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Title: Oral History Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0364. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Gordon, William, interviewee
Interview conducted by Egerton, John
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 140 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
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The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-08-31, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of sound recording: Oral History Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0364. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0364)
Author: John Egerton
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0364. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0364)
Author: William Gordon
Description: 153 Mb
Description: 45 p.
Note: Interview conducted on January 19, 1991, by John Egerton; recorded in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991.
Interview A-0364. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Gordon, William, interviewee


Interview Participants

    WILLIAM GORDON, interviewee
    JOHN EGERTON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JOHN EGERTON:
I would like to begin by getting you to give me some personal background about where you were born and raised and where you went to school.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Well, that's interesting because I have just been turning out some stuff—I'm working on a project myself—I start with Martin Luther King, but I go back to the days when I was a boy working as a carhop for an American naturalized Greek in Memphis. My wife and I both grew up in Memphis.
JOHN EGERTON:
Were you born there?
WILLIAM GORDON:
No, I wasn't born there. I was born in Mississippi.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where in Mississippi?
WILLIAM GORDON:
At a place called Bentonia, Mississippi, about twenty miles from Jackson. In fact, my wife and I were just there this past summer. I went back to this small town and the curious thing about it is that we pulled into the little square of the town where as a boy—six or seven years old—I remember that my father and I used to come into town and in that square we used to sell watermelons and everything. The old stores, some of them are still there. The old railroad track is still there and the railway station is still there, a little weather-beaten place. But anyway, I asked some chap who was standing there by his car about some people that my parents knew whom I was trying to find. He said, "you know, people your age either have all died or they have moved away." Then he pointed across the track and said, "go

Page 2
over to that undertaker parlor and you will meet a young woman who can tell you who is still here and who isn't." There was one man there that I grew up with as a boy but he was away at the time.
JOHN EGERTON:
You found very little . . .
WILLIAM GORDON:
Very, very little. . . . Some of them knew my parents especially this man we tried to find. Just about everybody had moved away.
JOHN EGERTON:
Is it Bentonia?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes, that's correct. Very small town.
JOHN EGERTON:
What county is it in?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I think it is in Hinds County.
The other thing that struck me was the attitude of the people. Of course, this takes in most of the South, I guess, how those things have changed over the few years in contrast to when I was there. When we moved away from there I was about eight or nine years old. We moved to a place called Ruleville, Mississippi. Of course, we were farmers. My parents were sharecroppers. In those days I still remember a man riding around on a horse with a gun on his hip. He was the overseer and you never argued with him about anything. He just said this and you did it. We would be in the fields chopping, my mother and others. My mother married again—I was her child and I had three stepsisters and one stepbrother. All of them are gone now except one. We would be working along in the fields and this man would ride up on his horse. This was not only true in our case but true for just about everybody there.

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I remember one day we had just started to school—I was about eight—and it was held in a rural church for blacks, and the whites went into town where they had their school. We came across a house and there was a big sheet lying over a man's body and his feet were protruding, we could see that. That frightened the heck out of us and we ran all the way to school which was about another mile. When we got there the teacher told us that this was a man who was killed because he had some words with the overseer. Nobody ever investigated the killing.
JOHN EGERTON:
That must have frightened you to death.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes. That's the kind of atmosphere we grew up in. About a year later we moved away.
JOHN EGERTON:
What year were you born?
WILLIAM GORDON:
1919.
JOHN EGERTON:
You were born in 1919?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes, 1919.
JOHN EGERTON:
The year 1919 came to be called the red summer because of all the blood that was shed by blacks in riots and whatnot right after the world war I.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes. All those cases were down in Texas.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes. A huge big riot in Texas and in Chicago and Detroit and in Knoxville, Tennessee.
WILLIAM GORDON:
I didn't remember that. Isn't that interesting!
JOHN EGERTON:
Also, across the river there in Arkansas up around Elaine, Arkansas, there was a big riot. It was over essentially what you're saying that somebody dared to . . .

Page 4
WILLIAM GORDON:
You didn't talk back, you never talked back to. . . . No blacks could ever talk back to whites. When a white person said something that was it and you'd just say, "well, sir, what do you want me to do?", or something like that and go ahead then you'd mind your own business. We left Ruleville. I remember one night we heard a knock at the door and it was one of our neighbors' who came from a nearby farm. He told my mother that he had heard from Oliver. See, our father left quickly after that because he had had a word with the overseer and it was best for him to get away quickly.
JOHN EGERTON:
Out of Bentonia or out of Ruleville?
WILLIAM GORDON:
This was Ruleville. We had moved to Ruleville. We hadn't heard from him in two or three weeks. He just disappeared and that was pretty typical of the black sharecroppers in those days, you just went away and then send for your family later. He said, "I'll come for you and take you to Ruleville so you can get away." About three nights later, about midnight, he came with a wagon and we loaded a few things on it. Then we drove to Ruleville and escaped that way by train. We went into Helena, Arkansas, and from there over to a place called Forrest City and then from there to a place called Marked tree. In Marked Tree—I was getting older—we met a different kind of overseer. This man was a white man, Mr. Shaw, who ran a small farm near Marked Tree. He worked in the fields with everybody else.
JOHN EGERTON:
This would have been about when?
WILLIAM GORDON:
This would have been in the early 1930s.

Page 5
JOHN EGERTON:
You would have been about eleven years old?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Exactly. We worked on the farm there. There was a church school not far from where we lived. Whenever the crops wer laid by and there was a break in the spring or summer, we could always go to school. He was very liberal in that respect. He had three kids himself, a daughter and two sons. They went into Marked Tree to school. He used to say, "Learning is good for you, so go to school. I send my kids to school, so you go." We went to school and we had no problem there. We stayed with that man about four or five years. Then, a few of the young fellows—older than I was at the time, seventeen, eighteen or twenty—would disappear, go some place and come back and say, "oh, we found work here, work there, where you can make money." Then we heard about Memphis. I did very well at the school I was attending. The teacher, Miss Olla Walker, whose name I will never forget, came by to see my parents. She said, "Why don't you see if you can arrange for Willie to go to school somewheres I have taught him just about all I can teach him and I think he has good possibilities. If you can find a school for him someplace in a big town where he can live with somebody until school is over, do that." My mother and father agreed to that. About a year later when I was fourteen I left Marked Tree one Saturday with a couple of other boys and we caught a cotton truck heading to Memphis.

