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1964-05-07 Interview with Ruth Turner, May 7, 1964 RPWCR001:03OH32RPWCR21 01:37:55 Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Turner, Ruth--Interviews Congress of Racial Equality Civil rights movements School integration African American women civil rights workers African Americans--Social conditions African Americans--Economic conditions Cleveland (Ohio)--Race relations White civil rights workers African Americans--Ohio--Cleveland--Relations with other minorities School integration--Ohio--Cleveland Educational equalization--Ohio--Cleveland African Americans--Ohio--Cleveland--Economic conditions African Americans--Education--Ohio--Cleveland Civil rights legislation African American--Civil rights Segregation in education--United States Discrimination in housing Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Views on slavery Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Views on race relations Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) Lee, Robert E. (Robert Edward), 1807-1870 African American leadership African Americans--Race identity Civil rights--Leadership Ruth Turner; interviewee Robert Penn Warren; interviewer 03OH32RPWCR21_Turner 1:|39(5)|63(11)|89(3)|104(6)|127(2)|147(3)|173(9)|199(4)|221(5)|240(3)|256(9)|270(2)|289(8)|311(2)|330(7)|359(1)|381(2)|399(5)|422(1)|444(7)|467(2)|492(2)|510(5)|530(9)|545(11)|565(13)|602(8)|634(2)|646(12)|671(6)|709(3)|722(8)|739(2)|755(2)|776(5)|797(8)|818(3)|838(4)|856(9)|870(1)|907(8)|937(4)|951(4)|964(11)|982(2)|1002(1)|1018(6)|1033(8)|1046(2)|1062(3)|1077(13)|1099(6)|1112(7)|1127(5)|1148(2)|1171(2)|1187(5)|1201(7)|1218(14)|1238(4)|1261(5)|1278(4)|1292(5)|1303(2)|1325(12)|1338(2)|1357(6)|1382(9)|1410(5)|1431(11)|1452(9)|1471(5)|1492(3)|1505(2)|1520(11)|1537(4)|1559(4)|1577(12)|1597(14)|1612(10)|1629(13)|1650(8)|1668(5)|1688(4)|1707(5)|1735(3)|1753(3)|1769(2)|1788(3)|1803(1)|1819(6)|1838(4)|1852(8)|1871(13)|1884(9)|1903(5)|1918(2)|1932(8) audiotrans rpwcr interview WARREN:-- (??) Fresh tape, proceed. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Uh, Ms. Turner--where were you born? Just get (??) a little biography on this first. TURNER: I was born in Chicago, Illinois. WARREN: I understand you were educated partly in--in Berlin, is that, that right? TURNER: That's correct. After completing, um, my undergraduate training at Oberlin College, I spent one year at the Freie (??) University at West Berlin. WARREN: And you're a German teacher by profession, is that right? TURNER: That's right. WARREN: And you said (??) studied German at Oberlin? TURNER: Uh, yes, I had. I was a German major at Oberlin. WARREN: Yes. Let's see (??). [Pause in recording.] WARREN: little closer (??). TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: How did you happen to go to Germany? TURNER: Well, I received a German government grant, um, from the German government, um, upon graduation from Oberlin. WARREN: Just for, for the purpose of, of studying? TURNER: For the purpose of studying, yes. WARREN: Then you came here to, uh, Cleveland to teach in the public schools? TURNER: Well, not directly. I spent one year after returning from Germany at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where I received a master of arts in teaching. WARREN: And then out here? TURNER: And then out here. WARREN: Uh, tell me about how you came to leave teaching, uh--and then to devote yourself fully to the work of CORE. Was this a long, long process, or a, or a sudden decision? How did it come about? TURNER: Well, I was the chairman of the chapter here in Cleveland from November 1962 to June 1963. The events in Birmingham, uh, brought about the rather sudden decision. I felt that after what occurred there that I could no longer continue teaching German at a time like this. And again, I began looking for ways in which to work in the civil rights movement on a fulltime basis. WARREN: But you had been, you say, uh, connected with CORE for some time before that? TURNER: Yes, I had been. I was chairman in, uh--here in Cleveland and I was also working with CORE in Boston. WARREN: How long back does that fact go, that connection with CORE? TURNER: The connection with CORE as an organization goes back really, uh, to the year in Boston, uh, when I became involved, but I had been involved with civil rights organizations, oh, ever since being a teenager. WARREN: People I've talked to about the Cleveland situation, and some in Cleveland are very pessimistic about the immediate future here. Do you want to talk about the local situation a bit? TURNER: Yes, I think-- WARREN:--it seems highly polarized now? TURNER: I think it is very unfortunate. Um, we have a polarized community here by virtue of the fact that a vacuum has been created in the white community through apathy. That vacuum has been filled by people who would rather, uh, prevent the civil rights movement from achieving its goals. The people in leadership positions such as the president of the board of education, our mayor, who would rather scream communism than address themselves to the real grievances that lie behind the protests now. Uh, in view of the fact that they are the ones who take the leadership and have organized around the principle of, of keeping down the movement and totally misunderstanding the movement, we have reached a point where I am afraid the community is rather polarized. The outlook then for the immediate future looks a little bleak. However, for the, the long range future, um, this may be a different story. WARREN: There is considerable, uh, white support within a, um, within a certain segment, isn't the clergy here (??)