TAPE 1 Searchable Text
[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.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN BOX 8 TOUGALOO STUDENTS FEB. 11 TAPE #1
Mr. WARREN: Do you want to say something – just say who you are. I mean, just say it naturally, and see that you’re recorded. We are recording. Just tell your names:
SYLVIA DAVIS: I’m Sylvia Davis, Tougaloo College.
RPW: Miss Pool –
BETTYANN POOL: I’m Bettyann Pool, age 20, Tougaloo College, senior.
HALSTON MOORE: Halston Moore, Tougaloo College.
MEMPHISNORMAN: Memphis Norman, Tougaloo College, from Wiggins, Mississippi.
RPW: Let’s see how we did on that – and let us try to forget it, except to speak English. I don’t know where we can begin. Let’s say – a question like this. What are your expectations of a person who would be – quote – a Negro leader now? Anybody.
Boy: Well, for my part I think that – in terms of aims or goals or purposes of a Negro leader, I think that it should be a projection – that his projection should be not only thinking in terms of a Negroes themselves, but in terms of the entire community in which Negroes and whites live. And I think that the Negro leader should think in terms of the rights of Negroes and the rights of other people in the community. Because you can’t just take a – the situation as it is and push something on the other people, just because of the situation that the Negro is in. And I think that, in terms of being a leader, the Negro should think not only in terms of the Negro but in terms of the whole community complex.*
RPW: Are you referring to relations in the community at some future date, some picture of society to come, that these are the responsibilities for the Negro leader to have in mind? Yes? Is that what you’re thinking about?
GIRL: Well, I agree with Mr. Norman, but I’d also like to add, I would expect a Negro leader to be logical and cool-headed rather than a type leader, because I don’t like leaders who like to play on the emotions of the people who their leaders, but to lead them to peaceful demonstrations and not by means of violence, because I think that’s the only way we’re going to ever get anywhere, and that’s through nonviolence. **
RPW: You know, you’ll find people who are going to disagree with you.
GIRL: I know, but that’s the way I feel. **
RPW: Miss Davis, what do you have to say?
DAVIS: I agree with what Mr. Norman has said and also with what Miss Pool has said, and especially what Miss Pool has said. The nonviolent movement has brought us thus far good, I think and not only this – it has been in such a way that people can respect us. Anybody can stand up and fight for things – I mean physically – but it takes a person who has strong emotions to really withdraw from this, and I think his is what the leadership is taking into
* “Norman” handwritten beside this section
** “Pool” handwritten beside this section.
RPW: Don’t wait to be asked. If you want to say something, just say it, you see. You know, if you’ve got a question – we don’t all have to speak on the topic, or – just be as natural as possible – just assume we are having a conversation.
BOY: Well, I was going to say that this is more or less a human rights movement, more than a Negro movement. I feel that the leaders – Negro or white leaders of our country today, in the Negro movement or in the Citizens Council movement – that is, the white movement – should take into consideration the heritage of our country and the belief in a form of democracy that we have to have, whereby we learn to love each other as brothers, rather than a hatred that has been created here in the South.
GIRL: I don’t think it’s so much the hatred – I think it’s mostly the whites – some of the whites have managed to accept the fact that this is going to happen anyway, no matter what we do. They have got to accept this. And I don’t know whether this hatred is embedded within us, this idea, or not, but this is something that’s going to happen and they just hate to face it. But no matter how they try to prevent it, it’s going to come. And they hate to see it come because some of their rights – I think they feel will be but this is something that has to be accepted.
BOY: You mentioned some of their rights might be taken away. What sort of rights do you think would be taken away?
GIRL: I’ve talked with some of the people that are – let’s say more or less conservatives, and they feel that if the Negro – some of them feel this way – if the Negro receives some of his civil rights that – like there will be offices – some of their positions will be withheld or something of this nature. Then I am thinking in terms of we are all Mississippians, and that we all have the same rights, and these are to be expressed by the vote and this sort of thing. We are taking into consideration that I’m ahead, and if I leave something for my These are some of the views that I have gotten from
RPW: Let me red you a quotation from Dr. Kenneth Clark, you know the Negro professor of psychology at CCNY – The City College of New York. He has been talking about the Black Muslims, and now he is talking about Martin Luther King, comparing them. This is the quotation: On the surface, King’s philosophy appears to reflect health and stability, while the Black Muslims appear to reflect pathology and instability. A deeper analysis, however, might reveal that there is an unrealistic if not pathological basis in King’s doctrine. The natural reaction to injustice is bitterness and resentment. The forms which such bitterness take need not be overt but the corrosion of the human spirit seems inevitable. It would seem, therefore, that any demand the victims of oppression be required to love those who oppress them, places an additional and probably intolerable psychological burden upon these victims. He’s purely no follower of King. Does that make any sense to you? Clearly not. You have said the contrary, that you are the victim. But how would you answer that? He’s saying, to paraphrase it, that the attempt – it’s a natural response – the natural man’s response to injury is to resent it. He may not be able to strike back out of fear or some other situation, but it is natural. If you ask him to forgive, it is unnatural and this places a destructive burden on him that will lead to psychological complications and confusions.
