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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 >>

Fleming plans to leave Georgia before joining the Southern Regional Council

Fleming felt that he could not remain in Georgia because he knew about a local lynching and he disliked the governor. He did stay, however, to become an activist with the aid of journalist Ralph McGill. McGill put him in touch with George Mitchell of the Southern Regional Council.

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 summer you were here was when the Walton County lynching took place.
HAROLD FLEMING:
Yes, that's correct.
JOHN EGERTON:
You were in Atlanta that summer when that happened?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
You remember that pretty well?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Yes, I do.
JOHN EGERTON:
Can you relate any personal antecdotes about it in terms of where you were when it happened and what you thought about it or anything?
HAROLD FLEMING:
No. All I can say is that it laid the base for total disgust that built up over the succeeding year. I wasn't even thinking about any kind of reform or crusading at that point. But the idea of settling and having a normal life in that setting when that kind of thing could take place and where you could have a guy saying the things that Talmadge said, reelected governor after all that-Eugene was reelected. I just felt I had to get out. When I came back-the key to all this, you said, "how did you get there?"-by far the most important piece of that was this Army experience. I felt I would actively become an activist of any kind. God knows, I hoped, gone on maturing in attitudes and that kind of thing. I don't think it ever would have occured to me to get into organizational work challenging the system.
JOHN EGERTON:
Why did you come back? You got away, you went back to Harvard, you could have never looked back if you didn't want to.
HAROLD FLEMING:
I was just coming home to see my family. I didn't come back to go to work. In fact, I had already put out my letters. I had written several publishing houses in New York and to everybody I knew up that way that I was going to be coming up there in September. Summer was a terrible time for job hunting anyway. I had one or two encouraging letters back saying they would like to interview me. I thought that was what I was going to do.
JOHN EGERTON:
Fall of '47?
HAROLD FLEMING:
Yes. So, this was all accidental this business of settling . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
'46.
HAROLD FLEMING:
No, '47. I went back to the school that summer.
JOHN EGERTON:
You got out of the Army in '46 and stayed in Atlanta that summer. You knew you were going back to Harvard that fall. You went back and graduated in '48.
HAROLD FLEMING:
In '47
JOHN EGERTON:
I mean, graduated in '47.
HAROLD FLEMING:
June of '47. I went back to visit the family and to just have a little breather. As I said, the summer was a poor time for job hunting anyway. I wanted some relaxation. Between the Army and college I had been working my ass off.
JOHN EGERTON:
But, just by quirk you ended up getting this job?
HAROLD FLEMING:
I read the Atlanta Constitution and here was McGill's column on the front page. About one out of every five columns he was saying something quite startling on race. I was naturally amazed, I didn't realize, a) anybody was doing that, and b) that anybody could get away with it. Just out of curiosity I went to see him. I called him up and asked for an appointment and he said to come on in. I went and spent an hour with him. I told him where I was and what I had been doing. I really was doing this out of curiosity, what kind of guy is this, have I misread the situation? He said, "no, you haven't misread the situation, don't be misled by these columns of mine." He said, "I just feel every once in a while compelled to write something about this crazy system. We are in for a terrible time. It's going to be years and years of it. If I was you I would just get the hell out. You've read it right and you probably made the right decision." I said, "well, I'm still impressed with what you are saying down here." He said, "I'm paying for it." [laughter] He said, "Before you go, I think you can find something interesting. There's an outfit here called Southern Regional Council that's an interracial organization. It's a very balanced, decent, and courageous group. I think you would feel better about this if you found out a little about them and that there are people down here who feel the way you do and who are trying to do something about it against the odds." "That's news to me," I said. "It does sound interesting." He said, "hold on a minute." He picked up the phone and called George Mitchell and he told him he had this fellow in his office and asked if he could see him and tell him a little bit about the Southern Regional Council. George said to send him over right then. I walked over to Auburn Avenue to see George Mitchell. After we talked for quite awhile he said, "are you in any rush to get up there to New York?" I said, "I don't have any deadline." I hadn't planned to go until early September and this was then early August. He said, "I just lost my Director of Information. He went to work with the steelworkers and I would have lost him anyway because I don't have any money to pay anybody here." Rosenwald had run out of existence, the Rosenwald Fund. He said, "he left me with a half-finished publication. I don't have much money but I can scrape up somehow to pay you if you hang around here for a few weeks and finish it up for me. Can you do that? It will give you a chance to find out a little more about the Council and how it works, who our people are and what they think." I said, "sure, that sounds okay." He said, "I wish I had some money because I would offer you a job." I said, "oh, well, that's alright."
JOHN EGERTON:
And you left fifteen years later.
HAROLD FLEMING:
You know how that goes. That's how that happened. It was purely accidental. Everything that has ever happened to me was accidental.