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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Arthur Griffin, May 7, 1999. Interview K-0168. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Economic inequality threatens legacies of desegregation

In this excerpt, Griffin reflects on the economic dimensions of post-desegregation America. A changing economy and failing cities make desegregation, and its lessons about cooperation, especially important, he believes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Arthur Griffin, May 7, 1999. Interview K-0168. 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

PG: At what point, what happened to make this change for you, to make you shift away from access to these other issues? AG: Economics. Economic survival. Looking at communities fall apart that are all black. I mean, you look at takeovers. Cleveland failed, in the late ‘70s. One of the first cities to go bankrupt. Everybody left, except the poorest of the poor. Cleveland’s a takeover city right now, where you have a black mayor taking over the school district. Chicago. Mayor Daly’s taken over a school district. Philadelphia, they tried to take over a school district, it just didn’t work. Denver, the mayor’s taken over the school district. And all these areas are minority. Detroit, the mayor just took over the school district. And tons of other urban cities. Whites left. Blacks stayed there. Economics. You have to have white people, green people, black people, you have to have all people to have a healthy economy, and a healthy economy gives you the greatest opportunity to have a healthy lifestyle in terms of old people getting their needs met, young people getting their needs met. When people start to segment away like that, the public infrastructure that keeps this country together fails. So that’s when I start, when I start looking at public infrastructure failing, and the depth of the despair that resulted from that, I say, “Wait a minute, we all got to work together. We got to figure out how to do this. It’s not just about you being successful over here and me being successful here. We’re going to have to work together.” And that’s what’s happening. We used to be a manufacturing company. We don’t manufacture any more. Information. When RJR Reynolds, when Nabisco bought RJR Reynolds, or RJR bought Nabisco, one of the two, that was a $26 billion dollar transaction. And nothing was produced. Nothing. It was a transaction. And I said to myself, “What’s going to happen to my kids, and their kids, if the world pulled away and everything would just simply be a transaction?” We couldn’t survive. And that’s what’s happening. We’re information. That means all of our brain power, our whatever power, if it’s only–and just a few can go to some island and set up a computer terminal and transact business, it’s just information-based. So what’s going to happen to America? Will America be like Detroit, or Cleveland, or Dallas? Where all the brain power and all the other power decides, “We’re just going to leave and let America fend for itself?” We have to maintain a strong country in order to provide quality of life experiences for all citizens. Whether green, purple, white, or black. And that’s the biggest thing that’s sort of stamped on my mind right now, that says, We have to work together as a people in order for this country to survive. I’ll survive, I’ll do all right till I’m gone, but what about the folk coming behind me? This country will be like some of the cities, if we adopt some of the public policies of some of our urban cities, as a country. We will perish, like some of those urban cities. So it just doesn’t make sense for us, with all this brain power over here, to ignore our potential and do something different. That’s why desegregation is important. And because I have different relationships with different people around the world. If I was still in my own community back in the old days, I’d be racial avoidance, like I said to you earlier. I just wanted to beat up the white boys on the team, not recognize that we need to be working together. Racial avoidance teaches you that, by default. We’re enemies, or we’re not dependent upon, there’s no interdependence. It’s you versus me, or whatever. And that’s not good for America. It’s not good for the world. And people are slowly leaning that. Too slowly, though.