[Provided courtesy of the Who Speaks for the Negro?" archives, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. See Andrew Young for background information, the original transcripts, and streaming audio version of this interview. Some errors in the original transcript have been corrected, others have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available at the URL listed above. Time stamps are included in the retyped transcripts to aid in this process.]
Warren: This is a conversation with Mr. Andy Young, in Atlanta, Georgia, March 17th. Do you remember how or when your present views and attitudes towards active participation in Civil Rights and racial matters began?
Young: Well, I guess it is something that comes, as you said before, implied, from childhood. I grew up in New Orleans and — well, my father was a dentist, but we lived in a neighborhood where there were very few Negro families. In fact, we were, for a long time we were about the only children in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood was largely white. And, yet, my folks were the only professional people in the neighborhood. It was a lower-income neighborhood, where my father had a dental office, and I think very early in life I ran into both the problems of race and class.
Warren: How was his clientele? Were his patients partly white and partly Negro?
Young: Yes, interestingly enough, they were. They were largely Negro, but at times they were up to — oh, close to a fifth of his practice was white, and yet you had a strange kind of social dynamic there, in that financially we were a little bit better off than the whites in the neighborhood, and they were prejudiced against us because of race.
My parents had certain class notions against them, and against the Negroes who moved into the neighborhood. So that — almost from the time that I was able to get out into the streets by myself, say, at six or seven years old, I was caught in this kind of dilemma, and I think I decided then that people were people and that these external categories of economics and race were of little or no significance.
And, I was almost always getting spanked by my parents for playing with the wrong kids — and, at the same time, I think the children in the neighborhood, the white children, in the neighborhood, were being spanked by their parents for playing with us. Our yard — our backyard — I think Negro parents in the South try to compensate for segregation by really giving their children all the things that they wanted to have, so that we had basketball goals, swings, wading pools, all of this kind of thing, and — in our yard, and we always had the football and the baseball and this sort of thing — and the kids coming into the yard — my mother was always a little reticent about the kind of people that we brought in to play with us, and we insisted — my younger brother and I — almost always on choosing our own friends.
And, if it came time to have lunch and there weren't too many people there, especially since many of the kids we knew that both parents were working and they didn't have any arrangements for lunch, we would insist on mother fixing lunch for everybody that was there. This was, I think, the first thing, but then too, I began to realize as I got a little older that my parents got their education as a result of somebody else's missionary activity and concern. They went to what was then Straight College in New Orleans, and they were the products of — excuse me —
Warren: You were speaking of your parents and Straight College.
Young: Yes, and almost all of their education came — and they talked very affectionately about the people from New England that came down and provided an education for them. And, it always seemed to me that the middle-class Negro community in New Orleans that had derived its status from somebody else's sacrifice was doing too little itself, so that —
Warren: This struck you —
Young: Yes, that —
Warren: Speaking of sacrifice —
Young: Oh, yes. They were — well, for instance, most of their friends were professional people, doctors, lawyers — all of them doing quite well. Most of them in that state were just beginning to enjoy the affluent life, and they seemed to have no concern for the masses of people in New Orleans. And, I remember an incident where I guess I was in high school then, when the Flint Goodrich Hospital needed some money. Now, most of the doctors and several of the dentists worked there and made most of their money there, and yet they depended almost solely on Northern contributions.
Warren: That's a segregated Negro hospital?
Young: That's a segregated Negro hospital, but they didn't seem to feel any sense of responsibility, I think, and this always bothered me — that people should — I don't know where I got this notion from, that if something is given to you, you have a responsibility to share it and pass it on.
Warren: I understand, by reading and by conversation, that there is still a great lag between some Negro wealth and Negro philanthropy, or Negro gifts to actual — to other forms of good works, including Civil Rights.
Young: Well, this is very true. These people, for instance, would give very little, if anything, to any Civil Rights movement, or a Civil Rights organization. They would probably now, just in the matter of obligation, take out a small membership to the NAACP and given ten, twenty dollars a year, whereas many of them are in the thirty, forty, fifty thousand dollar a year income bracket [$30,000 in 1964 is equal to roughly $240,000 in 2017].
So this, I think, it was in the Negro community that I began to get sensitive. Now, part of this was because my parents didn't let me really come in contact with the harshness of segregation in New Orleans. They did everything possible to protect me from any kind of harmful incidents. So, I can't really — well, I didn't get any bitter experiences in childhood, as I think that many Negroes get. But it — still it was all around you.
Warren: Yes. Some people, for instance, Mr. Farmer has said and he has written this — that segregation actually in his case worked as a spur, as a stimulus to achievement, and this is occasionally said. This is no argument for segregation, but —
Young: I don't think this was the case with me at all. In fact, I always resisted this. I always wanted to be myself. My folks used to try to tell me, "You're a Negro and you can't be just as good as the white person. You've got to be better." And, this was supposed to be an incentive to study, and yet I never studied. I did a lot of reading on my own, but just in terms of achievement, in terms of grades, and when my first integrated school experience was in seminary in Connecticut —
Warren: What seminary was that?
Young: Hartford Seminary. And, I can remember being very determined by that time that I, you know, that I had no burden of the race to carry. I was going to learn what I wanted to learn, and do what I wanted to do, and if — I had great questions about education in general, and I was going to see that I got the kind of education I wanted. If I didn't get A's, it didn't bother me.
Warren: Have you ever had — the controversy between Irving Howe and Ralph Ellison? It involves this point.
Young: No, I didn't.
