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Title: Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Kester, Howard, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hall, Jacquelyn Finger, William
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, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 244 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
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:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-01-04, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0007-1)
Author: Jacquelyn Hall and William Finger
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0007-1)
Author: Howard Kester
Description: 325 Mb
Description: 62 p.
Note: Interview conducted on July 22, 1974, by Jacquelyn Hall and William Finger; recorded in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Susan Hathaway.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series B. Individual Biographies, 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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An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974.
Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Kester, Howard, interviewee


Interview Participants

    HOWARD KESTER, interviewee
    JACQUELYN HALL, interviewer
    WILLIAM FINGER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
HOWARD KESTER:
. . . that one right over there. She was a real angel and after she went away I started pulling out the boxes, I knew they were here in the files and when I got to 80 boxes, I quit counting [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, is the book based mostly on your own papers, the ones that are now on microfilm?
HOWARD KESTER:
No. I have papers that are in Chapel Hill, but others that still haven't been microfilmed. Papers from many people in all walks of life.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You have a whole . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Like papers from people concerned about all the things I was attempting to do, Elizabeth Gilman, Niebuhr, Dorothy Dexter, and so forth and so on, that I saved out, because they are sort of personal.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is there a collection of Fellowship of Southern Churchmen papers besides what you have, or are you . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
I've got them all.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You've got everything? Great. Well, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about your family, where you came from.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I was born in Martinsville, Virginia. That's in Henry County, just across the line from North Carolina. My mother was of Scotch-Irish ancestory, and my grandfather was the Manager of the John Daniel Plantation, which was partly in, if I remember correctly, in Amherst County about where Sweetbriar College is, and in Campbell County where Lynchburg is.

Page 2
And on my father's side . . . the Kesters lived in or around about Cologne in Germany. And they became Quakers, left Germany, went to England and struck up with William Penn, who in turn, got them to survey parts of Pennsylvania. Now the records say . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
May I smoke?
HOWARD KESTER:
Please do because I am going to. Maybe I ought not to. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, don't let me tempt you.
HOWARD KESTER:
Matches? Half of them don't strike . . . There were two brothers who come to this country, Johannes, and Praetorius, and from all I can get, Praetorius was the stronger of the two brothers who came. And he signed the first written protest against slavery in America. He's well remembered by Quakers even today, and then I've seen a plaque, at least one plaque erected to him, in Philadelphia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know about that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Years ago. No, I didn't know a thing about it at the time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you were growing up?
HOWARD KESTER:
Didn't know a thing about it.
My father, he had some Quakerism in him, but Mama was a Presbyterian, a Southern Presbyterian, and he joined the Presbyterian Church, became an elder and a Sunday School teacher in Church . . . and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, too. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he an active member of the Ku Klux Klan?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, he was never a leader, but people relied on him, they had so much respect for him. He was the kind of man who rarely, if ever, signed a contract. He said, "My word is as good as my bond." And there are some people around like that today, too, who, if they give you their word, that is all that is necessary, and . . .

Page 3
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you aware of him going to Klan meetings, or being involved in disciplining . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, through my mother. My mother found the regalia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, she didn't know he was in the Klan?
HOWARD KESTER:
She found it, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She didn't know it until she found the Klan regalia?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and it nearly broke her heart. She didn't like any part of it, and I don't believe that Papa ever engaged in any violence. He had a fierce temper. [Laughter] It was his principle, he told you to do something once and that was all. You'd better do it. And for the survey of Pennsylvania, I don't thing the two brothers did that much, some of the relatives say that they surveyed the whole state. Well, I just can't believe it. And they were given land. I guess that after all Penn had to give them land . . . in what is now Chestnut Hill near Philadelphia. And either Williams . . . Williamsburg, I believe or Williamstown, in Pennsylvania and my father was a merchant tailor, it had been the great tradition. Some say it goes back five hundred years to a merchant tailor. Do you know what a merchant tailor is?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No.
HOWARD KESTER:
A merchant tailor is a man who makes men's clothes . . . has the whole cloth, and he fits them and puts the garment together and they come in for fittings to see that everything is all right, you know. And my father didn't want to be a tailor, but his father wouldn't have it any other way. The tailoring trade had been in the family for generations. My Father wanted to be an engineer and he had the mind for it. You go to Cologne today, or at least it was the last time I was in Cologne and you can see the names and they are all tailors.

Page 4
JACQUELYN HALL:
They are all tailors?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and my father wanted to be a mining engineer, but my grandfather said, "No, absolutely not, you're going to be a tailor." And he attended school. He went to what they called a Cutting School, in New York City, and became a first-rate tailor.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he have a shop in his home, or where . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Before I was born they lived in Bristol, and Roanoke and finally Martinsville, and then he ran into financial difficulty and we moved to West Virginia; Beckley in Raleigh County. And I have a brother, who is retired, living in Florida, near Orlando, and a sister who has the old home place in Beckley, and that's it. I came along in 1904.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was a tailor when you were born?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, he was a tailor, never anything but a tailor.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Beckley is a Mining community.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, and I caught on while . . . Mama inadvertently, I suppose, showed us the regalia as children. My mother was really an angelic woman, and I don't ever remember her whipping me. [Laughter] I couldn't say that about my daddy.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you rebellious?
HOWARD KESTER:
No. Well, I was when I went to college and on into seminary, and got into trouble.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You went to Lynchburg?
HOWARD KESTER:
I went to Lynchburg College and got an A.B.
JACQUELYN HALL:
To be a Preacher?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, and I got a certificate in Bible, and a certificate in Greek, which means you had four years of it. And we had some good teachers, good teachers.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you become a pacifist?

Page 5
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I suppose in 1923 there were about 15 boys who were selected through the YMCA, the World Student Christian Federation, to visit the war-torn countries of Europe, and the idea being that when we came back, we would raise money and clothes and get books, and this that and the other, for the European students. And David Porter, who was the National Secretary of the Student YMCA made a visit to the College (we were having a student meeting or something) and he asked me if I would be the Regional Director of the European Student Relief here in the South. And I was going to school and carrying a pretty heavy load, but I didn't feel like I could turn it down. So I didn't, I took it, got paid for it. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
That helps.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, it helps, you bet it does. They offered me a lot more than I would take 'cause I didn't feel like I could be honest about it, you know, and I got a telephone and a secretary, and did a lot of traveling. And the amazing thing is that I asked the, had the temerity to ask the Dean if I could make a two month trip through southern colleges, Negro and white, telling the story about what I had seen in Europe. And we were, in several instances, the guests of governments . . . of France, for example. Entertained, for example, in Verdun, and the same man who took Woodrow Wilson over the battlefield, took us over the battlefields. I don't know, I saw the hellishness of war, and I decided I didn't want anything to do with it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The other people, the other 23 students who travelled with you, did any of them go on to become pacifists?
HOWARD KESTER:
I don't know, I don't know who was that foolish.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you wanted to go on a two months speaking tour?

Page 6
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What made you think of going to Negro colleges as well as white colleges?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, Channing Tobias, did you know him?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
Channing Tobias and william Craner asked me if I would visit Negro colleges. They said, "You won't get much money, or anything else, but the Negro students ought not to be left out." So it made no difference to me. I went to the white colleges, where I did get money, and girls brought out fur coats, dresses and everything you could think of and gave them to me, and I would ship them to New York, and off they'd go to Europe, I hope.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you aware at that time of the Interracial Commission? The formation of the . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
I knew Alexander well.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know him that early, in 1923?
HOWARD KESTER:
Dr. Will used to live right over there.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that right?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right. He used to live right over there, and I knew . . . I can't be certain when it was, but I don't think I really knew Dr. Will well until I was at Vanderbilt, and he's an old Vanderbilt man and the Dean, Dean Brown, would invite him up each year to speak to us, and I got to know him fairly well. He laughed at my socialism. [laughter] He thought I was an absolute nut.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I bet. So the Dean of Lynchburg College was willing to let you take two months off from school?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, and he said "Get your assignments, and if there

Page 7
are papers due, you send them in, and some of the professors may require special work, after you return." So I went, and only one of the professors had me to come to his house every afternoon at five o'clock. But I made it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you organized an interracial student group at Lynchburg College.
HOWARD KESTER:
I certainly did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
That was the first one in the South.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that a YMCA?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, it was composed of students of Lynchburg, Randolph Macon, and Lynchburg Theological Seminary and College, which was a Negro institution, and as soon as I came back from Europe, well, when I saw the ghettos in Warsaw and Krakow, particularly Krakow, you know the Jews had to be in by sundown and there was a tremendous chain, larger than a regular 109 chain, clear across the gates, and every Jew had to be inside that before sundown. And when I saw it something turned over inside of me, and I came to feel that - "Well, by golly, this is what we do to Negroes in the South. We put them in restrictive areas, and exploit them in every way that we can think of." And I felt that the time had come for Negro and white students to get together, and I went over to see one of the students . . . no, I spoke, I spoke at the College, and afterwards met a man by the name of Jackson. He was studying for the Ministry just as I was, and I liked him, and trusted him, and vice versa. And we began talking about the formation of a student group, and at first we met over at the Negro college, because in those days it was hard to find a white college that would welcome us, and so . . . Is this what you want?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes, I want the story.

Page 8
HOWARD KESTER:
And then the Negro students said we ought to meet in a mutual place, and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Rather than meeting at the black college?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why was that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, it was a natural, yet unnatural thing to do. Why not swap around a little bit? So I went to the President of our college, John Hundley and asked him if I could bring the Negroes from the college, Lynchburg Theological Seminary and College, over to our college for a concert, declamations and orations, and debates and this that or the other, you know, and he said, "Yes, go ahead," and I did. Most of the students and the faculty turned out as long as the Negro students were singing, and when they started the declamations, etc. they began to leave, a few of them, and I became un-stuck. I went to the door and I asked one or two of them, a particular fellow by the name of Stone, who said "I'll listen to a nigger sing," excuse the work but that's what he said, "but I ain't going to listen to them talk," and he kept going. Well, then we decided that we ought to find a white place to meet in. We went to the YWCA, central YWCA of Lynchburg and they were gracious and they welcomed us, but Lynchburg was a very conservative town, and it was no time at all until pressure began to be brought against the Directors and the Secretaries of the YWCA, so they had to say - "I'm sorry." They were, but we had to find new quarters.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You went to the YWCA instead of the YMCA?
HOWARD KESTER:
Lord have mercy, yes. You'd never get anything out of the YMCA.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was just talking to Grace Towns Hamilton . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
I know Grace.