GIRL: Well, I can see where the statement is true because I read John Dollard’s Caste and Class on a Southern Town, and I really think this answers too the Negroes who have an accommodation attitude when whites mistreat them, and I have felt the same way quite a few times when I have gone down to demonstrate or just walking through a situation where a color barrier was, and I was rejected and have gone out. But I go along with Gandhi and his philosophy where nonviolence is the best technique, because I feel that that’s the only way that we can ever really achieve integration through peace and harmony, is through brotherly love, and if you fight violence by, you know – fight violence with violence you’re never going to accomplish this. *
RPW: Well, do you think this is making you mentally sick ?
GIRL: It possibly is. Maybe I’m taking my aggressions out on members of
well, John Dollard says that Negroes take out their own aggression on other Negroes.
RPW: The Saturday night fight.
GIRL: Right. But I don’t do this. Maybe I take it out on myself – I don’t
* “Pool” handwritten in margin beside this section
know. But I really agree with King and his nonviolence techniques, because I want to achieve integration through nonviolence in order to get brotherly love.
BOY: If the nonviolence attitude would bring about some psychological confusion or frustrations, would you be willing to make such a sacrifice that the generation after you would live in a society much better than the one that you lived in?
GIRL: Well, I don’t think that it’s possible for them to live in a better society than I’m living in now if we achieve integration through violence because there’s always going to be chaos and strife between the races if we don’t win it over now, as we’re doing, with brotherly love.
BOY: What I meant to say was – through nonviolence. If you make a sacrifice – a nonviolent sacrifice – and you did accomplish something, and a generation after you would live better than you live, would you be willing to make the sacrifice?
GIRL: Of nonviolence?
BOY: With nonviolence.
GIRL: Yes – yes, indeed.
BOY: Even with the physical injury and the psychological frustrations?
GIRL: I really would.
BOY: Because I think that the whole purpose of nonviolence, to make a sacrifice.
BOY: The sacrifice has to be made. The way I feel about the violent technique – O.K., maybe the nonviolence has a psychological effect upon a person, but I feel that if we start fighting back, it would lead into – there would be more violence – there is less violence than we have now, but when you have only one side fighting – now, if both are going to fight, more likely they are going to start picking up weapons and there would be more deaths. And we’re trying to eliminate this by the nonviolence technique. I feel that’s what King is trying to do in his nonviolent actions, and if we have to – if the only way we can achieve our quality is through guns, so to speak – well, just say guns as weapons of violence – I feel that it’s not worth it. But our generation will – we’ll never be able to put the guns down.
RPW: As Dr. Abernathy said to this question – not to me but to a small group some weeks ago – he said, Besides, the white folks have more guns.
GIRL: Right. They will turn them on the Negroes in America. You know, if we pick up guns and start fighting we’ll be wiped out unless they’re the weak.
BOY: Ten percent of the population, which makes it twenty million.
GIRL: Twenty million – I thought it was ten million. And then you have to take into account the small kids and older people, so –
BOY: I think what – is it Dr. Clark?
RPW: Kenneth Clark – yes – Dr. Kenneth Clark.
BOY: I think what he’s trying to say is that – well, it’s a natural behavior of man to fight back against a physical injury, and not fighting back will – with some inhibitions of an aggressive – you might say emotion – a rage inside a man – and holding us back would cause any frustrations. If that what he is trying to say?
RPW: It seems so to me. There was a study made over the recent years – several years – by a psychologist, a psychiatrist at Howard – I think with outside collaboration – studying the effects – the psychological effects on the young people who have been in the sit-ins – the nonviolent sit-ins scattered over the South, you see. Apparently they found that you had actually – the development of quality of personal integration in the sense of personal character integration – strength of character, self-control, self-confidence – rather than sickness.
BOY: Take for example the demonstration I was in. I was beaten on the floor – and it didn’t bother me – no – not psychologically – I was no frustration or anything like that. I was completely normal afterwards. I was completely normal, and – well, for my part it has given me some personal strength I think, to – well – withstand things – emotional – things that I would get emotionally upset ordinarily seem to have helped out some.
RPW: There are people – if you have a religious and theological grounding for this – this is purely a personal feeling – it has nothing to do with Christ’s teachings – this is irrelevant to Christ’s teachings for you to turn the other cheek, forgiving those who smite –
GIRL: I guess – I think that for me there’s a tie-in between the two.
RPW: There are people of course who are completely nonbelievers, who still follow nonviolence. And not as a tactic, but because of the psychological good – it’s another position, of course.
GIRL: And I think it’s also physically good, because I’ve been in situations where a mob could have formed and I wouldn’t have fought back. I would have been completely nonviolent because if I had resisted I would have been killed, and I’d rather live and get beaten up than get killed. *
RPW: Where was this?
GIRL: In the bus station.
GIRL: This year and last spring.
RPW: Where was this?
GIRL: Well, all the way from Mississippi to Tampa, Florida.
RPW: On the Ride?