Warren: It's quite interesting, it's Ralph's attitude too, you see. He refuses to be put in the position of being traitor to the Negro because he is not an activist, and because he wants to be a writer rather than a sign carrier. He, in fact, calls Irving Howe another kind of Bilbo, wants to put him in his place, the area Howe selects for it, that part of it, you see. I didn't — really off the point, though.
[Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo was an extreme and explicitly outspoken racist.]
Young: No. But, I think that I never really knew what I wanted to do. My folks tried to mold me into their professional pattern and I rebelled against the black bourgeois value system almost from as far back as I can remember. And, it was really almost after I got through college at Howard University, that I finally began to shape some value structure of my own and choose a direction.
I think — it first came out as — well, a desire to work in Africa in some way, and then yet I went South to pastor a little church in Alabama, met my wife and she was concerned about staying in the South. This was my first experience in the rural South. Her mother had taught in a one-room school house most of her life and her mother was one of these exceptionally, I mean, really brilliant women that was completely self-educated, practically, I remember we went to Europe and her mother — just a small town, three-thousand Alabama, one-room school teacher, sat down and without looking at a note, or a book, or anything, looked at our itinerary — where we were going — and just listed off the places that we should be sure to see, and which museums and certain art objects were. And, somehow she acquired a real general education and dedication to education. And, my wife picked this up and so it was her desire to work in the South, and this is where I think I began to switch in terms of working here.
Warren: Let me put a question this way: You remember in reading DuBois, and he talks long ago about the split in the Negro psyche, or the possible split, at least for some people. On the one hand, the impulse to draw toward an African mystique of some kind — a sense of the Negro tradition and Negro culture, a Negro folk-sense, and a blood sense. On the other hand, the pull toward Western, European, Judeo-Christian, American society, and values — with a pull to integrate and perhaps be totally absorbed, even by blood, even that in the end. This being — some people take as treason to a deeper obligation. Has this ever been a problem to you, when you think of Africa?
Young: Yes, always.
Warren: That's a real problem? Does it remain a problem?
Young: Yes, in fact, I think it's been pretty nearly — I'm just getting to the point where I'm beginning to be able to resolve it a little. But, for instance, when I got to Seminary, I think I did a lot of work in anthropology, mainly with this in mind. With me, it came from my folks were the assimilationists. They didn't like spirituals, no blues, anything Negroid they shied away from.
So, it started in rebellion again at this, because my friends, well, rock and roll hit the Negro community a good ten, twenty years — well, it was always in some form. So that there is where we first began to have the clash, when I began to choose — well, in grammar school they sent me to all the New Orleans children's concerts on Saturday. I was expected to do all of this kind of thing, and didn't — enjoyed it, learned a lot from it, but when I also wanted to go, you know, began to buy the rock and roll blues records — they somehow said that this was cheap and I shouldn't bother with this.
Well, we fought over that score and I won out, and I think that that's where I began to experience a conflict. Now, I haven't — I don't know whether I can articulate it, but this is one of the things that you say what you really want to do. I think that one of these days when I get around to writing something, that this one of the things that I'd like to experiment with and try to put down in some way , or try to get organized for myself — of the role I take an analogy of — out of my experiences with the work of the churches, that the various denominations really tend to enrich religious life, because each one came into being around a witness to a specific religious insight.
Now, I think you lose something when you just kind of water it down and get a least common denominator religious experience, that you get a much deeper religious experience when you begin to appreciate the contributions of these different denominational bodies. Now, I think of the same thing in terms of cultural traditions. That the Negro cultural experience is real and it represents an authentic attempt to cope with what their existence was at the time.
Warren: In America now?
Young: In America, yes.
Warren: Negro culture experience in America.
Young: And this is — I think that, well, the concept of family life that was derived under segregation, necessarily had to be stronger — I think this is what, what's her name — Raisin in the Sun — Roy Hansberry, was trying to bring out in the mother that Claudia MacNeil played.
Warren: But it's a matriarchal world isn't it?
Young: Yes, but in bringing this — I don't know that — well, you relate this to the white South, where women were put on a pedestal and had almost no power, or no role in family — no strong role. And, I would say that I don't want to throw out this strong matriarchy, except the American middle road, that I think that the pressures of twentieth century life demand a strong matriarchy, but they also demand a man who is able to, in spite of the strength of the feminine figure, is able to maintain at least some equality. That real equality of the sexes in America is possibly more possible under the Negroes' experience now.
Warren: I know a psychiatrist — a Negro psychiatrist and analyst in Connecticut, who has said to me that this represents in one sense, the Negro revolution, the Negro revolt, an affirmation of the male principle, after the hundreds of years of matriarchy. ... a man's business.
Young: Yes, but — and a man has to change the society. Women can maintain and strengthen, but the protest role, the role of shaping the world, the creative role in a social and political sense, I think is the man's and I think that the movement is giving men an opportunity to really exercise this and find themselves. They —
Warren: Excuse me. This sense then, the general movement corresponds to the Black Muslim principles — on that one point.
Young: Yes, I'd say that the Black Muslims — of course, the Black Muslims are trying to transplant something of male dominance from the East.
Warren: Yes. The motive is different, but it works out the same where the male takes a new role in Negro life, that right?
Young: Yes, now only in that point are they the same.
Warren: Only from that point?
Young: That the male takes a new role, but the women in the movement are not relegated to an inferior role. The relationships that are developing between men and women, for instance, we had it when my wife decided that she wanted to go to jail. She didn't actually go, but she did take part. I mean she wasn't arrested, but she did decide that it wasn't enough for a man just to be taking part in the demonstrations, that she had some role here also.
Warren: Do you have children?
