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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986. Interview C-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black southerners see, and capitalize on, huge changes in the modern South

Gantt describes himself as someone who believes in reaping the benefits of the civil rights movement rather than continuing to push for civil rights. He sees his success and his political career as both a result of and part of the civil rights movement. Southerners like Gantt thought the civil rights movement brought dramatic change to the South, and were less likely than northern movement members to be disappointed in the rate of change there. Middle-class African Americans, Gantt argues, are also more likely to negotiate than revolt.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986. Interview C-0008. 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

When you'd been talking about your involvement in civil rights, it seems like you're very much of the generation of Jesse Jackson, younger than King, that group that came up with the expectations of Brown, but older than Rap Brown and Stokely [Carmichael] who moved on to black power. Do you think that is kind of an accurate assessment of where you might fall?
Well, we're in the group now that are becoming the mayors. We did the demonstration things, too, believe me, in the King philosophy. We saw what happened to the black power movement and probably never thought it was reasonable. Many of the people who led those movements, Stokely and Rap and others came from the North, really, they were not Southerners. We Southerners growing up under the shadow of King really did see change occur, dramatic change, and so there was a certain believability about pushing direct action and then ultimately evolving that into politics that made some sense to us. Jesse really is still a civil rights activist, he and I really have taken two slightly different roads. I'm more a believer in taking the benefits that were brought about by Martin and Jesse and all the other direct action kinds of things and molding them into long-term, institutional changes that would occur, systemic changes that have occurred in our society. I read about the Observer's report yesterday on the increasing amount of blacks that are registering. That is significant to me and its been significant enough in this community that I've been elected to public office and it's been in no small part due to the increased amount of participation by black voters in the electoral process. We see that now as the vehicle for change: to assume and to aim higher in local and state and other places to bring about, carry on that revolution that started back there when the Supreme Court made that decision. And so for us, it was the civil rights movement had its purpose; black power, those people were slightly younger than we are (well, I guess, we're really about the same age) that was an offshoot of the student non-violent coordinating committee, the shock troops of the civil rights movement that got disillusioned with the lack of more rapid progress, the falling away and the more tension beginning with the Vietnam war that got into totally different things. Again, you know, you've got to remember folks that came from the South, many of us were very much attuned to the changes that we saw occurring that were in our eyesight dramatic and many of us came from those middle-class type environments that said, you know, the way to do things is not to destroy them but to try to negotiate power.