? TURNER: Yes, there is considerable white support. The clergy has come out very strongly in favor of the goals of the freedom movement. Uh, there is also considerable support in suburban communities, but our major problem is that the white community in Cleveland has seen only way--has seen only one way to express itself and that is through, uh, uh, well, a misunderstanding of the goals of the movement and has received no leadership to help them understand the goals of the movement. WARREN: Now, in some cities you find, at least, an uncommitted body of opinion that is more or less, uh, willing to approach matters practically, if not with, uh, high idealism. TURNER: Yes. WARREN: A kind of moderate or frankly liberal sentiment which is malleable. TURNER: Yes. WARREN: But, but in those cities frequently you don't find any committed body of leadership in the church or in other organizations. Now, here you have the reversed situation, don't you? How do you account for that? TURNER: Well, uh, it is a bit strange. I don't know if you would consider it the reverse of that. We still have a large mass of uncommitted people. Uh, but, um-- WARREN:--who are not polarized? TURNER: Uh, no, uh--we have a, I think we do have a large number of people who are not polarized or if given a second chance to rethink their position, would pull away from the polarizations already taken place? I again feel that it is the function of the leadership in the white community. The only voices that have spoken out up to this point have been the voices which would help to polarize the community. I do not give up the white community for lost, however, because I feel that if other leaderships spoke out, that many of those who find themselves on the other side of the fence could also find their way back over. WARREN: What is the role of the white liberal in the freedom movement? What is his function, position? TURNER: Of course, we have quite a bit of discussion about whether the people who are really involved in our movement are liberals. Um, think that, perhaps, another name is more appropriate. WARREN: All right. TURNER: (??)-- WARREN:--you want the save the nasty word for other people, is that it? TURNER: (laughs) We would call them the "white committed." And we feel that their role, as it has been exhibited in Cleveland, is a very strong supportive role. Uh, in many instances a very strong leadership role in their own communities. Um, there is a definite role for the white committed person; the person who is willing as, as the Reverend Bruce Klunder was, to, to lay down his life for the cause in which he believed. There certainly is a role for that person. WARREN: You were present at that event, weren't you? TURNER: Yes, I was. I didn't see it but I was at the scene at the time. WARREN: I understand that you did a great deal to try to, uh, quiet the mob stance (??), after the event, the attack on the, the driver of the bulldozer? TURNER: Yes, well, that occurred about 3:30 or 4:00 when the construction had stopped and the, um, policemen were attempting to send the mob home. We knew they were angry. They were justifiably angry. They had been provoked considerably by the actions of the police that day. Yet, we felt that there was no cause to be served (??) to that point by exploding there in the community. Uh, we attempted to quiet them and to send them home. WARREN: In the attack on the, um, bulldozer driver, that occurred immediately, didn't it? TURNER: Yes, it did. And it was not a, it was not a mass attack. There was one, uh, young man who went, who, who became hysterical after seeing, uh, the Reverend Klunder run over. WARREN: Only one person was involved in the attack? TURNER: That's right, in a, in a bodily attack. Now there were sticks and stones thrown at the policemen, too. But in terms of actually attacking the, the driver, there was only person involved in that. WARREN: That wasn't the way the press reported it, in some places anyway. TURNER: No, it wasn't. TIME magazine carried a deliberate distortion of that. WARREN: I saw the TIME report. But you saw this with your own eyes, didn't you? TURNER: I didn't see this with my own eyes. This was reported to me by eyewitnesses. There was one person who attacked the driver; a young man who went berserk after seeing--or temporarily at least--after seeing the death of, uh, Reverend Klunder. WARREN: Did, um, any sticks or stones find their way to the driver? TURNER: Not to my knowledge, although I think most of the sticks and stones were thrown at the policemen. WARREN: Could you see a situation where this, uh, explosive violence, which you helped to stem, could serve a useful purpose? TURNER: Well, this is the whole purpose of the nonviolent demonstration and, and protest action; we try to channel the justifiably, uh, intense feelings of people who have gone through and who lived under the system. We try to channel, channel them in ways which will be creative and will bring about constructive changes. WARREN: Excuse me a minute (??). [Pause in recording.] WARREN: