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Title: Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Finlator, William W., interviewee
Interview conducted by Jenkins, Jay
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
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2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
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Title of recording: Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0007)
Author: Jay Jenkins
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0007)
Author: William W. Finlator
Description: 162 Mb
Description: 44 p.
Note: Interview conducted on April 19, 1985, by Jay Jenkins; recorded in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Amy Glass.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series C. Notable North Carolinians, 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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Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985.
Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Finlator, William W., interviewee

Interview Participants

    WILLIAM W. FINLATOR, interviewee
    JAY JENKINS, interviewer


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This is Jay Jenkins interviewing the Reverend W. W. Finlator at his home on Arlington Street in Raleigh, North Carolina, April 19, 1985. Mr. Finlator, let me ask you to give us a brief biographical sketch.
Certainly, Jay. But let me first of all express appreciation for the honor of this visit and this interview, and to know that there's some interest in my little career over at Carolina and in the preservation of it. I'm grateful to you.
I was born in the little town of Louisburg in Franklin County. My father was a railroad conductor for the Seaboard Railroad, and he was conducting a little branch line that made three round-trips a day between Louisburg and Franklinton. And his train went forward one way and backward the other way; there was no way of turning it around in Louisburg. It's interesting that my father, when he was doing that, was also reading law under a judge in Louisburg, and though he never finished highschool he was hungry for knowledge. He had read enough law while he was railroading to go to Wake Forest law school for some summer courses, and to take the bar exam in Raleigh and pass. And he practiced law as well as railroading, which indicates that my background then was a father who was interested in learning and in growing and in improving his mind.

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We moved to Raleigh after about three or four years, so that I entered the public schools in this city. I went to Murphy school, and then the old Raleigh Junior High School, and then Hugh Morson. After graduation from Hugh Morson High School I went to Wake Forest College for four years. And then upon graduation I went to Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.
I came back to North Carolina and have been pastor of different churches in eastern North Carolina through all my career; I never moved away. Had the first church in Pittsboro, over in Chatham County, and along with that a little church in Randolph County in Liberty. Two part-time churches.
That's where you met Mrs. Finlator, I believe.
That's where I met Mary Lib, because she was teaching English and French in the public schools in Pittsboro. She lived in the home of the county superintendent, a wonderful man named W. R. Thompson. He is the father of Reid Thompson, who became a well known public figure in North Carolina and now lives in Washington. And then we went to Weldon for the second pastorate, for five years, then to Elizabeth City First Baptist Church for ten years.
And then, in 1956, we came to Raleigh to Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, succeeding the great Dr. Edwin

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McNeill Poteat at Pullen Memorial. And I was there some 26 or 27 years until I retired a couple of years ago.
So that is largely my ministerial career, always in the Southern Baptist Convention. With this addition: Pullen Memorial joined (while I was pastor) the American Baptist Convention, which is a rare thing for a Southern Baptist Convention church to do. We were dually aligned, and the reason the church did that was symbolic as much as anything else. The Mason-Dixon line divided the Baptist Church prior to the Civil War. And once there was one major Baptist Convention and slavery was a division. And so we said we need to transcend that Mason-Dixon line and so we joined both Baptist Conventions, which was an exciting thing to do.
Incidentally, it's quite fascinating to return to your home, where you were brought up, where you went to public school, became pastor, and see all your old colleagues around there and grow old with them.
You, of course, have been active in civil rights activities for nearly 40 years. Did any individuals have any particular influence on you in this respect?
Yes, very definately. I mentioned my father a while ago. He was a rare character. He had a very deep sense of justice and fairness; we learned this as children. And nothing is learned so quickly by a child as inequity or unfairness. He taught us the

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value of every person. He never let us say a slurring word about a black person. He had a tender feeling for poor people—people we call today "marginal" and "disenfranchised." There were words we did not use in those days, but we learned this from my father. And later on I learned from him the value and meaning of a labor union, because he was a member of a labor union with the railroad called the Order of Railroad Conductors. So that all through my life my father—more than I was aware at the time—was a role model for the sense of fair play and justice and tenderness for the rights of people.
But when I came to Raleigh, Jay, I had gone only to Baptist schools and I had a traditional upbringing in my home: it was a Southern, puritanical background. My church was Southern Baptist, Wake Forest is a Baptist institution, the Louisville Seminary another Baptist institution, so my education in some ways was restricted. Though neither of these schools I went to put a bar on my curiosity and my inquisitiveness. When I came to Raleigh there was a man here in the United Church, named Carl Voss. He was fresh out of Union Seminary. You remember Union Seminary in the days of Harry Ward, Reinhold Niebuhr and Henry Sloan Coffin, the great intellectual and rebellious Christian leaders. And my association with him was a fascinating thing. He opened up to me worlds of reality that I had

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just not known about, what with my conventional education. And he told me the things I was supposed to read. He told me I should read The Progressive Magazine, and The Nation, and The New Republic, The Christian Century, and later on I discovered Christianity and Crisis. And these magazines coming to me in the late 1930s and early 40s had a transforming influence on my life. They opened up to me vast worlds of injustice and economic repression, of unfairness, and I began to deal with these issues and relate them to the Bible. And I went through a great revolutionary experience; it was exciting. It was exhilarating. And thereafter I could never be the same. And so this man, Carl Voss, his friendship, his courage, his intellectual integrity, his dashing verve, was a thrill—all that was a thrill to me.
But then after my father, and after Voss and after the writers I became acquainted with in The Nation and The New Republic and so on, "way leads on to way," as Robert Frost would say. These things that made for other things. But at that time, the great Dr. Frank Porter Graham was at his height of influence and leadership in North Carolina. The man I mentioned in Pittsboro, Dr. W.R. Thompson, superintendent of schools, was a personal friend of Dr. Graham and he and I used to talk about Dr. Graham. You can imagine me: I was 23, 24 and 25, unmarried, first church and living

