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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 >>

Will Alexander's sensitive approach to race relations

Will Alexander was relatively better at conducting proper race relations than other white southerners because he showed more sensitivity, thus garnering respect in his community. He also maintained a good relationship with a local black leader.

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:
Having been a preacher his lifestyle changed quite radically it seems to me.
HAROLD FLEMING:
I don't think he was a pulpit type preacher, not for very long anyway. He was one of those ordained folks who was in organizational work from way back. When he founded the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, along with others, this was an outgrowth of what he was doing with the YMCA after World War I. So, he was always an organization man, but he had the mantle of preacher and prophet. He knew everybody and he had lots of connections and influence and he knew how to use it.
JOHN EGERTON:
On race, do you think he was pretty traditionally paternalistic or did he have some real vision of what the South needed to do that was in any sense prophetic?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Well, he was better than most in terms of sensitivity and handling questions. But, everybody was paternalistic, every white. With the nature of the times the only way you could function was paternalistically, almost. There was no way to be egalitarian because there wasn't any equality. If there ever was a time when paternalism was in flower and had it uses was in the South between the Civil War and after Reconstruction failed, roughly up to Brown, up into the 1950s. I never recall-as I say, I say, I wasn't close to him, I didn't see a whole lot of him-any time he was grossly, and I can recall plenty of other people. I spent a lot of time cringing in those days at some of my elders and betters, how they handled themselves with blacks and what they said and how they said it. They were totally unconscious of the fact that they were really an embarrassment to their race. I never recall anything like that about Dr. Will. He was a very shrewd old bird, and I think very sensitive to that kind of thing. Whatever he was feeling he wasn't about to put his foot in it through his conduct or his language. For example, he and Charles Johnson were great buddies and collaborators.
JOHN EGERTON:
And sincerely so.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Oh, yes. They had great respect for each other and they were friends.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did they socialize? Did they spend private times together?
HAROLD FLEMING:
I just don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did their wives?
HAROLD FLEMING:
I doubt it. I don't think their wives were in this at all. I think that was fairly charateristic. I think probably both of them would have judged that ordinary kind of socialibility and socializing would have been counterproductive. I don't think charles Johnson was ever tempted to go over to Chapel Hill or wherever and play croquet on Dr. Will's lawn. I just think that wasn't prudent. Some of us had enough trouble with that much later on.