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Title: Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, February 1, 2002. Interview C-0298. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Rivera, Alexander M., interviewee
Interview conducted by Taylor, Kieran
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 80 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.
2007-02-20, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, February 1, 2002. Interview C-0298. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0298)
Author: Kieran Taylor
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, February 1, 2002. Interview C-0298. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0298)
Author: Alexander M. Rivera
Description: 87.4 Mb
Description: 20 p.
Note: Interview conducted on February 1, 2002, by Kieran Taylor; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by L. Altizer.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series C. Notable North Carolinians, 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 Alexander M. Rivera, February 1, 2002.
Interview C-0298. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Rivera, Alexander M., interviewee


Interview Participants

    ALEXANDER M. RIVERA, interviewee
    KIERAN TAYLOR, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[text missing] Was really with Brown, I think, was where the tape ends and starting to get into the emerging civil rights movement. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your last few years as a correspondent for the Courier and the kind of changes you saw in terms of stories you were reporting on after Brown.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Well, my last years with the Courier, I worked with Thurgood Marshall on the cases that he was interested in. The big case of course was the Clarendon County case. It was named because it was in the Clarendon County that everything originated. The legal name was Briggs versus the State of South Carolina, whatever it was. In law, they take the name of the case alphabetically, and there were twenty-some defendants in the case, and being Briggs, he was one of the first. So they named it the Briggs case. That's all. But they had twenty-some odd defendants. The case was started before the NAACP got into it. A lawyer named Harold Boulware out of Columbia, South Carolina, had the first case, and he lost it on a technicality that he didn't bring it in the correct court. So it was thrown out because they said it was not in the jurisdiction of the court that he brought it in.
So then these people got very much disgusted and went to the NAACP and asked them if they would take the case. Well, Boulware was also an NAACP lawyer. So he remained with the case, but Thurgood Marshall said, ‘Well, yes, we will take the case if you can get as many as a dozen’—I think he asked for—‘defendants, plaintiffs.’ He was surprised. They got over twenty. They got over twenty-some odd people. He was surprised because it was a hotbed of racial prejudice, but these people were determined. They knew that they were going to lose. Well, they knew, first, they were going to lose their jobs. They lost their jobs, and then they lost their farms, and their churches were

Page 2
burned and houses were burned and all of that. But they stuck it out. I was surprised. So Thurgood Marshall took it over, of course, and then as they said the rest of it is history. He won the case under Judge Waties Waring. He won it. He lost it in the federal court and won, of course, in the Supreme Court.
Now, I think that was the last large case or story that I had with the Courier, large one. I had several smaller stories, but because of my location, I was on the front page of the Courier every week. See I was assigned to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. But there was always something happening in these three states. Then the Courier because I did write and take pictures, the Courier sent me everywhere. They sent me outside of my territory to cover cases. They sent me as far as Florida and then I went to Africa with Nixon.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What was in Florida? What stories did you cover there? Would you remember? You wouldn't have been there for the Tallahassee rape case?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, this was a case where a black woman killed a white doctor. She was going with him and they were, or at least they had an affair, whatever it was. When he decided that the affair was over, she decided that it was not over. She killed him. I'd have to look that case up, but it was a very outstanding case. It was a man and the doctor had two waiting rooms, white waiting room and a colored waiting room, but he had this black woman that he was having an affair with. When he wanted to call it quits, she wouldn't let him. She killed him. I had to go down for that. I covered that case. I don't remember the dates. I'd have to look it up. The case, the Clarendon County case or the Brown versus Topeka Board case changed everything. It changed everything for everybody in this country because up until that time we had been the strictly segregated,