GIRL: Right. I went to every bus station, and a couple of white people made nasty remarks and they started flaunting behind me and standing there, staring me down. But I was in a situation once where one boy was beaten up with me, but I wasn’t hit because the white man came over and told me that if I don’t want some of the same thing I’d better get out, and that was the first time I had ever been in a situation like this. I wasn’t even in the movement, and this is what brought me to the movement, - this situation.
RPW: That episode brought you to the movement?
GIRL: Right. I saw this boy fall on the floor in nonviolence, and it touched me somehow, and from then on I was very active in the movement.
* “Betty Pool” written in the margin by this person’s replies.
BOY: I might bring up another point, Mr. Warren.
BOY: Quite a few people in the movement came to the movement through this type of action. You find that, when you see your friend or someone that you know beaten, like the – or even someone just because he’s the same color that you are, he is beaten because of the human right that he has inherited through his birth, to – a human right to do – and you see him beaten there and you can’t do anything, and you feel that you’re a coward or you’re helpless in a situation, and then too, even – for instance, the death of many people – when they killed Medgar Evers and Moore and the kids in Birmingham – things like this – each time the police would bring out a dog to fight you – fight someone – this was shown on television – people heard of these things – people saw these things – this brings more and more people into this movement. This brings more and more people willing to accept that bite from a dog or that beating from a policeman, so that their children will not have to grow up under such – or future generations will have enough – will not have to go on to the same thing. And that’s the way I came into – really seeing the problems, whereby I had to find myself, and I couldn’t let one person be beaten while I stood around and did nothing. But then too I couldn’t help them because I was – if I would help them there would just be violence. This brings more and more people into the movement every time, and –
BOY: And morally it looks better, having a nonviolent protest, than it does to be waiting in the woods or in a ditch somewhere with a gun and bombs and things, to destroy human life.
GIRL: And most whites seem to – most Southern segregationists – most segregationists seem to think that Negroes are really nothing but cannibalistic savages, and if we started hitting back and fighting, this would only give them more reason to believe this, and this would hurt our cause. And as far as personal experience – as to what Mr. Moore was referring to – I know that this nonviolent movement helped me quite a bit, because I know if everything had been violently done I don’t know whether I would have been as active as I have been. But seeing people actually beaten and restraining from this – physical beatings and all – I said now, what is my need in sitting back and seeing this happening – even the day after Medgar Evers was killed – this was my first – this was the first time that I had actually seen one of the demonstrations, and I marched with the people down – we were headed toward town _ and really, at that moment it wouldn’t have mattered to me what would have happened, even – I felt that I was ready to give my life. This really helped a lot, and I think this nonviolent movement was all we had. I really do.*
RPW: Let me change the subject. Here’s a quotation from DuBoise [Du Bois] – written long ago – but there are many modern variants of this same
* “USE” written in margin of this response.
notion that one encounters from Negroes in writing or in conversation, and I’ll read the quotation: The Negro group has long been internally divided by a dilemma as to whether its striving upward should be aimed at strengthening its inner culture and group bonds, both for intrinsic progress and for effective power against caste – on one side. Or whether it should seek escape wherever and however it can in a surrounding culture. The seeds in this matter have been largely determined by outer compulsion rather than inner plan. That is something that – it’s not the best quotation on this point. Elsewhere and earlier he had said, the pull toward the sense of an African heritage, the pull toward some mystique of the black, the bond of blood, and the common cultural experience either as a Negro in general or as an American Negro is particular is one impulse. But the Negritude of the new African states Or to oppose that pull, the pull to enter into Western or European American culture as fully as possible and perhaps in the end have the Negro race lose it’s identity entirely – that is, those who are in that orbit. Be absorbed into their general American blood stream and lose whatever qualities and values that might have been associated with the fact of their being Negro. These are two impulses, - now, there are some who feel that this is a very deep problem – others feel that there is no problem at all. How do you all respond to it?
BOY: I feel that there is no need for me to lose my identity unless – unless I was to lose my identity in the human race, because I am not a just a Negro – I am a human being. I have certain human rights. If I feel that I want to stay out of – not educate myself to the extent whereby I can accept the bourgeoisie culture of some of the whites in America today – or I have to be superior to them – I mean – not superior to them, but I have to bring my educational standards up above theirs before I can be accepted – I feel that this is not necessary. I feel that we have human rights, as human beings – not that we should try and - we just want what is duly and accepted as ours, as a – we want everything that the white race has, not that we have – we’re superior to them or anything like this – we just would like to be accepted on an equal basis.
