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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 >>

Northern and southern reactions to the civil rights movement

Young explains what he perceives as the differences between race relations in the South and those in the North. According to Young, northern whites were more reluctant to accept change because they had yet to confront their own racism. Ultimately, Young believes that race relations were slower to change in the North than in the South because the North was segregated geographically, whereas the South was primarily segregated legally. Because southern whites had lived with African Americans in their midst for generations, Young believes that southern whites had a greater sense of guilt about their racism and racial discrimination. As a result, Young argues that many southern whites were quick to support the civil rights movement—support which he believes was essential to the success of the civil rights movement. His views, here, offer an interesting perspective on southern white reactions to changing race relations during the 1950s and 1960s and offers a counterpoint to views that emphasize white racial hostility and visceral opposition to desegregation.

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

WALTER DE VRIES:
Don't most of the blacks still need a significant amount of white support to get elected?
ANDREW YOUNG:
Sure.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Okay, how do you explain that? Where I come from, up in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, no way could that happen.
ANDREW YOUNG:
Well, that's because white people up there haven't realized they are racists. I mean, they haven't had to confront it. The white person in the South has lived with it and struggled with it all their lives, and to come to some intelligent point of view about life, they had to face up to the fact that their parents had taught them wrong, you know. The conflict, the burden of guilt, of learning something in church, of practicing another thing in your private life. In the South, people were close enough so that just about . . . well, a lot of people in leadership positions had been cared for by black women, where there was not just a servant relationship, but where it was somebody that worked with the family through long years, and they were probably more mother to the people than their own parents were. And you had a complicated set of personal relationships in the white community in the South, that made southern whites very, very guilty about the racial situation. And it seems to me that Martin Luther King's death was something of a turning point, of white people suddenly being willing to come around. I think a lot happened in white America that's never been recorded, in the wake of the death of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. It was almost as though . . . I sensed then that whites wanted to help, but didn't know how. And, of course, that was also the period when blacks began to express their hostility. And it was even more difficult. But in spite of all that, the tremendous white turnout for the Poor People's Campaign. We could not have brought poor people to Washington, had not we had help from white southerners all along the route. That mule train leaving Mississippi had help from white southerners in just about every city we came to. And that was right straight on through Atlanta. They even went over to Savannah. The Bishop of Savannah. . . I mean the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Savannah and in Charleston provided them with food and shelter. I mean, they were not resources in the black community alone. And with the slightest invitation, the white community in the South was ready to move toward a new relationship with blacks. I sense that it could have gone either way. And the news media were not publicizing people like me. I mean, they were publicizing the folks that were saying, "Burn." You know, John Lewis was around, talking non-violence even back then, but nobody was listening to John. It was the Black Panther types, you know, the rhetorical revolutionaries, that had the mass media. And that's the impression most whites had of blacks. At the same time, the Richard Nixons and the Lester Maddoxes were playing to the fears of this same white southerner and white American. And nobody was giving them a vehicle to get out of their racist heritage. And I think when black politicians came along. . . . And one of the reasons I ran was that it seemed to me that if I could win in 1970, it would put an end to the Nixon southern strategy. Because I saw that southern strategy as really damaging everything that I had been working for. And instead of a New South, you'd get the old Dixiecrat South in Republican dress, coming back to the South.
JACK BASS:
How do you define that southern strategy?
WALTER DE VRIES:
Jack, I want to go back to a former point. He said that the in thing for young blacks now is politics?
ANDREW YOUNG:
Yeah.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Okay. In the north, to get elected as a black, you generally have to have a black constituency. You don't usually go much beyond that. But what you're saying is down South it's possible to do that. Maybe this is an over-generalization, but is it more true in the South than in the north?
ANDREW YOUNG:
Oh, very definitely.
WALTER DE VRIES:
What does that mean for the future, then, say the next ten. . . .
ANDREW YOUNG:
What it means is that the South has got a long jump ahead of the north in dealing with race.
WALTER DE VRIES:
As it's manifested in politics, now?
ANDREW YOUNG:
As it's manifested in every way. See, the north was separated geographically, while the South was separated legally. Now, once the legal barriers in the South came down, people were fairly comfortable together. It was amazing to me to see that happen. And we were in Saint Augustine when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. And the very same hotel where our waitresses poured hot coffee on us, and where the manager poured acid on people trying to get in his swimming pool, and, I mean, just extremely violent reactions. Up to the thirtieth of June-the second of July Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The fifth of July we went back to that same restaurant, and those people were just wonderful. I mean, they were apologetic. They said, "We were just afraid of losing our businesses. We didn't want to be the only ones to be integrated. But if everybody's got to do it, we've been ready for it a long time ago. We're so glad the president signed this law and now we can be through with these troubles." And so you didn't have that possibility of immediate change in the north, because people are geographically separated; they don't know each other. You don't have the stable leadership patterns in the north. I mean, you had the three generations of Ivan Allens in Atlanta, and three generations of Martin Luther Kings that have known each other. And Ivan Allen, Jr, who is the ex-mayor, is a friend of Martin Luther King, Sr. But Martin's grandfather was a Baptist preacher who was a good friend of the first Ivan Allen. And there are stable family ties. There's a stable leadership structure in the South, that moves things very rapidly, once people make up their minds. You don't have three generations of black leadership in any northern city.