Page 6
JOHN EGERTON:
Let me ask you a couple of things. When you lived in Arkansas did you or your family have any connection with or knowledge of The Southern Tenant Farmers Union?
WILLIAM GORDON:
We had heard about it but . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
It didn't affect you, it didn't reach to where you were?
WILLIAM GORDON:
It didn't reach to where we were. It was vague to see something like that. We lived on a farm and to show you what happened in Marked Tree, there was a white family that moved across the road from us, two white families. We always got along fine with them. For some reason there was a comradeship.
JOHN EGERTON:
Different atmosphere than you found in Mississippi?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Oh, in Mississippi it was completely different. It was different entirely. They would come to our house and if we had something that they needed and didn't have, my mother would let them have it. We would go to their house and it was the same way. The only skirmish we had with a white family at that time was one night. . . . They used to come to our church, because they had no church there. It was the same place where we went to school. At this church they would come in and sit on the front row and listen to the minister. There were two or three of them. Then the next Sunday some more would come. We got quite a few and they kept coming and coming. They liked the singing and they liked the preaching. That always amazed me why they would come to our church. It was a kind of friendliness there that existed.

Page 7
On one occasion the whites were holding a church service in an empty house and we went to that. We went there and stood up through the service. After it was finished we left—one of our white neighbors took us there—and on the way back in the dark a group of youngsters threw rocks at us. We didn't run and the next day we told this white man who was with us, Mr. Armstrong, and he said he would find out who did that. Several days later he came up and told my father that we wouldn't have any more problems with this anymore. Apparently it was somebody in the neighborhood and he just explained everything to them.
When I left and came to Memphis it was the first time I had ever seen neon signs. It was so exciting and I looked at those lights going around, it was fascinating. I never saw so many people in one group and in one place. Everybody congregated on Beale Street, all the blacks did.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was a very exciting thing, wasn't it?
WILLIAM GORDON:
It was extremely exciting. We didn't have any place to stay. One of the fellows with us had an aunt there and we went to her house.
JOHN EGERTON:
Just you and two other fellows?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes, that's all.
JOHN EGERTON:
Young boys?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Young boys, fourteen and fifteen years old. That's all we were. The oldest one, the man who had his aunt, was about seventeen. He took us to his aunt's house, but she had no room. So, we spent the first night under a bridge on the highway. The

Page 8
next day we went back to her place and washed up and then we started looking for jobs. To show you how naive I was in those days, I went to the fire department—there was a fire station on the corner of one of the streets—I walked in there and asked them if they had anything to do, I could do anything. The man looked at me and said, "no, you go right there on the corner and there's a Greek who runs a drive-in place there and you might ask him. He might give you something." So, sure enough, I went there and I confronted him and he said, "oh, yes, what can you do?" I told him I was from the country. He said, "can you pick up those dishes off the table that are outside?" He had this large terrace outside. I told him I could, so I started as a busboy. A couple weeks after that he said, "you do so well at that, maybe you can wait tables." I had watched the other fellows do it and I said, "yes." I stayed with that man almost fifteen years.
JOHN EGERTON:
Is that right?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I mean off and on. All the way through high school and partly through college—LeMoyne College in Memphis—I worked for him.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was LeMoyne College in Memphis then or was it up in Jackson?
WILLIAM GORDON:
No, LeMoyne was in Memphis.
JOHN EGERTON:
But, it's in Jackson now?
WILLIAM GORDON:
It's Memphis but it is not LeMoyne-Owen now.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where is LeMoyne-Owen?

Page 9
WILLIAM GORDON:
In Memphis. It was just simply LeMoyne at the time but it changed from that to LeMoyne-Owen because there was an Owen's College there. I got that job with him as a waiter and I stayed there and then I said I wanted to go to school. This kind of interested him because he was an Americanized Greek. He couldn't speak good English. He was bad with English but he was a hard worker. He got to liking me and he said, "yes, you can go to school in the daytime and work here in the evenings." I did that and went to school. I hadn't even finished grammer school. I finished a couple of years of grammar school and then went on to Booker T. Washington High School. I stayed with him until I finished Booker T. Washington and then I went to LeMoyne for a couple of years. Of course, after that I went into the Army.
JOHN EGERTON:
You got to Memphis in about '33 and when the War started you would have been twenty years old. Were you at LeMoyne?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I went to LeMoyne before the war started. Let me back up a little bit. I got a job with Tuskegee and I got this job through some newspaper people, black newspaper people. I don't know whether you have ever come across these names, Lewis ([unknown]) and John Oats, and Dan ([unknown]), but they started this weekly newspaper, The Memphis World, which was published by the Scott people in Atlanta. It is not published now.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, the Scotts had papers around.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes, one in Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta and all over Georgia.

Page 10
JOHN EGERTON:
Were there others besides Memphis and Birmingham that were sort of satellite papers?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes, he had them in—Memphis and Birmingham and Atlanta were the three major ones, but he had them in smaller towns like Augusta and Savannah.
When I was high school I started fiddling around with the newspaper and they asked me to write something about the school, which I did. When I finished high school I went to college. Oats, who was publishing The Memphis World, who was the head of it, went to work at Tuskegee. They had this publication called Service Magazine, which was an official organ of the dietetics department at Tuskegee. They published that because Dr. Fred Patterson—I'm sure you met him when he was alive— conceived the idea that they should properly train cooks and chef cooks at Tuskegee. It went over very well. My job was to take that magazine and go into hotels and restaurants. I was articulate enough at that time to talk to the people about the publication and I did pretty well with that. They kept me on and I went with that for several years.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you work out of Tuskegee or out of Memphis?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Out of Memphis.
JOHN EGERTON:
You really didn't change your residence, you just took on a job.
WILLIAM GORDON:
I took on a job and I was a resident of Memphis. I would drive around throughout the South.
JOHN EGERTON:
An unusual time to be doing that.

Page 11
WILLIAM GORDON:
[laughter] I would go into hotels and restaurants and some of them you couldn't walk in the front door.
JOHN EGERTON:
This was in the 30s?
WILLIAM GORDON:
It was in the late 30s. You couldn't walk in the front door, they would invite you come around and go in through the kitchen. I remember one incident in Birmingham where I walked in the front door. The bellhop, who was white, turned to me and said, "you can't come in here, niggers don't come in the front door of this hotel. You've got to come around the back." I said, "well, I have an appointment with the manager." I had called him up and made an appointment to talk about the magazine and the cooking school at Tuskegee. I think what infuriated him was there was a young woman behind the desk who was very polite and smiling when I came in. She didn't care who I was. Then she called the manager and told him I was there. This young fellow, I guess, didn't like that. He came over to me and I guess he was going to put me out bodily. But, just as he approached me the manager came in and shook my hand. Then that fellow disappeared. It was this kind of thing that you had to be very careful about going in and out of these places. The name of Tuskegee was like magic in the South and it had a good name, because of Dr. [George Washington] Carver and what it stood for, so we could get into these places. I did very well with that and then from there I went into the Army. I spent two and one-half years in the Army and then I came out.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where did you serve?

