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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Politicians use racial code to appeal to white voters

Henry credits Richard Nixon's election to the racial code Nixon used to appeal to racist white voters. White voters responded to the words "busing," "welfarism," and "permissiveness." Henry defends busing as an essential element of breaking down racism and decries the absence of black figures from school textbooks, unless those figures are caricatures.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. 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:
With that historical perspective, how do you compare the administration of Richard Nixon. . . . How do you compare it in contrast to this Tilden-Hayes decision.
AARON HENRY:
Well, to me it's quite an analogy. I think Mr Nixon became president by playing to the base, biased prejudice of white America. You see, of the votes that Richard Nixon got for president, 65% of those votes. . . well, 65% of the vote in the country went to Richard Nixon. Of theother 35% that was left, 25% of that that went to George McGovern was black. George McGovern got less than 10% of the white vote in this country. So, you see, every time Nixon used the word busing that was nothing but a code word for nigger. Everytime he used welfarism, permissiveness. You see, it gave Americans who felt chagrined to say that they were for segregation of the races, segregation forever, and all that bull. . . . But when he gave them a convenient umbrella under which to stand and say "I'm against busing," well, what they're really saying. . . . It ain't the bus, it's who's on the damn bus. It's us. That's, you know, that's the question about busing. And if they were busing nothing but white kids, there'd be no problem. See, busing has been used as a tool for getting children to school as long as the public school system has been a part of America. But as long as they were using busing to maintain segregation, there was nothing wrong with busing. And now that we're using busing to effect integration, then the president and everybody—not everybody—the president and several other people get the impression that busing is so wrong. It's really an issue that is attempting to return America to the days when segregation, when racial segregation had a legal foundation in this country. If we return to the neighborhood school idea with housing as segregated as it is, with many of the larger cities where whites have moved to the suburbs, etc. . . . If there is not the tool of busing, black children and white children again are going to be separated. You don't learn from books. You don't learn from movies. You don't learn from osmosis that other people are just like you. Except you have the opportunity of dealing man to man or person to person with them meeting. White boys get the idea that they're better than black boys because they are separated from black boys. And they don't have any way of comparing their ability with black children. And of course black children begin to feel that they are less than white children because they have no positive way of identifying their abilities with white children. And the textbook structure of this nation so ignores the black contributions that it helped make America the kind of country that it is today. That the textbooks expose the virtues of the whites and either plays down or absents the activities of blacks. So consequently, without models, without heros, without persons of black stature for black kids to look up to, they are going to be brainwashed by the textbooks of this country that only white men have been involved in building America the way it is. It's subtle. But if you look at the elementary books of your and my time where Dick and Jane was always white, you know. There was no blacks involved in any of the primary books that were around when you were in grammar school or when I was in grammar school. The nearest thing you had to it was little black Sambo. And of course black Sambo was always a buffoon. He was a very unsavory character. And as long as these are the kind of models we are going to give children to emulate, you're bound to get a master-servant philosophy, you're bound to justify Gunnar Myrdal's position in American Dilemma when he says that when you separate children from others because of their race, that you commit an act that is calculated to warp their minds in a manner never likely to be undone. And the warping of the mind suggests to the white child that he's better than the black child; suggests to the black child that he's less than the white child. And consequently this master-servant thing prevails.