Young: Yes, three. This shows the family, over here in the corner. And, we are together cultivating a new family pattern, but not imitating any more. Now, we're drawing very heavily on the little anthropology that we know, and using the experience of other cultures, including and maybe mainly African culture, as — well, at least a buffering point.
Warren: Could you be specific on that — using what from what?
Young: Yes, I don't know.
Warren: For instance —
Young: For instance, my wife's read Sex and Temperament, Margaret Meade stuff, and Jomo Kenyatta's Facing Mount Kenya on patterns of family life. She's had some anthropology also, so that whenever it comes time to face a situation, we're not really able any more to accept what we feel to be a nineteenth century Western European notion of family life. Now, we don't know really what we're experiment — what we have got. Rather than trying to mold our family into the typical patterns that is expected — a man to go out and do the work and the woman to raise the children, if she happens to get an education, she still uses her education to raise children, or — now, my wife right now is teaching school, but — oh, gosh, I guess I'm not ready to talk about this right now —
Warren: All right, all right.
Young: Mainly because I just don't have it firmly enough in my mind.
Warren: All right, let's talk about something else. Let me give you a quote from Richard Wright on Africa, which you may know already, on his visit to Africa. "Am I African? Had some of my ancestors sold their relatives to white man", he found a belief in magic was not confined to the uneducated — the general culture uncongenial, and quoting, "I found that the African was an oblique, had to know man, who seems to like to take a childish pride in trying to create a sense of bewilderment in the mind of strangers. I found the Africans invariably almost, underestimating the person with whom he was dealing, too much confidence in his basic reply and so forth, universal suspicion, distrust, inferiority in politics." This is the shock of acquiring the African history, isn't it? Some shock involved, isn't it?
Young: Yes, and I think that we decided too, that we were not Africans, as such, but that —
Warren: Did you go there?
Young: No, we haven't, but many of our friendships in college and in seminary were with Africans, and while there is a kinship, I think that we are — or I am — ready to accept the role of being a sort of a bridge person — between Africa and the West. And, that we almost don't belong anywhere — but we can relate anywhere. I mean, we can relate everywhere — I guess this is the — that I don't really feel, you know, completely accepted and at home here, and I know that I wouldn't be — and this is one of the things that helped us decide not to go to Africa as missionaries in any sense — that we realized that we wouldn't be really accepted as Africans and that our role and our place was in a sense in America. That — and there's no — I would — I think that Richard Wright was trying to almost escape from being an American to a certain extent. And, I think we learned a little from that.
Young: He was shocked not to be accepted there, because it was a real shock to him because he expected something else.
Young: Yes, and so we profited by that experience, in fact, Baldwin's experience of running to Europe and trying to escape, we experienced a little bit in the summer. And, I think pretty much decided that while you were accepted in Paris, maybe the Algerians weren't so — so you got — you just as well go back and fight your problem, and that America is maybe the place where, where the world will learn to live as one that we have every strain and tradition here, and that by fighting out the personal, as well as the political issues that keep men apart in America, we may be building the kind of bridges that will enable people in the rest of the world to live together.
Warren: There's something about the problem of defining the Negro in America which has taken one manifestation in the re-writing of Negro history. Now, we know something about that. I don't mean merely American Negro history, but the Negro history outside. Let me read you a little passage, "The whole tendency of Negro history, not as history, but as used as propaganda, is to encourage the average Negro to escape reality, the actual achievements and the actual failures of the present. Although the movement consciously tends to build race pride, it may also cause unconsciously, the recognition that group pride may be partly only delusion, and therefore results in a devaluation of the Negroes by themselves for being forced to resort to a self-destruction." This is from Arnold Rose, Myrdahl's collaborator. I had to read a long passage. Maybe it isn't all — comes over.
Young: No. Well, I don't know whether I doubt it, exactly, but I think that my immediate reaction was that I wouldn't — that I think that there is something in Negro history —
Warren: There clearly is — nobody is doubting that.
Young: Yes, and oh, for instance, this was part of my self —discovery too that nobody told me about Reconstruction — nobody even introduced me to DuBois until I was grown. And, that there was a conscious effort in American history to devaluate whatever contribution the Negro has made, and this is because they don't appreciate — well, we tend to have a kind of intellectual aristocracy in our — among our historians anyway. The contributions of masses of people, of laboring people, of slave labor, even, to the whole economy in American structure, if you even talk about it or think about your communists — now, I have — I think that as I tried to use Negro history, it probably has been as propaganda, because I never knew any Negro that really thought for himself. I never — nobody ever told me the influence that Frederick Douglas may have had on Lincoln, for instance, or on the whole period of the — whole abolitionist period. And, I think that these are things that we are using to try to let Negroes know that they are not completely without roots and heritage and connection.
Warren: Let's say, all history works to, in one way or another, to condition our activities in the present and our feelings about the present. I don't think Rose, on the record, would be interested in devaluating the Negro contribution. I don't know him, but I assume — I take it as face value. But, take a book like Africa Slave Revolt, do you know that book?
Young: I haven't read it, but — I've looked at it.
Warren: Where some two hundred odd revolts — been there.
Young: There's a book I didn't yet until a year or so ago.
Young: And now — some critics of the book will say that there are only three, or, revolts, that this is an attempt to inflate something. You'll find individuals, or two-three people in desperate personal rebellion, but no organized revolt, in the three famous ones. And, you find a lot of scares, but not the real thing, and not the organized revolt. This is the case of an inflated piece of history, which is damaged by its inflation, and actually does not do the Negro some of the credit he deserved.
Young: Yes. The problem there, though is that no Negroes have read Ab Dakker. I don't know — is an amount on my hands the people who have really — or even know who he is, or that he exists, that I know.