Page 12
WILLIAM GORDON:
I didn't go overseas at all. I was stationed at Gulfport, Mississippi, and McDill Field, Florida, just outside of Tampa, for a long time.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you ever hear during those years of any incident in the military where a large number of blacks were killed in a fracas at an Army base and it was hushed up?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I didn't hear of any killing but there were fights and skirmishes.
JOHN EGERTON:
This particular one was in south Mississippi around Centerville, Mississippi, Camp Van Dorn.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Vaguely I did hear something about that.
JOHN EGERTON:
I was just curious to know.
WILLIAM GORDON:
But, I did cover where they did have conflicts. At McDill Field every weekend, Saturday in particular, the Army camp had a private organization trucking firm that picked up the soldiers and took them into town. It was a big bus. The blacks were stationed in separate camps in those days. The main gate and the headquarters base was about a mile up the way. They had to come through that gate to go and pick up people to take them into town. Well, on one occasion which I saw and I was involved in, the truck kept coming in that gate picking up the white soldiers and coming back. By the time it got to the back gate it was already filled and there was no room for the blacks to get on. This happened almost half of the morning. One of the soldiers said, "go and get a hold of Colonel Wright. I didn't know at that time but Colonel Wright was the head of the black troops there. He was white from South Carolina. He was a full-time

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Army Colonel and he probably had more experience than most generals they had out there. They went and got him and he wanted to know what the problem was. The soldier said, "this bus keeps going up on the base picking up all the whites coming back. By the time it gets back here there is no room for blacks at all." When the next bus came he was there, the guard on duty at the time, the MP, and he said, "this bus doesn't go any further in this gate until you pick up these soldiers. You take these soldiers into town from here." The driver refused to do it. He said, "either you pick up these black soldiers and take them into town or this bus doesn't go any further." The guy said, "you can't talk to me like that, I'm a civilian." So, he reached up and grabbed this guy by the collar and gave him a couple of kicks. I saw this, I was there. He threw him off the bus and he pulled that bus over to the side and sent to the motor pool and got about a dozen of these carry-all trucks and came back and picked up all the black soldiers. He personally assisted some of them getting into these trucks to go into town. I was one of them. Nobody touched that man when it came to his soldiers. I often think about that. He wasn't a northerner, he was a southerner but very firm in his convictions about that.
JOHN EGERTON:
When did you get out, Mr. Gordon?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I think it was in 1945.
JOHN EGERTON:
After the War?
WILLIAM GORDON:
After the War was over I got out. My first son was born and I got out. I had two years of college already and I went back to school.

Page 14
JOHN EGERTON:
You had married before the service?
WILLIAM GORDON:
No, while I was in the service.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was your wife from Memphis?
WILLIAM GORDON:
She's originally from Jackson. She grew up in Jackson.
JOHN EGERTON:
You knew her in Memphis?
WILLIAM GORDON:
We met in high school in Memphis. She knew me in high school but I didn't know her. After I got out of high school and had two years college we finally met. This is our forty-sixth wedding anniversary. It's amazing when you think back on that.
JOHN EGERTON:
What was her name?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Jackson, Anne Jackson. JE Did she wait in Memphis for you while you were away or did she go back to Mississippi while you were in the service?
WILLIAM GORDON:
She didn't come from Mississippi, she was from Jackson, Tennessee, but she lived in Memphis. Her mother was still alive and she lived with her mother while I was in the Army. When I came out I went back on the GI bill as a lot of us did and finished up at LeMoyne. When I finished LeMoyne I went to New York. This is too much of a long story, but you know the Commercial Appeal in Memphis?
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes.
WILLIAM GORDON:
One day I walked into the Commercial Appeal—it's a joint ownership—and I met the general manager and told him I was a Memphian. I had good letters and everything from reputable people in Memphis—whites and teachers. I said I would like to have a job as an apprentice on the paper ([unknown]). He

Page 15
was sympathetic in the way he spoke. He said it was a good idea and said, "you have everything it takes, character, ambition and all that but there is one problem. Ninety-seven percent of the people on this paper might accept you but three percent might not and I can't deal with that. I suggest that you go out and write to some of these smaller newspapers around the country and see it they will give you a chance." I did and I wrote to New York and I wrote to PM. I heard about newspaper PM in New York City. I wrote to them and they came right back and offered me a job as a copyboy in 1946. Then I wrote to Ralph McGill in Atlanta. I had heard a lot about him. He wrote me and they were the only two I got letters from, Ralph McGill and PM. We decided to go to New York because I wanted to go to graduate school.
JOHN EGERTON:
McGill didn't offer you a job?
WILLIAM GORDON:
He was very sympathetic and he said, "I don't have anything now, but your idea is excellent. Let's keep in touch." So I went to New York. You know what happened to PM, it went out of business. I went there as a copyboy and I went to graduate school at night.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where?
WILLIAM GORDON:
NYU and Columbia. In the daytime I went to Columbia and at night I went to NYU. Then they finally brought all my grades together. I stayed there until I finished school and PM folded. Scott in Atlanta offered me a job.
JOHN EGERTON:
You got a master's from one of those places?

Page 16
WILLIAM GORDON:
Master's from NYU. I went way beyond a master's. I went all the up to about forty some points beyond it. I could have gone for a doctorate but I didn't want to. I figured I didn't have the time. We had only one child, our only son, and I just didn't like living in New York. It was too crowded and too rushy and I just wasn't getting anywhere. When PM went out of business we came back South and I took a job at The Atlanta Daily World.
JOHN EGERTON:
When would that have been?
WILLIAM GORDON:
That was in 1948.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was it C.A. Scott?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
Who were his brothers?
WILLIAM GORDON:
His brother was W.A. Scott who was killed during the 1930s. They don't know who did it.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did that ever . . . ?
WILLIAM GORDON:
It was never resolved and they never did solve it for some reason. C.A. is the youngest of the brothers and he is still there.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did they start that paper the Scott family? The brothers or their father?
WILLIAM GORDON:
The brother started it. He was kind of a genius. He started that daily paper back in the early sus.
JOHN EGERTON:
Even today there is not another black daily paper in the country, is there?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Except in Chicago.
JOHN EGERTON:
The Defender is daily?

