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Title: Oral History Interview with Nancy Kester Neale, August 6, 1983. Interview F-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Neale, Nancy Kester, interviewee
Interview conducted by Blanchard, Dallas A.
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 116 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-02-22, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Nancy Kester Neale, August 6, 1983. Interview F-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series F. Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, 1983-1985. Southern Oral History Program Collection (F-0036)
Author: Dallas A. Blanchard
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Nancy Kester Neale, August 6, 1983. Interview F-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series F. Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, 1983-1985. Southern Oral History Program Collection (F-0036)
Author: Nancy Kester Neale
Description: 129 Mb
Description: 28 p.
Note: Interview conducted on August 6, 1983, by Dallas A. Blanchard; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series F. Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, 1983-1985, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Nancy Kester Neale, August 6, 1983.
Interview F-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Neale, Nancy Kester, interviewee


Interview Participants

    NANCY KESTER NEALE, interviewee
    DALLAS A. BLANCHARD, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
First of all you were born where?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I was born in Nashville
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
In Nashville?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yes.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
And then at how early of an age did you move to the mountains?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I was three I think. We met every summer. My folks had met at Blue Ridge Assembly, and they went every summer as far as I know. As far as I can recall after I was born, because they were so taken with the area. And they stayed in various cabins in High Top Colony which is where the family home became located. I was born in 1934. Then we moved in about 1937 or 1938.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What was it like being a child of Buck and Alice Kester?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
[Laughter] . How many hours would you like? I thought about writing about that myself and I might do that sometime. We will see. I think, all of us think that we are unique, I think it was a rather rich and rare and difficult experience in many ways. Their lives were very difficult in terms of the kind of work as you well know that they took to do was very stressful. And most of the physical problems they had related to stress kinds of things eventually. But it was a very interesting life being an only child which was not all that frequent in those days. Eventually I went every place that they went when I began to be three or four. Earlier my dad had been gone so much of the time that I didn't know who he was. And so mother said that is it, we will go where you go. So I traveled a lot, and I left school. Once I was in school and I went on trips. I would go to Howard University when they would go to Washington, or Fisk or what ever. Many people would come to visit us and I was just a part of the scene. So it wasn't like I was banished to the childrens place under the stairs or something. It was very comfortable and very helpful in learning a lot of things. So I was able to see a lot of people and to watch a lot of things develop and enjoy a lot of people, and decide who I could relate to and who not to and so forth. I haven't said

Page 2
anything about my mother, and I could do that if you would like.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I am interested in both.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
They really were a team in a period of time where women most typically did not(most married wome) but were pretty much home bound and thought they must be. She was one of those women who had a career on the way. She was the most stable element in the home. She was the one, really I can't think of any job that he did that she was not half the team, or the other 100 percent. And that is not well recognized by people who have been writing. I have been very conserned about that and occassionally resentful about that.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Of course.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
She has not gotten her due.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Almost every one that I have talked to that knew the two of them mention her. I will start off asking about Buck, and then they well say and of course there is Alice. Buck was the visionary. Alice was the one that kept him straight.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Exactly.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Kept him organized.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Ma has some of his writings that has not gone anywhere else at this point, a book that he wrote about the fellowship for example and it was so clear even though part of it was getting older where she used to catch him up in terms of repitition, in terms of tending to cliche of the language, it is so clear she would catch it. She would help him from doing that, or she would help him think it through a little more thouroughly. And she would always push him to do better in that kind of way. Just a very solid, able achedemic background so that she was very helpful to him.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What was her background?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
She went to Westend College in Georgia. And then she had some physical problems early on, some eye troubles, vision problems. Then when they were in Nashville she was going to get a Master in Child Development, and it altered her thesis, and the crunch came in terms of her vision problems.

Page 3
And my dad was desperately needing help at that time. He put the pressure on her to not finish her degree and to help him do the office work. And she agreed to do that, much to her regret later, yet not in terms of doing the work but that she did not complete her own as well. So that is where she made the choice and got some business training. From then on she really kept the books straight, and the records straight, and that is why there is so much richness in the records that Chapel Hill now has. Because she wrote all the thank yous and she kept the books very carefully.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What kind of role did she play say in the travelings and the meetings and so forth?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
All of the organizational stuff. She was the person who did all of the writing, the planning and so forth. My dad knew the contacts and he would say will you write to so and so about this that and the other and take care of that particular problem and see about setting these things up. She and I for years when I traveled with her, she and I did all of the ticky tacky conference work. We took the registrations, we took the money and made change for the registrations, and saw that people had their questions answered. So it was really a family undertaking in that sense. Many times when it came down to the camp at Swananoah or at Buck-eye Cove or other kinds of conferences we ended up in the kitchen, which neither one of us was very happy about but often oversaw the food while other parts of the conference were going on. So it was really to see that the whole thing went smoothly in all aspects.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
More like the executive director titled the butler. What was he like?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
He was a very complex man. Very complex. Very, certainly intellegent, very strong ethical as you must know, ethical code in mind. A tremendous amount of conflict about whether he was doing the right thing with his life. Whether he was doing the right thing at the right time, with whatever mission he felt that he had. Very interested in people. Extremely wide range interests,

