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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 >>

Evolution from separatism to integration

Griffin briefly reflects on racism in America and overseas, remembering hearing a racial slur from Vietnamese people when he was in that country as a soldier. Desegregation taught Griffin that his early life philosophy, "give me my own and leave me alone," would not equip him or anyone else for success in the larger world.

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: Well, this has been wonderful. You [ ], we’re right at nine o’clock now. I appreciate your taking all this time. Let me just ask you, is there anything else that you think is important about Second Ward or West Charlotte or desegregation, or something that I haven’t asked about that we haven’t touched on that you think is important and should be said? AG: I don’t know. You’ve touched on most of them. I’ve certainly had discussions among my old classmates about desegregation, because it was like, “Just give me the resources at Second Ward and leave us alone,” kind of piece, and I think that was probably how I felt for many, many years. But knowing that the world is much larger than Second Ward, and the decisions that are made, both in the corporate boardrooms as well as the public sector, in terms of public policy decisions, must be made in such a way that it benefits the mass of the people. And the only way you can have good public policy is if you have a better understanding of your public. And your public involves all kinds of people. So it’s gone from simply a resource piece to a community value, as relates to diversity. And I probably am more convinced of that now than at any other time in my life. And I thank Second Ward for giving me the opportunity to learn how to read well enough, and communicate with people, in such a way that I’m always learning. And in that learning process–there’s no learning if there’s no behavior change. So there’s been some behavioral change on my part, in terms of just getting along with people. And I think that’s very, very important. Going to Vietnam in 1970 was a time when Martin Luther King was killed–I mean, that was a hot–several late riots, in the late ‘60s, and race relations were awful in the military at that point. I mean, absolutely awful. You don’t cross the line. You’re over here with the brothers, and those folk over there with those folk. I couldn’t imagine a world like that today. Could not imagine a world like that today. Vietnam was interesting. The Vietnamese called me “nigger”, and I said, “Where in the world did this person get this from? I’m over here getting shot at in these little jungles with a rifle, and he calls me a nigger.” So it’s been a life of growing experiences for me, because I wasn’t always at this point in my life. I was more of a, “Give me my own and leave me alone” kind of person. But I’m absolutely convinced that if we’re going to survive as a nation, we’re clearly going to have to embrace differences, respect those differences, find common ground, and move forward. I don’t know what else I can tell you, other then that that was given to me by those wonderful teachers at Second Ward, I guess. I don’t know, Pam. [laughing]