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in company with a man who was introducing me, personally, to Dr. Frank Porter Graham.
And I saw what Dr. Graham was doing then and many years afterwards. I saw that, first of all, he was a loyal alumnus to the great University of North Carolina. I saw that he loved the South—the southern traditions. I saw that he was deeply devoted to his Presbyterian church. I saw that he loved all kinds of people: people who were in the establishment, people who were rejecting him, criticizing him, excoriating him. I saw that he loved people who were black, people who worked in textile mills, people who were on the farm sharecropping, people who were migrants, welfare people and that he identified with all these people and tried to bring them into the mainstream of American opportunity. And I saw that he was a man of sensitivity, of inflexible courage. I saw the way he stood behind his pastor in the Presbyterian Church, Reverend Charles Jones, in the days when the Presbyterians were in the process of removing him from his church, largely because of some of the social stands this young minister was taking. I learned that every time somebody left his church Frank Graham would find out how much contribution he offered to the church and try to make it up himself personally, if he couldn't persuade other people to do it.

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I saw how he dealt with organizations that were supposed to have been charged with being communist infiltrated. I remember one time there were 8 people on a committee and 2 were declared to be communists. And therefore everyone said, "You must get off of that committee." He said, "Well, if 6 good, American capitalist people couldn't handle 2 communists, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. These communists were Americans, and we're going to work with them and we'll not let both of them take charge."
And I saw the way he loved Thomas Jefferson. He had a great sense of American history and he was devoted to the Constitution. He had almost a sense of veneration for the Bill of Rights. And all of these things together—culture, religion, tradition, background, love of people, intellectual acumen, identification with the disadvantaged people—all these things swam into my ken, and I said, "That's my man. That's my hero. That's my Frank Graham."
When you came to Pullen in 1956, were you already active in civil rights matters, at that time?
Well, not as pronounced Jay, as I was at Pullen. But I had run afoul some of the members of our churches in former years because of my concerns about poor people, about the migrants over in the eastern part of the state, about black people in

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general. And I had run into some difficulty with identifying with the laboring people in Elizabeth City during a strike. And incidentally the man who was the manager of the industry—where some of the people were striking and trying to form a union—was a member of the church. And that was a very delicate situation. But all of this was inchoate, it was in the making even in the very first church, but it was accelerated a great deal after coming to Pullen Memorial where the pulpit was traditionally a free pulpit—something I did not make but that I inherited.
In the 1950s we had desegregation in North Carolina, special legislative session and so forth and so on. What are your recollections of your activities roughly in that era?
Well, along about that time I was a member, of the North Carolina Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. And we were forced to take action and we regarded that as our proper concern. And so through that committee (of which I later became chairman), I became active. There were times when we supported the protests, the vigils. And incidentally I was pleased with the marches down Fayetteville Street, for example, here in Raleigh, in which we were trying to get the old S&W Cafeteria—which was down on one end of Fayetteville Street, very close to Shaw University—to open up to blacks, particularly Shaw students. And

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then we were trying to get one of the major theatres downtown to integrate, and two or three stores. And I actually was not a loner. A number of people at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, such as Dr. H. M. Freeman, and others, Larry Highfill, etc. were down there walking and demonstrating. So I actually joined members of my congregation, which was to me a thrilling thing: to be led by your own people.
There were organizational meetings held at Shaw University. And by that time the blacks of North Carolina had accepted me into their fellowship. From the very beginning of my ministry I made friends with black ministers, and black superintendents of schools. They would have me in their churches and their schools. Embarrassing, because in those days, your own church would not allow them to come and preach but that did not deter them from their kindness. I began to know black dentists and black physicians and the NAACP began to allow me to be a part of its activities. So when the civil rights movements came, I had a long background of black contact and black friends.
And then when I was in Elizabeth City, 99% of the migrants who came through in the spring to harvest the cabbage and the potatoes were black. And I got contact with them through black ministers and other leaders, so that I was greatly enriched with friends—close

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friends—in the black community long before the 1954 decision.
I don't want to jump around. But I know the plight of the migrant laborers has been one of your concerns for many, many years. Has the situation improved to any appreciable extent?
I would like to think that it has. But then there are moments when I say, you know they're still just about where they were. Some improvements, yes. But it's so spotty, Jay, and the government now—particularly the Federal Government—seems to be backing away from it, leaving them alone again, giving up on them. It's a matter, largely—and I learned this later on—if you're a civil libertarian you have to watch yourself because you tend to see everything from the point of view of the denial of civil liberties. And you tend to say that if civil liberties were really enforced, then all our economic problems would fold their tents like the Arabs and would silently steal away.
Yet when you look at the migrants, you'll see that almost every guarantee of the Constitution—of our freedoms—is denied them. They are unprotected by the Constitution. They don't have free speech, they don't have free movement, they don't have free assembly. They don't have equal protection of the law, they don't have due process of the law and they don't go to court

