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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 leaders take different approaches to southern society

Fleming compares the most influential black and white leaders involved in the Southern Regional Council during his time there. They ranged from using a gentlemanly, accommodationist approach to harsh attacks on society to humor and honesty.

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

JOHN EGERTON:
Alexander, we talked about. Ira Reid?
HAROLD FLEMING:
He was a very impressive fellow. very bright and very articulate. He had a certain number of adjulators on campus and so on. He was a guy who handled himself well and probably a bit vain. He was a man not to be triffled with but very entertaining and very, very smart. He had a considerable reputation. He was the associate director of the Southern Regional Council for a time but not as a full-time in-house employee. His work was at Atlanta University but he was held that as a kind of part-time, honorific thing. I think he was a very positive influence on the scene there. He didn't last a very long time.
JOHN EGERTON:
No, he left. What about Charles Johnson?
HAROLD FLEMING:
I think he was a very wise man and an admirable person. I think the only thing that anybody might say to fault him is that his reputation as a scholar and writer was. . . . He was heavily indebted to graduate students whose work he incorporated. But hells bells, I think that's fairly standard stuff on campuses and the idea is that when you get to be senior you can do that yourself. It's like interns and doctors. I was very impressed with him.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was he one of the visionaries?
HAROLD FLEMING:
I think he was. By today's standards he probably would be considered an accomdationist, but that would be true of so many people. I don't think he was. He was a man of natural dignity and considerable intellect. Unlike most black college presidents he didn't throw his weight around.
JOHN EGERTON:
Sort of a diplomat, quiet, behind the scenes.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Quiet. Well, what I mean by that is that he was not dictatorial or authoritarian, which most of them were. That was a very authoritarian occupation.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about Gordon Hancock? Was he a difficult man?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Well, he was a virginia gentleman in technicolor, I mean, he just happened to be black. I don't mean he didn't take his blackness seriously, he obviously did, but in manner, attitude, and so on. He had this wonderful and gray Vandyke beard. He was a very dapper man. By the time I got to know him he was showing some age. He was very protective of his reputation and role in all these matters; the creation of the Council. Capable of confrontation. For all the fact of his dignity and bearing and reputation-I don't know whether he was better when he was younger-I didn't think of him as a heavyweight.
JOHN EGERTON:
Not in Johnson's class?
HAROLD FLEMING:
No. I don't think so.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about P.B. Young who was one of Hancock's associates?
HAROLD FLEMING:
This is P.B. the elder. I knew his son somewhat better. P.B. was one of those . . . I don't know whether he was self-made or not but he was like a self-made man, a bit tyranical. One of the things I remember was that we had a program going to try encourage reform in the southern newspapers. When covering the news of the black community and the use of courtesy titles and all those things we put out a little publication called, Race in the News. Mrs. Tilly and her church women took it around to their local editors and said this is what we want you to do. It really was quite effective. It got a lot of coverage and Pop wrote it up in the Times. In the southern papers it helped to sensitize them. One of the things we recommended was that they hire black reporters not just to cover black news. I got a letter from P.B. Young resigning from the Board on the grounds that we were trying to put the black press out of business. That tells you a little something about how protective and really hopelessly old-fashioned some of that crew were. I didn't know him as well personally as I knew some of the other people. I don't mean for that to be the sum total of the man. He played a constructive role, positive role in black leadership in the South.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about Benjamin Mays?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Great guy.
JOHN EGERTON:
One of the best?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Yes, absolutely terrific. He was courageous, he had humor, he was a wonderful speaker, majestic presence, coal black with the gray hair. He had absolute integrity and honesty and I liked him a lot. I think he deserved every bit of praise he ever got. He ran a really first-rate college.
JOHN EGERTON:
Lillian Smith?
HAROLD FLEMING:
I didn't get to know Lillian Smith until later after she had relented about her view of the SRC. I found her quite delightful when I listened-you sort of sat at her feet in those days. By the time I got to know her she had such a reputation and was such a somebody that it wasn't quite a natural relationship. I liked her and admired her greatly, her courage. But, I did feel that she was, particularly in the earlier years, with her indictment of the SRC-a lot of merit in that position-but she did tend toward the ‘holier than thou’ more than was to my taste. But, I think as she got older and mellowed some of that faded away.
JOHN EGERTON:
Kind of self-righteous earlier?
HAROLD FLEMING:
She had reason to be proud of her role. She really was, compared to most people, in a protected position. She couldn't be hurt economically and as a woman she was shielded somewhat from the kinds of consequences of her behavior that befell others. Her national reputation was a kind of protection. I just felt she was really a little harsh in her judgements of lesser mortals that perhaps weren't in quite as much protective positions as she was. They couldn't quite afford to spit in the eye of white southerners.