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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Moderation slowly gives way to riots in integrating Alabama

Alabamans took a somewhat accomodationist approach toward the <cite>Brown</cite> ruling, LeMaistre remembers here. But they also moved to integrate very slowly, and before very long that somewhat moderate approach to school integration gave way to riots.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. 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

Well, anyhow . . . What is your impression of the first reaction to the Brown decision in Alabama?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
In '54. It was in the spring, as I recall. The first reaction was, "Well, this is another obstacle that we are going to have to overcome." The general talk was, "Well, that's in Topeka and really doesn't affect us yet, but we've got to be prepared." And you had a lot of talk about how we are going to get around it. I remember one of the senators became quite angry with me when he asked me what are we going to do about the Brown decision, and I told him that I thought it was pretty damn near time we started enforcing it. That wasn't what he wanted to hear; he thought that we ought to have some way of accommodating ourselves to the decision without coming up with mixed schools. And there just wasn't any way, the way that decision was written.
ALLEN J. GOING:
A lot of Southerners thought there were some ways.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Oh yes. You remember we even got around to that massive resistance stuff in Virginia where they would simply have no schools if they had to have blacks and whites together.
ALLEN J. GOING:
I think Alabama was fortunate, if I can use that term, in having Folsom in at that time.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
So we did not have any . . . I don't think we even had a bill introduced—may have, but it didn't pass, to abolish public schools. That was one of the solutions that was suggested that nothing in the constitution said that the State had to educate anybody. And so they were talking about abolishing public schools, and one or two states attempted to do that. The Little Rock confrontation between Faubus and Eisenhower probably had a profound impact in Alabama, and the blowing up of a school in Clinton, Tennessee, one or two places like that where the Klan got into it made some decent people realize that we don't belong on the side of those people. And they tried to figure out ways to accommodate themselves to the procedure without destroying the system.
ALLEN J. GOING:
And also the implementing decision in the Brown case, I think, came a year later, and that seemed to moderate because that's when . . .
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
That's when they came out with "all deliberate speed," phrase and I think that the Supreme Court used an unfortunate expression then. A lot of people thought all deliberate speed meant be deliberate but make it look speedy. And really some people were sort of lulled into a feeling of well, it's not as bad as we think it is; we don't have to comply immediately.
ALLEN J. GOING:
It's certainly an ambiguous phrase.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
As a result we are still fighting it; we still have cases pending right here in Tuscaloosa on the method of integrating the schools.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Alabama was brought rather suddenly into the spotlight December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery, and then it was just a few months later when Autherine Lucy registered here. That really brought it out.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
It also brought out rioting and renewed activity by the Ku Klux Klan and brought that genteel group known as the White Citizens Council out of the woodwork. And so it was a pretty tough time round about then. As a matter of fact a lot of the energy of some of our "loudspeakers" (so to speak) was turned to the subject of integration rather than politics. I think that accounts for the fact that the congressmen and the senators didn't get a whole lot of flack at that time, but what they thought was the backwash from the integration arguments . . . I know the situation in the early sixties reflected very much the public reaction to school integration and didn't really translate itself into a division politically. It was all members of the Democratic Party, those who were segregationists and those who were not stayed in the Party. Now we are getting into a situation where those who are outspoken segregationists have moved into another party.