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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with H. M. Michaux, November 20, 1974. Interview A-0135. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Internal operations of a local black political organization

This is an inner look at the organization of the Durham Council of Negro Affairs (now the Durham Council on the Affairs of Black People). Michaux explains how the council mobilized local blacks on a grassroots level.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with H. M. Michaux, November 20, 1974. Interview A-0135. 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:
Can you tell me a little about black political activity in Durham. Durham has a reputation of being one of the most politically active cities, both in North Carolina and in the South, in so far as black political development is concerned. I get the impression that Durham's role in North Carolina politics, at least within the black community, is very central.
H. M. MICHAUX:
The reason for that being that we've got a pretty good, active political machinery operating. The Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, now the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, has always played a key role in politics in that we've been able to make recommendations to a majority of the black community which they follow. The structure of the committee is such that everybody in the community, particularly the black community, participates. It's a non-partisan effort. They've been able to have these meetings, meet with the candidates, talk with the candidates. Then sit down with the political committee of that committee, make a decision and give it to the committee as a whole to make the decision on. And once the decision is made, whether you agree with it or not, the people seem to have followed the decision. It's a sort of a unifying type effort. In other words, prior to the final decision being made, we argue, we back and support our favorite candidate. Once that decision is made, however, the entire community seems to follow it. As a result, we've been very effective in putting a bloc vote together.
JACK BASS:
They put out a sample ballot. Does it ever include Republicans?
H. M. MICHAUX:
Right. It has included Republicans, yes.
JACK BASS:
Do you interview each candidate?
H. M. MICHAUX:
Yes, we talk to each candidate.
JACK BASS:
Is it similar to what goes on in Greensboro?
H. M. MICHAUX:
I don't know how they operate in Greensboro. I'm not too familiar with that. But I would assume that it's possibly the same thing. Most of the black organizations have patterned themselves after our program here in Durham.
JACK BASS:
How do you dessiminate the ballot?
H. M. MICHAUX:
We have workers who work the polls. In other words, we will meet the night before the election. The ballots will be printed up. We'll have all the poll workers, all the precinct workers at that meeting and distribute the ballots to them so that when they go out in the morning they can work the polls, work the precincts. We send the cars out with the ballot with the slate in it. It is handed out on an individual basis. We also get computer printouts of voter registration lists for each of the predominantly black precincts in the city, to make sure. . . and we get them checked off as they. . . . We have one person sitting outside of the precinct and as they come in we check them off on that list. And about two or three o'clock in the afternoon, those who haven't shown up we start making an effort to get them out. As a result, it's been fairly successful.
JACK BASS:
Is there any sort of a central telephone number that can be called for rides.
H. M. MICHAUX:
Right. We use the Carolina Times office for that.
JACK BASS:
How is that number dessiminated?
H. M. MICHAUX:
By radio. The radio that's beamed to the black community. Just by word of mouth. Everybody knows now that the Carolina Times office is central headquarters on election day. There's no problem there at all. It's also put on the ballot. Sometimes we will send out leaflets about a week before stating that the campaign headquarters are at Carolina Times. Then we have a speaker bureau that goes out on the Sunday prior to the election to make all of the churches. We also remind them of the number that way.
JACK BASS:
How many members on the committee?
H. M. MICHAUX:
There is no set number, simply because the committee is an open committee. In other words, we ask that everybody in the community-actually, we consider everybody in the community a member of the committee. Normally the way it works is that each group, like a church, social or civic club, flower club, garden club, this type, will send a representative and comprise the committee as a whole. Then from the committee as a whole we've got four basic committees. The economic committee, the civic committee, the political committee, legal redress committee, and, oh yes, the housing committee. Five committees. The membership of that committee are chosen from the committee at large membership.
JACK BASS:
Are they elected by the at large membership?
H. M. MICHAUX:
No, they are chosen by the chairman, who is elected by the at large membership. The chairman is John Wheeler, president of Mechanics and Farmers Bank. He's been chairman at least sixteen years. John Stuart was chairman prior to his going on the city council. Wheeler took over after that.
JACK BASS:
And the political committee consists of roughly how many people?
H. M. MICHAUX:
About 20.
JACK BASS:
They basically screen candidates and reach a decision on recommendations for support.
H. M. MICHAUX:
Right. In other words, the political committee will screen the candidates and will make a recommendation to the committee as a whole.
JACK BASS:
Are they invariably followed?
H. M. MICHAUX:
Yes. We've had arguments right and left. Once the political committee brings back a decision, everybody doesn't necessarily agree with it. The recommendations by the political committee can be overturned by the body as a whole. In one or two instances they have, yes, that I can recall. I know two specific instances where this happened.
JACK BASS:
Where does the financing come?
H. M. MICHAUX:
Individual contributions.
JACK BASS:
Does it come from within the black community entirely?
H. M. MICHAUX:
Yes.
JACK BASS:
Isn't this unusual? Not unusual for Durham, but unusual for the South?
H. M. MICHAUX:
Yes, I would assume. . . . We try to maintain our independence. And therefore we wouldn't accept contributions from outside of the community. If we can't do it on our own then, you know, there's really no way of doing it. But we can do it on our own and we have done it on our own. So I guess it would be a unique type situation.
JACK BASS:
Durham is unusual in having a basically strong black economic base.
H. M. MICHAUX:
Right, that's true. The fact of the matter is that with the independent institutions that we have and with the type of income, for instance, blacks have enjoyed within the city of Durham as a result of the tobacco factories and the hosiery mills and whatnot, we've done pretty well.
JACK BASS:
There are some basically strong black institutions. The banks, insurance, university. Is there a dues structure?
H. M. MICHAUX:
There is no dues structure. We take up a collection at the annual meeting. When it comes time for political moving we get contributions, individual contributions. In terms of services in a lot of instances and in terms of money.
JACK BASS:
How about poll workers, drivers, so forth. Do they get paid?
H. M. MICHAUX:
They get paid a very modest amount. Some get paid. Others do it on a volunteer basis. A driver will get some gas for his car. He won't be able to take a long trip on the gas that he gets for his car, but he does get gas.
JACK BASS:
Roughly what would somebody get paid as a driver?
H. M. MICHAUX:
Oh, he'd get maybe ten gallons of gas plus $10.
JACK BASS:
That's for the whole day. That's certainly less than he could make on his job.
H. M. MICHAUX:
It's more dedication, I think, than anything else. It's a way of life with most of the people who work. I mean they know that they are expected to do this. They know that they have the support of the entire community behind them. It really boils down to just a way of life. Around political time, around campaign time, people become very active. They become very involved, very concerned.