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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jean Fairfax, October 15, 1983. Interview F-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sense of confidence from work with Fellowship of Southern Churchmen

Fairfax explains that her involvement in the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen during the 1940s gave her confidence in herself and in others. This newfound confidence helped her in her work in the civil rights movement later on, she explains. In addition, she stresses the fact that the Fellowship, in addition to its commitment to universal Christian fellowship, was progressive in its views on race and gender.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jean Fairfax, October 15, 1983. Interview F-0013. 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

DALLAS BLANCHARD:
Did the associations you formed in the Fellowship play a part for you when you did get involved in civil rights?
JEAN FAIRFAX:
There was a different cast of characters. I quess this is what I am trying to say. Where the Fellowship had an impact on me was giving me some confidence that if you look hard enough you could find some white people in the South who were not only commited to a universal Christian fellowship but also to the expressions of that fellowship to the secular world. And this is very important to me because the civil rights struggle was a very bitter and a very dangerous one. And it was important to find white people who were at least neutral publicly and privately active supporting the movement and trying to prevent balck people from being killed, particularly the little children. So I would say the Fellowship gave me confidence to find people like that even in the world South in Mississippi, in Georgia and the other places I was working when I went back there.
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
What was the attitude in the Fellowship towards the New South, the urbanization, and the industrialization?
JEAN FAIRFAX:
Well, you see I would not know about that. In the early forties we were talking about the South as it was and there was no discussion of the New South at that time.
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
How about the role of women in the Fellowship, were they accepted fully and able to contribute to it fully?
JEAN FAIRFAX:
I think the fact that Nelle was the executive secretary at that time answers that question. I don't know that the issue was ever raised or ever a problem, I think men and women on the board, in fact I think I was on the Executive Board, although I can't recall right now.
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
Was there any reflection of racism in it? By whites or blacks?
JEAN FAIRFAX:
If you think about the composition of the Fellowship, to join the Fellowship people had already made up their minds about that thing. In that climate at that, time the nervous people would not have joined. I do not recall any issues that divided the Fellowship on race or the sex line. In face, I don't really recall any… recalled what Nelle said about it. She would have known that.
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
She said the same thing you did.
JEAN FAIRFAX:
That question would have been more of an important question to me when I got back into the South in the middle and late fifties. This is when people had never even thought about making a statement to say did nothing about publically take a stance and devoting their lives. In later years, when I went back, people had to be more publically identified and this required either people who were in the middle or to the right of the middle, of the center. Of course and there would come questions. The Fellowship was made up of people who had already made up their minds. Especially when you think of the leadership that Neibuhr and the others had given to us. They were people who were not only concerned about religion, but Neibuhr thought of this as Socialist Christians who could affirm their idea of what society should be like. In fact I am just recalling, I think this is what Neibuhr was originally active in because of his concern of both socialism and radical Christianity. He was very much interested in those.