Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edwin Caldwell, March 2, 2001. Interview K-0202. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Intersection of party politics and civil rights advocacy

Caldwell recalls that Democratic Party employees coached him on how to register voters, indicating that the party was interested in cultivating black votes. The opposition had moles in their meetings, however, a surprise only exceeded by the fact that some people Caldwell respected were working for Republicans. Frustrated, Caldwell used his growing influence to form a splinter party called PRAD (he cannot remember what the acronym stands for). PRAD sounds like an African American-dominated group within the Democratic Party.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edwin Caldwell, March 2, 2001. Interview K-0202. 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

We needed to be able to form some kind of political organization. At that time I was working with-my father introduced me to Martha McKay and Virginia Nicholson, they were the movers and the shakers of the Democratic Party. They were very good. So I started working with them and I just watched them to see how they organized things. How they got the vote out, just how they did it. I was learning. I learned everything I could from them. When it came time to begin, we started to get the vote out. As a young idealistic black man I was surprised the first time I was working trying to get the vote out. What I learned at the time was whatever we planned, before we got out of the meeting, the white power structure knew everything that we were doing what we were planning. There were people planted in some of our meetings that just ran back and told them everything that we were doing. That was the first surprise, I think the second surprise that I had while I was out working in some of the campaigns as well as some of the elections, was that leaders and people that I respected were working for the opposition. They were being paid, and they said they were being paid. I am out here working for the cause. That bothered me because, one person was my cousin's father, I had always looked up to him. After I got strong enough and began to have a reputation I began to speak out against them. Told them if they want to take the money take the money but you don't have to work, don't work against us. After a period of time I was able to say that I began to get a reputation throughout the Democratic Party and other places that I was a leader. I had other persons, like Braxton Foushee and Hilla Cladwell and Howard Lee, we formed a political party called PRAD, don't ask me what PRAD stands for because I don't know right now. We named it PRAD it had specific names. Howard Lee became the chairman and I was the vice chairman. Hilla was the treasure. Braxton Foushee had a position. This was our venture into politics, we had a political party and we were doing it. We were calling the shots. We had quite a few white professors at that time working with us. We couldn't have done this by ourselves. We said to them that we needed to be the officers and they agreed. We were officers; we had people like Ann Queen at the Y with us, there was a person named Jean Lucar. I don't know where Jean is. I'd like to see Jean. Jean also worked at the Y. She and her husband were just dynamic in helping us with politics, elections and so forth. We began to meet a lot of other professors, with the institute of government, you are going to be interviewing Peachie Wicker, her husbands name is Jake. All these people at the University who were considered liberal were working with us. We continued to operate PRAD. They formed their own political organization. I am trying to remember who the president was running at the time. But they rallied behind this fellow, can't remember his name, but he didn't get elected, but he mobilized just a lot of support. During that time it was just exciting we were doing things that we never had done before. For an example, PRAD we weren't local. We were calling folks all over the nation to come into Chapel Hill. I remember there was a person, a dentist out of Charlotte, running for governor. He didn't have a campaign he was just somebody who threw his hat in the ring. What was his name, he had a son here, Hawkins. Hawkins for Governor. Hawkins, in the primary we turned out more people for Hawkins, we carried Chapel Hill for Hawkins. We had just gotten that powerful. Later on the Governor, Governor Scott punished us because we didn't support him. For years and years Highway 54 never got paved, Highway 54 was paved from Chapel Hill/Carrboro to Alamance County, cause Alamance County is where he lived. He and his brother, his brother was in the legislature. They had beautiful highways from Chapel Hill to Alamance but from Chapel Hill to Raleigh on 54 was a death trap. So he punished us for years, the Department of Transportation, we never got anything from them. They let us know they didn't appreciate us going for Hawkins. Hawkins came to Chapel Hill and we had press conferences and TV cameras rolling, he got excited about this thing. He wanted to move his campaign office form Charlotte to here and they were consulting with us. We brought Ed Napter in, flew him in from Atlanta. We had a rally in Raleigh, the whole mall down there, we had people out there.