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1964-03-13 Interview with William Stringfellow, March 13, 1964 RPWCR001:03OH31RPWCR20 01:03:16 Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Stringfellow, William--Interviews Nonviolence School integration African Americans--Education Educational equalization Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973--Views on race relations Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963--Views on race relations Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Views on race relations Civil rights movements African American--Civil rights Discrimination in housing Segregation in education--United States Galamison, Milton A--(Milton Arthur),--1923-1988 Civil rights leadership Rustin, Bayard, 1912-1987 African American leadership White civil rights workers William Stringfellow; interviewee Robert Penn Warren; interviewer 03OH31RPWCR20_Stringfellow 1:|10(2)|32(7)|41(3)|50(10)|76(5)|98(10)|114(5)|133(3)|154(2)|164(8)|179(11)|192(2)|202(2)|218(9)|227(12)|241(5)|272(8)|295(11)|306(6)|324(2)|332(5)|340(9)|356(6)|369(5)|389(1)|400(8)|417(5)|437(4)|452(3)|467(12)|476(6)|501(11)|516(7)|541(6)|560(7)|572(5)|592(3)|619(1)|652(4)|685(6)|694(12)|713(6)|729(2)|736(2)|754(3)|775(2)|799(2)|818(9)|838(13)|861(3)|879(1)|889(12)|902(11)|911(8)|921(6)|943(6)|964(7)|980(6)|1003(11)|1022(11)|1049(5)|1066(2)|1072(10) audiotrans rpwcr interview WARREN:--Stringfellow, New York City, March thirteenth. All right, we're in business. STRINGFELLOW: Uh, I think the, the thing that concerns me, now--is that the Northern city is the frontier and the, the prospect is of a, um, of a great acceleration now of, of mass uncontrolled and unled violence. It seems to me that the, um, the watershed of peaceful demonstrations has been pretty much reached. Was reached early last summer. And, uh, and the tangible results of the peaceful demonstrations have been, um, so limited in terms of, uh, in working any practical changes in the lives of ordinary negroes in the, in the city ghettos that, um--the issue now arises of whether or not nonviolent tactics work. WARREN: Now, is this a matter, uh, of decision among leaders, or as you seem to imply, unled, uh, spontaneous violence? STRINGFELLOW: Yeah, I think-- WARREN:--not, not policy but--but spontaneous outbreaks-- STRINGFELLOW:--right. WARREN: Without particular objectives-- STRINGFELLOW:--right-- WARREN:--just an expression. STRINGFELLOW: For example about a month ago now in Cleveland, in the middle of the winter--which is significant I think--um, a negro boy was arrested. I don't know if the arrest was justified or not but apparently that touched off a riot reported, reportedly involving, uh, six or seven hundred people, negroes engaged mainly in looting the stores of white merchants and the like. As far as I know no one planned that. Uh--but the, um, frustration of people is so high, so acute that, um, that this apparently little incident was enough, uh--to touch it off. And, uh, the prospect is, I'm, I'm afraid I don't--that there will be more and more and more of that. And there already has been a considerable amount. In the North, there've been a few, if you will (??), small riots, um, now in, in Minneapolis, and in Chicago, and New York, and Detroit, and this thing in Cleveland, and, uh, and Seattle even. Los Angeles, and, uh, it seems to me that that's quite likely to, to accelerate. And, um, one must remember too that, that the negro revolution has been, uh, nonviolent so far in its tactics and ethics is a rather unique thing. In, in other great American social revolutions the-- with the exception I think only of the women's suffrage movement- -the tactics on both sides have been those of violence. For example in the labor revolution or in the Veteran's Bonus March on Washington. WARREN: Do you think that this, uh, violence will spill over into the South? STRINGFELLOW: I think, I think, yes, particularly in the parts of the South that most resemble the North. For example, Atlanta. WARREN: The big city? STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. WARREN: Rather than in Mississippi, for instance? Rather than rural Mississippi? Of course, you have violence there now-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah, yes-- WARREN:--but I'm talking about mass explosions. The violence is one way, now, there-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--by-and-large. STRINGFELLOW: Well, you know, it's hard to--it's an unpredictable situation. I mean, conceivably there could be violence of, of--in a Northern city, which is so, uh, shocking that, um, that some real social change results from it. But--um, I'm inclined to think that's unlikely and that if, if there is a-- WARREN:--excuse me. Which is, which is unlikely? STRINGFELLOW: That, that if violence comes it will, it will be a, it will have constructive results. WARREN: You think unlikely, unlikely that it will have constructive results? STRINGFELLOW: I think it, it's conceivable that something, that some kind of violence could take place that would be so shocking to the white community that they would get off their butts and really do something. WARREN: But you don't think the vio--that the violence would accomplish that. (??) STRINGFELLOW: No, I think it's more likely that if there is, if there is spontaneous violence on the part of negroes and, uh, aggression by negroes against white people and white stores and white institutions that, uh, the response of the white community will be to suppress that violence and then we'll really be in trouble. And--because I don't, I really don't have confidence as a white man that, um, there's enough maturity in the, in the white community to respond in any other way. Though I would say, also, that if, again if there is negro violence that what white people are called to do is not to resist it. Because the only way that violence and hostility is absolved is in, in, uh, voluntary love. But I've not great confidence that many white people are prepared to, to practice that. WARREN: But now how would you practice that assuming a riot is underway? And what does a mayor do? Call off the police and say, "We love them." "Them" being anybody on the street-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--I mean black or white. