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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern Regional Council advocates gradual change in segregation

Leaders of the Southern Regional Council did not actually believe that segregation was viable. They knew it needed to end but did not want to openly admit the faults of Jim Crow, for fear of being shunned. They hoped instead for gradual change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harold Fleming, January 24, 1990. Interview A-0363. 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:
That point came in 1955?
HAROLD FLEMING:
It came in different forms. It came first in the form of litigation. I would date it from 1950 when the school cases were switched, equalization cases to desegregation. That was the beginning of it. Up to that point the whole thing was, as you know, they were all equalization cases. Equalization of teachers' salaries and. . . . They hit them first on higher education. Those were equalization suits, too. The strategy there was a little different because you couldn't achieve equalization in higher education. There was no way to it. it. you had too few. . . . They tried by establishing black state colleges, universities and law schools, graduate schools. Remember the Texas thing?
JOHN EGERTON:
Maybe Thurgood Marshall and them knew that it couldn't be done at the elementary and secondary level either and that the ultimate result would be . . .
HAROLD FLEMING:
That was absolutely the strategy. From the time I got involved in it in mid-'47 it was absolutely clear to me that the really serious people in that movement, however cautious and however qualified and moderate a stance they might adopt, there wasn't a damn one of them that didn't know that desegregation had to happen, and not a one of them that didn't know that that was the right thing to happen. All these other things were stratagems and ploys. There were some people who were around on the fringes of the movement who perhaps felt that it never had to come to that. They were so few they were meaningless. What you had in the case of a V. [Virginius] Dabney and so on, these were not people who really felt that you could acheive a just and decent society and a stable new order based on segregation. They knew you couldn't do that; they just didn't want to pay price of saying it out loud. They hoped somehow it could come to pass simply by exposing the weaknesses of the racist South or without ever having to say, "Jim Crow must go."
JOHN EGERTON:
Or it is possible, I think, that some of them really just could not abide the thought that segregation was going to go, that there was going to be a mixing of the races in the South and therefore, they just really joined the other side. They joined the opposition. John Temple Graves in Birmingham would be an example of that and George port Milton in Chattanooga. I also think V. Dabney was another person who really never was ever able to be comfortable with the notion that that was the goal, even long term.
HAROLD FLEMING:
I think people like that really wanted to moot it. They wanted to let that remain ambiguous. Let's work on these very limited goals today to make this a less unjust and more humane society and system and let the future take care of all that. Sure, sometime in the future the people will do things that we don't want to do and that we don't know how to do. But, we want to work at today's little problems, and let's satisfy ourselves. It's not going to happen in our lifetime, anyway. There was this belief in a very, very so slow a march of change that nobody would get hurt in the process. Everybody would have time accomodate. Most people alive at the time would never have to deal with the naked reality of it in the end. Future generations. It was that kind of gradualism that took the edge off. I don't think there was anybody to speak of in the movement who ever was a part of that movement, who broke at all out of the purely paternalistic mold of, "we're good to our slaves, our peons, and our servants"-anybody who got beyond that who didn't begin to see and really feel deep down that sometime it was going to have to happen, and that the movement was in that direction. It was a terrible price to pay to cut yourself off from your society, your tradition, and to be ostracized. Everybody knew that was what was involved. To be a pariah. To have people to shun you. . . . The most awful example of it was Waites Waring. This was the awful spector that haunted people like that. To be cut off and renounced and a pariah in their society.