Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Voting and passing in the black community

Spaulding briefly touches on two civil rights issues: voting and passing. He remembers old line black leaders voting for white politicians, a practice that caused tensions among civil rights advocates. He also remembers R.L. McDougald, a light-skinned African American who may have passed as white to serve in the Navy.

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:
What's your earliest memory, then, of this political activity, organizing the community?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, there were a few of the leaders back there who did vote. They were forerunners of the Durham Committee, and this is what gave rise to the Durham Committee. They were what you might call ‘block leaders’, or ‘ward heelers’. And they would have a group of blacks that they could influence to vote. And the white politicians, when time came for election, they would always seek them out, and make them promises, and give them some money to get their people to vote, take them to the polls. And the new generation coming along saw that as retarding the progress of blacks instead of improving it.
WALTER WEARE:
Who was in this new generation you're thinking of now?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, James Taylor at North Carolina College, R.L. McDougald—see,R.L. McDougald was very fair; he was often mistaken for white. He worked on Wall Street for a while, before he came back to Durham, before he went to the navy. He was a runner, I believe they call them, a Wall Street runner. You couldn't tell him from not being white. And a lot of people in Durham didn't know he was not white. He joined the navy. I think he joined, because at that time you were drafted to the army. And, being fair, he had no problem getting into the navy.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you think he served in the navy as a white person?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I don't know.
WALTER WEARE:
That would be interesting. Because the navy was the most exclusive.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
That's right. But I know that he served in the navy. And the thing about it, he never would pass for white. When he came back to Durham after his service in the Navy, it was an insult to consider his as white. He made no bones about it any time, that he was a Negro.