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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, November 8, 1990. Interview A-0347. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Good race relations in the South

While Talmadge has a dim view of the state of contemporary (as of 1974) American society and culture, he thinks that in the economic and racial arenas, conditions are improving in the South. Then again, he recalls, relations between white southerners and African Americans have always been warm. He tells a story to illustrate his point.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, November 8, 1990. Interview A-0347. 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

HERMAN TALMADGE:
Just about that. You don't change mores and attitudes of people by law. It takes time and education.
JOHN EGERTON:
In light of that, would you, again, looking back on the Brown decision of the Supreme Court, would you see that as a tragic mistake or was it our salvation?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, I don't see it as either. I see it as evolution of legal principles. Of course, the state slowly evolved, and the region, to accept it.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was that a good direction for us to have moved historically?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, really, we should have started long before. We should have just started with the Fourteenth Amendment. It could have been done with ease then. We'd just lost the war, and they'd crammed it down our throat at the point of a bayonet. That'd been the time to do it.
JOHN EGERTON:
We kind of muddle along one way or another. Are we moving in the right direction?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
What respect are you talking about?
JOHN EGERTON:
Is this region, did the South, has it ended up being the South you wanted it to be, or is it falling short of that?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, this whole country is falling short of what I want it to be. The South, economically, I think is making more rapid advance than any section in the country.
JOHN EGERTON:
And maybe other ways, too?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
That's right, other ways too. But there's many shortcomings in our society today. 'Course, you can't change them. If I was a dictator, like with the power of Adolph Hitler, I'd probably do a lot of things. But when we see the work ethic destroyed, when we see morality destroyed in this country, when we see discipline destroyed, when we see fiscal sanity destroyed, it makes you wonder whether we're not in the last days of the Roman empire. Many parallels.
JOHN EGERTON:
We've certainly got some pretty, yeah, it's kind of chilling, isn't it, come to think about it? But I get back finally to the first question, the first thing I said to you. You're kind of a survivor. This revolution that's taken place right through your lifetime, you've lived through it. You're hale and hearty and able to look back on it and see all these changes that came to this region. Leaving aside the greater problems that we have, are you satisfied with what has become of the South? The South that we once had is certainly not here, but is the one that we do have. . . ?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
If you're talking about racial customs alone, yes. I just gave you my views of the whole nation, and that includes the South. We've gone downhill dreadfully in many respects in the last two decades. I don't know whether we can correct it or not.
JOHN EGERTON:
But on this racial thing, you feel like we've probably come out pretty well on that?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, I think we have. All the dire predictions that many of us made, didn't come to pass.
JOHN EGERTON:
Which maybe says something about the character of southern people, white and black.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Actually, I'll tell you a story now about relationships between blacks and whites. My roommate on my first ship, the disguised hospital ship, was Mack Perry. He was also from Georgia. He was a newspaper man. He went to Mercer University. We had abroad our ship at that time what we called the S Division, which was the blacks.
JOHN EGERTON:
The S Division? Wonder what that stood for?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Cooks. Servants, really. They were cooks and chefs and cleaned up the officers' quarters and all like that. Every time one of those fellows, they all had Yankee division officers, they were supposed to go to the division officer when they had a problem. They didn't do it. Blacks from New York would come to either Perry or myself if they had a problem. They wouldn't go to his officer who was from New York or New Jersey or something like that. I have remarked on that to many people who served in the military in World War II. They told me the same damn thing was true in the army and all other branches of the service. Somehow, the blacks trusted a white southerner to try to help them. They figured that the white northerner would give them lip service only, which was true. Perry and I would try to help them. These other officer wouldn't. So there's always been a relationship there of trust between blacks and whites in the South. That's not true and wasn't true in other areas of the country, and I don't think it's true today. That's one reason Jimmy Carter was nominated by the Democratic Party, whenever it was, when he was elected president.
JOHN EGERTON:
1976.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Even though they figured he was a southern redneck, they figured they could trust him. 'Course, he wasn't portraying redneck views in those days. I don't know what that relationship is, but it's been historically true in this country.