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Title: Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Wright, Marion, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hall, Jacquelyn
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: 160 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
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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.
2007-01-06, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0034)
Author: Jacquelyn Hall
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0034)
Author: Marion Wright
Description: 189 Mb
Description: 47 p.
Note: Interview conducted on March 8, 1978, by Jacquelyn Hall; recorded in Linville Falls, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Jean Houston.
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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Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978.
Interview B-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Wright, Marion, interviewee


Interview Participants

    MARION WRIGHT, interviewee
    JACQUELYN HALL, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JACQUELYN HALL:
In the speech you made to the Southern Regional Council in 1974, you started out by saying that you saw yourself as an oral historian. [Laughter] Do you remember that?
MARION WRIGHT:
I guess I did say that.
I felt I was old man of the tribe, telling legends.
JACQUELYN HALL:
To some extent, that's what I want to just go on and extend today. But I would like to start back a little bit and fill in just a couple of gaps, some questions that I had from reading Shankman's interviews with you. One question that I had was about your family background. You said that your parents died when you were quite young.
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you know anything about your grandparents or any of your earlier ancestors?
MARION WRIGHT:
I know very little. I know the name of my grandfather on my father's side, and I know my mother's father was a Watson, and I don't know what his first name was. They all lived in the same community, either Edgefield or Soluda Counties. I thought that my parents having died so young, all that information did not seem important to anybody else.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were your father and mother's names?
MARION WRIGHT:
My father was Preston Lafayette Wright. He was probably

Page 2
named for the general. My father was in the Confederate Army himself, and his father would have gone back to Lafayette's day. My mother's name was Octavia Watson Wright.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did your father do for a living?
MARION WRIGHT:
He was a merchant and had a farm or two, and established the first little small bank in Johnston, South Carolina. It probably had a capital of not more than ?25,000, a very small bank.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your family own slaves at all?
MARION WRIGHT:
I'm sure they would have, because we were in a slave-owning settlement. That is, that county produced cotton and things that slaves would have produced. I knew one slave myself, so I'm sure that my family would have owned them. They had no scruples against it, I'm sure.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You said that your mother went to a girls' school?
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes, in Georgia, and I have the impression it was a place called Milledgeville. It's been a long, long time ago.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you know anything else about your mother's educational experience?
MARION WRIGHT:
There was one little thing I'm anxious to tell, because I had not found out about it until recently. I just know that she went to this college and became a very staunch advocate of education. She drove around in a horse and buggy and urged several girls to go to college. That is, she urged their parents to send their daughters. And she taught all black cooks and other people who were around the place. She'd set aside a time to teach them. I suspect it was against the law at that time; you know, it was at one time against the law to teach Negroes.

Page 3
I guess that passed out with the Emancipation Proclamation. It probably wouldn't have been against the law. But there is a fact [unknown] I did not know until I talked with my ninety-two-year-old sister recently, Her mind is quite clear. I have a brother named Preston Lambuth Wright. Lambuth was a missionary of the Methodist Church, a man quite active in church affairs. And my mother was apparently a very pious woman. She was one of the founders of the Methodist Church at Johnston. I attended the hundredth anniversary recently. The thing that my sister told me: my middle name is Allen, and I had often wondered where I got that name. She told me, by George, that I was named for a black bishop named Allen who founded the Afro-Methodist Episcopal Church. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Amazing.
MARION WRIGHT:
And for whom Allen University at Columbia is named. But my mother admired him, and I think particularly admired the fact that he struck out and organized his own church, you might say. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's very interesting.
MARION WRIGHT:
Isn't it? It's a fascinating thing. And I think if anything would probably show her very liberal attitude, naming a white child for a Negro minister would have taken some courage, I should think, or at least an unorthodox approach to the matter.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did you know about her special interest in education as you were growing up, from your sister?
MARION WRIGHT:
Sisters, yes. I was one of seven children who survived our mother, and I was the baby. So my sisters, who were maybe fifteen or twenty years old when she died, lived in the house and knew the setup so far as the cooks

Page 4
and servants were concerned.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And had they gone to college, the elder sisters?
MARION WRIGHT:
They did, yes. I had three of them that went to Columbia College. That's the Methodist institution in Columbia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was she especially interested in education for girls, or just generally interested in public education?
MARION WRIGHT:
My feeling would probably be, general education. The fact that she taught Negroes indiscriminately, I think, meant general education. But it was probably natural that she would have more opportunity to influence a girl than she would a boy.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I came across a reference somewhere to a student revolt at the University of South Carolina?
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter] In which you were a ringleader?
MARION WRIGHT:
I thought I was universally condemned by the faculty, and a movement was afoot to expel me. And I was backed by two strong friends on the Board of Trustees. I thought that everybody disapproved. Some years later, at an alumni meeting, I sat next to Professor Patterson Wardlaw, who has been one of my idols all of my life. After dinner he said (I was now, we'll say, thirty years old, and he was seventy-five), "I never did tell you, Mr. Wright, I warmly approved of your advocacy of

Page 5
firing Dr. [William S.] Currell, and if I had been a student I would have signed the same petitions that you wrote."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me what the issues were. This would have been in when?
MARION WRIGHT:
About 1917 or '18. I was a law student at the time. There was actually no crisis precipitated by Dr. Currell, and he had the misfortune of having succeeded Dr. S.C. Mitchell, who was a very dynamic man who built up the University. It probably had its greatest prestige during his day. He was succeeded by Dr. Currell, who would have been an excellent English teacher, but completely lacking in magnetism. And during his administration the University declined in student body and so on. So it was as an effort to restore something of the lost grandeur from Dr. Mitchell's administration that we young people said, "Let's get us a new man." [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you passed around a petition . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
We adopted a resolution, and we had a student body meeting. It was all openly done, and probably pretty daringly done, because we met in the chapel and had this resolution read, and it was adopted, and then people came up and signed it, so we could share guilt equally, like the Declaration of Independence: "We hang together, or we hang separately."
JACQUELYN HALL:
But it caused a lot of negative reaction?
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes. The press condemned us soundly, as you can imagine they would. The press would be more tolerant of that kind of thing now; students are always staging rebellions. But at that time, it was a very rare occurrence. We always doffed our hats to professors when we passed

Page 6
on the campus, that sort of thing. And I applaud that spirit; I wish there were more of it, to tell you the honest truth about it. But Dr. Currell was such a sharp contrast to his predecessor, whom we all worshipped, that it was probably unfair to him that we made the comparison when we did. Certainly nothing improper on his part. It was negative—failure to act—rather than action that moved us.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did the incident end?
MARION WRIGHT:
He made a speech in chapel a few days later, a very excellent speech, to the effect that he was not quitting under fire and that kind of thing. And he held on for a year or so longer. But I suspect we did give him a mortal thrust, because it's hard for a president to function if the student body has that attitude toward him. I'm not proud of it beyond the fact that Dr. Wardlaw said if he'd been there, he would have done the same thing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter]
MARION WRIGHT:
Anything he would have done, I would have applauded.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'm still just filling in some little gaps in the earlier interviews. I understood from what you said in that earlier interview that you were involved in a local interracial group in Conway before the regional or state interracial commission was formed?
MARION WRIGHT:
Not before. It would have been after, and probably inspired by, the regional commission. When I moved to Conway, I know that there was an active organization in South Carolina, very small. I probably got the idea from that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I thought it was interesting if some local groups had spontaneously started before the Interracial Commission, but that makes