I noticed again from TIME magazine that Mr. Elie, Lolis Elie in New Orleans, with whom I had conversations like this--two long ones, in fact--now says if violence comes this summer, he would make, take no step to curb it in New Orleans. TURNER: Well, I think there's a point at which the curbing can no longer be done. Uh, I feel that it is primarily the drive of the law enforcement agencies to curb violence. This is a heavy responsibility for citizens. I feel that we should take those steps that we can, but I'm also realist enough to know that if wide scale mob violence breaks out, um, that I would be no, no longer be in a position to curb it. Um--and I think this violence has to be seen as an expression of such tremendous discontent. And, and an expression of tremendous frustrations that have built up over a long period of time. And no one person can stop them. [knock on door] I think it's too much to ask that one person attempt to stop it. [knock on door] [Pause in recording.] WARREN: The other day I was talking with Mr. Stringfellow, um, whom you may or may not know or know about. He's white, a white man. Very much interested in and committed to the freedom movement. He says, in predicting violence in Harlem this summer, that the white man's role is to accept it. To put his hands down and take the brickbat, or the knife, or whatever it is. He takes a totally--I say, what about the cops then? What should they do? What should the cops do in that case? TURNER: Well, unfortunately, the policemen, if they behave in other places like they do here, uh, are also unfortunate tools of, of a power structure which has failed to understand the dynamics of the protests, and consequently are not understanding anything about the people with whom they deal. Not been able to deal with the situation in any kind of constructive way. That's why police brutality takes place, and, of course, police brutality breeds more violence. Um, I feel that clearly at some point, um, the policemen ought to step in to prevent loss of life and limb, but they should not be there to prevent one side of the loss of life and limb as has been the case. Um, an example here is that on Murray Hill (??), where a mob rioted out of control. Uh, a white mob, I'm, let me say (??) to say, the police made no attempt whatsoever to curb them. Permitted them to riot. Refused to take horses there because they said it would incite the mob to more violence. And yet, Lakeview (??) site, with a smaller number of people, they did use their horses, they charged the crowd, and, again, they did what they said they couldn't do elsewhere. WARREN: Tell me this, what is the ethnic situation, aside from the negro/white collisions that have occurred here? TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: There's some talk that there are other ethnic complications involved in these, um, collisions besides the negro/white. That the Italian section is involved. The Poles are involved. Can you give me a breakdown on that? TURNER: Well, this is quite true. That we have in Cleveland ethnic pockets, uh, in the city of Cleveland, which, uh, jealously guard their own traditions and their own way of doing things. Often, uh, these, this, this way of doing things runs counter to the mood and the--the progress of the entire community. Um, and this, of course, complicates the situation. But I don't think it can be said that these people are responsible for the kind of violence that takes place. I think white ordinary Americans who don't belong to ethnic groups will respond in the same way if challenged. WARREN: If challenged, but the challenge now is primarily to say that Polish pockets and the Italian pockets? TURNER: Through the education issue the challenge-- WARREN:--through the education issue? TURNER: The challenge has been primarily at these ethnic pockets, that's correct. WARREN: Is it an unfortunate fact, do you think that has to be dealt with? Or, would there be ways, um, of avoiding this collision with these special, highly, uh, homogeneous groups? TURNER: There would be ways of colliding only with them, uh, if the commitment of the school board at this point was to citywide integration and to implementing those plans to bring about. I don't think that these ethnic groups would feel as though they were selected or, uh, isolated. Uh, that this would be something that would involve the West Side as well. WARREN: They feel that they are isolated and must protect themselves and they're discriminated against, too, is that right? TURNER: I guess that's their feeling, yes. I think there's, there's a real strong in-group, out-group feeling there. WARREN: What do you think of the theory that some sociologists present, that as an ethnic minority achieves equality, the tendency is not to bleed off into the surrounding society but come back together? TURNER: Yeah. I'm--I'm not, not a real student of sociology, although I'm acquainted with that theory. Um, that may be true. It has worked in certain instances with Jewish community. Um, I think it has worked here in Cleveland with certain elements-- WARREN:--that's your observation here-- TURNER:--of the Italian and Polish community, yes. WARREN: Would that work with the negro, do you think? TURNER: We've never had an opportunity to find out. WARREN: No. TURNER: Because-- WARREN: --you must have some, some (??) supposition about it though? TURNER: Yes, well, my supposition is that, uh, it may very well be true that if all the barriers were lifted that negroes after having the experience of equal opportunity would still choose to live together. WARREN: There would be no, uh, nothing to prove? TURNER: No, that's right. But I think that the protest here is in, in the fact that, uh, equal opportunity is very much restricted by, by denying them that the opportunity to break out of the, the ghetto. That's been obvious, uh, because when negroes are consolidated in the ghetto, they are more easily exploited. Uh, they are more easily mistreated and overlooked by the powers that be. And this is why inferior education, housing and employment opportunities are, are realities in the ghetto situation. WARREN: What's the negro vote like in, um, Cleveland? How much registration is there here? TURNER: There's, uh, more registration than, uh, than actual voting and there's not enough registration. That's one of our programs for the summer; to register more voters and to begin to make our political power felt. WARREN: What is the ratio roughly of population to registration, here? That is, the potential registration population and the actual registration, what's the ratio? TURNER: I wouldn't be qualified to answer that with any real, uh, certainty. I know that they certainly aren't the numbers registered that could be. This is what our job is. Uh, to make sure that that full potential is realized. I couldn't say. WARREN: How much trouble do you have with negro apathy? TURNER: We have-- WARREN:--about--excuse me. One, about voting; two, about civil rights in general. TURNER: Um-hm. The apathy toward civil rights is being broken down. Uh, I think from the very fact that we had a 92 percent effective boycott, school boycott here in Cleveland on April the twentieth, it points up that, uh, the negro community can be brought out of apathy, and is, in fact, less apathetic than the white community. Now, in terms of translating that kind of involvement on the civil rights issue in, into a political issue, that's going to take newer organization. It's going to take a new approach to the community. We have to be, to help them to translate into the, uh, political arena. But I feel that the problem with apathy in the community is not, uh, doesn't reside so much in the negro community, as it resides with the white community. WARREN: In general, let's say that's true, but there, there is a, uh, the tale you hear everywhere from negroes when they're speaking in sort of an unbuttoned way-- TURNER:--um-hm-- WARREN:--that apathy is a great problem. TURNER: Surely it is. Surely it is but I'm-- WARREN:--there are many different reasons for the apathy. TURNER: That's right; that's right. U, it's quite understandable to me that a person has to worry as most of the people here in (??) have to worry about where the next meal and, and where the next rent payment is coming from, have little time left over to concern themselves with the rights of, of other men. I think this is a matter of economic deprivation. Um--and some of that we'll not be able to overcome. The society has created it. But at the same time, um, I'm encouraged by the fact that we can communicate with 92 percent of negro parents to get them to keep their children out of school. Uh, this shows to me that, that the, uh, apathy can be broken down. And we, we're going to do it. WARREN: Is it strange to you, as it is to me, offhand, that Tennessee, Memphis-- 'The Capitol of the Mississippi Delta,' cotton country. TURNER: Um-hm, um-hm. WARREN: Has a very highly organized negro vote that's very effective as a bargaining basis. Nashville has. And Cleveland does not have. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: How would you account for that? TURNER: I would account for that, uh, in the following way. Um, I think that the entire negro community in Memphis was forced to learn, um, the brutal facts of segregation through civil rights demonstrations long before the entire community of Cleveland was. Cleveland has always been known as a citadel of tokenism. It has always been the place where people thought they were doing all right, and unless you have concrete evidence to the contrary, you might, you'd like, you'd like to believe that. Now we have given them concrete evidence to the contrary in the last few months. In the last few months there's been a lot more awareness in the negro community. That police brutality does in fact exist that they see it on television. You know, um, they know it individually but now the whole community has a chance to be reminded of it. Uh, but I think the fact that we now have a movement, uh, here in Cleveland--at least the beginnings of it--is going to make a difference, uh, uh, in terms of our political organization. WARREN: Was there ever a kind of negro vote here which could be delivered to one political party? TURNER: Surely, surely. And that's been the pattern. In fact, it's a pattern in most Northern cities, that, uh, the negro was organized politically all right, but it was organized by the machine and the machine delivered the votes and, uh, no one ever challenged that. Now we're challenging that. We're asking the community now to act as an independent body and, and use their vote. WARREN: Now, wasn't that machine an educational