Page 9
JACQUELYN HALL:
And she told me the same thing.
HOWARD KESTER:
The YWCA was always way ahead of the YMCA.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How do you account for that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I think for one thing, they were more adventurous, and saw the agony through which Negroes were passing more quickly and deeply than did the "Y" Secretaries.
Now, that isn't true of all of them. The Secretary at the University of Virginia, Madison Hall, Kyle Smith, Carl Zerfoss of Washington and Lee, Dag Folger at Emory, well . . . I need not mention them all here, but they were concerned, and they were committed Christians.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who were some of the women? You went on then to become involved in the National Student Council and the Regional YM-YWCA.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, we had a dickens of a time getting a Regional Council organized. When I first came to Blue Ridge as a student, it was a secretaries movement. The secretaries made the decision.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were the secretaries hired staff?
HOWARD KESTER:
They were employed by the individual institution, by Clemson or Emory, or whatever. But they felt, they truly felt that . . . most of them, not all of them by any means, I'm not sure I can even remember them all . . . that it was really a secretaries movement, and we were not exactly a nuisance, but we were to be tolerated and not allowed to participate in making decisions.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You mean people who were just members of local YMCA and YWCA Chapters did go to Blue Ridge but you really couldn't become part of the leadership unless you were a hired secretary?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, that's true.

Page 10
JACQUELYN HALL:
And were they usually hired by the university rather than by the local chapter or by the National "Y"?
HOWARD KESTER:
Harry Comer was at Chapel Hill. Paul Derring at VPI. These men together with a few others saw that they day had come when students should have a voice in what kind of program they had.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, the secretaries were adults?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh sure.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, I see.
HOWARD KESTER:
I'm sorry. So the students, not all of them, decided that they wanted a Field Council, what we called a Southern Student Field Council and they picked a boy from N. C. State by the name of Springer and me to be the goats.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Springer?
HOWARD KESTER:
Springer, and we asked the secretaries for a meeting, which they granted, and we met over in Lee Hall, and down in one of the classrooms. And Springer, I remember so well, came marching into the classroom with a great armful of milk bottles to illustrate the difference. Here were all these students, but they had no representation, and no voice, and that's what we wanted. And then I followed and I had a way of talking myself into trouble, and sometimes I had to talk my way out of trouble too. So I said the Secretaries were our servants, not our masters, and we ought to have a voice in everything that transpired at Blue Ridge. A couple of secretaries got so mad they didn't know what to do. One was Malcolm Guess of Ole Miss.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you know that, Bill?
WILLIAM FINGER:
No.
HOWARD KESTER:
And after the meeting . . . well, to me it just looked like it

Page 11
was going to break up into a riot, and a student from VPI, Mel Williams, M. C. Williams, got up and said "Let us pray."
JACQUELYN HALL:
That is always a good strategy. So did you get representation? Did they change the structure?
HOWARD KESTER:
We did. We . . . it was somebody, I don't know the name, I ought to, I doubt if he is even in the records, but one of the secretaries moved that our concern should be granted, and it was voted upon and passed.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So what kind of structure was set up then?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, we elected a President, a Secretary and each State had one, or two, or three representatives on the Field Council. And each year thereafter, we had what we called a pre-conference retreat. John Bergthold, who lived right over here, he was the central figure in it and he thought the time had come for students to participate in decision making. He came from Red Bird, Minnesota.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now was this the National Student Council?
HOWARD KESTER:
This was part of the National Student Council.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So it involved women as well as men?
HOWARD KESTER:
Not yet.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did this meeting happen that you are talking about?
HOWARD KESTER:
It was around . . . it was either '24 or '25, I can't be certain, but . . . if I had the energy to dig through all my notes I might come across something, but roughly, it was during that period. And the girls, the women, YWCA met just before the men students. They preceded us, they met before we did. And one year, around 1926, we decided to have a joint meeting of the women and the men down at Sky Camp. It was known then as a boys camp, Sky Camp at Blue Ridge, and that's where I met Alice my future wife . . . well it was one Sunday afternoon that I met that girl.

Page 12
JACQUELYN HALL:
You met Alice at the first joint meeting?
HOWARD KESTER:
My first love.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that right?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, and it was mutual. I stayed with John Bergthold and Mabel, his second wife, who later died of cancer, a wonderful woman. They lived in High Top Colony during the summer. The regional office was in Atlanta and they had a home in Atlanta, and they were going down and said, "You stay with us, we'll take you to Atlanta to see Alice," and Mrs. Bergthold loved Alice. And when her father heard that I was going to Tuskegee because we had had Dr. CArver up at Blue Ridge and I was going to study under him . . . Do you know about Dr. Carver.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
And Ms. Bethune, but they had provided no place for them to eat or sleep. And we had a large delegation from my College, Lynchburg College, and I said, when this business came up, here were two guests coming, you know, notable figures, that we'd be glad to have Dr. Carver stay with us. We rented a cottage, there were so many of us . . . Craggieview Cottage over here at Blue Ridge, still there as far as I know, and Dr. Carver became our guest. We determined that he would not be alone, that we would share his meals, they would send the meals over from Lee Hall, from the dining room, and we decided to see that he was properly cared for that we would keep him company. He got up at four o'clock each morning, and I usually got up about that time too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You usually got up about four o'clock in the morning?
WILLIAM FINGER:
Each morning? [Laughter]
HOWARD KESTER:
Every morning, and he and I became very close friends, and he'd take me on walks at daybreak, and he poured out this knowledge of plantlife . . . this flower or herb and what it was good for. So I decided that

Page 13
summer that I was going to Tuskegee and study under Dr. Carver, and the invitation was issued, and I went down; but when Alice's father heard that I was going to Tuskegee, he, like my own father, hit the roof.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You weren't married then, but you were courting.
HOWARD KESTER:
Courting, yes, but when we were married, and I am not sure I have ever told this before, her father disowned her 'cause she was marrying the kind of guy that I was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he stick to that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes he did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did that mean?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, when we married, we married just a little ways outside of Decatur. That's where they lived, on Adams Street in Decatur, Georgia. And he and his second wife refused to come to the wedding, and I guess that was the last time I saw any of them . . . that summer was the last time that I ever saw him. But Alice's first, her own mother, was a tremendous person. She had no racial prejudice and color didn't mean a thing in the world to her, and if anybody was sick, Miss Ruby looked after them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she live in Decatur?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, she died before Mr. Harris moved his family to Decatur . . . died at childbirth. They lived way out in the country. Do you know where Warrenton, Georgia is? Well it was just beyond that, and Mr. Harris was running and managing a plantation with a view to selling it off into smaller plots 100, 200 and 500 acres. It was a huge plantation. That is where Alice was raised and that is where her father lived.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So Alice didn't have anything to do with her father again after she married?
HOWARD KESTER:
She couldn't. He wouldn't let her in the house. She went and

Page 14
lived with her sister, Buelah, who was the second daughter, and that's where we were married, in their home. This was pretty hard.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I bet. So was it after you had married that you went briefly to Princeton and . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No, before I was married. I had always had a great admiration for Princeton because Kyle Smith, who was Secretary of Madison Hall, which was the YMCA at the University of Virginia won my admiration and respect. He was born in Brazil, I believe, his parents were Missionaries there. And I thought it had a name, you know, Princeton had a name, and I thought that I could get the kind of training that I needed for the Ministry at Prenceton. Well, I got everything else but that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you have any contact with Unions when you were up there?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I did later.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But not that first time?
HOWARD KESTER:
Not that first time. Wait a minute, I did, once I did. I went to Yale more than I did to Union to talk to professors whom I knew, and whom I was certain would understand my point of view; at least I hoped they would, and they did, and helped me a great deal.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did you know those Yale professors?
HOWARD KESTER:
Pardon.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you know the Yale professors through your YWCA work?
HOWARD KESTER:
No. I knew them personally and through their books.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Through their books, and you just went out to see?
HOWARD KESTER:
I went up to see them and to talk with them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you go to see Reinhold Niebuhr too?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, Reinhold Niebuhr was one of my closest friends but I did not know him until later on.

Page 15
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you go out to see him then? That early.
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I didn't see Reinhold until I started working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1928.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was he at Union already when you went to Prenceton?
HOWARD KESTER:
I am not sure that he was. I can't be too certain when he came, but the first I ever saw Niebuhr, I do remember this — it was in Detroit at a National Student Conference.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When was that?
HOWARD KESTER:
It was at a student conference in Detroit, and Reiny, you know he says he cut his eye teeth on a Ford, and I can't remember that we actually went to a Ford plant, and I doubt it very much. But through him, we learned what Ford was like. There was Bennett who really ran the plant. Old Henry was too old to do so.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Do you remember what year you went to that student conference?
HOWARD KESTER:
Let's see.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I was just curious on how you got interested in Reinhold Niebuhr and how you became friends.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, yes. I got interested in Reiny and he in me when I was working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in New York. Reiny says he was never a pure pacifist, and the question came up some years later in the FOR, regarding the extent to which we were involved in the class struggle, and I took the position, because I was working with the coal miners in East Tennessee and they wouldn't let me go out day or night without a guard.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was this at Wilder?
HOWARD KESTER:
At Wilder, and I think John Knox said that I shouldn't let the matter bother me. But I reported it at our national conference, FOR conference, and some of them hit the ceiling and said, "You've got no right to have these

Page 16
miners guard you." Well, they (the miners) wouldn't hear of me going without them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was easy to say by somebody up in New York.
HOWARD KESTER:
And I said, "Whether you like it or not, we are already involved in class struggle. Every time you eat a loaf of bread or buy a ton of coal, you are participating in the struggles and the agonies of the workers or the miners, and unless you try to do something about it, you are a sinful person." Well, that didn't set very well, but many of the members agreed with me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I just read a little piece written by John Niven Sayre? Someone who was a Simon Pure pacifist and a good firend.
HOWARD KESTER:
John Nevin Sayre.
JACQUELYN HALL:
John Nevin Sayre. A little history of the Fellowship and I was struck by the way he talked about the controversy over the relationship of the Fellowship to the labor movement, and he quoted . . . he said, "One of our revolutionary members said that maybe one reason we weren't, didn't want to involve ourselves in the class struggle was because we own too many dividends."
HOWARD KESTER:
[laughter] Heavens . . . He's still alive.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that right?
HOWARD KESTER:
And he's up in his nineties, upper nineties, I think.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the Fellowship . . . it supported the labor movement in a general kind of way.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, that's right, but that began when J.B. Mathews, and later A. J. Muste became Secretaries.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was J. B. Mathews a southerner?

