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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Arthur Raper, January 30, 1974. Interview B-0009-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Conflict between Ames and Raper over federal anti-lynching testimony

Raper describes a particular instance in which he experienced conflict with Jessie Daniel Ames when he was called to testify on behalf of federal anti-lynching legislation (circa 1940). According to Raper, Ames sought to sabotage his testimony by leaking information to Congressman Tom Connally of Texas. Raper goes on to describe this event as demonstrative of power plays within the Committee on Interracial Cooperation and sites further tensions that existed between Walter White, president of the NAACP, and Ames.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Arthur Raper, January 30, 1974. Interview B-0009-2. 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

So, I had my one very serious situation with her, which I never discussed with her. I never said a word about it. It was when the Federal Anti-Lynch legislation, the Van Nuys Bill, I forget what the number of it was. Walter White wanted me to come to Washington and testify on behalf of it. Did you run into this somewhere?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Uh-huh. I just accidentally came across the hearings themselves and read them. And read your testimony.
ARTHUR RAPER:
Well, isn't that a hell of a thing there. All the bic-bic-bic bic…the record can't show what actually happened.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why, what was it like?
ARTHUR RAPER:
Well, the record…As a matter of fact, it's not in the transcript of what happened. Because, it was a tremendously more broken and they actually, whoever wrote it up, tried to make some sentences out of some of those things. They were interrupted over and over and over again. But, that isn't the serious thing. Mr. Connally, when he came in there and looked at me, he thought that he, on that committee, was representing the southern point of view. And the southern point of view was that "we didn't want any interferrence with administrative matters in the southern states." Particularly on race. O.K. Now, this was his assumption and this was his operation. And when he got in there, here was a guy from Atlanta. So, he at once was going to, somehow or another, get it established that I wasn't a bonafied southerner. I had connections outside, or something. There had to be somehow that you could explain this.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes, you were "under Walter White's influence"?
ARTHUR RAPER:
Yeah, I was "owned" by him, or something else, you know. And by gracious, the further he went, the further he saw that I was just as southern as he was. And then, when he would just be flouncing around. When you read that again, watch out for this one point, and this one point only, when he begins to ask me specific questions about specific lynchings at specific times and all of those lynchings were after the time when I had quit making case studies of lynchings…
JACQUELYN HALL:
Right.
ARTHUR RAPER:
…which Mrs. Ames knew, and she was one of the few people, nobody on that committee knew it. Tom Connally didn't know it. Tom Connally was in touch with Mrs. Ames and Mrs. Ames sent those documents up there to him. "You ask Raper now, when he comes before his committee, you ask him about the lynchings. See, now, he's an expert on lynchings. He's made case studies of a hundred lynchings. O.K., ask him about the one that happened on May 4, 1937 in Danielsville, Georgia", or wherever it was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where the local officials had prevented any action?
ARTHUR RAPER:
Yeah, yeah. "Did I know about that?" "No, Mr. Connally, I didn't know about that. Ask me some questions about these hundred that I did investigate from 1930 to 1936. Now, ask me about those, and I can answer you." "No, no. You're an expert on lynching and this is 1940. I want to know what happened about last year." And he pulls out another one and pulls out another one and another.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now, why did she do that?
ARTHUR RAPER:
Because she was so intent on maintaining her point of view. that she would do anything.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did she become…why did her whole justification of her career and her self image become wrapped up in maintaining this one position…
ARTHUR RAPER:
Because that's the area in which she had had status, that was the area in which she was somebody. She was nobody at the Federal level. She was somebody when she had to talk to these women in these states and she had to get in touch with them by telephone or get in touch with them by telegram and she could do it. But this other she simply could not weather. In other words, she was big in her area…
JACQUELYN HALL:
She had all kinds of rationalizations.
ARTHUR RAPER:
She was big in her little pond, but she couldn't transcend it. She didn't transcend it. I suppose that between her and Walter White, I don't know, but there certainly wasn't any love between them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Right.
ARTHUR RAPER:
And Walter wanted me, after she had done this—and it was perfectly clear what she had done—he wanted me to make a statement about it and I said, "No, no, I'm not going to do it." He says, "We can put that old bitch in her place." I said, "No, no, no. We aren't going to do it. I'm not going to have anything to do with that. And don't you do it either. You've asked me to come here and I've come. And we saw what happened and it wasn't what we wanted to happen, but it's what did happen."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he use those words?
ARTHUR RAPER:
Oh, something about like that. I mean, it wasn't less than that. Because he was utterly disgusted to see one of what he looked upon as his prize witnesses—because I was from the south and the south was without a voice except for Conoally—-practically without a voice…in that hearing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
White's career was tied up also in his view of that issue.
ARTHUR RAPER:
White's career was tied up in the federal thing. Herss was tied up in the local thing and when they came together, I thought I saw both situations and was trying to cooperate. I would to continue to put the major emphasis local, but I think also that the other has to be taken into consideration. And I had seen, practically everywhere I had been, people who would have been glad to have been asked questions under protection, who perjured themselves if they didn't answer them correctly, they would have answered them correctly because, "this is my duty." And they would have done it. But there was no framework in which they could do it, because these grand juries called them in there and the judge made all these speeches about what you must do now, and what you must do…you know, "the law and the sacredness of this and that and the other." Now, they all knew that the judge didn't mean that. This was just the ritual that he needed to go through for the record of the court, in case there was any appeals or anything else. He did this, but they knew that he didn't mean for them to indict anybody. So, there we were.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, White did publish that letter that she wrote to Connally. Do you remember that? In 1940, she wrote a letter to Connally congratulating him on the success of the filibuster and having defeated the Anti-lynching League.
ARTHUR RAPER:
Well, yes, I know that. But this is right in harmony with what I knew her to be and what I knew she did. And this was in harmony with sending that stuff up there. Matter of fact, I know when the fellow came to the door, I'm not sure who it was, I'm not sure but that it was Governor Rivers that brought those sheets of paper to him…when he switched from this…He was just bouncing around with all sorts of crazy questions, but then all of a sudden, here you were just right square on the track of "now this specific lynching at this specific place and this specific time, how about that Mr. Expert?"
JACQUELYN HALL:
She was criticized so heavily for her stand and at the end of the forties, she had very few supporters.
ARTHUR RAPER:
Well, I know, I know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But she…Did that not bother her?
ARTHUR RAPER:
Well, she was determined.