Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James P. Coleman, September 5, 1990. Interview A-0338. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racially moderate view of the inevitable demise of Jim Crow segregation

In this excerpt, Coleman expresses his position as a racial moderate on issues of civil rights. According to Coleman, the fall of Jim Crow was inevitable, regardless of overt political action, and thus, as governor of Mississippi in the late 1950s, he worked to avoid inflaming the issue further, preferring to let it unfold on its own accord. To make his point, he draws comparisons to the Civil War, arguing that slavery (which he casts in paternalistic tones) was destined to crumble on its own and that "radical tactics" to bring about its demise were unnecessary.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James P. Coleman, September 5, 1990. Interview A-0338. 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

As you look back on it, Judge, has it turned out the way it should have, in your view, all the social change that's finally taken place in the South and across the country?
Well, let me say, I think, number one, it's turned out as I knew all the time, it was destined to do. We'd already had one good lesson in all that, the Civil War and Reconstruction and so forth. I don't agree with everything that's happened because I don't think it was even for the good of the black people. Of course, I didn't have to deal with that issue. It's a funny thing, you know, they were not voting much when I was elected governor. They did over close to Vicksburg and Greenville and a few places like that. So that part of it, I did not have as an acute political knife in my chest, so to speak. Although, I hope, if anybody ever gets around to writing the history of that four years, I'll get credit for never, never, never igniting the flame on the subject. We had tried that once. My great grandfather right down here before the Civil War and on the very farm, part of it, that I was raised on, and that I own today, had 1800 acres of land, a sixteen room house, and 100 slaves and everything. And they just absolutely burnt it to the ground with all those radical positions, those radical tactics, and so forth. Of course, slavery was doomed anyway. If the hotheads on the other side could have only been made to see that, there's no way. That was the first social security. You had to support him until he got big enough to work and take care on him in his old age. And he was an indifferent worker at the best because forced labor's not going to do any more that it absolutely has to [laughter]. And the South had already gotten in debt to New York alone for a quarter of a billion dollars in 1860 money, trying to maintain that system. Of course, two of my great grandfathers, also living here in the county at the time, they didn't have a slave to their name, not a one. My great grandfather Bruce had six or eight, but . . . . Well, you know the story. Nine tenths of the Southerners, or some such figure, didn't own any at all. [Interruption] If you have anything else you'd like to talk about, you know, that's one of my weaknesses, I like to talk.
Well, that's great. I need to drive to Greenville tonight, and I'm going to have to go on.
I'd afraid I've talked and kept you from asking questions.
Oh no, you've helped me a lot though. This has been really helpful. I guess the main thing I'm wondering is in that 1945 to '48 period, if the political and religious and educational and economic leadership of the South had been a little bit more progressive and had been willing to say, "Now's our time. There's change all over the world. We've just come out of a liberal war to defeat a racist in Europe. Why don't we deal with this now on our terms, instead of waiting to have it thrust upon us?" That it might have happened, but the longer I look at this, the more I kind of come to the conclusion that it was too much to expect. That it never would have happened.
I think it was just one of those things that was destined to take place.