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Title: Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, August 25, 1974. Interview B-0007-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Kester, Howard, interviewee
Interview conducted by Frederickson, Mary
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 156 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-01-04, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, August 25, 1974. Interview B-0007-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0007-2)
Author: Mary Frederickson
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, August 25, 1974. Interview B-0007-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0007-2)
Author: Howard Kester
Description: 175 Mb
Description: 38 p.
Note: Interview conducted on August 25, 1974, by Mary Frederickson; recorded in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Susan Hathaway.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series B. Individual Biographies, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with Howard Kester, August 25, 1974.
Interview B-0007-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Kester, Howard, interviewee


Interview Participants

    HOWARD KESTER, interviewee
    MARY FREDERICKSON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, how long did you live in Nashville altogether?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, let's see, from the time I went to Vanderbilt, and was there from 1926, I reckon, until we bought this place here in 1938 and started building. Moved in on Nancy's birthday the next year of 1939.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, when you were in Nashville as a student at Vanderbilt you were in the YWCA there, weren't you?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You were always in the YW . . . YMCA, not YWCA.
HOWARD KESTER:
I was the Associate Secretary of the YMCA of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Secretary over at the School of Religion, and I got fired . . . [Laughter] . . . from Vanderbilt because we held a meeting . . . are you interested in this?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
We held a meeting in protest and I went to the Dean and asked him if I could have use of the hall, the Chapel, to have this meeting of all the students in Nashville to protest the intervention of the western powers in China. And it created

Page 2
an absolute uproar in Nashville. Now the Chancellor at Vanderbilt, old Doctor Kirkland, who was a reactionary, called all the Presidents of all the colleges, white and black, together, and told the Dean to have a meeting and answer some of the questions we had raised at our meeting. And the Dean was furious because he said I hadn't included the Negroes. I said, "Dean Brown, I said all the students, and you know me well enough to know what I meant."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well you had worked with Scarritt, and Fisk, and A & I, hadn't you?
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Didn't you have an interracial student group that was fairly active?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh yes. It met every Saturday.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was it a large group?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well about 25 or 30 sometimes as many as 40.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What kinds of things did the group do?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well we didn't do much. We just talked among ourselves about our problems, and if there was anybody in trouble we tried to get them out, and that sort of thing.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So he was saying that you hadn't included the Negro students?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Why . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
That was his way out with the Chancellor because the Chancellor didn't like the School of Religion in the

Page 3
first place.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Umh, hum.
HOWARD KESTER:
He'd just as soon seen it go under.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So that is what you were fired for rather than protesting the intervention in China?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, that's right because Negroes came . . . in those days, the students didn't have automobiles and they came in street cars, and there was no intention to segregate anybody. But by virtue of the fact that they came in the street cars, because they came as a group, they sat as a group, and there were maybe two or three people including my wife who sat by a Negro, but it was written up in the Tennesseean and The Banner as an interracial meeting, not the true reason for it. One of the officers at the college came by and saw all these people in there and the speeches being made and he called the Newspapers. He beat us to the phone . . . we called them later and they said we've got the story, and it was headlined the next day. The Chancellor, one of the members of the faculty said "The Chancellor said he didn't mind the jackasses braying, he just didn't want them braying on his campus.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You left Vanderbilt after that, didn't you?
HOWARD KESTER:
I went to New York to the Fellowship of Reconciliation and then came back.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You then came back?
HOWARD KESTER:
That was it . . . I became the [unknown]. Director for FOR here in the South.

Page 4
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well then when you were in Memphis did you have any contact with the Methodist Women's Missionary Council, that group . . . they had set up some black settlement houses in Nashville?
HOWARD KESTER:
Mrs. Clayton?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I don't know. Mrs. Clayton might have been with it, I don't know.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well what happened was that the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, Will Alexander, you know?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right, right.
HOWARD KESTER:
And Arthur Raper. Dr Will got Mrs. Ames, Jessie Ames, to organize white women to struggle for equal rights for Negroes. Alice's close friend in Nashville was Mrs. Tilly, I don't remember her first name and she was doing the same thing as far as the organization of Methodists Women was concerned as Mrs. Ames was doing generally, and they . . . the record is that there were 250,000 women, now I can't verify that, but that is what I have heard.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Louise Young was active.
HOWARD KESTER:
Louise was a darling.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She was into a lot of different things, wasn't she?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, gave me lots of encouragement, and sometimes discouragement.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did she give you discouragement?
HOWARD KESTER:
Told me I was going too fast.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She worked with the YWCA Industrial Department, right?

Page 5
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was that her main . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
And race. She was in the field of race and industry and so on, and she was a very intelligent woman, and the people at Scarritt, the faculty folk at Scarritt were, for the most part, very liberal and some of them were radical, you know what I mean? And, I had them, especially students, working with me in strikes and coal miners, and whenever I wanted help, they gave sound advice.
We had what we called Aid Day, when we would take clothes and food to theminers. People would send us clothing, etc. from all over the country and we'd take it and distribute it. Alice kept a meticulous record of everything she gave everybody. So the officers who sometimes thought because they were union officers, they ought to have prior consideration, but she (Alice) didn't think so. They were just another family in need, you know? She saw to it that everybody got their share. Whenever we wanted help, and we always needed help; it was quite a job distributing all the materials: food, canned food, and clothes, shoes, and we even got sets of false teeth, etc., students from Scarritt would help us.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You were distributing that throughout the South.
HOWARD KESTER:
Mostly in Eastern Tennessee, at Wilder, Davidson, and Twinton, three coal mining towns.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well in Wilder did you have a lot of trouble-that strike went on for a tremendously long time.
HOWARD KESTER:
A long . . . twenty some months, and the union President

