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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tensions and cultural differences between white liberals and younger black activists

Using Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", Cusick again notes white liberals' reluctance to support the civil rights movement's tactics of direct action. He asserts that southern civility prevented effective racial change. Moreover, Cusick argues that the civil rights supporters' cultural differences exposed class and cultural difficulties between whites and blacks.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. 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

PAT CUSICK:
God. And Adeleide Waters was the liberal on the board. She was probably as upset with us as anybody. We weren't doing things in a real nice way.
PAMELA DEAN:
She wanted the changes. She wanted the public accommodations law, but she didn't want sit-ins.
PAT CUSICK:
Right, and this type of thing. And we were going too fast once again. But once again I pose Dr. King's letter as the answer to that. It wasn't her time table anymore. And that hurt. And, you know, I can understand that for some of the people, and especially those who were southerners. I don't know whether she was a southerner or not, I mean, originally. But they'd hung through some tough times on a tough issue, and now it wasn't their…
PAMELA DEAN:
It was all rushing by them. They weren't leading anymore.
PAT CUSICK:
Either young, uneducated black youth or black Baptist preachers, for crying out loud. [Laughter]
PAMELA DEAN:
You're probably familiar with Bill Chafe's Civility and Civil Rights about the Greensboro sit-ins.
PAT CUSICK:
Yes.
PAMELA DEAN:
And the integration of Greensboro schools. Basic thesis is about the power of civility to prevent change.
PAT CUSICK:
Oh, very much.
PAMELA DEAN:
We won't listen to you unless you're civil.
PAT CUSICK:
Oh yes.
PAMELA DEAN:
You're not a legitimate spokesman for your interests unless you're civil.
PAT CUSICK:
Well, I see right here in the work I've been doing. I've been changing tactics lately. Been going to the South End Historical Ball even, which is a whole thing here. No, very much, I think that that's true in the South. But it's not only the South. I think that the racism in this country, our conditioning to it is such, that in liberal movements and progressive movements, white folks have a hard time coming under black leadership, very much so, very much so. Now, that will never be stated. And I keep seeing it, even within the Rainbow Coalition somewhat, which I'm very heavily involved with that. And I'm not saying it's racist, per se, but it's one of the byproducts of racism.
PAMELA DEAN:
I think that in the Chapel Hill case it's also class problem, educated professors listening to uneducated high school students?
PAT CUSICK:
That's right.
PAMELA DEAN:
I mean, that's turning everything totally upside down.
PAT CUSICK:
And the music, you know. I mean, I felt it myself. Everything was set around the black church. I'd been raised as a Roman Catholic which is a lot more staid and I went to this monastery school, Gregorian chant, and I was not used to this type of exuberance and the music and everything. Then I got so I really liked it. I'll never forget, because I worked in the eastern part of the state too, right around Williamston, and they were having sit-ins at churches, not sit-ins, but they would send teams of two young people, and not just young people, to white churches, who would then not admit them on Sunday. Some would. And I remember one time all the teams came back in and some of them had actually gotten into the service. I'll never forget one young man stood up and he said, "You know, I don't know why we'd ever want to go with these white folks. It was the deadest service I ever…" He said, "The man was boring at the sermon." And he said, "God, the music, it was awful. And it was just so dry. They don't have any spirit." [Laughter] It was very funny. I wish I'd had a recording that could then be played back later on to some of the professors who found the hand clapping so upsetting. It was on both sides, I mean, the difference of culture and class...