Production Team: A
Interview Date: October 25, 1985
Interview Place: Charleston, South Carolina
Camera Rolls: 101-103
Sound Rolls: 1101-1102
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Thomas R. Waring, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 25, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
Sound Roll 1101-1102, Camera Roll 101-104
[This is the head of uh, Sound Roll number 1101 to go with Camera Roll number 101 for Blackside, Inc., heretoafter referred to as BSI. Project Eyes. Head of this roll was several seconds of reference tone recorded at -8dB on a nagra 4.2 and we're using an internal crystal operating at 60 hertz and according to all indications it's operating properly. Again, head of Sound roll 1101, Camera Roll 101, and coming up is interview with Mr. Waring in Charleston, South Carolina. Coming up, slate 1.]
My name is Thomas R. Waring, W-A-R-I-N-G and I'm a retired newspaper editor. I was fifty years in newspaper work started it on my graduation from the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, and was hired June 20, 1927 as a newspaper reporter at $15 a week. I'm ready.
HERE WE GO. NOW JUST REMEMBER, THIS IS JUST A CONVERSATION BETWEEN THE TWO OF US. ALL THESE OTHER PEOPLE DON'T EXIST. YOU'RE JUST TALKING TO ME. MMMKAY? NOW THIS, THIS FIRST QUESTION IS, COULD YOU GIVE US A SORT OF BRIEF WORD PICTURE OF LIFE IN THE SOUTH AT THIS POINT, THE EARLY 1950S, UM, PARTICULARLY IN TERMS OF RACE RELATIONS?
Mmmmhmmm… Well, in the 1950s in Charleston were a quiet time. It was between world wars. Uh, Charleston had been a sleepy old southern city for a hundred years. The aftermath of the Civil War had been quite difficult for the South generally, and Charleston too. And World War I brought in some uh, new employment, and additional economic developments, but not nearly as much as World War II was to do in later years, so the 1950s were in-between time, uh, insofar as race relations go. We… we old settlers, and I speak as one whose family goes back nine generations from me, uh, we thought we had very good, amicable relations with – between the races. And we were somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of the movements that went on to knock down what were called uh, segregation laws and customs, many of which aren't even spelled out. They're just – um, everybody sort of knew how things worked, and were reasonably happy with them.
THAT'S, THAT'S A WONDERFUL ANSWER. THAT'S TERRIFIC. UM, MAYBE YOU COULD ELABORATE A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SEGREGATION, PARTICULARLY ABOUT WHAT THE, WHAT IT MEANT, SEPARATE BUT EQUAL, THAT CONCEPT THAT, THAT THE SOUTH WORKED ON.
Well, the way I was brought up to look at it is a mutual respect for the uh, qualities and limitations of both races. It is true that uh, economically, and socially, for the most part, the colored people were on a different level from the white people, uh, not that poverty is a racial characteristic, but uh, there just was not a very large black mu—iddle class in the South at that time. And a great deal of the segregation was just uh, the way people happened to be born, where they lived, and how they grew up. And the schools were separate. And uh, there was uh, certainly a cultural difference, some of which is racial, and some of which is economic, and some of which is social. And when the – when the uh, school desegregation movement began to get into a, even a broader field, and threatening violence, and, as it, as did break out in demonstrations in some parts of the country, why it – it changed the whole aspect of race relations. I think on the whole, the southern people of both races have responded reasonably well to the changes. We've avoided some of the horrors that racial conflict would bring on our country, and uh, looking back over the thirty years, I think we've been rather lucky in how we have weathered the changes that have come about.
LET'S, LET'S GO BACK TO THAT – THAT PERIOD THIRTY YEARS AGO, AND DO YOU THINK THAT… I… THAT PEOPLE EXPECTED THAT THE SUPREME COURT WAS GOING TO STRIKE DOWN THIS SEGREGATED SYSTEM?
Well, it's very difficult to read the minds of the Supreme Court, or any other political body. I think many southerners felt the time had come to accept changes, and many others felt the time had not come, that there was still a cultural gap between the races that uh, that would make it very difficult to carry on public school education in the formative years of children's lives, when they came from such totally different backgrounds and had different uh, codes of behavior and different viewpoints on, on uh, how to behave. So uh, it was uh, quite a shock to southerners to be told that the way they had been running their affairs for many, many years was no longer acceptable to the nation as a whole. And a great many of the older crowd of white souther-southerners felt that they had – they came of an ancestry that were founders of the republic, and that knew the Constitution, and customs, and laws of the country as well as anybody else,** in any other region. There were strong advocates of states' rights even though the Civil War had curtailed states' rights to some extent, it had not exploded them altogether. And so, the, the souther – the white southerners, especially, and some of the black southerners too resented the power of the federal government interfering with how we had lived our lives for many, many years.
