Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Vivion Lenon Brewer, October 15, 1976. Interview G-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

WEC activists experience heightened tensions from pro-segregationists

Brewer expresses the palpable fear WEC workers faced, which is duplicated later in the transcript. She explains how her southern identity increased the frustration of pro-segregationist whites who viewed her as a race traitor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Vivion Lenon Brewer, October 15, 1976. Interview G-0012. 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

ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Very frightening; very true. Well, I have read time and again, I've read people describe Little Rock as being surrounded by a climate of fear during that whole period. And I remember--I didn't understand what was happening or what the issues were--but I did understand the fear.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Well, there are two stories about that. I've often wondered why I didn't have trouble, because I drove from here to the Heights, 10 and of course we didn't have the freeway then and it took me across a very isolated country road. 10 W.E.C. headquarters was in the Pulaski Heights section of Little Rock, 23 miles from the Brewer home. And I don't know why something didn't happen during all that time, because . . . Well, to go back to the other story, when the first picture--you probably found it in the papers--I said, "Harry, you're no friend of mine to let a picture like that get in the paper" . . .
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
(Laughs)
VIVION LENON BREWER:
. . . and he said, "well, I just didn't want anybody to recognize you."
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
(Laughs)
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Which I think he meant.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Yes.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
In all sincerity, I think he meant it. Because the husbands of the women who did work in the Committee were frightened.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
I wondered if they were.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
They were, because when we first had our office, it was in the old Capitol Hotel building, right on the main floor. And pickets would walk up and down outside, you know, and stare in at us. And our husbands absolutely refused to let us stay there over Sunday. They were just afraid, with so few people around, we would have trouble. And finally we moved that office, because it was just too public a place. It's hard to know why people hate like this, but I think I can see that, after all, I was "a Southern lady," and if something had happened to me, my martyrdom would have done more harm to their cause than just letting me struggle along. It seems to me that's the only explanation for not having . . .
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
That's probably also a part of the explanation for why they felt such hostility toward you, because you were breaking the faith.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Mm-hm.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
You were supposed to know better. (Laughs)
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Well, I think I've quoted in the manuscript my favorite letter--I did keep it, and I think it's at Smith, if I remember correctly--that someone over in Lonoke wrote--at least the postmark was Lonoke--that "I've seen your picture, and you look as if you're half Negro--'nigger,' I'm sure they said--and half-Jew." (Laughs)
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Oh, heavens. (Laughs) Well, you don't.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
(Laughs)