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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Andrew Young, January 31, 1974. Interview A-0080. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Assessment of early civil rights organization in 1950s Georgia

Andrew Young describes his involvement in the early civil rights movement. As a minister in Georgia in 1955, Young helped to organize a voter registration drive. Here, he discusses various tactics southern whites used to inhibit African Americans' access to the ballot, ranging from literacy tests to overt racial violence (as evidenced by a 1948 lynching). Young compares the voting situation in Georgia to that in more liberal southern states, like North Carolina, where political organization occurred later. According to Young, the nature of political leadership and severe racism in Georgia forced African Americans there to see early on that access to the ballot was "a life-and-death issue." This placed Georgia among other southern states that were especially advanced in terms of African American political organization by the time the civil rights movement really began to flourish in the 1960s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Andrew Young, January 31, 1974. Interview A-0080. 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:
If twenty years ago, somebody would have told you that in 1974 you'd be introduced by a Senator from Mississippi as a Congressman from Georgia at a presidential prayer breakfast, what would you have said?
ANDREW YOUNG:
I would have said they were crazy. I mean, that would have been 1954. That was before the Supreme Court decision. And we couldn't even vote very well in the South. It was not long after that that my younger brother came back from the Navy, where he'd been a lieutenant. He's a graduate of Harvard University's dental school. He passed the state dental examination, and went around the corner in the courthouse to register to vote, and they told him he flunked the literacy test. So, I mean, that's what it was like in the South.
JACK BASS:
Where?
ANDREW YOUNG:
This was in New Orleans.
JACK BASS:
The progressive city of New Orleans.
ANDREW YOUNG:
Yeah. Now, Atlanta was a little better than that. But in '55 I went to Thomasville, Georgia, and one of the first things I did there as the pastor of a little church was try to organize a voter registration drive. And I guess it was just about '48, in that town, a black man had tried to register. And he was lassoed on the courthouse steps, and tied to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged around the black community until he was dead. And then he was cut loose again in front of a jail where he was left to die . . . well, he was dead by that time. In '55, when I tried to run a voter registration drive, the community. . . . Thomasville had a lot of northern presence, in big plantations. Eisenhower used to come down there to shoot quail. Secretary Treasurer Humphries had a plantation. The northern influence kind of quieted down that sort of overt violence, and they would let us register. But there was a big Klan rally the night before we were supposed to have the beginning of our voter registration drive. Interestingly enough, the man I asked to come down and speak for that voter registration drive was Manley Jackson's grandfather, John Wesley Dobbs, who was instrumental in filing the suits-the Primus King case-that put an end to the Democratic white primary in Georgia. And led to, amongst other things, the beginnings of voter registration in the big cities of Georgia, through the Masonic lodges. That also was a period in which Ellis Arnold was governor, and we got the eighteen year old vote. And that moved Georgia ahead. I think that's one of the reasons that we are now a little ahead of the rest of the deep South. See, North Carolina was the liberal state then. But folks never got around to organizing politically in North Carolina. Georgia was the headquarters of lynching, and blacks knew they had to turn to politics to survive. And it was a life . . . voting was understood very early in Georgia as a life and death issue. Whereas in more liberal to moderate North Carolina and Virginia, that wasn't perceived, back in the early fifties, nearly so well. They are just beginning . . . in fact, North Carolina blacks are just now beginning to wake up politically, you almost think. I have a tendency to feel that they are behind Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. That's in spite of the fact that they've elected Mayor Lightner. I think every other state has had a long history of statewide political organization. And I don't know about any in North Carolina.
JACK BASS:
There is none.
ANDREW YOUNG:
I suspect one of the reasons is that there were always some white liberals you could trust. And, in the long run, that proved to be a detrimental factor. Because there was always, you know, Frank Graham or Sanford-a long stream of guys that. . . . I mean, whereas we were dealing with an early Gene Talmadge, who was really horrible, and Marvin Griffin, and Lester Maddox.