Farmer describes the foundation of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and its primary aims, contending that most African Americans are concerned more with ending oppression than with integration. Farmer explains how and when quotas might be necessary to prevent resegregation. Farmer voices his support for integrating schools to the degree possible, and he describes racial violence in Mississippi. He also recalls Medgar Evers' efforts to evade such violence. Farmer contends that civil rights activists need the assistance and talents of both black and white people, and he discusses the leadership and tactics of the civil rights movement. Farmer considers differences of class among African Americans working in the civil rights movement, and he also discusses the extent to which working-class African Americans have assumed leadership roles. Farmer discusses Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and John F. Kennedy, and he describes recent efforts to secure a civil rights moratorium until the conclusion of the 1964 general election. He also discusses CORE's role in the civil rights movement and his wish that more African Americans would contribute funds to the movement. Farmer also discusses the 1964 Democratic Convention and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's participation in that convention.
The sound quality of files 5 and 6 is very poor. The voices are generally very slowed down.
Image: Original caption: James Farmer, Director of CORE sits in his office at 38 Park Row in New York City. June 20, 1964. Copyright: Bettmann/Corbis.
James Farmer, Jr.
James L. Farmer, Jr. (1920-1999) was a civil rights activist and politician. Born in Marshall, Texas, Farmer attended Wiley College and Howard University's School of Religion. While at Howard, Farmer was introduced to and embraced Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent direct action. In 1942, with a white friend and a few others, Farmer founded the Committee on Racial Equality, later called the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), after they successfully staged a sit-in demonstration in front of a Jack Spratt's Coffee Shop in Chicago that had refused to serve a mixed-race group of customers. After World War II, before he started working full-time for CORE, Farmer worked as the race relations secretary for the pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation and worked as a program director for the NAACP. Farmer led CORE members in projects designed to protest segregation in public schools and to insist on African Americans' right to enter theaters, coffee shops, swimming pools, and other segregated public places. In 1961 Farmer and CORE initiated the Freedom Rides, through which they protested segregated travel facilities in the South. Farmer was arrested on several occasions for his participation. In 1968 Farmer unsuccessfully ran for Congress; the following year he joined President Richard Nixon's administration as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He left the post in 1970, contending that he could have a larger impact by working in the private sector. Farmer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Image: Original caption: James Farmer, Director of CORE sits in his office at 38 Park Row in New York City. June 20, 1964. Copyright: Bettmann/Corbis.
CONVERSATION 1, TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Tape #1 – June 11, 1964
CONVERSATION WITH MR. JAMES FARMER
RPW: Mr. Farmer, I remember reading somewhere a remark of yours that for you at least, segregation had been a challenge and a stimulus, that though you had never felt yourself inferior, nevertheless this gave you a focus for your energies, when you were young.
JF: I think that is true. You must understand of course, that my childhood was somewhat unique, and that my father was a professor at a college practically all of my early life, and I lived on the campus and thus was insulated and isolated from some of the problems in the community.
RPW: In a way then, you could have whatever benefit there would be from the challenge without the deadening weight of direct contact with the process of segregation.
JF: That is right, yes, I would say that that is true. I would not want this to be interpreted as a justification for segregation.
RPW: I think we can avoid that, that interpretation. Now, challenge is the very essence of achievement though, isn’t it? What kind of challenges do you see as normal for the child or boy as different from the challenge of segregation?
JF: Well, let me put it this way -- I think the greatest challenge that I fixed as a child, was to prepare myself to try to get rid of segregation, to do what I could to oppose the thing and bring it down. My entire life was dedicated to that proposition.
RPW:Let’s see, CORE was founded in 1942 -- what particular need, what vacuum did you conceive of this organization as filling at that time?
JF: Well, at that time I was working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation as Race Relation Secretary. Now the Fellowship is a religious Pacifist organization and in the course of my duties, I had been studying a great deal about Ghandi, Mahatma Ghandi -- his works and his life, and more recently had taken a tour through the South -- a speaking trip -- visiting Negro colleges. This was my first trip South since leaving the South in 1938. I visited the South on this tour in the Fall of 1941 and came back to Chicago, which was my headquarters then, convinced that something had to be done that was not now being done -- that the current approaches to the problem were not adequate, and therefore was determined to use the Ghandian techniques in a battle against segregation, we wanted to add new ingredients to the struggle that was then going on.
RPW: That is, as opposed to the legalistic approach, is that right for one thing?
JF: Yes, well, not really opposed to it --
RPW: I don’t mean -- as distinguished from it, I don’t mean in place of it.
JF: Yes, we saw our approach as supplementing that approach, we felt that the new ingredients that needed to be added were as follows:
1. Involvement of people themselves, that is the rank in file -- not relying upon the talented tenth, not relying upon the experts and the professionals to do the job.
2. A rejection, a repudiation of segregation. In the past, we have felt that too many people had lambasted segregation verbally, and had then gone ahead and allowed themselves to be segregated. It was a contradiction, and we felt it was important for individuals to remove themselves from the support of segregation. This was following in a sense, the views of Thoreau, Henry David Thoreau.
3. Emphasis upon nonviolent direct action -- that is, putting one’s body into direct confrontation with the evil and the perpetrators of the evil and accepting the consequences of one’s action.
So it was on these principles that CORE was founded in 1942.
RPW: Several questions come out of that, I would like to have you speak about -1. What results did you look for, I don’t mean necessarily practical results
looking for the abolition of segregation; but what changes -- or by what process of change do you expect this to come about? Moral awakenings on the part of a white community, for instance? Moral awakenings on the part of a Negro community? What various results has steps toward the achievement of a practical end ?
JF: Well, we saw -- first I ought to say that we looked upon our efforts in the early forties as being experimental -- experimenting with a new technique, and we longed for and dreamed about the development of a mass movement, which fortunately we do have now; but we saw it as first appealing to the conscience of the majority, and second, making the continuation of segregation so expensive that it would become intolerable.
RPW: Now, how would you describe that process? It has already become expensive.
JF: It has already been expensive, yes, and what we wanted to do was to use the economic power through the boycott, and to do that effectively required larged numbers than we had at the outset. We wanted also to get people in their withdrawal of themselves from the support of segregation, to withdraw their money from the support of segregation -- in terms of financing and subsidizing and investing, etc. These are all a part of the plans initially in CORE.
RPW: I was a quotation here that runs something like this -- it is from Eric Lincoln -- he says that the question has been at times, whether the Negro with his hypothetical -- the Negro is, you know, wants real integration or whether he wants a kind of superficial integration which allows him to feel himself equal in principle but withdrawn in practice, as if it was his own community. Now, I assume, I won’t speak, but I assume if you are interested in actual integration, not superficial integration, but then that case you have a problem with the Negro community, don’t you, too?
JF: Yes, I think this is a -- the great debate that is going on in the Negro community at the present time.
RPW: Please analyze that, will you?
JF: Well, I that that most Negroes -- I don’t want to use the term the average Negroes, because I don’t know what that is -- but most Negroes, the rank in file, the ordinary John Does whose skins are black -- most Negroes are not really concerned with the issue of segregation, of separation versus integration. The real issue for them is getting the heel of oppression of their neck, they know something is hurting them -- they are not sure what it is -- and they want it removed. Now Malcolm X and I can address a mass rally the same morning, he can get an applause talking about separation, I can get an applause talking about integration, and I think this is a significant fact. Now, it is the responsibility of leadership to analyze this heel of oppression that is on the neck and define it and come up with ideas as to how it can be removed.
RPW: You mean isolate the actual aspects of the practical problem.
JF: That is right, yes, and so the debate that is going on is among leadership. Now, I am an integrationist, I believe the solution is not separation but is integration, but it is important for us now to define that integration -- what do we mean by it? Do we mean that the Negro as one tenth of the population in this country would be absorbed into white culture, into white society, and thus would disappear and lose his identity.
RPW: Even the bloodstream disappears.
JF: Yes. And I think not, this is not what I am searching for -- this is not the type of integration that I am looking for. Instead, I am looking for a situation whereby the Negro has pride in his culture, his history, the contributions that Negroes have made in American History and before that, in Africa -- that he has an identity, that he knows who he is and has a pride in it. Thus, he can come into an integrated society as a proud and equal partner, who has something to give, something to share, and something to receive. Now, that to me is more in line with American History than any idea of a merger or an absorption -- disappearance. We’ve had the concept in America of unity through diversity, and I think that the same thing should apply to the racial situation in our country.
RPW: This reminds me of the discussions that appeared in the work of DuBois, you know, on the question of the split in the Negro , the pull toward an African tradition or at least toward the American Negroes cultural tradition as opposed to all the other . That is, you don’t see that as a real problem, you see it solved in terms of American cruelisms.
JF: That is right, it is a problem for each individual Negro -- as DuBois put it, every thoughtful Negro at some time has asked himself the question “Is he an American Negro or is he a Negro American”?
RPW: Now, a man may not search -- search is the word you used, I believe -- for absorption, blood absorption, but it may eventuate. Now some Negroes at least, in the fact of eventuation, comes the withdrawal from it, has lost their identity through that absorption.
JF: Of course, yes. I would not shrink from it, however, I think that this should be a permissive absorption. An individual Negro chooses to marry an individual white person, then fine. I do not think this would happen with most Negroes or most white people, indeed. Nor do I think that most Negroes will choose to live in what are now lily white suburbs. I believe, however, that they ought to have a choice and that it should be an open society. If the Negro wants to live in lovely gardens or lovely lane, then he should do so; but in the foreseeable future, most Negroes are going to choose to live in what are now the ghettos.
RPW: Now, this is about choice, you said.
JF: Yes, it should be a matter of choice, not a matter of compulsion. That is why I prefer at this stage, to speak of it as a battle for desegregation, rather than a battle for integration.
RPW: Because that is the first step, at least logically the first step in the process -- that is what you said --
JF: Yes, that is right. This ties in also with another debate that is going on in the whole American society now, with regard to race relations -- is whether we want to become a blind, for the color blindness is a thing to be sought. Many of our civil rights laws have been based upon the premise of color blindness, in jobs and in housing, etc. You can’t have a quota, you can’t look for Negroes you know, certain number or percentage of Negroes in the housing project -- it is illegal to ask the race or look at the race -- when you seek employees, you must seek employees, you do not seek Negro employees or white employees, you must seek employees, etc. Well, I think this is a fanciful notion, I don’t that that color blindness in the American concept is a realistic one at all. I think that instead of feeling that we should sit beside a Negro and say “I don’t see the color of his skin, I don’t know the color of his skin” -- we should be able to say “Yes, I know the color of his skin and he is black, but so what?” And that, I think, is more American.
RPW: A university or college that I know, they have a very large
Given them to encourage the attendance of Negroes at . It is against the laws to inquire into the race, religion or color of applicant or possible student. So here you find a strange collision between the -- and they have to get around this.
JF: That is right, and I think the laws are wrong. I think the laws are outmoded now and need to be changed. We ran into it in a little campaign we had in seeking jobs for Negroes in a small chain of restaurants. The owner, the manager finally agreed to meet our demands, hiring a certain number of Negroes, but he said “We get our employees through a State Employment Service, we certainly can’t go to them and ask for 25 Negroes, it would be a violation of the law”. Well, I checked with some friend in the State Employment Service in that particular state and they said that it was very simple -- have the man call us and we will notify our office, which is in the heart of the ghetto, and tell them to send this man 25 qualified persons, regardless of race, color, creed or national origin.
JF: That is what it is, yes. I think the laws as they are now worded are wrong, and that we cannot be color blind, now we have to have a color consciousness aimed at wiping out discrimination.
RPW: This leads to a matter of quotas, doesn’t it? How do you conceive the quota, as a provisional, transitional device?
JF: Yes, in housing I think quota is necessary -- in order to avoid resegregation. In all the tipping point after an area or project becomes more than a certain percentage Negro, then it tends to become all Negro. I think in order to avoid resegregation, we have to have a benign quota. I am in favor of such a quota in employment -- for tactical and practical reason, we do not call for quotas now in employment -- we call for numbers instead, in order to see faces -- the black faces there.
RPW: You mean the number of Negroes, instead of a quota of Negroes.