Page 7
more sense, that it was inspired.
How did you happen to become state President of the Interracial Commission?
MARION WRIGHT:
It had existed for a very short while, and I had never attended a meeting. But the President, who was a lawyer named Mr. Beverly Herbert, called me over the phone and wanted to know if I would accept the presidency of the Commission. And I told him without hesitancy that I would. And I was already somewhat known as being a radical on that issue, so he assumed from that fact that I would accept the presidency, which I did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And had you gotten that reputation mainly because of your activities as a student in your commencement address?
MARION WRIGHT:
I made two or three speeches. I think, looking back on it, I did so as much because of the fact that it gave me a certain fame or notoriety or something of that sort. But I was a solid convert. Dr. Josiah Morse, a professor of philosophy who taught me, was a firm believer in the equality of mankind in general, so I did have a fervor that was sincere. Being a college boy at the time and being seventeen or eighteen years old, the glamour of speaking perhaps influenced me somewhat.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I had the impression from what you said before that those years at college were really the decisive turning point, that you seem to have had fairly conventional views toward race and religion and so on until that college experience.
MARION WRIGHT:
I think that would have been true to a large extent. I saw instances of abuse of blacks which I deeply resented, and to that extent I was in favor of better treatment.

Page 8
An incident that I can recall where my indignation was aroused occurred in the store of a man named Walter Wise at Trenton. I was a clerk there before going to college. And on one occasion the train from the north brought in, among other passengers, a black man who was quite well dressed. There was a connecting line between the train from the north, a smaller line which ran from Aiken to Edgefield. So the northerners who were then making Aiken their point for winter hunting and that kind of thing would bring Negro servants with them, so I'm sure this man had come down in that capacity. The Northerners had to bring their polo ponies, also. This black man had to wait to catch the train to Aiken. There was some delay. He came in from Columbia and had to wait for this small shuttle line that went to Aiken. So he came over to the store and said he would like to wash his hands. We kept a basin in the back of the store, and I got him that basin and some soap and a towel. And about the time that he was performing his ablutions, the owner of the store, Mr. Walter Wise, came in, and went berserk, almost. He grabbed a buggy whip. There was a rack of buggy whips for sale, so he grabbed one of those and shouted something about a "goddam nigger using my washpan" [Laughter] and ran the Negro out of the store. I recall distinctly that the man hid behind the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Wise came back and lectured me for a long time about race relations. Finally when the shuttle train came in, going to Aiken, I saw this man creep out and get on that train.
This Negro was probably better dressed than any citizen of Trenton, and that probably was one reason for the hostility.

Page 9
[Laughter] He had an air about him that perhaps made you feel uncomfortable in the assumption that you were superior. So this happened in my youth.
Then as a small boy I hunted and played with Negroes. That was more or less the custom in the South at that time. I played with them without the slightest self-consciousness on the part of any of us until I reached, I presume, the age of puberty, when my sister called me aside and told me that I must stop that kind of thing, that boys of my age didn't run around with colored boys of that age. I know I resented that.
So these things merely mean that I had some feeling of resentment at the way Negroes were treated. I daresay not a person in that community ever thought of a Negro as being a citizen; it was always a master-and-servant relationship, and a very comfortable one for the master, as you may imagine.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It sounds as if you were sort of naturally rebellious, too, in addition to feeling a certain indignation about blacks, that you were a little rebellious toward authority.
MARION WRIGHT:
I think I was born a rebel. It not only showed itself a little bit later in my attitude toward blacks, but my attitude toward the church, also. As would be customary with practically all children at that time, you went to church and joined during some soul-fermenting revival when they had an evangelist there. So I joined under such circumstances at [unknown] what was known as a protracted meeting. But I left Trenton at age sixteen.

Page 10
The family probably welcomed my going off to college. Then at college I came under the influence of larger personalities than I had met, and a Jewish professor of philosophy who never let his Judaism intrude on his teachings at all. But he fully implanted the idea that what I had theretofore believed, or what people of my circle believed, was fairly primitive. So, in a wrash moment, I wrote the Trenton Methodist Church to take my name off their roll. [Laughter] And I guess they did it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did other students respond to all this? Were there other people in your class at the University of South Carolina at that time who went on to take the kinds of positions that you took?
MARION WRIGHT:
I should say. I could name numbers of them. A person with whom I was more closely identified was Dr. James McBride Dabbs. He and I were classmates, and he succeeded me as President of the Southern Regional Council and also as President of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations. We were closely associated. Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Morse together had left their stamp on them and others in the student body, a great many.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Moving on to the Southern Regional Council, were you involved in the founding meetings?
MARION WRIGHT:
I was not. I wish very much I had been. I must have come on at the next meeting, so far as I can determine. I was there during the Guy Johnson regime. Guy Johnson was Executive Director of the Southern Regional Council, the first one. He was brought there by Dr. Howard Odum, who was its first President. So Guy remained Executive Secretary

Page 11
not more than two years, and I was there on the occasion when he resigned or left us without a director. So I think I was probably a year late getting in, maybe two years.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Since you had been involved in the Interracial Commission, I wonder how you happened not to be involved in that transition from the Commission to the SRC.
MARION WRIGHT:
Dr. Odum, speaking for whites, and Dr. Gordon B. Hancock, speaking for blacks, invited a group of people to Atlanta which formed the Southern Regional Council. I assume I was not invited; I certainly did not attend. But I think probably the next year I was there. I was President of the South Carolina Council (it was not then known as Council on Human Relations, but I've forgotten the precise name) when Guy Johnson was Executive Director of the Southern Regional Council. There was no relationship at all between the Southern Regional Council and these little things scattered around over the South. So I prepared a kind of treaty between the South Carolina group and Guy Johnson's group which was approved by both organizations, and that established really an organic connection between the two. It was a very simple kind of thing; it just agreed that our members would pay so much to us, and the rest would go to the Southern Regional Council. There was a division of membership fees. The Council at that time had established a little paper that was called Southern Frontier. So in exchange for our sending in a portion of the fees or dues which we collected, we got subscriptions to the Southern Frontier. And if we wanted to write for information or assistance, we were free to do so.

