Title: Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1.
Interviewer: Finger, William
Interviewee: Kester, Howard
Subjects: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Southern States--Race relations Kester, Alice. Southern Tenant Farmers' Union
Abstract: Howard Kester was born in Virginia in 1904. Raised by his father, a merchant tailor and Klansman, and his religious mother, Kester left home to attend Lynchburg College during the early 1920s. During his time in college, Kester had the opportunity to tour war-torn Europe in 1923. After witnessing the devastation that World War I had wrought on Europe, Kester became a pacifist and abided by that philosophy for the rest of his life. Upon his return to Lynchburg, he became increasingly interested in race problems in the South. Likening the plight of Jews in Eastern Europe to that of African Americans in the South, Kester helped to organize the first interracial student group in the South. He describes in this interview how his efforts to find locales for interracial student meetings were often met with fierce opposition in the community. After graduating from Lynchburg, Kester continued to work for causes of social justice. In addition to his hope of eliminating racial hatred, Kester became an advocate of the labor movement and began to seek ways of uniting African American and white workers in the South. During the 1920s and 1930s, Kester worked with such groups as the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. In the early 1930s, he worked closely with the NAACP in order to investigate incidents of lynching throughout the South. Around the same time, he began to work closely with the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, helping to establish the Delta and Providence Farms. Throughout the interview, Kester emphasizes the importance of his Christian faith and his adherence to the Social Gospel to his thoughts on social justice. In the early 1930s, Kester joined the Socialist Party, but remained fiercely opposed to Communism and its infiltration into the labor movement because he believed it was not in tune with Christian values. Kester's recollections throughout the interview are revealing of the problems of race and labor in the South during these years. Moreover, he offers illuminating anecdotes and insightful assessments of other social justice leaders such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Will Alexander, Jessie Daniel Ames, Will Campbell, and Kester's wife, Alice Harris Kester.