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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with U. W. Clemon, July 17, 1974. Interview A-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

White elites undermine black political efforts

Clemon did very poorly in majority-white districts in the Birmingham city council race because, he thinks, the city's "power structure" portrayed black candidates as radicals. A community group called Operation New Birmingham spearheaded this effort.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with U. W. Clemon, July 17, 1974. Interview A-0006. 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:
Did you run ahead of Shores in the black precincts?
U. W. CLEMON:
Oh yes.
JACK BASS:
Did you run behind the other two black candidates?
U. W. CLEMON:
No, I didn't. I ran ahead of all of them, all the candidates in the black precincts.
JACK BASS:
I see. So you did not run very well in the white precincts.
U. W. CLEMON:
No, I didn't do well at all in any of the white precincts.
JACK BASS:
To what do you attribute that?
U. W. CLEMON:
I guess basically it was due to the efforts of the power structure here in Birmingham to portray any black other than Arthur Shores as being a wild radical. There's a group in Birmingham known as Operation New Birmingham, which consists of the business and considered political leaders in the city. It represents, for want of a better word, the establishment. In the run off, Operation New Birmingham, which is partly funded by the city of Birmingham. . . . It has as a goal the creation of a new image for the city, formed sometime after the '63 demonstrations. And the image of Birmingham that was carried forward in those days. It is, you know, being partially funded by the city. But the leaders, or the officials of Operation New Birmingham created a new group called BAG, Birmingham Action Group. And the Birmingham Action Group, which operated out of the headquarters of Operation New Birmingham, embarked on a campaign, by telephone and personal contacts, to arouse the white voters in the city to the prospect of Birmingham being controlled by radical blacks. They had these telephone centers and they distributed literature in the white communities. And basically urged the whites to come out and vote or less the city would revert, probably, into the hands of irresponsible blacks. And, you know, the effort paid off because whites did come out in large numbers. And the support I had gotten in some white boxes in the general election was not there in the run off. Birmingham, unlike many other cities in the South and other parts of the country, has not arrived at the point where a majority of the voters in the city are black. So that whites can still outvote blacks here in Birmingham. And that's what happened in the city council elections back in the fall.