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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nelle Morton, June 29, 1983. Interview F-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Network throughout the South and pioneering work in integration

In this excerpt, Morton indicates that the most significant contribution of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen was its pioneering work in integration efforts. For one, she explains that the Fellowship provided a network throughout the South where people sympathetic to the aims of the Fellowship could find safe harbor. Because of their work, Morton argues that they were able to provide opportunities for children to experience fully integrated activities. As evidence of this, she cites a yearly summer camp held at her family farm in Kingsport, Tennessee, with the aid of her father, as evidence of racial progress.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Nelle Morton, June 29, 1983. Interview F-0034. 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

What do you regard as the most significant single things the Fellowship did?
Well, they saved me . . . (Laugh) I just couldn't believe that there were that many people who felt about things like I did. It was just . . . and you automatically (this is very personal), but if a person is a member of the Fellowship, you automatically, you know, just assumed all kinds of things about them, and you were rarely wrong in it.
You assumed what?
Now this is connected with what I think I tried to say a while ago. That Martin was wrong . . . at one point he said that I had reported to him that I and the Hughleys and I think he included Benny Mays, and the Charles Joneses, ah, no matter when . . . where we were, or if we were in the area of one another, that we were welcome into one another's homes to stay, you know. I did not mention those people in connection with that. The one thing to me that I experienced in Fellowship, as far as I know, there was no member of the Fellowship that wasn't open . . . didn't have an open house . . . no matter where you were-both blacks and whites. And that what had begun to happen is as the public meetings were always integrated that automatically somehow the homes began to be, and we would have more correspondence asking, "I'm going to be in Georgia at a certain place, is there a Fellowship member, or are there Fellowship members in the area?" And then reports that came back on what happened to children in relation to that, and that was the first time the children had been in a completely integrated situation and how wonderful it was. And then, three summers, I was thinking, I just had the camp on our farm, . . . my father was living on our farm alone . . . I was thinking, I had a camp for children there for two summers, I noticed in one of the notes that it mentioned three summers that I had children . . . of the Fellowship . . . an integrated group, on the farm, my mother was not living, the house was large, we shared in all the work and all of the activities in the area, and my father was simply marveled in connection with it, and every one of those persons as far as I can remember has turned out to be such a different person because of that camping . . . that kind of experience.
Did you have trouble in the local community?
No, and a part of that I would assume . . . my father was still living then, and this house we had on the farm, and we thought it had been in our family forever, and so we had this long connection in the county and related to so many people there. I know when I first had the children there, I asked my father, who hadn't even finished high school, whether it would be good to go to the minister of the community, a little church nearby, and to the sheriff, both of whom we knew, and tell them what we were contemplating so that if any trouble came up, they would know immediately and could be supportive. Well he said he didn't know, he'd have to think about it. He thought about it a few days and said, "You know, actually, these children are coming here, in a sense, as our guests, and we never run to the minister and the sheriff when we have guests here. So we just let them find it out. Well, he just couldn't have been more beautiful. The children had no more than gotten settled and we began to divide up the chores . . . switch jobs each day . . . oh, and one of the neighbors sent word in and said the threshing machine was coming to their house and they wondered if the children had ever seen a threshing machine. So papa took these children, and they climbed up the fence and watched the threshing machine which some of them had never seen. A few days later a farmer sent word that he was breaking a colt . . . and all of these children . . . I'm not sure if they were city children . . . but he said, I'm just not sure if city children have ever seen a colt broken. So papa took them there-he took them fishing, he took them different places, he was that kind, until near the end . . . the one person we were concerned about was a veteran who lived up the river from us, a few days before the children left he said he just couldn't-there wasn't anything he could do, but if I had the children next summer, that he had learned when he had gotten out of the army-he was in a veterans hospital for a long time-he had learned how to weave a basket . . . and he could teach these children how to weave . . . so, it was just that kind of experience.