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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Foreman refuses to bar communists from the Southern Conference

Foreman opposed barring Communists from the Southern Conference for Human Welfare because he did not want to waste time trying to prove members' political loyalties. However, he also saw how the Communist Party hurt organizations by trying to assume control. For example, communist members wanted the conference to meet in a segregated venue.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
In 1939 . . . I came across some correspondence between yourself and Frank Graham about whether communists should be barred from membership. At that time you were considering that as a possibility, I think, at least.
CLARK FOREMAN:
Well, it was a constant issue in the conference. Great pressure on us from the outside to bar them from membership and bar officers like the American Civil Liberties Union, I think, did and I think the American Jewish Congress and other organizations. Passed resolutions that no communists should hold office. But this meant holding hersey hunts, hearings, and deciding who was a communist and who wasn't. So although I would personally have been against any communist getting a job, I was not in favor of having a rule that would necessitate splitting up the conference.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How would you characterize Frank Graham's role in that controversy?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Christian, Frank was a benevolent influence and I think he was taken in. For instance, Alton lawrence was one of his proteges from the University of North Carolina and became very active in the Southern Conference and for a long while was-I think-one of the leaders of the youth group of it. Had Frank's blessing because he had assured Frank over in North Carolina that he wasn't a communist. And Frank had believed him and went ahead and supported him. So I think Frank was probably pretty bitter about the fact that Alton lawrence turned out to be a communist. I'm not sure that he ever knew it, but I suppose he did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You think he was too benevolent, too tolerant? Or do you think that style of his was helpful and important in the Conference.
CLARK FOREMAN:
Very helpful. I think Frank was a very fine man. Much more courageous than Howard Odum. Howard Odum would retreat into research whereas Frank Graham would meet the problem and try to do something about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How would you compare Graham with other southern liberals that were involved in the conference? How would you compare him with yourself, for example?
CLARK FOREMAN:
I would say he was a much better man that I was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Better in what way?
CLARK FOREMAN:
More tolerant. Wiser. But now takeWill Alexander. Will Alexander was more active in first line fights than Frank was. But when Will Alexander would get in difficulty he would need to call people like Frank Graham to help him. And Frank would do it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You said that you would have been opposed to having . . . . Do you see the role that the communist party or communist party members played in the conference as being altogether a negative one?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Negative? No. For instance, the communist party has had a positive role in the South with respect to the Negro problem. They, from the beginning, have fought for Negro rights and fought, generally speaking, more consistently than any other group. One of my quarrels with the communist party is that they have a tendency to try to wreck any organization that they can't control. As far as the Southern Conference on Human Welfare was concerned, they couldn't control it but we were going along and doing the kind of things that they wanted done.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But they didn't try to wreck the organization, do you think?
CLARK FOREMAN:
In 1946 we had a conference in New Orleans and we had had the principle, since the first one in Birmingham in 1938, that we would never have a segregated meeting. The absence of segregation was almost a sacred principle in the Southern Conference. We had the municipal auditorium reserved in New Orleans for the conference. A few days before the conference the city notified us that we would have to segregate the meeting, that we couldn't have an unsegregated meeting there. Well, I said then we wouldn't have the meeting there, have it somewhere else. We took Carpenters' Hall. Had the meeting there. Well, the southern secretary of the communist party was very unhappy about this and came to me and tried to persuade me that we should give in on this and let the meeting be segregated, rather than give it up. Rather than give up the auditorium.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did he do that?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Opportunism. Not thinking clearly. Because I think it would have defeated our purposes a great deal and I absolutely refused to do it. But that was an example, you see . . . . I don't think he was trying to wreck us. I just think he was being an opportunist.