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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 >>

Thinking more about the future than the civil rights movement of the past

Spaulding has "passed on to thinking about something else" instead of his memories of segregation, he says. Spaulding seems to put a lid on the civil rights movement and look to the future, toward something unsure and universal, something different and unknowable. The unknowable future can be threatening, Spaulding thinks, and worries for the unhappy surprises down the road.

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:
On the matter of social change, what would you tell those grand-children, things they take for granted now, like technology? Like going to a restaurant and eating, and travelling across the country and staying in the Holiday Inn or whatever. Is that the most dramatic part for your generation, in changes in race relations, or what?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I'm sure you know it's hard for a person to put himself in someone else's place and say what to them. Because when you live through a thing, see, it's gradual. And just how you're affected is one way (different) from being catapulted into something suddenly. Whatever it is. The matter of being shocked and not being shocked depends upon the suddeness of it. And just as I said, one reason parents can't communicate with children is the age gap and technological gap and everything else. Well there's the social gaps. I think Norman Cousins put it this way, "Man has exalted change in everything but himself." He still wants to abide by the old status quo, old way of doing things. Technologically we've advanced so rapidly and man adjusts, or changes his attitudes, so slowly that you have a misfit, out of joint. Attitudes can't adjust as rapidly as the technological age requires it to. So you find people going off into drugs and off into all these other things. They're looking for escapes, something to break the monotony. They're floundering; they don't know; they can't find themselves. Because of their environment. It's so sudden, so complex.
WALTER WEARE:
Would you have believed, though, in the nineteen fifties, well let's say even in the nineteen sixties that within ten years that some of these barriers would break down? Little things: being able to eat and go to theatres?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes, well I'm sure of that. Just like I said, three years ago, we wouldn't have thought, nor would our government have thought, that what we're faced with in Iran would have happened. It's the same kind of things, just on a different scale, on a different level, different area. These things happen so fast that people can't appreciate changes taking place.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you take those things for granted now? It's been not even a quarter of your life. When you walk in the Jack Tar Hotel now, do you still find yourself thinking about a time when you couldn't do those things?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No, I'm passed on to thinking about something else.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you think that whites have changed that rapidly, too? That is that everybody takes it for granted now?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, I think most of us, in the matter of public accommodations now. Especially those of us who are not provincial, who haven't been anywhere and haven't been exposed. I'm sure there are some people—some of these public housing things of that nature—whose world is still that small.
WALTER WEARE:
But in general would you agree that the so-called civil rights revolution, what it used to mean: integration, that that's behind us, and that we're looking to something else now?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Now you ask me questions that I don't have any thought-out answers to, and I'm just reacting, responding without any thought as to whether it makes any sense or not.
WALTER WEARE:
That's the way I want it.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I'm not so sure what we want.
WALTER WEARE:
Well the problem is not integrating at Woolworth's now.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I think you asked me what we want next.
WALTER WEARE:
What do we need next? If the civil rights movement is over and yet there's not equality.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I think we need to search out the things that are universal, as to time and place, and circumstances. I think we need to do as much of that. Because those are the things we're going to have to adjust to. And those are the things we're going to have to come back to. We say truth is relative. Well, yes, truth is relative. But I think there is a truth that is static, and that's what we're searching for. We haven't reached it. There's so much we don't know. We talk about all that we've learned. And there's some people who say there's more yet to know, than all of the books and everythings else that have passed. And you hear people talking about there are more scientists alive today than during the whole past. It just means, I don't know what there is out there that's yet to be unfolded. Jack Kennedy was talking about putting man on the moon. He said in ten years. And I was down there on Cape Canaveral to see Apollo 11 take off and land on the moon. And Neil Armstrong to get out and walk on the moon. "One giant step for man", what was it? Anyway. Fifteen years before that we didn't even have the concept of wanting to put a man on the moon. We didn't know what we wanted. But in the unfolding of things—I guess what I'm saying, without being a Darwin—things evolve. We either have evolution or revolution. Sometimes if evolution moves too slow we have revolution. If it moves too slowly. But I think that things have to change.
WALTER WEARE:
To bring us back to a very mundane level—I talked about the business community with you a moment ago—is it still possible for a black child in America to move up through the ranks? Is this American Dream still aviable one?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I thought you were going to ask me, is it possible for a black child to become president of the United States.
WALTER WEARE:
Well, what do you think?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I don't think it's impossible. Now the difference between possible and probable. Fifteen years ago, you wouldn't have thought that Andrew Young would be ambassador to the United Nations. I guess there are contradictions in a good many of the things I've said, and it's because we're not capable of being omniscient enough to be consistent.
WALTER WEARE:
I'm just wondering, as the old racial barriers have fallen, that at the same time there are structural barriers there that have nothing to do with race, that make it more difficult for people to move up than it might have been in an earlier time—now this is just speculation; I want you to react to it. So that you get a situation where people can be locked into the bottom, into these ghettoes that we talked about, but not for racial reasons.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
How do we know that they are locked in permanently? Ten years ago, what was our attitude toward the Arabs? Did we consider them significant as a nation? Did they know what they had? Did they know that they could bring America to her knees, an industrial complex to its knees? Did they know that?
WALTER WEARE:
No. They clearly didn't.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
What woke them up? And when it dawned on them, it shocked this nation, didn't it? When that oil was cut off. Our planes go by: oil. Our ships, our military depends upon oil. Our industrial complex depends upon oil. And now we're courting them. Vance goes to Saudi Arabia, Blumenthal goes to Saudi Arabia. That's why I think anyone who attempts to be a prophet today has to be a wiser person tham I am. We can speculate. I think of some of the things I've put in the time capsule at North Carolina Mutual—so obsolete now. And that was, oh, not too many years ago, to be opened in 2000. I'm glad I won't be around when it's opened. [Laughter] For people to see that I was so short-sighted.
WALTER WEARE:
Well, some people see this as a crisis now. That if you could wave a magic wand and remove all racism throughout the land, that there would still be this problem with black persons at the bottom. And it wouldn't be for racial reasons that they couldn't get unlocked.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, I don't know about that.
WALTER WEARE:
That the American economy is not going to be able to accommodate them.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Man thinks he can control everything. But when the floods come and the tornadoes come, and [unclear] through Wichita, Texas, he was at the mercy of the forces of nature. Sometimes I think man has gotten high up, and he's no higher than an ant, is he? And yet he can strut around as though he was God. And in doing this, I don't mean to discredit ego, because I think that is the thing that propels. I guess all that I'm trying to say is there are so many things we don't understand, and so many things that we're wrestling with, and yet it is not a thing to be abhored. Because I think we're all in a developing process. I think we're all passing through stages, evolving into something better, I hope. Look at periods that we have to go through. We have to go through them as individuals; we have to go through them as nations. I don't know what that ideal is, toward which we're working, but I think we all reach it. In other words, I guess I look at the more desireable goals as receding goals, ones that you never reach. The higher you go, there's always something else out there. I put it either Friday or Saturday: no matter what one achieves, or how successful he is, that is not an end, it's only a stopping place for the night on the road, for greater achievements. Because as surely as the day follows the night, there will always be new summits ahead. We haven't reached the ultimate. Now you go back to primitive man, if he could come here today and see what's going on, wouldn't it be a revelation to him?