Page 3
racially segregated country, white and black. With this decision it became a desegregated country. The case of Brown versus Topeka Board made Plessy versus Ferguson case unconstitutional.
Of course, the court knew what the law should be. But they were troubled about what affect their decision would have on the country in general because they knew it was going to be such a tremendous change in everybody's life, lifestyle. In the decision they hedged because they said, ‘Well, we're going to rule.’ Then they ruled against segregated, all segregation based on race, but they ruled that it must proceed with all deliberate speed. You remember that. All other cases ought not, not all other cases but most cases as soon as the law was passed, there was immediate change right immediately. The law became law immediately. But in this case because of the situation the court said, ‘We will move in all deliberate speed.’
Well, this changed everything. Black newspapers went out of business because they were, by and large, they were protest organizations. They didn't have the same things to protest. The strife, racial strife wasn't over, but legally it was over. So black newspapers went out of business. The Courier was one of them. They struggled for a while.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
When was your last year with the Courier?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
It was in late '60s. I don't remember, late '60s. I went from The Courier then back to working with the North Carolina Central University. I went with them in '74. I remember that very distinctly.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now, would some of the Courier employees have gotten work at say the Philadelphia Inquirer or other of the mainstream papers once desegregation took effect.

Page 4
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
A few did. Wendell Smith was the sports editor, and he was employed in Chicago, by Chicago Herald-Tribune, and there were some others that were hired by dailies. I didn't want to work for a daily. I had been offered a job with the Herald many, many times, but of course, the salaries were not as good.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Lower than at the black papers.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is that right?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah. They used to ask me all the time said, as good as a photographer as you are, why don't you work for the Herald-Sun? I said, ‘Well, the Herald Sun doesn't pay what the Courier was paying.’ So it was, then I was trained, I was trained for a weekly. A weekly and a daily are altogether different. So I went from the Courier to North Carolina Central. I came back.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is there a photograph, a picture that you took during your time with the Courier that stands out as either your favorite or one that is still very vivid in your memory, one you're particularly proud of?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, that was the concert, the Marian Anderson concert, and that was on Easter Sunday in 1938 or '39. That was my favorite. I have that picture in my file.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Can you describe it?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I can show it to you.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Sure.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I wouldn't want to go—these are the pictures. These are the pictures. They are the plaintiffs in the Clarendon County case.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Would you know if Reverend Delaine is one of these?

Page 5
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
[unknown]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He would have been gone by then.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, he wasn't gone. He tried his best to be aloof from it. He felt that he could work better in the background than he could out front. He tried his best to stay aloof from it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was it he felt he was too much of a lightening rod?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, he just felt that he in the background he could be more effective. Of course, it didn't last.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unknown]
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Well, he finally became the pivotal figure in the case. They burned his house down.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But he was one from the beginning, right, he was one of the real—
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, he was one of the—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Instigators and real fighters.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
What happened, I'm trying to remember these names. I'm glad you got this (card?) because I'll think of them. I might think of them, and I might not. This was the church where everything, where all the strategies took place and where they were studying it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now, when you were covering these stories, did you get to know somebody like Reverend Delaine well, or was it just kind of in passing? You'd be down there for one day a week and then you were back up.

Page 6
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Now. We stayed down. I was, Reverend Delaine had a niece who was a student in North Carolina College, then it was called. I knew her then. I knew her, and it was through her, that's me with the president.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did you meet, this is President Ford. How did you meet President Ford? What were the circumstances?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I happened to have been responsible for bringing him here to speak. It was our, I think it was seventy-fifth anniversary.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This is to Central.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Seventy-fifth anniversary. He came here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It says 14th November 1975.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Seventy-fifth anniversary. Now, I hope I've got on the back of here because here's the, yeah, thank God, because I couldn't think of the name. You see that guy sitting here in the middle?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah. Who's that?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
James M. Hinton. He was the focal point of the whole thing. He started it all. He was one that got Delaine excited about the whole case. You can put this on [unknown]. I can tell you about it. Is it on?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Reverend, his name was James M. Hinton, who was in Columbia, South Carolina, and he was the chairman of the NAACP there. No, he was president of the South Carolina district. He was president of the NAACP in South Carolina. He was a man that was as fierce as I've ever seen. He made, when I was in his presence, I was nervous because I just didn't ever know what he would do next. But he gave a speech. It

