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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 16, 1979. Interview C-0013-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Belief in a conciliatory style to achieve political change

This passage reveals something about Spaulding's posture on leadership, activism, and race relations. He believes in forward-thinking leadership, he says, but also that mediation solves more problems than partisanship. He cites one case in which he believes his influence, carefully cultivated through his conciliatory style, resulted in the appointment of a city official friendly to blacks and whites.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 16, 1979. Interview C-0013-3. 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

WALTER WEARE:
I don't want to sidetrack that, but it brings up an interesting issue, that you probably had as much insight on as anybody, and that's this notion of class conflict in the black community. Some suggest that it's actually greater than in the white community. That feeling runs higher. Over your life, do you see that as a big issue?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
If it has been in the past, I don't think it's so today. And in saying that, I'm not saying it has been in the past; I don't know. Because what I have always tried to do is move around with all people. As much as my time restraints would permit me. Because you see a person in as many things as I was in, and on the go and moving, things you have to do, there's only so much time that you have to actually mingle. And I've been able to mingle more since I retired, than I was before. And I think I have a better feel of the pulse of the community since entering public life, than I did before. So I cannot throw any light on that situation. I guess a lot depends on to whom you talk.
WALTER WEARE:
But in general, abstracting yourself from it, do you think this has been an issue in the so-called black middle class? There's sometimes the charge that when somebody makes it, then they forget about the people.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I'm sure that during the boycott in 1968 that that became a definite issue. And it's something that my wife had to face. Because the fact that she had organized another group. Even though this group insisted on equal representation, black and white, on the committees and things. I told her this. "The best role that you can play is that of a mediator, or arbitrator. You have the protagonists on both sides. If you line up with either side, you'll destroy your effectiveness and credibility with the other."
WALTER WEARE:
One group wanted there to be an all-black committee, and there was the other group of white women who had never sat with a black person in their life.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
And not only that. The community, the merchants association and everybody else—in other words, if they say you're just an addition to the black solidarity committee, there's no reason for us to talk with you at all. Or even negotiate. If you take the role that you're trying to get the facts of the case, and get them out to the public, and let the public decide. Just like Nehru I was telling you about. The State Department told me they had to use Nehru as their means of communication with the Russians. And the State Department was in favor of, and understood his position and all. And it was the only way he could be useful. Because if he was in our camp, they wouldn't be talking with him anymore than they would direct to us. And it was on the basis of that experience in 1956, that I knew if they took a position for either, it would destroy their effectiveness with the other. And I was right. Time proved that that was the role for them to play. But in the early part of it, especially when the negotiations were hot, they were accused of being more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. And the things that I did in public office. It was during, I think, my first term. Because when I went there, we had no blacks in the courthouse in any of the positions. It wasn't my first term; it was second term that the farm agent for the county, a black man succeeded the white farm agent before. See, when I was elected, the first thing I did was to write the other four commissioners a letter—I think it was a page-and-a-half— telling them that now that I was a member of the board and would be working with them, I wanted to share with them some of my thinking, and some of my philosophy. And I thought that if we wanted to play the role of leadership in the community, we ought to play that role, and not be reacting rather than acting. They knew about the demonstrations that were going on, the boycott and all of that, and how they were putting a premium on violence, and boycotting, and protesting. How that was the only way they could get anything done. And I didn't think we ought to wait until we had demonstrations down there in the courthouse and things of that nature. And I sent it to them at their homes. And I started it off in a way that they would start reading it and would go on and finish reading it. You know, you can turn a person off in the beginning, and no matter what you say thereafter— something they might even accept. So I just started off, and step-by-step. And they had an appreciation for it. You see, I could have waited until in a meeting, and some issue came up, and could have made a big speech and embarrassed them, or taken sides with somebody, which would have embarrassed them. And the matter of our working relationship for the rest of the term would have been destroyed. But I told them in front and had hopefully stimulated their thinking. And the result was, when this white farm agent for the county reached retirement age, the county manager, knowing my position, went down to North Carolina State University, and talked with the people down there. You see, the extension for the farmers was under there. And they knew Carl Hodges. He was assistant to the county, and had been for many years, well-trained, A & T State University. Very competent person. He said, "Now forget about his race and just give me an objective opinion as to whether or not you think he can handle the job and can get along with the farmers." And they told him they thought he could do it. And with that information, he went to the other members of the commissioners, and imparted the information to them. And then he came to me and told me what he had done, and wanted to know if I was in favor of it. I told him I thought he did the right thing, yes, and I thought if the man was competent he ought to be given the position. And I appreciated the effort that he'd spent in trying to pave the way for him. Well, we had the meeting and his name was on the list for consideration. And he was approved unanimously. Because the proper groundwork had been done. And he was excellent. All the farmers, white and black, think the world of him. He's been there since either '69 or probably '70. So it's been nine years now. And he's a very popular person. And then more and more blacks were brought into the courthouse without ever any protest or any demonstrations resulting from it.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you think you could have been as effective with the protest on one side to work against?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. That's why, you remember, I went back and said in every stage of the building of North Carolina Mutual, and the equipment that was needed in completing its job. And I said you need all of these things. Just like that black boycott.