Warren: Now why is that? Now, you have a range of very selective acquaintances.
Young: Yes, one thing is they almost completely rejected their own heritage back in that period. That —
Warren: Even your own generation?
Young: Yes, yes. Very much so. Until — well, we're just beginning to read DuBois even.
Young: Except when it's assigned by school. Now, Negroes generally have had no interest in their own history, I think, until, well — I'd say almost until 1960, as far as I — except the few people that have really made a career of Negro history.
Warren: Like Wilson you mean? A few like that.
Young: Yes, that's right. And, the masses of Negroes were consciously, I think, trying to assimilate, and they wanted to get as far away from their past — because they wanted to become white. A friend of mine was saying that he sat down very diligently, learning every movement of every symphony that he — he felt that he had to know Shakespeare thoroughly, and had to memorize quotations and things like this, under the notion that when he had done this, he would be completely accepted in a white world.
[End of Tape #1]
Warren: Let me ask you this question. Do you see any parallel between the situation of the Negro, a member of what they call a sub-culture, vis-a-vis the great American machine, and the situation of the white Southerner who is a member of a sub-culture, a defeated nationalism, lived in a special box of attitudes and a special philosophy and special prejudices — him — vis-a-vis the big American machine. Do you see any parallel there?
Young: Yes, I guess it's probably very similar, and with the experience, I think, people's reactions to it are similar also — that you get Southerners who are now very cosmopolitan — white Southerners that want to completely reject the Southern experience, and you get the Negro middle-class that wants to completely reject his Negro experience from slavery.
Warren: As I understood you to say earlier, you are in favor of a kind of cultural pluralism, which is not competitive, but appreciative. Is that the idea?
Young: Yes, I think that's a very good way of expressing it, and I think that the Southerners, both white and Negro, probably have a lot more in common than they realize — that right now it's the structures of our society which segregated us on the basis of race — that really keep us from getting to know the fact that we probably are much closer to one another than anybody else in America, because of this.
Warren: A young lady with whom I was talking at Howard some time back said to me that she had more optimism for the Southern settlement than for the Northern settlement between the races, on the amount that there is a shared history — the same land, the people have lived through — lived on and the same as they have lived through, even though you might now find pistol-polite. Beyond that, the possibility of a human recognition — that she could not understand, she said, in Harlem, or Detroit, or Chicago — she being raised on a farm, a Southern farm.
Young: Yes, I think this would be the general experience of most Negroes who move North, and certainly mine. In days when I was in the North in school, most of my friends, since there were very few Negroes on the campus, turned out to be white Southerners, and we found that we had a great deal more in common than say, I did with many of the Northern students. I think this is true in the movement We have watched Northern whites come down and try to work with us, but they almost never really get along as well as the Southern whites who are working with us — that you really — well, for instance, just in the matter of the religious ethos that we share in the South, — the old gospel hymns, out of which — and spirituals, out of which many of the freedom songs come — white Southerners can sing these a little better. They feel them a little more. They generally — it's much easier for them once they become liberated intellectually and socially, to become more deeply, personally involved in the movement.
Warren: Charles Evers was talking to me several weeks ago and I asked him why didn't he leave Mississippi. He said, we're going to win there, because he said, these Mississippians as the worst segregationists, is raising a some sort of a simple culture, which is — insists on respecting courage, blank courage, brute courage. He said the Negro shows this and stands up with it. This is a grudging respect — even with dislike may come out of it, but said respect is there, the basis for something to go on. Second, he said, this segregationist, once he crosses to deal with you, with the Negro, he's not going to lie because he's crossed the line already inside himself, and there's some basis for a reconciliation on those two lines. Does that make any sense to you?
Young: Yes, it makes a great deal of sense, though I hadn't thought of it that way. But, I think that our experience, even in the bitterest situations, we tend to put this trust in nonviolence to overcome this barrier — that in Albany, Georgia for instance, in spite of the fact that we were at war, in terms of politics and the social structures, Chief Pritchard and I had a very close, personal friendship going on through this time.
Warren: How'd that work out, literally, specifically?
Young: Well, I almost became his counselor and his pastor over the tremendous guilt that he had over being involved in perpetuating a police state. Every time that I'd go into jail he'd want to call me in and just talk some, and we found it quite possible to —
Warren: What'd he say, what'd he say?
Young: Oh, things like, for instance, when the seventy-five ministers went to jail, he talked a good deal about — "Oh, I don't want to — I — I don't want to put men of God in jail." He said, "I'm no less sincere about what they're doing," he said, "and you all don't know how it makes me feel to have to do this." He even asked if we could get Dr. King to intercede to get him a job as a Federal Marshall, so that he could get out of this system.
Warren: Join the other sides.
Young: Yes, well, and it was now — I think that at the same time I had no illusions about his being very much a part of this system, and I think that this represented not a complete — well, it represented a genuine schizophrenia on his part. I would think that even Adolph Eichmann would be probably a rather personable individual, if you'd sit down with him — and I remember in Mississippi, going to get some of our staff members out of jail who had been beaten up, and when I went there I started a conversation with the sheriff and the chief of police, and we were able to relate very warmly as persons, and we talked about our families and we joked about the weather, and normal conversational banter. And, I was convinced that these were real Christian gentleman, and yet here was a Negro girl on our staff [Annell Ponder] who is one of the most sensitive and delicate creatures I know, that they had beaten for an hour and a half with blackjacks.
Warren: Same persons?
Young: The same persons. And, it shocked me when I came out and saw her all — when she came out of jail and her face was all bruised and her eyes swollen and scars and blood still in her hair. And I asked her who beat her and she said, "Those two standing — that you were talking to right there."