JF: Instead of a quota of Negroes and number of Negroes, as a start.
RPW: The quota system does have in extension, some very grave dangers, doesn’t it?
JF: Of course it has dangers, yes. We and fought against quotas in colleges and universities, because we felt that quotas were used to discriminate; but our quotas can be used to eliminate discrimination that has existed and to create a more equitable situation.
RPW:You have read Oscar Hanlin’s [Handlin’s] little book “Bell In The Night” that has recently come out?
JF: No, I haven’t read it.
RPW: He makes a -- he is very much opposed -- I wouldn’t say opposed, that is not the word -- he is keenly aware of the danger of quota systems if they are not boxed around by a control which is recognized as devices, because they can spread in all kinds of directions, defeat the very purpose for which they are intended; but he also makes a remark that one of the dangers in the present situation is that integration has become a
-- the very word ‘integration’ -- and has let to unrealistic readings of actual situations, that equality is the key, not integration, because in a situation you can’t integrate by any immediate process, and he refers I think, to the Harlem schools situation as an example of that -- an example of that, where you can conceivably aim at equality and work toward integration, but you can’t make up the testing point in an overall way -- say a New York or Washington school situation. How would you respond this notion?
JF: Well, there I think it has to be both equality and integration. Our experiences in the past have indicated that in the school system, you cannot have equality under segregation.
RPW: This is back to the past, there is no question about it. But what do you do in a city like Washington, D.C., when there aren’t enough white school children in the public schools to go around in an integrated city?
JF: Well, in that case, you do as much as you can, you do as much as you possibly can, given the situation.
RPW:There are some people -- some Negroes I know who say there should be a law to go out in Virginia and corral them and bring them in.
JF: Well, that is nonsense, that is sheer nonsense. I think now in the New York City situation, a great deal more can be done than has been done, to create integration, and I believe that on the public school level, integration is terribly important. We see it in the development of the -- we see the dangers of not having integration in the development of national sentiment among Negroes, and anti-whites sentiment -- that would be offset if our children studied in the same schools and became friends. I think it is terribly important even to take artificial methods -- such as bussing sometimes or such as
of schools, or changing the school zones, in order to achieve integration, for the sake of letting our children get acquainted.
RPW: Dr. King and I were talking about this a few weeks ago -- a couple of months ago now, and he was saying -- some breaking point in time, thirty minutes might be the upper limit of time on the bus for a child of a certain age, you know -- he was saying, not lay down a program, he was saying there is some point where we have to have other considerations modified, the possibility -- sort of a common sensible view of this, where you break this, you see. Two hours each way on a bus is one thing, thirty minutes or forty-five minutes is another thing on a bus for children of certain ages. He was simply
, he was not laying down, say 30 minutes or 45 minutes -- those were the two times he used. He was saying the situation must have a gentle context for the benefit of the child -- he was not legislating or laying down a schedule of distance, he was saying we must see a context for the individual child’s benefit is involved in this.
JF: Well, I think that the issue of bussing has been greatly overplayed and exaggerated, because in any of the solutions that have been offered -- the proposals that have been offered for providing integrated quality education in northern cities, bussing has been a minor part of such plans. The limited number of children bussed and for comparatively short distances, also there is the fact that the people who have opposed bussing most vehemently have said “If you bus our children, we will pull them out of the public school system and send them to private schools” where incidentally they would be bussed for long distances. Yes, many parents bus their children all over the city to attend good schools -- private schools. Also, in the rural areas, in the counties, bussing has become an integral part of the educational system with the central schools established, you know, for the sake of quality education; so that I think that the issue has been greatly exaggerated and has become something that is hung up for discussion.
RPW: Smoke screen for some in discussion, anyway.
RPW: You were saying that you were inclined to believe -- correct me if this isn’t right -- that the hung jury in the two trials of Beckworth, were honest, not rigged for public consumption.
JF: Yes, I am inclined to believe that, I see no evidence of any rigging of the jury in that regard. I think that the State knew very well that it would be impossible to get 12 men, or women for that matter, in the state who would vote for a conviction, and they probably assumed that there would be either an acquittal or a hung jury.
RPW: You said that there was a change in Mississippi, though, in recent times of attitude, is that this exposure to public glare of publicity?
JF: I think so. Mississippi felt that it was an island, it didn’t care what the rest of the country or the rest of the world thought, and that what happened in Mississippi was the business of Mississippi and of nobody else; but that came to a rather abrupt end with the freedom rides and 225 people were jailed then and these people were from all over the country. Their home communities became greatly concerned about it; in fact, one state sent a delegation down to look at conditions in the state penitentiary where the freedom riders were. Well, ever since that time, there have been activities in Mississippi -- voter registration, demonstrations against segregation, etc. -- so that Mississippi knows now that if one Negro dies, is killed or if a house is bombed or shot, that it becomes headline news throughout the country, and Mississippi cannot stand to lose from this sort of thing. Say, I am not convinced that the new awareness in Mississippi of the fact that other people’s eyes are on them, will effect changes in segregation system. I think that they are just as convinced, just as determined to maintain segregation as they were five years ago, or more, but now they realize they have to be a little more sophisticated and subtle about it.
RPW: Let’s sort of out who is they -- you see.
JF: Yes, that is a very good question. I think that Mississippi, as far as the political power structure is concerned, is monolithic on segregation -- on this issue, and more than any other state in the country -- any other state in the South, it is a police state and is a controlled situation, so that I think there is some basis for people’s suspicion that the jury might have been rigged. I don’t think that massive violence occurs in Mississippi without of approval, there are no accidents in that sense; if there is massive violence, then the word has been given, and violence can be prevented in Mississippi. For example, when the freedom riders came into the state, everyone knew they were coming in, they knew when. Yet, Ross Barnett who was governor at the time, went on the air, went on television every day before the freedom riders came in, telling people the race mixes as he called them, were coming into our state -- forget about it, he said -- don’t come into town, don’t get your guns, don’t do anything, let us handle it and we will handle it according to law and order and we will see to it that the state segregation laws will be supported and maintained, upheld -- and that is what happened. There was a crowd of people at the bus terminal, but these people were largely reports, plain clothesmen and policemen. There were no mobs, they stayed home. Now in Alabama, you can have accidental mob, mass violence, because it is not that efficient in its police operation. The police in Mississippi are more efficient than police I have seen operate any place else in the country -- like clockwork, with precision. About a month before Medgar Evers was shot, I was riding with him from Greenwood to Clarksdale to see Dr. Henry, and night had fallen. He asked me to go along with him partly because he didn’t want to drive alone at night. As we drove along, he told me that he didn’t really go along with nonviolence as completely as some of the people in the movement, and if I looked in his glove compartment, I would find a loaded 45 there, and furthermore, every time he gets into the car, he checks under the hood and under the seat and everything else. Well, he said that in addition, nothing passes him on the highways in that state at night. We were going about 70 miles an hour and after a while he commented to me that the car behind us which had four men in it, had been with us for 15 miles and we’ve got to lose it, he said. We went up to 80, they stayed with us -- we went up to 90, up to 100 and the speedometer registered 100 before we pulled away from it. He told me that he doesn’t let anything pass him because has had too many experiences being stopped at night or attempts being made to block his car or force him off the road, and also there have been many cases recently, where people have had rather surprising accidents on the highway, which he does not believe were accidents. He said that in addition, lynchings still go on in the state, dead bodies not infrequently -- black bodies, that is, float down the Pearl River.
RPW: There have been five unexplained killings, I read in the paper, since last January --
JF: Five unexplained killings -- were they all Negroes?
RPW: All Negroes, yes. This is my recollection of some news story.
JF: I know when I got out of jail -- out of Parchment Penitentiary -- on that particular day, I was the only male who was bailing out, there were several girls who were bailing out, and there were two vans to take us back to town -- back to Jackson, I was put in the large one all alone, the girls were put in the small one and I later found out why this was done -- it was to give me a rough ride you, starting suddenly, stopping suddenly, hitting curves and have me tumble all over the huge van. But before we got in the van, a van drove up with the new freedom riders who were being brought to Parchment. Some of them recognized me and began singing freedom songs, it was a serenade. There were two Mississippians that are standing there chewing tobacco or smoking -- one of them said to the other and he looked at me “He must be one of the big shits” and the other one said “Yeah, if I could get my hands on him, he would be a dead shit” -- this was said just loud enough for me to hear. I found out the man who made the latter comments was the driver of the van taking me back to Jackson. Here I was, locked into the huge police van with this driver, he made it a very rough trip and when I would look out of the barred window and see that we were approaching a bridge, I, in my mind’s eye, could see him turning the steering wheel and jumping out -- it was a rough horrifying trip.
RPW: I’ll between! Did you read the report in the Press about Charles Evers speech at Nashville at the KACP dinner?
JF: No, I didn’t. What did he say?
RPW: Well, I don’t know, you see -- all I know is the Press -- I don’t know of anybody who was actually there. This was -- it may be verbal, it may be something more than verbal -- you reminded me of it by speaking on our brother being armed, which I knew -- Mr. Lawson told me and others have told me that. But anyway, according to the Press, the Nashville Press, he said that he preached unselected reprisal, if a church is bombed, we will bomb a church -- he was using the word ‘we’, we was actually his phrase. If children are killed in the church, we will bomb a church with children. Nonselected reprisal, you see, straight down the line; and I wrote him about this and he said that he was misrepresented. I checked back on the report -- the other report was a Negro reporter that he was called in by the editor of the newspaper and do you stand on this, are you sure you have and he said “Yes” – from there we rest, you see. Some say that he was carried away with the occasion, this didn’t represent his responses. I don’t think it is very important but it is -- it was used very, I think, unfortunately by people against him. I don’t think it happened that way, if it did happen.
JF: I don’t know Charles Evers views, I have met him only once and that occasion I didn’t have a chance to talk with him; but I do know that such views would be in conflict with the official views of the NAACP.
RPW: I know that, too -- I know that, too.
JF: I remember Robert Williams’ case --
- - - - -
See Tape #2Collapse
CONVERSATION 1, TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Tape #2 – June 11, 1964
CONVERSATION WITH MR. JAMES FARMER
RPW: Let me go back to a topic suggested earlier, by your remarks about CORE. I know some of the criticisms and difficulties that have come to NAACP because of interracial character. Now, have you had the experience with CORE?
JF: Because of the interracial character?
RPW: Yes. Some of the criticisms have reached the NAACP on that basis.
remarks by Adam Clayton Powell and many other sources.
JF: Well, Powell included us in his criticism of the NAACP, he criticized NAACP and CORE, for having white people in positions of leadership. Well, CORE from its very beginning has been an inter-racial organization, and this with us is a matter of principle. We don’t see how we can fight CORE in open society, through a segregated organization, and this is a policy position which we intend to maintain. We have an interracial staff at all levels, offices are both Negro and white, membership in all of our chapters except the chapters in the deep South are Negro and white. We expect to maintain it -- of course we run into difficulty. I expect that this difficulty will increase rather than decrease within the next few years.
RPW: What kind of difficulty, Mr. Farmer?
JF: Well, there are many, many Negroes who do not work -- will not work, and the organization is interracial because of their suspicion of whites, because of the distrust which they have for whites, some of this suspicion and distrust is the result of bad experiences in the past -- but more basically, I think it is the result of the fact that we have lived in separated worlds for so long. Negroes have grown up in a black world, whites in a white world. Many of the youngsters who have come into the civil rights movement within the past two years, have had no interracial experiences at all. The only white people they have had any dealings with, have been their landlords or their bosses.
RPW: This leads to something else now -- for instance, the most publicized remark is from James Baldwin -- that is, the white liberal is an affliction -- this famous remark -- and you hear it in many forms elsewhere. What is the role of this ‘the white liberal’?
JF: Well, as you know --
RPW: Does he have any role in the Negro revolution, or whatever you choose to call it.
