Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nelle Morton, June 29, 1983. Interview F-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Successes of the Fellowship and simultaneous opposition

In this excerpt, Morton ruminates about some of the successes of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen during its tenure. Focusing particularly on local efforts to integrate, Morton explains how the Fellowship helped to pioneer new ground in terms of organization and strategies for integration. In particular, she notes how the Fellowship helped to integrate swimming pools in places like Junaluska and Montreat, North Carolina. At the same time, however, she notes the visceral opposition they often faced and the impact that had on people, citing specifically a young African American woman who committed suicide because "she had taken as much as she could."

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

NELLE MORTON:
The Followship was a pioneering group and it almost served its purpose. And you don't keep a group alive you know just because it has finished its work, now I think there's a lot more to do, and there's more there now, but it wasn't anything that other people couldn't begin to pick up . . . which they have . . . I mean local churches have begun to do a lot of stuff, you see, that the Fellowship was doing, and other groups too, and in this sense it never has bothered me that the Fellowship folded. I would be very much concerned if it tried to keep itself alive and it was a dead something, you know . . . its time had passed. And I think that because it allowed itself . . . well . . . we had committees . . . you see when the Fellowship started there wasn't one of those conference centers around Asheville that was integrated . . . Instead of the Fellowship going in and doing something, it got in touch with persons. We started with swimming pools in a good many of them, and it was specially when the young people . . . when students would have conferences there that it became such an issue, and I can remember when there wasn't a single one of those pools anywhere around there integrated . . . Montreat, Junaluska, any of them. In Montreat we got it touch with Jack Marion who was a member of the Fellowship . . . Jack is retired in Florida now, he was head of social action for the Presbyterian Church U.S., and Jack began to gather people around him who were Presbyterian and who could follow though afterward and so we kept supporting him and many times he would report to the Fellowship Executive Committee and get other ideas about moving, techniques and so forth. But the work was done by . . . they never knew the Fellowship had anything to do with it. The same thing was true with Junaluska. It was Fellowship members that we got together who were Methodist who began to work on integrating that pool at Junaluska.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Well what other things happened like that, other than the swimming pools or Junaluska. Were there things that the Fellowship got going that no one ever knew about?
NELLE MORTON:
Yes, that just happened to be when the youth were there. The . . . already before the pool in Montreat was integrating, already . . . you see when I worked with the Presbyterians in Youth work, the black council wasn't even allowed to the meetings. And the first ones that . . . when they were first allowed in they had to get some kind of job . . . menial labor in the community and live in little shacks . . . there was a row of shacks on the hill and the blacks lived there. Well as far as we know even that much hadn't happened anyplace else and we thought that was terrible. I remember when the . . . it was assumed that . . . whether they got the permission I don't know, but it was assumed that the blacks would attend this big banquet that the youths had and at the last minute the privilege was taken away. And I'm not sure about this it was so long ago . . . It was in the thirties . . . that all the other young people refused to go to the banquet too. And you see the young people were raising questions and were putting . . . pushing this thing earlier . . . and then, one I never shall forget, Lake Susan is in the midst of Montreat, beautiful place, I don't think you've been there . . . a black woman, and I think she was from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, drowned herself in Lake Susan, and the thing that was so frightening was that they began to hush it up and refused to investigate it, and then finally said it was other reasons that caused it, you know, like pregnancy. Well, one of the black young people was upset and that told me directly she had taken as much as she could and that having to go up, climb up this little hill to these shacks and live there was just so humiliating, and see other people swim. And this was when Rosewell Long was living, he was the one who took me over to Buck's that one night, and this was just something that I could not deal with, and then he and I . . . walked around that swimming pool and went in that pool, and swore together that as long as we lived, since we couldn't make any headway with the administration there, that as long as we lived this woman's death would not be in vain. That . . . we pledged ourselves . . . that we would keep it in mind in everything we did. It was a very moving thing to me, and I told that story when I was invited back in '79 to speak in Montreat, and then picked it up again at the end when I talked about the . . . I quoted the black theologians as saying . . . in the Black Theology of South Africa, that they were rebelling against the images that the white people had brought in to Africa. That they had to have images of love and kindness, healing, and so forth, and then I followed that and I said, and I hear what they're saying because I had my ears opened by the Baptism of Waters of Lake Susan, and I didn't ever give Rossell Long's name in that, but I could easily have. But it's this kind of thing that . . . I think the work with the Presbyterians changed me as much as anything else, because I began to see the whole meaning of justice and you'd be surprised at the numb . . . at the people who fought integration at Montreat . . . Billy Graham . . . has one of the biggest houses there . . . and he was one . . . and then Nelson Bell who was a missionary to China, who . . . well his daughter married Billy Graham . . . he lived there you see and he fought integration like everything. And he tied integration into sex see . . . among the young people.