BOY: Well, in terms of different cultures, I would like to look at it in this particular – from this particular viewpoint. We recognize that the sort of culture that you have in Africa is entirely different from that that you have in Europe. This is due to the physical environment and the geographic environment of the two continents. They would have Negroes being brought to this country in a slave situation, and – well – these slaves never caught on to what we would consider the mainstream of Western civilization in terms of culture of the Western World, and since the Emancipation Proclamation, since Negroes have been free in this country, being segregated against, we have never really gotten to the mainstream of what we would call American civilization, which is Western civilization, and for my own thinking, the only way that we can have a social system with social solidarity, is to have some similarity in value, and we say that we have a Negro culture and a white culture – values come from the culture – and if we’re going to have two cultures and – we’re going to have different values, and with different values we’re going to continue to have a dichotomy in a social system. I think Talcott Parson deals with this quite a bit in terms of values coming from the culture. We say that Negroes want the same things that whites have, and I think that the reason that we’ve had so much confusion, is that there’s a distance between the values that the whites and the Negroes have in this country. And from my own thinking I think that the only way we can have a social system with solidarity and integration is to bring about some similarity in values.
POOL: Well, first I want to say that I am an American, and I do not believe that Negroes should strive for a different culture from their native land. And I think that the Negroes’ native land is America. If we had a different culture than Americans we would have only more ghettoes and I’m not in favor of that. I’m in favor of integration although I would not like to see the Negro dissolved into the mainstream as far as race is concerned. But otherwise, yes.
RPW: Miss Davis, do you want to say something on this?
DAVIS: Well, I’d like – I agree with what Mr. Norman has said – especially – but I’d also like to add that I think we’re all Americans – I mean we – the Negroes – are American, as Miss Pool has said, and that if more of them come to the Untied States – I mean, rather, to America, and enjoy the rights as the white man, why can’t we who have been born and reared in the United States do just likewise? I think this is – has to be considered also, that you don’t separate individuals because of their nationality or some – considering this – we were born and we were raised here, and we’re Americans whether they want to accept it or not. They rights, personally.
RPW: Let’s try this one. This is from James Baldwin. The most trenchant observers of the scene in the South – those who are embattled there – that is, Southern Negroes – feel the Southern mobs are not an expression of the Southern majority will. Their impression is the mob fall, so to speak, into a moral vacuum – fill, so to speak, a moral vacuum. Does that to you have context? That the mobs on the streets and the mobs that run the hassle in Little Rock or in the bus stations that you have seen, do not represent the majority will in the South.
BOY: I’d like to say this – I feel that the South – or the mobs – is only a representation of a select – could I put quotes around this – “select” few of the lower educated people. I feel that no one in their right minds or with a halfway decent educational background wants violence to occur. You can’t say that that mob out there that’s taking on Joe Black to the tree lynch him is a representation of the majority of the population – the white population.
RPW: Well, how will they get to power then? The police of Jackson represent the majority will of Jackson.
BOY: The police represent what they have been taught. They have a job to do – their leaders have taught them what to do and how to handle it.
RPW: Well does the mayor represent the majority will of Jackson?
RPW: He bosses the police, is that it?
BOY: Let’s look at it like this, now. The mayor is elected by the majority of the people, and even Governor Barnett would be elected by the majority.
RPW: The real majority, or the majority of the voters?
BOY: The majority of the voters.
RPW: That’s a little different, isn’t it?
GIRL: That’s what makes the difference, yes, it is.
BOY: We had quite a few Negroes who were prohibited from voting, so –
RPW: Forgetting the Negroes – and I say that - the white stock – the majority of the whites themselves. Now, if this had been said by somebody else – but it was said, remember, by see – if anybody had said it – if a white man had said it – if the editor of some newspaper had said it – it would have been a little different than coming from a Negro – have you thoughts on this?
GIRL: I don’t know if it’s really a majority of the whites who form – that is, the majority opinion who form mobs, but I think it’s because of the power structure behind the people in office – well, they dictate to the people in office what they want them to do, and then the people in office see to it – every citizen
of the state – well, this gives the common man his ideas about the Negro, and I think psychologically if a person is in a situation where a mob is forming to Negro, well he’s got – he’s still got his own convictions about segregation and a man from the upper classes or the lower classes join in and lynch him. And it could be the majority, but I think there are a few liberals here in Mississippi and in the South, and I think that most of them want segregation.
BOY: Well, you couldn’t say that the mayor would
GIRL: Well, in his speeches he doesn’t come out directly and say it, but certainly there’s an undercurrent of it.
RPW: The mayor dictates the behavior of the police
GIRL: And the power structure, because –
BOY: Well, we haven’t had any trouble – we’ve only had trouble – the police in Jackson – we’ve only had trouble on the streets – we haven’t had trouble in the too much.
GIRL: People that too by drunkards and policemen. And girls get raped too by policemen and drunkards. Now somebody has to give them a key to go in.
RPW: There have been polls taken on the question of segregation in the South, and sometimes they indicate that a majority of the Southerners are willing to accept integration – at least, desegregation.
BOY: I think what you have in the South is that – a sort of community consensus where people just go along with what a few say.
BOY: Well, I think there’s a bulk of the white community which is completely unconcerned about the problem – they don’t -
RPW: Withdrawn from it?
BOY: That’s right – they’re apathetic toward the whole thing, and whether they’re integrated or segregated, it doesn’t make them any different. And those who do show some concern, say, for example if Mayor Thompson – and if the police do have a control over the power structure, and with the Citizens Council in Jackson – you’re not going to have any white business men who would take sides with the Negro call – because his business is gone, and he stays – well, we call it a saneness group, where people feel – consolidate together – and they just follow the general consensus without breaking away from it, and some people say what the heck – break away from it anyhow – they have more to lose than to gain. And they say eventually the Negro is going to have his rights anyhow, so why should I suffer now for it?
