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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 >>

Pessimism about America's future

While Kennedy is pleased with the dismantling of segregation in the United States, he is not optimistic for the future of civil rights in this country.

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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:
Do you think of yourself as basically an optimistic human being? Obviously, this is hard, long-time work. It's easy to get discouraged. We could probably name a lot of white people who had those thoughts at one time or another but they eventually got up and left, they walked off, went away, got tired, discouraged.
STETSON KENNEDY:
It never occurred to me to give up on any of these things. I don't have any intention of ever doing that. But the reality, of course, is that the end of apartheld in America is a very much worthwhile development, comparable to slavery. So, with all the dark corners that still remain, the black ghettos still remain and all the gross mass discrimination that exists in race, apartheld itself, except for the ghetto, is hopefully gone for good. If that were the only accomplishment of the country, it got rid of slavery in one century and segregation in the next century, a long century between.I'm not at all optimistic about current trends. I think there has been a deliberate, just as there was a deliberate nationwide conspiracy in 1876 and the years leading up to 1876, to put the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments and even to some extent the thirteenth amendment on slavery to make them dead letters by means, primarily, of klan terrorism. That was accomplished and the North acquiesced in it and it persisted for a hundred years before blacks started to vote again and get their civil rights which those Civil War amendments promised them at the time. It demonstrates that not only civil rights laws but Constitutional amendments and sections of the Bill of Rights can be dead letters.I think that we at the present time are confronted by a conspiracy to set aside and negate much that the civil rights legislation has accomplished. If this is being done on all levels, the executive, the legislative, and perhaps above all the judiciary. And on our lower level, the school boards and local administrations, so that in my opinion, school boards all over the country have deliberately bused black and white students not to the nearest school but usually to the ends of the earth, so to speak, so that the children would leave in the dark and come home in the dark hysterical. This would make their parents likewise hysterical. Blacks and whites almost equally were opposed to busing for that reason.In reality, there was no necessity for that sort of busing pattern. The intention, in my opinion, was to raise the standard of neighborhood schools and entice people to go back into segregated schooling. If that happens, in my opinion, it will mean possibly another century of second-class educational opportunities for blacks, a postponement of the masses of blacks getting into the mainstream.One of the other areas: we have the token black for awhile in business and public affairs, and the token black has given way to a token black middle-class, and that's a degree of progress. But in my estimation the black masses are as bad off or possibly worse off than they have been in recent memory. So, we got all these bits of unfinished business on the agenda and where they are going to end up I don't know. One doesn't see immediately. There's no Southern Conference for Human Welfare in the field and the Southern Regional Council is still with us but I don't think it's thinking or talking in these terms and I don't know who is, including black leadership, by and large—Jesse Jackson a possible exception, and a few others.In my opinion, the size of those problems and the urgency of them is at least as alarming as what we were facing back in the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's. As for optimism, no, I'm gratified by what's been done and alarmed by what hasn't been done and all the back sliding that has taken place.The environmental thing . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
You get off the race thing and onto the other and you get even more depressed.
STETSON KENNEDY:
Yes, I've been saying. . . . If we get the greenhouse effect, the black and white question will be moot. It may be that only the blacks can survive and stand the heat and we whites will just have to get off the map and let them have it. I keep thinking that sort of approach might stir whites into doing something, not wanting to relinquish it all to the colored people.