Page 12
JACQUELYN HALL:
In the thirties and forties, then, had there been very little relationship between the South Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation and the Atlanta office of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation?
MARION WRIGHT:
It would have been a very tenuous thing. The Atlanta office probably had two people in its employ, Guy Johnson and a secretary would be my idea, so they were not in a position to render a very large amount of service. And the other little groups could depend on a few local people to keep them going.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I know in the last days of the Interracial Commission, when the handwriting was pretty much on the wall that it was not going to be able to get any more funding and was going to be dissolved, Jessie Daniel Ames made an effort to travel around and to revitalize the state interracial commissions in the hope of keeping that organization going.
MARION WRIGHT:
I don't remember that that was Mrs. Ames' mission, though probably it was. But I remember her quite well, and I remember her chiefly on account of her work in the abolition of lynching. You're probably familiar with that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
MARION WRIGHT:
I suspect that she may have had two objectives in mind: first of all, to do away with lynching; in the second place, to provide some basis of support from the local groups to the newly formed Southern Regional Council. I was not aware of that; probably she did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you wouldn't have been involved then or have known too

Page 13
much about the early controversy over whether the Southern Regional Council was going to take a stand against segregation?
MARION WRIGHT:
Oh, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You know Lillian Smith's criticism of the Council and the debate that went on back and forth . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
Strangely enough, I don't remember Lillian Smith. Everybody else seems to remember Lillian Smith, but I did not. I remember two or three annual meetings when the issue was threshed out. And the movement in support of abolition of segregation gained; every time the issue was brought up, it gained converts. I've never been convinced that it was weakness on the part of the white members that they did not endorse it at once. It seems that way now. But you had practical considerations. You had to keep your own strength, and if we'd acted immediately we would have alienated a great many people.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did it come up every year as a provocative issue?
MARION WRIGHT:
I recall something like for two or three years.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But did it come up virtually every year from, say, '44 to 1951 when the decision was finally made?
MARION WRIGHT:
No, I was on the Board for years and years, and I can only recall maybe a couple of meetings when it was debated. Lillian Smith no doubt participated actively. I was more impressed, I think, by certain Negro people who were standing up for their rights. I remember a Dr. Forrester Washington and Dr. Charles S. Johnson from Fisk, who were probably the ablest people present, white or colored. And both of

Page 14
them made statements that influenced me more than Mrs. Ames or Lillian Smith would have done, I'm sure.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And were they pressing the Council to take . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
They were, in no offensive way. They stated their case plainly; they had no doubt where they stood and stated it in such a way that you had to become convinced that they were right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there other people that you remember as being spokesmen for that position?
MARION WRIGHT:
No, I do not. I remember people who were present, but for the life of me I could not tell you . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
But it was pretty much a black-white division, with the blacks pressing the Council to take a pro-integration stand?
MARION WRIGHT:
I think that was true, and I think there was always a substantial core of white members who wanted to go along with it. And finally the increased Negro membership and the conversion of whites brought about the final adoption of that resolution.1
I remember the resolution itself. It was written by Harold Fleming, I think one of the clearest writers and thinkers that I know. But it was then submitted to the Executive Committee or maybe the full Board of Directors for adoption, and it was edited out of all shape. [Laughter] Everybody had an idea. It was a committee at its worst. [Laughter] I recall a rabbi, whom I dearly love, insisted on putting at the end of one sentence something that seemed completely irrelevant, "by the grace of God." [Laughter] Everybody had a shot at it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Committee writing is the worst of all.
MARION WRIGHT:
Harold's work did survive, not entirely emasculated but at

Page 15
least modified.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JACQUELYN HALL:
In 1951 the Council resolved against segregation?
MARION WRIGHT:
Probably. I don't recall the year.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I wondered whether there was any connection between your becoming President and the adoption of that resolution at that time.
MARION WRIGHT:
No, they did not coincide with each other. I may have been elected at that meeting; I'm not sure about that. But I was not elected because I supported it or opposed it or anything of that sort. In other words, the issue was fought out on its merits, and I think personalities didn't enter into the action. There was no political part of it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Thinking back over your years with the Council and your years of watching the Council in operation, could you make some comparisons between the style and the contributions of the different people who have been Executive Directors of the Council? It seems to me that over the years, from Guy Johnson to George Mitchell to Harold Fleming, Les Dunbar, Paul Anthony, and George Esser, there's a lot of continuity but there's also a lot of difference.
MARION WRIGHT:
They were probably about as distinct personalities as you could find. Each had his own special flavor. Guy Johnson, of course, was an academician. He came from Chapel Hill and was a very scholarly, quiet, modest kind of man. He would never have succeeded by oratory to get people to act because of emotion. His was always a purely

Page 16
intellectual being and almost a little too pedantic for a successful operation. But he, coupled with Dr. Odum, gave the Council from its start a certain prestige and a certain public faith in its findings. Dr. Odum had written his Southern Regions, and Guy had been a professor of sociology for many years. And they were men who were accustomed to the methods of research and to be sure that your facts are right. They commanded the respect not only of the academic community but of the South generally. So I think if anything should be said it is that they gave us a degree of public confidence that we would not have gotten from any other source.
George Mitchell succeeded Guy Johnson. Two more unlike people you could hardly imagine. George was exuberant, and he had gifts for public speaking. Completely fearless and unconventional on every issue, including race, he had the ability to inspire people emotionally, which Guy Johnson lacked. As to whether or not he was Guy's peer in organizing, I'm not equipped to say. But George deserves credit for having been behind the movement to outlaw segregation. And he conducted negotiations and helped others conduct negotiations with the Fund for the Republic, which, for the first time in the Council's existence, gave us a fairly comfortable financial situation. He did a masterful job of making out a case to this newly formed foundation. And it was asked to enter a field which most people approached with some trepidation, but George was persuasive and he got them to do that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was part of his argument to them that the Supreme Court decision was probably going to be coming down in a few years? Was there that kind of awareness that this was about to happen and that preparation

Page 17
was needed?
MARION WRIGHT:
I think all of us who were on the inside of the Council were quite sure that that decision would be made. The question was when and how rapidly the change should be made. George got that grant which put us in much better position than before. From the beginning of his connection with the Southern Regional Council, he saw it as a stopgap arrangement by which state councils will be formed, being members of the Southern Regional Council. They would establish themselves to the point that the state would take over their duties as a function of the state. That idea would never have occurred to me, and I don't think it occurred to anyone else except George. But he had a firm belief that if you had the state council in each state of the South and it demonstrated fairness and thoroughness and good, sound judgment, politicians would ultimately take it over. And that's happened, of course, in a good many cases. I think Kentucky was probably the first one that established its own official council of human relations. North Carolina set up what they called the Good Neighbor Commission, I believe. So far as I know now, every state has the equivalent of a state council on human relations. I've always given George credit for great vision in having thought that far ahead. I saw it always as a group of volunteer workers that would meet once a year and get out a little paper and conduct some research, but it never occurred to me that actually the states would take it over, which they did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
There was a good bit of conflict, though, later on when the

