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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hodding Carter, April 1, 1974. Interview A-0100. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Factors in decline of racial violence in Mississippi

Carter tries to explain the decline in racial violence in Mississippi. He credits the federal presence there, as well as the concern of business and political leaders who worried that violence would destroy the state.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hodding Carter, April 1, 1974. Interview A-0100. 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

Yeh, I just think that one of the reasons clearly was that there had been damn near ten years in which the business and professional issue of this state, because of all the blood that flowed, you know, had to face up to what the consequences were going to be. If they were realists, and didn't like the idea of change, they had to realize that three dead kids in a county in 64 plus one Selma bridge incident in 65 guaranteed two civil rights bills they wished to God they'd never seen. I mean, you know, just as a matter. . . for that type of guy. And for the other type of guy who just wanted to be free of what he couldn't justify anyway, all that blood and all that murder and there was just—and all that arson and everything else in the 60s, convinced them. And they were slow to come to it, but convinced the business and basic economic leadership in the state, that they, they simply could not afford to let happen not only what Clark or anybody—you know, I predicted that it was going to be, before you'd have massive integration the schools would close. I was—1962, it was a flat statement I wrote in three different magazines: we'd never see the public school system stand up to it. But between 62 and 70 there were so many really scary things that happened that I just think a lot of people started to open their eyes. They were not going to allow it to happen again.
We had a couple of state senators told us that the real psychological impact of ole Miss when Kennedy sent 30,000 troops down, was the Mississippi natural crowd going to meet the federal army. That this had a tremendous impact. That when the court orders came down, it was clear, there would be a sense of futility. That was one part of it. Another part was the part you mentioned, the economic part. It was a combination. That you have one element that may respond more to the economic part; that you had another element that would have fought if it would have done any good, but it wouldn't do any good and they knew it wouldn't do any good.
I've always been a believer in the salutary effect of hitting somebody over the head hard, I mean, to get—
We had a clansman that told us pretty much the same thing.
unknown An equally good effect was not being sure who his brother clansman was. You know, about 65 and 66. Which was another example of federal presence. What it is to suddenly become, what, somewhere in the top ten of the FBI enclaves in the country for that period. That had its effect. Well sure I believe in that. [ole Miss] was to make in every way you could make it the state more rigid. Right on through, you know, to 64. Elected a guy who said he was going to be more rigid. And destroyed what few little voices there were in the state in the election of 63 who had been vaguely moderate. You know, who just pretended that they thought the law ought to run and ought to be obeyed. Including even this county, you know, which it had not happened in before. (interrupted by phone call) And in the mean-time, you know, as I say other things were sinking in. Scores and scores of churches burned in 64. The murders. And suddenly the whole focus came back down again on Mississippi. And you know, it wasn't until the winter, or let's say early 65, that the Mississippi Economic Council finally could get itself together to issue a statement saying you ought to obey the law, it's time for us to turn this thing around and obey the law. And that was after that whole series of burnings and murders. And that was when Kennedy was president. That was the first time that they, I think, just looked at each other in the board room and said "You know, this is going to kill us. And we've got to quit it." And then the voting rights act of 65, just suddenly, Wham, added 100,000 votes over the next year and then more. Although 67 didn't exactly produce a model of new southern governors in John Bell Williams, it, with the absolute collapse of Ross Barnett, did prove something about, you know, what the attitude of the folks was going to be. But it shouldn't be forgotten that Ross and Jimmy Swan together got a hell of a lot of votes in 67. And John Bell Williams, clearly having been the spokesman for the Citizens Council since the day that they were born and an unrelenting segretationist, was not being perceived as a great moderate, either. He sort of posed as one in a lot of his tactics between a liberal William Winter and a buffoon who had brought us down to our knees, Ross Barnett. Which is why Coleman threw in with unknown because he was scared of Barnett.