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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Foreman defied segregation laws in his work and political activities.

Foreman defied segregation policies by startingthe first integrated theater in Washington, D.C., hosting an integrated campaign meeting for Henry Wallace, and sitting in a "colored only" train car with Paul Robeson.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
How were you supporting yourself then?
CLARK FOREMAN:
About that time . . . I had been working on an idea of having a theatre in Washington which would admit Negroes. At that time there was no theatre in Washington where Negroes could go. The National Theatre, which had before been a pretty good theatre, had had to close down because Actors Equity would not appear there as long as it was a segregated audience, as long as Negroes were not admitted into the audience. So they closed down. So Washington not only had no theatre for Negroes, but it had no theatre period. The city of Washington had no theatre whatsoever. The theatre gave as its reason the fact that the chief of police had said it would be dangerous to admit Negroes into the audience. So we hit upon the idea of challenging this whole situation by starting a theatre, movie theatre, which would not be segregated. And the Dupont Theatre was in a building which a friend of mine named Danny Weitzman owned. He asked me if I would manage it. So I managed the theatre, the Dupont theatre and we opened it up . . . had no segregation. And that way we broke down the whole segregation pattern in Washington. From then on, movies and theatres have been unsegregated.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you were managing the theatre while you were working in the Wallace campaign?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Yep.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did you do in the Wallace campaign?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Largely make speeches and appeal for money.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you travel in the South?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Yeah. I made a tour with Paul Robeson, raising money. He was singing and I was raising money. We went to Winston-Salem, Memphis. BILL FINGER Were there integrated facilities where you traveled? On trains and . . .
CLARK FOREMAN:
Sure. Everywhere we went.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of audiences did you have and how did they react?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Well, it varied. We had different experiences. Maybe I should say . . . the year before Wallace went on a tour in the South for the Southern Conference on Human Welfare. That was in '47. He started the tour in Norfolk, Virginia. We had rented the hall there, or the committee for Virginia had rented an auditorium in Norfolk, city auditorium, for this meeting. When I got there the audience was all in and Negroes and whites were all mixed up together. But the police had then just said that they had to divide. The Negroes had all to sit on one side and the white people on the other. I came in the back of the theatre and overheard this hassle going on between the police and the people who were handling the concert, handling the meeting. The police just said they had to do it. They had police established on the wings of the stage, so that nobody could go there until the audience was segregated. I walked down the center aisle and noticed that there was a flight of stairs across the orchestra pit and I walked up those stairs and on to the platform and called the meeting to order and announced that the police had said that we couldn't have a meeting unless it was segregated.We thought this would be in violation of the constitution and had no idea of segregating the meeting and if the police broke it up we'd just go outside and have an unsegregated meeting outside. Whereupon I called on Virginia Durr to come up and preside. She was the chairman of the committee for Virginia. So I said would Mrs. Durr plese come up now and take over the meeting. She came up the same way, down the middle aisle. When she got up she said "What shall we do." I said "Well, first thing, get them to sing the Star Spangled Banner. So she got them to sing all the verses of the Star Spangled Banner-it got pretty weak at the end. And then she said "Now what should we do?" "Get somebody to pray." She recognized a preacher down in the audience so she called on him to say a prayer and he got up and said a long prayer. And still Wallace hadn't come. So we didn't know what we were going to do. After a while Wallace came and he came down the middle aisle, too, and walked right on up on the stage and made his speech. Nothing happened except the next day the papers came out with a big story that the Southern Conference for Human Welfare had nullified the segregation act of the state of Virginia. The act that all public meetings had to be segregated. And that that no longer existed. This was the kind of thing that went on. Wallace spoke in every one of the southern states and then later on Paul Robeson and I went around. Paul Robeson had some interesting experiences, too. He spoke in Tampa and there were some northern admirers of his that lived in St Petersburg-which is close to Tampa-and they asked him to stay over there in their house. Which he did. And the man's business was absolutely ruined. He had to move away. But we were going from Tampa to Charleston then back to Savannah. So I was traveling with Paul and his accompanist, Lawrence Brown. I had made arrangements for a stateroom for Paul everywhere. Paul and Lawrence Brown were to have a stateroom. When I got down to the station in Tampa I found out that the Pullman train didn't come right into Tampa but it was a couple of hours out. You had to go on a day coach for a couple of hours to get to the Pullman train. So that was a question of daycoach for whites and daycoach for blacks. I decided I'd stay back with them and did. The conductor finally came by and he said to me "You've got to move up to the white car." I said "Why?" "Because you're white. This is segregated. It's for colored people back here." I said "Well have you ever seen Walter White?" "No, why?" "Well, he's whiter than I am and he's head of the NAACP. Got blue eyes, light hair." And he said "Well, are you colored?" And I said "Yes." On the theory that nobody's white, you know. So he said "Well, I'll be goddamned." And walked off.