Page 18
Council started abandoning the state councils or wanted to put their resources more into the work of the Atlanta staff and less into the operations of the state councils? How did you feel about that question?
MARION WRIGHT:
I was in favor of making the Southern Regional Council a closed rather than a mass membership organization. And that was the issue, whether we should continue to have two or three thousand members scattered over the South with no special responsibilities, or could we not function more efficiently if we had, say, a hundred members that had a board of directors and so on. I'm firmly convinced that was a wise decision. And by no means did we cut the connection or burn our bridges with the state groups. They, I think, should have felt that they were on their own. They had resources that they could tap, and we'd always maintain pleasant diplomatic relations. But I'm sure that the Council functioned much more efficiently when it functioned as a fairly small unit. The further you get away from democracy, perhaps the closer you get to efficiency, and that was the point there.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you feel, too, that the state councils were more conservative, or was the opposite the case?
MARION WRIGHT:
This is a misapprehension among a great many people. There was no effort to downgrade the state councils or to feel that they are any more conservative than we are or any more liberal than we are. It was a matter of the interest in an efficient operation. We had a headquarters in Atlanta and gave counsel, advice, and a certain percentage of the finances to the states. They ought to initiate their own programs. A program for South Carolina may not be

Page 19
what would be needed in Louisiana by any means. So there never was any attempt to downgrade them, but the state councils, I think, got that impression, which was quite erroneous.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I think I got you off the track. We were going down through the directors.
MARION WRIGHT:
George Mitchell, as I say, succeeded Guy Johnson, and Harold Fleming succeeded George Mitchell. Harold, as you probably know, was an Atlanta boy fresh out of Harvard who had become interested in the race problem. He went to see Ralph McGill, the Editor of the Atlanta Constitution, for a job. He wanted to write, presumably on social issues. McGill, who was on the Board of the Southern Regional Council, or who at least had been one of the signers to get the charter, told Harold, "We don't have money enough to employ a man for that particular field, but there's a little organization around the corner here, the Southern Regional Council, that's got a little paper, and it seems to me that you'd be just the man for that job." So Harold applied to George Mitchell, I guess, for the job and was given the job of editor of this paper. He was an immediate success in that job. It was much more than merely editing this paper; he established rapport with all newspaper people, and particularly the representatives of the New York Times. They had a southern correspondent based in Atlanta, and Harold was always on friendly terms with people like James Reston, Claude Sitton (who is now the Editor of the Raleigh News and Observer), and so on. He knew the newspaper business, so that he could prepare a release which they would use. Most releases seem to be argumentative and protracted; Harold's were concise, to the point,

Page 20
and thoroughly logical The newspapermen appreciated it. Consequently, we always had a good outside press as well as the Atlanta papers. The Times and the Washington Post were great allies of ours. That was Harold's particular forte. He had gifts also as an organizer, but his forte was to put into words which would be readable and acceptable by publishers ideas that the Southern Regional Council wanted to get circulated. He was an enormous success in that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did he differ from George Mitchell in his attitudes?
MARION WRIGHT:
Actually, George Mitchell had great difficulty getting along with women members of the staff. I think he would probably have to have been one of the original male chauvinists. But he and Harold were devoted to each other, and when George stepped down he said, "I've got to make way for a better man than I am." He felt it sincerely, and I don't say that he was correct in that statement but no one could overestimate Harold's value.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why couldn't he get along with the women in the Council?
MARION WRIGHT:
I have discussed that with his wife sometime, and she is not so sure that that is correct. But he seldom had a woman employee whom he thoroughly appreciated. Katherine Stoney and Mrs. McLean. We had a Mrs. Somebody from Florida. He had rows with all of them; why, I don't know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Very interesting.
MARION WRIGHT:
Then Harold was succeeded by Les Dunbar.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Then Harold moved on to the Potomac Foundation?
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes, he did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What precipitated his leaving the Council?

Page 21
MARION WRIGHT:
I suppose the Potomac Foundation offer. I'm not sure about that. I can tell you why he got that later on, why the offer came to him. But maybe we'd better go back to Harold just a moment. He worked on up to Executive Director, coming there to edit the little paper. As Executive Director he did an excellent job all the way through there. He had the great ability to state both sides of a question fairly. The issue was sharply presented; you knew what you were voting for or against. While director, he had the delightful experience one day of being visited by a couple who came in and introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Currier. They sat down and asked what would the Southern Regional Council do if it had ?100,000. At that time, that was more money than we would have dreamed of. The budget was probably ?20,000 or ?25,000 a year.
Harold had evidently given a good deal of thought to what he would do if he had money, so he reeled off several objectives that the Council should adopt, in his opinion, at once. And the Curriers were evidently impressed. So they sent in Gulf Oil stock which amounted to ?100,000 and, I think, would be worth far more than that now. But that enabled us to set up a little reserve fund, the first time we had had anything like that.
Mrs. Currier was a Pittsburgh Mellon and had a great deal of the family wealth. she had humanitarian concerns and was interested in the race issue. I don't know about Mr. Currier's convictions, but certainly she had the money and he went along with the ideas. So they later set up a foundation known as the Potomac Institute, and I suspect that Harold was probably the only professional in that field

Page 22
whom they knew, and he had made an excellent impression on them. So they offered him the job as its Director, either they or the Institute after the Curriers' death. The Foundation, at least, offered him the job. The Curriers were lost at sea, a plane crash.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the Council sell the stock?
MARION WRIGHT:
I'm sure that ultimately it was sold to establish a fund, and the money was put in the bank. I think it was in Harold's regime that a newspaperwoman came south to study racial problems. She came inevitably to the Southern Regional Council, which was generally recognized as the spokesman for enlightenment. I wish I could be sure about the person with whom she talked, but she talked either with George Mitchell or Harold Fleming. And they gave her a rundown on what the Southern Regional Council was trying to do. So she made extensive notes and went back to Boston Shortly after that had lunch with an old gentleman who was quite wealthy. He expressed some interest in racial matters, and wanted to leave some money for an organization active in that field. She said that she had just talked with an outfit which struck her as being eminently worthy of support. It seems to me he left us ?15,000; at least we participated under his will. So again personalities—particularly Harold's personality—moved him up the ladder to the Potomac Institute, where his salary probably was five or six times what he got from us. And also either his or George's personality brought this legacy from someone in Boston.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What proportion of the Council's funding in that period came from individual donations, as opposed to foundations?

Page 23
MARION WRIGHT:
From the time that the foundations picked us up, and I don't say because of that . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Which was, say, '53? That's when the Fund for the Republic grant came through?
MARION WRIGHT:
I never remember dates; I'm not sure. But the Fund for the Republic was a subsudiary of the Ford Foundation, a much larger thing. But these grants were really quite large in our experience. And I presume that our membership continued to pay about what it had been paying; I don't have access to the records; but their contributions were overshadowed by grants from the Field Foundation and the Fund for the Republic and many others. I will say organized labor always made us a small grant, largely as a result of George Mitchell's influence, because he had been an organizer for AFL-CIO before he came to the Council.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there any wealthy southerners who contributed significantly to the Council?
MARION WRIGHT:
We never got any large donations from wealthy southerners, and, really, wealth was not a characteristic of most of the members of the Board. I think they contributed with reasonable generosity, but not the large amounts that we got from the foundations.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Any corporate donations?
MARION WRIGHT:
I would doubt that we had any corporate contributors. There would be reluctance, I think, of a director to contribute funds of the stockholders to something that was as controversial as the Southern Regional Council was at that time.

