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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, August 25, 1974. Interview B-0007-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern Summer School and obstacles to bridging race and class struggles

Kester links the YWCA to the Southern Summer School for Women Workers, where he spoke during some of its programs. On the one hand, Kester identifies the Southern Summer School's work towards teaching working women about class struggle and giving them a voice as its major accomplishments. On the other hand, in terms of race, he suggests that the school's accomplishments were somewhat more limited. Kester believed that the struggles of race and class went hand in hand; however, because of the nature of Jim Crow segregation throughout the South, he indicates it would have been difficult for the Southern Summer School to integrate before it did. His comments here reveal the obstacles that prevented the organization of white and black working class people as a cohesive group with common interests during these years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, August 25, 1974. Interview B-0007-2. 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

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 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.
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.