JF: ‘White liberal’ has become a bad word -- like Uncle Tom, like , you name it. I think the white liberal does have a role. At the present stage of the civil rights struggle, his role cannot be one of leading the struggle. He cannot be the top leader of any of the civil rights organizations, if those organizations ought to have any impact in the Negro community right now. If there is a white leader of the organization, then the organization will become irrelevant as far as Negroes are concerned. I think that the white liberals must, and certainly should, be willing to work within the organization in the rank in file, and in roles of secondary leadership and as technicians -- that is, persons that have certain skills which cannot easily be found in the Negro community now, because Negroes have not had the opportunity to develop them. Part of CORE’s strength is the fact that we have an interracial staff.
RPW: What about the white man who is outside the organization -- he comes in for a little bit different treatment -- Say put it that way. The person who is concerned with the state of the health of the entire community, and subsumes the Negro situation on this bias, as it were -- on this idea, rather than in terms of organization. You ?
JF: Yes, I do, I do indeed. I was just thinking about it for a moment.
RPW: President Johnson , we trust.
JF: Yes, he is. On President Johnson, I would say that I think he has a real dedication and commitment on the civil rights issue. His speeches -- especially his speeches on the South -- have been very significant, in my opinion. Furthermore, he has taken some stands which do not seem to be calculated to help him politically. It is a matter of conviction and a feeling, an emotional matter with him, too, so I respect him for it.
RPW: I do, too, I am not staring at you.
JF: Yes. But the question you raised is a good one, a valid one. The feeling in the Negro community now is that this is the key issue, and all of the other issues might be secondary, and if there is any conflict between two issues, this one must prevail. If there is a conflict between fighting militantly for civil rights and a civil liberalist point of view, for example, then the civil rights issue must prevail. My own view is that all of these issues are so definitely interrelated, that while the civil rights issue is the key domestic issue of our time, we have got now to begin bridging the gap, and showing the relationship between the struggle for equal rights for Negroes and the struggle for a stronger and better America. I think the civil rights movement can make as one of its most significant contributions, providing motivation and trust, for example, toward solving the problem of poverty in our country -- solving the problem of unemployment -- because it happens that Negroes are the poorest of the poor, with the most unemployed of the unemployed, and the poorest houses of the house, and have the worst health of the poor heath, -- the poor people of poor health.
RPW: You find situations like this -- a white man that I know, who is quite a distinguished writer, has had some pressure for him to become an activist, at least associate himself outside. He has written very eloquently and is planning on something that is very important, which would be on this subject, and he will be totally committed to; yet he has come in some very harsh words because he won’t go march.
JF: Oh yes. Well, we have gone through that stage and I think it is just a stage and I think we are just about through it now, where the feeling has been that the only important contribution that a person can make, is in the streets. There are some people who will not be in the streets for various reasons, marching with us. But there are other things that they can do, and in a sense it has been our failure in not having pointed out specific things that they can do to help the revolution -- the civil rights revolution. If the civil rights revolution is to succeed, then we have got to work out methods of using people at the level in which they are able to operate to help the cause. We haven’t done that effectively, we are trying to do it now.
RPW: You find this also about certain Negroes, Ralph Ellison comes to mind. He is a man of enormous talents and high distinction. Did you see in Descent last Fall, the article by Irving Howell called “Black Boys of Native Son”? And Ralph Ellison replies in New Leader?
JF: Yes, yes. I didn’t see the replies.
RPW: He wrote two very eloquent pieces in reply. He said Irving Howell as a new kind of billboard -- he has picked my place out for me and puts me in it -- there is rough outside of optimism but enormously effective. He has come to a great deal of criticism from both people like Howell and certain Negroes I know, because he hasn’t been in the streets -- the same thing more sharply focused.
JF: Yes, well, in the case of Ralph Ellison, I don’t know whether the criticism is only that he hasn’t been in the streets -- Baldwin, for example, has not been in the streets, but his writing has been oriented toward the streets.
RPW: Well, the invisible man has had an enormous impact -- Ralph has had an impact
JF: Yes, that is true. I repeat or reiterate what I have said -- that I think now we have got to find roles that others can play to help the revolution, which will not necessarily be picketing or marching or sitting in.
RPW: Black or white.
JF: Black or whites, we need their talents. I attended an interesting meeting yesterday, which there was discussion of a relatively new idea, of urging people who have money and who invest that money to tithe in their investments. In other words, to see to it that one tenth of the funds which they invest are invested in a planned and deliberate attempt at creating open occupancy housing, and that they also follow the other money they invest, by seeing to it that their money is not unwillingly being used to support and maintain segregation. I think that this is something that people can do.
RPW: Adam Clayton Powell said to me some weeks ago “The leadership of the organization is finished -- they are dead, nine hundred thousand people altogether and those are duplicates, their phase is over”. I know you don’t agree with that --
JF: Well, I would say that reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. I would say that Adam Clayton Powell would have great difficulty mobilizing nine hundred people, not to speak of nine hundred thousand people. I would say as far as CORE is concerned, we are growing constantly, we are doubling at least, each year, and have been growing at that rate for the past three years, and I see no end to it in sight.
RPW: Now, the big change in the role of CORE was where -- let’s see -- was in fifty -- the sit ins - the big turning point, wasn’t it?
JF: That was one turning point, yes, that was the major one -- in 1960 -- the students sit ins yes, but I would say that we had an earlier sprig of growth --about 1957 -- as a result of the Montgomery bus boycott and the
. Then at that point, you see, the technique of nonviolence became popularized and this was a technique that CORE had been using for some 14 to 15 years. We had a growth in 1960, then we had additional speedy growth in 1961 with the freedom rides, which were a CORE project; so that 3 years ago, we had 23 chapters and about twelve thousand members. Now, 3 years later, we have 175 chapters and at least 75 thousand members, so our day is not ended, we haven’t reached our peak.
RPW: No. In the question of leadership, general leadership of the movement, in ordinary revolutions we find that the tendencies are always toward centralization of power, winding up usually in a person -- that is the pattern. You have a symbolic role as well as a practical role in power. Do you see this tendency in the Negro movement, for the centralization of power?
JF: No, quite to the contrary -- the present tendency is toward proliferation of leadership and diffusion of power. There is no one Negro leader now -- there are Negro leaders on local levels, regional levels and more or less national levels, springing up every week as the movement becomes larger. I, myself, do not see this as a liability -- I think it is much more of an asset. I think it strengthens the total movement, it creates ferment within the movement -- contention within the movement, it’s true, but it keeps all of us on our toes.
RPW: Now, this ferment in the movement, contention within the movement is pulling against the notion of a united front, though, isn’t it, in leadership or in policy.
JF: Well, no, I would say that there are two trends -- there is a trend toward proliferation of leadership, and there is also a trend toward greater coordination.
RPW: Now, these at first glance are contradictory, aren’t they?
JF: Yes. But actually I think they are not. You will find that within the past 2 or 3 years, there has been a rash of unity committees or councils on local levels. Almost every major city has its united civil rights committee, which includes CORE, NAACIP, frequently the urban league, etc. On a national level, we have a number of such groups -- we have the civil rights leadership conference, of which Roy Wilkins is chairman, we have the council for united civil rights leadership, which includes 6 or 7 of the major civil rights organizations including CORE, with a rotating chairmanship. My time is next -- currently it would be Young as chairman of the group and I will follow him. We have the March on Washington Committee, which was a unity committee, too, so I think that you find this development running parallel with the proliferation of leadership.
RPW: There is another question that is always merging in the discussion of popular debate movements or in revolutions. As leadership is open -- up for grab, you know -- ambitious men have to act ambitious, then, and there is a kind of over-reaching in promises -- promises to the public, or over-reaching in terms of appeals to all sorts of dark motives of violent expression and emotionalisms of various kinds. Now in the newspapers, one can see some of that going on -- inevitable. Now, do you expect any real danger from that, or how is that to be contained -- let’s put it that way. -- this human and natural impulse.
JF: Well, I think that this tendency will go on, I don’t see any way to avoid it. There will be jockeying for positions of power, jockeying for leadership -- there will be internecine warfares -- this is inevitable because the stakes are so high and the prize is so great, that ambitious men will let their ambition run rampid. I would say, actually, it is not a bad thing to have this bind for leadership -- the competition in itself tends to be good. The competition is good and it keeps us on our toes; if we go to sleep, then somebody else is going to replace us. We cannot afford to rest, we cannot afford to sleep and we must keep on the alert. I would say in addition, that there is a tendency within the movement now, for verbalism to be substituted for leadership, or to be confused with leadership. One can gain a following, at least temporarily
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CONVERSATION 1, TAPE 3 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Tape #3 – June 11, 1964
CONVERSATION WITH MR. JAMES FARMER
RPW: You were saying, Mr. Farmer, that there is a kind of pure verbalism involved in the competition for control or for the enforcing of certain policies.
JF: Yes. Right now it is easy for a man to become a Negro leader, or be accepted as a Negro leader. If he makes speeches, which are militant enough, if he makes speeches which capture the press sufficiently, then he becomes recognized, at least temporarily, as a Negro leader -- on the basis of pure verbalism -- without having any following, without having any organization behind him, and without taking any action. One example of that incidentally, is Malcolm X. Malcolm has done nothing except verbalize -- his militancy is a matter of , there has been no action thus far. Well, Malcolm can survive a long time on that, because Malcolm happens to be a man of rather unusual abilities.
RPW: Great magnetism.
JF: Great magnetism, or whatever you want to call it, but there will come a point where Malcolm is going to have to chirp or get off the perch, or he is going to have to take some action or stop poking, because the words will sound hollow, and I am sure that he realizes this dilemma that he is facing -- he is not an activist, really.
RPW: You think he is moving toward a political action -- political involvement, or is that an appropriate question.
JF: Well, he says he is, he says he believes that he is trying to develop political activity within Harlem.
RPW: “Responsible, mature Negro politics” –Mature Negro politics”, as he phrases it.
JF: He says “Mature Negro Politics”, yes. Well, here Malcolm needs to define what he means by “Mature Negro Politics”.
RPW: He defined to me in this way, when I asked him -- he said “This means making our Negro representatives really responsible to us, the Negro community”. If you ask “Do you accept the proposed?” – there is no answer.
JF: Yes. Well, this is the problem with Malcolm right now, he is trying to evolve a position -- trying to find a platform. The old script that he had was taken away from him when he left the nation of Islam, and now he is floating around, trying to bring together a new script and I don’t know where is coming out. I suspect that he is going to be an integrationist before long, and I think that he was trying to prepare the grounds for that when he sent back those various letters and postcards from Africa. I’ve got a couple of them here which he indicated that his old anti-white views apparently did not hold up to the realities that he found.
RPW: Of the white member of the Mohammedan faith.
JF: -- Of the Mohammedan faith. Now, I would say, on the question of leadership, too, that Whitney Young is absolutely right -- that the press has been irresponsible, partly out of ignorance, I think, and sometimes I suspect out of a deliberate attempt to create conflict within Negro leadership and the Negro Community.
RPW: You think that really some of this deliberate divide-and-rule policy?
JF: I think there is some of that -- there is some divide-and-rule -- and also the fact that a reporter wants to make it, he wants to move ahead with his paper and this is always news -- conflict is news, agreement is not news. But we find that on occasions, some fellow who happens to be a Negro, who makes a speech, gets the ear of a reporter and whispers something that happens to be newsworthy at that point, finds himself overnight, a Negro leader. He can’t maintain that position because he has no following and he doesn’t have the substance, but for the time being, he is a Negro leader.
RPW: Let’s turn from that for the moment, to the matter of demonstration. Let us say that -- I know your view on it -- the nonviolent demonstration -- that is clear, I am not talking about that distinction -- violent and nonviolent. I am talking about what it might be called ‘legitimate nonviolent demonstration’ as opposed by ‘illegitimate nonviolent demonstration’ or you recognize the distinction of that sort. Let’s take a practical case. Here you are opposed to stall ins -- that, for some reason, is illegitimate in your mind, or least inappropriate. I am groping to see the distinction in terms of social -- general social reference, between one kind of demonstration and another kind of demonstration. I am groping for some kind of distinction of that sort, if it exists in your mind.