Page 17
WILLIAM GORDON:
It finally went daily.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's a fairly recent development, isn't it?
WILLIAM GORDON:
That's right.
JOHN EGERTON:
So, from the 40s, The Atlanta Daily World was a daily newspaper.
WILLIAM GORDON:
From the 30s it was a daily newspaper and then it had a lot of weeklies.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, and they had all those satellite papers.
WILLIAM GORDON:
When I went there in '48 he gave me the job as associate editor and I began to work with him. Then we put this newspaper out and we got very much involved in all kinds of stuff like health problems and community affairs. My interest was to build bridges between blacks and whites. Our readership of whites went up to be about ten percent. They wanted to know what was happening in black communities. We won several prizes from the state.
JOHN EGERTON:
What did the circulation get to?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Circulation got up to about fifty thousand. It was not nearly as much as it should have been.
JOHN EGERTON:
But that's not too bad.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Fifty or sixty thousand we got because Scott was a very cautious person. He didn't want to expand. He never had a chance to really learn what was out there. That's when I went back and renewed my contact with Ralph McGill. I went to see him. I was there for two years. They started a program—they were having some problems at the air bases with social diseases, syphilis and all that—and the state health

Page 18
department was trying to come up with some ideas on how to stem this sort of thing. They were feeling around. They got The Atlanta Constitution involved and they got us [the Daily World] involved too. I got involved in that and we came up with some ideas. We put on a big program of. . . . what they did at first was to organize, I guess you would call it, an assemly line process of pushing people through the assembly line checking them for different diseases. Of course, we couldn't do that now. It was all volunteers and my wife worked with us on that. we set up stations in department stores, bus stops and all that. We were checking people for seven different diseases, but what they really were after was that one disease, syphilis. They would send you a note if you had any problems. You could go to your private doctor or you could go to a public facility for treatment. And that way nobody was exposed to what he had and all that. We put through to sixty thousand people through those checkups.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did the papers sponsor this?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Well, my paper was involved and I was involved on the committee. Being involved on the committee I was sort of pushed to the front on this because I came up with some ideas. In order to enhance the thing, to make it more successful, we had to come up with some ideas about how to get more people to go into these places. I got a hold of some entertainers around there, people who knew how to bring crowds together, and we put on a big health show. We got some comedians and other different people from New York to come down to Atlanta to put on this big show. We got the

Page 19
Air Force to fly these people down for nothing and to take them back. It went over extremely well. Then, NBC, National Broadcasting Company, in those days it was not television but radio, came down and made a whole half hour documentary on this. It was sent around the world. My name came up and it kind of put me to the front. Mr. McGill worked with it very closely. That led me into getting the Nieman Fellowship.
JOHN EGERTON:
What year did you have the Nieman?
WILLIAM GORDON:
1953.
JOHN EGERTON:
You were working at The World up until that time?
WILLIAM GORDON:
That was during that time and even after.
JOHN EGERTON:
You went to Harvard in '53 and '54?
WILLIAM GORDON:
'52 and '53. That kind of pushed me to the forefront in the community and I was involved in many civic projects and speaking here and there and at schools. Everybody that came to Atlanta from abroad or from around the country would touch base with Mr. McGill and then he would send them down to me. We would brief them on what the South was like. A lot of people from abroad came over. They had heard about Atlanta and about Ralph McGill and they had heard about the South. The real story was to know the people of the South itself, and it still is, and so I got involved. After the Nieman Fellowship—I met Henry Kissinger up at Harvard. He invited me to come to his international seminars. I went to a couple of those during the summer—they pay your way and everything. You would just sit there with these people from

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around the world. If they wanted to ask questions about the South and the blacks in those days I would contribute whatever I could enlighten on that. Then he sent me a permanent invitation that I could come up to Harvard any summer that I wanted to when I could get away from the paper. In 1958, after doing some other things, I got the Ogden Reid and the National Journalism Fellowship. It was given by The New York Herald Tribune. It was a very modest grant and you could get supplements for that from other foundations and groups if you wanted to. That gave you extra money and then you could go anywhere in the world you wanted. You could pick a country and you go there and spend a year studying that country. All you have to do is keep them informed on how you are doing by writing a report.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was that in '58?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes. I took my family, I mean my whole family, and we went to Ghana for a year. While I was there, because of my work with all these people coming from around the world to our place to be briefed on the South, the State Department gave me an assist grant while I was there. It allowed me to travel in twenty-five countries in Africa. The whole family could travel. That's how I got hooked into USIA [U. S. Information Agency].
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you come back from that and go to work for USIA or did you go back to Atlanta?
WILLIAM GORDON:
They sort of nailed me down on the field when I was out there. When I got back everything had been run, security and all that.

Page 21
JOHN EGERTON:
You never went back to Atlanta then?
WILLIAM GORDON:
We went back to Atlanta for about six months. At that time I did some teaching at Morris Brown University. After six months time they called me to Washington and I got involved in that.
JOHN EGERTON:
You have lived here ever since.
WILLIAM GORDON:
No, back overseas.
JOHN EGERTON:
You spent a career with USIA from '58 until you retired?
WILLIAM GORDON:
'58 I was in Africa, so it was in '80.
JOHN EGERTON:
About 1960.
WILLIAM GORDON:
1960 up through 1980.
JOHN EGERTON:
Twenty years you spent. How many times did you back overseas to live during that twenty years?
WILLIAM GORDON:
We served in Nigeria five and one half years. Then I was sent to Stockholm for two years. In between I would come back and spend two years at home then go back again. My last post was The Hague in Holland.
JOHN EGERTON:
You had interesting travels.
WILLIAM GORDON:
It was fascinating.
JOHN EGERTON:
You need to write that story.
WILLIAM GORDON:
I was very fortunate. My wife and I talk about this. We were extremely fortunate. When I retired in Holland—you had to retire at sixty—we agreed that there was no need to come back to the states immediately. We had this house here so we decided to leave the house rented out and then we'll stay and do some traveling in Europe to see what it was like. We spent an extra

Page 22
year in Europe and we traveled through Germany, East Germany in particular and Czechoslovakia and Poland.
JOHN EGERTON:
You got to do some really interesting things.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Then we came back here and settled and then I traveled and did some lecturing in the South. I went to the University of Georgia several times and to Georgia State and to the University of Tennessee. In 1980 we didn't do any traveling because my wife got ill. In 1987 we went back overseas on another trip. We hadn't seen all of eastern Europe so on this trip we went back to Holland and Germany and went all down through Austria into Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary and then back. We wanted to get a feel of what was happening in the those areas.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's a good overview. I want to back up and ask you a few things about the 40s. You went back to Atlanta in '48 and went to work for The World and you later became managing editor. Is that right?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Yes, managing editor.
JOHN EGERTON:
You left The World when?
WILLIAM GORDON:
In 1958 I got the Ogden Reed Fellowship and went abroad.
JOHN EGERTON:
In that ten year period when you lived in Atlanta that spans the time when the South went from rigid, unyielding segregation by law and by common practice to the post-Brown time when it had to be clear by then to just about everybody that it was going to change. It was going to take some time apparently but it was going to change. As you think back on that now do you