THAT'S WONDERFUL. UM, COULD YOU STOP FOR A MOMENT? THAT'S WONDERF
You want me to repeat on this?
WE'LL JUST… JUST START AS SOON AS WE GO ON. LET HIM GET HIMSELF A LITTLE SETTLED, HERE AND I'LL JUST, I'LL JUST ASK YOU… TO DESCRIBE THIS.
Well, the separation of the races, either by law or by custom, is a very broad and complex subject, and difficult to summarize in… in a brief space of time. But, but the schools… uh, school situation is very important, of course, because it takes the children at a formative time. And many white southerners did not want their children to be brought up, uh, with what it was – in the middle of what is a different culture, in the close quarters, and permanency of a, a public school education. They felt that, the felt – the white southerners felt that they had been running their own affairs through states' rights, for many, many years, and that they were better capable of handling these things than people from elsewhere. And they therefore resented the movement to change the laws which had been part of the country from the founding of the republic to take a different way of handling such important matters as education. There were many other aspects of seg – segregation which, of course, it was time to make changes, particularly in the field of public service, uh, uh, in restaurants, hotels, public transportation. Uh, it was time to get rid of the back-of-the-bus mentality and accept a new step in race relations. But the white southerners as a whole were unwilling, however, to, at this time – at that time, at any rate, to include the schools in the changes. They thought that the time had not yet reached the point where the uh, races had sufficiently uh, compatible lifestyles to put the children together.
COULD YOU STOP FOR A MOMENT, PLEASE? UM, ARE YOU SEEING A LITTLE PEEP OF WHITE IF THAT FAN IS IF YOU'LL HOLD FOR A MOMENT WHILE THEY SET THE CAMERA.
I was speaking of the back of the bus, which was a particularly irritating aspect for the, for the colored people of the south. Many southerners were quite ready, and uh – to make a change in transitory contacts with, with the other race, with no segregation standing in line at the post office or in the banks and people uh, passed each other in the streets without any problem. In fact, uh, many, many white people had house servants who were on close, intimate terms with the family and with close, friendly uh, relations over periods of years. Families knowing each other well. Uh, white southerners were completely at home in—in associating with colored people and for those reasons, there were many uh, aspects of segregation that could easily be remedied, and were, as uh, as the – as the colored individuals grew into the middle class way of uh, way of living. But that did not extend, in the, in the opinion of white southerners as I understood it, and as a newspaperman, I had – had made it my business to try to get a feeling for how the public felt, uh, that they were not ready to, to open the schools to the two races together.
THAT'S VERY, VERY NICE. UM, STOP FOR A MOMENT. EVERY TIME WE STOP, WE HAVE TO PLAY WITH THAT LITTLE BUTTON THERE. WAIT JUST A MINUTE, WHILE HE SETS HIS FRAME.
I was speaking of cultural relationships, and of course, the – again, it's a very broad subject and I can't make any attempt to be too specific about it, but in the matter of associations…
EXCUSE ME, I'M SORRY. JUST A MINUTE WHILE HE SETTLES HIMSELF IN, AND THEN WE'LL ASK YOU ABOUT THIS KIND OF DETAIL ON THE DIFFERENCES THAT YOU WERE… OK.
In discussing the differences of uh, cultural aspects of the racial situation, of course, it's again a very broad subject, and difficult to generalize on, because it involves so many different individuals. But it's only, uh, just in general, speaking generally, at the time, some of the colored people's customs were not, uh, not totally acceptable to the white people. In that they were careless about their marital relations, and health situations, they were quite often, again, careless, and uh, the – the backgrounds in which their children were raised were not – they didn't have many books or reading matter, and uh, the children just simply weren't on the same level as the white children. If they were put into the grades by ages, it would disrupt the educational quality of the, of the white people. And for that reason, the white people were not ready yet to merge the schools. They thought that a time should be allowed for the colored people to raise their own cultural levels before they would fit into the mixed, uh, mixed lifestyle.
THAT'S, THAT'S GOING TO BE VERY PIERCING, UM, STOP FOR A MOMENT BECAUSE I WANT TO UM NO, NO, WE'RE GONNA, I'M GOING TO ASK YOU THAT RIGHT NOW. I WANTED TO WAIT UNTIL YOU WERE—HEAR ABOUT, ABOUT IT. UM, IF YOU COULD, IF YOU COULD TELL ME THAT AGAIN. WHAT WOULD—WOULD—WOULD THE WHITE SOUTH HAVE MADE THIS EFFORT?
