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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jimmy Carter [exact date unavailable], 1974. Interview A-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern ideals of friendship and social progress smoothed sudden social change

The South weathered major social change within a decade because of general belief that the changes were positive and an underlying sense of friendship between the races.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jimmy Carter [exact date unavailable], 1974. Interview A-0066. 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

On that point, it's very well argued that in the last eight years there's been more social progress on more social problems in the South than in any other democracy. We were reminiscing yesterday with John Luce that it was just eight years ago he got his skull fractured in Selma. What is it about the South that allowed that kind of social change, those traumas, to take place and really be accommodated in the course of just eight years? Because in the north-for example, I come from Michigan-that's just not possible.
I know. Well, I happen to be deeply religious, and I think that for decades, since the subject of discrimination was raised so that we had to face it-I'd say a couple of decades-that there has been a soul-searching among many leaders, about how can we accommodate our religious beliefs with a patent and obvious lack of compassion and concern and communication and understanding and unselfishness towards the minority groups. And I think that although we had to go through an ordeal of accommodating a major change, which you've just described, we've done it with a sense of relief, and not reluctance. You know, it was something that had to be forced on us from outside so that we could accept it, without admitting that we had always been wrong. We said, "well, the federal courts made us do it." But I think that in many instances, maybe even a majority of the instances, we accepted it with secret gratitude, that it was brought on us. And now there is a pride, you can tell there's a pride on my part, in what has been accomplished. And I don't think anybody would want to revert back to a formal attitude of, you know, separation of black and whites, of lesser degree of citizenship, and so forth. So I think that here again, a deep religious ethic, although it was used in some degrees to perpetuate racial discrimination, once we had to confront the fact that we were right or wrong in the eyes of God, we said we're wrong, and if we can find a way to make this change without losing face, we'll do it. And the Supreme Court and other court orders were the things that permitted us to do it without losing face. And in many instances we did it with a great sense of relief.
But had that not been in the context of the Christian religion you think it would have been very difficult to accomplish, don't you?
I don't say, obviously, that was the only factor. But I think it was a major factor. Also, there's one more social factor that's involved. And that is that we have always, just because of the nature of our lives, lived in close proximity to our black citizens. You know, in, my next door neighbor is black. And we've always worked in the same fields and have worked in the same factories. We've been alongside of one another. And there was this artificial delineation in public facilities and school buildings, and so forth. And we understand one another. When I grew up in Archery, Georgia, there were twenty-five black families and two white families. Mine and one more. When I played on the baseball team as a grammar school and high school child, there were eight black players and two white players. We had ten then. We had a catcher and a back-up catcher. We didn't have a backstop, so we had two catchers. But this is the kind of heritage that we had. And as you know, there are a remarkably large number of southern people whose backgrounds are oriented towards rural areas. We've had a mass movement into the urban areas, but we still have this basic sense of friendship and understanding with individual members of the black race.