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because they can't afford a lawyer. They're scared of the law and some of them live in virtual peonage, still. They don't have equal education opportunities, equal protection of health, social security: these things that you and I just take for granted. And I have discovered, that if you're ignorant and poor you don't have any civil rights. And when these civil rights don't come to you, you are doomed to this kind of sad life, and your children after you. And I've discovered unless somebody stands up as an advocate and says, "These people have got to be brought under the protection of the Constitution and the government is criminal in denying them their rights—or not defending their rights … "That's what the Justice Department is for: it's to see that justice is insured. That's what the Constitution says, we have this country to insure justice. But justice is just not insured these people. They enjoy no equal protection under the law.
I know you and your groups supporting the migrants have advocated state legislation. Have you succeeded in sanitation and fields like that to any degree at all?
We have succeeded, but oh so slowly, inch by inch. The main reason of course being that the people who employ the migrants are the people who come

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to represent their communities in the general assembly and they stand between those migrants and justice.
Now, in the 1970s we had Viet Nam. What did Viet Nam do to the civil rights movement? Did it have any effect?
Oh, yes. From the point of civil liberties, we thought that the government was breaking the law, breaking its own law, violating itself in that it was denying a country the right to have a revolution. This country had both a revolution and a Civil War, but we didn't want any other country to have either if it doesn't fit in with our economic plans. We thought that it was an immoral war and therefore, an unlawful war. War was never declared, and yet it was the longest war the country has ever engaged in. And a great, great loss of life. We thought it was in violation of the Geneva Treaties. We thought that our country was an international outlaw and that our country—that says it believes in rule of law—was itself the great law breaker.
Do you see any parallel between that and Central America and South Africa?
We see exact parallels, and we're Just afraid that the country is determined not to learn anything from history. And we see another great division for this country if this movement to push and accelerate the war down there takes place. And we are

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prepared—again—to hold our country responsible for violation of its own self.
Do these foreign developments and so forth affect civil rights by diverting attention from internal problems?
Well, you know, it was part of the great character of Martin Luther King, Jr., that he saw this in the Viet Nam War and was willing to express it. The people who were in the civil rights movement following him said, in effect, "Look, Martin. We got enough ourself fighting for our rights in this country and we're making enough enemies. And now, here you are accusing your country at war of doing something wrong. You're putting all of this on the line." But he said, "No. A nation that will do what it did to the blacks in Alabama, will do the same thing to the peasants in Viet Nam. And it's a part of the same picture of repression. And if you will repress and supress ignorant blacks and whites in this country—and get away with denying them their rights—then you'll do the same thing in other countries. You will install governments and support governments in foreign countries that will supress their people, like the blacks have been supressed in this country."
And we see the same thing now of course in El Salvador and Nicaragua. This country is just not willing to let people throw off repressive governments—

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—for their own good—when those repressive governments are the ones that we support to hold those people down, to back up our economic system. So Martin Luther King saw this and he was willing to say it and civil libertarians are aware of this too.
The Equal Rights Amendment was another of your concerns. Did you see that in the context of civil rights?
Yes indeed I did. And this was something that used to worry me (and still does) about my Baptist people. They go to the Bible to justify their position on keeping women "in their place." And they remind us that St. Paul says it is wrong for a woman to speak in the church, and that man should be in control of the household and woman should be subject to man. Like women to men, the church should be subjected to Christ. All this is in the Bible. And they justify their opposition to ERA biblically because all of us have a tendency to read the Bible selectively and we find in the Bible something that justifies what we already believe. And then we give our beliefs Biblical sanction. And the Bible says many things. St. Paul also says in Christ there's neither male or female. In the early church women were deacons, leaders. So that there's the other picture.
And so in fighting for ERA, you have to fight the church because the church stands in the way—it often

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stands in the way—of simple human justice. But we saw, and vividly see, that the Constitution must really mean women but it doesn't say women. And we know that when Thomas Jefferson went home from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to tell his family about the Bill of Rights and the new Constitution, it didn't mean poor people, black people or even Thomas Jefferson's wife. So that through the years we have tried to indicate that the spirit of the Constitution has got to include those poor people, all women, and all ethnic groups. And the only way we can do that … after the Civil War we adopted amendments which talked about race, previous condition of servitude, that meant black—though we had never put women in there, is to put women in the Constitution; hence, ERA.
And in the civil liberties movement we found out, Jay, it's incredible … We found out there was law after law, statute after statute passed to keep women from being full citizens in this country. And I thought about those words of the great Samuel Johnson, they kept coming to my mind: he said somewhere that God had given women so many natural endowments superior to men, that men had found it wise legally to restrict her. And so we founded this country legally restricting women. And the simple ERA statement means that you just can't do that. But we were not quite prepared to find so many women in opposition to ERA and

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we made a mistake in not trying to understand why women oppose ERA. And we were not able to persuade them to see that it was an economic issue as much as a social issue and we tried to talk of the feminization of poverty. If ERA was passed … think about all the women at work, particularly the women who are the leaders of the household whose numbers are increasing, who are rearing the children. They are the poor people. The children will be poor until women have equal economic treatment with men. This is simple justice, fairness, kindness. And we are just saddened that women don't see it. We understand why economic powers don't want it because they'll have to pay out more money. You can't pay a bank teller woman one salary and a man on the way up another salary when this comes.
The Moral Majority has gone so far in some instances to equate a vote for one party or another as a moral proposition, and furthermore that the vote for a certain party is "God's will." Is that an example that you would cite as using selective use of the Bible?
Well, now yes. As a minister, I have to plead guilty that all of us do that. We have to realize that the Bible says different things. For example, there are some Christians that say unless you believe, let's say, in the virgin birth of Jesus, you