Page 6
was killed, was shot, and they put a machine gun over his body so nobody could get to him, and he would identify his killer.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You eventually just had to move people out, right?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, some went to Cumberland Homestead. I spoke at a meeting at which the Chief Forester at TVA was present. I think the meeting was in Philadelphia, anyway, and he came to me later and said, "If I can get an appointment for you with Dr. Morgan . . . Arthur Morgan, TVA Chairman, will you tell your story to him?"
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right?
HOWARD KESTER:
"Will you go up and talk to him and tell him what you've told this group." I said that by all means I would. So he arranged the meeting and I went up and talked to Dr. Morgan. After I told him the story of what was going on, the desperate need, he said, "Will you leave the room for a few minutes?" And I knew what he was going to do, he was going to call Washington and see if he could get some help. And he got it, and the man who selected the families is living over here in Black Mountain now, Dag Folger.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Dag Folger?
HOWARD KESTER:
F O L G E R.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was he with the resettlement?
HOWARD KESTER:
They were just beginning.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. This was one of their first efforts?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
The fellow with TVA, Arthur Morgan, was he just a very interested person that . . .

Page 7
HOWARD KESTER:
No, no, Dr. Morgan was a first rate engineer, and he is the one responsible for building Lake Norris, for example, and the dams all up and down the Tennessee Valley . . . the river, and was a very perceptive person. He was President of Anitoch College before he went to T.V.A.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. That was after he left TVA?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, before, and then he went back.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were the mines Wilder closed then after everyone was moved out?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, there were enough people left to dig the coal, but the wages were so low, had been cut, and cut, and cut and by the time they took out for the rent, the electricity, the shower, and other items, the poor folk had virtually nothing to live on. On the night that Barney Graham, who was President of the Union was killed, it was in the afternoon . . . Sunday afternoon, Alice and I spent the night with his wife and children, and the only light we had was a string that had been dipped into a Coca Cola bottle of kerosene.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did you first get involved in the strike?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I knew the trouble the miners were in.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
With the Fellowship of Reconciliation?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and got in trouble over it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That's when you broke with them, in 1934?
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right. The miners just simply refused to let me go out at night alone, and most of the time somebody was with me.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well had they come to you originally and asked . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I just knew they were in trouble and needed help and went to them. At first they didn't know whether to accept me or not because I

Page 8
could have been a spy for the company or something equally as dangerous to their cause. Well, it didn't take them long. They accepted me, and I was one of them. This issue the matter of my being guarded by the miners while working in the FOR, Fellowship of Reconciliation came up over the extent to raising angry arguments . . . well there had not been anything like it. The miners guarded me. Of course, none of the FOR members had been in a situation where you could get your brains blown out.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It is very easy to talk about non-violence when you were in a peaceful situation.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and then the whole question of the extent of one's participation in the class struggle came up, and I took the position that I think was the correct one. That whether you liked it or not, you were already involved in it because every time you bought a ton of coal or a loaf of bread, you were participating in the exploitation of the workers. And I said, "You are involved in it just as much as I am. You don't have anybody guarding you, like I do."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So you resigned from their organization.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, I resigned.
They offered it back to me though, later. Nevin Sayre made a special trip down to Nashville and asked me to come on back.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How much later was that?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh a matter of months.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But you had already done something else by that time, hadn't you?
HOWARD KESTER:
I had this committee . . . wonderful committee, Committee on Economic and Racial Justice. Reinhold Niebuhr was Chairman, and Elizabeth Gilman was Treasurer. And all of them, quite a number of prominent New Yorkers, set me free to do whatever I thought needed doing in the South.

Page 9
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wanted to ask you about Elizabeth Gilman. What was she like?
HOWARD KESTER:
Elizabeth was a member of the Socialist party and her father when President of Johns Hopkins University said to her "Elizabeth, you are a Socialist, but everything you put your hands to turns to gold."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What was she putting her hands to at that time?
HOWARD KESTER:
Investments, and she raised the money for my work. She said it was the easiest money she ever raised in her life.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She was from a wealthy Baltimore family, wasn't she?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well her father was President of the University of California, Berkeley, I believe, and then bacame President of Johns Hopkins, that is where he really made his name, and was universally respected.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was he also a Socialist, or was he upset over Elizabeth?
HOWARD KESTER:
No he didn't become upset, and was not a Socialist. He felt that she was intelligent enough to work out her own destiny, you know, in terms of things that she wanted to do, and kept hands off, but he did tell her about the "gold" because she told me that herself.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well you have had a lot of contact with her since she was raising money for your work.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, I saw her on numerous occasions. We corresponded and she visited in my home and I hers. She resented my leaving the Committee to go with the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. She resented that because she thought we were doing a much needed work. Norman Thomas did too, and Reinhold Neibuhr did too, they all thought that what we were doing was too important to bother with the church, and that's what it almost amounted to. We did get some important things done though.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You felt at the time that it was a better decision, didn't you?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.

Page 10
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Why did you . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Well I felt that the church should become involved in all the problems of the people. My motivation was always religious, from the standpoint of a radical Christian approach, to the whole business of living, everything, and I made this my goal.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you feel that the Committee for Economic and Racial Justice was not sufficiently Christian? I mean you said the others had not bothered with the church enough, that is had not confronted the church with the total problems of life.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, I felt this confrontation absolutely necessary.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And you felt that more emphasis should be put on that?
HOWARD KESTER:
It's a very difficult thing to unravel because here was Neibuhr, who believed much as I did and who used to prod me because I wasn't teaching, and he was sort of the Godfather of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, and . . . but still they felt that this work that I was doing with the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, for example, and the miners, and oil workers, and farmers up in Minnesota, the auto workers, and so on and so on, were just of such vital importance that I ought not to neglect it, and I didn't neglect it, I just tried to get the churches to give a real bone fide Christian witness and get themselves involved in all of these troubles, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Had Neibuhr and Gilman and all his following sort of given up on the churches?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I mean they felt that there just was no hope for getting the churches involved.