Page 4
the things I learned from him in the woods as we walked around the mountains, or about the stars and the constellations. I learned my earliest Greek mythology from him walking around looking at the constellations at night. He could talk to anybody about anything from somebody who was a maintaince person to whoever you might pick, whatever their roles might be. He was very confortable with all types of conversations and communications, but I don't think he was particularly psychologically atuned. There were things he didn't understand about why people reacted as they did, and he could be hurt rather easily. In the family we knew that and we often took the brunt of that when he was hurt by some kind of rejection. He would handle things very well, in terms of what everyone saw. But his struggles were really very intense. His health was always affected by that. He had asphma a great deal of the time. He was a chain smoker and a chain coffee drinker those are kind of old patterns for intense folks. He had a tough temper.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
How did that reveal itself?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
He would store things with all of the things going on in his work for weeks and weeks and even months at a time, and the only place he felt he could let that off was at home. So the things that he would be irratated about mother and me would come up. They would just ticket off and he would blow his stack, and then he would calm down and then he would start over. He would never learn to deal with things as they came up and to tend to business and work out those issues as they were small. I think he paid a price for that. I think we all paid a price for that. But he was probably one of the most loving kinds of people I will know or ever have known. Certainly one of the most romantic person the way he courted my mother all the way through. He wrote about her as his bride endlessly, and felt about her that way even though they had many differences. They were two different people. They did not come from similiar backgrounds. They wrestled a lot of things together, and had a lot

Page 5
differences as I say. It was really remarkable marriage that they tried to run.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What kind of differences did they have?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Temperamental as much as anything. I think that was part of the base. It was not ideological. They came from families who had mixed feelings about what we call race relations in those days. But we were families. His mother certainly and her sisters, pretty much brothers, and her step-mother were quite supportive and loved them no matter what they did. So it wasn't as if they had to operate in a vaccuum without any kind of family support, an extended family support. They were different temperamentally. They were different in their styles of dealing with people, in their styles of approaching problems. My mother would be methodical. She thought that was pretty good.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
And analytical?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
And analytical, yes. He was much more tempestuous and had the fire and the flash and spirit. She could look at the whole problem and often see the gestalt of it, see the way things would fit, and if you do this sub-strategies and this kind of thing. She really helped him go through a lot of things very solid for hours.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
The mind behind?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
In a lot of ways. There were both minds working, but they tempered each other. She also greatly admired his courage, his speaking ability. It is hard to find people even though there are some people interested in that kind of rhetoric like Frank Graham, Scotty Cowan, and my dad and some others. There is a style of preaching and speaking that is magnificant. I will never forget hearing all of those people preach and speak and how stirring they could be. They could knock you right off of your feet.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I have read several of your father's sermons and such and in a way he reminds me of John Wesley. But Wesley was the driest, dullest man I have ever bumped into to read. Buck's sermons frankly are dry and dull it looks like. But yet people continually tell me that there was a stare off into the distance all of a sudden, and there was a drama to it.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Indeed, yes. But not calculated. It was very genuine. It was not a stage act

Page 6
thing to get people where he wanted. It was not manipulative thing intentionally or consciously. He simply had that way of working and he could get any group right there in his hand. You could feel it. We would be in the back of the room having just finished doing all of the mickey-mouse stuff and the whole place would be together with him. And that would be very exciting. And she was very impressed by that and pleased by that. I have heard her make some talks, and watched her develop the talks to the various groups that she belonged to and led. She was a very good writer. I owe her whatever facility I have with the language, and spelling ability and composition. She would rehearse me over and over. My thank you letters had to be written until they were right in the right kind of content. And I have always been able to write good letters. It was that kind of, not terribly tedious kind of things, but she really thought that we ought to use the language well because it was a good language to use. And therefore she could really appreciate how his own spirit hot into his way of speaking.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
How would you say they affected your way of life? Influenced your life?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
We were a very close family. I went off to school when I was twelve, because we were at Penn School at the time, and it was against the law for me to go to school on the island at my front door (the Penn School was). So I had to go twenty miles into Bueford by bus one way, and twenty miles back in the afternoon by bus with white school children. It was very very painful and very difficult. I did that from the third grade through the sixth grade, and then through a series of happenstances I ended up going to a progressive school in Summerville, South Carolina for two years. That was an interesting experience, but that got me away from a junior high that was supposed to be playing just dirty sports and not have much else going for it at that end of town. And into a situation where I was much more accepted into the student body and so forth. I was not terribly not accepted certainly on the Island. But until then I was with them constantly, as I say I was out of school a lot going with them on various trips. One of my earliest memories of that jaunt when I was