Page 17
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where was he from?
HOWARD KESTER:
He came from Kentucky. His father was Chief of Police in some little town in Kentucky, and J. B. was, I suppose — J. B. Mathews at one time was one of the most respected and beloved Professors and Teachers in Nashville.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He taught at Vanderbilt?
HOWARD KESTER:
He taught at Scarritt, and he almost single handedly prevented a race riot at Fisk by calling a judge, the Governor, and other prominent people and telling them not to send the police or interfere with what was happening.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it in 1919, that wave of . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Much later than that?
HOWARD KESTER:
It was later than that. It was in the . . . it must have been sometime in the late twenties. I can't be certain about it, but he was a man of great courage, and like Roger Baldwin, he was a spellbinder.
JACQUELYN HALL:
A spellbinder. It seems to me that Scarritt College had an unusual number of people like that in comparison with Vanderbilt.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
Chancellor Kirkland ruled Vanderbilt with an iron hand. I got fired from Vanderbilt.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you were Associate Secretary at the "Y".
HOWARD KESTER:
And the Secretary got fired along with me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I wondered. I read about that incident and I guess it was John Egerton who said that you were censured?
HOWARD KESTER:
Um hum.
JACQUELYN HALL:
By all the presidents of various universities, but was it Dr. Kirkland who was most upset?

Page 18
HOWARD KESTER:
They all met together . . . here is what happened.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Including the President here?
HOWARD KESTER:
It was around 1928-29 when the western powers, France, England, Germany invaded China, with a view to carving it up. I decided we ought to have a meeting about it. We had no business in China, and I went to the Dean, Dean Brown, O. E. Brown, and asked him if I could call a meeting of all the students in Nashville to talk about this situation. We had a Missionary, the name I don't recall at the moment who was in Nanking when it was bombed. We had Mathews from Scarritt, and we had a student, a very brilliant student from Fisk from Trinidad, British West Indies, whose father occupied a position of some importance and Malcolm Nurse this Negro student from Fisk, was a brilliant person . . . really brilliant, and the three of them spoke, and in those days students didn't have automobiles. They had to use street cars, and we had no intention of segregating anybody, but they came in by schools because of the street cars. It was a problem with transportation, and they sat together, and I think my wife and a girl by the name of Catherine Butler, who came from Binghamton, New York were the only white women sitting next to Negroes . . . I am interested in these names coming back to me . . . [laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
You have an incredible memory. I am interested in all the names you can think of because I'm trying to locate as many of these people as I can.
HOWARD KESTER:
Catherine Butler, she may not be here. I think she had to leave the YW at least for a while because of tuberculosis, or something of this sort. Anyway, they . . . Catherine and Alice, were the only two people, girls, white girls, who were sitting next to Negroes. I'm sure of that, and the Curator of the Museum at Vanderbilt, he lived in Wesley Hall, which was the School of Religion, he came by and saw all of these Negro and white folks, you

Page 19
know, and he called the papers . . . that it was a white and black meeting, and there were quotations. I think it's in The Tennesseean "that big buck Negroes . . . niggers were sitting next to white women."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Front page news.
HOWARD KESTER:
Front page, and Chancellor Kirkland called all the Presidents of the Colleges, including Scarritt, Peabody, Fisk, eight or nine were included, and they held a meeting, and the Chancellor said, one of the professors later told him, he said, "I don't mind the jackasses braying, I just don't want them braying on my campus." So the Dean called a meeting, he was forced by the Chancellor, as I understood it, of the student body of the School of Religion the next day . . . he had been a Missionary in China, and he talked about the improvements that the English and others had brought into China, and we were quite wrong in our condemnation, and when he got ready to close he said "I want to see Mr. Kester in my office immediately." Alice was sitting right by me, we were married then. We were married in February and this was in March, I reckon.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did she think she had gotten herself into!
HOWARD KESTER:
She never protested, never protested. She felt that I did what I had to and it had to be. And she sat right beside me, and I went in and talked to the Dean, and he was quite angry. His face was flushed, he said, "You did not tell me you were going to invite Negroes," I said, "Dean Brown, I said all the students, and that's what I meant." And I said, "You've known me long enough to know that I wasn't going to exclude the Negroes." He said, "In any case, you are fired." So I was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you get any faculty support?

Page 20
HOWARD KESTER:
Except from a few of the professors at the School of Religion, Dr. Kesler, Alva Taylor and one or two more.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Albert Barnett?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well he was at Scarritt. I got support from him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But not enough to keep them from firing you?
HOWARD KESTER:
Mathews was fired from Scarritt.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was fired at that same time over that same issue?
HOWARD KESTER:
Over the same issue.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he a teacher?
HOWARD KESTER:
He was a teacher and a good teacher.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was fired because of this meeting?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, and there were a lot of repercussions. The girl, who was Dr. Jones, secretary, he was President of Fisk, Margaret Fuller was her name, and he called her in to his office. She was the Chairman of our Student Interracial Group. We met every Saturday down at the Negro Baptist Publishing House for lunch and talk and fellowship, and he said, "You have to resign as my secretary or resign this position you hold." She called me in tears, "What should she do." I said, "There isn't but one thing you can do, stay at Fisk." Because she had a mother to support, the only support her mother had, and I said, "Nobody is going to think hard of you."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there repercussions for the black students involved?
HOWARD KESTER:
[Shakes head negatively]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why is that?
HOWARD KESTER:
If there were, I never knew about them because there were too many professors at these Negro schools who felt the time had come when we should act together and there was great sympathy for all of us who got moved out.

Page 21
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you left Vanderbilt and became the student Secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How?
HOWARD KESTER:
The year I came back. I stayed in New York for two years, and then I came back as the Secretary of the FOR in the South, Southern Secretary.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that the first Southern Secretary they had?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you happen to get involved in the FOR, when it seems that it was very muched based . . . a northern-based organization. Why did you move into that rather than working . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I got an invitation from a man by the name of George Collins, who lives now somewhere in California. He'd been Lieutenant in the Marine Corps during World War I. He was about, I want to say six feet six, that wouldn't be missing by much, and he had been to Blue Ridge to the Student Conference and he had met me, and he had met Alice, and we liked George. "Shorty" is what everybody called him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
"Shorty" Collins.
HOWARD KESTER:
"Shorty" Collins.
JACQUELYN HALL:
This little history says that you were discovered and converted by Shorty Collins, and that's when you joined the FOR.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, he had had a profoundly significant experience in the War, but the New Testament is what converted me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How would you describe your . . . what was it that you believed in that determined these kind of activities that you engaged in, and the organizations that you joined?
HOWARD KESTER:
I think it was the New Testament.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But a lot of people believed in the New Testament.

Page 22
HOWARD KESTER:
Not just the New Testament, but the prophets. "A man is worthy of his hire," for example. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," and I started to tell you about my mother not whipping me . . . when we did something wrong, there was a large closet, a clothes closet in her bedroom, and she would take us, all three of us or two of us, or maybe just me into the clothes closet and talk to us and pray. And when I learned, I was about six years old that women could be sinful . . . there was a sex scandal in town, and you know kids hear everything . . . and when I discovered that, I guess it was about the greatest shock of my childhood because my mother had been so perfect. I think it was . . . I remember one time, we had . . . when we were children, we had to take naps in the afternoon. We had to go to sleep. We'd lie down, usually stretch out in the living room on the carpet, or maybe on a quilt or something, and we had a great big family Bible, like this dictionary over here, and there was a picture in it of the Slaying of the Innocents, do you remember that?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes. I sure do.
HOWARD KESTER:
And I was looking at the Bible, and I saw that picture and I started . . . I guess I was a little fellow, to beat the Bible, this picture you know, and my sister saw me and she thought it was an outrage, you know, and of course she told Mama. Then Mama came in to see what it was all about, what I was doing beating the Bible, and as soon as she understood what it was all about that was the end of it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you think your mother would punish you or something?
HOWARD KESTER:
I didn't know what was going to happen.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You couldn't stand suffering?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I just couldn't, and the Negro people we had around our place were really wonderful People. Their homes were always open to us, they were

Page 23
employed by my father, as cooks and caretakers of the animals and all of that sort of thing. I got to know them, and I developed real love for them because they were good to me and my family. And my father and mother had a habit of . . . habit isn't the right word . . . if they found a child, who was orphaned or having a difficult time, they would take him in, and he became a member of the household. I don't remember a girl, but boys, little boys to do the chores. He had to do the chores.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was traveling and organizing for the Fellowship in the South like in the twenties? How successful, how many members were there, or local chapters?
HOWARD KESTER:
Not many.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you comeup against? You spoke on college campuses mostly?
HOWARD KESTER:
Altogether I think I spoke in over 250 colleges and universities from the University of Minnesota to the University of Texas across the South. There were some places I couldn't even put my foot on the grounds, I was poison.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you talk about?
HOWARD KESTER:
I talked about war, race, industry, the sort of thing that was agitating the students in those days.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you talk about the New Testament too?
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure, sure, that was the basis for it all. I felt the church, you see, ought to be involved in the troubles of the Family of Man, and when I say involved, I mean trying to do something about it, not just preaching sermons. And there wasn't many people who felt that way about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you think of yourself as a Social Gospel . . . did you read Harry Ward?

