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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern Regional Council faces unsubstantiated accusations of Communism

The Charleston newspaper knowingly spread lies that the Southern Regional Council was a Communist organization. Fleming and other leaders responded with heated letters calling them to deny the propaganda.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. 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

He wrote pieces favorable to Harry Byrd, and he found himself, I think, on ocassion, being critical of SRC.
He was critical in the sense that he thought it was unwise to take the course. I told you that story about my role. The sister paper there was the News Leader. The News Leader came out. . . . There was a time there when the News Leader and the Charleston News and Courier, which was a terrible paper, with Tom Waring, both of those papers came out with editorials. They were picking up on something that a paid informer for the House of Un-American Activities Committee testified about. His name was Manning Johnson. He was a black guy and I never laid eyes on him and I don't know anything about him except that at one time he had been a communist in the South. He was one of these recanters who made his living testifying for a fee before the House Un-American Activities Committee and then building on that and making money. He testified that the Southern Regional Council was created by the Communist Party. The whole thing was just lies. I don't remember any substantiation for it, but he said there were several Communist plants in there who brought it into being and played critical roles in establishing it and so on. On the strength of that kind of stuff, Tom Waring and Kilpatrick and there's another guy who wrote a column on the Richmond paper. He was a German with another name. Bart, I think, comes to mind or Balentine? Anyway, he was a big force on that paper. Anyway, they wrote editorials denouncing SRC as a-they never quite came out and said communist, but what they said was, a haven of communist fronters or apologists for the Communist Party born in sin and so on. When that happened I challenged both of those things. Tom Waring in his editorials harped on the fact that we (SRC) had received all this money from the Fund for the Republic which he said was clearly communist in sympathy and direction. I wrote him a strong letter. He also said that it had its origins in the communist influence. I mustered all our evidence. We had a packet of things. I said, "look at our Board, you say our Board is made up of communist sympathizers. We have Catholic bishops on our Board. We have these people and those people, and these are communists, communitsts sympathizers?" And also I said, "as for the Fund for the Republic, you are saying that because we receive some grants from the Fund for the Republic that makes us communist? How is it that you as an editor took a grant from their special journalism program in which they made grants and fellowships to a variety of editors in the South and elsewhere, among them the Honorable Tom Waring?" He ran the letter but he cut all of that stuff out of it, particularily the stuff refering to him. And he did, he did take a grant from the Fund for the Republic. I sent all this stuff to Hodding Carter and he was furious. Hodding was on the Board. There's a guy who didn't pull any punches. Hodding wrote a letter to Tom Waring that would have blistered the hide off a goddamn rhinoceros. It was wonderful, it was marvelous and I will never forget it. On the Richmond thing-I say I did these things but probably our president at the time signed the letter-we wrote a letter to Dabney saying in effect, "we have avoided trying to drag you into controversy because of your intimate association with the founding of SRC, but this is too much. Your fellow newspaper in Richmond says editorially that the SRC was founded by communists. Nobody was more intimately involved in that process than you. Nobody knows better than you do that that's a downright lie and we feel that you have to come forward. You can't just wash your hands of this and let that stand on the record by a paper that is part of the organization you serve." Oh, how he suffered, he wrote back and said, "I really haven't felt it to be my role to serve as critic of the editorial policies of my sister newspaper. This puts me in a terrible situation." We wrote him back and said, "we certainly sympathize and understand your plight. The last thing we are trying to do is to cause you difficulty or pain; however, the issue here is one in which we think surpasses these kinds of questions and reaches the point of what people of good conscience can permit to happen without challenge. This is the kind of thing that did Germany in and we really expect more of somebody of your character and stature. If you choose not to do it and with great sadness we are going to feel it necessary in defense to make public in whatever way we can the fact that you were involved and your role in the creation of the Southern Regional Council."
When was this, Harold?
It was in the late 50s. It was after I became the executive director which was in '57. It was somewhere between '57, '58.
What did he finally do?
He wrote an editorial, more in sorrow than in anger, disputing the sister editorial. He did what he should have done. It was written in very statesmanlike terms but really setting the record straight. I'm sure it was hard for him and it probably incurred the wrath of his masters up there. He really owed it to SRC not to let them get away with that bullshit. I must have that stuff somewhere. Certainly it is in the files of the Council.