Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nancy Kester Neale, August 6, 1983. Interview F-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Buck Kester believed the South could change for the better

Neale describes Kester's philosophy. He believed that despite the sins it hosted, the South held unique potential for positive change. Her father measured change in the South incrementally, and sympathized with the middle-class whites who bore the brunt of the criticism as the civil rights movement took shape in the 1950s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Nancy Kester Neale, August 6, 1983. Interview F-0036. 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

NANCY KESTER NEALE:
He talked about the neccessity of always trying, no matter how difficult or how unsuccessful, and he often felt unsuccesful, not in his eyes neccessarily. But he felt that he had just not made a mark. And when he got older that is what he wanted. In his younger days he felt that people had to try, they had to try to make a difference in their world. They had to try to trust the gap, and this was true for southerners more than any other group. He thought the south was a very special place in this world. The south had sinned as much as any other region. He said if we could make it in that sense as much as any region in any place in its behavior, but there was more potential in the south for growth and development and learning than anywhere else. He said once a southener makes his mind up on race you know where you stand with that person. You can always count them, because they can't waffle like they can anywhere else. It goes to the soul of a person. He believed that very much. And I think all of those people did, men and women. That they had to try, they had to make a difference. They tried conferences, they tried small group decentralized efforts, they tried bringing in big names. I can remember meeting Elanore Roosevelt at a conference when I was four years old they had in Nashville. They tried a whole variety of kinds of techniques so that they could shape the circumstances and try to change things for people. They really did believe that they were changing things for themselves for the better if they changed it for other people. It was not sort of like the disinterested kind of notion. But everybody was helped or hurt by the ways the things were shaped. So in that sense I see a continuity. And I think Sawsar Chavey's operation could build on some things that had gone on before probably as much as the FTSU ism.
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
That is the grandchild isn't it? FTSUism?
NANCY KESTER NEALE:
Oh yes, I think so. I think that is very clear. A lot of these people crossed over from different organizations were belonging to all of them or some of them. And it was a very interesting group to my knowledge there were about three hundred families, when I recall numbers. And they talked about wealth and lived in separate places, but were trying to operate on their small levels through their pulpits, or their parishes or what ever they were, their charitable, or women's organizaitons, all those kinds of groups. You could ride up and see it in the student movement, which was a very powerful moving thing in the south eventually as you saw in the YWCA effort. The intergration of Blue Ridge for example was a very interesting kind of thing. I think that it is all connected. One of the things that my dad was saying about, I went to that conference in Nashville in 1957 and Martin Luther King was there and I talked to him. And I was just out of college at that time. I think I was in the person on stage of development in that meeting. But the one thing that dad was disappointed about when Martin Luther King came was that he didn't understand. He was chastising the middle class white folks who were not doing more and doing it faster and harder and getting on with it. And I had some sense that dad was saying Oh brother if you knew what has gone into getting it this far. And I remember talking about saying that in a way he thinks that he is only starting from scratch. And so much has gone into even getting the states where there was even the amount of blood shed that there was is bad enough. But it would have been much more severe, which wasn't alright in any case. But it was just that sense of he just felt sad and regretful that Martin Luther King didn't see the heritage and how these middle class white folks had contribute out of their own blood and sweat and tears and their way. Not as much pain as the blacks suffered but it can't really compare the kinds of things, because they had to stand up against the whole society in order to do what they tried to do.