Page 24
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh yes. I read Harry Ward. I knew Harry Ward, but Harry was too close to the Communists to suit me. You didn't know him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
No. What do you mean? How was he close to the Communists?
HOWARD KESTER:
He was a fellow traveller. I am almost certain.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In what sense?
HOWARD KESTER:
As Reiny told me . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who did?
HOWARD KESTER:
Reinhold Niebuhr.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, what did he do that made him . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, he was an ally to . . . with the leadership in the Communist party.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was finally kicked out of the Union Seminary, wasn't he? It got too difficult for him to stay there.
HOWARD KESTER:
I guess so, because he and Reiny were almost like this . . . warring with one another.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you think that at the time?
HOWARD KESTER:
I didn't know too much about it. We had a meeting of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen in Chattanooga. It was interracial, interdenominational at the Third Presbyterian Church of which T. B. Cowan was the Pastor. And the people of Cowan's Church in Chattanooga took us into their homes and the women of the church prepared the meals, and it was almost an unheard of thing, and it was well written up in the press. George Fort Milton was editor of the Chattanooga Times, and he gave us good space. We had workers who were on strike down around Rome Georgia, and well, we just became involved in everything that gave people trouble.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You didn't, were you able to form local chapters of the Fellowship?

Page 25
HOWARD KESTER:
A few.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where were they?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, Nashville was the central place, and the members were widely scattered.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who were some of the local leaders or people involved with the Fellowship?
HOWARD KESTER:
Constance Rumbow, Albert Barnett, John Knox, who is now at Alexandria. He used to be at Union, one of the finest New Testament scholars in the world. Well, I think he has become an Episcopalian now, he used to be a Methodist. But they were few and far between, they really were.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why were you not able to organize more students?
HOWARD KESTER:
Pacifism was way over on the left, you know?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, at this meeting in Chattanooga there were three or four of us, Francis Hanson, Geroge Strether, and myself, and I think there was one other student, Irving Brown? Wasn't Irving Brown the AF of L representative in Italy that put on this post card campaign for Italians to out-vote the Communists? Do you remember that? I think Irving was with us, I can't be certain. You know, we decided that things were in such a mess . . . see, this was right at the bottom of the Depression, and if the Communists had anything to offer, we better find out about it. Well, who would we see. Alice said "We'd always go to the top, we'll see EArl Browder," and we called him and he said "Don't come to my office, but come to my home." He gave us the address and we went. Within fifteen minutes after Browder had started talking, I knew that Communism was something that I wanted nothing to do with. I guess I proved it too.

Page 26
WILLIAM FINGER:
You felt that strongly, right at the time? Or was it later on?
HOWARD KESTER:
Right then. When I left his house.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it Browder's personality?
HOWARD KESTER:
His disregard for truth, his position that the ends justifies the means the goal was the main thing, and what you did to try to realize the goal didn't matter.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you start thinking of yourself as a Socialist?
HOWARD KESTER:
I believe it was in 1932.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did that come about?
HOWARD KESTER:
Norman Thomas.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were converted again?
HOWARD KESTER:
I knew him from committees on which we served. I had met Norman while I was in New York with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We were on the same committees together. I had great admiration for him, not only for his heart, but also for his brain, and he had enourmous integrity and honesty, and I held meetings with Norman in Nashville and Little Rock and of course, he was very, very up on the organization of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. But he never tried to politicalize it . . . he never. He wanted a bonefied labor union, and I admired him greatly for that, you know. Because, well, I worked for Walter Reuther; I didn't know Victor too well, but I knew Walter very well, and John L. Lewis.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How about Van Bittner? John Wright . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Those names are familiar.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They didn't influence you as much?
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you joined the Socialist party about 1931.
HOWARD KESTER:
I ran for Congress. [laughter]

Page 27
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, you did all right, didn't you? You beat out the Republican.
HOWARD KESTER:
I beat the Republican.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who did you have working in your campaign?
HOWARD KESTER:
Myself and others.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that all?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's all.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Didn't Norman Thomas come down and campaign with you?
HOWARD KESTER:
We had a whistle stop for Norman, and when the train stopped Norman came out on the rear platform to speak. Of course, we had a lot of Socialists there, and . . . really not lots, maybe 35 or 40, maybe 50. The engineer turned on a steam valve, you couldn't hear a thing. [Interruption - Mr. Kester has moved a good ways from the machine making transcription extremely difficult.]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Alva Taylor.
HOWARD KESTER:
Alva Taylor.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tried to start a labor church.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right. He was Professor of Social Ethics and the Chancellor at Vanderbilt never did like him because he would take his students to not only labor meetings . . . I was . . . [interruption] I was in his classes and he would have us go over to Fisk. We'd go over about once a week, and have a seminar with one of the Negro Professors running the seminar . . . Dr. Charles Johnson, Frazier, what's Frazier's first name?
JACQUELYN HALL:
E. Franklin?
HOWARD KESTER:
E. Franklin, and he would chew you into the tinest morsel and spit you out.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I can imagine.

Page 28
HOWARD KESTER:
But what he said was true. He was fed up with southern bigotry. Excuse me I'll be right back, I want to get some water. [Interruption]
WILLIAM FINGER:
You and Norman Thomas had just been interrupted by the steam whistle.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah, and . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't hear a word he said.
HOWARD KESTER:
Hardly a word he said, and we did have a large meeting for Norman in Alva Taylor's Church, and my wife, Alice, assumed responsibility. It was at the evening meal, is what it was, and I remember Norman liking the biscuits and strawberry preserves, and he really was a tremendous guy.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you have a Chapter of the League for Industrial Democracy in Nashville?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, what we did have, we didn't have a chapter, but Alice and I . . . you know, they had lectures, lectures and we ran those in Nashville for I don't know how many years, and I was on the circuit myself, and I was out mostly in the Mid-West.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you think of Norman Thomas as a leader of the Socialist party?
HOWARD KESTER:
I thought he was the best man for the job.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But the party declined his leadership?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, that was one reason I left the Socialist party, because it is split all to pieces. There were too many factions and I joined it because I thought it was a unit, you know? If you had disagreements, you settled them peacably by talking them out. And some of those guys, particularly around New York, I just couldn't talk to them. They had the last word on everything. I can't remember those boys' names.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you involved in the expulsion of the Trotskyites?

Page 29
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was really disruptive.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was that all about?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I was a member of the National Executive Committee. And the question came up that they wanted to join the Socialist Party, and Norman was afraid that if they did, they'd really destory the Party.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why?
HOWARD KESTER:
They would exercise a great deal of influence and power and there were a lot of very intelligent younger men, students . . . Francis Henson, for example. I always liked Jay Lovestone, very much, who was a Trotskyite, and . . . no, I don't know whether Jay was or not. He was a leader of the Communist Party opposition, CPO, I think I may be mistaken about his being a Trotskyite, but he was certainly no Stalinist. And when the two of the men met me in Minneapolis and the Trotskyites and talked to me, I listened to them. But I didn't make a commitment one way or the other. They wanted me to commit myself that I would vote for their inclusion. And when the time for the vote to be cast came, I voted against them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that mostly because of Norman Thomas?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, mostly.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you were working with the Fellowship and the Socialists Party . . . when you joined the Socialist Party, did you drop out of Fellowship about the same time?
HOWARD KESTER:
I dropped out of Fellowship in 1934, and I ran for the Socialist Party in 1932.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And you left the Fellowship over the labor problem, etc.

Page 30
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me a little bit about Wilder, Tennessee.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, Wilder was one of, I think I could find you an article . . . have you read the article written by the Nashville Tennesseean by . . . I forget the girl's first name.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Recently?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, written back in 1933 or 1934, somewhere along in there. I'll get you a copy of it. I can find my copy upstairs. Well, there were three coal mines. Wilder, was the chief coal mine, and Davidson and Tipton, and Tipton was up at the top of the mountain and Wilder was down at the bottom. And Alice and I organized what we called Aid Day, and when we first went in there, we simply knew that they were in trouble, and wages had been cut and cut and cut. You worked 16 hours a day, and the maximum pay was $2, and by the time the rent was taken out, the electricity was taken, out bath house, what are you going to live on? So we went up, at first they know whether we were on the level or whether we were really representing the company. And I could understand their attitude.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't know anyone when you first went there?
HOWARD KESTER:
Not a soul.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You just knew the conditions?
HOWARD KESTER:
I knew the conditions.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How did you know about the conditions?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I had friends who lived in Allendt which was just a short ways from Wilder, and through the grapevine. I think Albert Barnett first told me a good bit about Wilder and he was instrumental in getting me to go up there, and offer our help.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is Albert Barnett alive?

Page 31
HOWARD KESTER:
No, Alva died several years ago. I think he changed a little bit in his attitudes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When he got older?
HOWARD KESTER:
I think he became more conservative after he went to Emory. Well anyway, they accepted us and at the first meeting, it was a Sunday afternoon, Barney Graham, the President of the union intorduced me, he told the story about Lafayette coming to this country to help us, and here was another Lafayette coming to help them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were another Lafayette?
HOWARD KESTER:
[laughter]
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did you think you could do for the mines? You weren't working for a union or . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No. We could feed them. We usually went up on a Friday and we would get students from Vanderbilt, or Scarritt. Those Scarritt girls were always willing to go, and we were going to have Aid Day, and my wife kept a strict record of everything, second-hand clothes, almost anything that you could name, we had, and canned goods for desperate families.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You took those things with you?
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure. Canned goods, even the Rabbi at the Jewish Temple there in Nashville just opened the room where they kept all the canned goods and said, "Take what you want."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you in contact with Highlander Folk School?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you go up there for workshops?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, not so much for workshops, I got interested in Highlander in the very beginning but it became too close to the Communists to suit me like Commonwealth.

