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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Richard Arrington, July 18, 1974. Interview A-0001. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Arrington runs for city council

Arrington recalls the details of his race for Birmingham City Council. He received most of his campaign contributions from the white community and lots of support from the black community. Discounted ballots—many in predominantly black areas—forced a runoff, but Arrington won the seat.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Richard Arrington, July 18, 1974. Interview A-0001. 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 happened after you got in that council race? How did you campaign?
Well, I was at somewhat of an advantage. I had just come from the position as academic dean at Mills College. And so I wasn't completely unknown here in the Birmingham area. Having served as academic dean at Mills College at which time, of course, Lucius Pitts was president of Mills College and was very active in this community and widely recognized as sort of a black leader in this community. I had worked with Lucius Pitts so I had gotten quite a bit of exposure to citizen groups in the community. So I wasn't unknown. I had taken the responsibility at the time the black citizens in Birmingham first approached the city government and power structure in this city to do something about police brutality in this city and all of this eventually resulted in the formation of the community action committee, the ONB, which you may have heard something about. Which is a biracial committee here that deals with problems here and I think it's made some significant strides in helping to alleviate some of the tensions, racial tensions and deal with some of the problems in this community. I, at that time, was asked by Dr Pitts to serve as a person who drafted most of the documents that were sent to the group and so I got in on some of those meetings. So I was among what was called the 21 concerned black citizens who did go before the city government, representatives of the city government and people in the power structure here in this town to ask them to do something about some of the problems effecting black folks, which we felt that they could do something about. So what I'm saying is that I had had some exposure to some of the leaders here, limited exposure. I was known from my work as an educator particularly because I was connected with Mills College here in Birmingham. So I wasn't completely unknown. When I entered the race I got quite a bit of support. First of all, financial support. I got what I thought was good financial support, contributions, mainly from the white community. About $7- 8,000 I raised in soliciting campaign funds. $6,000 of that came from people in the white community and they were mainly people who had had an interest in Mills college and who I had known at Mills College. I got some help from the local Democratic party in the run off . . . I did . . . the county party . . . some financial help. And I got some assistance and some advice, particularly once I made it to the run off, from veteran politicians, particularly David Vann, who is now on the Birmingham city council and who was also running for office at that time. Made certain suggestions. But in the general election, in a field of about nearly 30 candidates, I ran third in that field. That was in the general election. Behind two of the incumbents. I failed by about . . . somewhere less than 3,000 votes of winning without going into a run off. I still feel that I would have won except about 6,000 votes were obviously invalidated because you had, in our system . . . for the city council you must vote for 5 people or the machine doesn't register your vote. And it has been projected, based on comparisons made in the mayor's race and in the council race that possibly some 16,000 votes were invalidated. And the differences showed up mainly in predominantly black boxes. I, of course, got my strongest support in predominately black boxes so I felt that I lost quite a few votes in that race.