Page 11
HOWARD KESTER:
Reine and I were just like that, very close together in all of our thinking. Buncomte County Ministerial Association asked me if I would speak to them about Reine, and his work. A copy of it is over there, I think, and he was a visiting Professor at Harvard that year, lived at Quincy House. I sent it to him for him to make any corrections that he wanted to any suggestions, and so he wrote me back, and I was reading the letter the other day. You know, he was partly paralyzed and . . . well, he wrote me back, almost immediately and said I had been too kind and praised him too highly, and in "the sunset of life," he "wondered if it had been worthwhile." One of the top theologians in the country, you know. He was something else. He was an intellectual giant. He and I used to go fishing together. He lived right up there one summer with his mother and sister. Whenever I went to New York, I stayed in his home at Union Theological Seminary and he woke me up by grinding the coffee.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was it a hard decision for you to make then to have the committee dissolved?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, it was a hard decision to make. In the first place, I didn't know where the money was coming from to support the work and in the second place, people were almost frightened by me. I went to ask for some money in New York (they had some rather distinguished people in places of leadership) and when I got through making my presentation, one of the two men that I was talking to at the moment said to me, "Kester, where you are concerned, people have long memories."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well that is good . . . or it might be bad.
HOWARD KESTER:
We were getting some money, and we had that meeting with Martin Luther King and some four hundred committed Christian leaders from every Southern State.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
This was in '36 in Nashville?

Page 12
HOWARD KESTER:
It was later than that.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Oh, it was '56 or '57, I'm sorry.
HOWARD KESTER:
The foundations thought it too early for such a conference as I had in mind. All of the foundations backed away, the Rockefeller Brothers, Ford, because they were really scared of it, you know, and I thought certainly I would get some money from Ford. They kept me dangling for months, you know, and if it hadn't been for the Paine Foundation, in Boston . . . his great great great grandfather had signed the Declaration of Independence and they were very very wealthy, and his sister, Ethel Paine Moors, gave generously.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So they were the only . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
They were the only ones that made the Conference possible.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well what do you think the reason was, was it too early?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and no. They were scared.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you . . . I am thinking about, I read about the trip that you and your wife made through the South the year before that in '55, right?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And you were very discouraged, weren't you, about what you saw . . . did you feel when the Supreme Court decision passed in '54 that you could pretty much move ahead and that that was a red flag for action?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And then were you . . . was it just almost devastating after that when things . . . when it became obvious that things weren't going to move?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. The Klan, the reactionaries, the White Citizens Council, and the Church, and outside of the Church moved to unite and squash every liberal movement, and that was why the Providence Farms . . . the Delta Cooperative Farms, had the skids put under them . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
They had to dissolve?

Page 13
HOWARD KESTER:
They had to dissolve in the end, yes, and my wife and I spent the last night with the Minters and Coxes before they left for a more hispitable environment.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Before they left?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well you went on to very different things after the Conference in Nashville in '56, and started teaching, and worked as the Dean of Students of several different schools and did you feel that it was time to get out and do something different, that there was no real reason in struggling anymore?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well there were many things. One, we had never had any home life, and I was away so much, and Alice, of course was alone, and Neibuhr prodded me more than anybody else to teach. He said you need to share this with students, these things, which I did, and some of the things I'd tell my students, they had every reason to doubt because they hadn't been through the Depression, they knew little or nothing about the human situation. They didn't know what real trouble was and they'd go home on week-ends, and I'd say to my students, "If you don't believe what I am telling you, you go home and talk to your father, and then if he doesn't know, talk to your grandfather." They'd come back on Monday and they'd say "Granddaddy says it was exactly that way."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well did you enjoy the teaching?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh, I had a wonderful time. Lacking three, I had half the student body in my classes at Anderson College at Montreat.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That is quite a record.
HOWARD KESTER:
And I quit using textbooks, because most of them were obsolete before they even had come off the press, and I bagan to-see all these magazines piled up here - that is just a small number of them. I took about 30 or 35 magazines . . . I couldn't read them all myself, but I took my

Page 14
best students, and they would mark the passages and the articles that they thought the class ought to have, and the Secretary of the faculty came . . . went to the Dean and said "Why does Mr. Kester have all of this mimeographing done?" I did one of two things, I either had it mimeographed, or I put it on the blackboard; I used the blackboard a great deal because the black-board is a good thing to use. I don't see how people teach without it, and the Dean explained it to her and after that it was perfectly all right. I used the text that they used at Harvard in Economics. In Geography I used the text that was used by the Armed Services. I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was just to quit fooling with the text, and take it as it came from day to day and week to week through the news media.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was this real unusual for the teaching that was going on at that time?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now somebody in the Middle West, I think, is using newspapers, daily newspapers for teaching. A lot of people . . . I have read of someone who arranged with the Washington Post to get the newspaper brought to the classroom, and they would read the . . . they'd use one of the copies that didn't come out with the exact printing, before the corrected copy or something. I wanted to ask you a little about the Penn School when you were there. That was really your first adventure with schools, wasn't it? When you went down there in '43?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You completely changed the direction . . . the organization at that school.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wonder, were you happy with the transition?

