Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Leroy Magness, March 27, 1999. Interview K-0438. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Unwilling to make sacrifices for civil rights

Magness recalls that he "was not willing to make sacrifices" to push for civil rights for African Americans, though some were. He was worried about how people would respond to Rosa Parks's activism. He welcomes racial integration, but believes that staying quiet, African Americans allow whites to understand them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Leroy Magness, March 27, 1999. Interview K-0438. 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

You were talking earlier about when you had to go to the back of the theaters and cafes, and then all that changed. What was that like for you? What were you thinking at the time?
Well, like I told you, you can't compare me to other people because I had a different attitude than some. But … you had to get used to it. Beause when things change you got to get used to things, but like I said, some people wanted to change things worse than I did. And they were willing to make sacrifices to do it. But I wasn't willing to make sacrifices to do certain things. I was pretty well satisfied with what I was doing. But after everything changed, people did what they wanted to do, about going to cafes, sitting where you wanted to sit. We had buses here in Lincolnton - you had to sit in the back - we couldn't sit up front. All this was changed. In fact, I think I read a piece in the paper yesterday where they were giving Rosa Parks a plaque or something to say what she did. At that time, maybe it didn't seem like it was right, but in the final analysis, they figured out that that was the thing she should've done. Because what they were doing was taking away our rights when they really didn't have any reason to do that.
What did you think at the time when Rosa Parks did that?
;Well, in a way I wasn't too thrilled over it ëcause we had to take a lot of abuse - well, you didn't have to take abuse, with your hands - but, in places where we were working … there wasn't but two blacks where I was working at that particular time. And so you always have a few around that didn't agree with what she was doing, and they would make remarks you didn't like…but the best thing you could do was be quiet and not say nothing about it and let it go at that, because if you did, you might get in trouble with a fight, or you might lose your job. So you just had to look over things like that, and I found out that all through the years when I did that, things began to change. Like the old Negro spiritual says, let God take charge, and things'll come. They may not come when you want them to, but right'll always come when it's supposed to come. But you'll meet many other people out here in the community who will tell you they see things differently. I'm just the kind of person who doesn't want to get into a whole lot of stuff. I'm just not that type. Never was. Too old to do it now. But I'm glad things are working out like they are. They actually have something this week where black churches and white churches are having holy week services together. Like tonight the service is at the white church, but I think the next night it'll be at a black church … and that'll go on all week. And I had a man make the remark when they were just starting to integrate - he said, ‘Leroy, if we had more people like you, I reckon we wouldn't have trouble.’ ‘Listen, there's a lot of people better than I am, but you just don't know them.’ Now see [addressing Markey] if your teacher or whomever hadn't recommended me as being the right type of person for you to come visit, you wouldn't have come, would you?
Well, I guess I wouldn't have known
See, that's what I mean. I think that how we conduct ourselves - that's the way people begin to learn us a little bit. And then some people you think are all right aren't what you think they are. But I say 95 or 96 percent you would expect to have good dealings with, I think most of them would be all right.