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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clarke Reed, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0113. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rise of the South in national politics in relationship to civil rights

Reed discusses the process by which the South became a prominent region of interest to national politicians during the 1960s and 1970s. In outlining the growing importance of the South in national politics, particularly for the Republican Party, Reed argues that desegregation was an especially pivotal transformation. Throughout the passage, Reed emphasizes the role of President Richard Nixon in this process, as well as the racial attitudes of white southerners. Although he does not suggest that the South had necessarily adopted more progressive views on race, he does argue that Mississippi was the most integrated state by the mid-1970s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clarke Reed, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0113. 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 DEVRIES:
One of the general complaints we've heard, particularly from Democrats, is that none of the national candidates really want to come South. They don't think it's necessary to do so.
CLARKE REED:
Right after Baker was elected and I never had met Baker before. I knew most Tennessee people. Invited him down for dinner. Wrote and never did get a goddamn answer out of him. Excuse me, never did get an answer. At that time it was not proper to come to Mississippi. I jumped maybe I chewed him out about it. At least the courtesy of a reply. Like you say, back then it was not the place to come. Percy came down to speak to a black gathering and didn't even bother to check in years ago. Made his points and went back to Illinois . But nobody would come. Now, of course, everybody wants to come. Which I think's good
JACK BASS:
What accounts for that change?
CLARKE REED:
Well, we're more respectable. We're not the racist society we once were. There's no stigma. In fact it's a plus I guess, you know, to be here. I think it's good. Good for the country, good for the state, good for the South. It's all around good.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Could you have foreseen this change ten years ago?
CLARKE REED:
It was a hope.
JACK BASS:
Was the fact that you had a Republican administration in 1970 any factor at all in the way massive desegregation was accepted? Because Nixon did not go in with any overwhelming popularity in Mississippi in 1968.
CLARKE REED:
Well… we were in an impasse. Our polls would show that people didn't like the position we were in [on race] of being one against the country. You know, this sort of thing. They wanted a way out. But, you know, people still had to have their pride and what not. Regardless of motives, they saw education suffering and, you know, education is next to God in the average middle class person anyway, lower middle class. That's their hope, education child to get ahead. They may be extreme racists, but still they saw that as a threat to the kids' education. But anyway, they fought it, fought it, fought it. And when Nixon was elected I, in my own mind—the courts, the judges being politicians, being human, were afraid… they thought there was a conservative revolution coming on which I hope so not just a way station victory. Other side to it has all the power, in my opinion. So I think they quickly all right, you're going to deseg now. no, do it this fall, zap. Well, that's the way to take a dose of medicine. Get it done. So, we sent around here work it out under a friendly hand. The courts removed the issue from guidelines, but in the past guidelines had been written by secretary of HEW or some of his—that was it, those were the laws. They were removed. When the president wrote and signed the guidelines, which gave us time, you know, or tried to work things out, keep neighborhoods cool and all that. Courts threw that out and said no, you're going to do it zap, now. It got done, it worked. You know, the schools are still in existence. And it was done with a friendly hand rather than with a stick. So it made a hell of a difference. And Nixon, he's the first president that hasn't been hated down here in twenty some years, I guess. So that in itself is a big change. More deseg happened under him than anybody and of course prior to that some other changes had helped bring that about. Like public accommodations bill. I would vote against then and today, but it's probably the best thing that's happened down here in that it got people out of the impasse if they owned the Holiday Inn or grill and served a black guy, the whites would be very unhappy. It was a constant affrontage to blacks. He couldn't get a room or coffee where he wanted and that sort of thing. Now he doesn't have the affrontery and when blacks do go in and get served nobody turns their heads. So that one thing, I think, removed… it was more significant than anything I can think of.
JACK BASS:
Why would you vote against it?
CLARKE REED:
Well, rightly or wrongly, I think if a fellow owns a place he's got a right to restrict it to male patrons over 40 if he wants to. I think it was a bad law but excellent sociology. They did us a favor, not knowing they were going to do it, by passing that.
JACK BASS:
Do you believe the Nixon administration would have moved as they did on desegregation if the courts had not made the decision they made in the Alexandria case?
CLARKE REED:
Well, the dye was so cast… wait, okay. Well, you know, who knows. It was going to go on. He stated it, just a fact of life. I think have had some neighborhood schools…. in other words, we wouldn't be as segregated as the North, but we'd probably be more segregated than we are now. I mean by segregated there wouldn't be… classrooms in Mississippi by and large are salt and pepper. We'd probably still be more integrated than the rest of the country, but not as integrated as we are.
JACK BASS:
There are a lot of people who would challenge that and say they're really not, that the schools in Mississippi are basically integrated within the walls of the schools and segregated within classrooms to a large extent because of pupil placement based on testing, so forth.
CLARKE REED:
Before you all leave you may want to talk to my business partner. He's head of the school board here, I guess it's the second biggest in the state. And it's as integrated as any you can get. I mean it's almost quotaed. There may be some like that, but I think by and large… I think we can certainly say it's the most integrated state in the country. Schools, classrooms. Again, I'm not an expert on the subject but I've had a lot of people .
WALTER DEVRIES:
How could that be accomplished so peacefully?
CLARKE REED:
Well, the people wanted a way out, they were trying to fight the thing, they were trying to accept that it was inevitable, and a lot of people decided maybe we're better off because of it.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Nobody would have predicted that ten years ago.
CLARKE REED:
No. I kind of hoped it, as I said.