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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0364. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Importance of intraracial alliances in achieving racial change

Gordon describes his relationship with civil rights advocate and newspaper editor Ralph McGill. Gordon acknolwedges that early on, at least, McGill was somewhat conservative in his views on civil rights, focusing more on making "separate but equal" truly equal, rather than advocating integration. Nevertheless, Gordon instead emphasizes the importance of intraracial relationships in the pursuit of civil rights and suggests that the alliance of educated African Americans and southern whites was most important in propelling racial change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Gordon, January 19, 1991. Interview A-0364. 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:
You had a feeling though that it might have worked. Take a man like McGill, for example, I want to hear you talk about him because you knew him personally. Without trying to color any of what you are going to say I think I ought to say that I was a little surprised when I began to read McGill's old columns through the 40s and realized that he was more conservative than I thought he was. He took positions that essentially were really not at all for integration but for separate but equal. How did you perceive him?
WILLIAM GORDON:
To give you an idea we got to be pretty close. To give you an example, I was overseas and I persuaded him to come to visit us in West Africa. We traveled around around Nigeria and we slept in the same room. His bed here and my bed there. Very close, I don't know whether you could get any closer to a man like that. I think it was a lack of contact between, I hate to use the word, the right kind of blacks and the right kind of whites. I think it was a tendency at effort, it was the lack of that. We didn't have enough of us moving in the direction of showing a different image of the right kind of black. What they saw. . . . [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM GORDON:
I think one of the most important things is that blacks have an obligation too in this whole effort in trying to enlighten. I think we are greatly responsible for enlightening people by bringing the right message and the right story to the whites. There are a lot of them over there who would like to understand, who would like to do the right thing but they don't have the info and I think we have to take the initiative. Going way back to Booker T. Washington, he was attacked many times because they said he was an Uncle Tom, he was this and that. He was building this school and he didn't speak out against southern racism and all that all the time. But Washington made one point when Du Bois attacked him, he said, "if you were down here living, like I am, before this white man's shotgun you would limit what you said also. I have an objective I want to reach and that's not the way to reach it." He started these programs to try to make blacks more efficient in what they were doing, whether it was a cook, a maid or whatnot, to give a better and different image of what black folk were or like. I think a lot of that has to be done. Harold Fleming once said, "One of the problems is that we don't see enough of black people." I said, "All these blacks-negro in those days-here in Atlanta and you don't see enough of them?" Well, what he meant was that we don't see enough of the right kind of the ones who are really pushing this thing. The moment they get to know you better, or they live very closely together, I think the whole conception changes. I think McGill. . . . When I was in Atlanta, of course being a younger fellow, I had an idea who he admired. I wanted to get into the media, I wanted to work in the newspaper profession. Then I got involved in this project and did a lot of things. From that point on we became very close friends. A lot of things he didn't know himself about segregation. For example, one day he had a visitor from London, the editor of The Times in London. He and his wife were in Atlanta. He called me on the phone and said, "Bill, I have two very distinguished guests here and I would like for them to meet you because you can show them what some of things are happening with Atlanta and I can show them some things." He wanted me to point out the black side of things. He said, "I will take a taxi and come down right quickly and pick you up and we can ride around the city." I hung up and then I called him right back and I said, "Mr. McGill, are you aware of the fact that I can't ride in a taxicab with you and two white people?" He hit the ceiling, he didn't know that. He hadn't thought about that.