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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 >>

An even-tempered approach to civil rights

Spaulding reflects on civil rights leadership, both his own and others'. His pragmatic approach and even temperament meant that members of the white community upset over more aggressive activists came to Spaulding to see if he could silence them. Even as they reached out to him, they also sought to undermine him, Spaulding remembers. He does think however, that both whites and blacks saw him as a "stabilizing influence."

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:
Can you reconstruct your feelings about this, what it meant to you as a young person in this happening? It must have seemed revolutionary, perhaps?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No, I can't say that I considered it revolutionary. You know, the older people would probably be more inclined. But there's something about youth [Laughter] that's a little more adventuresome, and will take chances. The conservatism is usually amongst the older people, and the liberal thinking is by the young. What's the old saying: ‘Old men for counsel and young men for war’? Isn't there something that goes like that? I think that's at least a truth based on observation. It seems to work out that way.
WALTER WEARE:
Were you seen as kind of a hothead in those days?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. I'll tell you. You see, there are some people, if they reach a position of leadership, it's something they go and seek, and work hard for it. I don't know where it originated or how it started, or what caused me to do it, but I always had a philosophy, I guess, of going to prove my worth. I'd rather the job seek the man, than the man seek the job? And I guess back of that is a feeling that if the people put you up, you have a pretty good foundation, a pretty solid foundation. But if you, in other words, sell yourself, it doesn't mean that once you're in a position of leadership, you won't assume the responsibility of that leadership. I feel that it takes all kinds of people to make our world to form society. You couldn't do much with all hotheads; we'd always have revolutions.
WALTER WEARE:
How do you think other people saw you in the 1930s?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, during the black boycott—the black boycott came the year after I retired. But I was still considered very influential in the community.
WALTER WEARE:
This is '67?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
'68. And I attended some of the black boycott meetings. And I remember when Howard Fuller was here, and how he was criticized. And I was written a letter by one of the white citizens, wanting me to use my influence to try to get Howard Fuller away from here. This was before I retired. And I wrote back that—I think the illustration I used was that if you have rough edges on a rock, sometimes you have to create friction. Well, take this. If you've got two rough rocks and you want to smooth them, you've got to rub each other together to grind that roughness away. So you have friction. And friction will generate heat. But you must understand what you're trying to do, is to get smooth rocks, for whatever purpose you want them. And the same thing in human relations. Where you have rough situations, if you really want to improve or change it, you've got to recognize that these things must come. I took the position that, where I didn't necessarily agree with Howard Fuller in everything he did and everything he said, and the ways in which he expressed it—I tried to look beyond that. And I guess the bottom line of what I was saying, I thought he was serving a useful purpose. And then I remember later on, Ben Ruffin was one of the leaders of the black solidarity committee. And the white community tried to drive a wedge between Ben Ruffin and me. And it was something they were engaged in. I don't know whether it was UOCI—United Organizations for Community Improvement. You've heard of that? Well, Ben was active in that. And at that time, I think I was still president of North Carolina Mutual. And someone tried to drive a wedge between him and me, and asked him what about Asa Spaulding? Is he supporting it? And Ben's answer was, "Well, Mr. Spaulding has his way of doing things and I have mine. So, let him do his thing his way, and let me do mine mine." Or words to that effect. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
ASA T. SPAULDING:
And this is repeating again, but to bring it into context, I also spoke my piece about Louis Austin and how people would criticize him and his editorials. I said that I don't agree with every editorial that Louis Austin writes or the position he takes, but I will defend to the last his right to do it, or say it.
WALTER WEARE:
Were there others in the black community that you disagreed with or were sometimes critical of other than Austin or Fuller or Ruffin?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
It wasn't my manner of trying to mold them into my mold, because I thought that they had a role to play and I thought that it was a necessary role. Have you ever had change take place without reformers? And haven't there been changes to take place that nobody would want to go back to the old way? Either group? So I don't know whether it's because of my background, my readings, my exposures, and just my meditation and thinking. But there is a place for everything. We may not always know what that place is, or how important it is, but there's a place for it. You look at nature, out that window there, or that door, and you see those trees growing. And who is it that considers himself wise enough to comprehend the scope of things, and say it should be this way, or, it should be that way, or, this person should be doing that. So I feel that I have a right to my position, and you have just as much right to yours as I have to mine. Now the question is, can we sit down and talk and not both try to talk at the same time? While one's talking, let the other one listen. And if so, then there's a possibility of our seeing eye to eye.
WALTER WEARE:
Did that happen? Did you have meetings with men?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Many times that happened.
WALTER WEARE:
Would someone like Fuller take a different position in talking to you than he would take in public, for example? Or Ruffin?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
We didn't talk personally, individually, many times. But at times when we worked together, it was not this clashing going on.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you think that on their part that they were aware of this philosophy?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I think the word would get around as to what kind of person I was, what I would or would not do. I think that. And I think that they understood, because I don't remember any of them overtly, or in the press, attacking me. Louis Austin attacked me once in one of his editorials, and called me some pretty bad names. But it didn't affect my relationship with him. And I always said that"the Carolina Times was one of Durham's true assets, and so was Louis Austin." And I remember when they got ready to honor him, I headed up the group. And I think I personally raised more money for the purse than any group. I think I personally raised almost twenty-five percent of what was raised. And I went to some of the white people, who, at one time, were very critical of him. I wrote a letter. I sat down and I thought it through well. At least I thought so, and evidently did. I pointed out what it meant—and made the statement in there—that regardless of our differences of opinion, when we consider the assets and the liabilities of the changes that have taken place and the things that had been prevented in this community because of the Carolina Times, he was deserving of this kind of recognition. I've forgotten how much we raised, but I think I raised twelve hundred or more dollars for the purse.
WALTER WEARE:
Is there any reason to believe at all that Louis Austin might have known that by attacking you, that he could appear radical on the one side, and you more conservative on the other, and perhaps there was an area of compromise? That is, was there ever an understanding?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, he and I never clashed. Even after that editorial I didn't go and see him and criticize him anything about it. I just accepted it.
WALTER WEARE:
In effect, though, do you think it might have worked that the powerful whites would see this conflict and therefore maybe be willing to settle for an area of compromise? That Austin or Fuller or whatever could keep them stirred up and that they would have accepted more than if they hadn't been around? And that that gave you some ground to work with?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I guess from what you're saying, maybe it raised a question—I don't know. But I'll put it this way. It could be that I was seen as a stablizing influence in the community, by both groups.