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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 >>

Evolution of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen and its heritage in the civil rights movement

Fairfax and the interviewer, Dallas Blanchard, discuss the history of the Fellowship of Southern Churchman. Blanchard offers his thoughts on why the Fellowship began to lose strength by the late 1950s and he outlines the evolution of leadership under Buck Kester, Nelle Morton, and Charles Jones, focusing primarily on their successes in North Carolina. Fairfax agrees with Blanchard's assessment and links her continuing work in the civil rights movement to that history as well.

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

Why do you think it died?
The last thing it did was conference on human relations and race and religion in Nashville. And one of the speakers was Martin Luther King, in 1957, and after that it just sort of disappears. It just goes dormant. Largely, I think because Buck Kester left it and there was no leadership left. And I think right now at this stage of my investigation, it is kind of slow. The thirties with Buck Kester who was a very charismatic personality, very courageous, was dominating it. Then Nelle comes along in the forties and does some local organizing that did get involved with the integrating churches in Chapel Hill and Durham and Raleigh in the late forties, integrating Duke Chapel, and the University of North Carolina auditorium and that sort of thing. Nelle worked as an organizer more at the grassroots level and they did organize local fellowship groups. Then when she left, there was a quiet period when Charles Jones tried to balance two or three jobs at one time.
In fact it is a novelty by its own survival.
And in the fifties Buck Kester comes back. And I think Buck was kind of lost with it at that time.
I would think, and here again I am thinking about somebody that I do not know, that it would be extremely difficult for a southern white person who had been active in the thirties and the forties to know what to do, really, in the ferment of the middle fifties and particularly in the sixties when blacks were bypassing the white leadership that had held things together during earlier period. I was active in the South from 1957 right up until now. I was at the meeting when SNCC was born and knew all of the people who were involved in SNCC and followed them the time they threw whites out of the movement and so forth. And I could see how it is very hard for people of the older generation who had given their life to it suddenly to be dumped.
Right, Well the scene had shifted. Buck Kester was not an activist. In fact, he counseled moderation in the time that people started getting active. And he thought they were trying to push to far too fast. Which pushed him out of the movement.