The question of whether the white South – or the southern states which were dominated in, in politics and economics by the white race, whether these people would actually have made the schools equal, if separated, but the federal government took the initiative in declaring it unconstitutional to keep separate schools, and so the souther—southerners never had the opportunity to do uh, what would be necessary to make the schools equal. And so the upshot of it is, that they probably are not of a very good quality for either race.
THAT'S VERY, VERY NICE. UM, YEAH, STOP FOR A MOMENT. AND I'LL ASK YOU THE QUESTION AGAIN SO THAT YOU CAN START YOUR ANSWER, WHICH IS, COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT – A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MASSIVE RESISTANCE, AND HOW SURPRISED YOU WERE THAT IT WAS THIS PEACEFUL?
Well, the "Massive Resistance" was just one of the phrases [cough] used in an effort to coalesce public opinion among white people in the South, and to let [cough] the rest of the country know about it and uh, it, it had some overtones which would perhaps be a little on the dangerous side, meaning an invitation to white people to demonstrate and be disorderly in the streets as, as some of the black people were doing in their demands for quote, "equal rights" unquote. Uh, and I was agreeably surprised that such violence did not develop, and I think it is a tribute to the people of both races that those things did not develop. I think there was an underlying feeling of good will of both races, so that they did not carry out the burn, baby burn policy of making life too tough for white people to resist, and the "Massive Resistance" was just one of the catch words – terms that was used to uh, try to encourage white people to express themselves. I think it had some limited success, but in the, in the long run, of course, it didn't work, because the South was outnumbered and outgunned, again, lost a, a cause. But the cause is not really gone yet, we haven't got the end of the story.
NOW IN SOME PLACES, WE WERE TALKING ABOUT SCHOOLS BEFORE, IN SOME PLACES, MASSIVE RESISTANCE LED THE SCHOOLS TO – THE WHITE PEOPLE TO SHUT DOWN THE SCHOOL SYSTEMS.
There were instances of it, but I don't think there was ever any shut-down of a whole system. I think a school here and there were closed, but uh, my recollection is, that [cough] that um, we just muddled through it somehow.
THAT'S IN SOUTH CAROLINA, YOU MEAN.
In South Carolina, and other states with which I am familiar.
NOW, I THINK VIRGINIA DID SHUT DOWN A WHOLE SCHOOL SYSTEM.
They did, at Farmville, Virginia.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FARMVILL CASE? COULD YOU TELL – DO YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT THAT?
I remember that at Farmville, Virginia, the vicinity was known as southside Virginia, uh, in the vicinity of Farmville, the – a school system, whether it was a county, or a district, or what, I don't remember, but something did shut down, and there was no school there at all. And the white people sent their children to private schools, which were hastily organized. But that was not a general situation throughout the South. It was a, it was an exceptional case.
THE OTHER DOCTRINE THAT'S TALKED ABOUT AT THIS TIME IS INTERPOSITION, WHICH AGAIN, IN SOUTH CAROLINA WAS NOT BIG, BUT UM, COULD — DO YOU REMEMBER THAT?
I remember the word "interposition," yes. Uh, it was an effort to reestablish the states' rights principle, and that this is a republic, not a democracy. And um, that interposition was talked about, and was implemented in some ways, the details of which I do not now remember.
DO YOU REMEMBER IT AS A – AS A – AS A THEORETICAL POINT – DO YOU THINK THAT IT WAS A THREAT TO THE – TO THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT? OR DO YOU THINK THAT – I THINK THAT THE OTHER ARGUMENT MIGHT BE THAT IT WAS CENTRAL TO OUR SYSTEM.
Well, of course you might say the um, end result would be secession. And I don't think anybody in the South thought for one moment about secession or resumption of a Civil War. I think they hoped to keep the, uh, the conflict on the level of legal procedures, in which interposition was one.
THE ONLY REAL CASE OF INTERPOSITION THAT GOT VERY DANGEROUS, OF COURSE, WAS JAMES MEREDITH AT OLE MISS AND I WONDERED, UM, AS A REPORTER, ABOUT THE COVERAGE, ABOUT THE SYMPATHY TO – TO THE MISSISSIPPI POSITION. DO YOU REMEMBER THAT?
Yes. We sent a reporter to Mississippi to uh, look into the – from, from our point of view. Uh, I don't remember the details of it. I remember, of course, the James Meredith case, and, and uh, it was a very sorrowful event. And it was the kind of thing that did, did give responsible people a pause as to how far shall we go in – in making the resistance. George Wallace standing at the schoolhouse door, and things of that sort happening, and the, when the troops being called into Arkansas, it got very, very touchy, rugged and dangerous. And it was a perilous situation, and again, I must repeat, that I think it is a great tribute to the underlying good will between the races and the common sense of the majority of – in both white and black, that uh, fighting did not erupt, and there was not a breakdown in, in uh, civil government.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE SENTIMENT OF – AROUND THE MISSISSIPPI CASE IN – AT OLE MISS – IN THIS AREA, D—HOW PEOPLE FELT ABOUT THAT?
