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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with J. Randolph Taylor, May 23, 1985. Interview C-0021. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Creating a social movement

As a southern white, Taylor found that he held a minority opinion regarding civil rights. Through his church and his relationships with other ministers, however, he created a community who held similar convictions to his and could work to affect change. He also discusses founding "A Fellowship of Concern," an informal gathering of Presbyterians connected to social justice movements.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with J. Randolph Taylor, May 23, 1985. Interview C-0021. 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

BRUCE KALK:
How much involvement was there in the Southern Chrisiian Leadership Conference by Southern whites such as yourself?
J. RANDOLPH TAYLOR:
At the beginning, there was not very much. Well, there was some, a little sprinkling of it, but as the civil rights movement came of age ... I would say it really came to maturity in 1963 with the March on Washington. That was a key and pivotal year for me. By then I was a member of SCLC; I was a member of the Host Committee in Washington for the March on Washington; I had convinced the session and congregation of the Church of the Pilgrims, who were basically mostly southern white people, that we should be involved in hosting this gathering and let our church be used as a place where Congressional delegations could meet the constituents from their states. And then, just at that point, our denominational leaders in the old Presbyterian Church here--that's the old Southern Church--made a declaration that they would not participate in the March on Washington. Now there were a good many churches that didn't participate, but the Southern Baptist Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church were the two that said specifically, "We will not participate." I was at that moment left hanging on a limb. I was a local pastor of a congregation, and my session had said, "We will participate," and the denominational leadership said that they will not. I wrote an open letter just before the March on Washington to the leaders of our denomination, basically saying, "We will miss you." Out of that began a movement within the Southern Presbyterian Church called A Fellowship of Concern, and it was an informal gathering of largely whites, though it was never segregated, and there were always blacks in some number. But it was predominantly white by a great margin, and its concern was involvement in the civil rights struggle, plus the giving of assistance to those who came into difficulty because of their work in civil rights. It was a signficant movement. The organization lasted for about five or six years and included a great many North Carolinians. It was strong in Virginia and North Carolina and in Georgia and in Tennessee and in Arkansas and in Texas and had active members in all the southern states. A Fellowship of Concern became very involved in the march from Selma to Montgomery. A Fellowship of Concern was involved in presenting a petition to the Senate at a moment in about 1964 or '5 when the Senate was locked up in filibuster from the southern senators, and we carried a petition signed by over 1,000 southerners indicating that the voice of filibuster is not the authentic voice of the South. It was one of those symbolic things. I remember Senator Russell was leading the filibuster, and his nephew, who was a good friend of mine, was one of the signers of the petition. Russell said at the time the reason that bill--I think it was the Voting Rights bill--passed was that the damn preachers decided it was a religious issue. I don't know if he was right. The reason a bill passes is that the conscience of the community coalesces around what it symbolizes, and there were a lot of factors, but certainly that was one. I guess that's to say that there were southern whites who became thoroughly involved in the civil rights struggle. I've given you one strain that's kind of predominantly Presbyterian, but there were similar movements in other areas. There are good examples of people like Will Campbell, who was a Southern Baptist who basically was a campus minister at the University of Mississippi for some years, a key white figure in a number of those civil rights confrontations. I wish I could name a whole lot, but it was a thin but though community of folk.