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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

George Mitchell's gradualist philosophy

In this excerpt, Kennedy recalls George Mitchell's belief that economic emancipation would bring racial equality. Kennedy believes that his own radical activism enabled centrists like Mitchell to advance their agendas more successfully.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. 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:
Looking at that time, aside from yourself and Lillian Smith, what other white people can you think of who had that clear a vision of what the country needed to do?
STETSON KENNEDY:
Well, you were showing me a list of southern editors and publishers conference.
JOHN EGERTON:
Anybody on that list?
STETSON KENNEDY:
I'm not that personally well acquainted with them and their positions at the time.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, George Mitchell is on there, for example. Do you think George Mitchell had that kind of vision?
STETSON KENNEDY:
George Mitchell, I worked with him and supped with him. That is, we shared an apartment during the years I worked with him. So I cross-examined him at frequent intervals on such matters. He had a habit of, may be virginian, to answer all questions with an anecdote, not a parable but an anecdote. In the matter of segregation, he took the position that the best strategy was to somehow, and his concept was the CIO and unionization, black and white in the same union, which was revolutionary in the context of that time—that this could bring about the economic emancipation of blacks, and given economic emancipation, southern whites would be far more willing to open doors to an economically emancipated black than to. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
In other words, it was a more gradual strategy.
STETSON KENNEDY:
Well, on that subject his answer was that it was very good for society that there were people like me, far out in left in field, breaking ice and raising hell, so that he and others in the center could move things along. That we were ground breaking. They were in a position of saying, well, we better do something.