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cannot be a Christian. And the virgin birth of Jesus is in the Bible. But now other people say, "Well now, yes. But Jesus never mentioned the virgin birth." They say, "Paul never mentioned it. And St. Peter, when he preached never said, ‘Unless you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus you cannot be saved, can't be a Christian.’" And further St. Paul said that Jesus was born after the fashion of man, which is in contravention to the virgin birth. Now, we will say look, both of these are in the Bible. One branch of Christians have no right to say, "This is it. And this is the only interpretation. Unless you accept my interpretation, you're not a Christian."
But what's happened with the fundamentalists and the Moral Majority people is that you have a very vigorous, aggressive, competitive, combative successful group of Christian leaders who have decided what constitutes Christian faith with their selective use of the Bible and that's it. And among other matters they say, "Unless you are against gay rights, unless you are against abortion, unless you are against obscenity, unless you are for prayer in the public schools, unless you are against the teaching of evolution in the public schools—unless you are right on these things, you're not a Christian. Because this is Christianity." Then, you see, you have the

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Christian faith divided between those who are in it and those who are excluded.
Now the people who have the truth, Jay, are organizing politically. They are targeting people in Congress who do not share their beliefs in these matters. They are targeting people on school boards who do not share their beliefs. And they're saying everybody on the school board, everybody in Congress has got to be one of us. Now this, of course, is the ultimate violation of church-state separation. This is a religious spectacle that the Constitution rejects. These people are becoming more and more powerful and their thinking—zealous as they are—is in some ways an ideology with fascist overtones. And these people are in power today and are grabbing more power. And anyone who believes in civil liberties knows these people have little patience with the First Amendment; they'd like to have it out of their way. And the fight for civil liberties is a beleaguered fight today. And the sad thing about it, for me, Jay, is that so many of these people are Baptists and they don't realize that they've forsaken their Baptist faith.
What part does your Baptist faith play in your stance on civil rights?
Well, the Baptists of course, are supposed to be great advocates of church-state separation through their history. That's one of the

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tragedies we see taking place today as I just said. The people like Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Robertson who are tremendously successful televangelists are saying this is the definition of the Christian faith. And we have a country now, a President, an administration, who sides with these people, who identifies with them. Which is to say we have now an administration taking sides with a divided Christian community. You can see how ominous that is. It is the ominous fact that the administration is not only identifying with the Christian faith, while so many of our people in America are not Christians at all, but it is taking sides with a particular expression of the Christian faith: Pandora's Box is about to be opened.
But now, back to the Baptists. Anyone who understands, or who bothers to take the trouble to understand, what Baptists are supposed to believe (and most Baptists today simply won't take the trouble: they don't want to know anymore than in the days of the civil rights movement when most southerners wanted to know what was in the Bill of Rights) will find that Baptists—traditionally—were forced to be civil libertarians. And by that I mean, Jay, that the way that Baptists began along with other dissenting groups, they found themselves in the old countries with the great religious wars, as neither Catholic nor

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Protestant. That meant that they were in areas where a nation was either an official Catholic nation or a Protestant nation. And by that I mean that nation had an established church and the church was supported—whether it was Catholic or Lutheran or Presbyterian or Anglican—by the state and there was no church-state separation. And if you belonged to that state, you belonged to that church; if you belonged to that church, you belonged to that state. Patriotism and faith were merged into one thing, and if you were subversive religiously, you were subversive politically.
Now, in that situation, the Baptists and the other dissenting groups found themselves as neither fish nor foul; neither Protestant nor Catholic. So both Catholic and Protestants lined up against these dissenting groups, among which were the Baptists. In order to survive, these persecuted groups had to fight for freedom of speech, they had to fight for freedom of the press, they had to fight for freedom of assembly, they had to fight for freedom of conscience, they had to fight for freedom of privacy. All of these basic freedoms that we see in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were fought for by Baptists centuries before [the Constitution] was established.
O.K. Now, that means a Baptists fights for his own freedoms, protection of his own conscience, the

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local autonomy (the rule of his own church), separation of church and state. That means also that he found out that his freedoms were not secure unless he held those freedoms secure for everybody else. Now when we talk about church-state separation—the reading of prayers in public schools—and you find Baptists in support of this sort of thing, you know that they've departed from the faith of their fathers. All of these civil liberties that I'm talking about—so many of them—are right there in Baptist history. And this Baptist history had a great deal to do with the adoption of the Bill of Rights in the American Constitution.
So finally, what we're dealing with today is a large number of electronic, fundamentalist, successoriented Baptists who don't want to know anything about their history or what Baptists are supposed to believe. And therefore, these are the people who are betraying civil rights and freedom. For instance, if you take the matter of conscientious objection, you would think that the very first person to defend a conscientious objector would be a southern Baptist because they have always said we must have the protection of private conscience, the right to read the Bible, to interpret the Bible, to let God speak to us from the Bible to our own conscience—person to person, and what God says to us we must honor. But when a Baptist says, "I cannot

