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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

World War II's impact on southern race relations

World War II permanently altered race relations. Against the backdrop of heightened racial tensions during the war, Dabney called for racial gradualism. However, this gradualist approach branded him a racist by blacks and other southern liberals.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, June 10-13, 1975. Interview A-0311-1. 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

DANIEL JORDAN:
We want to talk at length about the Southern Regional Council and perhaps we should establish a little background before we get into the formal origins. It seems to me that the background might include the impact of World War II on race relations. Many people believe that this is a real turning point for a lot of reasons. Apparently you perceived that things were changing as a result of the war and wrote an article entitled, "Nearer and Nearer the Precipice" in the Atlantic Monthly in which you offered an assessment of race relations and also some advice as to what might be done. Would you summarize your feelings in that article and some of the context of World War II in race relations?
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
And the reaction to that article.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. At that time, race relations were becoming increasingly tense. It looked as if we were going to have riots in various places. I thought that we in Virginia were in danger of these riots. Some of the more radical Negro leaders were pushing for integration now and threatening to march on Washington. Rumors were going around that people were to be assassinated with ice picks; everybody was getting so tense that it seemed to me that a halt had to be called, at least temporarily. My article was very badly received by the blacks. In fact, one of them compared me to Hitler and called me a racist. I turned out to be correct as to my prophecy that the riots were on the way because the Detroit and Harlem riots occurred that summer. The article appeared the preceding January. I didn't know whether the piece would do any good; I was just alarmed over the situation and hoped that maybe people would wake up to the danger.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
In that article, did you suggest a withdrawal of progress that had been made, or just a stop in any further progress or just a caution in proceeding into some radical changes that had been suggested?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I certainly didn't suggest that things go backward. think . . . I haven't read the article in a long time, but I think I said that things should remain at the status quo until we could win the war, and that all this agitation and stirring up of people's emotions was damaging to the war effort
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
This has been called the really low point of esteem that people held you in as a liberal of the South at that time. Do you think that's correct, do you think that you got the most criticism of your position at this time?
DANIEL JORDAN:
Among so-called liberals, let's say.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Of the liberals.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, there might have been other low points, I don't know. I think that it was probably just as low during massive resistance. We can talk about that later.