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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 >>

Desegregation under cover of darkness

In this excerpt, Kennedy describes the subtle, even sneaky, ways that the unions integrated—in this case the tools were chairs so disorganized that no racial scheme was discernible and the nighttime sabotage of a segregated water fountain.

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

If you get over onto the role of the CIO and the race relations thing, you might want the name of R. E. Starnes, Georgia, steelworker, still alive. He was rank and file, you know, carrying the ball in the rank and file and trying to get blacks and whites unionists to behave themselves in the union meetings and to join the union and whatnot. He did a lot of philosophizing, typical semiliterate Georgia boy. His own personal transformation would be significant, the manner in which he worked it out for himself and then tried to get others to follow suit. He was a poet but not quite as good as Don West. I have a sheet with his stuff upstairs including some on race.[George] Mitchell, for example, you asked about Mitchell and race. When they started having interracial meetings at 75 Ivy Street, at CIO headquarters in Atlanta, Mitchell came out of his office and he first saw that for the first meetings the blacks all sat in the rear and the whites in front. Then we did something but I forget what we did exactly, and the result was that the blacks sat on one side and whites sat on the other. We put out heads together and jumbled the chairs so it was just a mass of chairs out there, no aisles in any direction. The result was that the people just sat down in whatever was nearest and we achieved integration that way.Someone in the dead of night came in that period and installed a piece of pipe out from the drinking fountain and made an adjunct fountain, three feet away from the other fountain, a smaller fountain, lower down. Everyone got the idea that the big one was for whites and other one was for blacks. This was a union job. Some union did that without our knowledge. Then someone came in under the cover of darkness and disconnected the adjunct. That's how the unions were integrated, little things like that.