Page 7
was a summer school at Allen University, and he gave the graduate, the commencement speech for the summer school students. Delaine happened to be a student at Allen University in this summer school program. He heard Hinton talk, and Hinton got him so fired up and so interested in this thing that he went back to Clarendon County and started this whole thing. But he wanted to be in the background. He tried his best to stay in the background, but he couldn't because see he was principal of the school there. He knew that they would, he would lose his job and everything. So but that's one reason he wanted to stay in the background and the other reason I think he felt—this is, you asked me about pictures. That's a picture that I like very much.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's beautiful.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I took that down in Alabama.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you know where in Alabama this was taken?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
In Birmingham.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
In Birmingham.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Just to describe for the tape what is it we're looking at?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
This is a mother who was riding on the bus, and it shows a sign "for colored patrons only". This sign had pegs in it, and it was on a bar, and when a person got on, if the white person wanted to sit where you were seated, then they'd pick up the bar, pick up the sign and move it to another, and you'd have to move. You always had to move behind that sign. So the reason I liked the sign so much is because it shows a mother and child, and it shows the kind of country that this little child was being born and reared in, brought up in. That's the reason why I like it so much.

Page 8
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you know if this ran in the Courier? Did they run this one?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Oh, it ran everywhere. I don't know. That's me. That's a picture of me and—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The Vice President Richard Nixon.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Vice President Richard Nixon.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You seem very comfortable with him.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I was. We were good friends.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He seems about as comfortable as Richard Nixon gets.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah. Well, for some unknown reasons, he liked me. I don't know what it was about it. I don't have that picture with me, but it's a picture of—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah, describe the—
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
It's a picture of Marian Anderson in concert at the Lincoln Memorial. She's singing there on Easter Sunday morning. Easter Sunday afternoon around four o'clock it was. She had been denied by the Daughters of the American Revolution, she'd been denied a concert at the Constitution Hall. Nobody ever thought that she'd be denied, and nobody ever thought that these people would deny her. That was in '39. I think it was '39, '38 or '39. But at any rate, these members of the DAR, Daughters of American Revolution decided that she couldn't sing there because she was black. So what happened was Mrs. Roosevelt got interested in it. [unknown] got interested in it. Mrs. Roosevelt was writing, she had a column called "My Day", a daily column. She decided that well, if the Daughters of the American Revolution were that prejudiced, she would renounce her membership. So when she renounced her membership, a lot of other people followed her. They renounced it. Then they decided that the best place to have this

Page 9
concert would be outdoors in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and they could make a statement, that the whole thing would make a statement. So that's where she sang was outdoors, and that was the picture I got of her singing was outdoors with the background and everything.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Which way, so is Lincoln in the background?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Or are you taking it from behind her?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, Lincoln was in the background.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I see.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I have it here, but it must be in that display. If you needed it or you would need to copy it or something, I would be glad to get it for you. But then that was, we're jumping now from '39 to '54.
Of course, '54 was the decision that changed, as I say, changed everything. Black newspapers went out of business. A lot of black schools closed. It was just what we had, we were working for desegregation and when we got it, it meant the end of our jobs.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I'd imagine a lot of black businesses—
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, a lot of black businesses.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Went out of business, insurance companies.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Well, not so much the insurance companies.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
They did all right or better.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, they didn't do better. Before the Brown versus Topeka Board, the banks and insurance companies, businesses of that stature had already come to conclusion that black business was good business. Now a lot of them had a differential, and that is I was