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support military conscription," how many Baptists will today come to his support?
We see an unfolding drama in the so-called "split" in the Southern Baptist Convention today, and there is a very serious split. It's between the people who are known as fundamentalists and the people who are known as moderates. The word conservative perhaps ought not to be used because all Southern Baptists, with rare exceptions, are conservatives. Liberalism, as we know it, is almost nonexistent in the Southern Baptist Convention, although the fundamentalists are today accusing the moderates of being liberals. The difference between the fundamentalists and the moderates is that a number of Baptists (I don't know how many) who are fundamentalists, of the Jerry Falwell type, who are sure that Christianity means certain things, that you have to believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures, you have to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, you have to believe in the virgin birth, in the blood atonement: "Unless you believe exactly like we believe, you're not Baptist." And this, of course, is in violation of the Baptist persuasion of openness, and plurality, and dissent and freedom. The people who believe this way, Jay, seem in ascendance. Thus the Southern Baptist Convention is at a great crisis in that so many of us really have never

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understood the faith of the fathers. It is not with us still.
Are these Baptists from the Southwest primarily, are they in effect trying to set up some sort of doctrinal test for Baptists who traditionally have had autonomy in the local churches?
That's exactly what they're doing and it's very damaging.



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What about the issue of capital punishment and the civil rights of prisoners?
Yes, I'd like to discuss that. Years ago, a Virginia federal judge (I forget his name) made a statement that has pretty well been followed through the years and this is, in effect, that when a person becomes a prisoner of the state he loses all rights to citizenship and he is virtually a slave of the state. And in a sense that is actually what has happened. A prisoner is someone you can forget. He's denied his citizenship, his rights. He can't even vote once he comes out if he's committed a felony. And he's said goodbye to protections that normally come to people in society. Through the years this has been interpreted as meaning his freedom of movement, of course, is gone, his freedom to write or receive letters or to read what he wants to read, or to receive an education while he's there; all these things—with regard to his health, his privacy—are severely restricted.
Civil libertarians have said over and over again that an inmate is a citizen and must be treated as such. In fact, we've drawn up a bill of rights for prisoners, emphasizing the fact that incarcerating a person does not give the state the right to remove his basic civil liberties as far as they can be safeguarded to him under the limitations of incarceration. So, his

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right to health, his right to education, his right to reading, his right to receiving people, contact with people, all of these things should be safeguarded. And the state has no "carte blanche" to deny him these rights. Civil libertarians are not prison reformists. But we simply know that until the state protects the civil liberties of prisoners and therefore their dignity, there's no possibility of reform, of modification of behavior in the best sense of the word.
And we feel that the ultimate violation is capital punishment and the long years on death row and the isolation that goes along with it. Now, civil libertarians are against capital punishment for a number of reasons. One of the most obvious reasons is that 99% of death row people have had court appointed lawyers; only 1% have been able to employ their own lawyer. Anyone with any sense of the legal system in this country knows that that's not equal justice under the law, which means that anybody that can afford first-rate lawyers is not on death row. It means also that death row is reserved for a certain segment of society: the poor, the illiterate, the unlearned and the powerless. It always boils itself down to that. Now any law that has to be administered that way is unconstitutional on its face; there's no such thing as equality under the law when only those people are paying with their lives.

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You're saying that the application of the law is a hurdle you have to cross before you get to the moral aspects of it.
Absolutely. We don't come at it from a question of the moral point of view. We in civil liberties are not facing the moral issue. Actually, if you want to go to the Bible, you can justify capital punishment. The Bible is for it, the Old Testament especially. The Bible sets up capital crimes. Adultery is a capital crime. Cursing your parents is a capital crime. Apostasy—leaving your religion and accepting another religion—is punishable by death. Well, there were many crimes that were punishable by death in the Old Testament, and there used to be many in this country and in the old countries; now we've got it down to about one or two. But we just don't want to let that one or two go and when push comes to shove, you know and I know what kind of person goes to the death chamber …
And then of course, civil libertarians have known through the years that capital punishment is kind of an Anglo-Saxon barbaric relic. It has had its greatest incidence in the southern part of the United States. And it has been used as a means of social control of blacks, rather than a means of administering justice. So that for these and many other reasons, we know that

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capital punishment is a most unjust denial—a most unconscionable denial—of simple Justice under the law.
I know that during your ministry you frequently went to Central Prison and you conferred with death row inmates and so forth and so on, Just as did your old friend Paul Green of Chapel Hill. Could you tell us some of your reactions to some of those personal experiences?
I'm so glad you mentioned Paul Green, because he's the one we ought to be talking about. And since I mentioned people like Frank Graham, I must say that Paul Green has been a great influence in my life. And I'm very honored now to serve on the Paul Green Foundation, a newly organized group out of Chapel Hill.
But he's the one for whom we celebrate the "lone vigil." He would come over at night—the night before an execution—and Just stand quietly outside by himself all night long, outside the prison, in silent protest. And when the dawn came and the execution took place he'd go back home. And he did that alone for years, the lone vigil, until we began to rally around his cause. I'm sorry today that the mood of the country has gone in the other direction. We came almost to the promised land. We came to the Jordan River, we looked across over it and we went back. Now we're in the wilderness again, wandering around and executing people

