Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Lee Mangum, November 18, 2003. Interview U-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Fear of reprisals for activism

At the end of this interview, Mangum adds a recollection about some teachers at a local school who confessed that they were afraid to get involved in activism against double voting. He was profoundly moved by the power of racism to deny Americans their voices and the lives they deserve.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Lee Mangum, November 18, 2003. Interview U-0008. 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

RLM: I just thought it might be well to tell you a little incident. During the time of working for the breaking of double voting and bringing about a change in the county on one occasion we were in a restaurant. It was a snow day so the teachers had gotten out early I think that day. It was there in Pembroke. Herman Dial, Bobby Dean Locklear, and I were together, and we were going to Lumberton for some purpose. Some of the teachers there said to us rather quietly, “We appreciate what’s going on and what’s happening. We can’t get involved.” The essence of what they were saying, “We can’t get involved. You know how it is, but we’re for you, and we appreciate what’s going on.” I think one of my friends that was involved over the years in social change had a teacher come to his back door and say, “I appreciate what’s going on. I can’t get involved, but I thank you for what you’re doing.” So here was a system that had people afraid for their jobs to speak what they believed was right and just. We’re Americans. We believe in freedom of speech, and here this racism, this denial of people in the county had caused people to be afraid to talk about what they felt was wrong in this county because they as professionals would have no opportunity to work in this county if they went too far in identifying their concerns. They knew that there as no other way to make a living as a teacher but to move and go to another county, another state probably more than another county. That was a very poignant moment when you have people of integrity and of power who are contributing to the life of their students, but who live in fear that they can’t say what they believe and can’t share what they feel needs to be done to bring about change because they may lose their job. Then we had this cruel system in Robeson for years called the School Committee. That allowed Indian people, Black people on these school committees where there were Black schools, where there were Indian schools, it allowed those committees to deal with the lives of professionals, and to deal with their lives in terms of what they felt a teacher’s job should be awarded because your family does not have as much as that—.