Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing the South in 1934 and the South in 1954: hope for progress in race relations

Kester offers a brief comparison of the South in 1934 and the South in 1954, following the handing down of the <cite>Brown v. Board</cite> decision. According to Kester, there was a general sense of hopelessness for real progress in race relations during the mid-1930s; however, the <cite>Brown</cite> decision seemed give people hope for change. He concedes that many obstacles still remained, but the <cite>Brown</cite> decision gave people "some solid ground to stand upon" and most southerners he talked to were at least supportive of the principles behind the decision.

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

WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you ever travel to the country?
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
WILLIAM FINGER:
. . . Gene Cox and the other folks being run out of Mississippi in the fifties after being able, after the farm was able to survive all that time. It seems typical . . . a lot of people started working . . . it seems to me a lot of organizations of people who started in the thirties survived the post-war reaction, got into the fifties and then this incredible backlash just wiped out the work of a generation.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You traveled around the South, didn't you after the 1954 Supreme Court decision?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you see the South then in comparison to the South in 1934 say? The difference that 20 years had made.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well 1934 looked like it was hopeless. 1954 gave us hope. There was something of real significance that was going to occur then or so we thought. On the day following the decision of the Supreme Court, I decided to go to Black Mountain and just interview as many people as I could. I'd say "What do you think of the decision of the Supreme Court," and it was almost all affirmative. I remembered the manager, shop foreman, that's the word I wanted, shop foreman of the Chevrolet place, and I asked him, and he said to me, "If you read your Bible, you can't come out anywhere else."
WILLIAM FINGER:
It's hard for me to believe that most people the day after that decision in the South thought that that was good.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I didn't say most of them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Most of them that you interviewed.
HOWARD KESTER:
I said that most of the people I talked with . . . the decision of the Court was acceptable. In the thirties, there was no hope, or very little hope, but after the decision of the Supreme Court, we had hope. Do you see what I mean, huh? You see, it did make a difference. We knew trouble was here but at least we had some solid ground to stand upon.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I think there was a lot of acceptance of the Supreme Court decision after it came down, and there was a long process of the Southern politicians and seeing their interests lie in the direction of massive resistance, and a lot of things went on by the time . . . before that kind of massive opposition developed. It wasn't just a spontaneous response of white people all over the South.
HOWARD KESTER:
There were always, in my judgement, there had always been a small minority of white folk in the South who had deep sympathy for the Negro.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you thought that was a hopeful sign primarily for racial justice?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.