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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reflections on the civil rights movement and growing concern about racial divisiveness

Moore reflects on both the accomplishments of the civil rights movement and its resultant racial tensions and divisions. Focusing specifically on the election of African American officials, such as Mayor Richard Arrington, Moore alludes to a growing sense of division within the African American community, particularly in relationship to social class. According to Moore, divisiveness within the community fostered a heightened sense of hopelessness, which she links back to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Moore, August 17, 2006. Interview U-0193. 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

What would have made it possible for more people to take advantage of the victories of the Civil Rights Movement?
What actually happened was, I guess, the white establishment realized that we are going to have to make some concessions to blacks. They established a comfort zone. To give you an example of that, I read this book once called or dealt with Clarksdale, Mississippi. That's where Epsy was from that was over agriculture for Clinton. The book starts with the depression and it comes all the way up. It talks about conversations that was held with the white establishment. They said, "You know we've got to make some concessions to the black community. In order for us to do it we just can't let any black take these positions that'll come open because it could be a threat to us." What normally they did was looked out in the black community to see which black person out there is more comfortable to us. We'll open the doors for that person. We'll let that person ride the course as long as they can. We got to indoctrinate that person that those other blacks out there are going to challenge you. They are going to be jealous of your position. You got to keep an eye on them for us. What they did—. I could look in the city of Birmingham and like I tell people, I'm not the norm as being elected official because for someone to be elected, educated, from the north side of town is unheard of. Even our first black representative from that area now, Jerome Tucker went to the University of Alabama. He's not considered to be the norm. They selected him. That was the first representative. Then the second one to come out, Mr. Spratt, worked in a pipe shop all his days, retired, and managed to make it active with the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition. That was one of the largest and most active political organizations in this state, above some of the older political organizations, when Dr. Arrington was its president and founder. For a person like me, first of all I grew up in North Birmingham, participated in the Movement, you can count the elected officials, even now, that participated in the Movement and came out of the area of their particular cities or counties that was mostly black. A lot of our elected officials came from what was termed the elitist black communities. They were the ones that were more or less hand picked or singled out. "That's a good person right there. We don't feel so threatened with that person because being an elected official they'll know their place is to sit, be quiet, nod their head. When we tell you to show up you show up."
Did you foresee that some of these patterns would develop that you're describing, even in the late '70s or were you hopeful at the time, say, when Arrington was elected as mayor that things would really change?
I was a child of the '60s in all respects. Many of us that went to those Movement meetings, many of us that sacrifice and went to march in those parks and to demonstrate and even to do whatever we had to do for the movement, many of us believe that if we could turn this country around and allow blacks to be in key positions, elected officials appointed to different boards and agencies, because of our existence in this country, we could show everybody that we could do a better job, that we know how to treat people fairly. That's what we fought for. We knew to give a person credit if that credit is due. We could treat you equally. We would be the spokespersons for people receiving the best quality of life and the quantity of life, to deal with the health care, the education, all of those things that we were denied. I always remember my granddaddy talking about they were sharecropping and when his mother got sick the only thing the whites said was, "You know we love Sally but we can get us another Negro maid." That was it. I was sure as a child that if the doors open up where I can have the opportunity to get an education, have an opportunity to come back to my community and could see blacks as mayors. Then we had the commission form of government in Birmingham but we changed to the Mayor Council form. When I see blacks serving on that council or blacks even in the mayor's position, that was unheard of until Dr. Arrington came up out of the ashes. Then, as far as in a city like Birmingham, I always thought we would do better, that when the world looked at the United States and the accomplishments of blacks in this country they would say this is the country that we need to emulate. I feel now that one of the reasons that we are not respected around the world is because the world sees us as better than we see ourselves. There was no way that you could made me believe that I would see a black mayor that is really not for black growth like we have now in the city of Birmingham. The city's dying and our mayor can't even see it. It's dying. The population is steadily dropping off. Never could you have told me that if I saw a black that was head of personnel and I walked in to put in an application that that person would discriminate against me more than somebody that was white, wouldn't even allow me to put in that application. Never would I have believe that if you had a black earning X number of dollars that all of sudden they felt as though other blacks were beneath them. When I grew up, the doctors lived in my neighborhood, if there was a black doctor, a black lawyer. And all of us was poor. His house might have looked a little better but we all were together in whatever we were experiencing then. There's no way you could have told me that our mindset would be the way it is right now. I could not believe. I would never have believed that we'd have black children that are so disrespectful that their parents can't manage them. I would never have believed that in the black community that education was not a priority because that's what I grew up with. Education is the way for blacks to get out of the situation that we're in even though laws might be changed to open the doors. The only way you are going to be able to step through that door is you have to be the best educated to go through it. You have to be the best qualified. That's what we were taught. Our grandparents taught us that. Our parents taught us that. That you have always got to present yourself in a fashion, that by the way you carry yourself. When I was young and they had the little civic clubs, they used to teach us how to walk, young ladies how to walk, young ladies how to dress. We had to put the book on our head. They would have oratorical contests to teach you how to teach before a crowd. That happened in our little communities, even though during the Civil Rights era, our commissioner, Bull Connor, shut those centers down so that we wouldn't have a place to congregate. We wouldn't have a place that we could advance ourselves. I would not have thought it. Even in this day and time, it's hard for me to grasp it. I guess that's why in most cases, the average elected official in this state, in this city, if you mention my name, she's a renegade because I believe what we fought for in the '60s can still happen. It's just that so many things have taken up—. The level of hopelessness that we had then don't even compare to this. Now, we are on a different level because—coupled with that hopelessness because of racial situation—the hopelessness now is that I've got to fight somebody that looks like me. I just talked to Charles Steele, president of SCLC, last week and I was telling about an incident that I had in Atlanta with Delta. It was a black man. I told him, "President Steele, whether you want to face it now and whether the black community want to face it, we're dealing with internal racism that I equate to the same problems that they are having in countries like Africa where one tribe want to cleanse it and kill off other blacks or in Afghanistan or any other country where you got one group of people that say, ‘We are the pure and you are not. Therefore we need to do some racial cleansing."’ I equate what we are going through in America as a race that's basically what we are going through. I believe the white establishment loves it because that puts them back in their comfort zone. They got internal strife among us. When they killed Dr. King the whole focal point was he's a spiritual leader. What they made the black community believe, you don't need anybody to lead you.
Do you see class divisions as more significant now than racial ones?
I think they are hand in hand and they have equal footing because of blacks wanting to be accepted in what's called a white man's world. They have developed more class division because of that.