Page 15
HOWARD KESTER:
No, it was tremendously difficult.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were you optimistic when you went there?
HOWARD KESTER:
I felt that it was an opportunity to demonstrate what could be done through teaching agriculture wise, and community wise.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was your ultimate goal to set up something on the order of the Delta Cooperative?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, no. The goal was to see that we got first-rate teachers, which were hard to find; and make the school what it had been climbing to achieve for years.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So you wanted to keep it as a school?
HOWARD KESTER:
We wanted to keep it as a school. We wanted to make the school serve the people - all the people and with the help of the faculty and workers we drew up plans for this. We finally turned the school over to the county and later Courtney Siceloff and his wife set up the Penn Community Center. He came from Carolina; he and his wife used to work with the Fellowship in the headquarters of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen under Nelle Morton in Chapel Hill.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How do you . . . Sis . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Siceloff, and they . . . I came to the point after about five years . . . the way I felt that this was ending . . . this is what the Foundations were telling me too . . . the reason I couldn't get the money I needed, was that secondary education was held to be no business of private philanthropy, that it was a state job, and so I advised the Trustees fully about the situation.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you have a good Board of Trustees?
HOWARD KESTER:
Mostly quite good, yes, and I still hear from several of them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you involve the community more in the school than it had been before?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well in a way we did, and in a way we repulsed them because

Page 16
my Alice was Head of the Instruction and she took it seriously. When we wnet down there . . . I don't know whether they kept the rolls or not, but anyway the kids would think up excuses not to come to class, you know, they said they had to "go after the cows" . . . this, that or the other, you know. They'd always burn wood at the School, and it kept the kids and the men busy, just constantly cutting wood. They must have had 40 to 45 fires to keep going and I ordered the first coal that had ever been on the island, and the small children would throw the coal at one another and get dirty.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How many students were there when you were there?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well it varied. We had from the first grade through the twelfth, we had right at 250 to 275, I guess, then at one time we had about 250 veterans.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And the regular students didn't come.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
They were there also?
HOWARD KESTER:
All there, and we were teaching auto mechanics, blacksmithing, and leather work, carpentry, masonry, and basketry, and you know, various things that would give the veterans a chance to make a living. When they came to school I had quite a time trying to keep the veterans from playing craps all the time.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
These were all black veterans who had all been in World War II?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were most of them from around there?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, some of them came from the mainland as well as the islands . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Why did you feel that you might have repulsed some of the people in the community?
HOWARD KESTER:
Because they prided themselves on their lack of prejudices . . .

Page 17
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Toward blacks?
HOWARD KESTER:
Toward whites, and I knew perfectly well that there was as much hatred in their hearts at times for the white man as in the white man's heart for the Negro, and I didn't hesitate to tell them.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you think that they resented the school's long presence there with a white at the top?
HOWARD KESTER:
They resented it and at the same time we went up on tuition. It was $1 a year, and we couldn't survive on that, you know, and I put it up to $10 because they could afford it, their parents could afford it, and this just raised a hullabalou.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now the women who were there before you are the two women who had run the school. Had they supported it mainly out of their own . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No. They received financial help from well-to-do friends in the North. At that time when they were there, the General Education Board, for example and other groups gave fairly liberally. There were several very wealthy trustees, and they had a singular devotion to these two women, but they (the people) didn't know what to do with a white man.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now the women . . . they came back.
HOWARD KESTER:
They lived there, right on top of us.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was that a problem?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, it was a problem because they thought that since they had been at the school for forty years, that it was our responsibility to look after every whim that they had, you know? If a pipe broke or faucet leaked or whatever it was, I got a call to come down and fix it. Then they had a picture made that cost over $10,000 - one of the trustees paid for it. I have a letter in there right now from him, John Silver paid for it, and he must have spent $15,000 to $20,000 on the film which was in color.

Page 18
MARY FREDERICKSON:
About the school?
HOWARD KESTER:
About the school, primarily about these two women. It wasn't particularly a good job, but I showed it at Yale Divinity, when Liston Pope was Dean, and somehow the Trustees thought I ought to show it more. I showed it at Vasser, and two or three other places, but I never got much response from it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were the women . . . Cooley was the name of one of them?
HOWARD KESTER:
Cooley, Rossa Cooley and Grace House.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were they generally dissatisfied with your plans for changing, I mean this was a fairly radical program aboloshing the plan that they had been working at. Were they critical or did they want you to do whatever you could, or what?
HOWARD KESTER:
No. They carried on a secret correspondence with Mr. Cope, Francis Cope, he was a big apple grower in Pennsylvania, and he became the Chairman of the Board after he got his MA from Harvard, then stayed there for forty years until he tried to mess up everything that I was doing, and the Trustees asked for his resignation as Chairman.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
He was at the school while you . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No, he lived in Pennsylvania on his farm, and made annual trips to the school to see how we were doing. But he would go behind your back and get the grievances of the faculty members. Every faculty member has a gripe, you know, and that is all he was interested in, was their gripes, and he came one Spring and after he had been down there about a week or ten days, he said, "I'd like to see you and Alice tonight," when he came in, and he just laid me low because of the way I was going about things, "too fast," he said, and he was getting a strong reaction from the faculty, well I knew what the reaction was. For example, the Chemistry teacher who was a good teacher, he and his

Page 19
wife rented one of our houses, and they went away on a visit and while they were gone the squirrels ate the peaches on their place. They wanted the school to pay for the lost fruit. I refused because I didn't think the loss of the fruit was our responsibility. And when the Trustees found out about what Mr. Cope was doing, they asked for his resignation.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did this upset him?
HOWARD KESTER:
Of course it upset him. He didn't want to resign because he said he had been there 40 years and the school had gotten along fine, but they had built a halo around the school, you know. When I went there, the average yield of corn was 16 bushels to the acre. We had a tremendous daily consumption of corn and vegetables, etc. with the chickens, cows, and all the children to feed. We had a canning program during the summer time, and canned thousands of gallons of food. By changing the fertilizer, planting cover crops, and general cultivation, we raised the annual yield of corn to 68 bushels per acre, and most everything else in the same proportion.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were they just kind of riding along on their past reputation?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Have you read Guion Johnson's book on the Social History of the St. Helena Island of The Sea Islands, as she calls it? It talks about the school.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well a lot of people got Black Yoemanry, do you know that?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It was a part of the same study, right? I wondered if you agreed with their interpretation of it?
HOWARD KESTER:
I sure didn't.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You didn't?
HOWARD KESTER:
No.

