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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Social progress comes from national, not state, legislation

Kennedy evaluates the liberalizing effects of World War II on the United States—anti-lynching and anti-poll tax legislation made some progress, for example. He believes that social progress originates on a national, rather than a state, level.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. 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

I don't know how old you are, but I lived through all of those things you are talking about. My strong recollection is that the Depression never did effectively come to an end and only the war production of World war II did mitigate the Depression to a great degree. The first real economic opportunity came with the war and war production.
Was the war itself a liberalizing influence on any of these people?
I was going to say in that same period, before we get into the war, that such change as took place and I guess my periods . . . I'm thinking in terms of things like the . . . we were pushing at that time if I'm not mistaken, although it may have come later, the things like the Scottsboro Case were front page, and the anti-lynching law in Congress which the southerners always filibustered and the anti-poll tax law, but I guess these things did come along—they were wartime thrusts. I was thinking that first they come before but they didn't. And you use the language that the South could have done it itself, well, when under the impact of the war we did get anti-lynching bills and anti-poll tax bills and some of the things into the Congress, on the floor, Claude Pepper and other sponsors. This ultimately had the effect, in some cases, the South was persuaded that rather than have the Feds do it for them or force them to do it they would do it "voluntarily". So southern states proceeded to abolish their own poll taxes in large part to short circuit the Feds from doing it for them. There were other areas in which that same sort of . . . it wasn't southern conscience that brought it about but it has been my experience throughout life, in this century anyway, that the moral conscience tends to assert itself relatively more often on the national level than it does on the local and state level. Social progress originating on local and state levels is more rare than it is on the national, I don't know why that's a phenomenon.