RPW: Trust to history.
BOY: I would agree with Mr. Baldwin in saying that it’s not the majority of the white people in the South who are – take action in mobs against the minority groups.
RPW: Well, now you take action – things of that sort – it does not represent their will – see – it isn’t the will that’s represented –
BOY: Well, most times it doesn’t’ even represent the will of the majority. You know, if you have, say, a mob of a thousand people, you might have about a hundred people in there who really want to push this. In every mob there’s some who just go along to be in a group.
RPW: Well, now there are people who are staying at home in bed, too – they’re keeping away from there – say if you get the people Little Rock were a small proportion of the – physically – of Little Rock, the white people of Little Rock. But now were they expressing the will of the people who stayed at home, or against them? It’s hard to know isn’t it – really?
BOY: Well – to just interject a little something – often we have students who – because there’s white churches in Jackson – well, two of them – two of the white churches in Jackson that we can enter, and that’s the Episcopal and the Catholic – otherwise, other churches where we’re not accepted – their youth leagues – people within a church that will make it their business to stop us from coming in. And then there are other people in the church who will actually come out – if they see the students there – they will come out and say I’m sorry that you can’t come in. I’d just like for you to know that this is not the way I feel about this. I feel that the church should be open to everyone. And so – there are a few and I – there’s no way to measure what would really happen if integration in the church took place – what the feelings would be. But in several instances, the places that have been desegregated quietly – there has been no trouble. Some people would naturally look at them with the hate stares – like John Griffith and so forth – these hate stares – and then there would be people who would come up and say – speak to us and One gentleman even went out of the way to turn around in a church and say – turn to our Negro students and say, well, you have a very fine baritone voice there – some of the things like this. And where there is desegregation in Jackson there has been no violence, except in one library and a few bus stations, but where the people are willing to accept us where they have said, O.K. this is the rule now and we’re going to allow anyone to come in there that wants to come –
RPW: Did any of you see any irony – any morbid comedy – in the fact that the Freedom March on Washington wound up at the Lincoln Memorial? Was that an appropriate place for it?
GIRL: I think it was.
BOY: I think it was sort of symbolic of the – some people might even think that it had some significance because of Abraham Lincoln.
RPW: What were Lincoln’s views on race?
ALL: Yes, I know that.
GIRL: Yes, he did emancipate us, and I’m grateful to him for that.
BOY: But he still believed in segregation.
GIRL: Yes, I know that, but he did do something good for us.
RPW: Why did he do it?
GIRL: Well, because –
BOY: Because it was going to hold the country together.
GIRL: Right. And he kept the states – some of them – from seceding from the Union.
RPW: Do you find that slightly humorous – to go to the monument of a man who emancipation? Where else could they go?
GIRL: To the White House?
GIRL: I think the Lincoln Memorial is a nice place because – in the first place, even though we don’t think that Lincoln had free the Negroes,
and we were demanding a change, and to represent this I think the place was the best place to meet – it brought about a change that was different from at the time of Lincoln, but it still made a different
RPW: Or with a Robert E. Lee.
BOY: He was doing a job.
RPW: He was an emancipationist – he even emancipated his slaves – he didn’t believe in it at all - Grant held slaves –
GIRL: Well, where else could we have gone that would have held as many people?
RPW: I’ll change it back to Lee now –
BOY: He was a general in the Confederate army –
RPW: He was a general * in the Federal army first - and resigned his commission – he wasn’t a general – he was a colonel in the Federal army first, and he resigned his commission – withdrew from the Federal army – so he was an emancipationist – had given up his slaves – didn’t believe in it.
BOY: And yet he fought for the Southern cause.
BOY: I think it was a political situation, because, well, if he emancipated slaves, he graduated from West Point, and I don’t know anything about his life after the Civil War – after he surrendered at Appomattox, but I think –
RPW: peace measure.
BOY: I think – well, he had the situation of the – of states’ rights and federalism and – what was constitutional and what was unconstitutional – and did the North have the right to – well, the Negroes were taking his property of Southern land owners and – I think – well, it in some way took away property
rights, and it was an executive affair.
* “general” circled and “NO” handwritten
RPW: I think it was before the Civil War. Lee had acted – emancipated
emancipated his slaves, and Lincoln gave force to it by – as a war measure – it’s generally agreed – so – he was inclined in that direction, but he was – no – there’s no joker in this deck – I’m just saying that history – historical facts of some interest – what do you make out of it?
GIRL: humane person slaves go
RPW:(Section not distinct) I will say, then, that I am not nor every have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. Abraham Lincoln, 1863.
GIRL: I think Lincoln was humane –
RPW: both humane, on the whole.
GIRL: Yes, they were.