Page 24
JACQUELYN HALL:
Les Dunbar came up through pretty much the same route that Harold Fleming had come up through, didn't he? He was Research Director, I think.
MARION WRIGHT:
He was, and I think in that capacity he probably got out the New South, which was the successor to Southern Frontiers. He came there, I think, from Mount Holyoke. He was a college professor, He came to us in this research and public relations capacity. But when Harold Fleming left, he and Dunbar had become close friends. They were both able men. And it was almost inevitable that we turned to Les. He had attended all Board meetings; he was a very thoughtful, philosophical kind of person, moved slowly but correctly almost all the time. A thoroughly admirable character, and a very able man. Like Harold, he was called up higher. The Field Foundation, with which he had negotiated grants, had been impressed by him, and so they then called him in as Director of the Field Foundation.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It sounds as if there wasn't much question about who would become the next Executive Director down through these people. It was pretty much handed on from man to man.
MARION WRIGHT:
It was. It was almost a hierarchy, and the power passed from one to the other. Les's departure brought to the front another director, Paul Anthony. He had been there, I think, as the liaison between the state organizations and the Southern Regional Council; he was the contact man, we'll say. I know that we had on the staff a certain person whose duty was to ride herd on state groups and be of such assistance as he could. Paul was an agreeable personality, lacking

Page 25
the background of any of his predecessors. I don't know what his background was, but the others had more than a dash of the scholarly about them. Paul was eminently a person whose feet were on the ground, and practical. So he never had the aura that his predecessors had. But I think he labored as earnestly as he could to keep the Council going.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was living in Atlanta when Paul Anthony was Director, and knew he was involved with the Council at that time. I don't know whether it was before his appointment or before George Esser's appointment, but people had begun to raise the question of the need for a black Director; there was more controversy and questioning about who should be the Director by then, I think.
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes. That originated under Paul's regime. It was inevitable that the question should arise. I'm familiar with another organization that went through that same process, and that organization to which I refer now has a black Director, and the membership on the Board, I should say, probably would be more than fifty percent black. So as the Negroes began to assert themselves in politics and in business, they asserted themselves in organizations which were set up particularly for this benefit, It was quite natural that pressure for black leadership should have arisen. It was unfortunate that it produced some division or dissension, and I hope that that's passed away. I attended one meeting where tempers were high, but my tenure on the Board expired during Paul Anthony's regime. I suspect if I had continued after I had been present

Page 26
at a meeting where tempers did flare, I would have been more exposed to a display of ill temper and that kind of thing. But when I left, fortunately for me, I got out before that became too bad.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But the dissension and disagreement was mainly over the need for a black director?
MARION WRIGHT:
It did not come up when Paul was elected, because I participated in that election. It must have come up when George Esser was elected. I can't tell you anything about Mr. Esser. I was off the Board when he came in, and you've extracted all the information you can from me about the staff.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did you leave the Board?
MARION WRIGHT:
I'd been on there a long, long time. I suppose there must have been gaps when I was not on there and went back on. But I certainly was at least seventy years old, and I'm a strong believer that people had better retire before they're kicked out.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter]
MARION WRIGHT:
There was no movement to do that. But I did that with very serious motives, first of all age, and in the second place I could see the handwriting on the wall. There was a new spirit abroad in the organization. I was of the old school. I might not have been too congenial in this new atmosphere. So when it came up for me to be reelected, I declined to let my name be used. I think it was wise. I don't know that I was inflexible—I hope I was not—but I think that a new spirit ought not to be hampered by having imposed upon it someone who's not quite adapted to what the new movement is. I was brought up

Page 27
in an earlier regime which was slow-moving, and I liked it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But in what sense are you using the term "the old school"? What was the difference that you felt between your stance toward things and the stance of these, I suppose, younger people who were coming in?
MARION WRIGHT:
All during my connection with the Board and the staff, I never saw the slightest evidence of disharmony in the staff, and there was really a very delightful rapport between staff and Board. So at a meeting that I mentioned, it became evident that blacks were not satisfied with that arrangement. Blacks that I knew, I think they were, but we often misjudge blacks. And so I felt that I had been adequate to serve on a board where people act in harmony with each other. I did not know how I would react if some divisive issue arose.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It wasn't so much particular issues as just divisiveness in itself.
MARION WRIGHT:
That's true.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Conflict and the potential for conflict.
MARION WRIGHT:
Many tears were actually shed at that meeting to which I refer; literally true. And so everybody felt very badly about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was there when Paul Anthony left and George Esser came in. I remember those were very painful days.
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was another question I wanted to ask you, was about the relationship between the Board and the staff. And you're saying that there was really no . . .
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
JACQUELYN HALL:
. . . no conflict, that . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
As I stated a while ago, George Mitchell had his personal differences with members of the staff; I think I could say almost exclusively female members of the staff. But at our meetings, staff and Board were, I thought, thoroughly congenial. Staff members expressed themselves very frankly and that kind of thing. We formed a great attachment for Mrs. Ruth Alexander. (She's now Mrs. Vick I believe.) And Harold Fleming's secretary, Mildred Johnson. They were both black. I suppose half the staff would have been black in my day. I could detect no dissension.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How active a role did the Board play in setting policy for the Council when you were on the Board?
MARION WRIGHT:
It was an assertive Board; it was not a rubber stamp by any means. And we were fortunate in having directors who brought issues to the Board. And we were confronted with making decisions; we made them, and the staff carried them out.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You said that since you've been off the Board since about 1970, that's all the information you can give. But I was curious whether, just watching from the sidelines, you have any ideas about . . . The Council has gone through some very radical changes, it seems to me, over that period, first growing a great deal under George Esser and now being reduced to a much smaller operation than it was.
MARION WRIGHT:
I'm glad that I got out when I did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What is your feeling, though, about why what seems to be a decline in the Council has happened?
MARION WRIGHT:
It's inevitable. The Southern Regional Council had a

Page 29
reason for being when you were fighting to establish the rights of a minority in this country. People would contribute to it; they took interest in it; you had something you could fight over. Now the rights have been either Congressionally or judicially established. If our sole mission had been to secure those rights, we should quit business at that time. It takes a different temperament and different talent to operate in an area when law has already stepped in. So I think it quite natural that you feel now not that we want to leave everything up to the government, but that the government has done the job, and the government is equipped to carry it on. Why should a private organization continue to exist? That's what it gets down to.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Part of what was going on, though, during George Esser's period was an effort to redirect the Council toward a different approach and different issues and so on, but that didn't seem to work.
MARION WRIGHT:
If I were cynical, as I hope I am not, I would say that for the same reason that I criticize a government agency for seeking to preserve itself after it has accomplished its purpose, I would say that the Southern Regional Council had been attempting to preserve itself after its principal mission was accomplished. You have now the Urban League, which works on employment. The field is pretty well occupied, and our principal mission is ended.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did anyone seriously advocate that the Council should disband at some certain point when it had . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
No, not while I was on there. The idea had occurred to me, but I did not . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
It's not the kind of thing that you can really bring up.