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah, well I think there are two questions. One is, what, what does the mayor or the police, what do they do? And, uh, and I suppose they, uh, try to, to control and to stop the violence by whatever means they have at their disposal, by force. But I would distinguish that from a, from whether or not white people who are, who are involved, uh, to take any action on their own. WARREN: You mean the man who owns the store? STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm, um-hm. Or, the man who happens to be on the street when something happens. WARREN: You mean whether he would just take the, the knife in the ribs, the brick on the head without fighting back? STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. WARREN: There's no discipline for that. STRINGFELLOW: Uh, what do you mean? WARREN: Well, I mean if the--the negro demonstrators are trained to this-- STRINGFELLOW:--oh, I see-- WARREN:--the man walking down the street has no discipline and no theory. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. Well, I agree-- WARREN:--he can't make it up himself as he goes along, very well. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. I agree. I mean one would have hoped that, uh, that there would be the grounds for such a discipline in--in the churches, in the white churches. I don't, but I don't really think there is. But I'm--but that doesn't diminish my belief that that's the only way that, um, that there can be an absolution of the, of the violence. WARREN: What practical measures, uh, could be taken, just say in New York City, that would head this off? Assuming you had the power to put them into operation, for getting difficulties and these (??) things done? STRINGFELLOW: Well, a lot of things. One is, for example, in the school business, as you know is the, the current focus here. And I think, um, one very practical measure, step that would be taken is to fire the president of the board of education, Mr. Donovan. He's an able man and I think a sincere man, and he has a pretty good record on civil rights as these things go. But he has made some very improvident statements that have, um, made him a kind of symbol of the obstinacy of, of white society to integration and--[telephone rings]--I think has to be a--his, his usefulness has been sacrificed, compromised. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: All right. STRINGFELLOW: Um, I think so far as the morale of the negro community is concerned, uh, for Donovan to, to be, uh, dismissed that, that would, that that would be a considerable victory. And, um, in terms now of the issue of forestalling violence, what we need to have, uh, is some very concrete things that can be pointed to, um--as signs of progress. Very much the same situation I think prevails in Chicago with Superintendent Willis. I don't know anything particularly in detail about him, but, um, he's become a, a symbol. And, um, and even if he now comes forward with some, uh, with some better plan for integrating the schools in Chicago, it's not going to get a hearing because the, the, uh, hostility to him is so powerful (??)-- WARREN:--how much is the busing issue here a symbolic issue and how much is it a real one, that has real, uh, value as a remedial measure? STRINGFELLOW: Well, I think it has real value for, for one reason, particularly. The, uh, the reason why there are segregated schools, as everyone knows, is because there are segregated neighborhoods. Segregated housing. And it seems to me to deal with the, uh, with the housing issue is a much more complicated and, uh, long range issue. I mean, how do you, how do you abolish a ghetto? Well, I don't know how you abolish a ghetto but you don't do it overnight. And--so, I would say that's a long range job and it's gonna take ten or fifteen or twenty years, perhaps longer. But that in the meantime, we can, uh, we can prepare some people in the city, in the community to, uh, to adjust to and live in integrated neighborhoods and in integrated housing, and one way to prepare some people for that is for them to be as schoolchildren in integrated schools. And the only way you're gonna do--integrate the schools--the only way you're gonna do that is, um, to get around the existing neighborhood segregation. So, you transport kids out of their neighborhood to another school. And I, I approve of that, as a tactical, um, device. WARREN: Is the Princeton plan adequate? STRINGFELLOW: I would say no. Let me mention another thing-- WARREN:--yes-- STRINGFELLOW:--that is, I would hope that if there were, and what I would like to see, if there is busing of students all over the place. I think it's, uh, very important that some white students be brought into Harlem schools, um, as a way of, of driving home and bringing to the attention of the white community in a form that they can no longer ignore since their kids will be affected. Uh, the abominable conditions that prevail there. And that I think is, uh, would be very edifying. And, um, maybe in a technical sense some children in these years will be deprived in their school education, but, um, maybe there is some more important things to learn about. And, um, and maybe for a kid and his parents to see the inside of one of those schools, um, is what must be suffered for us to get anywhere. So, you know, the, the apathy and the, uh, the lack of concern among the, the white leadership in New York, including but not only the, uh, political administration is, uh, almost ridiculous in its extremes. Because they all know, or they have been told, or they've had the facts presented time and time and time again for years and years and years. And, um, and yet these conditions persist. You know, like I know one junior high school in Harlem, I know of one junior high school in Harlem where there is such a shortage of classroom space that, uh, four or five classes use the auditorium simultaneously. Well, you can't teach a kid anything under such circumstances because he can overhear what's going on in the other class meeting a few rows away, and kids are kids, and so they, they horse around, and wave to their friends, and whatnot, and it's just ridiculous. And yet such conditions persist. WARREN: You'll find that, uh, some negroes, some very thoughtful negroes who are activists, too, that I know who have said this to me. They're against busing because (??) it solves nothing. They say school is all, the school is--the problem is the school itself, is the real issue. The buses are a facade. It's only a symbolic value. And they are actually against it. Will say so. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. WARREN: Now these are people whose integrity can't be questioned, you see. One, one of them I know is raised in the Harlem schools-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--educated there. He couldn't--he knows in a way that, that neither you nor I could know. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. What did he say? (??) WARREN:--what he says, it's quite, uh, it's quite ridiculous to make this an issue. That what you need is money for the schools and-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--and, and lots of teachers, lots of white teachers. But, uh, the busing is, is a deception. It deceives the negroes to make this is an issue-- STRINGFELLOW:--well-- WARREN:--this, I just quote this, from this young man. Stokely Carmichael is the person who said this. In these words. And there are others who say it. STRINGFELLOW: Well, it's no, it's no solution to anything but I do see some, uh, some limited practical, uh, arguments favoring it. Like the ones I mentioned-- WARREN:--practical?-- STRINGFELLOW:--housing and, uh, and it is a way of further sustaining hopefully, uh, the nonviolent character of the protest. And, um, and may in fact be a way in which we get more money for the schools in Harlem. Uh, particularly, as I say, if some white kids have to go to Harlem schools-- WARREN:--yes-- STRINGFELLOW:--and find out how awful they are. And, uh, there will be a new, an additional pressure on the school administration to do something about conditions there that they haven't, uh, had up to now. WARREN: We're up against then the matter of the--uh, father or the mother of a family who wants the best for his child. He's quite selfish but very human way. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. WARREN: (??), 'My child is not gonna (??) fight the busing to get to schools. I will welcome any negro in this school but I will not let, uh, not my child be bused, if I can avoid it.' And as one of my negro friends said, "I don't blame them." Said, "Harlem is no place to be," my friend says. "And I've been there and I know," my friend says. This is a problem that is hard to deal with. STRINGFELLOW: But then, but my feeling then is, let the, let the complacency of the, of the white community be disrupted. I mean, all across the board, as far as I can see, the real, the real recalcitrant in the racial crisis, the--the element in society were the real-- represent the real obstacle to public integration, it's not the, uh, the so-called diehard Southern segregationists. I don't think. But, um, it's the nice, white Northern liberal. Uh, now with all his sincerity, and good intentions, uh, and whatnot, who's asking now the question, 'Well, now what do the negroes want?' And, uh, and fails to realize when he asks that question that he is assuming, that it is his prerogative to dispense to the negro what the negro will get. And that I think is the real essence of white supremacy. And I think it's deeply imbedded in the mentality of, of most Northern, white Northern liberals. And it is that which must be, uh, somehow exorcized if there is to be (??)-- WARREN: Did you read the controversy between Irving Howe and Ralph Ellison? STRINGFELLOW: I haven't seen that yet, no. WARREN: It bears on this point. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. I, uh, I've heard something about it. WARREN: It's a very important document, I think. (pause) STRINGFELLOW: The other thing that, that's disturbing to me, that, um, so little--thought, as far as I am aware, at least has yet to matured in either the negro community or among the white people about, about, uh, how the races can be reconciled. I mean, there can be, uh, a certain degree of enforced integration in, in public institutions but, um, but that is not the same thing as reconciliation. And--and that's the issue that mainly concerns me. And, um, and I guess what it--from my point of view, what is really at the root of it is, has in essence nothing, uh, in itself to do with the race. What it really has to do with, um, is whether or not a man is reconciled within himself. If I am, if I am free enough to love and accept myself as a human being, then I have no problem about accepting another human being, no matter what, uh, uh, empirical differences there may be between, between him and me. WARREN: Are you speaking as a psychologist or are you speaking as a theologian when you say this? Or both? STRINGFELLOW: Well, I am not a psychologist. And I don't know that I am a theologian, but, uh. WARREN: Well, I mean your role in that--behind that remark, anyway. STRINGFELLOW: Uh, but yeah, theologically I would say. That's the real issue. And--is an acutely threatening one to a lot of people. And both and, and one that, that both negroes and, um, whites share in common. I mean, part of the problem, surely of the, of the contemporary American negro, is that he grew up and, and inherits, not just the exile of slavery and--and sometimes of physical and personal suffering of, um, one, of a specific character, but also that, um, many American negroes are, um, acquiesced in the--the idea of negro inferiority. WARREN: A psychiatrist I know in New Haven tells me that he has some negro patients--uh, a psychoanalyst--he says it's shockingest things to find, uh, an analysis or in a preliminary investigation this hidden fact. The negro doesn't even know it. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. And, um. WARREN: The Sambo is there, you see. STRINGFELLOW: Well, I, a number of, of negroes who hate themselves, and the, and the way it becomes concretized (??) is they hate themselves because they are negro. Um, but I think the issue is--[telephone rings]--is, uh, the same for such a man, essentially the same that it is for, as it is for a man who, who, um, hates himself, uh, well, for any other reason. WARREN: Do you think (??) there's an objective focus in this case that is-- STRINGFELLOW:--um-hm, um-hm-- WARREN:--connected with the visibility and all of that. STRINGFELLOW: I think so. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Is that all right? Given that fact--I assume it to be a fact, too--concretely, what is, um, to be done, as far as the--just, just keep it in on the negro for a moment. I think it's (??) right about the white man; I agree with your diagnosis. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm, um-hm. I think there are two, two levels. There are a lot of practical things that can be done, uh, that might help to create a climate that, uh, in which the--whatever you want to call it--in which the theological issue or the, or the issue on a more profound level can be resolved. For example, is it not the case that is just, has now just become a matter of the survival of the nation that there be public integration? I mean you cannot have an economy of this complexity and so on that leaves out of gainful employment and therefore the requisite of education, and, and, uh, ordinary rights of citizenship. Um, you cannot run an economy that leaves out twenty million people. Um--and, uh, that means, it seems to me, that white men have a profound self-interest in, uh, in as rapid and as peaceful a public integration as possible. See, if these people are excluded from jobs now, with the automation and all of that, then what is going to happen? Well, the only social alternative is, is some kind public assistance. And that's gonna be more expensive for me than--to advocate, and help to provide for them. WARREN: That's not merely a race question, no. STRINGFELLOW: No, no, it isn't, but it's, it's-- WARREN:--overlaps-- STRINGFELLOW: --acute, acutely, um, affects this particular group in society. WARREN: It does indeed but now let's take, uh, say an X number of jobs and a Y number of people and the Y is bigger than the X, you are solving something, if you--uh, do a ratio or do a proportion, and I think that you're solving something, sure. But, um, you still have something unsolved, something very drastically unsolved. That's the question why, why the-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah. You know, I'm, I'm just saying-- WARREN:--yes-- STRINGFELLOW:--we have to begin where we are. WARREN: Um-hm. STRINGFELLOW: And--well, take another thing which is--we very much need, it seems to me, a citizenry in the, in the country. We increasingly need one that's highly educated and, uh, skilled. And--in which there is more opportunity for a higher education and whatnot. Well- -(coughs)--among others who need that and particularly who need that are, are negro citizens. But then if you look at the colleges, you'll find now a lot of Southern universities and colleges that are tokenly integrated, but then look at the Northern colleges and they're also just tokenly integrated. WARREN: Right. STRINGFELLOW: And the main reason, as far as I can see, why that is so is not because there aren't qualified negroes already coming out of high schools in, uh, a significant number, but because most negro families can't afford three thousand dollars a year to send a kid to college, to one of the Northern colleges. And, um, so, then I would advocate--and call it preferential treatment if you want--um, I would advocate special scholarships and special efforts to recruit-- [telephone rings]--large numbers of, of negro students. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: How much has the, the negro apathy been dented? Shaken up? STRINGFELLOW: Oh, I think very much. That is, uh, it's been what now almost over six years since the, the peaceful demonstrations and so on have been organized, demonstrations had been going on. And in the last say a year and a half, at least here in New York, there's been I think a very significant change in the participants in the demonstrations. That is, in the early days, it was students and clergy. But now, like on the March on Washington and the school boycotts here and in Chicago, the people who've been, uh, demonstrating, along with students and clergy and so on, have been, uh, housewives and women who, uh, middle- aged negro women who work as domestics, say, and who may well risk their jobs by, uh, becoming involved and who are I think, uh, naturally conservative about, uh, and apathetic. But they, they, my impression is in substantial numbers have now become involved. And that indicates that, um, I think that, uh, the days of substantial apathy, uh, are over, though that may be succeeded by cynicism, too, I suppose, but. WARREN: Because of a small delivery, you mean-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah, um-hm-- WARREN:--of the demonstrations? STRINGFELLOW: But that, that returns to our discussion about violence. That, um, when it really comes to the practical life of, of some American negro today, what has he got to show for the, for the nonviolent tactics? Well, the things I think that he remembers and that first come to mind are the assassination of Medgar Evers, or the bombing of the church in Birmingham. Or, you know, the dogs, the police dogs, and hoses, and billy clubs-- [Tape 1, side 1 ends; side 2 begins.] WARREN: Tape 2 of our conversation with Mr. Stringfellow, March thirteenth. Where were we? STRINGFELLOW: I don't-- WARREN:-- (??) back. Let me go back to the matter of, uh, apathy. You say you think the, uh, apathy among the negroes at least in New York is definitely waning. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. You know, like the school boycott, the first one is a good example of (??). I mean whatever it was, four hundred thousand kids were, were out. Well, that means the parents of four hundred thousand kids, uh, had to make some decisions. So, I don't think it's--look, the revolution is no longer confined to the organized civil rights movements or to the students or to some of the clergy and whatnot, but really does involve, uh, the rank-and-file person. WARREN: It's taking on the, uh, quality of a mass movement now, you think. