Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Humanitarian tendencies clash with a racist South

Best always had an interest in human rights, he explains, and hearing tales of discrimination from his family doctor sharpened his interest in activism. This interest made him an early supporter of the modern civil rights movement. He tells a story about helping an injured white police officer and enduring discrimination directly afterward, a memory that vividly illustrates his humanist tendencies and the rigid racism of the era.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Andrew Best, April 19, 1997. Interview R-0011. 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

Did coming home to a very segregated society after World War II make you want to become active in civil rights, or did you not start that till later on?
I have always had, from high school right on up, a great affinity for wanting to see people accepted. I guess that goes back, I've listened to some of the tales told by Dr. Harrison, my family doctor, who had suffered many indignities because of segregation. He just had to forge on and ignore them, and do the right thing anyway. A part of being interested in human rights had its roots real early. There have been some stumbling blocks from time to time, but it's been more good than bad. I have seem some changes, and more important to be, I have helped or even caused some of them to be.
Before you got active in trying to encourage the North Carolina Medical Society to desegregate its membership, had you done any other civil rights work before that?
Not formally, but as the civil rights movement began to take shape, I was among the first to applaud and send a little money when Dr. Martin Luther King started up his activities after this Rosa Parks incident down in Alabama. I've always been involved, and it bothered me when I would see something that I felt to be right, where it would be wrong to ignore it. A couple of cases in point. In December of '53, I was getting ready to get out of the Army, and I was traveling from Kinston, and was going through Windsor, headed for Ahoskie. A schoolmate of mine had invited me down to look over the area. As I got out of Windsor, headed toward Ahoskie, it had been snowing a little bit, and there was snow on the sides of the road, back in the woods and in the shady places. I came upon a car, it had gotten away from the driver and was on its top, with the wheels sticking straight up in the air. I thought it looked like a patrol car, and as I was stopping, there was a car meeting me that stopped at the same time. The patrolman was down in there, and was pinned in the car. If we hadn't moved the blanket away from his face, he was going to suffocate. So we got that off, and were able to get him out. He had a compound fracture of the femur, with some of the bones sticking through the skin. It so happened that I had my medical bag with me, and had a little morphine, so we got him out, made a hammock with the blanket, and got him as comfortable as he could be. The other guy cut some twigs about like this, and we made a splint for the leg. Somebody called an ambulance to come pick him up. I didn't say a word, and didn't tell anybody who I was. So I got down to Ahoskie, and stopped at the service station. I got a little mud on my hands, and wanted to wash my hands. I told the clerk, "Give me a Coca-cola please, and a pack of chewing gum." So he put it up on the counter. I said, "Do you have anywhere I can go wash my hands." And he said, "Got no damn place for niggers to wash their hands." So I turned right around, and I had an impulse to tell him, "Well, I got these hands dirty saving the life of one of you white folks," but I didn't. He had opened the Coke, but I left it right on the counter, got in my car, and went on. Three or four weeks later, I got a letter from the state highway patrol commander. I guess somebody must have gotten my license number. He wrote me the nicest letter, commending and thanking me. But that incident always stuck with me. Here I am doing a service to mankind, and then I run into such people as that. That encouraged me more and more to make things right for humanity.