly younger people.
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
Yeah, they're young and many of them have some anti Democratic Conference feeling. And it stems mainly from the fact that they feel two or three people have run it and have not shared the decision making power. Now we have got to respond to that and if we respond to it in a positive manner by saying that we are inclusive, by reaching out to bring these folk in and not send them back saying "We're here and if you want to be a part, come on in. We got it." You know. If we respond . . . and I said this to Joe Reed, I said it to the whole group when we met at the unknown house just before the state Democratic executive committee meeting. If we intend to be representative, to continue to be representative, we have got to reach out and make sure these people know that they are welcome. That they can participate, that they can have something to say about what goes on.
JACK BASS:
Is the main conflict an age . . . old vs young?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
Yeah, but I don't think it stems from that directly. I think it's related more to the way some of the older members think. They are more conservative. This is not unusual.
JACK BASS:
Do you see yourself in a position to play a middle man role in that?
RICHARD ARRINGTON:
I would like to be. I would like to be in that position more than any other I can think of. I would like to be. I don't know if I can do that at this time. On the political scene I guess people have suspicions about everybody who runs for political office. Some people feel, I'm sure, that my major interest is . . . every politician's main interest is to keep moving up. I don't have any political ambitions of that sort. I'm not running for [mayor] contrary to what people say. That does not mean I may not one day run for mayor. Does not mean I won't run in '75, though at this time I have no intentions of running. I try to analyze things and be realistic. I don't know, all I'm saying is that I'd like to play that role. I have tried, to some extent, to play that role.