Page 20
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That was about 14 years before you were there. Do you think that they were basically wrong?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well I think Wooster came nearer being wrong than anybody else.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What did you disagree with basically?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well that he elevated the competence of the people, where it was untrue. They weren't that competent. I tried to diversify the agriculture; they had made a beginning, but they didn't have a compost pile, for example. So I started a compost pile using an old vat that they used to dip the cows in, you know, to get rid of the ticks and things. Well it was sort of summarized when Mr. Bill Cadbury (who was now chairman of the Board) a broker in Philadelphia, a wonderful Quaker . . . a wonderful man, when he heard about what Miss House was doing, and Miss Cooley, all of this draft of letters going out describing this and that and the other, you know, he wrote me back, "She is a sinful woman." Well, we made lots of mistakes, I'm not denying that.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, when you left, the plan was to have a system . . . to have adult education, and to have community service projects.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right. That is what Siceloff did when he took over my plan, or rather the plan the faculty and workers had agreed upon.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now were you happy with that, did you feel that was the best that could be done, and that was that?
HOWARD KESTER:
I worked at it a long time. We had meeting after meeting after meeting with the faculty.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Also you had a committee of sociologists come in and evaluate, didn't you?
HOWARD KESTER:
When I presented the idea of making the school into something else. When I told the Trustees that I thought the time had come for Penn School, as such, to be turned over to the state, at $1 per year, they would take the

Page 21
buildings and everything . . . because the state was in far better position to run the school than we were.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And they just have a regular Secondary Education program there?
HOWARD KESTER:
They had . . . I knew the Superintendent of Education, and the State Superintendent of Education had been my wife's teacher at Peabody, State Superintendent, and he came down about our second year to check on the school. He looked the place over and he said "You've got until September." It was April or May when he came. He said "You've got until September to get some teachers with advanced degrees - AB's and MA's. I want some people here who have had advanced study."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You let a lot of the faculty go then?
HOWARD KESTER:
Not a lot, a few . . . because we couldn't replace them, but we did bring in other people who had excellent training, but as fast as I would bring in a good one . . . a good man or a good woman, Charleston would pick them up because they paid the largest salary and gave them a bonus in addition. So if it wasn't finances it was something else.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So then you were relatively relieved to go.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. Our housekeeper said to me "Shake the dirt from off your feet."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well let me ask you just a couple more questions about when you were in Nashville. I was real curious, based on what Elizabeth Jones was saying about the Industrial Department there in the YWCA. Do you remember . . . from what she was saying the Industrial Department was very different from the entire YWCA in Nashville.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And do you remember anything about how they were different?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well in the first place they were working with young women. The girls came from the factories and mills, and were frequently look down upon.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
By?

Page 22
HOWARD KESTER:
By the Directors, I mean the members of the Board of Directors.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Of the YWCA?
HOWARD KESTER:
Of the YWCA, and Elizabeth Jones was dedicated to these young women. Alice, my wife, was Chairman of her committee, and she and Elizabeth worked well together.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It was the Industrial Committee of the YWCA.
HOWARD KESTER:
Of the YWCA, and it was an important work they were doing. Did she tell you that they wouldn't let me speak?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She was telling me about a Mrs. Dressler, who was the director of the YWCA, who apparently tended to be unhappy with the work of the Industrial Department.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well did she tell you that they wouldn't let me speak?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But they let you pray. Were you one of the few ministers . . . she said they had very little contact with any kind of church.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, see it was a class division within the YWCA. There were girls who worked in mills, snuff factories, shoe factories, etc. you know, and they were poor and not well educated and so on.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did they have at that time, an interracial group in the Industrial Department?
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Were a lot of the people who were also working in interracial work in the YWCA in the Industrial Department in Nashville, or was there much interracial work going on?
HOWARD KESTER:
We had a fine group and we organized what we called a Saturday afternoon forum in Nashville.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was this an extension of what was going on when you were

Page 23
a student or was the same thing . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. We would meet Professors from Fisk and Scarritt and one or two from Vanderbilt and Tennessee A & I and all the colleges, and we just met for fellowship and to talk over our problems and what we might do. It was the President's Secretary at Fisk, Margaret Fuller, I believe was her name, who was the Chairman of our Saturday afternoon forum. We ate together, then we talked, you know. Somebody would be responsible for a speech. We'd all just chip in and share our common ignorance.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you receive opposition from the YMCA for doing this, or did they mind?
HOWARD KESTER:
No they didn't . . . what happened was that when we had that meeting about China, the President of Fisk, Thomas Elsa Jones, called his secretary in and said, "You either resign from that group, or you resign as my secretary," and she called me in tears, and said, "What must I do?" I said "You don't have any choice." She had a semi-invalid mother to support, the only support her mother had, and I said "You've got to stand by your mother," and I said "We'll keep the thing going, so don't you hesitate one minute."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was she in the YWCA group at Fisk? Was that her affiliation?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, she was just the President's secretary.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. Well Elizabeth Jones . . . I asked her about a black YWCA in Nashville during that period, and do you remember . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
As I remember, now this is sort of a shot in the dark, but as I remember it it was not very vigorous when I was there.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That was what she was saying, that it was a very conservative group really.
HOWARD KESTER:
Later on they bacame liberalized.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you remember a Mrs. Arch Traywick, Kate Traywick?