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and believing that once you execute someone you can stop other homicides. We know that's not true.
What is your opinion of the Reagan Administration in so far as the civil rights program is concerned?
Mr. Reagan and his colleagues are no friends of civil liberties; and in order to do what they are doing, they know that civil liberties must be soft-pedalled and diminished. That's why he radically changed the Civil Rights Commission and now it is indeed a sham and a mockery. During the years prior to his coming, the only federal organization that existed that was willing to criticize the government for its violations of civil rights was the Civil Rights Commission. And it would have been much better, much more honest, for Mr. Reagan to have tried to abolish it completely than do what he's done to it since it now is actually an organization that puts an approval on his consistent denials of human and civil rights at home and abroad. And the fascinating and frustrating thing about Mr. Reagan is that he gets away with all this, and still gives the impression of a man who believes in civil rights, a man who never goes to church but has the impression of being a very churchminded person. A man who is impoverishing people more and more and transferring wealth from poor people to the people who already have it, and is known as a man

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of compassion and concern. These things of course frustrate, and really enrage us, but we know that this is a time when American people have grown weary, as St. Paul said, they've grown weary of well doin. They want these structures of protections of people, these social agencies of compassion, they want them enfeebled and dismantled. And in order to do these things you've got to change your attitudes on civil liberties and you've got to appoint Judges who are no longer favorable to civil rights. And so what we're seeing is a gradual disestablishment of civil protections and we're seeing it done by a president who—because of his posture of patriotism and religion—is able to give the American people a sense of a satisfied conscience, and a sense that what is being done is "chic" and accepted, "American" and Christian, and it is right to believe this.
Then, on top of all this, Jay, you have the religious people, the Moral Majority, the Fundamentalists, all across the country giving religious sanction to what is basically a selfish America, and a self-centered America, and a power crazed America. The president persuades the people that it's patriotic and religious; the fundamentalists say it's "God blessed." And in all this we are trying to say that this is a Christian nation, that we want Christians in government, we want Christian schools, we

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want prayer in school. So that whatever this administration does at home or abroad, however many more people are impoverished, whatever we do by way of repression to undeveloped or developing nations, it's o. k. because it's been done by a Christian nation.
What does this portend for the future tranquility of the country if, as you indicate, we are deepening divisions between classes and so forth.
If it continues, you don't have any church-state separation. Church-state separation means that you have a church so autonomous, so distanced institutionally from its own government that in the name of God and truth, the church can place the nation under the Judgement of God, to say, "Thus sayeth the Lord." To America, like the prophet Nathan told David, the church can no longer say "Thou art the man." You are the one doing wrong under God. The church has lost that capacity, that distance, to bring America before the bar of God's Judgement, because the church has been so merged with the state that patriotism and religion are synonomous. So that America is deprived of conscience. The United Nations can't stop America, the World Court can't stop America; only Americans can stop America; and the American church more and more has forfeited that right and that opportunity to save it.

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At this point let me ask you, just for the record, to list the official positions you've held with civil rights organizations through the years.
Well first off let me start by saying I'm a Baptist. And as a Baptist I believe in local autonomy and free speech, free assembly and free press and free association and I don't want any CIA or FBI to invade my privacy, to read my letters, to find out whom I'm associating with, what books I'm reading, and where I'm going, and not enjoy surreptitious entry to record and censor my sermons. I demand all of this as a Baptist and I cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ unless these protections are mine. And I defy any government invading them, but my government is invading them. But I cannot be a true Baptist without believing in all of these protections, nor can I believe in these protections unless I am willing to extend them to the socialists, and the communists, and the lesbians, and the homosexuals and all the rest who have a right to their way of life in our free and open society. So my first civil rights position is as a Baptist preacher. I can't persuade my fellow Baptists to see that [laughter]! But I hope they'll come around to know what I'm talking about.
Then I have belonged, from its very beginning, to the North Carolina affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And for a number of years I

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was on the board of directors and for maybe ten or twelve years— was chairman of the legislative committee. And if I were chairman of that committee I would be down at the General Assembly right now to oppose what the people are trying to do to the public schools—trying to weaken the schools in the name of family values, which I think is an imposture.
Then, as time went on I was elected to the National Board of the A.C.L.U. and while there I was made one of its vice-presidents and worked with its Religious Liberty Committee. (I was a member of that committee.) More recently, I've become the vice-president of a new organization called Southerners for Economic Justice. That's a small group of people who try to extend industrial, political, economic justice to all southern people. It's a group of very influential people. So that these are the major, official connections I've had with civil liberties organizations. There've been others, but these are the major ones.
You mentioned your position on legislative relations. Let me ask you a pretty general question: just how liberal is the state of North Carolina?
Well, that is a question that has troubled a lot of us. I think that we have had, in our state, a facade of progressiveness. There is, of course, some substance to it. I remember reading a

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history book, years ago, in which the author was talking about North Carolina (he was an Englishman). And he was saying that North Carolina was a state between two aristocratic states: Virginia and South Carolina. And when the Civil War came, the aristocracy of those states—the elite quality—was challenged and toppled. North Carolina never had been one of those high peaks and it never suffered that kind of "shame" and embarrassment and therefore, as time went on, it emerged between these two states as a very progressive state. While they were still struggling with their past glory. In a sense, that's true.
At that time through the years there was no Baptist school comparable for its openness in southern states to Wake Forest College, and there was certainly no university like the University of North Carolina in other southern states. And there was perhaps no one quite like our Governor Aycock who was a great devotee of public education. So that all of this gave an impetus to North Carolina. People like Frank Graham and his predecessors; people like William Louis Poteat of Wake Forest who fought the evolution controversy in North Carolina. And because of that we began to think that we were indeed a progressive state. People like Governor Scott came along and paved our highways, put us in advance in some ways of our other southern sister states.