RPW: This created certain problems, though, about not easy. I saw in the paper – the Jackson paper – last Sunday did you see it? the magazine section did you see that? Last Sunday in the Jackson magazine paper called the Sunday paper, the magazine section A great tribute to Lincoln – in the Jackson paper.
BOY: and RPW: (indistinct exchange)
BOY: That was a half page advertisement for the Citizens Council with a big portrait of Lincoln up there and it had the – some of the statements that he made in his arguments with Stephen Douglas.
RPW: Oh, yes, that’s the same sort of thing – it says the same thing. That’s – well, I don’t – I’m just bringing these matters up to see what you say. One thing is this – has there been a change in a world where Lincoln states himself as a racist – the present world. I don’t think we all think so -
BOY: Well, I don’t think it has, because before the Civil War you had the Abolitionists, and now you have the –
RPW: Were they racists? What did they think about the Negro and white races?
GIRL: Some of them believe in equality like Jefferson.
RPW: Jefferson – well, he wasn’t’ an Abolitionist. He was a Southern slaveholder from the beginning. He didn’t approve of slavery but he was –
GIRL: But from the different reports in magazines about Negroes and whites, I don’t believe that the situation ahs changed at all because everybody is going to be prejudiced to some extent, black or white, and back in the slave days we found a few liberals – and they were letting the slaves go free. But that didn’t mean that they were equal citizens And now we have the same thing. You’ll find some people who want the Negroes to have their rights but they don’t want them marrying their sons or daughters, and most Negroes that I have met don’t want to marry their sons or daughters. All they want is their rights. But –
RPW: That’s getting a little off the point, isn’t it – about denial of – it may be on the point, but I mean it’s – in the theory that they are superior or inferior races, it never crossed anybody’s mind, one eminent historian says, in 1865, there was not a man in the country who was not a racist – not a white man who wasn’t a racist. That’s not quite true now, is it?
GIRL: No, not now. Because there are a lot of whites in the movement.
RPW: That’s the test, is it?
GIRL: That’s what I consider –
RPW: The only test?
GIRL: That I know of.
RPW: It’s a test – it’s a feasible test. I understand that at some times there is considerable resentment in the movement – various aspects of the movement – to have white people come in and participate.
GIRL: That’s true.
RPW: What is the nature of that resentment?
GIRL: Well, some of the workers seem to think that whites the movement because they feel that the white man wants to always be superior and give Negroes their so they want to come in and govern all the actions of the organization – usually they’re the officials of the organization – the whites – and they feel the white man has to be superior so he comes into the organization to be superior. And others feel that when you go into a rural community the Negroes and whites have the caste system, the Negro group will get afraid and won’t, like, participate in the movement because the whites are there and they don’t trust white men.
RPW: Well, that is – that’s a practical matter, isn’t it – the white man can’t walk into a back country community and get communication that fast. That’s a practical matter. That’s not a question of resentment because he’s president of the movement.
GIRL: Well, they want the movement to forward with nothing to set it back.
RPW: And the president, the white man, is –
GIRL: They feel sets it back.
RPW: Also presently the white man is resented because he wants to take over the whole show, is that it?
GIRL: Right. But I’m not in agreement with And some seem to think
in the movement.
RPW: The white man does?
RPW: I’m afraid that may be true sometimes.
BOY: And in fact I think you have a lot of Negro leaders who want to take the credit themselves for what they’ve done – what they’ve achieved, and not to have any – not to say that we did it together but that the Negro did it.
RPW: This is human, too, isn’t it?
RPW: To want to take credit - grab all – We all know that there are certain divisions of any Negro leadership with no common ground about general policies, that their struggles for power and struggles in terms of organizational loyalties – struggles for promise of newspaper space – all these things, then, too – what does this – how does it affect your own loyalties and your own feelings about the movement?
BOY: I’d like to say this –
RPW: Say it.
BOY: I have found, in working with the various phases of the movement, that some organizations are very – want to receive credit. I can see where it would - it might do for them to receive credit, whereby they might receive more money and, you know, . And it’s sort of scattering it out. I feel that a united – everyone is – I feel that everyone is striving for the same thing within their own direction. Some feel that direct action demonstrations and like that
Some feel that we should fight these things through the courts. Some feel that we shouldn’t – we should fight them directly. And there are different philosophies toward achieving what we have in mind. It’s often said that there’s a split in the organization, the Negro movement. There might be a split in philosophy of how to go about this. But the aims of each organization I feel are the same and that equality in all phases. Not only the Negro – not a kind of Negro movement or a Chinese or Indian or Puerto Rican or any other kind of movement. This is just a human right that we’re fighting for.
RPW: What about anti-Semitism among the Negroes? How much of that do you observe?
BOY: Well, I know the many communities I come from, and since I have been here in college I haven’t noticed any.
RPW: You’d know it intentions write about it and deplore it and
write about it and abhor it and – it still exists. Clearly it doesn’t affect either the philosophy of the movement or but I was curious to know if it was observable around here.