Page 24
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What do you remember about her?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well I don't remember much to tell you the truth, I know the name. She was a person of very considerable means, and as far as I can remember, she never stood in my way in anything we tried to do.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She was in the hierarchy of the YWCA, YMCA, right?
HOWARD KESTER:
She was among the elite in Nashville and in the YWCA.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But some of the elite in Nashville were speaking out against what you were doing, right?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, sure.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But as far as you remember, she wasn't?
HOWARD KESTER:
She wasn't one of them as far as I remember.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you remember what the attitude of the YWCA Industrial Department was toward trade unions?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well we pushed to try to get the girls organized but the AF of L, that was before the CIO. The AF of L, it was as stubborn as it could be about us, you know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
About accepting the women?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, accepting anybody. I tried to get Negroes for example, who were brick masons, but they were the last ones to be put on the job, and I worked with the AF of L people, held meetings in the Labor Temple and all that sort of thing, but they just weren't concerned about giving work to Negroes. You see the trouble with organized labor was it was interested in higher wages and shorter hours, and they weren't interested in the general organization of labor, particularly Negroes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. Well, was there a fear on the part of the people in the Industrial Department about unions, or . . .

Page 25
HOWARD KESTER:
I think the . . . so far as I can recall, there was not . . . it was not fear, it was simply lack of cooperation on the part of organized labor and the top leadership in the YW.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What about the YMCA or YWCA generally?
HOWARD KESTER:
The YMCA didn't amount to a hill of beans, excuse me. The YMCA maintained a "hands off" policy toward industrial problems. The YWCA, on a whole, was far ahead of the YMCA.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
In Nashville and everywhere else in the South as far as you know? Was the YWCA elite leaders, were they opposed to unions, were they opposed to . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
I don't think so, because they let me speak or pray.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What do you think was your wife's motivation, main motivation in working with the Industrial Department?
HOWARD KESTER:
Because she knew the conditions that these girls faced, and she thought that the best service that she could render was in working with this group.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did she view it . . . you spoke a few minutes ago about your feelings about working with the miners was that it was a class struggle that everyone was involved in. Did that extend into her work, did she see it as a class struggle? It wasn't a feeling . . . a mothering feeling toward the group, you know, "You've had a hard life, and I want to help you as much as I can." Which was it? Was it more . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
It was both, I think.
Alva Taylor, does that name mean anything to you? He was a professor of Ethics at Vanderbilt, Social Ethics.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Albert?
HOWARD KESTER:
Alva . . . Alva Taylor, Taylor, he's gone now . . . tried

Page 26
to start a labor church out in the University community. Not far from Scarritt and Vanderbilt.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What was the name of it?
HOWARD KESTER:
He called it The Labor Church. He couldn't make a go of it, and many of us knew that.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Who opposed him?
HOWARD KESTER:
What?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Who was the primary opposer that he had?
HOWARD KESTER:
Chancellor Kirkland as far as Vanderbilt was concerned.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Of Vanderbilt?
HOWARD KESTER:
Of Vanderbilt.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was his position at the University in danger?
HOWARD KESTER:
He was finally fired.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
He was fired for the Labor Chirch?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well because of a number of things. For example, he had all the members concerned in his classes. He would take them to Fisk sometimes once or twice a week, and we'd have Charlie Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, and others, you know, speak to the group and the Chancellor didn't like that at all.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well what basically did he want to do with the Labor Church?
HOWARD KESTER:
He wanted to interest people in conditions of life . . . and get some of the labor people into the University community as respectable citizens.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see, so he was planning to have people within the University community come to the church and also draw people out of the industrial community and have them understand each others problem. What about . . . you were with the League for Industrial Democracy during this same period.

Page 27
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, I lectured all over the country.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right, for many years.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well when you were in Nashville and I guess . . . when you were based in Nashville, you travelled all over the South as well.
HOWARD KESTER:
I travelled all over the country.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Tell me something about that.
HOWARD KESTER:
The League for Industrial Democracy?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
Norman Thomas, Harry Laidler, Mary Fox, John Herling, they were all interested in working conditions among labor. That was their motivation.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now when you were speaking, what kinds of groups did you speak to mainly?
HOWARD KESTER:
I spoke to all kinds of groups, labor, church etc., but they were mostly University people and concerned about conditions in the South.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you speak to workers as well?
HOWARD KESTER:
If they wanted to come . . . if they had the money to pay the price, you know, to buy a ticket for the League for Industrial Democracy series.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What did you talk about most of the time?
HOWARD KESTER:
About working conditions, economic conditions, and race, and the failure of the church to do anything about it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you use the League for Industrial Democracy when you were a member of the Socialist party as a way to give out information about what the party was doing and about what the party offered?
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure.

Page 28
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Could you do that openly, or was that . . . you didn't have to do it under cover at all?
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And was that pretty much the case all over where you spoke for the League of Industrial Democracy?
HOWARD KESTER:
University of Minnesota, Rice, University of Texas, University of Maine, University of Vermont, altogether I spoke in over 250 colleges and Universities.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
In your case and in the case of Miss Jones also . . . Elizabeth Jones, because she was told . . . she said the reason she left Nashville was because she was called in and told that she would have to promise not to do anything controversial, and she said she couldn't promise that, and she left, and the "Y" kind of turned on you by firing you and essentially making her leave. Who was setting the policy for the "Y", was it local, or how much was from Nashville? Was the Nashville organization out of New York ahead of the Local?
HOWARD KESTER:
NOt much. I was a member of the National Student Council for years, and had some good friends-among them H. W. "Red" Pope, Herbert King, and many others. One of the strongest persons was James Myers of the old Federal Council of Churches, which existed before the National Council, and he was deeply concerned with all the things that I was involved in. I could fall back on Jim Myers, and he saw things very much as I did in terms of trying to get the church involved in labor, and in race and so on, and all I had to do was to send him a wire and help was coming soon on its way.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well when you were in Nashville . . . I was wondering if in Nashville the "Y" . . . the YWCA would start a project, like start the