JF: Inappropriate I would say. Well, you see, it is difficult for you to lay down guide lines as a generalization as to what is acceptable as a demonstration and what is not acceptable. This fact was pointed up to me this morning in the New York Times, where Javitz is calling upon Negro leaders to issue statements saying the acceptable boundaries for demonstrations -- where do we stop -- and what is acceptable and what isn’t. I don’t think that it is possible to do that, because what may be acceptable in New York, is not acceptable in Chicago. What may be acceptable in Plaquemine Louisiana, is not acceptable in New York City.
RPW: Or around the other way.
JF: Yes. What is acceptable today -- or what is not acceptable today, may be acceptable a year hence. For example, the stall in. I was not opposed to the stall in on principle -- I was opposed to it in tactics and timing. I considered the stall in to be essentially a revolutionary tactic which requires a revolutionary situation -- revolutionary circumstances.
RPW: Explain that, will you please, sir?
JF: Well, I will try to. I would consider a stall in -- a massive stall in -- to be in the same category with a general strike -- a general work stoppage -- the revolutionary tactic -- and I think it requires certain prerequisites, it has certain prerequisites.
- Unity in the Negro community.
- An almost absolute polarization existing between the races.
Neither of those things were true in the New York context at this time.
RPW: That would be a desperate measure -- a revolutionary measure.
JF: It would be a desperate measure, yes. In Plaquemine Louisiana, I have recommended to the Negro community there, that they explore the idea of a general strike -- work stoppage. I think here you have the total polarization, here you have absolute unity, so that such an extreme measure would be justified in my view and would be workable; while in New York, it would be neither justifiable nor workable.
RPW: In other words, you are saying that two questions are to yourself so you understand what you are saying.
JF: There is the element of a social reference involved in the matter of -- in two ways.
1. The social reference to the nature of this total community -- this being “illegitimate” when there is a opinion in the overall community -- there is no polarization -- very little polarization, because you do not want to violate the social structure, as it were -- the guy hurrying to deliver a baby
2. The second kind of social reference would be the amount of violence -- violence which has been practiced against the Negro movement.
Those are the two kinds of social reference that are involved here.
That would be true, yes.
RPW: These are guide lines of another sort, from what Mr. Javitz is asking for, is that right?
JF: I would agree, yes, to that. Also the extent to which you have been able to get dialogue otherwise, and in New York, at least we have had dialogue -- we haven’t made the progress that we’ve wanted, but I did not feel that the stall in tactic was justified at that time.
RPW: Oscar Hanlin [Handlin] says there is a danger in certain northern cities where there is a dialogue -- use your word -- going on, and some gains are being made and some being successful, in using the demonstration for what can be achieved by the dialogue, the possibility of overplaying the demonstration. Now I assume he is talking about the two events in New York City -- the stall ins and boycott -- the context of this passage in the book -- I assume he is talking about that. At least he is much concerned about that question of “What is the relation of demonstration to negotiation”?
JF: Well, I think that they are not contradictory at all -- they are not mutually exclusive. We find that demonstrations are frequently the catalyst -- gets action in negotiation, that spurs the dialogue. Sometimes demonstrations actually start the dialogue.
RPW:You can’t lead, except in strength.
JF: That’s right, yes, except from strength. Before demonstrations started, and by demonstrations I mean massive demonstrations -- say from Birmingham -- there was very little discussion, constructive discussion; lots of talk but no real action, and the talk went on intermidably [interminably] and the gains were negligible, but after the demonstrations began, people recognized the urgency of it. We would like to even have had a civil rights bill introduced in Congress --
RPW: It is coming to that. Birmingham was a catalyst for the civil rights bill.
JF: That is right, yes. Birmingham movement failed in Birmingham, it succeeded elsewhere.
RPW: How much of a psychological element is involved in of demonstration -- simply the affirmation of identity -- the affirmation of self and of courage, on the part of the Negro community -- the demonstration. Is that a significant factor?
JF: I think that is a very profound point, it is indeed. I consider it to be one of the most valuable functions of demonstration -- to weld a group of people together in unity -- to stimulate their motivation, and to recruit. Many people will come into the movement because they see action in the street -- they can see it, it is visible -- they can participate in it, they can walk and get tired.
RPW: Robert Moses, himself.
JF: Yes, yes, exactly -- of course. They can walk and get tired, then they are doing something and they will never be the same again.
RPW: Now tell me this -- on the other side -- I read this in Louis Lomax’s book, not the “Black Moslem” but the other one -- dirty one -- “The Negro Revolt” -- that even in Montgomery -- he is puzzled on this fact -- that a short time after the victory there, you see, and Montgomery association victory, that the first time there was a general state meeting of the SCLC in Birmingham for the rally on the last night, no church was made available -- not even the one Dr. A had previously held, and Dr. King and Dr. Dexter, too. Something had happened there despite this victory -- something had happened in the community. Do you know anything about the situation?
JF: No, I don’t. I didn’t remember that passage from Lomax’s book.
RPW: Now, wait a minute -- I am wrong -- Lomax says something that is equivalent to that -- little was achieved in Birmingham -- he was puzzled about the fact that little was achieved in Birmingham. No, this citation of fact was from S book. He quotes Lomas in connection as supporting
. He is puzzled by it, too, he doesn’t even know the answer to this. Something had happened in the Negro community there -- something had happened but he didn’t know what.
JF: Well, I suspect that one thing that had happened was some internecine warfare within the movement, and that frequently happens as you approach a conclusion.
RPW: Well, of course, Lomax does make a great point about the fact that
work in many communities. on this question, by the way , he said he was perfectly right about me, but he was wrong about everybody else. He was right about me -- then he attacks Lomax as being irresponsible he said “On that point, he is right.” That question -- what I am getting at is this -- what is the seed planted by the demonstration in a general Negro community -- nationwide community or local communities. Is it psychological or is it or both -- a matter of practical gains, a matter of participation -- what is this significance? You have already answered one thing -- the psychological.
JF: I think it is psychological -- I think it is organizational, too, and that it helps to recruit -- it helps to build a movement. We found that we have to have demonstrations, if we are building a movement -- they are absolutely necessary.
RPW: You can’t build them on paper.
JF: You can’t build them on paper, nor can you build a movement on negotiations, and this poses a dilemma for us. Very often our campaigns are successful in the negotiation stage, and then you find that you lose your momentum, and you find another issue and it becomes all the more difficult to regain the momentum and take action. That is why it is hard for the civil rights movement or any part of it to call off demonstrations which have been planned. It is extremely difficult to do that. We have called them off -- we do it because we think it is necessary to do it sometimes, if progress is being made in negotiations -- but we recognize that we may be killing the movement. In North Carolina negotiations got under way the summer before last, even talked with the governor and he made certain promises and set up committees -- on this basis of this, we called off demonstrations, help them in abeyance. The governor’s committees were unsuccessful -- they gave a progress report, after we were insistent upon it -- the progress report was “no progress”. Well, we had lost momentum, we had lost all the steam and it took us another year to get things organized again. This time we didn’t make the same mistake. So I think we have to have demonstrations, we have to flexible -- be prepared to call them off at times -- but when call them off, we have learned that we have to have some other action for the people to get involved in immediately.
RPW: Now, what this distinction -- this is really getting at it but I want to try to get it clear in my mind, if possible. Demonstrations with a target, you see, and demonstrations expression -- now, there is a positive distinction, isn’t there?
JF: Yes, there is a distinction -- a very important distinction. I think under certain circumstances, both are valid. Demonstration as a protest is a valid thing -- without a target -- just protest against segregation. As many of the marchers in the South -- the marchers in Birmingham -- the marchers in Albany, and that sort of thing -- targets were not specific there -- this was a protest against segregation -- a demand for freedom now, which is a slogan and not a program, of course -- I think it had belivity. I believe that it is more valid and more meaningful, however, to have specific targets picked out with accuracy, and the action tailored to achieve the objector which you have in mind.
RPW: In that case when you have a target -- that means that you can have also leadership control more easily isn’t it?
JF: Yes, that’s right, and also you have a chance of winning the victory, and victory is important now. The reason the civil rights revolution is in trouble is because victories have been too few in the past year.
RPW: Now, are you following the same line of thought that Whitney Young follows there?
JF: How is that?
RPW: We must have victories in order to maintain responsible control.
JF: Well, I would say, to maintain direction -- I wouldn’t say control. I don’t think we have ever had control, really.
RPW: Well, I don’t think -- he said to maintain responsible leadership, I think you said.
JF: Yes, well, my only argument with Whitney on this is the meaning of responsible.
RPW: Well, let us go into that.
JF: Yes. You see, I have been accused sometimes of being irresponsible -- other times I have been accused, and I will use the same word, of being responsible. Because of the current civil rights contacts, this is an accusation -- to tell a Negro leader that he is a responsible person, because this means then that he is alienated -- or there is a gap between him and the people he is supposed to be leading -- it becomes a kiss of death!
RPW: You mean responsible Uncle Tom.
JF: Yes, to put it bluntly, that is what it means -- usually we consider a person responsible who agrees with us or who
RPW: If a white press calls a Negro responsible, he is calling him an Uncle Tom, in the eyes of the Negro leaders on that same piece of paper, same newspaper.
JF: Yes, I don’t want any reporter to call me ‘responsible’, or to call me a moderating influence -- some have -- I denied that -- I’m as militant as the next.
RPW: Well, your mothers are different -- you’re stuck with that, aren’t you?
JF: Yes, of course I’m stuck with it.
RPW: Well, this is back to you and Dr. King and some others -- the notion, the one that Dr. Kenneth Clark has analyzed -- that this nonviolent, Ghandian, Christian, T approach, means that the white is loaded to a sense of security. If he doesn’t get shot in the back at retaliation, he says “O.K. you don’t have to do very much”.
JF: Well, I don’t think that this is true at all -- I discussed it with Ken Clark -- I don’t agree with Ken Clark on that, I think that nonviolence in its classical sense, or in its practical sense as used I this country, can lull anybody to sleep. Look at what happened to Woolworth in 1960 -- during the student sit ins -- there was a nationwide boycott, which is a classical nonviolent direct action technique. Woolworth admitted in its annual report to its stockholders, that they had -- that profits had gone down in the year 1960 -- it doesn’t mean they lost money, but it means the curve of profits went down, and they gave as one of the three reasons for that drop in profits, a nationwide boycott against their stores. I don’t think that anybody is going to be lulled in a sense of security while he is losing money. Many people would rather have you hit them over the head than hit them over the pocketbook.
RPW: James Baldwin and others report that the southern mob does not represent the majority wheel of the South. That is the phrase -- Billy Morrow
phrase. Baldwin uses it and others repeat this phrase.
JF: Well, I would in general terms, agree with that. I am inclined to think that what exists is a continuum really, with a few persons at both polls and the great mass of opinion in the South as in the North, for that matter, being somewhere in the middle -- various places on the scale; and I think that the mob -- the violent mob represents one extreme which has the sympathy, either varying degrees of activeness or passiveness, are the large part of the population, generally.
RPW: It is permitted, anyway.
JF: It is permitted, yes, and sometimes it is permitted, it is whipped at and sometimes supported.
RPW: According to some commentators, analysts -- the whole Negro movement is bases on a crisis on the discovery of identity -- history, personality -- identity -- my relation as Negro to the world around me. My definition of myself. You know, of course, I have read this a thousand times. I want to proposition -- there is a similar crisis of identity for the Southerner. There are some things that underly segregation -- or the opposition to desegregation -- that the Southerner sees it to be himself, to be a Southerner, he must support a certain definition of his role as his identity. Now, if he is ignorant, he sees segregation as part of that definition himself, that he has also having a crisis of identity -- his relationship to America and the human race involved. It is a real crisis of his identity -- that is why it is so fundamentally difficult for many Southerners -- cross that line -- they feel they are selling out some , also selling out themself in some way -- does this make sense to you?
JF: I think that it makes a great deal of sense. I hadn’t thought of it in exactly those terms.
RPW: people who are stuck with that.
JF: I think it makes a great deal of sense, indeed -- I don’t think it is the whole answer --
RPW: No, economic elements involved.
JF: Yes, of course there are economic elements. Then there are problems -- maybe this is a part of this struggle for identity of the Southerner that you were talking about, that the poorer Southerners have a psychological need to feel superior to somebody -- it happens to be the Negro.
RPW: It happens to be the Negroes -- between them and the bare black ground.
