Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Kennedy favored many-fronted attack on segregation

Kennedy responds to the different aims of different rights advocacy organizations and activists by noting that racism in the South permeated every aspect of political, economic, and social life. He supported attacking segregation from every angle and did his best to do so.

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

In Southern Exposure you deal with the segregation debate with pro- anti segregation inside SRC in the 40's, in '44 and '45 actually, I guess. And you said that condemnation of segregation, I'm paraphrasing here, would be self-defeating. In other words, if SRC had taken the position that some of the people inside the organization wanted to take at that point, and say, "We're just coming flat out against Jim Crow and all its manifestations, we're going to be an organization that does that." I understood you to be saying at this point that's what the Southern Conference is pretty much doing and these guys, SRC, are trying to go at it a different way, trying to deal with the economic and political inequalities leading around, the George Mitchell approach. You seem to be saying that if they went that way and SCHW was doing what it was doing that both organizations would end up at the same point down the road. You didn't take a position with either one of those organizations, did you?
I said that there was certainly a need in the South at that time for both of them to be doing what they were doing and that they complimented one another. I made this distinction that you've just made that one was absolutist with reference to segregation and the other was simply noncommittal while working against discrimination. I think the answer to your question lies in the reality of southern society at that time where the establishment, financial and political, and all the white institutions were pretty much locked into segregation. It was not a question debated in governmental circles, financial circles or institutional circles. It was not on the agenda and many felt that it never should be, that it was fixed. In that context, societal context, you had these two organizations of southerners. Both organizations having black and white, and both being professional middle class, some labor representations but the leadership and so on, professional educators, journalists, publishers, some religious contingent, not really the power structure, the money structure but the educational circles. For some reason the conscience found expression in those quarters. In that stratum of society there were those, who for whatever reason or moral, or whatever conscience, felt that discrimination was wrong and they were entirely willing to eliminate discrimination, let's say in teachers salaries or anything else of that nature. But at the same time these same people had misgivings or doubts about whether desegregation was the right thing to do. My feeling, a purely pragmatic one, was by all means organize, mobilize, and utilize everyone who opposed to discrimination and let them do their thing. And at the same time those that were willing to go farther organize them and mobilize them.
As far as you yourself were concerned and to a very considerable extent Lillian Smith too, you didn't get in to either camp.
I had a foot in both camps.