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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rejection of Communism and conversion to socialism

Kester briefly describes his introduction to and rejection of Communism and his conversion to socialism. During the late 1920s, Kester toured the South working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. Although he was seen as a radical for his adherence to pacifism, Kester argues that Communism was too extreme for him. After meeting Norman Thomas during the early 1930s, however, he became a socialist and made a run for Congress. For Kester, his Christian beliefs were central to his rejection of Communism and conversion to socialism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. 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:
Why were you not able to organize more students?
HOWARD KESTER:
Pacifism was way over on the left, you know?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, at this meeting in Chattanooga there were three or four of us, Francis Hanson, Geroge Strether, and myself, and I think there was one other student, Irving Brown? Wasn't Irving Brown the AF of L representative in Italy that put on this post card campaign for Italians to out-vote the Communists? Do you remember that? I think Irving was with us, I can't be certain. You know, we decided that things were in such a mess . . . see, this was right at the bottom of the Depression, and if the Communists had anything to offer, we better find out about it. Well, who would we see. Alice said "We'd always go to the top, we'll see EArl Browder," and we called him and he said "Don't come to my office, but come to my home." He gave us the address and we went. Within fifteen minutes after Browder had started talking, I knew that Communism was something that I wanted nothing to do with. I guess I proved it too.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You felt that strongly, right at the time? Or was it later on?
HOWARD KESTER:
Right then. When I left his house.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it Browder's personality?
HOWARD KESTER:
His disregard for truth, his position that the ends justifies the means the goal was the main thing, and what you did to try to realize the goal didn't matter.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you start thinking of yourself as a Socialist?
HOWARD KESTER:
I believe it was in 1932.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did that come about?
HOWARD KESTER:
Norman Thomas.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were converted again?
HOWARD KESTER:
I knew him from committees on which we served. I had met Norman while I was in New York with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. We were on the same committees together. I had great admiration for him, not only for his heart, but also for his brain, and he had enourmous integrity and honesty, and I held meetings with Norman in Nashville and Little Rock and of course, he was very, very up on the organization of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. But he never tried to politicalize it . . . he never. He wanted a bonefied labor union, and I admired him greatly for that, you know. Because, well, I worked for Walter Reuther; I didn't know Victor too well, but I knew Walter very well, and John L. Lewis.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How about Van Bittner? John Wright . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Those names are familiar.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They didn't influence you as much?
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you joined the Socialist party about 1931.
HOWARD KESTER:
I ran for Congress (laughter).
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, you did all right, didn't you? You beat out the Republican.
HOWARD KESTER:
I beat the Republican.