JF: Somebody told me a story of a mythical city -- of a hypothetical city, rather -- that had voted to move Negroes out of town. All the Negroes would be removed from the city, and a reporter saw a white woman standing on a corner crying. He said “Why are you crying?” She said “They are going to move all the niggers out of town”, He said “Do you like niggers?” She said “No, I hate them”. “Then, why are you crying?” She said “Well, who am I going to be better than?”
RPW: That’s the old story, admitted by many.
JF: Yes, I think it is. One sees it particularly in a state like Mississippi -- to go back to Mississippi again, where poverty is so deep among white as well as among Negro, and generally one finds greater anti-Negro sentiment among the poorer whites -- who have nothing to be proud of except their skin color.
RPW: Charles Evers and many other people, including Miss Lucy Fountain of Harwood -- have said that they have hopes for a settlement in the South -- even in Mississippi, says Charles Evers, before and elsewhere and more fundamental sentiment. Mr. Evers says that the staunch segregationists use this phrase -- some primitive code respect for courage. He is having to face now for the first time, straight, simple raw courage on the part of a number of Negroes -- he may not like it, he respects it -- this gives a basis for communication, Wilkins says. Another thing he says, just the minute he talks to you to negotiate, he has cross the line already . He just bases his hopes on that.
JF: Frankly, I think he is being naïve. I think he is being truly naïve. Well, first of all, negotiations have been going on in the South for many, many years, ever since slavery. Negotiations were temporarily broken off about 1954, at the time of the Supreme Court Decision. The question was not negotiation or communication, the question was the agenda, and the fact is the agenda has changed now. Heretofore, the agenda was moderating segregation, or making it more acceptable, more humane.
RPW: Isn’t that the pattern of all revolutionary movements -- you move from the to the moment of the unveiling of the real issues?
JF: Yes, yes, I think it is, and I think that that is what has happened here. As to whether the Southern white man has gained a great respect for Negroes because of their courage -- I am inclined to doubt it now. I am inclined to doubt it. I think that this was true in 1960 -- that many people changed their image then, when they saw the students sit ins.
RPW: Do you think that the change is back now to the early image?
JF: No, I just don’t think that that it has moved any further in that direction. I think the student sit ins did a great deal to shake up the image -- even on Southerners such as Kilpatrick, editor of Richmond News Leader, had much quoted editorial at that point -- pointing out there was almost a switching of stereotypes. The well-dressed Negro college student sitting there reading , while the mob outside -- leather-jacketed, duck-tail haircut, boys swearing and grinning sillily, waiting for them. But I think that with the mass demonstrations of Negroes, you have not seen any noticeable change in the respect that whites have had for them.
RPW: Well, I’m thinking merely, I guess, of what my limited observation with Southerners I know and some Northerners too, insofar as you can have your own little poll taking, how it has been effective.
JF: You think it has been effective?
RPW: How do I know? For 50 people I can say, they have felt about like this -- how it stacks up. These are preselected too, just by way of life. Let me ask you a question different from that. The Negro is stereotype of the white man -- but the inversion is stereotype of the Negro in certain quotas -- What about the Negro stereotype of the white man -- what was it to begin with and what is it now? What was it 15 years ago? There probably was contradiction of the white man to the Negro.
JF: Of course there were no contradictions, yes, but let’s look at the South -- you know how difficult it is to generalize anyplace -- but in many communities in the South, Negroes felt that there was good white people, that there was this paternalism which was accepted. Now, this is changing. I look at Plaquemine, Louisiana, and after the massive police brutality of the tear gasses, the c and the horses that trampled people -- the saying in Negro community then was “The only good white man is a dead one?. “Say did you know that old Mrs. Johnson’s boy was riding one of those horses with the
c , I always thought he was a good white man” -- and here he was, hitting Negroes over the heads with sticks and sticking them with c
and riding the horses. So I think that the Negro image of the white in the South has hardened.
RPW: In general or --
JF: I think in general. This has run parallel with the development, the rising of the national sentiment of Negro community.
RPW: Is that only in the south, or is that all over?
JF: I think to some extent, it is applicable all over, but it is more sharply seen in the South.
RPW: In Cleveland I am told, it is very sharp. This is Miss Turner --
spend an afternoon with her. She said this -- polarization is almost absolute there.
JF: Is that so? This is very interesting -- this is one of the reasons that CORE feels very important, to have white staff members as well as Negro staff members. Now, in Plaquemines, Louisiana, after polarization became complete, the Negroes thought that all whites were against them. I made it a point to call an office and have them send in some of our white filed secretaries to work with the Negro community. In Plaquemines, yes, and it tended to work -- well, it worked in a way -- in a subtle way -- they accepted these persons
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See Tape #4Collapse
CONVERSATION 1, TAPE 4 Searchable TextCollapse
Tape #4 – June 11, 1964
CONVERSATION WITH MR. JAMES FARMER
RPW: You said you had carried certain white workers to the Plaquemines office, in the hope of modifying the blanket anti-white sentiment there.
JF: Yes, it appeared to succeed, at least in part, I don’t know how deep the success was, but these individual white persons were finally accepted by the Negro community -- they were accepted as individuals -- and in a sense, removed from the white race and accepted into the Negro race. They were considered exceptions -- as in case of one young lady who was working for CORE down there, it become really a part of the Negro community; I visited later and was talking with some of the Negroes and they said “Well, yes, she is white but she is the blackest white woman we have ever seen” -- so I am not sure if there is a carry-over from their response to these individuals.
RPW: You mean the real carry-over -- if I am interpreting you right -- would be to say “not the blackest white woman” but a human being.
JF: A human being, yes, exactly. I suspect that we are in for not only a long, hot summer, but to use that now cliché, but for a long dark night of polarization between the races. I think it is a temporary thing and we will get over it, if we can avoid destructive violence in the meantime.
RPW: There are two thoughts that come from that, from what you have said, one is this. Speaking of the widening gap between Negro and white you were talking about, what about the widening gap that is pointed out by -- well -- many people -- Mr. Whitney Young being one -- between the Negro masses in the slum, and the successful middle-class upperclass, the draining of leadership, you know, in terms of economic split.
JF: Yes, I was just about to come to that -- this is heightening very rapidly in the Negro community now. You find between the middle-class and the working class Negro, we find it within CORE.
RPW: Non-working class --
JF: Non-working class -- the unemployed, yes, we find it within CORE, since the four chapters have become mass movements. People walked in off the streets and joined the organization and we have wanted them -- we have longed for their presence in the organization -- so we are pleased that this has happened. Yet we find that increasing tension between the established Negro middle-class and the Negro “lower class” -- sometimes it shows itself in superficialists such as -- who wears a coat and a time and who doesn’t wear a coat and tie -- who has a car and who doesn’t have a car -- who lives in a house in the country and who lives in a tenement slum in New York -- sometimes it becomes a status symbol to live in a tenement slum.
RPW: Inverted status.
JF: Inverted status, yes, I think this is very unfortunate, if there is anything the Negro in this country cannot afford is that class of delineation and conflict -- we can’t afford that kind of division.
RPW: Either way -- now what can be done about it -- if as this distrust or lack of contact where the leadership has come from -- it is bound to come from the educated class of Negroes. Now, if there is a loss of contact there, then what is the next thing? What is the danger of the next thing?
JF: I don’t quite understand --
RPW: If the leadership, by and large, naturally has come from -- and it always does come from people of education and who have had the opportunities and the chance for reflection -- it comes from the upper-class Negroes -- college people -- with a few exceptions but by and large. Now, if the gap is widening between that class and the masses of unemployed and unemployables, and the slum and the slum casual worker and these people -- the oppressed depressed menace -- if that gap is widening, then what?
JF: Well, I think what we are finding happening now is that a number of new Negro leaders are springing up from the Negro working class and the lower class generally. Many of these persons have not had much education -- they have developed a feeling, however, for the struggle for civil rights -- they have developed some falsity in the use of the techniques of nonviolent direct action, and I suspect that some of them will grow in prominence.
RPW: If they follow that general line of growth, good and well, but there are so many possibilities of other lines of development from the cause of this split,
seem to be. If the nonviolence and the general policies that you represent are taped as belonging to the now alienated middle-class Negro -- educated Negro -- then the other leader has his in denying that policy -- some impossible leaders. What signs of that danger are there now, if any? Am I making myself clear? This I mean -- if there is a real alienation or movement toward alienation between the now leadership class of the Negro movement -- people of education -- people of various sorts of contact with the world outside -- this class from the slum Negro. Now the slum leaders, as they arise -- some as you have indicated, will follow the same line that is now followed by a basic Negro leadership; but there is also a great temptation either for power or out of ignorance and sense of oppression and desperation to follow a line of violence in the slum leadership -- it was seen in the cards.
JF: Well, I am not sure that that is true really, I think that one finds as much anger now among the Negro middle-class, as one finds among the lower class.
RPW: But does the lower class identify with this anger in the middle-class -- or is the gap so great that he can’t conceal that the middle-class looks like an alien to him?
JF: He looks like an alien -- he looks like a person who is no longer black -- he is white --
RPW: White collar makes him white --
JF: Yes, makes him white. A favorite saying now among Negroes is “So-and-so, he used to be black” -- I heard somebody refer to Ralph Bunch in that way -- “What do you think of Ralph Bunch?” you know -- Well, he used to be black, but now has become white”. I think what is more apt to happen is there will be great patrician among Negro leadership now, based in large part upon the fastest of the footwork -- whether people are able to adapt to the vocabulary and the terminology -- of the masses, yes. Look at one man who has such fast footwork and adaptability is Adam Clayton Powell. Now Powell has no real relationship with the rank in file lower class Negroes --
RPW:He himself that he does have -- one thing that he claims to have --
JF: Yes -- he hasn’t really -- he is far removed -- power with three houses and four cars --
RPW: He says “I am the only slum dweller among all.”
JF: But he is not a slum dweller -- he keeps officially a little apartment someplace in Harlem -- but this mansion in Puerto Rico and a house in White Plains and everything else -- yet, Powell know the r , he knows the
r and he can speak to it, he can use it and he becomes thus a lower class Negro leader, which is the most ironic thing you could imagine. Malcolm, another one. Now Malcolm is not lower class -- Malcolm has a home out in Jamaica, Long Island -- a house and yard, Malcolm drives a new Oldsmobile, Malcolm wears two hundred dollar suits and expensive hand-made shirts -- but Malcolm has a r and the footwork to keep in pace with the changing mood of people -- he doesn’t lead them but he reflects it and verbalizes what they are thinking -- so I suspect that there is going to be an attrition among Negro leadership, depending upon their adaptability to this, and their ability to speak with the proper vocabulary. Now Baldwin is a writer who has that vocabulary and thus has appeal to the lower class Negro. I have been absolutely amazed to see lower class Negroes working class unemployed and unemployed Negroes, reading Baldwin’s books -- probably the first books they have read -- reading them laboriously, but reading them -- I am sure not understanding what he is saying, but getting a feeling -- that I dig this guy because he digs me, saying what I would like to say.
RPW: Now the other question that came to mind out of what you said earlier, was this -- about the gap between the white man and the Negro, you see, the decreasing gap. Many people tend to think of the problem as one of
prejudice -- stamping it out, putting it out, putting it out. Now, maybe there isn’t an immediate problem on the part of white man or Negro either -- you see -- there is mutual prejudice, and in some quarters increasing prejudice, as you have pointed out. Maybe the point is, to know what to do with the prejudice -- what is recognized -- transcend the prejudice in terms of not saying -- take it, we don’t have it -- say, what do we do with it, now that we have it, we’ve got it. That is a different problem psychologically, isn’t it? -- and morally.
JF: I think it is, very much so.
RPW: But in that kind of sentimentality on both sides of the fence among certain people -- that you extricate prejudice for social solutions and then get your social solutions.
JF: Yes there is, indeed. runs into a great deal of it. Sometimes it is put in the context of whether we are for legislation or not -- and we cannot legislate the prejudice out of the hearts of men -- somehow you have got to find some way of getting it out otherwise, reach it, but actually the laws don’t try to speak to prejudice -- they merely try to control men’s behavior, so that part of the prejudice they have does not illegally damage other citizens.