Page 30
MARION WRIGHT:
And I don't wish to downgrade the present activities. I'm not informed about them. And there may be ample space for the use of such talents as the staff may have. It seems to me that the better view would have been that the new situation takes a new type of organization and new gifts in Board and staff.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Looking back over the different periods of the SRC, do you see any real difference in the strategies that the Council pursued, say, up until 1954 and then after 1954? Real breaks in what the Council was trying to do?
MARION WRIGHT:
I think there was a definite change in strategy. Up until 1954, your whole concern was to get segregation declared to be against the law. At that time the Southern Regional Council had the law against it; segregation was on the books. From 1954 on, the law was on our side. So whereas up until the Supreme Court decision we put all of our efforts into seeing that laws are enacted and that courts correctly interpret them, after that point the task becomes one of persuading the public to abide by the law. Up to that time, you were trying to persuade the public to repeal the law; now you've got it repealed. You would want to move into a new atmosphere as peacefully as you could. So I think the whole thing was that we were militant when militance was what was needed, and I think we have been persuasive where persuasion has been needed.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you see the Council as being more militant in the fifties?
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes, until the law was on the books we benefitted from persecution. And Talmadge and Wallace, you name them, were all fighting us.

Page 31
They'd have people go to meetings and get license numbers of cars and trace down who were the owners and take snapshots of those present so on. So it appealed a little bit to your feeling of intrigue. [Laughter] And I think people could show more fervor. Early Christians probably were a darned sight more fervent than the later ones because they were being persecuted. And we, in a sense, were being persecuted, so you had the temptation to fight back. When there is no occasion for fighting, you have a tendency to lose your ardor.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When massive resistance emerged in the White Citizens' Councils and so on, did that surprise you? Did you have a feeling of having failed to mobilize white sentiment?
MARION WRIGHT:
I missed the boat entirely. I had the feeling that the South would go ahead with it gracefully. To use George Mitchell's phrase, that it would "curl up at the edges" and become accepted very quickly. I was never more surprised in my life than when what would have been ordinarily thought of as good citizens formed the White Citizens' Councils. I had more respect for Byrd in Virginia with his outright plea for massive resistance than I did for these little imitations of the Ku Klux Klan, people who were respectable but not worthy, who began to fight it
JACQUELYN HALL:
What made you think that there was going to be widespread white acceptance of desegregation?
MARION WRIGHT:
I'd say two things. First of all, I had a certain faith in the innate goodness of people. In the second place, and the most

Page 32
persuasive thing to me, the South had gone along for years maintaining dual everything. Administrative problems were immensely complicated. Your financial problems were almost doubled, and so on. So I had thought that the South would be very glad to be rid of trying to maintain separate everything. Also the South was becoming the subject of ridicule throughout the country, and I thought most southerners would not like to see themselves thought of as being hellions and blackguardly-type persons. So those two things, I think my childish faith in the goodness of the white southerner, and the financial argument— I thought these would swing it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How do you account for the strong resistance that did emerge?
MARION WRIGHT:
That prejudice is deeper than I had thought.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you think that if the courts, for example, had moved more quickly to really enforce the decision, people might have accepted? I've heard it argued that there was a time right after '54 when if the government had moved ahead more quickly and desegregated facilities, that people would have accepted it.
MARION WRIGHT:
It's always what might have happened on the road not taken. And frankly, my mind is open still on the issue, but I have the feeling that the delay was worthwhile. If I had to vote, I would favor the action that the court took.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But that did give the opposition time to organize.
MARION WRIGHT:
But the opposition could never say that this thing was forced on us overnight. First of all, there had been a whole series of

Page 33
decisions that made this one inevitable. Now this decision comes down, and they say, "Segregation is wrong. We want you people to tell us how to implement it." I thought that ought to appeal to people, that the Court didn't say, "Here, you do this thing or else." It's like Carter's attitude about the coal strike. I think he put it off a long time, but I think it meant time well spent, that the public, the miners, everybody else say that we've had every opportunity to settle this thing. I was hoping that southern people would say, "Well, now, we've had a chance. We fought integration as a principle. We've had a chance to say how it should be put into effect. That's all we could ask. We've had our day in court. We'll go along with what the Court decided." But I had no idea at all that there would be this revolt.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there another change in strategy when it became clear that that persuasion of the white South to go along with the desegregation was not going to be easy?
MARION WRIGHT:
I suspect that we began to aim our fire more specifically at organizations, private schools, academies, and white citizens' councils generally. We did have those targets, at least, that we could work on, and that kept us going for some time.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you move up here to Linville Falls in 1948?
MARION WRIGHT:
1947.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you were living here all the time that you were involved in these things in the fifties and sixties.
MARION WRIGHT:
That's true.

Page 34
JACQUELYN HALL:
That must have caused some logistical problems, travelling back and forth?
MARION WRIGHT:
No, I used to drive to Greenville and catch a plane to Atlanta. I, of course, always had to spend the night in Atlanta, maybe two nights. But I was frankly so delighted to be a member of that group that I did not care what time or expense was involved. They were choice people, no question about it, and I felt honored to be able to sit down and talk with them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had you retired from the practice of law, then, when you moved here?
MARION WRIGHT:
I retired when I came up here in 1947.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had you found conflict between your career as a lawyer and your involvement in interracial activities?
MARION WRIGHT:
No. People ask me that, and it would seem reasonable that that would be true. But my attitude was quite well known. I made a commencement speech in Conway, South Carolina, in 1919, in which I advocated Negro voting in the Democratic primary, and the next day or so I moved to town. So that, I'll say, did not get me off to a good start. I did not anticipate this result, but I think it was highly beneficial. I did not go in for criminal practice, in a criminal practice, you have to appeal to jurors. Most of them are backwoodsmen, ignorant and so on. I was in civil practice entirely, where the man who hired you was much more concerned with your ability than your political views. So I'm sure it did not hurt me. I rather think it helped me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why would it have helped you?

Page 35
MARION WRIGHT:
Because I think people at least gave me credit for being willing to express an opinion.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They knew where you stood.
MARION WRIGHT:
Right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you have some association with Jimmy Byrnes?
MARION WRIGHT:
I've met him; that's all. I was in his office in Washington a time or two. But I've known other demagogues: Ben Tillman, Strom Thurmond, Cotton Ed Smith, Cole Blease. I knew them all personally. And I suppose I'm one of the few alive that did know them personally.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was just talking to Dan Pollitt in Greenville. He was at this meeting, and he thought that you had had some association with Jimmy Byrnes.
MARION WRIGHT:
I disliked him strongly and wrote him several letters, that kind of thing. His job took him to Washington. All the time that I knew him, he was in Washington. And my contacts were with the politicians in South Carolina. Then by the time Byrnes came back, I had moved here. When he was Governor, I was living here.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was your real interest more in your outside activities, rather than in the practice of law?
MARION WRIGHT:
Much more. And I have another lawyer friend whom I greatly admire. We both agree that we were almost ashamed to practice law. [Laughter] Not that there's anything disreputable about it. Dean Acheson was another one, by the way.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And he felt the same way?