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But Jay, this image was kind of exploded in recent elections. When Frank Graham ran to be elected to the Senate after his appointment by Governor Scott had expired and when he was defeated on the racial issue—which pure and simple defeated him—the illusion of progressiveness vanished. Then came the Jesse Helms years. And we've discovered that North Carolina is not so progressive, that if you scratch us enough you will find that we are racists. And this racism is not confined to what people call "redneck" people. The racism is in the country clubs, the chambers of commerce, and we find out that so many of our ideals—openness, fair play, justice and equality—dissipate at a time like this. And it's been a very disillusioning experience for many of us, disappointing and sad. But we know it's here and we must deal with it.
But, on the other hand there are a great number of North Carolinians as the vote will show, who will not bow their knee to this kind of Baal and who stand for justice and rightness and the principles of equity. And they're outnumbered, but they're here and they're here in large numbers. And you can count on them.
Do you think that prejudice is a greater influence sometimes than self-interest? Or exerts more influence over the voters sometimes than their own self-interest?

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Well, yea, although self-interest is not what the capitalists call "enlightened self-interest." The leaders of our state have always known (and it's true) that poor whites—when push comes to shove—can always be more vocal and changed by the introduction of the race issue. They have preferred their poverty to any kind of cooperation with black people. And our leaders have always been able to defeat populist movements on this basis, so we don't know our own self-interest when it comes to this issue. But this has been exploited time and again in the South and in North Carolina.
And it was exploited dramatically in the Frank Porter Graham election, when you could even persuade laboring people, textile workers, industrial unions, to vote against Graham because of the race issue and the so-called "communist" issue, which of course was a red bait! And this is a sad spectacle to behold of this real politics of North Carolina.
Do you think the so-called "industrialization" of the state will exert influences for good or ill on this question in the future? Bringing in new people and management cadres, from other parts of the country?
Well, I think that perhaps we have not always tried to recruit the best kinds of industries to North Carolina. I'm not sure how to respond to that.

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There are so many people who say, "All we need are more Baptist churches to make us a better society." Well, the Baptist churches have been in the South for all these years and did not change the South in its attitudes towards labor, poor people, towards black people, towards disenfranchised people. It has never preached the gospel of social concerns. And to multiply all those Baptist churches over and over again would not make any difference if they're all the same way.
And if you bring in industries that are not enlightened, that are repressive and insensitive of the people who work for them, who are inimical to unionism, and so on, I can't see that's a great blessing to us.
I gather that you're not overly optimistic about the future in so far as civil rights are concerned.
No one, seeing the vote for the present administration and the election of John East and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, can be over optimistic. That doesn't mean he or she can abate her or his commitment one bit. But optimism, no.
I'd like to go back to your official civil rights positions. Didn't you also occupy some offices in National Organizations? I remember you went on the Phil Donahue Show representing … was that a national civil rights organization?

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That was the A.C.L.U.
A.C.L.U. We've covered that.
I know that when you're speaking out on civil rights issues, perhaps early and late, it takes a certain personal toll on a minister and his family when he champions unpopular causes. Talk about that a little bit.
That of course is true. And any minister that becomes involved in issues like these has got to know that there's a price to pay. I have been singularly fortunate through my years in that only for the very last few years in my ministry has my position with the church been at stake. I've always been aware that the people in the congregations have not agreed with me and I've always tried to listen to their grievances. But none of the churches—and this is amazing Jay—in Pittsboro, in Weldon, in Elizabeth City, none of them came to the point where they penalized me in reduction of my salary or asked for my retirement. That never happened. It never happened until I passed retirement age here in Raleigh.
But you have to realize that it's a dangerous game to play, putting it in that kind of terminology. It's difficult on your family. To be fired as a pastor of your church is almost to be without hope, because to be fired by a church for your social activities means that very rarely will any other church call you. You have to go into some other field to survive. But on the

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other hand, you have an obligation to understand the congregation. For most Baptists the race issue was a difficult thing. I've had people tell me that the first time they saw a black person coming into our church they were gone for good. In the churches that I've served the people who ran the industries were on the deacons board. It's unthinkable that they'd support labor unions. To be opposed to war, when you have members of your church who were serving on the foreign field … and to come out and tell the congregation that this was an illegal war and that we ought not to be in it, we ought to get out of it, our country stands in Judgement … these things are terribly hard on a congregation. And through the years you lose members and they don't come back. And it's painful because people whom you lose are your friends as well as your church members. And this is a toll that you have to face.
What about reactions from the non-members of your congregation? Don't you get some reaction from people who are not members of your church?
Oh, absolutely. Every time you do these things you have all kind of response out in the world. The only thing that keeps you going … You must make this concession: ministers are vain critters and we have a high sense of our self-importance and this conflicts with the situation too. But, if you

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have the feeling, Jay, that you're given to these causes for life, because they're Biblically Justified, because your Christian conscience demands it, then there is an exhiliration in it and the risk taken is part of the fun. And you hope that you'll survive. And you always know that there are people out there—in the church and outside the church—who understand what you're doing and who want to support you.
I used to get letters from all over the state, from other churches, in times of great crisis, and they would say to me, "We wish our minister would say what you say. It needs to be said and it needs to be done." So all these things were supportive. But you know that your finance committee will remind you that the contributions are falling off. And you know that your evangelistic committee will tell you that people are not coming to church, you're not getting recruits, they're staying away. Other churches are drawing them and you're not. And you know that people will come and tell you that so-and-so has left us and joined the Episcopal church, the Presbyterian church, or another Baptist church and these are anguishing times. And you really begin to question yourself. You say, "Well, I really am a damned fool after all. I'm a zany."
At the start you gave us a brief biographical sketch, but could you give me some