RPW: Now if the stage to make them confront their prejudice, rather than try to persuade them that they don’t have any --- now they try to say they don’t have any -- that is what I am getting at, you see, the sentimental view is to say “Well, you don’t have it” -- “I don’t have it”.
JF: Yes, yes, exactly. This is what we have been trying to say in the North; and the reason we started stepping up our demonstrations in the North more than a year ago, because so many northerners deceived themselves in thinking that they were not prejudiced -- the ideal thing was to be without prejudice, so they ascerted [asserted] that they were without prejudice -- when nothing could have been farther from the truth. We hoped through some of the demonstrations that we undertook, to force them to confront their own prejudices and to admit that they existed -- they determine what they were going to do about it. I think we partially succeeded in that.
RPW:That is the point I am getting at -- as opposed to the sentimental view that you persuade each other that you don’t have it.
JF: Yes, right. I think that this is a more realistic interpretation of what is happening today, than the concept of the white backlask [backlash] -- people are confronting the feelings which have, heretofore, been submerged.
RPW: Now, a question relating to that -- there are some people who take the Negro movement, or revolution or problem, in the light of good guys against bad guys -- evil against good.
JF: Well, I of course, do not believe in the devil theory of history -- nor do I think that there are angels and that anyone who happens to be opposed to us a completely depraved human being, what we always try to say in the nonviolent direct action movement. And I confess that as we grow larger, we get farther away from it. We try to look at the enemy and say “There but for the grace of God, go I” -- and to realize that he is in large measure, the creature of his environment and of the conditioning -- the social conditioning, and that if our experiences have been identical with his, then we probably would share many of present biases. It is this belief and this platform which has served as the philosophical theoretical basis of the nonviolent movement.
RPW: Now, to say it back -- do you place the moral issue in the context of human conditions. In other words, the conditioning is the equivalent of forgiveness.
JF: Yes, exactly -- and also it recognizes the possibility of human change.
RPW: By the same token --
JF: By the same token.
RPW: Let’s jump ahead a second -- let’s take a time, date unspecified, when there will be fair employment, you know -- practice -- and there will be a decent housing legislation with some teeth in it and things -- you know -- voter registration -- all the rest -- those things -- obvious things -- points of struggle -- then what? What remains to be done? Suppose you have those things, you see.
JF: Well, assuming that then we have broken down the wall.
RPW: You have at least official integration -- you have reasonable fair employment, situations -- integrated schools -- those things. Then what?
JF: Then you have to build the bridges. First the walls come down, then the bridges go up -- then if the thrust changes from desegregation to integration, and here’s one definition of integration becomes very pertinent, at this point.
RPW: At this point, what is the Negro’s responsibility -- what is his phase -- what is his responsibility?
JF: He has many responsibilities -- one of his chief responsibilities is to prepare himself to live in an integrated society.
RPW: You have a problem over the white man’s problem, there.
JF: Yes, that is right, and it is a difficult situation because we are moving against that now -- moving away from it, in the Negro community, there is a greater sentiment toward nationalism, and after we have broken down the walls -- it is really a contradictory and confused type of struggle. Many of the same people who speak in behalf of segregation, are one day or the next day, fighting against specific forms of segregation. Malcolm X, for example -- when Malcolm joined the second school boycott, which was obviously for desegregation of the schools -- yet he speaks for separation. I have sort of lost the point here, now.
RPW: We were talking about the paradox of the Negroes responsibilities being parallel with the white man’s responsibilities, on the question of integration -- after we have the formal matters taken care of – you know, after we have desegregation of schools, you know, fair employment practice -- teeth in it -- these things -- civil rights, etc. -- voting --
JF: After we have all of that, and if these laws we have are implemented --
RPW: Let us assume that.
JF: -- Then Negro leadership will either have to change its focus, or Negro leadership itself will have to change -- or be changed. It is pretty much like the trade union operation -- I spent some years as a trade union organizer, and when the organizers began organizing and preparing for election, we had to be agitators -- our work was an agitational work --“the boss was a beast,” had to be the slogan --- but then after we had won the election, we found that we had to live with the boss, we had to sit down with the boss and we had to negotiate a contract which controlled our activities as well as his activity. What we usually had to do was to pull out the organizer and then send in others -- send in negotiators.
RPW: Who wouldn’t have to take it back.
JF: Who wouldn’t have to take it back, they could start fresh, you know, “well, that was somebody else who said that” --
RPW:He was mistaken --
JF: Yes, I am saying something different. Now, sometimes you find a rare individual who could do both, but that is extraordinary.
RPW: Now we are up against the question of tactics -- psychological tactics. On one end, if you preach say -- the state of the Negro history -- it has a double appeal -- one is bound to be , to erase superiorities -- inevitably we have that, only it enters into it inevitably. There is a casualty possible there, like the casualty in the study of southern history -- Confederacy of the sould, in certain sorts -- I want to keep the facts straight. That liability to build great reasonable to build irrational Does leadership just simply this problem as an inevitable risk, or it can be kept on a rational level in the process?
JF: I think it can be kept on a rational level in the process. I think that it is important that in the teaching of Negro history in the schools, it should not be taught as a separate subject, but be taught in the terms of the Negroes’ contribution to American History -- or just as we study the contributions of other people in American History. I think it is possible -- I certainly think it is possible for the Negro to be proud of the contributions that have been made by people who happened to have been Negroes. But to be equally proud of contributions that have been made by other peoples, and equally proud of the cultures which other people represent.
RPW: It is tough, though, isn’t it?
JF: It’s tough, but I have seen this sort of mutual pride in individuals, and I think it can be true in .
RPW: It can be, but in certain obvious limits. Let’s shift -- what do you think of Lincoln?
JF: What do I think of him?
RPW: Yes -- as a man -- how do you assess his -- not his symbolic role -- but his human and ethical role?
JF: Well, it is so difficult -- this far removed from him -- to look at the real Lincoln as opposed to the mythical Lincoln, and I am not a Lincoln scholar or Lincoln authority, so I am not sure how much is myth and how much was the man. My own opinion, however, is that Lincoln was not the great emancipator, as he is generally pictured to be. From some of his which I do not think were taken out of context --
RPW: There is a strong bit of evidence right at that point.
JF: Yes, that his objective was not really to free the Negroes -- his objective was to save the Union.
RPW:He said so -- he also was a racist --
JF: He didn’t believe in intermarriage, for one thing.
RPW: He just said inferiority, period. So did Jefferson.
JF: Of course. I think though, that here you have got to look at these men and their historical context -- they were not omniscient, and were not able to speak from the vantage point of the anthropological and sociological and psychological knowledge that we have now.
RPW: Dealing with the defacto -- inferiority -- he said “this is terrible, but this is absolute”.
JF: Yes, that’s right, of course it is absolute. Well, people always consider things to be absolute when they are not aware of the historical context.
RPW: What you are saying -- I want to say it back to myself -- that you would not make abstract moral judgments, you would say you must put them in their historical contest --
JF: I think we must -- yes -- I think we must.
RPW: Tie that to your previous remarks about anyone’s prejudices at any one given moment – conditioned by history -- personal history -- additioned by his personal history and the society that he has grown up in -- Tie this
to the other thing you said about the personal prejudices -- how he transcends conditions with them -- how he transcends.
JF: How does he transcend?
RPW: You said that about growth in moral , but I was just trying the general historical principles with what you said about individuals -- that is all I am trying to do. I was just trying to put them in the same package, psychologically.
JF: Oh, I see, yes. I would accept that.
RPW: What about Kennedy? Was he in the process of growth, do you think -- or do you know?
JF: President Kennedy? Oh, I think he was growing some -- I certainly am almost nauseated by the current deification of Kennedy -- especially on the civil rights issue, because this is not accurate -- historically accurate. If the relationship which I had with him were valid at all -- I had several conversations with him, and my feeling was that the President did intellectualize civil rights issue and intellectualized it well, but I saw no depth of feeling there on his part. It became a rather cold intellectual issue and a political issue with him. He moved only when there was sufficient pressure that he had to move.
RPW: Birmingham being the big watershed.
JF: Birmingham was a big watershed, yes, it was only after Birmingham that he came out saying that this was a moral issue, you know -- before then, it had been a legal issue.
RPW: Do you think that part of deification has been because the Negro need for a symbol?
JF: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think the Negro had anything to do with the deification of Kennedy -- the Negro merely accepted the deification which was --with which he was stampeded through the mass mediam [medium].
RPW: As useful? Cynically, as a useful symbol or just ignorantly accepting it.
JF: Oh, no, ignorantly accepting it -- one accepts it, you know, it is superimposed and doesn’t rationalize it or think it through.
RPW: Have you seen Harry Goldwin’s book called “Kennedy and the Negro”?
JF: I have a copy if it, yes -- I’ve only scanned it and haven’t read it carefully.
RPW: Well, you won’t agree with it, not from what you said.
JF: I don’t think I will agree with it
RPW: He makes him the second coming.
JF: Oh, yes, but this is not unusual, you know, for a man to become dead, what he was not in his life -- on an issue like this. It has happened many times before.
RPW:How do you take John Brown? Or have you read his story?
JF: Yes, I’ve read his works. Yes, I think he was an extremely dedicated person, and got intoxicated, from what I observer -- so this is his destiny.
RPW: Yes, he did.
JF: I know -- speaking of the very frequent -- making a man what he was not before his death - is going to give an award to Sidney Hillman for civil rights activity. Somebody asked Dubinsky, but Dubinsky-“Sidney Hillman didn’t do anything on civil rights -- when did he become a great civil rights leader?” But Dubinsky with his great wisdom said “After he died”.
RPW: D was going to keep a diary down in his back room, you know, said “Now dies the man, now is born the myth”.
JF: Yes, yes, yes. I think really, that Johnson is much more for civil rights than Kennedy ever was.
RPW: That is my impression without knowing as much about it as you do. I didn’t mean to be sneering at Lincoln -- I admire Lincoln -- I think we were lucky to get him --- think what we could have gotten -- I wasn’t using that as a
attack on Lincoln -- it was just --
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CONVERSATION 2, TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
JF: Do you want to ask questions, or -
RPW: Just – you just – speak to the part about White and the donors business.
JF: Yes. Well I of course was unaware that the President had made any such request that there be a cooling off period or cessation of demonstrations. I do know that in August Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, called a meeting of the heads of the various civil rights organizations in his office, and at that time Mr. Wilkins offered a statement which he had prepared that attacked the light backlash, stated concern about it, stated concern about Goldwater and Goldwaterism, the threat of Goldwater particularly, and stated that we would have a moratorium on demonstrations until after the election. I did refuse to sign such a statement -
RPW: Yes, I remember that fact, yes.
JF: - declined to sign it on several grounds, one, I was not convinced that the so-called white backlash was a significant factor or would be a significant factor in the election. I did not believe that any substantial number of white citizens who formerly were for the civil rights movement were now against it. What I thought had happened was that people who had been against it all along had now become more vocal and articulate and that some who had been apathetic now were becoming antipathetic, you might say. Besides, I did not consider it good tactic or strategy to announce to opponents that you are giving up your most potent weapon. So I declined to sign. John Lewis
Scmit declined to sign also.
RPW: Yes, I remember that.
JF: The statement was issued, however. There have been claims made that Johnson had asked for such a moratorium, but I have seen no verification of that.
RPW: And you have seen no verification of pressure on frank donors to civil rights organizations?
JF: No, I have no evidence that there has been any such pressure. I will say that there has been a slight decline in the funds coming in to organizations, and I have no explanation for that.
RPW: A question that may not be an appropriate question, but it is frequently said that there is an unhealthy amount, that it would be a little bit healthy if there were somewhat more Negro money in the pot, in the general civil rights pot. That’s said very frequently. It’s a matter of - . How do you react to that? To that notion?