Page 23
think you could see in 1948 or '49 or '50 that this was going to happen? Or did it seem kind of almost inconceivable that the white South was going to yield to that and change its practices?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I got a feeling that back in '48, '49 and the early '50s that there was something at work. Of course, Atlanta is unique in the terms of southern cities because of its location and all of that. Memphis was much more rigid in terms of segregation, more of a diehard situation. What I could see merging to the front was more enlightened—the change of attitude by the white leadership, in particular, towards more respect for the blacks by bringing blacks into the total picture of the economy. I could see and feel that. I saw it in the teachers and especially in the white leadership. In Atlanta, in particular, there had long been a close working relationship between the white educated elite and the blacks. They used to meet at Atlanta University. We ran in Atlanta, at the YMCA—we used to run a thing called the Hungry Club and it was integrated. We would invite white speakers and whites would come and sit. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Was it under the Atlanta U. auspices?
WILLIAM GORDON:
No, this was under the YMCA. This is where I met Harold Fleming because The Southern Regional Council was there. They were located on Auburn Avenue.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was it organized at the Negro YMCA?
WILLIAM GORDON:
It was organized at the Negro YMCA but the whites would come to the Negro YMCA. I could see a further break in it when

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once as editor of the paper I was invited to speak to young white groups around the area, the Jaycees in particular. One day I was invited to speak to the Jaycees. They met in the white YMCA uptown in Atlanta. I spoke there and there were a lot of young whites in there. I remember one young white fellow followed me all the way down to Auburn Avenue. He said, "you know, if you hadn't come and spoken to us I never would have met you. But now I can see what is needed more for us to come together and work together as people." Then we got involved in the—not only the Jaycees—AVC, the Americans Veterans Committee.
JOHN EGERTON:
You were a member of that?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I became a member of that and Harold Fleming was involved with that. I met people like Harold Fleming, Johnny Glustrum from Atlanta, and many of the young whites at that time. I could see this all emerging. This is Atlanta now, of course, but, when I went into Memphis I could see a change. The younger whites were seeing in a completely different light than the elders see. They saw the handwriting on the wall.
JOHN EGERTON:
What would you say to the notion that that period of time from the end of the War to about 1950 until things kind of turned nasty with all the anit-communist hysteria and the election defeat of Claude Pepper and Frank Porter Graham and Jim Folsum and some of those folks, up until that time there was a period of four or five years when it looked like maybe the more liberal progressive people in the South, white and black, might

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decide to come to grips with this problem and try to work out something better, but they wouldn't do it?
WILLIAM GORDON:
You are right about that. I think they wanted to do it but they were silent on the whole subject. A lot of them were, "if I do it I don't want to be ridiculed by my neighbors." There is still a lot of that today. People like the Talmadges whom I got to know later on, who were not as badas—I mean, Herman Talmadge, ( [unknown] ). A lot of this was done for political reasons. I think people like Dr. [Benjamin] Mays, and Dr. [Rufus] Clement were at Atlanta University were working quietly to change these things, but the moment these problems came to the surface. . . . For a long time, even in Little Rock, living in the cities, blacks and whites lived in very close proximity. But when we began to point out these things then there was this feeling that maybe we shouldn't do this, maybe I shouldn't send my child to these schools.
JOHN EGERTON:
People lost their nerve.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Lost their nerve. I think a lot of that was going on. I was naive about some of the things because when I went to the woman who used to write for The Constitution she interviewed me after the 1954 decisions and she said, "what is your feeling about this?" I said, "well, I think in six months or a year you won't know that segregation ever existed." She said, "are you sure about that?"
JOHN EGERTON:
You were wrong about that.

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WILLIAM GORDON:
I was wrong about it because the moment these things come to the surface there is always some element in there that is going to exploit it for the worse. It always happens like that.
Tom Watson, have you read about Tom Watson? In that book I think he points out that beginning and during the reconstruction period there was a tendency for whites and blacks to get together. The northern interests, a lot of it was political and a lot of it was economic, began to exploit it. They wanted to keep the blacks as cheap labor. We have some of that today. I think those elements were more vocal, they were more aggressive, assertive, than the liberal side.
JOHN EGERTON:
More numerous.
WILLIAM GORDON:
The Ku Klux Klan got involved in it. And so all kinds of things were used like in interposition when [Senator Harry F.] Byrd and them tried to use their position to bring the state between the individual and so forth and so on. I think a lot of the things going on today on school campuses these elements will tend to exploit.
JOHN EGERTON:
You had a feeling though that it might have worked. Take a man like McGill, for example, I want to hear you talk about him because you knew him personally. Without trying to color any of what you are going to say I think I ought to say that I was a little surprised when I began to read McGill's old columns through the 40s and realized that he was more conservative than I thought he was. He took positions that essentially were really not at all for integration but for separate but equal. How did you perceive him?

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WILLIAM GORDON:
To give you an idea we got to be pretty close. To give you an example, I was overseas and I persuaded him to come to visit us in West Africa. We traveled around around Nigeria and we slept in the same room. His bed here and my bed there. Very close, I don't know whether you could get any closer to a man like that.
I think it was a lack of contact between, I hate to use the word, the right kind of blacks and the right kind of whites. I think it was a tendency at effort, it was the lack of that. We didn't have enough of us moving in the direction of showing a different image of the right kind of black. What they saw. . . .

