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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 >>

Composition of the Southern Regional Council

Dabney evaluates the tensions and leadership of anti-lynching activist Jessie Ames and sociologist Howard Odum. He recalls his involvement with the Southern Regional Council (SRC). Because he opposed integration and the SRC failed to attract business professionals, Dabney left the group.

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:
There was a continuation committee that sort of led from Atlanta to the Southern Regional Council formation and you were the temporary chairman of that. Or you oversaw it. Do you recall your role in that committee?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
And at what point was this committee formed?
DANIEL JORDAN:
I believe that it was formed after Atlanta.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
After Atlanta. That was when I was asked to be chairman. I know that I was asked sometime after the Atlanta meeting, and not very long after it. It was here in Richmond.
DANIEL JORDAN:
There was a meeting in Richmond.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, and that was when I was asked to be chairman.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you recall any other Virginians participating in the origins of the Southern Regional Council, say in the Atlanta meeting or the Richmond meeting or in the formation of the Southern Regional Council?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Wilson Brown, a banker here in Richmond, the vice-president of the State-Planters Bank was a participant. He was almost the only businessman that anybody could persuade from any state to come to one of those meetings.
DANIEL JORDAN:
That was a weakness, I guess, of the organization.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes. Edmund M. Preston, who was a lawyer in the biggest law firm here, was an active participant.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Was there a controversy that you are aware of between Mrs. Ames and Howard Odum on the eve of the formation of the Southern Regional Council? The controversy involved Mrs. Ames's fear that the new organization would consume her group and that Odum would naturally work for a more regional kind of an approach.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I can believe that there was, although I don't know about this. I know that some of the blacks that we met with at one time or another in the Atlanta meeting, said very bluntly to Dr. Ashby Jones, who was at one time chairman of the Interracial Commission, that the Interracial Commission was accomplishing nothing and that it was time for a new organization to take over. He was quite shocked. I remember that he was speechless. He had never realized the lack of confidence that the blacks then had in the Commission after it had been operating for some time and had made some useful contributions, but had gotten to the end of its rope.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Now, Howard Odum became the first head of the Southern Regional Council and I know that you had worked with him in some instances and perhaps had read some of his basic works. Could you offer an assessment of Odum, who is regarded by many as sort of a key figure in the '30s and '40s in the South?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I think that he was. He was a pioneer. He saw a lot of the failings that we had overlooked. He had a national reputation. He was hopeful of getting big foundation money for this Regional Council and making it much more effective than it was. He failed to get it, partly because — I understand but I don't know this—but partly because Frank Graham was so enthusiastic about the Southern conference for Human Welfare that the foundations were confused as to whom to give money to.through Anyhow, we didn't get it. We had just a small amount to operate our Atlanta office.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Initially, you were a charter member of the Southern Regional Council and on the board of directors, I believe, for some time. Did you disassociate yourself from the Council at any point? I know that eventually, it moved into a more activist role and formally endorsed the concept of integration as a desirable goal.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Well, at that time, I was not in favor of integration. That was about ten years before the Supreme Court decision. I gradually became disenchanted, not because of that, but because of frustration with the organization. They couldn't get anything done, couldn't get business and professional people to join; the Council was moving with such glacial speed that it was really frustrating. I didn't go to a couple of the annual meetings and at one of those, they came out flatly for integration, at which time I was not in favor of it and so I resigned.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
That was about 1951.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
It may have been that late, I forget just when; it may have been the late '40s.