Page 7
three or four. And I think three or four organizations were sponsoring and I was reading some material and I thought it was still the Union, but I think it had to do with either the Committee on Economic and Racial Justice or several others that were sponsoring, maybe the early committee three hundred churchmen. But I can remember going down route 66, I think it was riding through the deep south. And the tennants were out striking against the landlords, tennant farmers. And we had an old car of some sorts and there were some other people in this caravan. And the cars were stacked up with all kinds of supplies for the people who were living in barns, and anything else because they had been thrown off the land, and out of their homes. And I can remember being all bunched up by myself in the backseat with cartons of Vicks Vapor-Rubs because that was good for so many things. We had all of these little cartons and my feet were all up. We ahd rode for hours and hours and I would want to get out and play with the children. My mother wouldn't let me becuase they had terrible colds, and running sores. And I would cry because I wanted to play with the children and I was lonesome. And I remember that very vividly at the young age, that experience. But I learned a lot about poverty. About what it looked like and what it felt like, and what my parents were doing and we were as a family were doing. I felt a part of that. That is just one example.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I am sure that you also felt the hostility experience towards the family.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Sure.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
How did that affect you?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
It was hard for a long time. Fortunately every place that I went there was always children and families that we could relate to and be close to. There were some of those at Bueford at the school not on the Island. On the Islands where the bus ran back and forth, I ran into a lot of hostility on the bus. On those days busing was no issue. It didn't matter that we had to be bused twenty miles each day. But that was very painful at times, but I always got

Page 8
good support at home. It was hard being an only child in that regard, because I didn't have somebody else to moan and groan with about some of the rough things that went on, occasionally physical roughness. My dad would just get upset, and my mother was always the one who would talk with me about it and help me understand how other people felt and hugged me and get on with something else. So that I didn't dwell on it. I forgot about a lot of those things for years. And then of course as I tried to put my life in order as I approached middle age, I tracked back a lot of those things. She was good then at noticing when something had gone with some diffuculty and wanted to know what it was. She was just a good person in lots of ways. She was kind of a companion in some ways, but she always remained a mother. She was somehow able to mix those roles, while not very many people can very well. But she did I think. She began to be more worried about me when I became a teenager. And we had more distance between us in a lot of ways. I never dated people, and she was really happy about that for a long time. I went to Ebelon College, and when I began to go through an agnostic phase and was very strongly so. And I was a religion major eventually, I started out as a sociology major and I changed to religion so that I could get some more humanaties courses at the time. She was distressed that my belief system or what ever it was had sort of flown out the window. And my dad and I had wonderful conversations. We hassled over everything and he wasn't bothered by it. We had a wonderful time doing it. And she felt worried about what had become of me I think. We had many good times after that period. And it was traded off. I was probably closer to him when I was an older teenager, than to her when I was a young adult too because she was not happy that I left North Carolina to go work. They wanted me to go teach at Warren Wilson very much. They were not happy that I went to St. Louis for my first job after college. So we had a lot of things to work out. I needed to get away, I needed to know who I was aside form being a Kester. That has always been difficult. I have been dated because people admired my

Page 9
dad. That had to be sorted out. So I went to St. Louis. I had never lived in a city and tried to see what a city was like. And I thought I needed to know that and see if I could make it on my own. They very much wanted me to stay close to hoem.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Are you familiar with the Everett Hughes statement "Every child has an inalienable right to authoritarian parents against whom to rebel."?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yes, I am aware of the idea.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
You need to have somebody to bounce up against.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Right.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What about in terms of the fellowship itself. I am sure that you met most of those people in and out of your home.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yes I met a lot of them and their faces come back to me. You said Charley Jones. I could see him but I imagine he was probably fortish last time I saw him, maybe younger, he didn't have any white in his hair. It was quite black. I knew all of the names because I typed in the office for about three summers and made my summer income typing the address labels. So most of the names I saw sooner or later.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Were there factions within that group?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Oh sure. I don't know about factions. There certainly were different groups, different subgroups, with different interests, different ideas somewhat on what the goals ought to be, probably more intellectual groups, some more practical down to earth groups, some more oriented towards the institutional church, some much more radically oriented in terms of society and changes and so forth, and some that just wanted to work within whatever system exsisted. So there were a lot. I think that was healthy.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Who fit where?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I can't put people in all of those groups. I would put that Chapel Hill group in that intellectualist group. I know that there were some difficult time in Chapel Hill I am sure. But I had some sense that they were in some ways