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[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM GORDON:
I think one of the most important things is that blacks have an obligation too in this whole effort in trying to enlighten. I think we are greatly responsible for enlightening people by bringing the right message and the right story to the whites. There are a lot of them over there who would like to understand, who would like to do the right thing but they don't have the info and I think we have to take the initiative. Going way back to Booker T. Washington, he was attacked many times because they said he was an Uncle Tom, he was this and that. He was building this school and he didn't speak out against southern racism and all that all the time. But Washington made one point when Du Bois attacked him, he said, "if you were down here living, like I am, before this white man's shotgun you would limit what you said also. I have an objective I want to reach and that's not the way to reach it." He started these programs to try to make blacks more efficient in what they were doing, whether it was a cook, a maid or whatnot, to give a better and different image of what black folk were or like. I think a lot of that has to be done. Harold Fleming once said, "One of the problems is that we don't see enough of black people." I said, "All these blacks—negro in those days—here in Atlanta and you don't see enough of them?" Well, what he meant was that we don't see enough of the right kind of the ones who are really pushing this thing. The moment they get to know you

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better, or they live very closely together, I think the whole conception changes. I think McGill. . . . When I was in Atlanta, of course being a younger fellow, I had an idea who he admired. I wanted to get into the media, I wanted to work in the newspaper profession. Then I got involved in this project and did a lot of things. From that point on we became very close friends. A lot of things he didn't know himself about segregation. For example, one day he had a visitor from London, the editor of The Times in London. He and his wife were in Atlanta. He called me on the phone and said, "Bill, I have two very distinguished guests here and I would like for them to meet you because you can show them what some of things are happening with Atlanta and I can show them some things." He wanted me to point out the black side of things. He said, "I will take a taxi and come down right quickly and pick you up and we can ride around the city." I hung up and then I called him right back and I said, "Mr. McGill, are you aware of the fact that I can't ride in a taxicab with you and two white people?" He hit the ceiling, he didn't know that. He hadn't thought about that.
His secretary now who lives in Texas whom we see quite infrequently said, "I used to live"—she's from Alabama and she's as straightforward as anybody you want—"across the road from a colored family and it never struck me as to where they went to school or where they came from or whatnot. I just took it that they there just like everybody else."

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They don't know the story and I think we have to someway take them that story. We still have to do it. Even in the foreign service where I worked with people overseas, the United States has to take them their story, it has to be taken to them. We can't wait for it to come to us.
JOHN EGERTON:
Who were some of the blacks you think of who, looking back now, you see as real prophets of change for the South? People who in the 30s and 40s were saying segregation is really at the heart of the problem here and we've got to get rid of segregation in order to be able to have real equal opportunity for people in this society. Who in those days can you think of who brought that message even to other blacks if not to whites as well?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Well, I can name several. I think Dr. Mays was a very good example of that with culture and direction. Soft spoken but his message got across. The late Dr. Clement of Atlanta University, the same way he built that school on that basis. I could go back even further than that but I don't think you want to go back any further. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP was one of the most articulate people we had as a leader. He could get up and speak. Wilkins was a straightforward speaker. I remember some years ago when he was alive he spoke before the AFL-CIO and he didn't get up and say you SOB's know what you are doing and all that stuff. He didn't do that. What he did was—we talked about segregation—he went down the unions one by one and named a number of blacks in those unions. He just named them. They were sitting on the edge

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of their seats listening to what this man was saying. He said, "now gentlemen, that's a story." How are you going to fight that, you have to accept it. I think a man like that made a tremendous contribution. Of course, Martin Luther King did the same thing in his own way. He never carried a pocketknife. He said, "gentlemen, this is it, what we want is working together." That speech about "I Have A Dream", was one of the most effective speeches I think. While I was in Stockholm he made a trip there and he made that same speech there in English. Do you know that the Swedes made a record of that and they sold 200,000? Isn't that something? We had a high school principal in Memphis, Brian Hunt, he just died a few years ago. He preached and I think there were two things he used to say, "learn how to get along with people and learn how to make people like you. Those are very important things. Get as much education as you can and set the sky as a limit for your education. Achieve whatever you can." He did this in the 30s and there was rigid segregation at the time but he got along with Edward Crump. Do you know who Crump was?
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes [Crump was the political boss of Memphis].
WILLIAM GORDON:
Somebody asked him one day, "how do you get along with the white leadership in this city (Memphis) and how do you get along with Mr. Crump? He said, "I put one hand in Mr. Crump's hand and the other hand in God's hand." He was shrewd, but I think he was great. He taught the blacks. . . . No black went into high school in my day without a tie on and shoes were shined. You could be as poor as Job's turkey but you came in

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there neat and clean. Girls did not wear lipstick and they had to wear stockings. Take pride in yourselves.
I remember when I was a waiter at this drive-in place I used to serve a lot of people, all these young whites from the high schools in Memphis. I could hardly get away from the cars sometimes because they wanted to talk to me about what I did at my school. I would go downtown to some of the stores and shop and the moment I walked in they would engage me in a conversation. The way you carry yourself, I think, cements the bridge-building business. It is extremely important.
When I got the Reid Fellowship it was announced in the newspapers in Atlanta and they thought this was a great thing. I was down at the health department one day getting some information or something and one of the doctors said, "Bill, I just saw where you just got a big grant to go abroad." I said, "yes, but I'm having a little difficulty." He said, "what's that?" I said, "When I was born they didn't issue birth certificates, you just listed it in the Bible and I don't have too much time before I have to travel with my family. I went to the courthouse and the clerk at the courthouse said I would have to write to Washington and to Baltimore to get a certificate certified and that would take weeks. I just don't have that much time." I was hoping he would change their mind. He picked up the telephone and called the head of the whole state department in Georgia. Dr. Sellers, who was appointed by Talmadge, called and in about two minutes he told me to go back over there to the courthouse and said I wouldn't have any trouble.

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When I went back over there the guy met me at the door with all the things filled out. I didn't have to say one word. I had many experiences like that.
In the segregated South I'm getting this grant. I needed something, I needed to get my passport and I couldn't get it until I got my birth certificate. Dr. Sellers made him fill it out and the man met me at the door.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you have any contact with Southern Regional Council during those years?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Oh, yes. That's how I got to know Harold. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
How?
WILLIAM GORDON:
He was working as an assistant to the former Dr. George Mitchell. I used to go up there all the time for information and he used to invite Harold down to the Hungary Club and we used to meet. I wrote some articles for them during that period, during the 50s when I was there about the changing South. He used to publish a little magazine called The New South. I had several articles published in that. Dr. Mitchell got ill long before his time. In fact, he even retired at fifty-five.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, he was young.
WILLIAM GORDON:
He went overseas to Scotland. On that trip to Ghana we stopped in Scotland and went to visit him. We stayed with him at the house for a couple of days. But I'm getting off the point. I think that King, Roy Wilkins, and even Walter White, who preceded Wilkins in the NAACP, were astute people who knew how to deal with the problem

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without fret of irritating the white leadership. They didn't embarrass the white leadership and it made it possible for them to go do things. In Atlanta, for example, the chief of police, Herbert Jenkins, and Mayor William Hartsfield got together with the black community. They agreed that we could get this thing resolved without getting into the courts and all that. So, they were told to get on the busses. We will arrest you and take you to jail. Then you post a bond and get out. Then we will resolve this. It was that kind of working relationship that they established with people like Mays, and Julian Bond's father, Horace Mann Bond. Those people, I think, were the outstanding leaders of that.
JOHN EGERTON:
Were you surprised when the Brown Decision came down? Do you remember where you were that day?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Very surprised. I remember because I put out the edition of the newspaper. I didn't think it was going to be unanimous like it was, but I thought they were going to resolve it.
JOHN EGERTON:
You knew— everybody knew didn't they?—for a year or two that this was in the mill, it was being debated in the Supreme Court and that there was going to be a decision. The fact that something was going to happen was pretty well known to everybody, wasn't it?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Oh, yes. Everybody knew that and they felt it. Thurgood Marshall, of course, is another person I should mention. They knew it, but they didn't know how it was going to be, but they knew about it and they were ready for it.