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specific dates, when you were born, when you graduated from Wake Forest, etcetera?
Yes. I'm now 71 years old and I was born in 1913 in Louisburg. And I think I was about 4 when my family moved to Raleigh. I went to Murphy Elementary school and I joined the church and I was baptized at the old Tabernacle Baptist Church on Person Street which was a traditional southern Baptist church. I finished Hugh Morson High School in 1930 and Wake Forest in 1934, when it was still in the community of Wake Forest. And I finished the Baptist Seminary, it is called the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville in 1937. And I was called about October or November of 1937 to two churches: Pittsboro, in Chatham County and Liberty, in Randolph County. And I must have then just turned 23 or 24 when I had my first pastorate. I was supposed to be a mature pastor of two churches! There are so many mistakes in front of you, so much to learn, and so much enjoyment of life.
And I married in 1941 when I was 28 years old. I married Mary Elizabeth Purvis of Salisbury. We have three children. The oldest is Wallace, W.W. Jr. who lives in Raleigh. He went to Wake Forest and the Free University of Berlin and received his master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He has a Ph.D. degree in German from Yale, but has decided at mid-career that teaching is not what he wants to do, not

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what is in the book for him. So now he is working in the Court house and going to night law school. Linguistics, when he finished at Yale University, began to go out of the schools, and so he began to see that a University career was rather uncertain.
We have a second child named Elizabeth who is married to a Presbyterian minister in Charlotte and they have three children. Wallace has three children. He's married to Silke Marquardt from Germany. And then our youngest is Martha who is a lawyer, working in Washington, D.C. and married to another lawyer.
And you came to Pullen in 1956?
Yes, in 1956. And retired in 1982.
Civil rights advocates in North Carolina are relatively few and far between. Tell us about some of your colleagues in this cause in North Carolina.
Well, it would be difficult to name one without naming a lot of others, Jay. I hesitate to do this, but let me tell you an incident. When I first came to Raleigh I picked up an article, and I don't know where I saw it, but it was an article by a young professor of law at the University of North Carolina, named Daniel Pollitt. It was an article about what the labor unions call "14b." And that's known as the right-to-work law. It was an article dealing with the injustice of these laws which were being adopted by legislatures across the country, particularly in the

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South. A law which really operated to the effect of making it almost impossible to organize labor unions. It was a misnomer: it was called the right-to-work but actually it was in one sense the very opposite of that. And I was already aware of this kind of activity and this law.
When I read this article, I said, that law professor has written with such clarity and persuasion and force that I'd like to know him. And I wrote him a letter to congratulate him and thank him for it. And then one thing led to another and he and I became friends. I found out he was one of the most enlightened supporters of the rights of laboring people. Through him and through the years with him (he teaches Constitutional law and the Bill of Rights) my vision was enlarged and my perceptions deepened about civil liberties. He and I have oftentimes come over to testify to committees in the General Assembly.
And then I began to learn how labor is treated in North Carolina. And one day I was down in—I won't name the town but it was—an industrial community in North Carolina and the issue of unionization was at stake. They were about to vote. And I saw, Jay, intimidation at its worst. If any of these people working for this industry were seen to be in any kind of association with the labor union organizer, or if they were saying anything in favor of unionization,

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their jobs were at stake. They were fired. And not only were they fired, but if their wives and children and relatives were in the same industry, their jobs were at stake. And then when this person who'd been fired went out to get credit, the banks refused to extend the credit. If he went to the grocery store and asked them for a charge, the grocery store would deny him. All of the town would penalize him. And then if he went to an adjoining town, or a nearby town, or a town far away he was on a blacklist and they wouldn't hire him because of this. And I saw that he had no right of free speech, free assembly, free press, due process, equality under the law, and I said, "My God. There's no hope for these people unless they have something to protect them. And if the labor union is not able to deliver on better wages or working conditions, just the fact that it would give these people a sense of belonging to something, a solidarity, a base of support to make them become self-respecting American citizens." And I said, "All of their civil liberties have been denied." How could you not defend those people?
This association with poverty was another matter for the University. Frank Graham, Paul Green, Daniel Pollitt. None of them Baptists, but they were all dear friends, very enriching in my life. And so I saw that unions … I remember the story about this guy going

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to court and hearing his case read out. "The next case is the State of North Carolina against Paul Jones." And when Paul Jones heard that read out he said, "My God, what a majority!"
But when you look at a union in North Carolina, what have you got against it? You've got the churches against it. I've been to AFL-CIO meetings in North Carolina and people told me, "Oh, I wish our pastor would identify with us. He always identifies with his managers." The chamber of commerce, many of the newspapers, merchants associations. Everything in North Carolina that has power is against the working man when he tries to have a little power of his own with his union. And not to be an advocate of this person is to forfeit, in many ways, your opportunity as a minister to love people.
This concludes the interview with the Reverend W. W. Finlator and on behalf of the Southern Oral History Program, I'd like to thank him for submitting to it.