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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern reaction to <cite>Brown</cite> decision surprised Wright

Wright confesses that he was wrong about white southerners' reaction to desegregation. He believed in the essential goodness of humans. Segregation was a complex and expensive system to enforce, so Wright thought white southerners might greet desegregation with relief. Prejudice was more deeply entrenched than he thought, Wright concedes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Marion Wright, March 8, 1978. Interview B-0034. 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

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 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 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.