GIRL: and usually when – the only anti-Semitism that I hear of is when people are talking about views and differences – they always say
RPW: Harlem too. business is owned by Jews in Harlem I understand – mostly property sale –
BOY: I think in our Sunday Schools – or in Sunday School classes you hear things about Jesus Christ was crucified by a – well, - he was a Jew himself but he was a Jacobite – a Jew and all that sort of thing, and then you hear the stories about the Jews not wanting the Samaritans coming through their land, but yet the Good Samaritan saved –
RPW: Hold it – sorry. End of Tape #1 with students of Tougaloo College. Resume on Tape #2.
(end of tape)
TAPE 2 Searchable Text
[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.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN BOX 9 TOUGALOO STUDENTS FEB. 11 TAPE #2
RPW: We’re back in business. I promised you an important question, didn’t I? I’m making it fast. Do you think the Beckwith trail was rigged?
BOY: It’s hard to say – knowing Mississippi. I accept anything that’s possible. When I found that they had exposed the vote of the jury and found the vote was 7 to 5, I thought that was phony – I mean, it didn’t impress me, rather – because it’s very seldom that you’ll ever see that.
RPW: A hung jury is usually 11 – 1, you mean?
BOY: No – well, not that – it’s just that they exposed the vote of a hung jury, I though.
RPW: What is the relevance – I just dropped a stitch here, and I – you mean, exposed it, you mean?
RPW: Why would they expose it now? Why is that – what significance has that?
BOY: Why would they expose it now?
RPW: Yes. At this stage.
BOY: I don’t know. Well, it probably at least showed that there were five people with reflective ideas in the state.
RPW: They exposed it in order to say, look how honest we are – what a fair trial this was? There are people who say in Jackson that this was all cooked up beforehand – it was going to be a 7 to 5 vote – the taxi drivers were taking the – an agreement between the defense and the prosecution to give
testimony – the whole thing was a drama – this was said, as you know. And now after the great exhibition of impartiality at the trial that the second trial there will be a quick acquittal. Does that seem reasonable?
BOY: It’s very logical.
RPW: Some people say there are no accidents in Mississippi – that everything has reason – has logic behind it. It’s the only place in the world that they have these – have logic behind it – everything That is, you would seriously consider the possibility that the whole thing has been rigged as a drama – is that right?
BOY: It’s a possibility.
RPW: What do you think?
GIRL: I think it was rigged, because in the South I have never heard of a white man getting the death penalty for –
RPW: He didn’t get that.
GIRL: I know – and – in the first place I don’t believe that they would give it to him – I think it was all rigged – or either – if they don’t convict him – if they do convict him they will probably put him in prison and maybe after three months the governor will give him a pardon.
RPW: Let’s assume that is a long way to go to get a conviction – any kind – it’s a very long way from mistrial to conviction.
GIRL: Well, Mississippi knows that the eyes of the nation and the world are on them right now, and they’re going to have to do something besides appease the rest of the world, so they might even get a conviction, but I don’t believe they will ever give him the death penalty, and if he does get a conviction they’re going to let him out real soon.
RPW: All right, you’re getting awful far ahead of this report of a mistrial now.
GIRL: Well, like I said – I think it was rigged, to happen like that.
RPW: It’s interesting, though, that Mississippi should take the trouble to rig it. Isn’t that some change of awareness, that they should take the trouble to rig it even?
GIRL: Yes, it is.
RPW: To take the trouble to pay that tribute to
GIRL: Right – I believe that it is, and it might be a good step forward – I don’t know. But take –
RPW: It’s a new idea – a rigged trial
GIRL: Right. And since Medgar Evers was a Negro leader – very popular with the Negroes – they probably feel that there might be violence on the part of the Negroes if they don’t do something to him, but have a rigged trial, like they had already.
RPW: After all, he is lying in the national cemetery too, isn’t he? That makes the difference.
BOY: But you don’t convict a man just because of national sentiment or because of the sentiment of the Negro community, to appease anybody.
GIRL: No, but the evidence that was presented –
BOY: I know, but – saying like this was done – there were two people in Greenwood – or Greenville, rather, who said that they saw Beckwith.
GIRL: And there are many more people who say they saw him here.
BOY: Well, who’s lying?
GIRL: But there are more people that were opposing him – saying they saw him here instead of in Greenville –
BOY: They’re saying that one of the people who saw Mr. Beckwith was a policeman bringing him to Mississippi.
RPW: The taxi driver said that policemen don’t lie.
GIRL: Well, they do lie – I know –
RPW: They do?
RPW: You shake me. (laughter)
BOY: Is this the law that no policeman can be cross-examined in Mississippi – that his word is final?
GIRL: I don’t know – well, I’ve never seen it done when I was in court.
BOY: Well, even if the jury knew nothing – if the jury had no awareness of whether these people were lying or not – they still couldn’t have convicted a man because of a conflict in testimony. And for my part I have no knowledge of whether the thing was rigged or not, and I would say it was rigged.
(several speaking together)
BOY: I just say that I don’t know anything about it being rigged, and
BOY: Well, no one knows.
GIRL: But you have your opinion.
BOY: Yes, your own opinion is what we have – but there’s a possibility that it could have been rigged, and there’s a possibility that it could have been legitimate.
