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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Race and politics during the early 1930s in Tyronza, Arkansas

East discusses race and politics in Tyronza, Arkansas, during the early 1930s. Around 1932, East helped to organize the Socialist Party in Arkansas. While he does not recall the party having any African American members during those years, East does recall that other programs for organizing people, such as the WPA, were more directly involved with issues of race. East focuses on how government meetings were, by necessity of efficiency, held with "mixed race" audiences. East later focused on this as part of his argument that the Southern Tenant Farmers Union should be integrated.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. 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

SUE THRASHER:
Did the Socialist Party try to put for any programs or organize anything?
CLAY EAST:
Well at that time, they had the WPA, which was put out by the government, see. And, we always had suggestions or criticism about the way it was operated and there was plenty of room for it. But, I think mostly that what helped…for what we got for the unemployed, was through that. But, if we hadn't been setting back there, ready to critisize certain things that they did, I think that it would have made it much harder on people that were independent, see. In other words, they'd not have anything for them to do, not have a job or anything, have an excuse of somekind, but they didn't hardly dare do that on account of us boys keeping a close check on them.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, who were some of the strong members of the party? Was the Socialist Party…did it have black members? Were , Mr. Brookins, were they members of the party?
CLAY EAST:
I absolutely don't know and I can't remember now. Mitch tells about these things, but I can't remember any black people attending a socialist meeting. See, they didn't…uh, that was not started. Mixed meetings wasn't held back there until we started up with the union. So this was before the union and I just don't remember any black people being in there at all. I don't think there was, because at that time, it wasn't a practice. They didn't have colored people going to the white church or anything else. The only time, and that was one thing that I brought up… when they'd have a meeting of these farmers and so forth, farm workers and all, and they'd have a government man in there to explain this cotton acreage program. Of course, they'd have a certain section for the colored, but they had the colored in there and the white too. That was all right, that was the government, but they couldn't send a government man in there. And that was one of the things I brought out when I told them that we couldn't have two separate unions. Of course, I had that in mind and I even brought it up later saying that, "By God, you have mixed meetings when the government man comes in here, he can't go in here and have to talk to a bunch of white guys and then go down here to another set of them and talk to the black farmers." As I told you, there was quite a few black farmers around there, renters and so forth and they had to know what was going on in order to carry out this program.