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Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Howard Kester was born in Virginia in 1904. Raised by his father, a merchant tailor and Klansman, and his religious mother, Kester left home to attend Lynchburg College during the early 1920s. During his time in college, Kester had the opportunity to tour war-torn Europe in 1923. After witnessing the devastation that World War I had wrought on Europe, Kester became a pacifist and abided by that philosophy for the rest of his life. Upon his return to Lynchburg, he became increasingly interested in race problems in the South. Likening the plight of Jews in Eastern Europe to that of African Americans in the South, Kester helped to organize the first interracial student group in the South. He describes in this interview how his efforts to find locales for interracial student meetings were often met with fierce opposition in the community. After graduating from Lynchburg, Kester continued to work for causes of social justice. In addition to his hope of eliminating racial hatred, Kester became an advocate of the labor movement and began to seek ways of uniting African American and white workers in the South. During the 1920s and 1930s, Kester worked with such groups as the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. In the early 1930s, he worked closely with the NAACP in order to investigate incidents of lynching throughout the South. Around the same time, he began to work closely with the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, helping to establish the Delta and Providence Farms. Throughout the interview, Kester emphasizes the importance of his Christian faith and his adherence to the Social Gospel to his thoughts on social justice. In the early 1930s, Kester joined the Socialist Party, but remained fiercely opposed to Communism and its infiltration into the labor movement because he believed it was not in tune with Christian values. Kester's recollections throughout the interview are revealing of the problems of race and labor in the South during these years. Moreover, he offers illuminating anecdotes and insightful assessments of other social justice leaders such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Will Alexander, Jessie Daniel Ames, Will Campbell, and Kester's wife, Alice Harris Kester.
    Excerpts
  • Memories of father's job and involvement with the Ku Klux Klan
  • Forming an interracial student group in the 1920s
  • Being fired from Vanderbilt for helping to organize an interracial student meeting
  • Rejection of Communism and conversion to socialism
  • Organizing Aid Day to help workers in Wilder, Tennessee
  • Aversion to Communism and its role in the southern labor movement
  • Investigation of the Claude Neal lynching, 1934
  • Motivations for and community reactions to lynchings in the 1930s
  • Comparing the South in 1934 and the South in 1954: hope for progress in race relations
  • Speaking at a Baptist program for women workers
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • Southern States--Race relations
  • Kester, Alice.
  • Southern Tenant Farmers' Union
  • 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.