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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sidney S. McMath, September 8, 1990. Interview A-0352. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Federal intervention as a necessary measure for racial change

McMath explains that federal intervention was necessary for racial progress in the South. According to McMath, Jim Crow may have eventually fallen on its own, but it likely would have taken decades, even centuries. Emphasizing southern regional culture, McMath argues that without federal measures, such as <cite>Brown v. Board of Education</cite>, Jim Crow segregation would have continued to flourish in the South.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sidney S. McMath, September 8, 1990. Interview A-0352. 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

Do you think that most people by that '48, '50, time, knew in their gut that segregation was not going to last forever?
SID MCMATH:
People generally didn't know that.
JOHN EGERTON:
They just couldn't assimilate the thing.
SID MCMATH:
They couldn't assimilate that. You know, custom dies hard. But there were people, intelligent people and educationed people and people in positions of leadership, that knew it was inevitable. The Brown decision, you know, and after that, it's just a matter of time. Then, of course, when you get right down to it, what's America all about. What's your values? "We hold these truths to be self evident. All men . . . "
JOHN EGERTON:
You can't have that kind of language written into your history and dodge that question.
SID MCMATH:
And it's taken us a long time to bring it about. Look at the impact that that concept, that philosophy, has had on western Europe. They're all inspired by the American Bill of Rights and the American Declaration of Independence. So we have to make it work at home. And of course, after the war, we were motivated by the fact that we'd been fighting against this kind of thing that exists in, say, Garland County and a lot of other places over the country. If we're going to fight for it in the world, we want to fight for it at home.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right. Do you think that you yourself as a politician and as a lawyer saw the Brown decision coming before it got here?
SID MCMATH:
Oh sure, absolutely, it's inevitable. I knew it was coming. I knew that we couldn't continue to keep the black people ignorant, and you can't keep them enslaved. You know, the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free the blacks. It freed them from slavery, but it placed them in servitude under this sharecropper system. And it wasn't until the Second World War that we escaped from that. I guess it was the John Deere tractor and the cotton-picking machine that did more to free the blacks than anybody. It wasn't until 1965, wasn't it, that we abolished the poll tax?
JOHN EGERTON:
That's really true. That's right. That's how long it took.
SID MCMATH:
And talk about individual rights and personal freedom and so forth, look at the women. Women didn't get the right to vote until 1920. 'Course, I felt and I knew it was inevitable, and I felt for these people. I lived in south Arkansas and I saw the plight that the black people were in. I had a great deal of empathy for them as a child.
JOHN EGERTON:
And yet growing up as an adult, the common thing that you heard white leadership say in the South was, two things, separate but equal, and they knew it wasn't equal. And the other thing was if everybody will leave us alone, we can work this out ourselves.
SID MCMATH:
Yeah, don't want any outside interference, outsiders coming here telling us what to do.
JOHN EGERTON:
Can you imagine that the South would ever have worked it out by itself, if it hadn't been for Brown and the courts and the black revolt?
SID MCMATH:
Oh, in a century or two centuries. The economic conditions change and people get educated and so forth, and if the blacks are not equipped to earn a living and so forth, it might have eventually come about, but it would have taken a century or two centuries to do it.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think the notion that . . . ?
SID MCMATH:
Well, just like would the South have abolished slavery? Maybe eventually, economically, maybe in a hundred years it would have come about. No, you had to have the Brown decision, and you had to have federal intervention. It was federal intervention that abolished the poll tax. And look at the child labor laws and the right of women to vote, and all this came through the federal government.