Page 32
JACQUELYN HALL:
How was Highlander connected to the Communist party?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well I think Jom Dombrowski, do you know Jim?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
I think he was a fellow traveler . . . I won't say, I certainly don't want to be sued. I don't think he carried a red card, but I think he was a fellow traveler, and Myles seemed to . . . Myles Horton seemed to impress me as being very sympathetic to the Communists, and Don West, you know. He became a member of the Communist party and his sister married the district organizer of the Communist party here in the South. Nat Ross, I think was his name.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, it seems to me that the work that Highlander was doing with labor organizers was very much the kind of thing that you were doing.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, but I didn't, I didn't want to be associated with the Communists.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why was that?
HOWARD KESTER:
I just didn't believe in them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You didn't see them as part of a movement, as one part of the larger movement that you were part of, as doing some constructive things, or as being worth supporting anyway?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I think at first I felt that way. That was one reason why I went to New York to see Earl Browder but I got to know, not by name, but by face, a lot of Communists.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In the South?
HOWARD KESTER:
In the South, and they just didn't strike me as the kind of people that would push along the basic ideals and ideas of the Christian faith, and that is what I was concerned about.

Page 33
JACQUELYN HALL:
How strong was the Communist Party in the South in the thirties?
HOWARD KESTER:
It was pretty strong.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Stronger than the Socialist Party?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I can't say, but it was pretty strong, I expect that it was stronger than the Socialist party because they were revolutionaries, you know. I went to many meetings, I was invited to a meeting in Birmingham, to a Negro church on Easter afternoon . . . Easter Sunday afternoon, and it was about the time of the Scottsboro Boys . . . it might have been Angelo Herndon, I can't remember. But it was a protest meeting, and the place was so jammed packed I could hardly get up to the pulpit where I was to speak.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who had called this meeting?
HOWARD KESTER:
The Communists, and after it was over, two of the men came to me and said, "We'd like to take you and your wife around to where we live." And they did. They drove us all over Birmingham, so we wouldn't be able to locate their headquarters. And the thing that I remember about them, was that they were both tall and thin, and had a swanky apartment in a swanky area in Birmingham, and the appeared to have ample means to live on, you know, and it looked like to me their clothes were very expensive, you know, probably tailor made and expensive, and I was amazed at the literature that they had stacked all about the apartment.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
HOWARD KESTER:
. . . and I don't think they ever told me their names, if they did they would have been fictitious.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where were you in the controversy within the Fellowship of Reconciliation, over how much to emphasize Christianity and whether they should espouse broad humanism . . . were you very much . . .

Page 34
HOWARD KESTER:
Ahhhh.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you think of yourself or talk about yourself all through this period very clearly as a New Testament Christian, and not as a . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah. I joined Niebuhr's Socialist Christians because I thought they had something to say, and something very important.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did it mean to think of yourself as a Socialist? In what sense were you a Socialist? What kind of changes did you want to see come about?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, the only thing that I was concerned about . . . The thing that I was concerned about was justice for all people, and I was struggling to achieve the goals.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But what did you think it was going to take to bring about that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I thought the only way we could do it was by word of mouth, and by writing about conditions, exposing conditions, and I became interested and concerned. In '34 I investigated my first lynching for the NAACP.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was that the Claude Neal incident?
HOWARD KESTER:
Claude Neal.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was incredible.
HOWARD KESTER:
That was a horrible affair.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I read the piece that you wrote. How did you happen to do that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Walter White had asked me to do it - undertake an investigation of the lynching.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did he think of you as someone to go and investigate a lynching?
HOWARD KESTER:
He knew of my concerns through the student movement, and whenever I went to New York I always went around to see Walter. I went to his

Page 35
home, had dinner with him, I knew the family, and I suppose that he just thought that I was foot loose and fancy free, and I could get off and go, and I would go. And I did, and I almost got lynched. I just did get away in time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What happened?
HOWARD KESTER:
When I told Walter I'd go, he wrote the President of the Negro school in Tallahassee. What's that called now . . . Tallahassee University, University of Florida.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is that Florida Union?
HOWARD KESTER:
Florida Union, that's right . . . and that I was coming and please give me all possible aid. And I went straight to Tallahassee, and it was on a Saturday night when I got there and Neal, I believe, was taken down from a limb on Sunday, I believe. And he called his faculty together . . . and I understand his feelings, I probably would have done the same thing if I had been in his shoes, and told them to have nothing whatever to do with me, because the legislature was going to meet and determine the funds the school was to receive, and if they found out that they were in any way mixed up with this investigation into this lynching, they'd (the college) be in trouble. And he was right. And I didn't know it of course. When I went there I saw a girl that I had met at Kings Mountain - a member of the faculty. And she came over to me hesitatingly, and she told me very quietly what the President had said, and she said, "But you go outside and you stand at the far corner of the porch, and I'll see if I can do anything to help you."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who was that?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I can't remember, I wish I could. So many of the people I worked with are gone now, and I just can't remember them all. I remember the face, I know exactly what she looked like.

Page 36
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you stood at the corner of the porch?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and in a minute or two she brought a Negro over, a young man, who was the Pastor of the Negro church in Marianna, and she said to me, "He might be able to help you." He and I talked in subdued tones for several minutes. I told him what I was trying to do, and I asked him if he thought he might help me and he said he didn't know. And I said, "Will you meet me at the church, would you meet me at the church maybe with some of your elders, or just by yourself on Sunday afternoon?" (The following Sunday afternoon, it was a weekend). And he said "I'll try to be there." When the time came for me to go to the church . . . now something told me . . . I have a little bit of woman's intuition . . . not to go in my car, to walk there like I was taking a late Sunday afternoon walk, and when I got there nobody was there, no lights or anything of that sort, and I decided to stay on the outside of the church. And just about dusk, cars began to come up the road into the church yard. Now, how they knew I was around there, I don't know, but they did. There was a ravine that led from the church down to Marianna. The church was up on a kind of a hill, and the ravine was full of briars and bushes and everything. They were looking for me, and they had flashlights and the lights from their cars, and there wasn't anything for me to do but crawl down the side of the hill to that ravine. I had told one of the Negro porters at the hotel what I was doing. I thought I could trust him. Had to trust somebody, and I didn't dare go in the front of the hotel, so I went around to the kitchen and he was there and let me in, and he took me upstairs, washed me and fixed me up, and then just as soon as I changed my clothes, I went down and spoke to the clerk at the desk, you know, and then went out on the front porch, just as if nothing had ever happened. But if they had laid hands on me that night, it would

Page 37
have been the last of me. I am sure of that. The next morning a fellow, a filling station operator where I traded, from whom I bought the picture of Neal hanging on the limb of the tree, I bought it from him . . . when I went over on Monday morning he said, "You better get out of town, they are looking for you." He didn't have to say it, but in a matter of thirty minutes I was on my way to Nashville.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where had you gotten your information?
HOWARD KESTER:
I talked to all kinds of people. I bet I ate a hundred hamburgers at hamburger joints, filling stations . . . those are the places that I got my information from, just listening, and some of the people wanted to brag about the lynching.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Didn't people realize that you were a stranger?
HOWARD KESTER:
What?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Didn't people wonder . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
It was a tourist area, Mariana, and a nice hotel. Lots of people just came for vacation, and I figured if I could get to the Alabama line I would be safe. I thought they followed me, I don't know, I can't swear to it . . . and I finally stopped at the home of an Episcopal Minister, who was an elderly and wonderful man, I believe it was in Eldorado, but I can't be sure, and he understood the situation. That's one of the hard things, investigation of a lynching. The Episcopal Minister was the first Minister I went to see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Wherever you went? Why was that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Because they always knew what was going on.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why not the Methodist Minister?
HOWARD KESTER:
One Methodist Minister in Gastonia . . . his son is now the Chaplain at SMU, Grady Hardy, his father understood I was at Kings Mountain

Page 38
and sympathized with the strikers. I was in Gastonia, you remember? On the night the blow-up came. The Sheriff had been shot and fires were breaking out, people shooting . . . sometimes in the right place at the right time . . . or the wrong time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was that the right place at the right time?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, Liston said he would give his eye teeth for my notes, but I could never find them when he was writing his book. I told him everything I knew, but that wasn't much . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were some of the other lynchings you investigated? How many did you investigate?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I was thinking about that today. I would judge in the neighborhood of between 20 and 25 for the ACLU, the NAACP, The Workers Defense League, mostly for the NAACP. And one of the most atrocious ones occured near Duck Hill, Miss. The Neal lynching was bad enough, . . . in between what, in Mississippi, is known as the prairie and the delta, is an area, or was, now I haven't been there in 25 or 30 years, known as the Piney Woods. It was an area of very poor whites.
WILLIAM FINGER:
North Mississippi?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah, and they didn't . . . that's where the clay eaters were to be found. You drive down a country road and you'd find these holes on the side of the road from which the people would secure clay. The clay contained minerals which the people thought helpful toward their health. It was also the big corn liquor area in Mississippi, and it was controlled almost completely by white people. It was controlled by white people, and one Negro man, I can't give you his name at the moment, decided that if it was good for white folks, it ought to be good for Negroes, and so he started a still, and the white folks just rose up in revolt, and they took this

Page 39
man and chained him after they caught him, to a large pine tree. There he was bound with a chain, as close as I am to you, and they chained him to the tree, and they started tormenting that poor thing with blow torches, and they said you could hear the man scream for five miles and finally somebody picked up a five gallon can of gasoline or kerosene and poured it on him. And an Episcopal Minister was with me to make this investigation, Charlie Hamilton of Aberdren, Mississippi.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you ever investigate any other lynchings?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, Arthur Raper and I investigated the lynching of a small Negro boy not far from Nashville, and neither one of us knew that the other one was investigating. A small boy was accused of molesting a girl in a community near Nashville. The parents, of course there was a real possibility of trouble, you know, being accused of molesting a white child or white woman, or something of that sort, and Alva Taylor, Barnett and various other people became interested in this thing being investigated and arranged for a meeting, I think, and I can't be certain, but I think it was in the Court House in Nashville where the reports were to be made. And what the family of this little Negro boy felt, was that he would be the object of terror and maybe lynching, and they sent him to his uncle's home in Nashville. And the uncle's home was right across the street behind the dormitory, the men's dormitory on Fisk campus, but the mob broke in there and got that child and hung him, if I am not mistaken, on the flagpole at the Court House. I investigated it, Arthur was there and I didn't know that he was investigating it, and of course I was glad because it confirmed everything that I said and vice versa.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you went into these places, how did you go about getting information? Besides going to the hamburger joints . . .