Now, this is the problem we really are fighting — that the Southerner who is a very warm and personable human being, when caught in this system, responds almost to a kind of a mob psychosis, and we have had some experiences where, you know, they almost don't face us. It's almost like — like a man disassociates himself from his conscience when he goes to war. In their dealings with Negroes, they are perpetuating a sacred way of life, so anything they have to do to perpetuate this sacred way of life is O.K. Now, if we can ever get the white Southerner and the Negro Southerner to be free of this system which makes them respond this way, I think that certainly we will have much more rapport and much better climate in the South than we have in the North.
Warren: Baldwin has written somewhere, I think it is in his last book, that the Southern mob — the people actually on the street, beating up Negroes, or perhaps the police in their jail cells, do not represent the will of the Southern white majority. Now, this question evokes all sorts of — this statement evokes all sorts of different responses, as you can well imagine. How do you respond to it?
Young: Well, it's — I can say that that's true, but at the same time I can say that it's not quite true — that the problem of the white majority in the South is that it has no guts and integrity left, I think.
Warren: No leadership.
Young: Yes. That Alabama responds to George Wallace, and this means that Alabama who elects George Wallace has to bear the responsibility for his inflammatory speeches, which get children killed and which creates a climate where — that will create a police state. Now, cornering these people individually, you get something completely different, but in terms of their fear of integration, whether this is a kind of paranoia, or — I don't know — that I keep — when you were saying this — I thought of, well, of several things that have been written, you know, that show this kind of ambiguity. The pleasant, personable, humorous Southerner, who is also capable of great sadism — yes, and I don't know what the source of this sickness is.
Warren: It's true.
Young: Now, many people have analyzed it — I mean have described it, but I don't know whether I've really come up with somebody that has been able to really diagnose it — the nature of this social illness.
Warren: Let me try —
Young: Baldwin and Sartre have developed a sexual angle.
Warren: Well, they're outsiders, they don't know anything about the South, neither one of them. Not a thing.
Young: That's true. Well, Tennessee Williams too, you know, pulls this in a great deal and —
Warren: It's an element, clearly, but not that's not —
Warren: Let me ask you — try this and see how you respond to it. I don't know how much money to put on this card, but I'll try — that the Southerner is in a way like the Negro — he is a person who is outside of a dominant culture, and is defending, in a different perspective, his identity — and the Negro has been trying to find his identity in his culture, and has felt none in the American, the major American culture — trying to find an identity or role in a very crucial way, and this is, of course, written about in great length — is the Negro search for identity.
But, the white Southerner who thought he had one once, you see, or looking toward his grandfather, did. Now, he sees himself, his very identity threatened — not just ways of life, but identity — his whole role, his whole social function, his existence threatened. In a mistaken way, he has elected to stake his identity on a pattern of life which involves segregation. These are symptoms of life — not the core of a life. We've made — he's made those symbols and symptoms the essence. They stand for the essence — he hasn't even defined the problem for himself, and so he — so some — it's, it's the very identity, is the very existence he's dependent upon enforcing this — among several other symbols. Does that make any sense, or part sense?
Young: Yes, I can think so, and when you couple with it, I think the real political threat that this white Southerner feels is hard-core areas. I mean, well, in areas of Negro majority, such as the Mississippi Delta, people tell me who talk with white people about — around Selma, Alabama, that there was a real fear of — and recollection of Reconstruction, even, that still pervaded the mind of the average white person around Selma.
Warren: This is played up — it's not a folk memory — it's a deliberately cultivated piece of propaganda, I feel.
Young: Yes, and they couple with this, well, you know — the myths really. The myth — the sex myth, the Communist myth, and all of these things tend to feed on, or to feed this neurosis a great deal, and so you really get a kind of defensiveness that is very hard to cope with, and I think both the church and the government tend to make a mistake in trying to cope with it, when they cope with it through judgment. Now, I certainly believe in law and in Federal enforcement of law, and in the use of troops, but — for instance, the way in which Eisenhower used the troops was almost, in Little Rock, was a defense of his ego and the fact that he was insulted.
The issue of law — Federal law enforcement was never really communicated to the South and nobody really attempted to do this. I think almost the same thing happened to Kennedy. That they felt betrayed by Ross Barnett, and they responded with a show of power. Now, at this time, Kennedy himself, had never — or Eisenhower — had ever made any attempt to communicate to the South the meaning of a republic. Nobody has ever attempted to do any education in the South, except the white Citizens' Council and the Klan. And, I think many of these people are — well, I'd almost say that the little experience I've had in reading about these people, is that they are genuinely sick and they play on the social sickness for leadership. So, that you find the South, with nobody really trying to tell them what the moral and cultural issues are today.
Warren: Let's switch this a little bit now — that is so true, you know, and the real pathology in some of these people that I have met face to face. Let's take something else. Let's take a man, almost at random, you know, opposite number, maybe. I don't know the man, know anything about him yet. I'm taking a quote now from Galamison a few weeks ago. "I would rather see the public school system destroyed than not conform to the time table of integration." Maybe the school system — has already run its course anyway. What does that remark convey to you — innovation?
[Rev. Galamison was a leader of school desegregation protests and school boycotts in New York City.]
Young: Well, I think he's speaking out of a great passion and he's really — it's more heat than light, I'd say, but I know what he's trying to say. Now, the way I would interpret that same feeling when I have it, is that well, one of my little talks about education is — Dr. Conant in his books has continually lambasted American education. Now, nobody really takes this seriously. They take it intellectually. But the Negro is really experiencing daily everything that Dr. Conant is talking about, times ten, you know, multiplied. Now, when Galamison says something like this, he's saying that the experience of public education for Negroes is so — is such a wasted enterprise that it just as well not exist for the good that it's going to the masses of Negroes. Now, the truth — when the truth — I think his narrowness is that he's only seeing this happening to Negroes. But, the same thing is almost happening to the average white person too, in public education.
