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Oral History Interview with Paul Green, May 30, 1975. Interview B-0005-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and activist Paul Green—most famous for his symphonic drama The Lost Colony—spent his youth at the turn of the twentieth century in rural Harnett County, North Carolina. There, he began to gather material on the stories of poverty, struggle, and race that would define his life as an artist and an activist. He discusses both art and activism in this interview, describing how regional and social context shaped his work, remembering overwrought stage actors who struggled to bring life to his salt-of-the-earth characters, and activists who seemed to thrive on the misery they sought to banish. These artists, distant from their subjects, share something with the intellectuals who were more devoted to their ideologies than to realizing their beliefs through pragmatic application of them, Green believes. Green, on the other hand, defined himself as an activist through direct action. In this interview, he remembers a number of cases of injustice in which he tried to intervene, including the case of a black teenager sentenced to death for rape, an instance of horrific cruelty at a prison camp, tobacco workers and janitors struggling with substandard wages, and the case of a fugitive communist organizer. Green's efforts, and the collective action he sought to inspire, met limited success, a fact reflected in some of Green's plays, in which poor folk struggle in vain against their ill fortune. This struggle—its motivations, its successes, and its failures—is at the heart of this interview, which will interest scholars of drama and history alike.
    Excerpts
  • Remembering the Great Depression and worrying for the soul of America
  • A fictional character strives and fails
  • Art as both beautiful and instructive
  • Growing awareness of southern mill workers
  • Practicality clashes with ideology in social justice movements
  • Southern rigidity stifles social progress
  • A librarian refuses service to a black youth
  • Belief that Frank Porter Graham was not assertive on social justice issues
  • The emotional immaturity of the Group Theater collective
  • Explaining a departure from protest in his art
  • Belief that plays must present two opposing points of view
  • The power of fear to stunt social progress
  • Fred Beal, Clyde Hoey, and the politics of labor violence
  • Governor Hoey's lack of sympathy for an African-American teen sentenced to death
  • Governor Hoey stalls in addressing prison camp scandal
  • North Carolina's cruel state prison system
  • Fighting for commutations for two condemned men
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.