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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr., December 6, 1973. Interview A-0134. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Legal and economic rights are intertwined

McKissick reacts to the interviewer's characterization of Martin Luther King's belief that the civil rights movement in the 1960s was shifting its focus from legal progress to economic uplift. McKissick believes the two issues are intertwined, and describes the problem of finding a way to take advantage of hard-won opportunities. Pragmatism may be the answer to holding onto the victories of the 1960s, he believes, and he worries that most black leaders have not grasped that concept.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Floyd B. McKissick Sr., December 6, 1973. Interview A-0134. 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:
Well, Dr. King wrote before his death that the civil rights legislation, the legal battles was a battle for legal equality and it had more or less been won. And he viewed that as the first stage and the second stage had to do with basic economic struggle and the elminiation of poverty and its bounds on freedom, in effect. And he felt the country failed to perceive this and questioned whether or not there was any committment to it.
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
I think that he perceived that correctly. But it's not just that simple. For too long, we have tended to categorize or divide economics from politics or politics from economics, when they are in fact tied so closely together that it is difficult to separate them. I think that the question that becomes paramount in say, the 1970's, is the strategy, not principle. You've just simply got to make an inventory of what every minority's got and what they haven't got. And then you've got to develop a strategy to get that, based upon the law, based upon skills and abilities to get it. I said that Dr. King's statement was correct. The battle of the sixties made the big banks say, "We'll take cashiers, we need accountants"…but how many of us were educated to be accountant? I think there has to be a recognition to carry the struggle forward in the seventies, you are going to have to have far more skills in the seventies than you had in the sixties, when the premium for rewarding good leadership was courage…courage to stand in front of firehoses and let a dog bite them and keep on marching. But, if you use the courage to open the doors, how the hell do you go in and stay in? The protest was not geared toward that…a protest can only be temporary and it is a temporary strategy and the principle is on a very high level and it then becomes time to develop another strategy, once you've exhausted efforts of protest.
JACK BASS:
So, you see a period of consolidation for the South, insofar as blacks are concerned? Entering into a period of consolidation of these gains, the opening of the doors?
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
Yeah, I think that would be a pretty good evaluation of it.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Can we stay with that point about the seventies, about strategies? In order to do that, don't you have to have more skills for blacks than they have now? In order to implement these kinds of strategies?
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
Correct, correct.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Then, the seventies will become a time when you see the teaching of skills, communication skills and other skills?
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
In other words, you've got to look back and face the truth. You've got to look back and say, "Well, now, what did we accomplish in the name of integration? Was integration a token? We got a lot of blacks in places, but what are they really doing in these places? How many black accounting firms do we have that are known or nationally recognized? How many black manufacturors do we have of automobiles? Have we really in fact, completed the battle of integration? What has been the effect of the Civil Rights Act?" You've got to simply add up and what the addition comes to, you've got to admit it and then you've got to say, "Damn it, we've got to change." How many architect-planners do we have? How many financial planners, mechanical engineers? How have guidance programs, etc. been sending the kids… where have they gone? Is it not time now to recognize that we've got enough sociologists and say, "Stop right here. Don't we need more political scientists if we are going to continue this struggle?" What are your resources to go forward with and if your desire is to really get into Wall Street and you recognize that right now, the biggest barrier in the struggle of integration is the economic barrier which you have not yet penetrated. When you say that you've got the largest insurance company in the world in North Carolina Mutual, is it in fact large, by white standards? What are its assests, by white standards? Is there a need to continue talking about "black is beautiful?" Is it not right that white kids say that "white is beautiful?" Is it not right that red kids say that "red is beautiful?" Is it not right that brown kids…o.k. Now we are out of the "beautiful bag", the slogan era. Well, where the hell are you and what are you going to do to become a full fledged American? Or do you want to go back to Africa? I for one believe I'm going to stay here. This is the kind of cold analytical analysis that I believe we need. And that's why I've been concentrating on what I'm doing and what I'm making.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Do you see the seventies becoming intensely pragmatic, then?
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
Absolutely.
WALTER DEVRIES:
As opposed to the ideological and…
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
That's right, absolutely.
WALTER DEVRIES:
That you might lose if you don't…
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
Yes, if you don't become coldly pragmatic, you might lose the things that you've gained during the sixties. Conceiveably, you didn't make the gains that you thought you were making at that time. You see what I mean.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Do you think that most black leaders are willing to make that kind of cold assessment?
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
No. I think a lot of them are not ready to make it. I think that a lot of them feel that it's still a matter of protest. That you point to the evils of society, but that you don't attempt to correct them. I'm solution-oriented and I made up my mind that I'd have to become solution-oriented and I made up my mind that you cannot talk about what you must own and control until you simply develop the team and the skills and you went out and you did it.
WALTER DEVRIES:
There is really no other way to achieve power?
FLOYD MCKISSICK:
If you think that you can take power from somebody, I think that you are whistling Dixie. And I think that if Rockefeller anointed me tomorrow, "Floyd McKissick, be Rockefeller", he wouldn't give me any power by doing it. I think that power is something that you acquire by growth, stage and skill, development of the mind and ability to use the mind successfully and the ability to deal with all facets of American society and I think that power comes by having a damn sound analytical mind, and mind that doesn't carry chips on its shoulders and the ability to have funds to solve problems with. That's just a part of it, of course.