Page 40
HOWARD KESTER:
Sometimes you'd find somebody . . . hear somebody who was outraged by what had happened.
JACQUELYN HALL:
White person?
HOWARD KESTER:
White person, and I'd always go to the Negro folk and talk to them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who would you go to to talk to in the black community? Is that where you got most of your information . . . from blacks?
HOWARD KESTER:
Blacks and whites. Sometimes it just fell into my lap. For example, it was reported that the farmers, cotton farmers in Warren County were forcing Negroes to pick the cotton at a price much much lower than they could get in other counties, but they couldn't get away. This was in Georgia. Warrenton is the County seat, and Alice was with me. It was not too far from where she was raised as a child, and we thought we'd go down to see the old plantation and maybe meet some of the older people who were there when she was a child, which we did. And we went to the hotel and registered, and after we came out I wanted to get acquainted with the town, you know, a little bit. A man passed us . . . well dressed, and he stopped, he went by us and he stopped and started walking toward us. I sensed it and he came back to where I stopped . . . Alice and I had stopped, and he came back and said "Aren't you Alice?" He had been the manager of the plantation on which Alice was raised. Well there was nothing we could do but go over to his home for dinner, which we did, and while Alice was with his wife he told me the whole story about what was going on in Warren County. I didn't ask for the story, he just gave it to me of his own free will. I can't remember his name, and that is one reason why I relied so much on Alice.

Page 41
JACQUELYN HALL:
To remember people's names?
HOWARD KESTER:
Names and faces and many things. If there were 15 people sitting in this room, she could tell you where each one of them sat and what each one of them said. Now that is the God's truth, it's amazing, really incredible, and when I would go off on these long trips and would come back one of the first things she would do would be to tell me about who had been there, what they said, and all about them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
She kept you in touch with things?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did she feel about the amount of traveling you did? You were on the road an awful lot.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well she was very lonely and sometimes I can hardly forgive myself, but I doubt if she would have had it otherwise. She was dedicated to our work. Anyway, while she was in the kitchen talking to this man's wife, he took me out on the front porch and we sat together in one of those swings, and he told me the whole story. He was the Mayor of the town and the head of the Ku Klux Klan, and I felt almost miserable, and I had to ask him why he was telling me the story. He said, "Well, I'm telling you, because I am very proud of it."
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of patterns did you see in the lynchings that you investigated? What caused them, who was responsible for them, what class of people?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, a cross section of the community - some well to do, poor people, whites, there was a strong feeling, as you will find in some of my papers that if a Negro had a job and a white man didn't, that was wrong, and he should be gotten rid of. So, but often times the entire community including some of the highly placed people in the community participated in these things.

Page 42
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you find instances where plantation owners were directly responsible for having one of their tenants lynched?
HOWARD KESTER:
On the Dibble Panatation, I believe it was in Cross County, I can't be certain, Arkansas, a man from Kentucky moved down and he didn't know too much about farming, but when settlement time came, he refused to settle with his tenants, and they wanted a settlemen, they needed a settlement to buy food and clothing, and he just refused to settle with them. Of course, he kept the books and he was head man, and he evicted them, and it was in January.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What year.
HOWARD KESTER:
This was around 1936, I reckon, I just can't be positive. It is in the STFU notes. I called James Myers of the Federal Council of Churches and Norman Thomas about what was happening. And we got Sam Franklin, you know from the Delta Cooperative farm to go out to the church where we had moved the people. He had been out in Japan and worked with Kagaiva as a Missionary, and we wanted him to go and try to comfort the people, you know. Here they were, some of them in tents . . . we secured money for food, medicine and necessary clothing, but we put the women and the children in the church . . . St. Peter's Baptist Church, I believe, and the other folks took quilts and blankets or wahtever they could lay their hands on, you know, and made some kind of protection for themselves. Sam had to go back to the farm, and somebody threw, we can't be certain, I can't be, three or five or seven sticks of dynamite among all those people who were out there in the church yard, but it didn't go off. They would have killed every last one of them probably, and Dibble was certain that he had every right to evict them, and if you didn't have a place to to on the tenth of January, you just didn't get located. One of the hard things to believe though, was that there was a Negro woman plantation owner, and she

Page 43
was just as hard as nails.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Plantation owner?
HOWARD KESTER:
She was a plantation owner, and she wouldn't let us come on her place.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I was interested in Sam Franklin . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you were working with National Sharecroppers raising money, with Norman Thomas and Arthur Raper . . . did some of that money from the Sharecroppers . . . most of it went to the STFU, right?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did any of it ever go to the Delta Farm? What was the relationship of the STFU and Delta Farm?
HOWARD KESTER:
That I don't know, except that it was pretty close. Sam was a member of the Fellowship, Jean Cox was a member of the Fellowship, and we had occasional meetings then and later at the Delta Farm, and at Providence.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How many farmers were on the Delta?
HOWARD KESTER:
I don't know it varied.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In those early days when it got started?
HOWARD KESTER:
I would say in the neighborhood of 15 - 18 families.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Didn't they have a little protest . . . some of the farmers themselves didn't like the way they were being . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah, that came up at a meeting at Blytheville, Arkansas, and I knew that because they asked me if I'd accept the Chairmanship, which I did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Chairmanship of what?
HOWARD KESTER:
Of a committee to hear their complaints, and I did it for one

Page 44
reason - and I've got to tell Sam this, because he doesn't understand it - to keep it from falling into the hands of a person who wanted to be the Chairman, and he was going to soak the Delta for it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who was that that wanted to be the Chairman?
HOWARD KESTER:
I believe it was Mascop, I believe he was the one.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he a farmer?
HOWARD KESTER:
Member of the union.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Member of the STFU?
HOWARD KESTER:
Executive Committee. He tried to kill Mitchell one time and I stepped in between them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What do you mean he wanted to soak the Delta Farms?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, he had a feeling that somebody was misusing the funds. He had the same feeling about Mitchell, that Mitchell was taking money, and he shot at him on two occasions, and the second time I wasn't there. He used a shot gun, but the first time I was there, and there was a long table . . . we rented a little place in Raleigh, which is outside of Memphis, it has a store and a few homes, and when people had no place to go we'd being them there, feed them and look after them, and we were having a meeting out at Raleigh, and Mascop was accusing Mitchell of taking dues and using them for his personal use, which I knew as well as a man could know, that that wasn't so. And it wasn't.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What did Mascop say?
HOWARD KESTER:
Nothing, well . . . Mitchell was at the end of the . . . it was a long table, conference table, and Mitchell had his satchel down by his side, and he reached into the satchel to get some papers and Mascop thought he has reaching for his pistol, and I was Secretary, keeping notes, and when he did this, when I saw Mascop draw his pistol, I jumped right in front of him

Page 45
because I knew Walter wouldn't shoot me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why not?
HOWARD KESTER:
He respected me I think.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, are you saying that the grievances of the Delta FArm workers, you didn't think they were legitimate?
HOWARD KESTER:
No. I first of all, thought that people, if they had a grievance, they ought to be heard, and if there was anything we could do about it, do it, and Sam didn't think so. He didn't think they had any grievances, any legitimate grievances, and he wrote Reinie Niebuhr, and Reinie in turn wrote me for serving as chairman of the Committee. Reinie was in Scotland, I think, at the time, and he kind of took me over the coals, but I later explained the whole matter to him.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why didn't Sam Franklin want to hear the grievances? Or want them to be heard by the Committee?
HOWARD KESTER:
That I can't tell you because I suspect the reason for it was that Sam thought it was business that ought to come before the Delta Representatives, Trustees, etc., and it was their business and they ought to have looked into it, and it shouldn't be broadcast.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It shouldn't be what?
HOWARD KESTER:
Broadcasted.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What came of the hearings of the Committee?
HOWARD KESTER:
Nothing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were the problems that the Delta Farmers . . . complained about?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, as I recall, it's been a long time, as I recall maybe too long hours, not enough voice in the management, not enough voice in the government seat. Sam had too much power and so on and on and on. Sam was really a hard working man.

