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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 >>

Central role of race in Mississippi politics

Henry believes that black voters are more likely to support white candidates based on issues than white voters are to support black candidates. Henry thinks this shows that "blacks are freer than whites"—free from the dictates of racism. He thinks that racism will continue to drive Mississippi politics in the 1960 presidential election and offers some thoughts on George Wallace, whom he characterizes as a racist opportunist.

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:
Several people have told us that one of the reasons there haven't been more blacks elected to the legislature is that too often. . . the problem of candidate selection.
AARON HENRY:
Well, you know. Have you been to our state legislature? Saw it? Well, you know, the kind of jokers they got down there, black folks couldn't be much worse than they are. You know. Whites would have assess to more of whatever is there than a black would have. I think it's more of this kind of a situation where whites have generally always been there. I would feel that the support of blacks by blacks is becoming much more every election. You're going to find that whites are far more prejudiced against blacks than blacks are against whites. You will find blacks who are even willing to pass out candidates' cards to whites. But you won't find a single white in this state who will pass out cards for blacks. And I think it's a reflection really that blacks are freer than whites. Several ways. You know, they're freer to be involved in what their conscience dictates. Now I'm sure that there are some whites who would like to. But I think they are engulfed in this thing called peer worship. I think they are engulfed in this thing about what this guy I play golf with will think about me if I ask him to vote for this black man. Whether my wife going to be kicked out of the bridge club. Whether their children are going to be told that daddy's a nigger lover. I think that this kind of intimidation of whites by other whites . . . far more of an issue as to why whites generally are afraid not to support whites where blacks feel very free to support blacks or whites.
JACK BASS:
Are you saying then that blacks are more apt to judge a candidate on the basis of qualification than color than whites are?
AARON HENRY:
No. Yeah, if he happens to be black. I don't thing that we've come to a point in Mississippi yet where any sizeable group of whites feel free to vote for a black even if Charles Drew was running for the custodian of the blood plasma bank whites in Mississippi would not vote for him.
JACK BASS:
What do you think would have to happen for the Democrats to carry Mississippi again in a presidential election?
AARON HENRY:
Well, with the majority vote being somewhere near 60% white or more in the state, I think you'd have to have a Democrat who would appeal to racial prejudice.
JACK BASS:
You think that's the only way it could be done?
AARON HENRY:
I think that's the only way you're going to carry Mississippi, yeah.
JACK BASS:
What would be the reaction of blacks if George Wallace actively campaigned on behalf of the national Democratic ticket? Wasn't on it, but campaigned for it.
AARON HENRY:
Well, depending on who was on the ticket. It would depend on who was on the ticket. If it was Scoop Jackson, we'd have problems with it. If it were Fritz Mondale I think people would ignore the fact that Wallace supported it but would still vote for it. I'm talking about blacks, now.
JACK BASS:
Same would apply to Kennedy?
AARON HENRY:
Yeah.
JACK BASS:
What would be the problem with Jackson?
AARON HENRY:
Well, the problem with Scoop would be that Scoop has not been nearly involved in causes as either Kennedy or Mondale. He's voted right pretty much of the time. But there's no identification of Scoop in Selma or Montgomery as there was with Kennedy or Mondale. There was no Scoop Jackson at the Jackson massacre, you know, as there were Kennedy and Mondale. So I'm just saying that the credentials of Kennedy and Mondale in causes that effect minority or poor people is so much better than Scoop's.
JACK BASS:
When we first started the interview you talked about you've seen a number of whites turn the corner. Do you think George Wallace has turned the corner?
AARON HENRY:
No, I really don't. I think George's position is convenience in politics. I think George feels that he was pretty close to death one time and I think that in responding to that situation and also responding to the forward growth of the nation in a way that Wallace could not preach segregation, segregation, segregation forever on the street corners of Michigan today. unknown And carry Michigan as he did four years ago. unknown And I think that Wallace will do or say anything that will gravitate the people towards Wallace. I think that if attending a lynching on Saturday night would get people back in the Wallace column that's where you'd find him.