Page 36
MARION WRIGHT:
[Laughter] My nephew worked in Acheson's firm. Acheson was the head man, and my nephew was way down on the totem pole. There were about 300 lawyers on the firm. My nephew decided he wanted to get into something else, so he made an engagement to see Mr. Acheson. He'd never met him. [Laughter] He'd been on the staff there for two or three years. So he went in and told Mr. Acheson, "I'd like to get into some other line of work." So Mr. Acheson said, "I gather you don't like the practice of law." My nephew said, "I don't." Mr. Acheson said, "I can't stand it. It's just a farily easy way to make a living."
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter] You write beautifully, and I know that you started out as a reporter. I wondered if maybe you felt that your real calling might have been more writing and journalism.
MARION WRIGHT:
Journalism has become a much more respected and well paid profession than it was when I was a reporter. There was no money in it, and certainly no glory. The law did offer a chance to make a pretty good living without much brainwork, so I took that. But if I'd come along, I think, now, where columnists turn them out by the day and Walter Cronkite and these people are on the air, that would have been the thing I'd much rather have done. Yes. And you'd have much more impact on humanity that way, too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you able to live, then, on the money that you had made as a lawyer?
MARION WRIGHT:
Oh, yes. I did very well on that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You had had this as a summer home?
MARION WRIGHT:
I had, yes, for about ten years before building this house here.

Page 37
JACQUELYN HALL:
You didn't feel isolated, being in an out-of-the-way place?
MARION WRIGHT:
No, my heavens alive, no sirree. I think that I have done more of what I like to do here than I would have done at Chapel Hill or any other place. There are no distractions here. If you don't turn it out, it's your fault.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Exactly. It's very appealing.
MARION WRIGHT:
I'm writing a speech now, and I can sit here and write three or four hours, and tomorrow three or four hours, with no interruptions.
JACQUELYN HALL:
We were talking about some of the changes in strategy and policies the Council developed. In 1960 when the sit-ins started, when the direct action movement started, what role do you feel that the Council played in the direct action movement?
MARION WRIGHT:
It did not participate in direct action, with my knowledge. It could be possible that . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there a conscious policy that members of the Council should not participate in . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes, that's true. We had, I hope, established the reputation for being trustworthy in the field of research. And it certainly struck me, and I think the rest of us, that if you get out and parade and carry flags and that sort of thing, people will develop some lack of confidence in the idea that that kind of person or that kind of an organization should also produce material that one should take seriously. In other words, when you're on a street, your partisanship is in everybody's face. You wouldn't have much faith in the research of a man who was admittedly a partisan on that issue. So I think

Page 38
we were wise to keep in the cloister—I don't say closet—and maintain public respect. And I don't think anyone ever quite doubted the accuracy of the research we did and news releases we issued.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there any conflict over that issue? Were there people who thought that the Council should be more directly involved, or who wanted to be more directly . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
That bobbed up every now and then, but it never was made an issue, particularly.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I came across an incident in your papers that I thought was sort of interesting though a little bit confusing. You may not remember this, but in 1961 Les Dunbar wrote a report on the freedom rides. And there was some criticism of his report, and you were suggesting that the Council might want to issue a second report sort of modifying what Dunbar had said. And I wasn't clear whether you felt that Les Dunbar's report on the freedom rides had been too critical of the freedom rides, or whether it had been too laudatory.
MARION WRIGHT:
I have no recollection of that. I wrote a review of a book called Freedom Ride for the Progressive Magazine. I was definitely on the side of the riders and wrote a great many things at that time that allied me with them. So I would not have been opposed to anything Les said on the theory that we had taken the wrong side of this issue; I'm sure of that. Because the freedom rides and the atrocities that were committed on the freedom riders were really a dark page in southern history.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I just wondered whether there might have been some question as to whether the Council should take an unequivocal ly positive stand in

Page 39
favor of the sit-ins and the freedom rides when they first occurred.2
MARION WRIGHT:
No, I'm sure I can speak definitely that we never wavered on the right of a Negro to enjoy all public utilities on the same terms as a white, to ride, certainly, in interstate commerce on the same terms as a white. There was never any serious division on that at all. I don't think any member held that view.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Also about that time, the states were forming committees modelled on HUAC, and it was all during this period that these committees were trying to discredit civil rights organizations by accusing them of being Communist-dominated or fellow travellers or so on. I came across a letter that you wrote to the Department of Justice, asking them to intervene in these state hearings that were being held, to try to prevent that from happening. Do you remember anything about that?
MARION WRIGHT:
No, I do not.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I just wondered whether you were successful, whether the Department of Justice came to the rescue at all.
MARION WRIGHT:
I don't recall that at all. What was the purpose of my letter, to get them to intervene in favor of the freedom riders?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Not necessarily the freedom riders, but these state committees were holding hearings in various places and using those hearings to discredit various organizations, and you thought that the Department of Justice could put its weight behind the organizations.
MARION WRIGHT:
I don't recall that. I probably did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That whole red-baiting problem was a very serious thing at the time. There was also the

Page 40
Southern Conference Education Fund. I recall Ann Braden's organization was being particularly red-baited at that point. And there was a controversy also in the early sixties over whether SCEF should be allowed to participate in the Southern Inter-Agency Conference, the organization of all these organizations.
MARION WRIGHT:
I had forgotten that, but I guess that is correct. I know there was great confusion about the Southern Educational Conference. People have always thought it was the progenitor of the Southern Regional Council; actually, they had no connection. And there was another organization that we were supposed to have been connected with, but were not.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The Southern Conference on Human Welfare?
MARION WRIGHT:
I think that's right. Foreman's organization.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of relationship did the Southern Regional Council have with SCEF, the Bradens' group?
MARION WRIGHT:
That's a group of the extreme liberals? I don't think we ever participated in that. I'm not sure. I have no recollection about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You don't remember inter-organizational conflicts.
MARION WRIGHT:
No. Actually, I was always solidly of the opinion—and I still am—that we had our work cut out for us when we engaged in research and furnished ideas for other people to use and attempted to win the public to our side of it. And I supported all these parades and that kind of thing, but as an organization I thought we would weaken public confidence in our impartiality if we were out rabble-rousing.