Warren: It certainly is.
Young: Now, I think that he makes a mistake when he doesn't point this out — that he makes enemies of the white community and they count him then as irresponsible and hot-headed, and in a sense he is, you know, when he says this kind of thing, without putting it in its total educational perspective. But, I guess — I don't know if this was said in a press statement.
Warren: A TV interview.
Young: A TV interview. These kinds of things, you know, you can get caught sometimes and — into
Young: But I would say that Galamison is a Presbyterian minister — and educated man himself, would have a great deal of respect for education and the thing he says is that the education that we are getting now — that it, and I agree, that it would be much better for us to just say that — well, and this is what is going to happen in the school situation —
Warren: In New York, or in general?
Young: In New York and in general. That nobody would deal with Conant's theories. I mean you wouldn't get the kind of rash readjustment of curriculum and everything else that is needed just on the basis of a book — but when a book and a social movement coincide, what's going to happen is when Galamison begins to get a little time to do some thinking and reading about this — see — Martin Luther King really didn't have — he responded to the passion and need of the situation. It wasn't until several months later, when he began to mellow and reflect on it, that he put it in the ideological context of nonviolence and began to draw on this tradition and develop an ideology to go with his movement. Now, I would think that Galamison is going to, going to begin to — in fact, Dr. King and I were talking about this yesterday, and he was saying some of these things, and we were encouraging him —
Warren: Dr. King?
Young: Yes, to talk to Galamison and try to find a meeting where we can sit down with some of these school board leaders and rent strike lenders and see if we can't — well, it sounds rather paternalistic, and we don't mean it in that sense — but help them to mature a little faster as revolutionaries. They've got something genuine, they've got a folk movement which is going to be with us for a long time, and that we really should be sharing with one another what we have learned.
Warren: Here's an energy — a dynamism of charge — which is wasting itself on bussing — the problem of busing — is that your idea?
Young: Yes. That's it — and this isn't the problem at all. In fact, I dare say that integration — see, the problem — these integration becomes a problem, Negro schools become a problem mainly because of the small percentage of money in America that's spent on any kind of education.
Warren: Start with that — the money is trivial, compared with what it should be. What about a city like Washington, DC? How do you integrate the schools in Washington, you know, the schools in New York fifteen years from now, when there won't be any white people around to integrate?
Young: Yes, well, that's what I'm saying — that we've got to get, especially in schools, beyond the question of integration. The Negro in the South, see, I think has —
Warren: It's beyond the question of integration — that is a transitional problem, is that right?
Young: Yes. I think so. Now, I think that the Negro in the South has felt that the problem was — and within a good measure he was correct, you see — in Mississippi he would see the statistics that $206 a year was spent on white education, a white student — in LaFlore County, $35 spent on a Negro kid. So, that he realizes that there's no need — it's almost impossible, it's too long to get this Negro's education up to two hundred dollars, see? The rate of gradualism would just kill us — so he's got to integrate this two hundred school system. Now, what the Northern Negro has done is taken the Southern problem, I mean the Southern analysis, as integration being the answer to everything, and tried to slap it on a situation where the problem isn't so much segregation as it is urbanization.
Warren: Now, just last week, I was sitting with Dr. Anne Hedgemen, you know, who is a most wonderful woman and who has been a great help to me, and we were talking about the bussing business — and she said when the bussing is solved — that the bussing is done all the time, and we haven't come to grips with this — this is just in passing — she said — and I said, "What about Washington?" And, she said, "Oh, we bring them over from Virginia." I can't see the logic of this myself, of sending the busses to Virginia. How can you get political implementation with that? To bring white children in from Virginia to put them into Washington DC schools.
Young: No, but what you do, in coping with the — you see, in coping with the education problem, you don't really — this is why we say the problem has to be taken in its totality. That you get education dependent — being de facto because of housing. You get housing segregated partially because of jobs. You get jobs segregated mainly because Negroes are not represented in the political structure. Now the thing — this is the reason we are centering more and more now our fight on political representation — that if Negroes represent 34% of the population in Alabama, somehow they ought to have 34% of the representation in State legislatures.
Now, and that when you reapportion to exclude Negroes from representation, you are really being unconstitutional. Now, when Negroes are equally represented, or proportionally represented, in government, then it doesn't become — see, Washington is a problem because white people from the South, the District of Columbia committee, is mainly dominated by Southerners, so that Negroes blame it on the South and they blame it then on segregation. In New York the same thing is true. It's white people who are taking the blame for Negro education. I think that when you get some of these same Negroes, and if I were mayor of New York, I'd have put Galamison on his committee a long time ago, and give him the responsibility of drawing up the school plan with somebody and when he begins to become representative and have the responsibility of actually solving the problem, he will begin to see the problem in its depth. And, you have, you know, a means of solution, then.
But, until you actually get representative government, or until Negroes are represented in the administration, and in the government bureaucracy, so that they take the responsibility for dealing with some of these problems where they have racial overtones, you are going to get segregation as the main focusing point. Now, I don't know whether we have enough time to do this —
Warren: That's the problem right there — how do you contain the problems, even with the best will in the world, to accomplish this?
