Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Brother's legal work towards advocating for civil rights of minority groups

MacLachlan discusses her brother Francis's support of the civil rights movement during the 1960s. Following in their father's footsteps, Francis left his law firm during the early 1960s because their conservative stance prevented them from more actively pursuing issues of racial justice. Francis shifted his attention towards working with minority groups, working first as a consultant in Washington, D.C., and then with the North Mississippi Legal Defense Fund. According to MacLachlan, her brother wished to help educate minority groups so they could help themselves. His opposition to "paternalism" in civil rights (which he believed their mother's generation to be guilty of) was a subtle point of disagreement between them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. 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

Then, my brother Francis was very active in the Mississippi Laymen's Conference of the Methodist Church, he was a fundraiser. He liked to go out into the counties and help the rural churches raise their funds and he did a lot of volunteer work, with the laymen of Mississippi and their organizations. So, when the big civil rights push of the 1960's came, he very much hoped that the Methodist Laymen's League would take it upon themselves as a duty to follow up the law on this and to integrate the schools gradually and integrate the churches. It was a particular concern of his that the churches be integrated. And when they failed to follow his lead on that, he became very much upset about it. He tried to get his law firm, this family law firm, to take a stand on it, in favor of it, but there were too many conservatives in it. And so, he really …
JACQUELYN HALL:
He wanted the law firm to issue some kind of public statement in favor of …
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
He wanted them to go into the defense of civil rights workers. You see, from outside came all these …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Right.
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
The civil rights workers flooded into Mississippi and then they would have to be defended in court. And he wanted to organize young lawyers in Mississippi to defend them. Well, they wouldn't follow him as he wished and so he did organize some, but some of the members of the firm were conservatives. They were some of the leading Presbyterians in Jackson. Bob Cannada was the main one that opposed him. Bob Cannada was taken into my father's firm and it was Steven's and Candada and then Stevens and Canada merged with the other firm. So, it was particularly significant that the man my father had befriended as a young lawyer and taken in was Francis's greatest opponent in the civil rights movement. So, there was this feud between them. Their houses adjoined, their backyards. Their wives and children played together. Bob was a strict fundamentalist Presbyterian. Francis Stevens was a liberated social gospel Methodist. And they would argue, you know, biblically, all the time like this. Trying to maintain their friendship, yet …Bob was hired by the school board to prevent segregation, you see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And they were both in the same law firm?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
Yes. And neighbors. It was a very, very difficult situation.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was your mother alive during that time? When did she die?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
No, she died in 1962, so she missed all that. She would have been terribly upset about that, you see. My brother Francis felt that he was carrying on my mother's work. It was a continuance.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Clearly, she would have supported him.
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
Oh, yes, yes. So, eventually, he gave up his position in the firm, he was of high income. And he went to Washington and got office space with the lawyers committed to civil rights there and acted as a kind of an independent consultant in public law and civil defense law. And went all over the country lecturing among college kids. Then, a few years ago, they needed him to head the North Mississippi Legal Defense Organization, headquarters at Oxford, Mississippi. The young lawyer who was heading it needed to go out … I don't remember his name, Francis could tell you, all these young people. Francis became sort of a leader of the young lawyers of Mississippi who were anxious to do the right thing and to organize a defense of poor people and the defense of civil rights workers. And so, he took temporarily the directorship of this organization, which was funded by the federal government, by the Office of Economic Opportunity. And then, they worried about getting this renewed from time to time, after Nixon was elected, you know, they were afraid of all this money being taken away. So, now, he has turned it over to a young black lawyer. He was trying to find a black lawyer who could take it over and he will go back to his Washington, D.C. home in August and will be an administrator in poverty law at Antioch law college in Washington. Not teaching directly to the students, but acting as sort of a consultant in clinics. They will have people come in in clinic situations. So, he feels that if you can teach the minorities themselves to defend themselves legally, the Chicanos, the Indians, the blacks, you can do more by getting a lot of young lawyers well trained in the minority groups, than having white lawyers defend them. He believes in the minorities doing these things for themselves. He is very opposed to paternalism. He saw that the generation that my mother belonged to did things paternally because perhaps there was no other way to do it. But Francis believes in helping yourself and in knowing how to help yourself. Knowing the ropes. And sometimes we argue about paternalism.
JACQUELYN HALL:
In what way?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
Well, I tend to see, as a sociologist, that paternalism has some virtues. I believe that there is too much competition, too much conflict between the various social groups of the United States. This is why I am interested in the communitarian movement, the cooperative movement, in which people cooperate rather than compete. And so, my views are quite different, I think.