Page 10
(I don't know that everybody was), they were protected from some of the nitty gritty tough stuff. And it is hard for me to seperate the Union's experiences from the Fellowship. But there was danger for my family over and over again, physical danger as well as psychological and social kinds of stresses. Demands of all sorts. But that group could offer some special things because they were who they were and where they were. And subsuquently as you know Nell became a secretary, and Charles Jones after her. She had retired. That became a contributing development for the Fellowship at that particular time. Earlier, I don't know that would have gone on if my dad had not have been there in the interium to carry things as he did. I think there are a lot of ministers as you well know. I think my dearest memory is Scotty Cowan, whom I knew as Uncle Scotty. I can remember a bunch of those men sitting around the living room down at the house of Black Mountain which is where we go every other weekend as a matter of fact. They were sitting around telling stories, and they were past masters of telling stories. And it was a wonderful way to get rid of so much tensions, and these wonderful laughs would roll especially from Uncle Scotty out of the house into the mountains. Just rant. They could be serious and get things done. They really had an affinity for each other. Will Campbell was another. There was a bunch of them. There was just a cadre of them. And they had a lot in common, and when they would get together they felt almost like brothers.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Have you ever heard of Leslie Bleal?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I saw that name and I have not.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
There was a column, a continuing series of columns, in the early issues of Profetic Religion. It is a sygnia. I had figured that it might have been Scotty Cowan, because Leslie Leal, Leslie the Faithful sounds very Scotch to me.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
That's interesting. I am not aware of that. You have not gotten that from anybody?

Page 11
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
No one has been able to tell me.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
That is an interesting mystery to find out.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I am going to keep asking.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Can't help you.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I wish I had gotten to know Buck, Scotty, Jean Smathers.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yes, he was another one that I had liked very much. And Jean Cox too.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Were there any internal dissentions?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Oh certainly. Fine of life. Again, for the same kinds of reasons with different kinds of priorties of them with these different groups, different kinds of ways of perceiving the world and what ought to be done about social conditions. Are you thinking about anything in particular.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
No I am just probing.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Sure. Yes, at different times there would be an emphasis that dad ought to go do stuff out in the field when he was working harder at Buck-eye Cove, because that is what he thought that was what he was supposed to do. And that is when he ran into trouble, because he suddenly found out that people were disapproving his not having been out making money for the Fellowship and doing other stuff. When as he understand it the expectation was that he would help build the conference grounds at Buck-eye Cove. That knocked him off of his pants for quite a while. I think one of the things that the Fellowship could have profited from was is known today about good communicaiton skills. Not everybody, but people would carry a lot of stuff along for a while and then it would suddenly come out. Whereas if eveybody would have been a little bit more forthcoming sooner, it would not have worried so about conflict and seen it as o.k. and healthy, then they could have worked stuff out sooner I think. But there were people who would get mad, and people who would get discouraged and want to leave and whatever. But I think there was an amazing bonding effect going on here at the same time, because these were people and families from all over the thirteen or fourteen states who were under amazing duress in their

Page 12
community for their own beliefs. And when they would get together with very different kinds of groups at our house for example, I can picture some of the very different lifestyles and everything else. They had that bond that we must stick together. There just are not a whole lot of options for us if we believe in what we are doing. So that served as a kind of glue. And I think that more people stayed with that organizaiton because of its committment whether it was social or religious or both.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Your father was executive director, secretary of two different periods. Why did he leave the first time? Do you know?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I wish I had plenty of time to think more about that. Lets see. He went from the Fellowship to the Folk School or to New York?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I think it was to the Folk School but I am not sure.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Maybe it was to Penn School the first time. We went to Penn School in about 1943, because we were there for the war years. So it seems to me that the first chunk must have ended about then. I don't know exactly. He got periodically discouraged. He was not a person with the early part of my life repeated that pattern until I noticed it, and began to watch it. He was not very comfortable even in arranged institutions like the Fellowship. He would get restive. And I think he tried to serve as the Executive Director, and I have had that kind of role many times since, it can be a very difficult position. Some people expect you to be the legs of the organization, and just walk through and they are the thinkers. And there is another perception that you are also a mind and you are expected to use it in behalf of the organization. And with those different kinds of expectations you can get in binds.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
interesting situations, and I don't know if you want to get into that. You probably don't. But I think there were a lot of attractions about the Penn School situation and mother was Principle. There was first

Page 13
twelth grades. And she ran that whole operation. It was entirely her her responsibility.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What was he?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
He was the overall administrator for the whole place. We had farms, large extensive farms. We had shops where technical trades were taught all kinds, and the academic part. It was building school as well as a day school. It was a large operation. Besides the money-raisingfeature working with the board of trustees, a lot of whom were from the north, north-east, and a lot of constant communication trips to New York two or three times a year. There were a lot of attractions about a lot of interesting problems, because you don't get into that kind of role within the black community when you are the only white family without some problems of that black community of some who will be comfortable with you and some who will fight you.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I have been in that position before.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I would like to hear about that.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
The second time that he was the director of the Fellowship are you familiar with why he left that time?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Well, I am trying to think of what came before that. It is hard for me to put the sequence to it right because I really have to put my mind to it. It seems to me that the Campbell Folk School was before or after. I have to think.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
He went to the college from the Fellowship.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
So the New York year and the Folk School came before that stint. The Folk School Stint did not turn out to be as productive as he thought. Again some of his real creatvie ideas were blocked by one person inparticular.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Who was that?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
At the Folks School he set up the first to my knowledge I believe he said that in that whole area there was no training program for veterans. They were back from the Second World War and they were not finding any work. And it was a very discouraging experience. And here is a man who is a passifist declared and