Young: Yes, and I don't know that I have any solutions. I think right now, if could once get people to see the problem, to see racism as a symptom — or, in a sense, racism as mainly the — I don't know what to call it — the — it's not the problem itself, but it provides such a great frame of reference for so many problems that we're not really facing any of the problems of a modern democracy because we've got a fight over racism. Congress can't face urban transit, or urban renewal mainly because of the Southern power block, and if you could once get democracy really functioning on an equal basis for all its citizens, you might be able to cope with these problems.
Warren: Do you feel — excuse me — I thought I heard your voice coming to the period — my question is this. Every movement, every person tends to become a prisoner of his own rhetoric — of his own slogans, you know, and sticks about himself to himself; to what extent has this happened in the quote — "Negro movement" — and you were giving what might be an example a moment ago, when you said integration had become for the New York school system, or even bussing, a slogan, which may conceal the realities of the problem — the fundamental realities of the problem. This is not an argument, by the way, again, against integration. I've said this, when we were talking, but is a question of self-deception that can occur around the words, as examples of rhetoric, as a trap.
Young: Yes, well this thing is a trap that all leaders of mass movements fall into. You've got to constantly — you've got to have slogans, you've got to have rallying points to keep the little people informed, and yet, way down deep you know that the problem is not quite so simple. I think there are two things that can save you from this. One is, I guess real creativity and continually feeding your movement new ideas. We, in the South, have never been able to, well, just moving from bus boycotts to freedom riders to sit-ins to voter registration to massive, direct action, has kept us from having any pat answers to anything. And, so the movement has continued to evolve and grow and I think the Northern movement will do this too. The other thing is enough humility to admit that you are wrong and I think Dr. King certainly exemplifies this, and —
Warren: In what specific way are you? —
Young: Well, when you — when you follow a slogan and it gets you into trouble —
Warren: Which slogan are you talking about now?
Young: Oh, let me think. Well, I think of one case was when Dr. King and — was really pulled into this — with the Birmingham people demanding that twenty-five policemen be hired, by a certain date, and really this came out of a press conference which had not really been cleared, and I think —
Warren: How — I mean, the press comes with Dr. King with the Birmingham leaders? —
Young: Well, with a group of Birmingham leaders.
Warren: It hadn't been cleared with whom?
Young: I mean it hadn't really be thoroughly discussed and analyzed. It was a slogan, you see, to — for public relations value, for massive — something had to be done to give the people of Birmingham some hope that large scale bombings and mass murders were not going to follow this church bombing, because this really threatened. So, the feeling in Birmingham is that policemen would guarantee us some law enforcement, so we asked for — we demand then, to put a stop to these bombings twenty-five Negro policemen. Now, there were problems connected to this, but Dr. King was — when he saw the problems, in some sense admitted that, you know, this was not possible and that we wouldn't maybe stage demonstrations on the basis of this demand for twenty-five policeman.
[End of tape #2]
Warren: You want to say something on the problem beyond integration?
Young: Yes, I think what we're finding more and more is — along this same line that the Negro is the problem child, but as is true in families, when you finally get on to it, you have problem children because you have problem families. Children usually reflect the problems that the family — you know, that exist in the family. I think that when we are raising a ruckus about education, we are really reflecting the fact that education is inadequate for everybody. When we are raising a fuss about voting rights, it's because, I think democracy has become very lax in its political participation — that politically Americans have not really been responsible, so that when Negroes demand the right to vote, they are reminding all Americans of the need to vote, if our system is going to truly work.
We've gotten into so many of these problems like urban renewal, or like, I mean, overcrowding the schools and poor city planning because of political bossism, rather than representative government. Now, in the South, we see the problem is that we are denied a right to vote, but when we fuss about our denial of the right to vote, we should really remind, and we are really reminding America of the fact that all Americans are being denied certain rights because they are not actively participating in the political decisions of their community. When Negroes are given a bad deal in the courts of the South, this isn't just because of race. It's partially because of the court system — really needs more readjustment also — that this has been possibly too politically controlled and culturally dominated by regions.
Warren: There's also a class question there too, isn't there?
Young: That's right. That all poor people — now the whole question of employment — Negroes are fusing about jobs, and while it's true Negroes are discriminated against because of race, the real issue is unemployment and automation, and this is not just a race problem. It's a fundamental problem in our whole social-economic structure. Now, I think that where the movement is going and where we are trying to go, is to try to help Americans to realize this, that we ought not to be battling each other on the race, and that by battling each other on the race question, we run the danger of being destroyed, really, by these real problems.
And, I always say that, you know, the Roman Empire was destroyed by some of these things — problems from within, but I wonder whether they realized them. Now, America has an opportunity to see what its problems are because, well, history has sort of dress them up in black — that if you really want, want to know what's wrong with America, you find out what people with black skins are hollering about, and —
Warren: They're seramages.
Young: Yes, that's right — and because we are the ones that are on the bottom usually. So, I guess this is — the — I was talking out in Seattle, Washington, with a group of people and they were complaining about Boeing Aircraft out there, not having certain government contracts. And, it all of a sudden dawned on me that we were talking about the right to vote, and they couldn't see any real relationship between the denial of — disfranchisement of Negroes in the South and their situation in Washington.
They say, "Oh, we don't have that problem here." And then I reminded them that Lockheed Aircraft here in Atlanta had plenty of contracts — government contracts, while Boeing is losing government contracts — and part of this reason is that Richard Russell is Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the Senate, and in twenty some years in the Senate, he has been able to accumulate such power that not only is he depriving Negroes of their rights, but he is depriving the citizens of Washington of their equal opportunities in government also. I think that when we begin to document this across the country a little more, and begin to show people how the Southern political power block strangles our whole concept of democracy — and we can get rid of this, then we might get around to dealing with some of our problems — our real problems, which are unemployment.
