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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

WWII brings change

Lewis reflects on the immediate post-World War II period, when he believes that a psychological shift accompanied demographic and economic change. This cluster of change laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. 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

JOHN EGERTON:
Looking back on that period—five years from the summer of 1945 to the fall of 1950—could you see that period of time, in retrospect at least, as a sort of a window of opportunity for the South to have made some really significant strides to fix its own social wagon, or is that too much wishful thinking?
HYLAN LEWIS:
No, I would say ipso facto in a sense. You said '45 to '50 and you're talking here the end of the War. All that that meant in the suggesting of the terms of the loosening of some of the things. And also of the provision of a kind of wave of medium prosperity and hope and of a sense of the use of governmental and state forces to do things. And what things could you do—highways, roads, houses, education. This is a period when you no longer began to think in terms of unpainted houses in the South. The time when you stopped talking about red clay. So, yes, the answer was that in some. . . . But, it is also the period when you have, you see, the demographic loosening. We often talk about the Negro migration and so on but, it was more than that. That's too mechanical a kind of thing. It represents an opening up and a moving out and a changing of the economics of the area. You've seen their faces and now they are gone, that kind of thing. [laughter] And things are happening to the railroads, too.
JOHN EGERTON:
All kinds of things are happening.
HYLAN LEWIS:
I think that this kind of loosening of bonds and fetters and the sense of chance—a great deal of movement occurred during that period.
JOHN EGERTON:
And yet, here's what bothers me. If you do accept the premise that this was a golden opportunity, here was a chance for some real strides and yet it didn't happen in the sense that we ended up having to go the route of the courts and street protests.
HYLAN LEWIS:
But, this is part of the process.
JOHN EGERTON:
This is part of the process . . .
HYLAN LEWIS:
You see what you are saying is that in a sense, to use the word, a prelude for the transition to civil rights.