Page 14
4F only because he had so bad, but was prepared to go to C.O.camp if he had to. But he set up a veterans program. And at the Folk School teaching them to make furniture. And they made the most magnificent furniture in the shop under Mr. Estees. And that program was probably the only one for many miles around for veterans to be employed and was to be specifically for them. He also set up in New York City in Rockefeller Center an outlet for the Folk School Carvings and the weavings. And then it was not seen by a very small group as a very good idea. They wanted to keep it local. He thought that if they didn't get into some market situations that it would really limit the future of the Folk School. So he really leaped ahead, and now they are doing it all over the place. But at that time it was opposed.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Was it killed by the trustees?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I think it was. And I think he had some other marketing ideas but I can't think of what they were. But I think he tried to do some other things that were considered too intivative. But they would have been passe now. They were just not ready to follow him. Although many folks, it happened that three or four other families left after my parents left and have not been associated with the Folk School since. But they are just very dear people and they did understand what my parents were talking about.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Back to around 1956-1957 when he left, do you know anything about why he left the fellowship at that time?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Well he had always kind of thought of himself as a kind of a teacher. I think a lot of preachers talk about how they got into sociology department, or what ever else of the preacher types. He always enjoyed that. He had always had good student response even from the student days on when he did an immense amount of lecturing on college campuses and university campuses all over the country. In a way that was kind of a strain that was always there. He had the earliest school association of course with Penn School undergraduates. The Folk School was with adult educaton. And there were some interesting things about being a part of a academic community. And I think at that

Page 15
time of his life it was timing. It seemed O.K. to do that. I think also again he got restless, as I recall with the fellowship per se, and things didn't move as he would like to have them move or fast enough or what ever. As I said get restive and want to move on.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
There is a letter in the files that he wrote right about that time. He was trying to raise funds through a couple of foundations in our school I think the Buel Foundaiton too, that indicated that he thought that a member of the Fellowhship was trying to block their getting funds. Do you know anything about that?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I don't know anything about that. I know that kind of thing can happen and does happen, and did happen sometimes, and I wouldn't be surprised. He was the kind of person, and I have thought about it a lot, whose presence he was not a hostile person, he really tried to work with all of the different components in any community, but somehow groups would crystalize. He stood out enough or his ideas were strange and unusual enough that would bring out the people who would fued and say no I do not like that, I am opposed to that and I will block it. And there are always a few of those. So I am not surprised.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What about the role of women? In that group?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Wonderful. I think that is where I got my early starts. I wish many times I could have had some talks with him since my own evolution I guess. Probably, and I would like to do some writings about this area sometime, I think the role of women in some of these organizaitons and I don't know about the Union, I have real conserns about the explotations of women sometimes in unions. I have seen it happen in community organization work. But in the Fellowship and the Committee on Economic and Racial Justice as far as I recall all of the discussions about that history it probably was outstanding compaired to the rest of social life where women were very equal. Nell Morton there was no problem about her succeeding The only question was how would she do it. What her style was. She had her own particular style. There were women

Page 16
who I can remember who werevery impressive. There was Matha who was from Ridgecrest. A women named Miss Lyman who was from Tennessee. I think a lot of that came from some very strong YWCA women. And of course that has got history all in itself. I think the YW has some good history related to that to study. A number of National YWCA people Odie Swideny was one. I don't know if Odie retired or not. She was on the national board for a while. Doris Wilson I guess. Both of those were black women. All of them could be very strong and active and pronounced and there was some mutual stuff. Oh sure there was some prejudice, but it was really hard to find the language, my dad's language, everybodies language referred to men and this group of men and there were the women sitting there. But that was standard in all of their experiences. But beyond that in terms of actual operation I think it was a remarkable experience worth studying, intensive study. It was quite unusual.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
You had in the south the tradition of church womens groups involved in this side of issues also, and they tended to be very small. What were his parents like?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I never knew any of my grandfathers. I knew about his father Edwin from the stories and the family accounts. My grandmother I think was a very remarkable women. There were three children and he was the youngest. A women who was interested in what went on around her. Very clear kind of ethical code. One of the things I had the worst trouble of that part of the family rearing is that part of the family said if any one does anything for you owe them. It is not like anything could just be a gift. You then owe them. So if anybody did anything for my Grandmother she would bake them a pie or she would fix something to return the favor. It was a whole different value system. She was very clear about the rights and wrongs of how to relate in the community. And what her children should and should not do. They were strict with the children. When they disobeyed they got whipped. My dad got into