JF: I think it would be healthier. I think we ought to get money from all sources, white and Negro, but it has been one of the tragedies in the civil rights movement that the Negroes have contributed so little in terms of funds. It was a movement. There are many reasons for that. There has not been a tradition of giving within the Negro community. There has been a tradition of receiving instead. Second, we in CORE raise about eighty percent of our budget through direct mail appeals, and replying to direct mail appeals requires a relatively high degree of sophistication and stability. One has to have a permanent address and stay there for a period of time and have a bank account so that he can send in a check and so forth. So that’s not conducive to large-scale Negro giving. Well, I read it with much interest (*handwritten note: may note in Summer Project Ch. II) and I find that basically sympathetic and good. My big concern is that CORE seems to be mentioned as an afterthought rather than as an integral part of the summer project. CORE has had rather large-scale activities in Mississippi since the Freedom Rides in the summer of 1961. As a matter of fact, Schwerner and Cheney were CORE staff members and the Fourth Congressional District where Nashoba County is, Marietta County, are CORE territory, and the people there are CORE, and we’ve had dozens of workers working in the Fourth Congressional District largely and a CORE field secretary in charge of Mississippi, Dave Dennis has worked as Bob Moses’ assistant, assistant program director of Cofo. So CORE was in with Cofo at the very beginning and it was not a question as far as we are concerned of our not being able to pull out because the initiative. We were in from the very beginning and had no intentions of pulling out.
RPW:What about the matter of the effect of the summer project? How do you assess the short-range and long-range effects?
JF: Well, I think the greatest effect was in giving the Negro community a sense of not being alone, that there were people outside who were interested. Another important effect was on the students who went down there in the summer. They saw the horrors at first hand and will not be the same again, and will I believe be intimately involved with the movement from now on. In terms of numbers of people registered, it was very little. That is not significant.
RPW: Dr. Henry said it’s around 400; other people have said it’s as high as 12 or 13 hundred – actual registrations.
as low as that.
JF: Yes, that would be closer to our estimate too.
JF: Yes, around 400.
RPW: That would really matter, that kind of margin. I am told by people who have worked rather closely with the student movement – have been there for two years – that there was real resistance last winter on the part of the SNIC people to – and some other people in the civil rights movement in Mississippi – to taking on any substantial number of white students.
JF: There was some resistance to that, partly because of the new desire for self expression on the part of Negroes and a sense of identity and race pride and that sort of thing – similar to the nationalist emotional sentiment. And I think it was more than that. There was the fear that the white students would be better educated, better skilled, and so forth.
RPW: Bob Moses
JF: Yes, there was that fear. The result of the summer project – and this was somewhat unfortunate I think, was that the project did not involve local people. In fact, in my cases local people who had been involved in the movement pulled out when they saw these skilled youngsters from the North coming down. They couldn’t type that well and couldn’t write or read that well, so they pulled out and said perhaps they don’t need me, and didn’t come around.
RPW: Now, this applied both to Negro and white outsiders coming in? Are there different stories on that, you see?
JF: Well, it applied mostly to the whites, because the Negroes coming in did not have, on an average, the same educational and skills qualifications that the white youth did. But it did apply to them to some degree. Now, we find that after the students left for the summer some of the local people are coming around again and saying well, maybe you need me again.
RPW: Let’s go back to the convention for a moment. I have had an account from various people that you had to patch these things together. Did you see that? It was only a matter of a half a page a half – to be accurate is the main point. I’m not dwelling on it. This is a sort of footnote you see a footnote. The point was that pressure to accept the compromise was fairly evident.
JF: Well, there was no pressure on me, and I did not ask them to accept the compromise. I pointed out that I thought that the compromise – or that the DTP’s position in rejecting the compromise was morally right but politically wrong, and they had to make a decision on whether they wanted to be moral on this issue or whether they wanted to be political. I thought also that the compromise could have been made more acceptable. I think you indicate that in your notes here. If the credentials committee had not selected the two people who would be seated at large, because the Negroes’ predictable reaction was we’ve spent too many years having white people pick our leaders for us.
RPW: It was tactless to say the least.
JF: Certainly. But I’m told that there was considerable pressure from the labor movement and from Senator Humphrey – the labor movement through Walter Reuther, and then Senator Humphrey. Presumably this came directly from the Administration. And we found that after this pressure was applied, from whatever source, that the support that we had in the credentials committee for the Green resolution – Edith Green’s resolution – evaporated, and the commitments that we had gotten – I spent a great deal of time speaking before delegations from various states, urging them to do things, one, to support the Edith Green proposal, and two, to support roll call.
on it and get a floor fight. But we found that the commitments that we had gotten on that (silent space) -
RPW: You were saying that you had strong support for the Edith Green proposal.
JF: Yes. You know the Edith Green proposal -
RPW: Yes, I do – yes.
JF: - that the loyalty oath be given to all, and those who took it be seated. Now, we had gotten commitments from a number of the delegations – state delegations – that they would support that proposal and that they would support a roll call on the floor, and get a floor fight. We had enough to be assured of it.
JF: Yes, yes. But this support evaporated after the pressure was applied.
RPW: Now, Dr. Henry says he throughout had been strongly pulling for hearing from all of the leaders of the various civil rights organizations wanting to speak before a vote was taken, but this was not done, that the vote was taken before there had been a chance for the leaders of the various organizations to express themselves and to discuss the matter before the body of the the Democratic Party.
JF: That is correct. The first vote was taken quickly. The motion was made by Bob Moses, and he insisted upon a quick vote on it rather than a delay. And it was just two or three minutes after this vote was taken, which was overwhelmingly to reject the compromise, that we learned that Governor Johnson of Mississippi had rejected the compromise and had ordered his delegates to pack up and go home. It might have been – I don’t know – this is purely speculative – that if there had been a slight delay in the vote and we had learned of Johnson’s – Governor Johnson’s actions before the vote was taken, that the Freedom Democratic Party’s decision might have been different.
RPW: One of the SNIC people tells me that it was not known at the time of this vote that the support in the credentials committee had evaporated.
JF: Well, there were indications that it was evaporating. But it had not completely evaporated at the time. But we knew that the pressure was on, and we knew that the people were yielding to that pressure.
RPW: I understand, too, that for instance when the compromise was offered that Carmichael – Mr. Carmichael said in public – outdoors – outside on the – you know, the group outside – this proves that the liberal Democrats are as racist as any Goldwater. (laughter)
heat of passion.
JF: Yes, that undoubtedly was the heat of passion. And I don’t think Stokeley would try to defend that position.
RPW: I have an idea that he wouldn’t but the point I’m getting at is this. By some accounts there has been a great hardening of attitude since the convention among the people were back of Mississippi. This was given me by various SINC workers who agree about this fact, that there was more of a tendency to go it alone, to cut off from outside support, a growing suspicion of the fight – quotes – liberal Democrat.
JF: On the part of the state people you mean?
RPW: On the part of – this was said about the SNIC people – about SNIC people by SNIC workers. Now, there’s no way to – I should be asking – I am asking Bob Moses some of these same questions – but I’ll be doing that – I couldn’t do it when he was in town before he left, but I’m going to get in touch with him again. I am in fact in correspondence with him now. Do you have any impression of that sort, that this – the convention would have had a – Mississippi – the whole business had a hardening effect on a sense of withdrawal from the – from white contact, white support?
JF: Well, there is a growing feeling, and it was growing before the convention, but perhaps was accelerated by the events of the convention, that we have no friends. I find this among the younger people, especially in the South, the younger Negroes, that there are no real friends who will stand up when the chips are down. Yet it’s contradictory in a way because the same people who adopt that position spend a great deal of time raising their funds in the North from white liberal sources. Money is given to support the campaign in the South. We find, incidentally, that many white liberals will give much more readily to support Mississippi than they will to support any activities in the North, because it’s way down yonder and it’s always easier to slay cobras in Borneo.
RPW: That’s right. It certainly is. (laughter). But the go-it-alone attitude is coming – is hardening out, you think, to some degree, particularly among the young.
JF: Yes, it is. Yes. But I think they are smart enough to know that they can’t support the movement without the help of such people.
RPW: Now, another thing that seems to come out of Mississippi – I haven’t been there in quite some months now – I’m going back very soon now – is this – a real split has developed – I suppose a natural split between, say, the theorizers of the movement, chiefly your young SNIC people but including some others too, and the rank and file, particularly the native Mississippians. Who have practical objectives. They just not to be shot or they want a job, you know – the practical pragmatic approach, opposed to the high theorizing of the local,, youknow, the local branch – the high command. And this is clearly becoming more and more marked. One thing being the notion of the association of the movement in Mississippi with the present revolt, the world-wide land drive, and these things. That kind of theorizing.
JF: Yes, there is such a division developing, and it’s shaping up as a division between the large group of staff people who have been the movement in Mississippi over the summer and the local Negro community. Local Mississippi community is not at all interested in the theorizing, and at this structure sees no real identification between their struggle and the struggle in Viet Nam or any place else in the world. All they want is the right to vote and the right to a decent job and decent house and not be pushed around.
RPW:This goes back to the matter of the screening of the summer works at Oxford, Ohio, or the lack of screening by all accounts, that for instance Haversam, who covered this for the Times and his pieces – these are some of the pieces – these were not published, he has told me about, given me access to this information – he said there was no screening, and he was very disturbed about some of the types who were admitted. He said this is a matter of policy too, purely a matter of policy, and it’s now reflected in this other alienation, you see, that I’m talking about.
JF: Well, I don’t comment on the types who were represented during the project, but I will state that there should have been more screening, and if there are subsequent projects, then there ought to be more screening. The Freedom Rides we tried to screen out people very well. We found it difficult, however, after it become a mass movement. But screening is absolutely essential. Some of the conflicts, some of the tensions could have been avoided. And I would say that there was inadequate organization in the summer project, a change of command, and who makes what decisions, and that sort of thing. But everything happened so fast and was so large.
RPW: Yes, a thing like that is not subject to military discipline. It has to take its own shape more or less. I think anyone would realize that problem. One other thing that I get again from actual workers, not from random gossip, there has been a tendency in the growth of the Freedom Democratic Party to have more and more sort of manipulation from above rather than actual democratic procedure in the whole operation of the Party in Mississippi. This is – as I say, this comes from actual workers, not from – some say it’s natural and some deplore it.
JF: Well, I think both things are true. It may be natural and it still might be deplored. I think that you will find the same thing in the major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, that there is a great deal of manipulation from the top, rather than real grass roots participation.
RPW:Sure, that’s probably true.
JF: And I think it’s true in the Freedom Democratic Party too. I think that the decision-making procedures have not been clearly enough drawn up to allow for the grass roots participation.
RPW: Let’s turn to a matter of the segregationist resistance in Mississippi. There has been a series of indications that there are cracks developing in the resistance. Mrs. In the Times tells the story about the head of the press – the Mississippi press organization, saying now is the time to look at ourselves for a change, to find out what’s really wrong us, “us” being the Mississippi power structure. They say we can’t trust these people to run the state now. He said – as much as said that in so many words. Of these various indications, like the McCone statement, how much importance do you attach to these indications?
JF: I attach a great deal of importance to it. It was Ralph McGill who said several years ago that he felt segregation and discrimination would come an end when American business insisted that it be halted. And I think that’s true in Mississippi. It’s significant that McCone the two men who took the lead in getting this statement out signed by 665 white citizens of the town were bankers, and obviously they were concerned that money wasn’t coming into the town. And this has been the case wherever there has been racial tension.
RPW: The whole state’s dying (talking together) rapidly.
JF: Yes. I think that we’ll find this crack widening even more when and if the federal government follows through on Title 6 of the ’64 Civil Rights Act and withholds funds from the projects and programs that discriminate. That will be practically all of the projects and programs in Mississippi now subsidized by the federal government. Even more when they really feel the pinch on nationwide boycotts. The position we’ve taken on boycotts in Mississippi is that we don’t want across-the-board boycott. We want to use two things. We want to use a stick and a carrot as well. So I’m sending a letter today to businesses, at least a hundred major businesses in Mississippi pointing out the horrors that have taken place in that state and pointing out their responsibility as financial leaders of the state to do something about it, and asking them specifically what steps they are taking and have taken or plan to take in the following fields – employment of Negroes at all levels in their company, securing them effective, equal and responsible law enforcement in the community in which they operate, a statewide climate of acceptance of the mandates of the United States Constitution, and we are asking to hear from them on that. If we get an unfavorable reply or unresponsive reply or no reply at all, then there will be boycott against those specific companies. But we will exempt those companies that are doing something.
