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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, November 8, 1976. Interview B-0041. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Jones reassesses his role in civil rights struggles and describes the seeming rift between older and younger civil rights activists

The first wave of older white liberal leaders embraced racial gradualism, while younger blacks grew frustrated with the slowed pace of racial change. These younger activists' tactics seemed abrasive as they shifted the issues from racial segregation to economic injustice. As a product of the older liberal generation which viewed the young activists as radicals, Jones now contends that the split between the activists represents more continuity than division.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles M. Jones, November 8, 1976. Interview B-0041. 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

They would have backed off at the more radical actions, and I base my guess—really, it's a judgment based on experience during the sixties, as you've probably read, when Chapel Hill picketing opened, Dan Pollitt and I, we were about the only two whites in it, really, for the movies. And then John and Pat and the fellows come with the Peace Union. We were starting on the drugstores and things, and they started on the restaurants. And then as it goes on, we just don't make any headway at all. We pound the pavements, and, God, I don't know how long [unclear] , and we seemed to be getting nowhere. And we white leaders were Dr. Frank-ish. The white people like me, the first leaders, were wanting to keep on picketing. We were getting the best of them, see; we'll finally win it. So on and so forth. But these young fellows (mostly black) come along, and they're getting radical in it. They say, "Well, that's too damn long. You might find a way, and you might not." So they begin to go inside restaurants and lie down. Because they saw that we would not be a help there, they formed their own group. Now this was hard for the liberals to accept. They felt deserted and hurt, because here they had [Laughter] started the thing and then were pushed aside as leaders. But they started it then. And as it still wouldn't improve fast enough, why, then, John and Pat and and young black leaders had them go lie in the street. Now they came to talk with me only once. One night I gave a July the Fourth oration on this, we wrote out the steps. And they wanted me very much, because they needed some adult white front, and they didn't need me for leadership. They didn't need me for support. And they wanted me very much to in some way lend support to that Saturday when they were going to lie in the streets. I simply could not do it. I couldn't see blocking a hospital. I didn't see why it had anything to do with restaurants. And my point was, you make your protest at the point where you're hurting, and you don't hurt the people at the other point. We parted friends, I think, but we didn't agree. And so, you see, we became the liberals and they became the radicals. I never resented that, because I felt they had to do it, and after about six months I felt they were right, with the exception of the hospital blocking, that we would have poked along [Laughter] in there eight or ten more years. Our time had come, and it went past, and we did what we could. And you needed these more radical fellows. And since then, what has happened to them? Well, Jim Farmer [Laughter] goes in Nixon's cabinet, and Bayard Rustin's got a place in a foundation, and all these fellows are back in an institution. They're out of the radical stream now; they'll never get back in it. They're liberal, but they'll never get back in the radical stream. And Bayard Rustin possibly could, but I don't see the rest of them doing that. And that's my feeling about this liberal-radical business, you see. If you don't get it accomplished by the liberal and it's a real hurt in society, you've got to push it further. And the liberal gets as far as his rope will let him go, and the radical takes over. And the problem of liberal-radical is not to get their feelings so hurt that they oppose each other. And all the time that the radicals were doing their sitting in and lying in, we were still picketed under a different name. And we did it till the end. So that you see you had your two approaches.
Do you think that what Chapel Hill liberals—Frank Graham or Howard Odum, who were different kinds of men—were looking forward in the long run, with respect to race relations, is what we have today, by and large?
I don't know. I'd like to hear them. I think I probably shared with them, because I wasn't too far from their generation, a rather naïve outlook that if you could desegregate certain things, then that would be behind you, and you could go on with a normal life. But I have seen later—well, I saw right away, as a matter of fact—that that was only the beginning. Now I'm not sure that they'd be disappointed; I think they would, perhaps even better than I, see why they were mistaken. We lived so long under segregation that segregation was the problem, the only problem. And I think basically the problem is economic now. But you don't see those things until you take a step far enough to see them. I believe they'd both be quite surprised at the fact it didn't work out, and we didn't have peace and everything else that goes with desegregation.