Page 17
scraps like a lot of boys do. And would be punished by his father or his mother. She could chew them out in a manner royal and did. And she expected certain kinds of behavior. She always expected courtesy towards all people. Where she got that I don't know. She may have gotten it from her mother or her father in that Virginia experience. But she was gentle, she was very firm, a clear thinker. She expected courtesy to all people including blacks, including women. You just treated people right no matter who they were. You may not agree with them, you may not want to be around them but that you do and I will not intollerate anything else. So they learned very early. But I don't know what other kinds of things you would be interested in. I have lots of other memories.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I am interested in this whole area, of roles, family roles and such. I have done some preliminary research on the liberal stuff of the south. And looking at Methodist ministers of Alabama I came up with a hypothesis that most of those I knew came from a family of an absence or a weak father and a very strong mother.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Not particularly true in some ways. And this is a very strong father. In the area of disiplinarian is very present, but in a way he left the rearing to the mothers decision. And much of my dad's rearing was in my aunts hands, and his older sister's hands. That is what I understood and he balked. Apparently my uncle when my dad was born said to my grandmother give him to her.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Really?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yes, and to some extent it worked. And my aunt who was five or six years older and now about 86 years-maybe 84 this year-was responsible for the care and feeding and welfare of Howard Kester. That was pretty heavy for a young girl and yet she took the responsibility seriously and was devoted to him, although she did not understand a lot of things he later did. But everybody in that family as far as I could tell were pretty active members. My

Page 18
grandfather was involved in the cleaning business. He was a master tailor. Did you know that?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
No.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
And everybody until my dad's generation in every generation there had been a master tailor way back to Cologne Germany in the Kester family. It used to be Koester. That generation broke the mold. He was a master tailor and could look at a man and tell which sholder was a little higher and a little forward and size them up and go and make them a perfect suit. Fantastic ability. She he developed that into what became his dry-cleaning business. And he was very busy with that. He was active in the Presbyterian Church. The family had come from Quakers, as you probably know earlier. Since there were no friends in Beckly, I don't know when they became Presbyterians, but somewhere in there they transfered to the Presbyterian Church. And he became an elder in the Presbyterian Church. I would like to say a little something for the record about the comment that he was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. Because that is often brought out to show how far my dad came. His and the family's understanding of that was at that phase in some chapters of the Klan it was seen more as a country club, and a lot of country clubs exsisted that was invariably all white orientation today anyplace in the country. But kind of a place for white men to get away from women, anybody. They had to do their own boy things. And it was not seen as hostile, as far as I understood, hostile anti-anybody thing. In fact I have one very good example of the way my grandfather operated. He had a pair of matched bay, absolutely beautiful horses at one time. And he decided to sell them. And the family was never well, off never. And he could have gotten a pretty pennye for those matched horses and the carriage. Instead he gave them to an old country doctor who was black. And this was in Beckley I believe, I am not really sure. That is my feeling. And everybody around him said why did you do that? When you could have gotten loads of money for those horses. And he says because he needed them more than anybody else. To me that sets things in perspective, that you could belong to

Page 19
the Klan and still have your values set that clearly.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Back to the fellowship itself, what do you see as the differences of the fellowship under your father as compaired to under Nell?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Again, I was not immediately involved very direct. I was off in my own direction at the time. My sense of that is the difference in style. Again that was the more intellectual group, or intellectualizing group. They had not been out in the corn fields so much or been threatened with guns or ropes. And that sort of did things once they had experienced it, or had not lost their pulpits at that point, which a number of people had. But it was a little bit more intellectual style, a little bit less of a fervor I think and drive. But then early on the organizaitonal development you need that kind of drive. So I don't know that it was inappropiate or less useful for the life of the organization at that time. It was different. It was real different. For me being used to and confortable with the old style with a lot of preachers and a lot of vim and vigor and a lot of lay people who were conserned and interested and active and groups who would get into it from the south, it seemed kind of a cooling off period to me. But that could have been just simply somehow a group that sort of distanced themselves a little bit or seemed a little more distant. But that is just an impression I got.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
This is entirely off the subject but it has just occured to me. A book has been written this past year on the Claude Neel Adventure. Are you familiar with it?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
No I didn't know it.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
A history professor at the University of West Florida researched it and spent a long time interviewing people who were participants in the venture. And it won a book award, but he has really gotten an amiable book as a result of that.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I would like to see the book I guess as much as Wiston liked it and talked about that particularly.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Sure. Buck almost getting interested in it himself there. It struck me too.

Page 20
I would like to toss out some names for you to react to if you will. Because I am trying to get a handle on what some of these people were like. Charles Jones?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Part of the Chapel Hill group. Again they all have kind of a reserve, which Scotty and my dad and some of the others, maybe it was because I saw them up close and I didn't have the experiences of sitting in on their own discussion but a little bit more reserved. But I remember him as being fairly active person and vigorous. I can hear his voice talking. But also quiet overall. I don't know how better to describe that.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Nell Morton?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I liked her. She was an impressive woman I thought. Again I didn't pull to her as a very young person, as a child, in the same way I did to other women such as Odious Weney from the YW and Miss Layman and I guess Miss Cox and some of those others. But she seemed warm, she seemed real (those are trite words) genuine, certainly genuine, they all were genuine. I remember her as being quite tall, because I was pretty small at the time, besides being impressed with her presence. She was certainly articulate. She certainly had a good head as far as I could remember. I can see her in my mind.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Miles Horton?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I did not have much direct experience with him. I just had heard of it all second hand. I know my parents did. But I don't have any personality impressions. I know that there was a meeting there at the school. I remembered that had happened and so forth, but I really don't have enough to go on for any really clear impressions of him.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Can you remember what kind of relationship there was between your dad and Miles?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
No I can't that is a gap.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Jim Dobrowski?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Was he communist. Did he become a communist?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
It is kind of ify I think. Some people say that he difinately is and others