RPW: If legitimate, it marks some sort of change, doesn’t it?
BOY: Quite a change.
GIRL: I don’t know about that – because I feel like this – everybody is looking at this case because Mississippi has been a center of the racial tensions – Mississippi and Alabama – and now Texas – I think everybody is looking at this case and – I don’t know whether you can call it a change or not because beforehand if something like this had happened and everybody noticing it and waiting to see what is going to come out of it – this might have – would have happened earlier – I think so. I don’t know whether you can call it a change or not – I really don’t.
RPW: I didn’t say a change of heart – I said a change.
GIRL: What are you referring to?
RPW: That you’ve never had a trial like this in Mississippi before, where you got a hung jury case.
GIRL: And never have we had an incident as – where the Negroes have actually made a change in going upward – you know, in pushing something before – never have we had this before, either.
RPW: Sure – that’s part of it – sure. But in a killing of Melton by Kimball in ’56 – early ’56 – there was an eye witness testimony – not even an attempt to get an alibi or contradict nothing – and immediate acquittal.
GIRL: Yes, but Negroes as stable as they are now?
GIRL: Well, this makes a difference (speaking together) you say caused a change.
RPW: is a change.
BOY: The Negroes don’t have to be stable – it’s just people being willing to give other people justice.
GIRL: I don’t know because I think this trial itself – its motives and all – there never has been such an outstanding man to the Negroes, and the Negroes are sticking together as they are – I think this made a difference in the trial itself – I really do. I – the only possibility is that this could have been rigged – there is a possibility that it wasn’t rigged – nobody knows. And as far as our personal opinions – I believe it was.
RPW: Do you write off the possibility that one man among the five who voted for conviction was honest? Even one? Under pressure or something? You find it hard to think that even one man there would not vote for conviction? One white man – who stumbled onto that jury somehow?
GIRL: I don’t know –
GIRL: They were all Southerners.
RPW: You remember speaking of Southerners in such matters – you remember reading about – you certainly couldn’t remember it because you weren’t born then, but a certain Parker – a Southerner was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1930, ’29 or ’30, by Hoover. That was the first time that there was concerted Negro political pressure brought to bear. They stopped his confirmation in the Senate – and it worked. this man is a Southerner and therefore is prejudiced judge. It worked. The attorney was a very impartial man - career – he wasn’t on the Supreme Court – he was – like Judge Black. When Judge Black was nominated there was a terrible the Southern Ku Kluxers – remember? He was a bulwark of the rebel side of the Court. How do you square those two facts with your notion, that you can’t find one Southern white man who will be honest?
GIRL: I don’t have that notion of it – not finding not one – on a jury. I didn’t have that
RPW: Or in a courtroom.
GIRL: Well, I believe the jury was handpicked, like –
RPW: Did it take five men to –
GIRL: It was handpicked so they agreed – I believe that they would have voted –
RPW: Take five Jackson liberals to get
GIRL: Well, they probably knew that they were getting more on their side than –
RPW: Oh, I’m certain – particularly that way –
BOY: Something might be wrong about that.
GIRL: Well, that’s why –
BOY: Have you ever put anything beyond the powers of the Mississippians – white Mississippians –
BOY: What do you mean, put anything beyond his powers?
BOY: Beyond what he would resort to in order to achieve what he wants.
BOY: Well, how can you say that this – there isn’t a possibility – there might be a minute possibility, but – there is a possibility that they could have handpicked the jury beforehand.
RPW: We have a lot of things written about the white man’s stereotype of the Negro. Sometimes the qualities in the stereotype are self-contradictory, of course – what about the Negro stereotype of the whites?
BOY: There is one.
RPW: What is it?
BOY: Well, you can’t – I mean, I can’t speak for all Negroes –
RPW: All right, then, talk about yours.
BOY: I have tried to remove all stereotypes - from Negroes, Chinese, Jews or whatever ethnic group you’re talking about. But there are stereotypes within – every human mind, I feel, - even though you try and remove them. You always think of a – well, at least in Mississippi if somebody says, well, - somebody says, well, - somebody says she is going to work and, you know, she doesn’t have a high school education, more likely she’s going to somebody’s house and clean up for them – cook or something else. And you have a certain picture in your mind of what the white person’s are when he meets me because I’m a Negro, or the fact that he’s white and he’s smarter than I am, or – there are various phases – you could go on with this all day and all night, but I feel that most people, especially in the movement today, are trying to remove those stereotype ideas.
RPW: Has there been any change in the Negro’s stereotype of himself – or between himself and the person he is?
BOY: I feel that there has been, because of the fact that more Negroes are now realizing that they have certain rights and they shouldn’t be – they don’t have to stand something like this. That’s where you’ll find that a lot of Negroes move out of the South, because they – this stereotype is somewhat removed and they feel that they can uplift themselves by moving to the North. They can achieve better jobs – they can find better jobs – they can live in better neighborhoods – they will have more opportunities – and there as been a definite change in the Negro’s stereotype of himself.
RPW: That’s been a pretty dramatic change, from all accounts.
(end of session)