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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Need for interracial cooperation to continue to push for racial justice

Henry expresses his philosophy on social change and reflects on continuing segregation in Mississippi. He believes in interracial cooperation on race issues, many of which remain in his state, including the purge of black educators from public schools. This absence of black leadership in education presents black students with few role models and results in feelings of inferiority, he believes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. 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

Looking back on the whole civil rights struggle from the beginning of your involvement, is there anything you'd do differently?
I don't think so. I've seen some people do some things differently that perhaps have gotten them faster and further there. You take the violence in Watts. Well, you wouldn't know Watts today if you were looking at it from a yesterday point of view because of the many improvements that Watts, California, has developed since the racial strife. But that's just not, you know, my way or philosophy of trying to erect improvements. I would rather have a situation where the former lieutenant governor of the state calls me and says "Aaron, this is Charlie." And we'd like to talk about a certain situation and see how we can get together on it. That's what I can, you know, call some real progress. And I'm a thorough integrationist. I don't believe blacks are going to make it by themselves. I don't believe whites are going to make it by themselves. I believe it takes us both. It takes both black and white keys on the piano to play the melody. And of course I have some difficulty with some of my friends about my strong, prointegrationist point of view rather than the black separatist point of view. I just simply don't see how you can wage a black separatist militant, violent war, when you don't have a single black in the national guard. I just don't see how you can wage that kind of violence. Around the table, I think that the question of both being vituperative with each other around the issues that you have to concern. . . . That's my way of trying to resolve the problem. I realize that my way is not the only way. On everything there's two sides. Some things got three, four, five sides. I'm not so wedded to my method that I condemn all other methods. I just simply are not familiar with them. There are people who can make other methods work.
How do you characterize the state of school desegregation in Mississippi? We've heard different interpretations of that.
Well, I think in terms of the public school being legally declared desegregated I think that most of them have. However I think that within the schools themselves there remains quite a bit of segregation. I know that within the teaching personnel, the administrative personnel, there is rank and file discrimination. And it looks like we've got another whole battle to fight. The damn war just ain't never over. The exodus of black administrators, replacing them with white administrators. And of course what bothers us about that more than really who's employed or who makes more money in that area is the role models they aren't getting. Black children don't see blacks in positions of leadership as white children see whites in positions of leadership. Black children are going to end up with a psychic response of inferiority. And that's really what this addition of blacks to positions of leadership really is all about. It's in terms of how do you educate the black child and the white child to be sure that each of them understands that there is no difference between them based upon the color in their skin. That sometimes the principal is white, sometimes the principal is black. That both men can do a good job. But if everything you see in the leadership role is white, then whites are going to accept that as a position of superiority for white people and blacks are going to accept it as an indication that blacks are inferior. And this is really what we're trying to undo in a whole 3- or 400 years of public school education.