Page 46
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did he make this major decision about the farmer's settlement?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, for the most part.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How much to pay people, how to market the crops, that type of thing?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. I think he and the Trustees made the major decisions, but I think he was right in saying it was a problem they had to work out. They had to resolve it themselves.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It wasn't a co-operative in the sense that everybody had a voice.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's what Sam wanted. He wanted that very much, but I am not sure he ever achieved the whole idea, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It seems like some of the . . . what you were talking about earlier about talking to Browder in New York City. From what I understand he had to use any means to keep the farm alive.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, in a way, but Sam and Gene Cox were completely honest.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In interracial situations?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, absolutely.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So he made decisions himself?
HOWARD KESTER:
Occasionally he had to, but he had the endorsement and backing of the Trustees. Mitchell and I wanted to do the same thing, start the same kind of farm over in Arkansas, and when we went to Washington to secure a government grant or loan, Rex Tugwell was in office. We went up on a Friday to see him, and we asked him . . . we wanted to borrow $60,000, we figured we could handle that, and we could get the land, and there was enough timber on it to build houses, and so on and so on and so on, and Tugwell, he just looked at us and said that we were complete nuts. He said,

Page 47
"You can't do it," and at first he wanted to give us, lend us something like $250,000, and we said that we had always gotten by on a shoestring, and we wouldn't know what to do with $250,000, and he said, "I'll tell you what you do." This was his last day in office, and the one thing that I noticed was a tremendous bouquet of red roses was all that was on his desk, and he said "You boys come back in the morning, Sautrday (which was unprecedented, you know,) and I'll give you my answer." What he wanted to do I think, he never told us what he wanted to do, but I think he wanted to contact some of the resettlement people down in ARkansas as to whether we were reliable and so on, which he has every right to do, and we, Mitchell and I, were very much surprised that he was going to come back on a Saturday when he had served officially his last day. But we were there and he was there, and he had evidently satisfied himself and I think, I can't be certain, and I'm not sure Mitchell even remembers, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood that he agreed to settle around $150,000, and we said that is still too much, but we had no choice.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were trying to barter him down?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah, we didn't want all that money . . . Lord have mercy . . . and when we got back to Memphis . . . when Mitchell and I got back to Memphis, we found that Sherwood Eddy, and William Amberson, who was Professor at the School of Medicine, University of Tennessee at Memphis, an able man, had been a colonel in the ARmy and had gone to some real estate agency and gotten this piece of land down in Mississippi, Mitchell said "They couldn't of picked a worse place." It was in Bolivar County.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Real poor land, wasn't it?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh yes, mostly gumbo and buckshot soil.

Page 48
WILLIAM FINGER:
Little foothills?
HOWARD KESTER:
You had to go clear . . . there were cypress trees, you know what they were like, with the knees on you know, great big things that you've got to be able to build platforms to cut them down up ten feet maybe. It was oblong right on the levy, and copperheads, rattle snakes, cotton-mouths, were everywhere.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you all wanted to get a farm in ARkansas?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And they had gone ahead and bought one in Mississippi?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
With that same hunk of money. The same money that you all were granted by Tugwell.
HOWARD KESTER:
No, no, no. Sherwood (Eddy) started around to the colleges talking, trying to get individuals or college student bodies to buy an acre of land, and I don't know how much money he raised, but he raised a good bit.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did the Delta Corporate Farm last as long as it did? Was it ever very prosperous?
HOWARD KESTER:
No. See the Delta FArm, as you pointed out, was really poor land, and Will Alexander used to kid me about it as being gumbo and buckshot and not fit for farming, and so this farm was disposed of, and we went to Holmes County and a much much better, at least farming-wise location situation, and a David Minter, a Dr. DAvid Minter from Texas, he's in Tucson now, I believe his father was a Presbyterian Minister . . . came down and started the clinic, and the medical society of Mississippi said it was the best rural clinic in the state. They used an old dairy for the clinic, and . . . [Interruption] The second farm was known as Providence.

Page 49
It was in Holmes County, and Sam went as a Chaplain in the Navy, and Dr. Minter and Gene Cox and their wives and children ran the clinic and the farm. Gene Cox's wife Lindsay Hale Cox, was a registered nurse.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They lived down there?
HOWARD KESTER:
They lived right there, and . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
They were all white, weren't they?
HOWARD KESTER:
White, but people from all over Mississippi, rich and poor, came to get treatment because they had such confidence and faith in the skill of Dr. Minter and Lindsay Cox.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Gene Cox was white?
HOWARD KESTER:
Gene Cox was white, and [Interruption]
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
HOWARD KESTER:
But trouble was not long in coming, and this is my understanding of it. They built a wading pool for the children, and someone passed by and saw these children wading in the pool, black and white, and it nearly blew the lid off of Holmes County. The white citizens were angered by this and they called a meeting in Tehula. I guess it was the Klansmen and the white Citizen's Council - also the Sheriff of Holmes County.
JACQUELYN HALL:
This was in the fifties, wasn't it?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. If I hadn't sent all my papers away I could give you the exact date, but the story I wrote was called the Mississippi Story. Have you ever seen it? You get the whole business there. I may have a copy of it, but I'm not sure I have.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who wrote it?
HOWARD KESTER:
I did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The farming had stopped by now as most of the equipment . . .

Page 50
HOWARD KESTER:
Well it was the clinic and the cattle and some farming, but mostly the cattle and the clinic, and they called a mass meeting in the high school to talk . . . that is the people in Holmes County, and Cox and Minter were there, and it looked like it was going to be a lynching party, and one man actually said, "If we had a rope, we could end this business right quick."
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you there?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I wasn't there, and a professor at Stillman Institute in Tuscaloosa, Alabama wired me about what had happened, and that the Minters and the Coxes needed help. In the meanwhile, I had promised Rosalee Oaks at the University of Texas to come out and talk, and Alice and I went to Austin and . . . oh we were there for two or three days, and other people were going to Providence in Holmes County, Will Campbell among them, to try to give the Coxes and the Minters comfort. When Alice and I came by, a barricade had been placed around the road leading to the homes . . . it was one of these "U" shaped roads, you know, and the deputies would take the license of every car that drove up and call the University of Mississippi for example to know what Will Campbell was doing there. Will was the "Y" secretary at Ole Miss.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were with the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen then?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, that's right, and so Alice and I spent . . . well the Sheriff had laid down the deadline, "You've got to be out of this county by a certain date" and we were there. Alice and I went there and were there when the Minters left for Arizona, and we stayed with Gene and Lindsay and the children until they decided to move to Memphis, and then we came home.

Page 51
WILLIAM FINGER:
Sam Franklin . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
He was one of McArthur's chief interpreters.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you ever hear of the . . . ?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did they try to [unknown] with any of the . . . ?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah. We hoped to see those kind of things springing up all over the South, if we could ever get the people and the money, you know. It was . . . we wanted to do for the people down there, what Gene Smathers had done for the people at Big Lick near Crossville, Tennessee. Gene was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and he . . . when he married, he took his bride there and lived there throughout his life and died as the moderator of the United Presbyterian Church.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you ever travel to the country?
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
. . . Gene Cox and the other folks being run out of Mississippi in the fifties after being able, after the farm was able to survive all that time. It seems typical . . . a lot of people started working . . . it seems to me a lot of organizations of people who started in the thirties survived the post-war reaction, got into the fifties and then this incredible backlash just wiped out the work of a generation.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.

Page 52
JACQUELYN HALL:
You traveled around the South, didn't you after the 1954 Supreme Court decision?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you see the South then in comparison to the South in 1934 say? The difference that 20 years had made.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well 1934 looked like it was hopeless. 1954 gave us hope. There was something of real significance that was going to occur then or so we thought. On the day following the decision of the Supreme Court, I decided to go to Black Mountain and just interview as many people as I could. I'd say "What do you think of the decision of the Supreme Court," and it was almost all affirmative. I remembered the manager, shop foreman, that's the word I wanted, shop foreman of the Chevrolet place, and I asked him, and he said to me, "If you read your Bible, you can't come out anywhere else."
WILLIAM FINGER:
It's hard for me to believe that most people the day after that decision in the South thought that that was good.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I didn't say most of them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Most of them that you interviewed.
HOWARD KESTER:
I said that most of the people I talked with . . . the decision of the Court was acceptable. In the thirties, there was no hope, or very little hope, but after the decision of the Supreme Court, we had hope. Do you see what I mean, huh? You see, it did make a difference. We knew trouble was here but at least we had some solid ground to stand upon.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I think there was a lot of acceptance of the Supreme Court decision after it came down, and there was a long process of the Southern politicians and seeing their interests lie in the direction of massive resistance, and a lot of things went on by the time . . . before that kind

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of massive opposition developed. It wasn't just a spontaneous response of white people all over the South.
HOWARD KESTER:
There were always, in my judgement, there had always been a small minority of white folk in the South who had deep sympathy for the Negro.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you thought that was a hopeful sign primarily for racial justice?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you were talking I was thinking. I've been talking to some labor leaders, and they . . . comparing the same two years, they saw a great deal of hope because of the Wagner Act.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And in 1934 they were full of despair . . . the combination of the Taft - Hartley Act and then the NLRB under Eisenhower, they had the opposite feeling about labor.
HOWARD KESTER:
I was invited to speak in Washington . . . can't give you the year, but James Myers of the Old Federal Council of Churches, and Gardner Jackson, I think were the main ones who put up the money to invite a large number of prominent Washingtonians to this dinner at the Cosmos Club in Washington and for reasons completely unknown to me, I was the chief speaker, and Senator LaFollette and other Congressional leaders were there. What we were trying to do was to get LaFollette to establish a Civil Liberties Committee, a Senate Civil Liberties Committee was what we wanted, and John L. Lewis was there too, and after I spoke, John. L. Spoke, but after I spoke there was sort of a spokesman for the planters, and he tore into me . . . did he ever! And Brooks Hayes, whose father had been Governor of Arkansas and he

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was a Congressman, wonderful, wonderful man . . . this man hadn't gotten in his seat and poor Brooks was up and tore into him. I never saw Brooks so mad in my life. He was a gentleman, but he was really stirred to the depths, and then LaFollette agreed to form the Senate Civil Liberties Committee.
WILLIAM FINGER:
An investigating committee?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. Many theses have been written about this business, and people . . . they'd been here to see me and talk to me about it with a good bit of disbelief because they said "If you were responsible, or partly responsible for getting LaFollette into this thing, why didn't he come down and help you sharecroppers, and I said, "Because the need was greater among the industrial workers, and I understood it perfectly, and we had no fuss with LaFollette."
JACQUELYN HALL:
That reminds me of something I wanted to ask you which is: why you did so much more of your work with the tenant farmers than with the industrial workers?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, because they were in such great need, and they had no voice except that of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Textile workers were in great need too.
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure they were, everybody was in great need. This will illustrate. A Mrs. Lawrence from Kansas, whose husband belonged to the Union of Locomotive Engineers, is that right, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Railway worker?
HOWARD KESTER:
Railway Engineers. She called me and asked me if I was coming to Chicago anytime soon and if so she would like to talk to me, and would I let her know, and I happened to be going to an Episcopal Convention of some description, and I wrote and told her I was coming to Chicago and that

