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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Calvin Kytle, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0365. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Ralph McGill and his reactions to federal intervention in civil rights reform

Calvin Kytle discusses Ralph McGill and his reaction to federal laws regarding changing race relations in the South. Having worked with McGill at the Atlanta Constitution in the late 1930s, Kytle explains McGill's "uneven" record on race relations. Although Kytle believes that McGill was generally support of civil rights reform, he was reluctant to publicly advocate for federal anti-lynching legislation because imposing federal regulation on social conditions would be seen as reminiscent of Reconstruction. Nevertheless, Kytle argues that by 1954, with the Supreme Court ruling in the <cite>Brown</cite> decision, McGill began to finally cultivate his reputation as a liberal in terms of race relations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Calvin Kytle, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0365. 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.

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I recall, for example, a column he wrote after that terrible lynching in walton County in '48. Do you remember that pretty well? This was four young people who were lynched, taken out and shot. Two couples, a soldier and his cousin and their two wives. They were all in their young twenties. Nobody was ever arrested, nobody was ever charged. That incident so enraged Harry Truman that he appointed the civil rights committee in anger over that.
That was when a lot of people came to Atlanta from New York and all over. I remember people talking to Josephine about it.
It went on for a long time. It went on all the way into '47 and it finally came to nought. Tom Clark, the attorney general, went down there. It was really something, but it came to nothing. McGill's response through all that was that he was horrified, outraged, he was embarrassed, but he couldn't bring himself to say, "we need a federal anti-lynching law." He was still saying, "if we let the federal government, we let Congress start passing laws on our social condition down here we will never ever get out from under it. It will be like inviting reconstruction again."
That's straight civil war stuff.
I know, and it's hard to deal with it when you read that because I have this image of McGill as a real knight in armor. When the chips finally came down with the Brown decision he was true blue against the worst kind of threat and everything else from then on. He said, "this is the law and we've got to enforce the law." His reputation as a liberal really begins with Brown.