Page 41
JACQUELYN HALL:
There was an incident also at this time in which you were planning to go to Washington, D.C. to participate in clemency hearings for Carl Braden? Do you remember anything about that? Les Dunbar discouraged you from going?3
MARION WRIGHT:
I don't know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You don't remember that?
MARION WRIGHT:
I sure don't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I had gone through your papers about a year ago, and I came across this correspondence about the Bradens and the Southern Conference Education Fund. I think the conflict there was that that organization felt that they were being discredited by the more moderate, middle-of-the-road groups like the Southern Regional Council. And I just wondered whether you remembered that or had any personal feelings about the . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
I know that we did not seek any association with the Conference, whatever Dombrowski's organization was, for more reasons than one. First of all, Dombrowski, I think, is a screwball.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why?
MARION WRIGHT:
He's done a great many erratic things. But they were already under fire, and we were under fire from other sources. And I thought if we formed an alliance with them, both sides could say, "We told you. [Laughter] The devils have finally got together." But I think as long as we kept our own objectives clearly in mind and stick by them, so that the Conference had its methods of operation and its objectives and should stick by them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It wasn't that you yourself were worried about Communist

Page 42
influence in these organizations, but that you didn't want to be too closely associated with them when they were being attacked on that ground.
MARION WRIGHT:
That's right. No, I never thought any of them were Communists at all. But there were practical reasons, in addition. If you're getting grants from foundations on the theory that we were not participating in politics . . . As we put it, we were an educational group. Our applications all stressed the fact that our main forte was to educate people. We might well have put ourselves in jeopardy with foundations if we abandoned that role and took on the additional role of political activitsts. When you get out on the street and parade with a banner saying "Vote for John Smith," you're in politics. So that was really a very practical reason with us; we could no longer have the support of foundations You might say, "Well, you should have stood by your principles," but if you don't have support, it's not much good to stand there.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
MARION WRIGHT:
We had friends in the North who had confidence in us which they manifested by putting up money for us.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of influence did the financial backers of the Southern Regional Council have on the Council's policies?
MARION WRIGHT:
So far as I know, none whatever.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Not even in an indirect sense?
MARION WRIGHT:
No, not at all. They would caution us about our

Page 43
tax-exempt situation; their tax-exempt situation depended on ours. That's the only direction that they ever gave us that I'm aware of.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there not a sense within the group itself that you should or shouldn't do certain things because that would hurt your standing with the foundations or help your standing with the foundations? That kind of indirect . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
I think the only thing that would have occurred would be that we may be jeopardizing, say, the Fund for the Republic's tax-exempt status. If they continue to give a grant to an organization which admittedly is engaged in political activity, their own status is involved. So if we got out and advocated political causes, their tax exempt status would be imperiled. We had wanted time and again to urge "Vote for So-and-so" or "Vote for a certain bill"; you couldn't even do that. There was a fine line there about the bills that I won't go into, but while we wanted to do it, I think we followed the correct course of trying to keep the intelligence of the South on our side, saying, "This is a worthwhile organization. It's doing a good job. We have faith in it," and continue to get moral backing
You had to pay your staff that has to implement these things. But I never dreamed of any foundation that contributed to us trying to influence our policy. Now you made reports to them; they knew exactly what you were doing. But so far as I know, I've never had one of them come in and say, "Now here, you ought to be doing this," or "You shouldn't be doing that."
JACQUELYN HALL:
I wouldn't expect that to happen, but I do think that sometimes groups are implicitly influenced just by the thought that foundations are sympathetic towards certain kinds of activities and not

Page 44
others; then maybe if we move in that direction that will enable us to get money, and if we move in that direction it will not . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
Subconsciously that might have been true, but I wouldn't be aware of it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you feel that the Council made any mistakes in judgment or strategy over the years, just with hindsight, things that you might have done differently if you knew then what you know now?
MARION WRIGHT:
I'm sure that we did. I'd have difficulty documenting it offhand, but unquestionably we made some mistakes. I know that George Mitchell had a gift of antagonizing people every now and then. It may have been a personality trait. But the organization per se, I'm sure, must have made mistakes, but I can't tell you what they were. Fortunately, my memory blots out that kind of thing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you see the recent documentary on Martin Luther King for television, a dramatization of King's life?
MARION WRIGHT:
I missed that, I'm sorry to say. I wanted very much to see it, but I had some company here that would not have been sympathetic, so I didn't turn it on.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I was just curious. I was interested in what you thought about it.
MARION WRIGHT:
I've missed several. I missed that one, and I missed "Roots." Did you see "Roots"?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
MARION WRIGHT:
I'm sorry I didn't see that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I didn't see all of it.
MARION WRIGHT:
I did get "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," I'm

Page 45
glad to say.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is there anything else about the civil rights movement, about the Southern Regional Council's history, that you would like to add or talk about?
MARION WRIGHT:
I don't think so; I think we've covered it pretty fully, the personnel and its objectives. I don't think there's anything I care to add.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Could you tell me something about P.D. East? I don't even know if that's a man or a woman.
MARION WRIGHT:
I don't think I've ever met him; I've corresponded with him. He lived very close to Faulkner; they were great friends. And East got out a little paper called the Petal Paper, and it was personal journalism at its very best or worst, as the case may be.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He pretty much wrote it, published it, did the whole thing by himself, didn't he?
MARION WRIGHT:
Yes. I wrote a review of his book. I believe that's in the Progressive magazine. He admired Faulkner tremendously, and they fished together. Faulkner seemed to have been a strong, silent type of person. East knew that Faulkner had read his book before they took a little fishing trip. He said they'd been fishing for about half an hour, and Faulkner said nothing at all. So finally Faulkner said, "I read your book, P.D." An hour or so later [unknown] he said, "Damn good book." [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'd seen the Petal Paper and heard of P.D. East, but I just wondered who this person was.
MARION WRIGHT:
He never attained the fame of Harry Golden or Faulkner,

Page 46
but as a person I think he'd have been the kind of person you'd like to know. There are all sorts of funny things that people used to tell me about P.D., and I can't recall them.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But he never came to these meetings or was really . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
I don't think I ever saw him. No. He was quite a guy.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I talked to Alice [Spearman Wright] about her activities as head of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations. Were you involved in the Council in the time that they chose her to be Director?
MARION WRIGHT:
I was President. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
I wondered whether there was any question about appointing a woman to a position like that.
MARION WRIGHT:
No, certainly not in my mind. I've always been fairly liberal so far as femaile rights are concerned. But we had this little group of maybe fifty or a hundred people who composed the organization, and apparently we were not getting anywhere. So I advanced the idea that we employ someone to travel the state for the purpose of getting members; that was as far as we went. I don't know whether I proposed the name or who did, but Mrs. Spearman was at that time very active with the South Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs and also with the Democratic Party. So somebody proposed her name, and she agreed to do the job just for her expenses, so we put her on. She did build up a considerable membership.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And then she went on from that to be . . .
MARION WRIGHT:
Director of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations. I think when she was employed it was probably known as the . . .

Page 47
JACQUELYN HALL:
Interracial Commission?
MARION WRIGHT:
I think that was the title perhaps, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Thank you very much.
MARION WRIGHT:
You're quite welcome.
END OF INTERVIEW
1. According to Harold Fleming, the board member who took the lead in re-raising the issue was Albert W. Dent, president of Dillard University. The resolution, adopted in 1951, was entitled, "The South of the Future." Fleming to Jacquelyn Hall, June 23, 1978.
was
3. Les Dunbar has no recollection of such an incident, and at one point he himself signed a clemency petition for Braden. Les Dunbar to Jacquelyn Hall, June 15, 1978.