Page 10
told, I didn't ever see this. But I was told that the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company charged more for premiums for blacks than they did for whites. They had a separate system. But they did, they took them. Now as far as the banks were concerned, when the banks were in this area found that the Mechanics and Farmer's Bank was making money, then they started accepting blacks over to black accounts, but it wasn't until they started hiring blacks that the real breakdown came. When they started hiring people in the front offices, blacks. When they started training them for the higher positions and so forth, then of course, they became. I'm sure that the Mechanics and Farmers Bank has felt it. They're not as strong now as they used to be. They had a building savings and loan that's virtually out of business because see the one time the early years when the early years of the bank when Roosevelt came in office, he declared a bank holiday. I don't know if you've ever heard of that. All banks were closed. In other words, he was trying to let them come back those that were abler to come back. The Mechanics and Farmers Bank, the black bank, was the first bank in Durham to open after the bank holiday. So people looked around and said, ‘Are you telling me that that was, that's the soundest bank in Durham?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that's what it is.’ They're open. It was the first one. They got a lot of Jewish business from stores that the Jews were running in the black community. They got a lot of that business.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That was an indication that [unknown]
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
It was straight, sound. Well, it was sound because it had the backing also of the Mutual Life Insurance Company.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Of which one?

Page 11
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. But I tried after the Courier, I tried some other little jobs. I started doing some work as a school photographer, and then I sold school jewelry to see what I could do to make some money. Then some friends from the North Carolina College came to me one day and said, ‘We'd like to have you to come work with us.’ I said, ‘Well, it doesn't look like it because you haven't made me an offer.’ So then they were testing me and I was testing them. So I said, ‘You make me an offer.’ They said, ‘Well, the reason why we haven't made you an offer is because what we have to offer now is’—[interruption]. They said, ‘The reason we didn't make you an offer is because what we have to offer you now is really small, but we can guarantee you that it will grow fast as soon as we can get our [unknown] budget.’ So I said, ‘Bring, let's look at it.’ They didn't know that I was anxious to go. I had been piddling around trying to find something to do. So they brought me the contract, and I said to them, I said, ‘Well, I can see why you were embarrassed with this.’ But I was happy that I could, I didn't tell. So I took the job, and of course, they kept the promise that each year the salary went up.
You asked me about Ford. We were having our celebration. It was 1975, the anniversary. We started in 1925. So in '75, that would be fifty years, wouldn't it? That was our fiftieth anniversary as a college, university. So the president asked me one day (Reverend?) Whiting. Albert N. Whiting was president, chancellor. He was the last president and first chancellor. He asked me said, ‘Well, who do you think we ought to get to speak for our anniversary?’ I said, ‘Get the president.’ He said, ‘The President, what president?’ I said, ‘We don't have but one that I know of. That's President Ford.’ So he said, ‘You think we can get him.’ I said, ‘I can get him.’ I wasn't too sure, but I

Page 12
thought I could. That was because of my friendship with Richard Nixon. So I told him I said, ‘Now, I will do this if you will swear secrecy.’ I said, ‘Because if I fail, I wouldn't want people to know that I had failed.’ He said, ‘Yeah, okay.’ He didn't think I would get it either. So one day he got a letter saying that sorry the president couldn't come and so forth. Correspondence that he was getting was different from the correspondence that I was getting. So one day I got a telephone call said, ‘You're lucky.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘The President's coming and the advance team is coming in there.’ The advance team [unknown]. ‘But you can't tell anybody.’ I said, ‘I've got to tell my chancellor.’ They said, ‘You can't tell anybody, nobody.’ So I lived right across the street from the school. So I went home, and I had to tell my wife. I had to tell somebody. And they said I couldn't tell the chancellor. ‘Do you think I should?’ She said, ‘Hell no. If they said no, don't tell anybody. Don't tell anybody.’ So they were coming in on the two or three days, the advance team to look around to see where anybody could get shot and all.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Security.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
So when they came in and they came in and told the chancellor that Ford was coming. The chancellor was on his way to New Jersey for a meeting or something. So he had to turn everything, a good thing for him, he had to turn everything over to me and Dr. Simmons, a guy named Dallas Simmons who was vice chancellor for university relations. We met with him, but the team, they told us he was coming and what to do, what to repair and all of this. So he came in and spoke.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How is it that, who did you contact to get the President? Did you just call up the President's people? How did you make this happen?

