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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, November 30, 2001. Interview C-0297. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The <cite>Brown</cite> decision, its impact, and southern reactions

Rivera describes how the <cite>Brown</cite> decision came to fruition, its impact, and reactions to it. In particular, Rivera insists that the <cite>Brown</cite> decision would not have been what it was had the Court not taken a recess prior to the handing down of the decision. In addition, he explains how in bringing about the end of de jure segregation, the <cite>Brown</cite> decision also served to effectively end many black-owned businesses. Finally, he describes how southern states tried to resist abiding by the law.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, November 30, 2001. Interview C-0297. 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

KIERAN TAYLOR:
The reaction to the Brown decision and I'd imagine you wrote about that how people responded.
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
You see that was one of the greatest cases in the history of this country because it completely changed the lifestyle of a nation white and black. See when it said all () then legally Plessy versus Ferguson was dead. That was the case that () was dead. It's just no more. So it meant that the restaurants and hotels and everything all at first I think there was shock, and then people tried to accommodate the law black and white. White, black businesses took a hit, real hit because for once they're being open blacks could go in or eat anywhere they wanted to or live anywhere they wanted to. Immediately, almost immediately probably small black businesses went out of business. That's what was expected. That's what we were fighting for. Even the black newspapers that were fighting just lost out. But those of us who had these pretty good jobs with black newspapers, we no longer had a job. Well, Courier, the Courier went out along with a lot of other newspapers went out. The Afro is still in existence.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Defender is still around.
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
Journal - Guide is out.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you remember where you were when you heard the decision? You were here in Durham and you remember any kind of - hearing actually hearing the news -
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
You see the case was a funny case to start with. It was in two parts. It was first heard and then they had a recess. Only God knows why they were having a recess or had the case been decided at the recess at the time of recess Thurgood said, 'We would've lost it, lost it.' Then they had a recess. Are you familiar with that?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Um hmm.
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
You know what happened at the recess?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, I've heard bits but you should -
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
[Frederick Moore] Vinson died. The Chief Justice from Kentucky, Vinson died. The Lord put his hand in there. We would've lost it sure enough. Then Earl Warren from California was appointed judge Chief Justice, and he was the one who engineered the whole case through, and he got, until he got a unanimous decision. Even when he got a majority, he said don't want it. He wasn't satisfied with a majority. He got a unanimous decision, and Eisenhower who had appointed Warren, said worst decision, appointing him was the worst decision I ever made in my life. So you want to know, that was a funny decision. Those two things happened. The death of Vinson and the appointment of Earl Warren because we would've lost it in the first, if it would've been decided without a recess. We'd have lost it. We'd still have been in the separate but equal.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
To what degree did it bring about immediate change in say North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia where you were.
ALEXANDER RIVERA:
Well, they all fought it. All fought it. Virginia, North Carolina South, Georgia they all fought it. All said they were - Virginia was terrible. Virginia closed the schools. Virginia said they were going to private schools first. Georgia said the same thing. Of course North Carolina was timid. They weren't very, said well most of them said it was the law. They weren't anxious to abide by it, but said it was the law. This anyway, it was a little inconceivable that the poorest sections of the country the South had to have two of everything.