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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Albert Gore, October 24, 1976. Interview A-0321-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Gore's growing interest in the civil rights movement

Gore paraphrases his involvement in the civil rights movement during the pre-<cite>Brown</cite> era. Ultimately, he believed it was the various school cases that made him and the rest of the South realize that this was an issue that had to be addressed.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Albert Gore, October 24, 1976. Interview A-0321-2. 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

So could we lead off with civil rights, a touchy, difficult question for a Southern liberal to grapple with. Would you speak to that question?
ALBERT GORE:
Well, the civil rights movement began while I was still a House member. The champion of civil rights as far as the government was concerned, the main leading role was Harry Truman. And as I said earlier in this interview, he had ten points in his program, and I publicly supported either seven or eight of the ten. At the time I ran for the Senate the hottest issue of his ten points was the FEPC, the establishment of the Federal Employment Practices Commission, and I opposed that. And because of my opposition to that and because of--well, there may have been other things . . . But as I recall it civil rights as such was not an issue in my campaign for the Senate. Now you will perhaps recall that the late Senator McKellar was in some respects a very liberal man himself. Now he later became aligned with some elements which I would call reactionary interests, and the fact that he was a very powerful man in securing appropriations for any number of things which interested private interests very materially meant that he pretty generally had the support of the business element of politics. But on many things concerning social justice he was a liberal man; on legal issues, as I recall, he had a liberal orientation. He was an able man to begin with, a good lawyer. He had almost a hundred percent record with labor; had a good labor record. I don't remember how he stood on those ten points of President Truman; I just don't recall. But he never played the demagogue on civil rights issues. He didn't demagogue against me. So whether to his credit or mine or my discredit I don't recall, and you might make a case either way, but civil rights did not emerge as an issue in my 1952 campaign.
DEWEY W. GRANTHAM:
Did it emerge soon after the Brown decision in '54, and the second decision in '55? How soon after those decisions did you really begin to feel that here was an issue that was going to affect you as one of the senators, that really had to be dealt with?
ALBERT GORE:
Well, as a lawyer of limited experience and not particularly prestigious training and qualifications I nevertheless realized that the Brown decision had very far-reaching import. But strangely enough, it was slow to sink in. People just didn't believe it could happen here. It was just one of those Supreme Court decisions that would go away or be modified. How it was going away no one seemed to stop to rationalize, but it just was not going to happen here, in the mind of the public. So civil rights did not become a real hot issue ipso facto after the Brown decision. This developed rather slowly. You remember then there was still the string of decisions, the University of Texas decision which brought the issue still closer home. In this case of the University of Texas, that decision was written by Fred M. Vinson, formerly a Southern congressman. He had been in the inner circle of the Congress. I remember after this decision I heard Vinson (George was his first name) . . .
DEWEY W. GRANTHAM:
Wasn't it Carl?
ALBERT GORE:
Carl Vinson, yes, a powerful and full-blooded Southern congressman, say at a meeting at which this decision was discussed and Fred Vinson's authorship of the decision, Carl Vinson said, "Boys, this is it. This is it." This, as you will recall, dealt with the right of a black to attend the law school. At first, as I recall, he was allowed to sit outside of the door and listen through the door.
DEWEY W. GRANTHAM:
I think that was the Oklahoma decision.
ALBERT GORE:
Was that the Oklahoma one? I believe that was the Oklahoma one. Anyway, one decision after another, this developed. But it was brought home to the South gradually through one decision after another, and then by the attempts to implement the decision.