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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Some progress for African Americans, but more is needed

Esser weighs African American progress over the past twenty-five years and considers the challenge posed by a new generation of African Americans. He thinks that while African Americans have made some progress, they have much more ground to make up, a difficult task given the disaffection and disinterest of black youth.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. 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

GEORGE ESSER:
But there are some black leaders in the east, but they do not tend to carry nearly as much clout, not to control nearly as many votes, nor to be venturesome. There is a lot more protection of turf, in terms of jobs and the school system and the community action agencies, the government, on the part of the blacks in the east than there is, let's say, in Durham or Greensboro or Winston or Charlotte. Well, the black political present in North Carolina is just like—twenty-five years ago, I remember, I got a call at the Fund one day from Arthur Tyler, [unclear] Tyler, in Rocky Mount, and he said, "George, I'm ready to negotiate about jobs in the department store but I want to talk to one person and they want to send thirty-five in here." And I said, "Well, Arthur, you've got to talk to the thirty-five because they don't trust any one person."
FRANCES WEAVER:
I see, I see.
GEORGE ESSER:
And that's pretty much true today. And there is nobody, with the possible exception of Jesse Jackson, who can turn out the black vote. A lot of going to depend in November on whether the black vote really turns out for Harvey Gantt.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Yes, whether he can do it.
GEORGE ESSER:
You don't have the overt hostility as much in the college campuses as you did in, say, the late '60s and early '70s. But you can go to occasions, college campus or in a black community, where you feel uncomfortable. There is still hostility to the prevailing society, hostility to the barriers to opportunity. And this is particularly true among the younger ones, men and women. I think that we have made tremendous progress in the last thirty years, but I think we've got a long way to go.
FRANCES WEAVER:
And that's one thing they don't want to hear from us, is "look how far we've come."
GEORGE ESSER:
That's right. No, as a matter of fact, we are now at a time in history where young blacks do not remember the conditions of the '50s and early '60s.
FRANCES WEAVER:
That's true. They don't know what it was like to live under segregation, legal segregation.
GEORGE ESSER:
And they don't understand—those civil rights leaders who made a name for themselves in the late '50s and '60s are not well known to the young black generation unless they have continued to provide leadership.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Yes, true.
GEORGE ESSER:
And I don't say, we were talking about Nathan a few minutes ago, I don't say that Nathan is a great civil rights leader, but Nathan is a very good bridge between the prevailing white political and business structure in North Carolina generally and the….
FRANCES WEAVER:
The essential man, I mean, an essential to the whole process.
GEORGE ESSER:
And to the black community. And he is well respected in the community that is probably not, you know, the community that is most hostile to white society. But he is well respected in that community, and so I think that it's important for there to be somebody who can have that sort of access to both centers of power and centers of hostility.