Page 21
he wasn't.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I think my dad thought he was … Were there two Dobrowskis? Two brothers?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I think there was only one. There may have been two I don't know. Jim was the one who was rather close to Miles through most of his career.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Gosh, I could have misstated. I don't know.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
They started off together in 1934, but then sort of went there seperate ways shortly thereafter.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I heard my dad talk about Jim Dobrowski. I have no impressions of him being at the house or anything. All that I flashed on which could be incorrect. So you need to check it out elsewhere that dad believed him to be or knew him to be a communist.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I think that he thought very surely that he was.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I think that he was divisioned. Because he became very strongly anti-communist. Once he checked it out. That was part of mother's urging him to check it out. She was real conserned about what the implications of that hold. Lee's system might be as contrasted to socialism.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Do you have any idea when that might have been?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Whenever it was he went and ahd a meeting with the head of the Communist Party. That was pretty much after officious, and he left and said he would never ever have anything to do with the Communist Party. And he began to work against them at that time. Because he couldn't stand sacrificing man's mind and that was his main objection.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
James McBride Dabbs?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Very familiar name again, but I can not give you much in the way of associations.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Howard Odum?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I can't help there either.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Jean Smathers?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yea very positive. He was part of that group of Scotty Cowan that I was mentioning that was very zesty men who were terribly courageous. There

Page 22
was a warmth and a depth there for me was very exciting as a child growing up and getting to see them off and on. The Smathers were very genuine people, very honest, those are general things again. I don't know that I can help you as much as someone else could.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
What about his wife?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
That is kind of a blank in my mind. I don't know.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Anything to add to what you have said about Scotty?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Was that Lucille Smathers?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I don't know what her name was. That is kind of a blank too.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I have some material I think of her.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
She is still alive. And I need to get up there.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
If we go to the house I can look that up.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Her son Mike is now pastor at Bigly.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Really, that's fasinating.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I just found that out on this trip. Jim Holloway?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Nothing. I have no click there at all.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Will Campbell?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Oh yes, The last time I saw Will was when my dad died, I went back from Salt Lake. I had just been in Black Mountain and came back when they said that he was dying. He died while I was enroute. And when I had got to Black Mountain the funeral services had already been planned entirely. And I was distressed because so many people had not been able to say their good-byes to him that were really close to my dad. And while he was in intensive care, rediculously they don't let anybody in, so only a couple people got to see him and talk to him. So I set up a memorial service that Saturday. He died on Tuesday. And I set it up on Saturday. And he always wanted either Jim Smathers or Will Campbell to do his funeral service. That wasn't possible because it had already been set up. So I went to the phone in Black Mountain and called and Will Campbell happened to be where the one

Page 23
phone could have reached him at the time. It was pure happenstance. He was picking up the mail or something like that. And he picked it up, and he said yes I will come. So he came and did the memorial service. I have a copy of it if you would be interested.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I have a copy of that.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
You have that, I didn't know what you had. So that was the last time that I had any time to speak with him, and that was very reassuring. He left right after the service. But he was there the day or so before and helped handle the reporters. I don't know if you have the stuff that came out in the papers. I brought a lot of the stuff. Would you be interested in any of those?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Yes I would.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Not all of it is exactly accurate. There was a lead editorial of the Citizens Times and the Charlotte Observer has them, the middle section of the Carolinas News and dad wrote that.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Are these extras.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yes. And you probably have a copy of what he thought about meeting George Washington Carver and how that turned his life around. And I think that is all there.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Looking back now, I was born in 1933, I grew up in sort of the same society as you did. I lived in the black belt in Alabama for a couple of long years and I drive back through that section now and I am really struck by the changes. And so few people are really aware of what life was like, even the black young people. It is a different world. Looking back on all of that, what kind of impact did Buck Kester and that group have? What contribution did they make to where we are today?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Well it depends on if you see things discretely or in a continuous line. I tend to see everything connected. Obviously the organization was not a

Page 24
major contribution factor in the south today as far now. But at the time several of the organizations like the Economic and Racial Justice which paid his salary and kept them functioning for quite a while so that they could move into the fellowship and develop that whole Union stuff going along. I think besides effecting peoples lives, it sort of set a precident, for southeners to always react to their surroundings and not always feeling acted upon. I think southeners often have that kind of feeling where they have been acted upon, whether it was the civil war, or whether it was other kinds of experiences, it was sort of like life was too much to do much about. But I really think it was like my dad often said, in as much as everyone else is saying, the church is the one place where things that we have got the best shot that we have got through making changes at the church, institutional church related like the fellowship. And we have to try.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