Page 13
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Well, Charlie Hill asked me the same thing. Dr. Friday asked me the same thing. He said, ‘How did you do it?’ I really don't know how we did it. We had some people behind the scenes pushing some buttons, and I don't even know who they were or what buttons they were pushing, but I do know that Nixon liked me a lot. He thought let me show you—[getting something]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Oh yeah.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
We were in—[unknown] '54?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This is 1955.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, 1955.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And it's a plaque from the Global News Syndicate.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
He was being honored, and we were being honored at the same time.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You got the award for journalism achievement.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
He got the humanitarian award. So we got a chance to sit in the group together. We both were recipients of award and so forth. So we became friends. When he got ready to go to Africa, he wanted me to go to Africa with him and all that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now, did you keep in touch with the President after say Watergate?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Oh yes. Yes.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is that right?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, kept in touch with him. I had more contact with him as Vice President than after he was President. He had more time than anything else. We corresponded when he was Vice President, had very little when he became President. He wanted to know about a job if I wanted, offered a job. Nope. I didn't want it. The job, the experience that I had when we went to Africa cooled me to working in the White

Page 14
House and in the government because we worked all day and half the night. I said, ‘That would kill me.’ So I said, ‘No. No, thank you. I don't think I want to do this.’ I didn't. I was smart because all of them are dead and gone, and I'm still here. We worked in Africa we worked from sun up to way past midnight, and we were expected to be up in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to work. I said, no.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, I know that E. Frederic Morrow who was Eisenhower's special assistant.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, I know him.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He died pretty young.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, I know him.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And was not altogether happy about his years in the White House the way they treated him.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Well, I wasn't, Nixon didn't indicate that he wanted me to work in the White House. He just wanted to know if I wanted a position or something, liaison office somewhere nearby. He didn't indicate that it was—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But something in government. Now, you worked as a portrait photographer, right? Did you have a studio that you ran or—
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did you, you went to people's homes or how did that work?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I was never a portrait photographer as such. But I had a friend who had a studio, and I used to play around in the studio. He studied, this guy's name was Charles Stanback, and he studied at Tuskegee at the Eastman School of Photography. It was the only black school for photography in the country. He studied there, and we became

Page 15
friends, and I was always in the studio, and I learned some portraiture under him, and we did some.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
His name was Charles Eastman?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, his name was Charles Stanback.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Stanback, I'm sorry.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
George Eastman put the school down—George Eastman—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Eastman is the school, right?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Eastman-Kodak company. George Eastman put the school down in Tuskegee.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did coming to Central in the early, mid '70s, how did the effects of desegregation affect Central? Did you see any effects in terms of the student body or over the long term how did it affect the institution?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, not. It didn't affect them at all.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
No. Did it, I don't know, drive up competition for students with say UNC?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
A certain quality. See UNC said that those top students that they could offer tremendous scholarships. They said they belong with us. In other words UNC said, well, the law says we've got to have a certain amount of black students, but it doesn't say we have to have any of the dumb ones. We've got the money. It was a period of buying students, and they had the money to buy what they wanted. They did. In fact they still do. We didn't have scholarship money and don't have it yet, but we're getting some under this new man that's in now.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How about in terms of the athletic programs at Central? Do you think those

Page 16
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Oh yeah, all suffered.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's suffered.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
You take Phil Ford and all those people that you've got over at Carolina. They would've, we were getting all those people from Rocky Mount came into North Carolina College. We would've gotten, we were getting the cream of the black athletes. When you look around and see your, I look at the University of Mississippi the other night playing basketball. Everybody on there was black. I said I was shocked. It's Mississippi. When teams came in here to play, Duke and Carolina if they had a black star on the team, their black star stayed over in the black neighborhood with somebody because he couldn't stay in the hotel and couldn't stay at the school.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You must've been one of the few professional black photographers from the state or certainly a pioneer.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I was a pioneer photojournalist. There were some other, there were photographers. Very few of them were writing. See now I almost never took a picture that I wasn't taking it for a story to illustrate a story, almost never. Right now, people associate me as being a photographer, and they want to compare me with other photographers, but they don't realize that I was a photojournalist and different all together from a photographer.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So in some ways a writer first, then you'd take the pictures to—
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
I don't know which, I started out. I don't know which came first. I started out, I think, taking pictures first. I was recognized taking pictures back in '39. Back in the '30s, early '30s photography was crude. I mean, you had your film was not developed. We had chromatic film. The highest ASA speed was thirty-two. You'd take