Page 29
Industrial Department because of a world from the national organization and then withdraw support from that because of local opposition.
HOWARD KESTER:
It was part of the national policy, I think, but it differed in different places, you know, depending on the leadership, and the pressure brought against the people who were trying to do the job . . . get the job done.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was Louise Leonard (McLaren) one of your wife's best allies as far as . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Well Louise . . . about all I can remember about Louise is the summer schools where I was given a free hand until I-and of course I had always done it, but I began to do it with very considerable vigor, - trying to inject radical religion before the girls at the summer school over at Weaverville College, and I think it upset her.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You wrote in your letter that she said one time that you were off on a . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
"Jesus Jag."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
"Jesus jag." Who did she say that to, it wasn't to you was it?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, it was published. She wrote somebody else, and they showed the letter to me and I've seen it . . . "old Kester is off on a Jesus jag."
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She kept writing to you quite regularly and always asked you to come over and speak to the girls at the summer school.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What did you know about her? What did you know about her background and her training?
HOWARD KESTER:
Not very much.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You said you thought she was not living.

Page 30
HOWARD KESTER:
I thought she was far more vigorous in terms of the Christian faith and concerns for the girls until she married McLaren.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And what did you know . . . you met him one time?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh several times, and I think I don't know . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I don't mean to interrupt, what was his position? What did he do?
HOWARD KESTER:
I don't know what he did, I mean where his means came from, but he took a left political position, if I am not mistaken . . . Now this is the way it appeared to me; I couldn't swear it, but it seemed to me that she began to change.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well you went to their home several times, didn't you and talked to them?
HOWARD KESTER:
I guess I did.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I was reading some of the letters that you wrote back and forth to her. She wrote to you more than you wrote her, really. She was . . . well you knew her then before her marriage and also after?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was she in the YWCA? Is that where you originally knew her, do you remember?
HOWARD KESTER:
The summer school was, I suppose, really sponsored and financed by the YWCA.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now a lot of their money, from what I understand, came from the North, right?
HOWARD KESTER:
Right, nearly all of it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And their winter headquarters was in New York, and then sometimes in Baltimore. At one of the meetings, you spoke out and said you thought

Page 31
this was a problem, was the feeling generally, like when you were in Nashville, that it was an organization that was not of the South, that it was . . . do you remember what . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I never felt that. I felt that we ought to have . . . the students for example, ought to have a real voice in determining the kinds of programs we had. The people who came, and at Blue Ridge, for example, ought to be integrated, and there is a letter right there . . . it was documented . . . in which I am given credit for having made the first motion for the inclusion of Negroes in the YMCA, the student Christian movement, that really is what it was . . . you can have that, I've got several copies of it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Thank you. Well now the Southern Summer School wasn't integrated until years later.
HOWARD KESTER:
Right, that is my understanding.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
From one speech that you had with them, you said that you felt that they should organize economically all races of the South. You were working with the STFU when you said this, and they were integrated. If you were to list strengths and weaknesses of the school, do you think this was one of the weaknesses.
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
One of the weaknesses they had.
HOWARD KESTER:
There was nothing we could do about it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well they were . . . at the time, they were saying, they were preaching racial equality at the Southern Summer School, but they refused to take black students. Did you think they were justified in . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
No, I never did.

Page 32
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I mean their rationale was that they just couldn't do it at the time.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. Well, they would've run into considerable opposition. I found it was extremely difficult from the early thirties until after the meeting with Martin Luther King in Nashville to find a place to meet. It really was, it was difficult.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well since they didn't have their own place, had to rent a place, do you think they would have been refused a lot of the camps around there? What do you think was the major accomplishements of the school?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well I suppose it was getting these girls together, and giving them some understanding, of the class struggle by various speakers. I wasn't the only one who spoke of what economic life was all about, and what religion ought to be about.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You didn't go for the whole six week period. You would just go over and speak and then . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Well I stayed there sometimes as much as a week to ten days, something of that sort.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you think they had enough religious training, or enough . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Now who are you talking about?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
In the Southern Summer School . . . in the program they set up.
HOWARD KESTER:
Not according to my lights.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What about political leanings of the Southern Summer School. I mean, did the Socialists have an interest in what they were doing?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, they had an interest, but I . . . so far as I can recall thay . . . none of the left wing nor liberal interpreters of economic life,

Page 33
that I recall, were sought after. Now they may have dropped in for a session or something of that sort, but I never felt that they really went after them to get them, you know?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What about the Communist party. Did they have an interest in the school?
HOWARD KESTER:
They had an interest in everything.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
For the summer you didn't think they sought out . . . the leaders of the school sought out either Communists or Socialists one way or the other to come and to speak. I was wondering if there was any attempt to indoctrinate girls while they were there in any kind of particular political leaning . . . any particular ideology?
HOWARD KESTER:
I can't say, I don't know.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I wondered how open it was . . . they kept talking about discussions that they had and I just wondered how open they were.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well I suspect and my memories tell me that they were fairly open . . . fairly open.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now after you would speak, would you have a discussion?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh yes, always.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
In 1937 and 1938, students came from the STFU to the school. Do you remember what their reaction to the school was?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, Mitchell could tell you, but I don't know because I was so involved in other things.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You were involved in an awful lot of other things. I'm sorry to have to ask you about some of these things you weren't very involved in, but did you become involved in the discussion about inclusion of agricultural workers as you did in discussion about inclusion of Negro workers?