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As I said in the beginning, what irritated it was some of these elements that just took advantage of it and tried to incite feelings and emotions and got blacks stirred up between it. The Little Rock situation never should have happened. I used to go to Little Rock when I lived in Memphis when I was a youngster. You couldn't find a city more cordial from the white side than Little Rock at the time. Blacks were going to the University of Arkansas right downtown long before that. With political ambition as [Governor Orval] Foubus had in mind, he just took it and exploited it.
JOHN EGERTON:
The white South was fond of saying back in those pre-Brown years that if you leave us alone, Yankees or whoever, we will work this out. Suppose that had happened, suppose this white South had gotten its wish and had been left alone by the Federal government, how long would it have taken to bring equality?
WILLIAM GORDON:
I think it would have taken much longer because the people that said it did nothing about it. You had to have something legal to fall back on. I think the best thing that could have happened was the 1954 decision and also the subsequent civil rights laws that they passed.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about the movement itself, the protest movement of the blacks and allied whites through the 50s beginning with the Montgomery Boycott? What would have happened it that had not developed?
WILLIAM GORDON:
Well, I think eventually it would have fallen apart but it would have taken much longer.

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JOHN EGERTON:
That and the court actions speeded it up.
WILLIAM GORDON:
That's right. Nobody today in the South wants to be called a segregationist, not even Jesse Helms. Nobody wants to be called that now. One thing that interests me. I had been in Columbia, South Carolina, once to meet the governor who was then Governor West. I was crossing the street and there were two young white men standing on the corner, I think they were lawyers, and I heard them in the conversation saying, "you know, it's interesting but we're not going backward, we are going to go forward in the South. It's to our best advantage now to preach for equality for everybody regardless of race." I think there was another dimension here too. With all the foreign elements coming here from abroad, from Europe not Africans but Europeans, it was unthinkable to come South in any country and see one part of your population being held down. It was inconceivable for them to see this—how can you tolerate this kind of thing? If you go to a little country like Holland, for example, it is fully integrated. Our missionaries, for example, here's an interesting story about them. A Baptist mission had been in Nigeria for more than one hundred years. We go abroad to teach these people how to follow Christianity. A lot of Africans, who were subsequently invited here, were amazed that they couldn't go in a white church. With this kind of problem it could get around the world, we couldn't have stood it. It couldn't last.

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JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think it is unrealistic to think that these changes that have come as a result of the court actions and the civil rights movement might have been brought voluntarily by southerners of goodwill during that period of '45 - '50? Could it have happened?
WILLIAM GORDON:
It would have been very difficult. I don't think it would have happened. It would have been very difficult because people like McGill, for example, whom you say was conservative, which he was, finally came around to reality. Even after the courts had passed the 1954 decision McGill used to wake up in the morning sometime and his whole front yard would be full of garbage. Somebody had pulled up with a garbage truck and dumped everything out in his yard. There were cases where they would shoot through his house, through his windows. And he had people at the paper who didn't like what he was doing. But he survived all of that because he had this legal base to stand on.
JOHN EGERTON:
It's a little bit ironic and somewhat troubling to me in a way because of the way I'm proceeding with this project that what I'm doing concludes in '54. I'm stopping in '54, I'm not writing about what happened after. There are other books and other historians and researchers who have already written some wonderful books about that period and there will be others. For my purposes here I'm interested in what happened before and so ironically the impression that I'm afraid is left by that constraint about people like McGill and indeed a good many others is that they were conservative, they were not leading the way to change at that point.

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The courage of Ralph McGill, I don't want to say it begins entirely but it certainly is more highlighted from the day the Brown Decision came down and he said, "this is now the law of the land and this is what we've got to obey." It was his willingness to say that in 1954 that caused the garbage to be dumped in his yard in '55 and for people to shoot in his house and all those things, but that didn't happen before.
WILLIAM GORDON:
I agree with you on that. It didn't openly happen before but I'm wondering if they had spoken out before if they would have been eliminated.
JOHN EGERTON:
It's quite possible that they would have just simply been cut off. The kind of personal relationship that you had with McGill and incidentally a great many other people have told me exactly the same thing that on a personal level the man was free of prejudice. He was absolutely committed to the notion of human relationships on the level of equality long before Brown. It's just that what he was doing in his newspaper and what he felt he could do in order to still be effective and to keep functioning. . . .
WILLIAM GORDON:
Some of the things he did. . . . The night that he died he was at the home of a black family. There was a young girl before the 1954 decision, and she wanted to go journalism school. She was a student at Spelman. I understand that he picked up the telephone on the day that this girl came into see him and he called Columbia University. They have a graduate school there for journalism. The dean said he wanted to get some good black students so McGill called up and

Page 39
said, "I've got one for you." The school had already started and the dean would try to work around that. He took her in and the first year the girl fell at the very bottom of the department and she just couldn't keep up. The dean called McGill and told him about this. McGill wanted to know what was needed to bring her up. The dean said that she needed a tutor. McGill hired a tutor and paid for it.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was quite genuine about those things. That wasn't for any show. More often than not other people never knew those stories.
WILLIAM GORDON:
He never told anything about it and the way I got it was from his secretary. She told me the story. There was a young negro actor in Atlanta who wanted to get involved with something in New York, dramatics or something. He was very good but he didn't have a high school diploma. McGill got behind that and got him into the group in New York City and let him finish his work after he got there. He never said anything about it. I don't know how many different things he did. My oldest son, for example, was in school at the time during the Vietnam War. He had just about finished, he had one year to go. The draft board in Atlanta was very determined to get him out of school and send him overseas immediately. I spoke to Mr. McGill about it and he said, "leave it to me." He wrote a letter to the draft board and explained what kind of family and what he was trying to do. So, William went ahead and finished school.

