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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sidney S. McMath, September 8, 1990. Interview A-0352. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Missed opportunity to effect racial change in the post-war years

McMath explains the importance of political leadership and the failings of southern politicians to effect real change during the post-war years. According to McMath, southerners had yet to accept integration as an inevitable process during these years; nevertheless, he argues that they were also law-abiding people who were accepting of initial efforts to address segregation in education. Because of their law-abiding nature, McMath states that with more effective leadership, real revolutionary change in race politics may have occured much sooner than they did. In this regard, he describes the post-war years as a missed opportunity for political leadership in the South.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sidney S. McMath, September 8, 1990. Interview A-0352. 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

JOHN EGERTON:
Let me ask you about some people--again, coming back to the whole issue of race as a factor in all this--I have a hard time understanding why the Ben Laneys of Arkansas didn't jump all over you with both feet after your victory in '48 and '50, and Truman's support and your support of his civil rights program.
SID MCMATH:
Well, they tied me in with Truman and said I was a ultra-liberal and I supported all the Truman civil rights measures and so forth, but I can't recall them ever calling me an integrationist.
JOHN EGERTON:
Would it possibly be because at that time the notion that any real, substantive change along racial lines was going to come to the South still just hadn't sunk into most people's . . .
SID MCMATH:
I don't think it had sunk in. They never realized that, and it didn't sink in, really, until the Central High School incident.
JOHN EGERTON:
Even Brown didn't make it sink in?
SID MCMATH:
No, it didn't. You know, Virgil Blossom had this plan which he had taken to all the civic clubs and the labor organizations and various groups in Little Rock, and had their approval. It was an integration, but people were willing to accept, you know, people are law abiding. They were willing to accept it as the law of the land. They didn't like it. 'Course, they would welcome an alternative, and Faubus gave it to them. The Virgil Blossom plan, if Faubus had stayed out of it, would have gone in and worked. We never would have had all that . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, I guess in a way, to prove that what you're saying is correct, whoever had the idea to integrate the University of Arkansas by letting somebody into the medical school and the law school . . .
SID MCMATH:
I think that happened under Laney.
JOHN EGERTON:
It was during his administration.
SID MCMATH:
Right.
JOHN EGERTON:
And that seems to be is proof positive that people are essentially law abiding, and if somebody has an idea and a way and they say, now, we're going to do this . . .
SID MCMATH:
Sure, right.
JOHN EGERTON:
And people will do it.
SID MCMATH:
And of course, the youngster that went to the law school, and I'm sure you know who he was.
JOHN EGERTON:
Jack Shropshire.
SID MCMATH:
Yeah, he went to the Law School. When he first went there, they put up a barrier around his seat so he'd be segregated, you know, in Judge Bob Lefler's class. He finally took it down.
JOHN EGERTON:
And those people went through school. They got their degrees. They went out, and there was no hue and cry, and that was ten years before James Meridith going to the University of Mississippi, the state next door here, and two or three people were killed. They had to call out the marshals to get him in there.
SID MCMATH:
That's exactly right.
JOHN EGERTON:
So people are law abiding, and they will do if they have leadership.
SID MCMATH:
If they'd had proper leadership at the time the Central High School thing never would have happened.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, the period, '45 to '48, kind of looks to me, looking back on it, as a sort of window of opportunity, '45 to '50, when, the right kind of leadership, the South could have done some amazing things.
SID MCMATH:
Sure could. Well, the Dixiecrat thing set everybody back.
JOHN EGERTON:
The politicians, by and large, failed us.
SID MCMATH:
The politicians, exactly right. You know, the politicians, they holler nigger, you know, and get the redneck's vote, and they get the money from special interest. They get elected by the rednecks because they holler nigger, but then they serve the interests of the corporations.