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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hodding Carter, April 1, 1974. Interview A-0100. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Laws can change attitudes on race

Carter sees a fundamental change in racial attitudes in Mississippi in recent years. A generational shift and legal change combined to create a population of white southerners unwilling to attack their black neighbors and content to follow federal laws barring discrimination.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hodding Carter, April 1, 1974. Interview A-0100. 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

JACK BASS:
But suppose the boycotts were not extended. Suppose the antibussing amendment passed in the Senate. Then what?
HODDING CARTER:
I think you would not go through a conventional second redemption as it is sometimes regarded. Ain't possible. I think, one, that the black Mississippians aren't the same as the ex-slaves of 100 years ago. And the second thing is that I think that the country as a whole, Mississippi not excepted, is a far different country from 100 years ago. Old Jim Silver, when he wasn't writing up Mississippi the closed society used to say that what everybody forgets is that there was no intellectual underpining to the notion that there might be—well, there was no intellectual underpining 100 years ago for the idea that equality really might by a physical and biological and anthropological fact. In fact most of the social scientists and all of the social anthropologists and what have you took it as a given that you were dealing with an inferior. Well now you've got this whole, you know, sweep of whether it's any more right or not doesn't matter. You've got a whole sweep of a century's worth of growing. Academic justification for the notion that equality is a fact. So you got a lot of people, I think, who are simply not going to find it as easy to forceably hit the black on the head again and knock him back down. But, there is absolutely no question that if the nation—the nation's not going to move off the plateau it's on for a while, anyway. But if the nation allows certain pressure points in the south to be removed, certain kinds of pressure unknown and the voting bill is one of them—I don't think it would take us a year to pass the first, or kind of series of voting restrictions, and that would begin to alter somewhat the way the poker game was played here. The only thing is that I think in this area, as in others, there are things that would not be as easy to destroy as it was in that very short time, 1870s to the 1890s in the south the last time. That's not really very op. . .I'm not extraordinarily optimistic about it because I'm not sure how the nation as a whole is going to go on this thing. But no matter how it all goes, I don't think you'll see a reversion to what it was when I came back here in 1959 or anything approaching it. It struck me, when I talked over at the University of Alabama the other day—I don't remember whether I talked to you about that or not— unknown talk to these kids unknown everything was just seared in my mind in blood, you know. Rioting at ole Miss in 62. Or for them, unknown . That's history, that's something that happened to somebody else. These kids at Tuscaloosa right now, university of Alabama, sure as hell don't love their black brothers and all such as that. But on the other hand, it's just an issue that doesn't exist for them as to whether or not there ought to be blacks on the campus or whether or not blacks ought to vote or whether or not blacks ought to hold office or whether or not there ought to be a coloured water fountain. They look at me like I'm something out of the Cro-Magnon era, you know, when I talk about some of that business. Just a decade ago. And these are the future, at least potential leaders, in almost any sphere of life. And they start out with a bunch of given which, to my at any rate, it seemed so hard to establish.
JACK BASS:
How do you explain unknown this that unknown in the sixties, there was massive integration.
HODDING CARTER:
I had a history teacher up at Princeton who once infuriated all of us by saying that what was remarkable about people who believed as passionately in laws as we alleged that we did in 1861 that it suddenly collapsed with no guerrilla action and no holding action anywhere. In a set piece of a battle. And that thereafter discovered how many of our people were perfectly willing to cooperate with the hated order in the Reconstruction period. He'd go along that line. Well, he was mainly having fun with us, but the point really is, I think, that one of the reasons who there was such absolute deep demand for conformity in some of these deep southern states was that the leadership knew damn well that once they let up on the pressure at all that in fact everybody wasn't in agreement. I mean that there were in fact great numbers of people just sitting there waiting for some way to get out from under this really oppressive system. Whites, I'm talking about. And once the feds made it possible for you to say, well, I have to obey the law, there were an awful lot of people who wanted to obey the law because they in fact believed in it. My god, the energy that went in to it. Justice unknown for a lot of people now, not to have to sit there and worry about it all the time.