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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Aversion to Communism and its role in the southern labor movement

Kester reiterates his earlier contention that Communism was too far out of line with his Christian principles. Citing his initial involvement and then dissociation with the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, Kester explains that Communism did not adhere to "the basic ideals and ideas of the Christian faith" that served as his motivating force in social justice activism. Despite his own aversion to Communism, however, Kester argues that Communism had a strong following in the South.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
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.
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.
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.