Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with L. M. Wright Jr., April 1, 1974. Interview A-0333-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impetus for the Chamber's support of desegregation

Wright continues to discuss the changing role of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to local politics. In stressing the centrality of downtown business interests to the political positioning of the Chamber, Wright argues that the impetus to support desegregation in Charlotte was largely fueled by an awareness of the negative economic implications of continued segregation. His comments, in this regard, reveal intersections between race, economics, and politics.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with L. M. Wright Jr., April 1, 1974. Interview A-0333-1. 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

Well, talking about the Chamber in the early sixties, there has been a shift in their power or whatever and a shift in their interest, and has the shopping center interests sort of…
The Chamber never overcame the dispersal of the central city. That would be my basic analysis of it. The Chamber's strength came from essentially the downtown businessmen and in the late fifties and early sixties, they were invovled, as you may have read…well, if you wanted a bond issue something you went down to the Chamber first and convinced them and they went down to City Hall and convinced those guys. There was a process of working backwards for awhile.
And Observer editorials kept saying, "The Chamber is running the city…"
Yeah, sometimes complaining about it, because we had elected some other folks down there to make a few decisions themselves. And on the race issue, I think the Chamber took a leadership role, certainly in the desegregation of the restaurants and theaters in '63 and '64, that period. They were still deeply involved enough. Although, that came at a time more under personal influence than any other thing. Ed Burnside, who was then with what was Home Finance Company and which was one of the forerunners of the American Commercial Credit Company, was heavily influenced by Carlyle Marney, the minister over at Myers Park Baptist Church, and it was simply a case of a very conscientious businessman being struck with his moral duty and having it pointed out to him at an appropriate time and feeling that that was the right thing to do. He led that Chamber into that thing, and it worked. I guess that shortly after that, you know, the logical extension of things like the desegregation of accommodations and public schools is "o.k., but now let's start worrying about equal employment." Well, then you start hitting knots. You want them to stop passing resolutions at lunch and go out and start doing something about it in their own businesses. It gets stickier there. You are no longer talking about public morality or the general good, you're talking about specific…
That hits the pocketbook…
Yeah, and "what color is your secretary?" and that sort of stuff. It's a different kind of problem. I suppose that you could say that to a slight degree, the quality of the elected officials improved. Certainly it's better now than it was fifteen years ago. The County Commissioners fifteen years ago essentially were still, you know, the farmers come to town worried about the folks who lived out in the piney woods of north Mecklenburg County. Good folks, but you know, never knew what a city was. That kind of thing. Enough of the population of Charlotte has changed, too.