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah, but without--then, the next thing is, but without a, uh, unified or recognized leadership. WARREN: Has that ever been true of any revolution at this state? There was a unified recognized leadership? STRINGFELLOW: Well, I don't know. There is a theory around that revolutions are the work of an, an elite. WARREN: When did they emerge? STRINGFELLOW: But, um. WARREN: Is--is the leadership of--of the phase one ever the leadership of phase two or the leadership of phase two, the leadership of phase three, is what I'm getting at-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah, right-- WARREN:--in that period, of course. STRINGFELLOW: I guess not. I mean like right now in New York--I think the same is true in Chicago--there is an acute leadership crisis because it becomes clear that the revolution has gone on--has matured enough so that, um, um, it's obvious that there are some real, there's some real power at stake, both within the revolutionary movement, so to speak, and then as in what is to be gained, um, in the revolution. And that means there is a lot of infighting and backbiting. And, uh, in fact, if there, if there ever needed to be real proof--of which there is not--but if there ever needed to be real proof of the, of the profound humanity of negroes, it would be to witness them fighting amongst themselves-- WARREN:--how do you see that split, now-- STRINGFELLOW:--for little scraps of power. WARREN: How do you see that split, now, say nationally or in terms of New York, or both? STRINGFELLOW: Well, I know most about New York of course. And I'd say the main line civil rights groups, which here are CORE and, uh, NAACP, which have been in the field for so many years and, and who have, uh, provided both the leadership and the, uh, financial resources and so on, for what has been done, are--are receding in importance and in influence. And are thought of as too gradualist. As having too many contacts with white society--[telephone rings]. And--of, uh, well, are receding into the background. I mean, there've only been two things so far in which there has been a real unification of the civil rights organizations, uh, of various kinds. Um, and that's been the March on Washington, which was the preeminent example, and then the first school boycott here was a united front, but, as you know, uh, that unity is already fragmented into-- WARREN:--what blew that up? STRINGFELLOW: I think, uh. I, I don't know Galamison, uh, personally but I think, uh, from seeing him perform that, uh, that other negro leaders were fearful that he was too, uh, personally aggressive. WARREN: Grabbing? STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. And--I don't know. That's just my intuition. WARREN: This (??) this fear, uh, of personal aggressiveness for power, or a matter of, uh, overreaching as a matter of tactics, to me a question (??). STRINGFELLOW: I'm inclined to think it's more of the first, that, that there was-- WARREN:--more-- STRINGFELLOW:--personal competitiveness and jealousy. And, uh, and also some feeling that, that if there was to be some kind of united focused leadership that he was not the one upon whom that mantle should be bestowed and, um. WARREN: How much do you know of his history? I mean, is there much ground for that belief in his past history, or is this just a-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah, I, I don't know-- WARREN:--an assumption that's just been grabbed onto (??), if you don't like him (??). STRINGFELLOW: I don't know much about his (??)-- WARREN:--what do you know about Rustin? Bayard Rustin? STRINGFELLOW: Well, quite a good deal. Um, I first had contact with him--[telephone rings]--uh, oh, twenty years ago, when he was involved with the pacifist movement at the time. I think he is a genius, um, organizationally especially. And--he was the real person who engineered the, the March on Washington on a practical level. WARREN: Now, I have heard the contrary--now, see, I don't know anything about this but I have heard the other theory that he was--was not a really good org--given his reputation because he was under fire and he was a coverup for (??). STRINGFELLOW:--well-- WARREN:--and I, and I keeping you away (??). STRINGFELLOW: No, no, there are some-- WARREN:--you tell me. (??) STRINGFELLOW:--important little-- WARREN:-- (??) STRINGFELLOW: Well, I don't know, and I certainly don't know the whole interior thing. It, it was true that he was under fire. And, uh, it was something of an achievement that--that did not discredit the March on Washington, I think. WARREN: You mean his previous-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah, because-- WARREN:--pacifist-- STRINGFELLOW:--well, and, uh, he was convicted of (??) offense-- WARREN: That's right, I forgot it. Yes. Yes. STRINGFELLOW: And that, that was not generally known or publicized or used by some--by congressmen and what-not, with any great effect, is-- WARREN:--it was in the papers-- STRINGFELLOW:--it was in the papers but as far as I can, can detect it never caught hold enough or was publicized enough to be-- WARREN:--I forgot this--I know that Mrs. uh, that Dr. Hedgeman takes the view of--and I have heard it elsewhere--that he is not, was not a good organizer. He was covered up for by CORE (??); they couldn't afford to, to let go-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--Randolph had to cover him (??)-- STRINGFELLOW:--well, that-- WARREN:--and that's, uh, her interpretation. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. WARREN: I've read--I've heard others say (??)-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--these two things--excuse me, go ahead. STRINGFELLOW: Well, just from what I've seen-- WARREN:--yeah-- STRINGFELLOW:--um, not only in the present time but, uh, when he was especially working amongst college students and what-not about about, on the pacifist business, I've great respect for his ability, and his, um, and almost professionalism I would say at in nonviolent agitation. WARREN: Is (??) is he optimistic on this, on the matter of nonviolence, nonviolent demonstrations or do you know? Are you saying (??)