Warren: Or, is the Southern political power block in the end merely a symptom of something else — and not the enemy itself?
Young: Well, I tend to think that it's the enemy itself, right now, because I think — well, the psychology of the South and the — say the spiritual and moral dilemma give us the Southern politics. Southern politics maintain this climate. Can you excuse me, just a minute.
Warren: Sure. Let's turn for a moment to a philosophy of nonviolence. I have a quotation here from Dr. Kenneth Clark, about that philosophy. I'll read it to you.
"On the surface, King's philosophy appears to reflect health and stability, while the black nationalists betray pathology and instability. A deeper analysis, however, might reveal that there is also an unrealistic, if not indeed pathological basis in King's doctrine. The natural reaction to injustice is bitterness and resentment. The form that such bitterness takes need not be overtly violent, but the corrosion of the spirit is inevitable. It would seem, therefore, that any demand that the victims of oppression be required to love those who oppress them, places an additional and probably intolerable burden upon them."
You have that line of argument. How do you respond to that line of argument? How do you counter it?
Young: Well, intellectually, I think, two ways. One is that I think Dr. Clark is reflecting a particularly, almost behavioristic view of a man, and a psychologist generally see a man, maybe more biologically than spiritually — that, now some of your more recent schools — this fellow from Vienna that developed the whole system of local therapy out of his concentration camp experiences would say that people need — that his whole method is not the release and expression of hostility — but that maybe greater discipline ought to be required in situations where sickness is imminent.
He uses the illustration of an ark — when it's beginning to crumble. One of the things that you can do to keep it together is to put more weight in the center of it, and this actually binds the pieces together. And, I think that this would be our experience in nonviolence — that, and my experience in child rearing too, that I'm not one of these that — while a certain amount of expression is necessary, I just don't believe in letting hostilities run rampant, and I think that this is what is implied — that you are much more healthy when you express your hostility and aggression. Civilization couldn't exist where hostilities weren't kept in check. Now, what we do is make it a virtue — in fact, a superior virtue to keep your hostilities in check.
Warren: That is, you would answer Dr. Clark, not merely by theological ref — but on old psychological grounds?
Young: Yes, but now — but theologically also, I would say that man is a creature of spirit, and we have so many day to day case studies, who have become transformed because of their ability to love — that in the act of attempting to do something that seems to be beyond their reach, that we would say that by the grace of God, they actually reach it. Now, it's not a permanent transformation and this doesn't mean that those of us who are nonviolent don't get mad with our wives, or something like this, but at least, we have enough experience in coping with our emotions to know that it is to our advantage to control ourselves — that we have gained the most personally and — well, we've actually made friends with the people that we were at war with — and we're saying that for our movement we are trying to create a community of love, a redeemed community no less, where men can live together as brothers. And, I've never learn — I've never known brothers to learn to live together by fighting things out. I think that the path of amelioration, or of forgiveness in religious language, is a much more realistic base for community. Now, we're not really teaching them to love in a sentimental, adoring way. I think maybe he misunderstands the Christian notion of love.
Warren: Quite a distinction.
Young: Yes, and we're accepting his behavior and we're not — we're accepting him as a person in spite of the fact that he's wrong and in spite of the fact that his deeds are savage and bestial. We say that in spite of the way that he is acting at present, that he is still a child of God and if you — if you respond to him as a loving brother, that he can no longer continue to be a savage.
Warren: What about this objection that one encounters — if such a policy and such a philosophy may work in the South where you have some — what you referred to as ethos, behind a society — what about a disoriented, non-community — like a big trap of Detroit, big traps of Harlem, big traps of South Chicago, where this ethos has been lost — where there's no ethos to appeal to. Some analysis on that?
Young: Well, fortunately, I think we've been able to take our ethos North with us, that the Negroes in Detroit, see, come from the South, and when Martin Luther King came to New York and brought the tremendous mystique and charisma that has been entrusted in him, say, in the Southern movement, these Negroes — a quarter of a million of them got out and marched behind him in Detroit, and they become a one-day community. Now, what I'm — all I'm saying is that leadership can make a community of the North, but it's true that as the North exists, see, -
Warren: You don't see that kind of leadership there though?
Young: Well, it wasn't in Montgomery until it developed, you see.
Warren: I see. It ________ on, I see.
Young: Now, it develops in part through suffering. That when you've got to — the big danger of Northern leadership is that it may not be tempered in time — that any delusions of grandeur that Martin Luther King may have had the first few months were bombed out of him when they bombed his home, and he had to face the fact that, you know, you can die doing this — so it's not something to play with. And it pushes him back to new depths. Then you begin to go along a little ways and you're slapped in jail. Some of his great — well, I trace — well, say new ideas of his to his jail periods, certainly the finest articulation of our whole movement came out of his Birmingham jail experience. And, I say that these periods of suffering — are periods of great intellectual and spiritual deepening.
Warren: You know I was struck by — to cut in — by going to a rally at Bridgeport where you spoke to weeks ago, — there was not one person there that was not clearly middle class. Here's a city where I — this was all isolated.
Young: Yes, but now when we begin to move a movement, this would have been true in terms of Birmingham — if he'd gone there to speak. In fact, he was there about a month before, speaking at an installation service for a minister in the biggest Baptist church there, and that was almost completely a middle class group. But as the price of suffering and as the movement begins to go, the middle classes thin out and the masses begin to come in.
Warren: Oh, this is terrible. I'm just beginning to feel I'm — you know — digging gold now.
This is the end of the conversation of Andy Young, this is the end, no more.
Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the information and stories above belong to the interviewee and and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.