RPW: Instead of across the board?
JF: Instead of across the board boycott which does not allow anybody any out. You might as well join forces then with the segregationists for mutual defense.
RPW: Tell me this – what are chances do you think of – psychologically of a crack in the arrest of the 21 who stand accused of the FBI participation in that – this is guesswork, but what about public opinion swinging toward actual indictment or is that too tight - too tight for that?
JF: Well, I think there is a possibility of an indictment because of the desire of Mississippi to get off the hook and to escape the economic pressure from without and to improve its public relations image generally. It’s tending to feel isolated now, feel that it’s becoming an island and that the rest of the country is pointing at it. So I think there is a possibility of a murder charge being filed by the state and an indictment gotten. I am not optimistic about the chances for conviction, because here you have to have twelve Mississippi jurors voting unanimously. The best we could hope for I think is a hung jury.
RPW: What about the notion that developed there which struck me in the last few months about the – Mississippi being off balance now, they have broken the basic technique of a power structure boys to keep up order and segregation together. They try to keep order and have segregation
Now, this blew up during the summer Before this most of the violence had been kept in balance somehow – appeared too under the auspices of order or law. Now it has blown up entirely with the rise of the Klan and this big Nashoba thing and the rest. Does that make any sense to you? That they are now off balance, that they have no way to get back on balance?
JF: Well, I don’t think there’s ever been really order in Mississippi. The difference – the big difference is that now they spotlight of public attention is on the state. IN the past there have been murders of the Klan as . There have been bombings and burnings and that sort of thing. But it has not been highly or widely publicized. Medgar Evers told me just a moment before his death that it was not extraordinary for a body to come floating down the Pearl River or the Mississippi or the Big Black River, or for some Negro who had been involved in the movement to have a weird freak accident on the highway and go off an embankment or over a bridge or something. So that this was not extraordinary. But now when these things happen the whole nation and the whole world knows about it. Nor do I think that the extreme racists, the Klan and so forth has become more active now. I think they always have been active and my impression is that there has been an alliance between the law enforcement officers and these groups – the vigilante groups – to maintain order, and order, according to their definition, was quiescence on the part of the Negroes and acquiescence, acceptance. But certainly there can no longer be that in Mississippi or any place else in the South now. And this has been the major point of the movement, to make it clear that there cannot be order and peace without justice.
RPW: If Mississippi cracks do you think the whole thing will crack across the Deep South?
JF: Not necessarily. Not necessarily. I think that we’ll have to do battle in Louisiana as we are doing battle in Louisiana now. For the past two years without much publicity we’ve had 30, 40 and 50 staff workers working the whole state of Louisiana, and this summer we plan to be stepping that up. I don’t expect that the other hard core areas, Alabama, most of Louisiana, southwest Georgia, northern Florida, will fall automatically if Mississippi falls. I think that we’ll have to struggle county by county, city by city, town by town, state by state.
RPW: What about the debt theory of there being a debt owed to the – we’ll call it slavery to Negroes, as distinguished from simply ordinary programs for education and apply across the board irrespective of ethnic or other considerations, a mostly moral debt to the Negro-American because his great grandfather was once a slave?
JF: I’m not impressed with that argument, but I’ve heard a great deal of it. I am impressed with an argument that is closely related to that, however, that because of the past and present discrimination of these Negroes a special effort has to be made now.
RPW: That’s different, though.
JF: Yes, that’s different.
RPW: That would apply to men of any complexion, or any ethnic origin.
JF: That’s right. If you’ve been discriminated against and deprived then the society has a responsibility to help upgrade you.
RPW: All poor and people are – that’s about a – a citizen’s right and not a debt for the grandfather. Is that right?
JF: No, I am – I don’t believe in this genetic guilt and that sort of thing.
RPW: Of course that theory is a split right down the middle of, you know, the world. Dr. King you see – is for the debt theory, you see – moral justification.
you know – there’s no agreement on this.
JF: No, but I believe in moral justification of what we’re doing, but I put it on the basis of the present rather than the slave period.
RPW: How do you react to Mr. Rustin’s notion that the movement now is really a catalytic agent one might say for a big social movement that is about to come – the Negroes’ activities are a kind of a pilot operation, a kind of catalytic agency for a big social revolution which is in order with automation and other technological changes.
JF: Well, I think certainly the Negro revolution is going side by side with at least one of the revolutions of the two – we’re in a triple revolution theory –
automation or revolution of technology is going side by side with the Negro revolution, and at some point they’ll have to get together, and in a sense they have gotten together in the war on poverty – Johnson’s anti-poverty program. But the fact of the matter is that most of our activists throughout the country do not perceive of themselves as lending or serving as catalysts in any general social movement. They are interested in their problem primarily. If a man in a cave confronted with a tiger he is not going to very much concerned about the lion that’s wandering around outside in the woods. He’s going to be preoccupied with his tiger. I think that’s true of the people who are involved in our movement by and large.
RPW: There are two lines of theorizing that go – that lead to that position, of course one being that when the world you know – the present revolution, the world revolution, all of that – the Viet Nam stuff – and the other being the big overhaul of American society which is presumably a catalytic and a pilot. But you’ve answered the question.
JF: But I would add something to it – the answer, however. I would say that there is a growing awareness in the civil rights movement now that our problems are not simple, that they’re complex, that they’re involved with economic structure and with the problems of other minority groups and with politics. For that reason we are expanding our program, we are broadening it, we are insisting upon more political involvement on the part of our chapters and our members on a precinct level. Perhaps Freedom Democratic clubs such as now organized in Illinois, where we can help to determine candidates and put up candidates and lobby to get them nominated by the major parties. We will try to do less of speaking at the power structure – talking at them, and then protesting the decisions after the decisions are made. We will try to help determine the make-up of the power structure and be in on the decision-making and that manner. We also will broaden our program economically, which means two things. One, greater use of the economic weapon to achieve our objectives – the boycott, withholding, selective buying and so forth. Two, it means an attempt to upgrade economically the Negro community, the ghetto. We realize the ghetto is going to be with us for a long time, even if Negroes have the freedom to move out, to move elsewhere, many will stay there voluntarily while others will stay because they are locked in economically even if there’s no discrimination elsewhere. So we’ve got to upgrade it economically, and this means co-ops, it means credit unions, it means pooling of resources to start businesses and industries and that sort of thing, not in the way the Black Nationalists speak of it as a rival economy but in the sense of urging Negroes to participate fully in every aspect of American life. Third, educational. We realize that – now even if we wiped out discrimination tomorrow, we might have achieved the freedom by which we mean the freedom to make meaningful choices in housing and jobs and schools and so forth. But we will not have achieved equality which is essential to fully utilizing that freedom. So we are pressing hard for remedial education program massive in scope by the federal government. If it is not done by the federal government then we will do it ourselves on as large a scale as our resources allow.
RPW: It’s a real must.
JF: Yes. I think it’s absolutely necessary if (talking together). Yes. If a youngster can’t read you’re not going to be able to retrain him to fit into automated industry.
RPW: What’s the next general move aside from what you were just saying in terms of the – not civil rights now but general movement? You’ve been covering the economic side of it. What else do you see as crucial or as important? That would make for integration? What does integration mean in your – you know – in your long-range idea? What is the word to use? (talking together)
JF: What we mean by integration or an integrated society or an open society, - first I can tell you what we don’t mean. We do not see a society in which Negroes will be absorbed and will disappear as Negroes – lose their identity completely. I think that’s not possible, it’s not in the American tradition nor is it desired by most Negroes. There is now a growing awareness in self identity among Negroes and this would run counter to it. What we do see is a freedom to make meaningful choices, that is, no racial restrictions on where a person might live. If one wants to live any place in the city or in the suburbs he should be able to live there if he has the money to pay for the housing that’s available. In terms of jobs the same thing would be true. If he has the skills and the qualifications he should be able to work at any job without any restrictions on him. So it would be a permissive society in that way. But I do not see it as a society in which Negroes would lose their identity. I think that Negroes can only come into an integrated society as an equal – proud and equal partner who are proud of their own heritage and traditions and sub-culture and come in because they have something to give and something to share and are willing to receive what others have to give, and this pride does not mean in my judgment a rejection of the contributions which others have made. Nor does it mean a counter-hate.
RPW: How much of this withdrawal we have talked about in – among at least some of the people in Mississippi, the go-it-alone, the hardening up of attitude, the growing suspicion of any white cooperation, or the suspicion of any white’s sincerity – how wide spread is that do you think, as a growing sentiment? Do you sense it as a growing sentiment?
JF: I would say a growing sentiment, but only among the staff people. I don’t see it as a significant feeling among the rank and file Negroes in Mississippi or any place else. But you must remember that the operation is similar and this is one of its weaknesses, was largely the staff operation if you consider the volunteers as staff, and was not an operation involving the people in the community to any great extent. The people in the community don’t have to go it alone attitude now. The pros do.
RPW: Does that seem realistic to you?
JF: Going it alone? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. There’s no hope in a go it alone policy as far as the Negro in this country is concerned in my opinion. I do agree with Rusten on this point that we’ve got to have allies. There must be allies. I don’t agree with him in his insistence that we’ve got to make power allies of labor and that sort of group because if we form an alliance – a formal alliance with AFL-CIO or individual unions we’ll be junior partners in such an alliance because they have power and we don’t. We’ll be the tail to the dog. And this I would not accept.
RPW: As far as I can make out, there’s – I would say in the last five years there has been a real change in awareness and attitude among a large number of the white people I’m acquainted with one way or another, a sense of growing urgency that this matter has to be solved and solved with some justice and some human recognition. This is my range of observation. So seeing this among the people that I see or even have slight acquaintance with – I mean, people who would tend to be a little bit segregationist – put on the one hand over against the go it alone, the hardening attitude among certain Negroes. I see this as a kind of a – a sort of a built in necessity I guess for the historical moment. But I do feel it.
JF: I think you’re right in your judgment there. I think that there is that sentiment among whites, and it’s a fairly general one – that feeling. I am sure that this is a because of the pressure that we’ve maintained through demonstrations and so forth, and I also know from my little study of history that people’s memories are very short, and I fear that this sentiment will die down if the pressure is removed, and this is one reason CORE cannot, could not during the summer and cannot now have a moratorium on demonstrations.
RPW: Subject of course is that demonstrations in the North won’t work, that there’s really a of Southern operation. They don’t have the effect in the North because the targets are too amorphous.
JF: Well, this I would say is nonsense, really. In California our CORE chapters have 26 or 28 chapters out there. They had a statewide campaign against discrimination in the Bank of America, the biggest bank in the country if not in the world, involving demonstrations, picket lines, sit-ins, and so forth. They won. They won 8,000 new jobs for Negroes, and this is a victory. And there have been other such victories in stores – Safeway Stores, A & P Stores and other companies. We had a boycott here with demonstrations two years ago against a brewery company, and it was victorious. It won. So the demonstrations work if they are focused, but obviously they are more complicated here. We’ve had demonstrations in housing that have won – won minor victories, such as opening up one apartment house or housing development to Negroes. And they’ve been carried out successfully by sit-in demonstrations. So the demonstrations worked. I don’t see a demonstration as a rabbit’s foot, however, or as a fetish, but I’m not a dogmatist there, that wherever you have a problem you wave the rabbit foot and the dogma somehow disappears. The demonstration has to be geared to the nature of the problem. The tactic that you use has to be so geared.
RPW: I was talking the other day to a Mr. Myers of – he is professor of sociology at Yale. He said as far as he could now see that we are doomed to a six percent of blank population, that is, people who can’t take care of themselves, will never be and so on, economically or socially. And this is not a question of race. This is a – any ethnic group, it’s just this six percent of dead weight. That is, he said that this will gradually level that group and gradually raise –
American good will – they raise it just a little bit, you know – subsidize it. But he said that there is no indication that you would ever get a lower figure than that as of now.
JF: Well, I too think that as of now – that is, if we don’t use some different methods to try to elevate them, I think that he’s right. But I don’t think that we can afford to rely upon aimless American good will to (voice ceases) …Collapse