Well, again, I think – I don't remember the details, the day-to-day details of these things. They sort of merge in – into the past of just um, things that happened and I would have to read up about it to be sure of what was what and who did what when. But generally speaking, I think these were just incidents of the kind of thing that can happen when you interfere with the deep convictions of American citizens.
MMMM. I THINK THAT'S VERY IMPORTANT. COULD YOU STOP FOR A MOMENT?
On the separate but equal subject that we have discussed, of course, there was valid complaints, that in many areas of the South, the, the schools for colored people were inferior, both insofar as the buildings were concerned, and also the money expended. But you must remember that the South was in a – not a rich part of the country, and uh, many of the country schools for white people were also inadequate I think that the white people felt an obligation to provide better schooling for the white—for the blacks, and would get around to doing something it, but perhaps they were slow. And, they were slow for one reason, because as I said that, um… they were poor. Poor people and these are poor neighborhoods. The black people themselves, because they were in a lower economic bracket, did not contribute much in the way of tax money.
JUST… THAT WAS ALMOST
[This is the head of uh, Sound Roll 1102, for Camera Roll 103, BSI, Eyes, and we're continuing the interview with Thomas R. Waring. Coming up Slate number 009, On October 25th, 1985.]
…NOTHING THAT WILL MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO DEAL WITH. LET US JUST GET OUR FRAMING HERE, AND THEN IF YOU'D JUST PICK UP AT THE END OF THAT THOUGHT ABOUT THE TAXES.
And because of the…
JUST A MOMENT, PLEASE.
Because of the la—uh, lack of a solid tax base in the rural sections where many of the black people lived, of course, the schools were inferior, and, but uh, I think the southern states have made an effort, both through state aid, and, and also because there've been a movement away from the rural areas, into the towns, and cities, that uh, more money has become available to improve the school systems, and that is now being done.
I THINK REALLY, THE, THE LAST THING I MIGHT ASK YOU IS, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU THINK WOULD BE HELPFUL FOR OUR AUDIENCE TO KNOW ABOUT THIS PERIOD, IN TERMS OF THE – THE INTENTIONS AND THE MIND OF THE WHITE SOUTH IN THE, IN THE AFTERMATH OF THIS VERY SURPRISING, THIS VERY DIFFICULT DECISION?
Mmmmm. Well, I think that uh, it is in – that it is necessary that people of all persuasions uh, try to remove any bitterness that may have occurred before or after or during this difficult period that we're living in. Difficulty is still there, we have a terrific crime rate, and unfortunately, a great deal of it is – comes from the black people – blacks on blacks. The black people themselves are suffering from crime and, and uh, all of the bad points of uh, poverty, and uh, lack of, frankly, lack of training and discipline. And I think it's incumbent on all people to reserve their judgements and try to deal with situations as they are, and not uh, just blow off, and invite serious difficulties.
AND IN TERMS OF, IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE SAME QUESTION OF, OF WHAT ELSE MIGHT BE USEFUL TO KNOW, IN TERMS OF 1954-55-56, IS THERE ANY OTHER IMPORTANT POINT OF VIEW OF THE, OF, OF… IN TERMS OF YOUR CONVICITONS, THAT YOU THINK WE SHOULD KNOW?
Other than to counsel peaceful and uh, sensible, common-sense approaches, to the problem –
OH NO, I MEANT IN TERMS OF – FOR EXAMPLE, WE TALKED ABOUT THE PAPER CURTAIN, THE KINDS OF THINGS THAT WERE NOT IN THE NORTHERN PRESS AT THAT TIME.
Well, I'm – if there was a paper curtain at the time, and I was one who used that term, whether I invented it or just borrowed it from somebody, I'm not sure, but I used it frequently. I think the paper curtain is still there. I don't, I don't think that the uh, that the sympath–the sympathetic view of the white southerner's case has yet become generally available. Uh, I think that uh, more sympathy and understanding should be given to what in some cases now is a minority. In the city of Charleston, for instance, the white people are a minority. I don—I'm—don't think that we should be crying for sympathy and help. I think we ought to just all try to understand one another's problems, and then we've got them.
WELL, THANK YOU. I THINK, IF WE STOP. UM
[Room tone, Waring interview… Camera stopped… [unintelligible] Uh, preceding um, with the room tone was a M.O.S. uh, shot of Mr. Waring, just to give you some camera noise with the room tone.]