Page 25
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
He talked about the neccessity of always trying, no matter how difficult or how unsuccessful, and he often felt unsuccesful, not in his eyes neccessarily. But he felt that he had just not made a mark. And when he got older that is what he wanted. In his younger days he felt that people had to try, they had to try to make a difference in their world. They had to try to trust the gap, and this was true for southerners more than any other group. He thought the south was a very special place in this world. The south had sinned as much as any other region. He said if we could make it in that sense as much as any region in any place in its behavior, but there was more potential in the south for growth and development and learning than anywhere else. He said once a southener makes his mind up on race you know where you stand with that person. You can always count them, because they can't waffle like they can anywhere else. It goes to the soul of a person. He believed that very much. And I think all of those people did, men and women. That they had to try, they had to make a difference. They tried conferences, they tried small group decentralized efforts, they tried bringing in big names. I can remember meeting Eleanor Roosevelt at a conference when I was four years old they had in Nashville. They tried a whole variety of kinds of techniques so that they could shape the circumstances and try to change things for people. They really did believe that they were changing things for themselves for the better if they changed it for other people. It was not sort of like the disinterested kind of notion. But everybody was helped or hurt by the ways the things were shaped. So in that sense I see a continuity. And I think Sawsar Chavey's operation could build on some things that had gone on before probably as much as the STFU ism.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
That is the grandchild isn't it? STFUism?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Oh yes, I think so. I think that is very clear. A lot of these people crossed over from different organizations were belonging to all of them or some of them. And it was a very interesting group to my knowledge there

Page 26
were about three hundred families, when I recall numbers. And they talked about wealth and lived in separate places, but were trying to operate on their small levels through their pulpits, or their parishes or what ever they were, their charitable, or women's organizaitons, all those kinds of groups. You could ride up and see it in the student movement, which was a very powerful moving thing in the south eventually as you saw in the YWCA effort. The intergration of Blue Ridge for example was a very interesting kind of thing. I think that it is all connected. One of the things that my dad was saying about, I went to that conference in Nashville in 1957 and Martin Luther King was there and I talked to him. And I was just out of college at that time. I think I was in the person on stage of development in that meeting. But the one thing that dad was disappointed about when Martin Luther King came was that he didn't understand. He was chastising the middle class white folks who were not doing more and doing it faster and harder and getting on with it. And I had some sense that dad was saying Oh brother if you knew what has gone into getting it this far. And I remember talking about saying that in a way he thinks that he is only starting from scratch. And so much has gone into even getting the states where there was even the amount of blood shed that there was is bad enough. But it would have been much more severe, which wasn't alright in any case. But it was just that sense of he just felt sad and regretful that Martin Luther King didn't see the heritage and how these middle class white folks had contribute out of their own blood and sweat and tears and their way. Not as much pain as the blacks suffered but it can't really compare the kinds of things, because they had to stand up against the whole society in order to do what they tried to do.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Many a price was paid for years.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Yea,
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
For many of us in that realm that tradition has been lost. Anything you would like to add?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I don't know. It is a wonderful thing to think about. This is mainly

Page 27
about the fellowship that you are thinking about.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Primarily yes.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I have more wonderment about the committee and I am interested about what you put together, because I don't know much of what is going on, or what has at all. It certainly was as if we lived with another human being, it was that real movement in a way, the small movement. It was I think partly because of our lifestyle, you have to understand that the office was upstairs. And my mother was up there typing, and getting together the files, and sending out the thank-yous, and asking people for more money and doing all of those kinds of things. And then they would go and work in the gardens and cutting down the trees, and so it was all interspersed. All of our life was kind of mixed. So it was just daily routine. My dad got up at four o'clock every morning, shook down the cold stove that was next to my room, so I got waked up in four in the morning and put on the coffee. And would drink his coffee then, and a lot of his work was done before dawn. By eight o'clock he had done a substantial amount of writing, that was when my mother got up and rise and shine and the household would begin to move. I was not like going some place to an office. It was all part of our life. And when I worked I went upstairs to do the typing for the fellowship. So it was very much a part of life. And I suspect that it was for a good deal of many other people too, because they were taking some risks and becoming involved. But you couldn't take those lightly in those days.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Anyone else you think I should see?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Well it is too bad that you can not get to Charles Jones, maybe later, when he gets better.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I would imagine that Dorcas could tell me as much as Charles.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Very possibly. Also the other one that we mentioned. Mrs Smathers might. I believe that she was very active as well. I would think so. It is ashame

Page 28
that Scotty Cowan is gone, and his wife left before him I think. I always regretted that I didn't get back to the south to see him, because I felt very close to him really as an uncle.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I was told not to bother talking to his step mother.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Well
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
Does that make sense?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
I think so.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
O.K. Then I won't bother.
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
You saw him, and I think Bob Martin said he did plan to interview him, and I think you just have to wait him out. There is really a limited amount of knowledge and information but it is not as accurate. Part of …
END OF INTERVIEW