Page 17
a picture of a woman had lipstick on. Her lips were black. That's what chromatic film did. Then in middle '30s, late '30s the panchromatic film came out. That was the green-based film. The speed jumped immediately from thirty-two to sixty-four. We thought that we had gone to heaven. Then it jumped almost as quickly as that to 125. From then on, it just went on up. But we started out to get your correct exposure, you had to use a slide rule. Slide rule would give you distance from you to your subject and so forth, to compute flash and so forth. I was doing stuff with using exposure meter, held up the exposure meter and that exposure meter would tell you exactly what, precisely what the light was. But now, of course now, it's digital, and I don't even know anything about digital photography. My son is doing it but not me.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You were part of a PBS documentary on photojournalists in the civil rights movement.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
That's been everywhere.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I don't think I've ever seen that. What was the name of it?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
It was about civil rights, and it was about civil rights photography. It was more about, there was a bunch of us. I've got a copy of it somewhere around here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You don't remember the name of it or anything?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, I just remember what it was about. I don't remember the name of it. It was a PBS film. This guy came in, and he photographed. He went around. He photographed me, and he went down to South Carolina and went down to Georgia and photographed those who had worked in civil rights photography.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Did interviews as well?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Huh?

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KIERAN TAYLOR:
Did he do interviews as well?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah. But he had us all up to Charlotte. Had the whole bunch, after he did the film, he had a whole bunch up to Charlotte to the University of Charlotte. But the other guys who, they might have had one or two experiences in civil rights, but they were not the whole thing. That was my whole thing.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I know there was a younger generation that came on like Matt Herron and Charles Moore and some of the people that were down in Mississippi, but they don't have the kind of range that you have going back into the '40s. I don't know that anybody has the kind of range you have. Was there anybody else working those stories, I mean other than the mainstream white papers? There was nobody that did the kind of thing that you did.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No. No. Nobody else was writing and taking pictures. No. That Willie Earle thing that I let you see, that was the lynching in South Carolina. Then of course, the very next year I had one out there Isaiah, Isaiah, what the hell. It was another lynching. That was in Georgia. I can't think of Isaiah's name now. But no, I didn't have anybody when I had to go on those cases. I went alone because I didn't want anybody with me because if I had to run, I didn't want to have to leave somebody because see I was making my own decisions and my own everything, time of arrival and time of departure. I didn't want to wait around for somebody to say, uh oh so and so's back there. He's tough luck. So I traveled alone. Isaiah Nixon was his name. But then when I just started working for school in 1934, it was all PR. Nothing exciting about it, but Ford's visit was, I guess, kind of exciting.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Highlight, sure. How about after, when did you retire?

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ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
'93.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So considerably, you stayed past the normal sixty-five retirement age.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Oh yeah. Nobody knew how old I was. I was waiting to get a good pension. So I could've stayed on because they didn't want me to go anyway. Nobody wanted me to go.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What have you been doing since then?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
As much of nothing as I can possibly do. Nothing. I was playing golf until I had the stroke. I haven't been able to get my coordination back to do that. I think that's attributed to the stroke and to age. I feel I'm lucky just to be here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now you've done some, I know you've spoken to some schools right and some community groups—
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

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KIERAN TAYLOR:
Couple of years ago, huh?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Um hmm.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I think that's pretty much it for my questions. Is there any thing that you think we haven't covered that's important that you want to add to the historic record? Think we got most of it?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Yeah, I think so.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
All right. Great. Thanks a lot.
END OF INTERVIEW