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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

After WWII, black people discuss routes to equality

Lewis describes the post-World War II period as a time when black Americans were considering strategies for accomplishing their civil rights goals. He makes the case that black participation in civic clubs and other organizations represented a kind of proto-political engagement.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. 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

HYLAN LEWIS:
This was 1944. If you would have asked some of the people who came out of the Gary Conferences [in 1990 or 1991], I've forgotten the dates, "what does the Negro want?" The answer would be, "what you got?" That's the difference. They [the people in Logan's book] never asked, "what you got?" But you now have people who would. That is a measure of elite. The period that we are talking there was a great discussion of strategy. Should you tackle it head-on or should you tackle it piece by piece? Do you want to get equal salaries or do you want to blow the whole thing up?
JOHN EGERTON:
This was a wonderful philosophical debate. Strategic, philosophical, political, ideological, religious, anyway you want to characterize it this was a momentous debate.
HYLAN LEWIS:
Absolutely.
JOHN EGERTON:
To carry my thought a little farther, the blacks understood this. I don't think there is any question. Conservative, middle of the road, left-winged blacks all understood this. They may have had different ideas about how to approach it but . . .
HYLAN LEWIS:
They understood in the sense of how do you fight? As the French say, "what are the possibilities?" It's not probability, it's possibilities. In that sense, again, this is a very interesting kind of paradox. Most every kind of involvement, contest, challenges involving the blacks had a political component, to it which is paradoxical. Many people said that blacks are not political. It's the politicality of these things, and there is a kind of folk politicality which is a part of the black community coming out of the lodges and churches and so forth. The great masters of Robert's Rules of Order to me, were they guys who came out of these clubs. The substitutes for true political behavior so that in some sense you had this latent politicality.