-- STRINGFELLOW:--I haven't talked to him recently. The last time I did he was not optimistic. Um, of course, my theory is, my hypothesis is that the violence that's most likely won't come from the extremist groups, or from Malcolm X, who, you know, wants negroes to arm and resist and so on, but will, will be of the character of the, like the Cleveland riot and be, uh, an explosion that may be provoked by an unrelated or apparently unrelated incident and that, that the kind of temperature of the negro, of the ordinary negro is so high that, um, that there will be spontaneous violence without ever anybody ever sitting down and plotting it or planning it and what-not. And that's the most, uh, dangerous and--um, destructive kind of violence--[telephone rings]. WARREN: Yeah, sure. There are people who yearn for that though. STRINGFELLOW: Well, of course, people-- WARREN:--they say, they say they do. They told me so-- STRINGFELLOW:--it's--is it not like, it's has some kind of authority, um. Or like--I don't know--I guess we will never know the truth of the assassination of the last President. But as far as I can figure out, there is no direct connection between the assassination and civil rights, as such. WARREN: Apparently not. STRINGFELLOW: Um, yet, the assassination came at a time when, uh, after the bombing, and so on, in Birmingham when there was acute frustration, um, and I think apprehension about violence (??). Then the assassination happened and more or less everybody identified with it and had a good cry and, and a lot of tensions unrelated-- WARREN:--were dropped (??) all over-- STRINGFELLOW:--were--yeah, were relieved. But I think also that, that has pretty much dissipated itself, but what it did forestall perhaps violence for a couple of months. WARREN: What do you, uh, think is the--underneath the ritual grief and so forth--is the, is the negro attitude toward Kennedy now--which is a stupid way to talk; there is no such thing as saying the negro attitude, but I mean, you see what I'm driving at? STRINGFELLOW: I think there are two attitudes. One is, some--some, um, self-conscious attempt perhaps to, uh, to make him a symbol and martyr for civil rights. You know, the easy comparison is with Lincoln and, and that kind of thing. Um, but I think also that is factually unjustified and that a lot of negroes realize that, but there may be some kind of--um, there may be some kind of utility in--uh, remembering Kennedy in that way on the grounds that--uh, his assassination --how do you put it--his assassination is an argument against, uh, any form of extremism. And--uh, interracial (??) crisis and in other matters and has tend to, perhaps, to mute extremism a little bit (??). But that he is, is an authentic martyr for civil rights is ridiculous, I think. And he was, he was a practical, hardheaded, fairly liberal politician who acted on civil rights when he was under pressure, when he was forced to do so, politically speaking. I think that's the record and I, I don't think that's unfair. And I support him. WARREN: That's true of Lincoln, too, though, isn't it? STRINGFELLOW: I think so, yeah. I think very much so. WARREN: Is any other type possible as an effective public figure? STRINGFELLOW: Um, I don't know that it is under our system. WARREN: But under what system might it be? STRINGFELLOW: (pause) Well, I don't know. (pause) I don't know. The-- WARREN:--it's a question of manipulating power and who can manipulate power. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. WARREN: I would like tell an example I'm not being argumentative about it (??) (laughs) STRINGFELLOW: Yeah, I don't, I don't know that there is, at least in America. WARREN: Well, this thought is sometimes very shocking to, um, negroes. Lincoln is a very shocking man come to find out about-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah, yeah. WARREN: They don't come to terms with it too easily. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. Well, but that's my point that there may be a kind of, at least temporary, immediate tactical advantage in, uh, in not being realistic about Kennedy's role because of the shock of the assassination itself. And--uh, martyrizing him about it even, you know, even as the facts don't justify it. WARREN: This then--if I understanding you're right--you're saying that the martyrizing of Kennedy serves the way to contain violence. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. WARREN: And this is not-- STRINGFELLOW:--and to, and to stifle the opposition to integration to some extent. WARREN: Both-- STRINGFELLOW:--to keep them quiet-- WARREN:--both, both (??) negro violence and establish opposition to, uh, to a white, opposition to integration. And this is a, even can be thought of as a conscious, uh, uh, as conscious on the part of negro leadership. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. (??) What do they decide to do when they had the, the mourning/memorial (??) service at the end of the mourning period? Well, they decided to go to Lincoln Memorial. Um--um, you know, and repeatedly comparisons have been made as--well, as they obviously would be--between the two assassinations. And, uh, you know, it is by some coincidence the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and all of this contributes to it. WARREN: And the Vice President contributes to this parallelism, too. STRINGFELLOW: Yes. WARREN: In their name (??). STRINGFELLOW: Yes. Yes. WARREN: What do you think of Johnson, by the way? STRINGFELLOW: Well, I sort of like him. I--um, overlooking a kind of corniness in his speeches and--[telephone rings]--and, uh, whatnot, I think it's likely that in, that, that he will get more results and in a shorter time. I think that's already been, been documented to some extent in the tax business and the education bill. WARREN: Throw me out when you're ready-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah. WARREN: Just throw me out. How much stereotyping of Johnson of, um, do you see as blank resistance to end because