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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Moon Landrieu, January 10-11, 1974. Interview A-0089. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of local leadership and black political organizations in changing race relations

Landrieu discusses how political opportunities were increasingly opened for African Americans during the administration of Chep Morrison in the 1940s and 1950s into his own in the 1970s. He describes Morrison's position on race relations as progressive for its time, though moderate in retrospect, and argues that although Morrison could have pressed for more significant changes, important changes did begin to take place in the 1950s. By the 1970s, Landrieu argues that his own success in appointing African Americans to key public positions was crucial to ensuring African Americans' political participation. This passage is especially illuminating because in it, Landrieu contrasts the role of local executive power to that of black political organizations in effecting change. While he acknowledges that black political organizations did play an important role in making politics more equitable, ultimately he suggests that their success and their reliance on "patronage" would spell their own demise.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Moon Landrieu, January 10-11, 1974. Interview A-0089. 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

Blacks who had been out of the system then began to get into the system. They got into the system in very very minor numbers prior to our administration. To the best of my knowledge Chep had no blacks working in the administration. When I say he was a moderate, it was more an expression of doing separate but equal. Before, it was separate but unequal. During Chep's years, Chep at least tried to build black playgrounds and black swimming pools and began to share some of the city's revenues with the blacks. Looking back at that, you know, in the terms of todays perspective, you say, "My God, how backward can you be? How conservative can you get?" But that was frankly, a moderate position. Most moderate in the entire state by far. I think Chep would have done a great deal more. In other words, I think philosophically he was more liberal on the racial issue than his record would indicate simply because he always wanted to run for Governor, which he did do three times, and knew quite well that one of his major handicaps was that he was looked upon as a a racial liberal in this state. Well, you can fairly well understand that if you are running against a Jimmy Davis kind of state-wide candidates who just traditionally ran against blacks. You know, just ran against the old southern way of life and against integration. That was the battle cry in this state as it has been in every southern state for any successful office seeker.
As you look down the road, will the power of the organized black groups continue to grow?
Are they at a peak now?
Well, I would have to go back just a little bit. There were several black organizations in the city that were fairly significant politically that were attached to the Morrison group. Perhaps there were some unseen favors that were done that caused that attachment, some philosophical attachment too, because the blacks generally liked Chep very much, loved him. But they didn't enjoy a great deal of patronage. I would suspect very little. During the Scuro years the same thing was true. He had several black groups attached to him and perhaps did some minor favors for them. But never any public expression in terms of philosophy. In fact, he was always on the stated conservative side. We had as Councilmen, I think I had gotten the Mayor to appoint, sort of got every Councilman who doesn't have any stated patronage, but at least you've got a little muscle with the Mayor and say, "I'd like you to appoint this guy to the board for me if you could." When Tom Scuro's administration was finished I think there were three blacks serving on boards and commissions across the city. One on the Parkway Commission, one on the Planning Commission, and one in the Civil Service Commission. I had gotten two of those blacks appointed, and another friend of mine, Councilman Ciasio was instrumental in getting another one. But those are the only three that have ever served in any position in government on any board or commission, ever in this city. He had only one black that was working as an aide to the Mayor. It was a minor job at about $600 per month. When I got elected, having run on a platform of equality and openness . . .
Did you have a campaign theme as such?
I guess you could say we ran on a slogan, "The man who tells the truth, wins." But I went on television and said that I proposed to appoint blacks to departments and that I hated racial prejudices and that I proposed to open this city up for everybody and give everybody equal opportunity. We have. We began to bring blacks into the administration in large numbers. Three Department heads, counting Model City, that would be four, I think we have five Deputy Department Heads, members of boards and commissions in significant numbers, and we've done fairly well, even though a lot of the boards are staggered and it takes time, we've done well and we've moved employment up from . . . almost to where it is equal to, fairly close to being equal right now to the population ratios, certainly greater than the voting ratios. A lot of those people came from the political organizations. Blacks in the political organizations are generally far better educated than their counterparts in the white political organizations of several years earlier. Virtually every one is a college graduate, some with Masters degrees, the kind of individual that would not have participated in the white political structure because they didn't need it. They were lawyers, they were otherwise employed, white lawyers and doctors and businessmen; they didn't need the political system. They were out making money in private enterprise. But the young black professional correctly saw the political system as a way into the mainstream of American life. Part of the problem was, okay, so you want to bring blacks in, but who are they? When you and I grew up, you've got white friends, and this friend has friends and you end up identifying with a great many people who you would ultimately bring into the administration. But when you think in terms of bringing blacks in, you start numbering them and you run out of numbers very quickly. The political organization provided that kind of input. Of course, their strength, the more patrons they got, the stronger the political organizations looked and became. But patronage ultimately will kill anything. Success will kill anything. In some instances, I think, their strength has been greatly exaggerated. The press, you know, something new, it was bold, so the press began to accord great political powers to several black organizations.