Page 34
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was there a reluctance to accept agricultural workers?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, by and large, I think there was, for this reason, that they didn't think that the tenants or sharecroppers or day laborers could make a significant contribution because they were so oppressed and generally inarticulate.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So they were worried about the contribution that the student would be able to make to the school?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, maybe so . . . maybe that is fair, I can't be sure.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was the concern perhaps what agriculture workers would get out of it? I mean do you think it was possible to have a school that would serve both agricultural and industrial workers?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, I think so.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you see their needs during this time as basically the same?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. A worker is a worker regardless of whether he's in a high steeple church or grubbing around for a living.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Certainly during this period so many of them were moving to industrial centers. The transition was going on from the farm to the mills. So many . . . we were really talking about many of the same people. You wrote in Revolt among the Sharecroppers about the craving of education on the part of a lot of sharecroppers and tenant farmers and their just complete lack of opportunity to receive any kind of education. I read that while agricultural workers sometimes were sent to various camps and schools, and I think STFU members were sent to Commonwealth College to study labor conditions.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, except they went on their own. The Union per se never sent them.

Page 35
MARY FREDERICKSON:
It was reported as an unhappy experience for many of them.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, Commonwealth, at that time, was way over on the left politically.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see.
HOWARD KESTER:
Until it finally became completely under the domination of the Communists, and we didn't send them. If they wanted to go, it was there, they had a right to go.
We had a couple of meetings at Commonwealth . . . the Union did, and Mitchell almost got killed at one of them, if it hadn't been for me, he would've been killed because I stepped in front of the man who had the gun.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And he didn't kill you?
HOWARD KESTER:
I knew he wouldn't kill me or I wouldn't have done it!
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well then did the STFU eventually break completely with Commonwealth? I mean, did the union stop meeting there or did it remain kind of open?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, you know we finally decided it was best not to be involved with Commonwealth. Claude Williams became the Director of Commonwealth, and he was also a member of the STFU, and we had a big fish fry somewhere, I believe this one was in Oklahoma, do you know what I mean when I say a Fish Fry?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
We just sent a bunch of men out on say a Friday or Saturday and they would catch the fish by the hundreds and then we would have an all day meeting on Sunday.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You'd eat 'em by the hundreds!
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and the President of the Union, J. R. Butler was about the same height as Claude Williams, and wore a coat similar in color to that

Page 36
worn by Williams and Butler left early in the afternoon, after we had had these series of speeches. See what we would do, we'd have the speakers remain at one point and this would be their platform for the day and the group would move from one speaker to another one, to another one, to another one etc.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
To speak to different groups?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and so he (Butler) picked up his coat or what he thought was his coat - his coat was almost identical with Williams' coat, and he picked it up by mistake, and when he got home he discovered it, and then he found Williams' red card.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So it wasn't well known at all that this was a Communist plot to take over the Union.
HOWARD KESTER:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What was the reaction when they found he was a Communist?
HOWARD KESTER:
He was tried and expelled by the Union and Butler called the meeting and presided over the trial.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Expelled from the union?
HOWARD KESTER:
From the union, and he has hated me ever since.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When they set up . . . now the STFU did raise money to send a couple of girls to the Southern Summer School, I mean, girls, I guess. Did they feel that the Southern Summer School would be better or a better place for workers to get an education on labor?
HOWARD KESTER:
Oh yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Training them in Commonwealth?
HOWARD KESTER:
I never felt that Commonwealth made any significant contribution at all.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
I see. Did you know Louise Ingersoll?

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HOWARD KESTER:
Yes. Doctor?
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Yes.
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, in Asheville.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Right she was the Doctor at the school. Did she remain active?
HOWARD KESTER:
So far as I know. She and Alice were fairly close, I didn't know her too well.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now where was she politically? Was she fairly left?
HOWARD KESTER:
I don't think so. I don't have any recollection, I never heard of her leaning on the left or to the right, I just knew she was concerned about all the problems confronting the people.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She was just a good doctor.
HOWARD KESTER:
She was a good doctor, and that's it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you remember anything about the labor conferences that the Southern Summer School would have sometimes during the session, would they invite labor organizers?
HOWARD KESTER:
None that I remember, they may have, but I am not sure about it.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you have any feeling when you were there that they were too oriented to organized labor? You mentioned one time that they should cultivate allies outside of organized labor. You suggested that the churches and the Universities could be cultivated.
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, certainly Commonwealth was. It had very little appeal.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
To organized labor?
HOWARD KESTER:
To organized labor. Some very good reasons, because organized labor was scared to come in this school, as I was. I went to Chattanooga for the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen. We were all confused in those days, you know. We didn't know which way to turn, and there were three or four of us who decided that we'd go to New York and talk to Earl Browder,

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talk to the top man, which we did. I called him and he said "Don't come to the office, meet me in my apartment," which we did. Earl Browder started talking and talked about 15 minutes, and I knew that I didn't want to have one thing to do with Communism, except to fight it, and I did.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you have any . . . from what you said you had no inclination that there was any kind of Communist affiliation with the Southern Summer School. Did you, or do you remember any? The reason I ask is that I ran across some letters that were written by . . . one that was written to you by a student who was an STFU member. I have a copy I want to show you, and she was . . . this is why I ask because I was very puzzled by it.
HOWARD KESTER:
I see, the place is, as I guess you know, subtly, but definitely Communist. Harriet Young is dead.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She's dead?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Now she was at the Southern Summer School?
HOWARD KESTER:
She had means, private means, and she could go where she wanted to, do what she wanted to. She's been dead about two years I reckon, sudden, right sudden, cancer, as I remember.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you remember anything about that, any uproar about . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
I don't remember about that, but this is when . . . go back now, I think . . . this is 1938, I don't know when Louise married, but this is when the change came, was beginning to come, I think. Of course, she may have been going with McLaren all the time. She was right, they certainly did need to get out from under the hands of the Communists.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, when you were speaking over there, you had no indication that . . . it wasn't . . . you wouldn't have gone to speak there had you known that they were oriented toward Communism?
END OF INTERVIEW