he's a Texan, because he's a Southerner, among negroes (??) among whites? STRINGFELLOW: I don't think so. Yeah. I don't think-- WARREN:--very common-- STRINGFELLOW:--uh, too much. I mean, like, um, Dick Gregory has a gag on this, that of (??), after the assassination, it goes something like after the assassination, twenty million negroes held their breath, and, uh, until Johnson's first address in which he, uh, he put civil rights at the top of the agenda. And then they, Gregory says, "unpacked." And, um, I think also on the record, he, he has a pretty good record in, in Congress and whatnot on civil rights. Um, I don't detect any, uh, any very critical. WARREN: Where else could he go? (??) STRINGFELLOW: Well, okay, that-- WARREN:--I don't know, I'm-- STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. I don't, I don't think there is any alternative. WARREN: I should hope not. I mean, politics being (??) politics. STRINGFELLOW: Of course, surely the Southerner senators recognize that, too. And the, and the debate and so on about the bill and the filibuster--even if there is, is one--I would think is some kind of ceremony. Really not-- WARREN:--just a performer (??) STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. (pause) But that's all right. WARREN: Uh, speaking of people being trapped, as he may be trapped by a moment, what about the, uh, negro leadership and negro rank-and-file being trapped by rhetoric? Trapped by, um, you see, slogans, trapped by, uh, gets them away from, from real issues. STRINGFELLOW: Well, I think in New York that has been the history. You know, they've--they predominantly have voted Democratic in response to the rhetoric of the Democratic politicians, locally and nationally. WARREN: What about the old (??)? STRINGFELLOW: Well, yeah, I mean, to Adam Powell (??), too, for example. WARREN: What about the rhetoric for "Freedom Now," you know? STRINGFELLOW: Yeah, but that's fine for a while, and it's been fine for six years, but I think now there have to be some results, and they have to be results that affect the everyday life of the negro in his tenement, in his school, in his job, or, or chance for a job, in very practical situations like that. So, for example, if the Civil Rights Bill passes tomorrow, that's not the end of the story, and I don't think it even it even more have much impact in the negro community because, uh, it will be so long before the bill, uh, will have any practical consequences. There'll be years of litigation about some of its provisions and, um, and the difficulties of enforcement are, and the possibilities of evasion are just, uh, tremendous in such a bill. We know that because we have such legislation in some of the Northern states and whatnot and, uh, there are very little practical consequences. WARREN: Not to underrate the importance of civil rights but is a question fundamentally a civil rights question at all, a race question? How would you argue that point? STRINGFELLOW: I think it's a lot of things together. I think it is a question of civil rights in the sense, uh, so to speak, what does it mean to be an American citizen? Well, that's as much a question for me as it is for a negro. And, uh, and hopefully, even the negro struggle to be recognized as a citizen, uh, is one that makes my own citizenship more secure. So, it's not merely racial in a sense that it has this focus. Um, but I think it's other things, too. It is now, um, in the terms we were talking of earlier, a matter of whether or not the society will survive in any kind of viable sense. Um--um, there are other things we could do. Like Germany had its, had the problem before the war of, um, how to deal with, uh, 10 or 12 percent of its population, and, um, and they decided rather than, so to speak, integrate them they would try to exterminate them. And--and it seems to me that our choices are roughly those, too. I mean, if there is not integration, uh, as a practical matter, segregation cannot continue, um, um, with the momentum of the protest against it, and therefore the only other social policies that are imaginable are of a very horrendous kind. Of--of confining or exterminating or exporting American negroes, and I hope that the country isn't prepared to, to do anything like that. But, uh, but my point in terms of the possible policies, the only one that has anything, uh, anything to commend it is integration. And for the sake of the negro, sure, as such, so to speak, but also for my own sake and for yours. For all of us. WARREN: As a matter of civil rights--without underestimating that--can be thought of, like the civil rights, as a symptom of something rather than as a disease in itself. It's (??) of syndromes or symptoms. As we attack the symptoms, the civil rights-- STRINGFELLOW:--um-hm-- WARREN:--is important, yes. Denying nothing you said-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--this line of thought, uh, I find for some negroes is very chilling. They don't like to think that way. (??) some mystical values have been attached to civil rights as such. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. WARREN: And this tend to be a middle-aged negro's response, do you see what I mean? STRINGFELLOW: I think two things. One is, on one hand, there is a certain uniqueness to the negro cause. I mean, plenty of other people have, uh, suffered discrimination, and so on, in this country, but nobody ever, nobody else has the inheritance of--uh, slavery. Um, not the Jews, not the Italians, not any of the immigrant groups. WARREN: They also have a cultural background, a kind of cultural continuity. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. Yes. WARREN: Do you understand? STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. But really the cultural background of the American negro is American. WARREN: Of course, the American negro is more like the old Yankee, the old Southerner than any like the mass of the American population. Does that make sense to you? STRINGFELLOW: Yes, it does. Um, but the other thing is Baldwin's point, of course. When he says he doesn't want to be integrated into a burning house. Well, I, I agree with that. That, the negro revolution poses the much deeper issue of--um, what kind of society this is and is to be. Or, perhaps, if you will, should be. WARREN: Let me turn it around a little bit. Is this basically, um, a middle-class movement, a middle-class revolution, the aspirations are to get in on the American middle-class values. (??) Or, is the question a false question? STRINGFELLOW: No, I don't think it is a false question. And I think that, um. That, um. I don't know. This is just a guess but my impression would be for most of the participants in it, now that the rank-and-file people are involved, it's the first that is an aspiration for assimilation to the middle-class. WARREN: A yearning for the middle-class? STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. But I think, I mean there are some voices exactly like Baldwin's who are saying that, uh, and who see the issue as a, as a critique and condemnation even for the middle-class (??) And-- WARREN:--do you think-- STRINGFELLOW:--and at that point I would join the second group. WARREN: Do you see what Baldwin's writings are plans for him? What kind of, uh--[telephone rings]--vision he has for society to come? STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. WARREN: That you could see that-- STRINGFELLOW:--well-- WARREN:--a governing vision? STRINGFELLOW: I don't think he does. I mean I haven't seen it either, you know, yet. And while I'm very sympathetic towards all this, or most of his indictment, uh--I wait to hear from him somewhere in the terms that we're talking earlier about reconciliation. About how there can be some kind of integrity and unity in, in society that transcends race. And I don't think-- WARREN:-- (??) as far as I can make out possibly any vision at all, do you? STRINGFELLOW: Well, I think there are damn few who do. White men or black men. Well, I don't think the issue has even been addressed yet. WARREN: It's high time some negro did. STRINGFELLOW: I agree. In fact, our friend, Mrs. Hedgeman-- WARREN:--yes. STRINGFELLOW: Is able to be more articulate about this than any negro that I know. Um, I was just, I've just been thinking about that, as a matter of fact, some kind of a--I mean, the time has come to talk about, how do you love your enemy? And--and not, how do you love if you're a negro, or a white man, or vice versa. For anymore of the, of the kind of egalitarian propositions because they're, I think, pretty empty anyway but a much more, a much tougher phrase (??). WARREN: You know, you must know Dr. Kenneth Clark. STRINGFELLOW: Yes. WARREN: You know, his critique of, um, Martin Luther King. STRINGFELLOW: Um-hm. WARREN: Being placed on, you know, psychological, uh, pattern, you don't--toward the aggression, it's sick--it makes you sick. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. WARREN: Does that make any sense to you? [telephone rings] STRINGFELLOW: Yes. I think it does. WARREN: I've asked this question to some negro, he said, he talks of the natural man but, uh, King is talking of the redeemed man. STRINGFELLOW: To the redeemed man? WARREN: The other redeemed man. It's the way of redemption, (??) Clark is talking of the natural man, not the redeemed man. STRINGFELLOW: Yeah. But I would say then, it's exactly in, in the actual event of--uh, the hostility or the aggression of another that a man is, that a man's redemption is worked out. WARREN: Yes, but it's, it's working in that process by some--something that's happened, some spiritual chemistry is taken place in this process. So, my friend (??) and Dr. Clark cannot conceive of that, so he says the natural man according to, you know, psychological pattern (??). He wouldn't accept the data. I'll say an actual performance (??) on a picket line. Is this line-- STRINGFELLOW:--yeah-- WARREN:--appeal to you (??) STRINGFELLOW: But I mean, there--there is a precedent after all. I mean, uh, I mean, the crucifixion itself is the precedent, and it's that and not particularly, uh, nonviolence as a political or even a revolutionary tactic, a la Gandhi. Um, but I think a different character in which the--the in which love volunteers to, to accept and bear whatever, uh, one's enemy, uh, offers and whatever one's, one's enemy does or says is not destructive of the love, even though he may end up dead. If you love, if you love the world in that way, and if you love another in that way. [telephone rings] WARREN: I suppose we'd better-- [Tape 1 ends.] [End of interview.] William Stringfellow (1928-1985) was a human rights lawyer, Episcopalian lay theologian, and social activist. At the age of fifteen Stringfellow entered Bates College in Lewisburg, Maine and during his junior year organized a sit in at a local Maine restaurant to challenge its policy of segregation. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1956, Stringfellow moved to Harlem, New York where he worked with poor African Americans and Latinos. He defended a diverse population including victimized tenants, poor persons who were victims of social exclusion, and sexual offenders. Stringfellow was involved with the World Student Christian Federation, the World Council of Churches, the Episcopalian Church (Anglican), and the Sojourners community of Washington, DC. Throughout the 1960s Stringfellow was actively involved in the civil rights movement and later became an activist in the antiwar movement. He wrote many works including My People Is the Enemy (1964) that described his life in Harlem. In this interview William Stringfellow discusses the civil rights movement, segregation, and American political leaders. He describes the role of nonviolence in the civil rights movement and proposes practical measures that could be taken to stop violence within the movement. Stringfellow talks about African American leadership within the civil rights movement and the state of the civil rights movement as a mass movement. He considers Reverend Milton Galamison's fight for school integration and explains the relationship between school segregation and segregated neighborhoods and housing. Stringfellow also provides his opinion of political leaders including Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Abraham Lincoln. Civil Rights