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I would be delighted to see her. Mrs. Una Lawrence, that's it, and I saw her, and she said to me . . . I guess we talked together for two hours, and she said to me, "The reason why we wanted to talk with you, or they asked me to talk to you, was to see whether you were radical enough or not, to speak to the Young Women's Auxiliary up here at Ridgecrest." When she used the word "radical," she meant it in terms of the Christian faith.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she mean a radical Christian, or just a friend of . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
NO.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did she mean?
HOWARD KESTER:
She meant that it was New Testament Christianity and I believed in it, and I could and would . . . I never tried to hide anything from anybody, and they had about four thousand girls to come from all over the South.
WILLIAM FINGER:
To Ridgecrest?
HOWARD KESTER:
To Ridgecrest.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of girls?
HOWARD KESTER:
They were textile workers, factory workers . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it the Summer School for Southern Women Workers?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, no, no, that is something else. This is called, it still goes on, the Women's Auxiliary . . . Young Women's Auxiliary of the Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Church. I'm sorry, maybe I'm getting . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, we got it mixed up.
HOWARD KESTER:
Leaving things out.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So y ou went to speak.
HOWARD KESTER:
So I went to speak at Ridgecrest.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And Una Lawrence, she really knew about you, what your politics were and that's what she wanted?

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HOWARD KESTER:
They wanted me to speak about working conditions here in the South. And they gave me a little room, not much larger than the kitchen for the first meeting, assuming that would accommodate us. There wasn't even standing room, and the second day they put us out on the porch . . . front porch of one of the larger buildings, and again we had the thing filled. On the third day they gave me the largest classroom at Ridgecrest, and it was packed. Know why? Because these young women were hearing the gospel as they knew it but never heard it from their preachers.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What were you talking to them about?
HOWARD KESTER:
I was talking about wages and labor conditions, you know, hours, all the conditions that were confronting southern workers, particularly women, and some of the things that ought to be done about it, and they listened gladly because they had never heard it from the pulpit, you know, and they felt that was what the church ought to be saying.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[unknown] was in Jessie Daniel Ames organization The Association of Southern Women for the prevention of Lynching?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
There was an incident. Do you remember an incident in which Mrs. Alfred, a Mississippi woman, gave you some information about a lynching that you investigated, and Jessie Daniel Ames didn't want you to use it?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I don't remember.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You don't remember that? Did you know her?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah, sure, I had great respect for her.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you run into her organization at any of the places where lynchings had gone on?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I can't be sure about that.

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JACQUELYN HALL:
You never got any help from her?
HOWARD KESTER:
Alice worked with that group.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She did?
HOWARD KESTER:
And she worked more specially with a Mrs. Tilley in Nashville.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Atlanta, Mrs. Tilley was in Atlanta.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, later perhaps.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, she probably came up to the Did Alice go to Atlanta to the meetings of the Central Council? She worked in Tennessee?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. She would go with me if I was going, but she traveled rarely alone.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But you never really worked very closely with the Interracial Commission?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, Will Alexander was scared of me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was?
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why was he scared of you.
HOWARD KESTER:
Thought I was too radical.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'm sure that's right.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, I know it's right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Does that mean that he didn't want you to work with him, he didn't want you in the Commission?
HOWARD KESTER:
I suspect so.
WILLIAM FINGER:
On the kinds of industrial things you talked about.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yeah, and Socialism. He used to make jest, fun of me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you argue with him?
HOWARD KESTER:
I expect I did.

Page 58
WILLIAM FINGER:
While we were mentioning lynchings, did you ever, do you remember Arthur Raper's book on the Tragedy of Lynching? Did you think after investigating so many lynchings that it was a very important book in its documentation or its impact?
HOWARD KESTER:
I don't know what I thought. I always had great respect for Raper, but that doesn't matter, and he was a real force for good.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How would you compare Arthur Raper with Alexander and Jessie Daniel Ames?
HOWARD KESTER:
I'd put Raper above all of them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In what way?
HOWARD KESTER:
In intellectual capacity, and grasp of events, and courage to say what was on his mind, and I think I'd put Mrs. Ames next and Dr. Will next. That is just a personal feeling, you know, there is no proof for it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It is interesting you told us that in that book he got clippings in all the major newspapers said it was a wonderful book. Although the white newspapers . . . he claims that the regular white establishment from women's clubs and Rotary Clubs that they accepted this book, and that lynching stopped after that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That book was published in 1931, and this whole struggle started to happen (laughing) after that. Lynching, about 1940, or the late thirties, when the NAACP was campaigning for federal anit-lynching legislation; there was a lot of discussion going on about whether lynching had disappeared and was declining of its own accord, and there was no need for federal intervention, and the NAACP was arguing that lynching was going underground . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, they were right. They just disappeared. Negroes would just suddenly disappear, and nobody would know where they were. Maybe he had gone to Detroit or got killed quiet-like. Some people would get out

Page 59
a report that he had gone to Chicago or New York or something of that sort, and he probably had chains around him at the bottom of the river.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you actually see that happening more often in the late thirties than you had seen it happening earlier . . . that just kind of quiet murder?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I knew it was going on.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, why did people quit carrying out spectacular lynch parties so often. Why did that change?
HOWARD KESTER:
I think it was a metter of well, just plain strategy, like the White Citizens Council, you don't have to kill him or murder him or lynch him, but you can just drive him out of the countryside, and that's what they did by terrorism and by threatening people who traded with them, and that sort of thing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you investigate any incidence of disappearance?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, we did in the union.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In the STFU?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well you saw that process happening?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, yes. The prologue to my book, Revolt Among the Sharecroppers points this up. I am going to have to stop a minute.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Okay, well, you've gone beyond the call of duty.
HOWARD KESTER:
Did you know that?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No, I don't.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well you are not educated (laughing).
JACQUELYN HALL:
I know. Those who revolted among the sharecroppers, yes I know that, I was looking at the overall title. I didn't know that Arno Press

Page 60
had brought it out as a resale. I had read it in its original form.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. I finally got a little contract through the Microfilm Corporation for five percent, it was either three or five.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Let me ask you something. What difference do you see between the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen when you were head of it and the Committee of Southern Churchmen with Will Campbell as head of it?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, for one thing, we had members and each member had to rejoin each year. And it was our feeling that when you were a member of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, you were expected to work in your community or anywhere you could, and dues of course were so low that half of the time we didn't have money to carry out the program. Will Campbell didn't want to have members the way we did it. It was a chore because Alice did it, keeping up with the membership, and the Executive Committee insisted that you had to sign up every year. Well, a lot of people just wouldn't go through that, you know. So we had far more people who were really dedicated to the Fellowship of Southern Churchment than the rolls which are in Chapel Hill would indicate. "I joined the Fellowship once, but what's the sense of joining it again," they would say.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He didn't really spend time cultivating local members, and became just pretty much the little group of people.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, that's one thing. Will was trusted and still is by Negroes, and he is one of the few white men that Martin Luther King trusted, and would have in his councils because, you know, there was a period there when they didn't want any white folks around, and he was one of the few that they asked to come to their councils to confer with them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about a difference in ideas?

Page 61
HOWARD KESTER:
No real difference.
JACQUELYN HALL:
No difference? Will would never call himself a Socialist.
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I guess not. The funniest thing that Will ever did was to administer Communion to a bunch of Klansmen and used corn liquor. He is such a sight.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The only . . . last question that I had was can you remember some of the . . . I am interested in the YWCA during the twenties and early thirties. The work that they did in the Interracial movement. Can you tell me who some of the young women leaders of the YWCA were . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Of that day?
JACQUELYN HALL:
In that day . . . who were active in the interracial efforts? Katherine Lumpkin?
HOWARD KESTER:
Absolutely.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Grace Lumpkin?
HOWARD KESTER:
Grace Lumpkin. And many more, I can't remember them all.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Grace Lumpkin? Right.
HOWARD KESTER:
Katherine was in the YWCA. The last time I saw Grace she was in the Cavalry Episcopal Church in New York City on Fourth Avenue.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You just ran into her there?
HOWARD KESTER:
I knew her from years back, so I went around to see her. I have great admiration for her book To Make My Bread. And Lillian Smith was another one, and oh, the girl who worked with her.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Paula Snelling?
HOWARD KESTER:
Paula Snelling. There is a woman over here. She has worked around in numerous southern cities, Elizabeth Jones. She was in Nashville as Secretary, I suppose, of the Industrial Workers of the YWCA, and Alice

Page 62
was Chairman of her committee. There is a funny problem. Do you remember (laughing) the Board wouldn't let me speak to the girls. Elizabeth said "Well, we'll let him pray," and there was no sense in denying that right. So I heard her tell this the other day to a group of people . . . I prayed and she said "You told the Lord everything." (laughing)
JACQUELYN HALL:
Does she live around here?
HOWARD KESTER:
She lives in Asheville, 700 Bitmore Avenue. And I meant to tell you about that the first part of my book is true . . . absolutely true, I changed the man's name because I didn't want to get him into more trouble, the prologue. That's true, it happened.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I wondered about that. You were in the car taking him back to his home when he told you.
HOWARD KESTER:
He had an uncanny insight into all our problems; he had a bladder problem. We took him over to the farm eventually we had at Raleigh, and Mrs. Muscop, Mrs. Walter Muscop, the wife of the man who was ready to shoot Mitchell took care of him.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Mrs . . . ?
HOWARD KESTER:
Mrs. Muscop took care of him.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, thank you for talking to us.
HOWARD KESTER:
You're welcome. I wish I could invite you to supper.
END OF INTERVIEW