Title: Oral History Interview with Arthur Raper, January 30, 1974. Interview B-0009-2.
Interviewer: Hall, Jacquelyn
Interviewee: Raper, Arthur
Abstract: Arthur Raper was a noted southern sociologist and civil rights activist. During the late 1920s and 1930s, Raper served as the research director for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, based in Atlanta, Georgia. Focusing primarily on those years in this interview, Raper speaks at length about his interactions with Jessie Daniel Ames and the role of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL) within the Commission's broader program. Describing the ASWPL as a relatively small, independent branch of the Commission, Raper argues that Ames was both an effective and contentious leader. He describes her as an "excessive feminist" in this interview, explaining that she advocated for the importance and necessity of separate women's groups in dealing with social problems such as lynching. While Raper indicates that this stance was beneficial in allowing Ames to garner support for her declaration that white southerners ought not to use racist violence to "protect" white southern womanhood, he also suggests repeatedly that Ames's outspoken nature and ambition generated tensions between her and the male leaders of the Commission, including executive director Will Alexander and director of education Robert Eleazer. Raper cites only one instance in which he personally came into conflict with Ames, arguing that she sought to sabotage his testimony during the Senate hearings on the Wagner-Van Nuys federal anti-lynching bill because the bill did not reflect her views on how to best combat lynching. Raper concludes by discussing the contributing role of the ASWPL in the declining number of lynchings during the 1930s, and the exclusion of African American women from the organization. Researchers might find particularly interesting the ways in which Raper's assessment of both the negative and positive aspects of Jessie Daniel Ames reveal the underlying tensions and assumptions that characterized the challenges all women faced in public roles during that era.