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I would say there were hundreds of things that he did, even before all this legal business came along.
JOHN EGERTON:
I couldn't tell you how many people have told me stories like that.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Now, that's real genuine leadership. I would like to mention this about Herman Talmadge. Of course you know he came from a political family in Georgia which you might call extreme segregationist. When I joined USIA in the 60s they were fighting about closing the schools if integration came to Georgia. At the end of your orientation period when you go in the state department they ask you to go up on the hill if you want and if you know somebody, anybody, and just tell them what you are doing and that you're going overseas to represent your country. They would say to go and talk to your favorite senator or representative. I thought for a second who was my favorite senator and I thought about Talmadge. I went to see Talmadge for the first time and I met him. He greeted me very graciously and he said, "Bill." I said, "Mr. Senator, I'm going overseas and I want to know what kind of message I can carry to these people about our country. I'm going to be up against a lot of problems and they're going to ask me a lot of questions about what we have done. One of the things they are going to ask is why are we going to close the schools to keep blacks from going to school with whites." He looked at me and said, "we are not going to close the schools and you can tell them that. We're not going to close them in Georgia." It was

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all over the paper everywhere that they were going to close the schools. The second thing was to get Congress to commit funds to the programs overseas. He told me he would back me one hundred percent. When I came back they sent me to the War College. We spent a year up there. When I came out they are suppose to have an assignment for you. In my case they didn't have anything so I went down to The Voice [of America] and they gave me some little routine job there. One day I went up to see him [Talmadge] and it was in the time of the riots. King had been assassinated and they were rioting. I went up to see him as a courtesy, to pay my respects. He said, "Bill, what are you doing?" I told him and he said, "what!" He picked up the telephone and called his secretary and told her to get him the White House. I hadn't asked for anything. He spoke to somebody in the White House and he said, "look, I have a man here in my office whom I have the very highest regards and respect for and I don't like what you have him assigned to." The man at USIA didn't know who he was talking about and he told him. He put the phone down. The headquarters of The Voice from here was about four or five blocks so I walked back to my desk at The Voice. It took me about twenty minutes to get there. I had five different notices on my desk from the director's office that said, "see me immediately." I took off that afternoon. I called the director and he told me to get there as quickly as possible. I went down

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and there were a whole lot of apologies. He said, "Bill, we didn't know they had assigned you down there. You've got to be in an important spot. Just give me a few days, we'll have something very important for you." This was the assistant to the director of the USIA. When I came back in a couple of days they wanted me to do some writing for them. I said what kind and he said I could write about anything I wanted. USIA had this system of writing material and sending it overseas through our network. It is distributed in all different countries. I did a column a week for them. It's that kind of thing—I used that as an analogy—that allowed these people to do things. On the surface is one thing but even somebody like Talmadge. . . . When McGill died I went to the funeral. Whom did I see there? Herman Talmadge was right there. So, a lot of these people who used political reasons for certain things, behind the scenes they were more genuine than some of these people who said they were for everything and don't come up with anything.
JOHN EGERTON:
This has been really helpful. You have given me a lot of help.
WILLIAM GORDON:
I hope I have traced on some of the things. Let me tell you this. Part of my work with USIA—I went up as far as the deputy assistant director for USIA which was a top spot. That was a long way from Mississippi. Not only that, but, what happened during my home assignments, domestic assignments, we were running this foreign press center downtown in the national

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press building which was part of USIA. We worked closely with foreign journalists stationed in this country. There are more than a thousand stationed right here in the United States. On some occasions we organized programs for them, programs to give them a chance to see more of the United States, not just sit here in Washington or New York. I could see the idea that we ought to go by chartered bus around the South, which I did in 1974. I took a group of journalists around from sixteen different countries, about thirty of them, journalists and their wives, including the Soviet Union. We went all the way down through North and South Carolina into Georgia and Mississippi. Alabama was one of the most interesting occasions that we had when we met George Wallace. We had all of this set up. We had a bus load of foreign journalists and we went in and had a conference with George Wallace. It ended up not just as a press conference but kind of a debate which was interesting. We had to go from Montgomery to Jackson that same evening and it was getting late. I went to one of his aides and asked him if he could give us a police escort or something out of town so we could beat the traffic. The aide agreed and he went down to the highway patrol. The highway patrol was downstairs on the steps of the capitol—I wish I had that picture. When I stepped down the stairs leading this whole group from Europe, from India, from the Soviet Union he reached out and grabbed my hands and said, "Gordon, what can I do for you?" A couple of motorcycle police took us out of Montgomery through the traffic and everything and we got on the highway. I thought this was the end

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of it, but when we got outside of Montgomery there was the highway patrol and they led us all the way to Meridian. When we got to Meridian someway the governor of Mississippi had ordered another escort. They picked us up there and escorted us to Jackson. The greatest story was that one of the Swedish television people came up and said, "even the prime minister has trouble back in my country getting this kind of escort. How did you do this? Did you go to the White House and get it?" I said, "no, if I had of gone there I never would have got it."
JOHN EGERTON:
Just call George Wallace.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Just call George Wallace. I knew people in his office. I had been talking with his aides anyway for a week or so about this group coming down. I had no problem, I said, "Remember, I come from the South and I'm part of it." They couldn't figure out how in the world I could do all this. We got to Jackson that same evening in time for a reception that Governor William winter had for the group. When we got around to Memphis the thing that to me was the climax of the whole trip was Commercial Appeal and the Press Scimitar were still unpublished then. Clyde Podius who had been there for some time—I don't know whether you know him or not—anyway, they had organized everything. The governor of Tennessee then, Ray Blanton, I think it was, came down from Nashville to meet the group. We weren't going to stop in Nashville, we didn't have time. He came down and had organized a luncheon for that group. We had the governor, the mayor of the city of Memphis, we

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had the city appointees, the editors of both of the newspapers—all the top Memphis brass were there. It was on the top floor of the highest building in Memphis. I could look out the window and I could see Beale Street from there. My thoughts went back to the time when I arrived on Beale Street that Saturday night.
JOHN EGERTON:
You could look beyond Beale Street and see Mississippi, couldn't you?
WILLIAM GORDON:
That's right, I could see Mississippi. I said this is extraordinary isn't it. I was just thinking in my mind. When I came here Beale Street was miles away from downtown Memphis. Now it is just a block or so. Look how far we have come.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's a good story.
WILLIAM GORDON:
Look how far we have come!
END OF INTERVIEW