use of the vote? TURNER: Beg your pardon? WARREN: Wasn't that political machine that exhibiting (??) the Negro vote an, an education in voting, in the power of the ballot? TURNER: No, not really, because it was not used in an independent way. Um, it was--the machine, in a sense, uh, was used by certain individuals to give individual benefits. Um, it has not been used as the voice of the community--[knock on door]--or of the entire community. In other words-- [Pause in recording.] TURNER: There's another problem here that we have to consider, too. And that is, the machine in the North has been misleading because it was dominated by negroes. Uh, in other words, uh, it was easier to be fooled by thinking that these people were actually delivering the vote for the negro, uh, community when it was not. [Pause in recording.] TURNER: Just to explain again what I mean by misleading. Even though the machine here is white-dominated, um, the negro community could've, could and was easily fooled by the fact that the negro still seemed to be in prominence. We had negro councilmen. We had, uh, negro judges, and consequently it looked as though the negro vote was being developed--delivered for negro purposes when in fact it's the same kind of, um, of maneuvering that went, that went on in the South, one step removed. Um, in other words, I think it's going to require a good deal more organization in the North to break down the pattern than it did in the South, where the racial lines were so much obvious. WARREN: Do you know anything about the relation of the father of, um, Martin Luther King Jr. to this whole question of, of power? TURNER: No, I don't. WARREN: Of political (??) power? TURNER: No, I don't. WARREN: I wondered if you did. And I don't know--what I know--is, uh, Dr. King says his father stood in a mediate position in the historical development, you see. So, he would put it in stage of this development. That leads to the matter of, say, development. How would you, um, describe the stages of development in the negro, uh, life vis-a-vis, white life, white society since the Civil War? TURNER: Hm. WARREN: Do you see clearly defined stages? TURNER: Um-- WARREN:--or is it more of the same, more of the same? TURNER: No, it's not more of the same. I think we have now a generation which is markedly different from the generation which preceded it. In an essence, I could talk about my father, who was a hard worker, uh, but who struggled, um, to raise a family of five. And, in fact, was so engaged in the struggle of survival that could he, that he could not, uh, give his attention to the problems which he felt very deeply and met every day, and, yet, in an organized way couldn't do anything about it. He was not free to do so. But he made it possible for me. Uh, gave me the equipment, made sure that I had the equipment, you know, to, to begin to do something about these problems. And I think this is true of many of us in this generation. There is a certain backlog of security which our parents did not have by virtue of their parents really having to struggle, uh, which, which enables us--a certain backlog of security and self-confidence, let me say, that enables us to tackle the problem in a much more general way than our parents were able to do so. WARREN: In the nineteen, in the 1930s, there was great provocation, poverty, and distress, and oppressions for the negro, plus the crisis of the Depression. Why no, uh, freedom movement then? Why did it wait thirty years or thirty-five years? TURNER: Um-hm. Well, I don't know. I'm, I'm a great believer that--the history is created by the times and the individuals, uh, who live in those times. Um, I feel that one of the reasons maybe--now this is just speculation--is that the entire country was in something of a, of a similar situation. In the thirties, at least. Uh, in fact, that maybe it wasn't quite so easy to distinguish between the suffering of blacks and the suffering of whites as expressed in the labor movement. I don't know. I'm--this is just, this is just a possibility. Of course, the blacks have always suffered independently, um, and much more so than anyone else. WARREN: Where was the leadership, in the thirties? The main negro leadership? TURNER: I believe it was channeled pretty much in the labor movement. Uh--and, therefore it was not fighting a, a black battle per se; it was fighting labor battle, um, in which in a sense was distracted from the, the strength of the, the negro community. WARREN: But the negroes were even farther outside the labor movement then than they are now. TURNER: Right, but they were making some kind of gains. The CIO was forming, uh, in the beginning--well, in the thirties--that's not true; in the forties, it's more true. Actually, I should let Dave answer that because he's a student of history and I'm not. WARREN: What I am getting at is this, uh, Ms. Turner. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: I'm going, I'm leading (??) the question of process, the sense of the historical process. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: Now, some people if asked about "Freedom Now," will say, uh, now. TURNER: Yes. WARREN: Or, will say in the past, there will always in (??) accident, didn't it, it didn't happen thirty years ago or forty years ago. TURNER: No, it's not a matter of accident. WARREN: Not a matter of accident? TURNER: No, it's not. Uh--the real combination of factors, though, I can't spell out. And I really haven't given a lot of attention to it but I don't believe that it was accident. WARREN: Let me try this as one factor. Thirty years ago there was not enough educated leadership among the negroes. TURNER: That's true. That's sort of what I hit on when I said that my father was not able-- WARREN:--yeah. TURNER: Uh, was not in a position to remove himself from his own struggle for survival and think in terms of the general struggle. He didn't have the equipment. WARREN: You must be aware that if I should say that to many negroes they'd be very angry. TURNER: I imagine so. Um, but I think it's realistic-- WARREN:--I can testify to that. TURNER: Yeah. I, I think it's a realistic appraisal, though. WARREN: They'd be angry because it seems to imply the process means time. You see, and freedom now is outside of time, now. Do you see what I am getting at? TURNER: Yeah. WARREN: How do you, how do you interpret freedom now in the light of your previous, uh, basis to process? TURNER: Hm. Shut it off a minute, let me think. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: About "Freedom Now," Ms. Turner. TURNER: Yeah, well, "Freedom Now"--and this is perhaps one of the most frustrating experiences of someone who's committed to it--is to a certain extent irrelative. I would say it is less relative now than it would've been twenty years ago. Um, "Freedom Now" probably was a slogan of many people in the thirties, and, yet, there were certain conditions, certain factors which prohibited that from becoming a reality, and, and we might just talk about them again. Some of the relevant ones at least. I've pointed to the idea that self confidence seems to be the mark of, of the present leadership. Uh, an intense pride in being black, which was not the case twenty years ago. And I think it is very correctly assessed to be the result of the African and Asian revolutions. WARREN: Let me take a point there and go off on a side track. Speaking of pride of being black, DuBois and other negro writers have talked about the psychic split of the negro in America, the pull toward the "mystique noir," the pull toward Africanism, the pull toward even the American negro tradition, as opposed to the Judaic Christian white Western European tradition, a real split. TURNER: Yes. WARREN: Do you feel this split, an impulse? TURNER: Yes. WARREN: You do? TURNER: I do. WARREN: How do you deal with it? TURNER: Uh, it's not, it doesn't represent any problem to me because I think that, uh, by drawing on both traditions, uh, I think I have broadened horizons for me. I am an American and therefore, of course, share in the Judaic Christian Western civilization, but I'm also aware of the fact that I share in another civilization, which I think broadens me and broadens other people in the movement. Uh--we have a, you know, the strength of, of belonging to, to two communities in a sense. Uh--and they complement each other. WARREN: What about these Italians down the street? TURNER: Um-- WARREN:--that you were deploring a few minutes ago? TURNER: No, I wasn't really deploring them. I feel that, uh, unfortunately-- WARREN:--hang on a minute; I have to change this tape. TURNER: Yeah, sure. [Tape 1 ends; tape 2 begins.] WARREN: This is tape 2 of a conversation with Ms. Turner at CORE, Cleveland, Ohio, May seventh, continue. [Pause in recording.] WARREN: Where were we? TURNER: I think we were talking about Africa, weren't we? WARREN: Ready to ask you about the--the Italians down the street. TURNER: Oh. WARREN: And the Poles. TURNER: Yeah, well, in a sense I feel sorry for them. I feel that they're belonging to two not very different cultures--but still, somewhat different--has not broadened their experience. They have interpreted their belonging to an Italian--well, to an Italian community as, as something that does not help them to understand, uh, the broadening implications of that could mean. I think that, I feel as though our experience was broadened by belonging to more than one. WARREN: But theirs was not? TURNER: And I don't believe theirs is. I think they interpret that belonging in, in terms of, of Americanism, which, um, has unfortunately, um, not seen the creative value of belonging to lots of different, um, you know, in-groups. I think that, uh, Americanism has attempted to, to in a sense make American any other kind of identification, or at least, uh, to interpret Americanism, um, and interpret this kind of belonging through American traditions. And has not been broadening. WARREN: Do I gather you believe in a fair (??) pluralistic society where you have a variety of, uh, heritages and attitudes enriching society? Is that it? TURNER: Yes, I do believe in a pluralistic society. I, I believe in the kind of society where a man can feel proud of being an Italian and American at the same time and do not see those in any way contradictory. I feel/see (??) for the negro community that a negro should be able to be proud to come from African tradition, uh, to have developed a certain tradition of his own here, and at the same time take part in a more American tradition, uh--at the same time and not feel, uh, in fact, and feel broadened by that belonging. WARREN: Suppose he feels that over a period of time--time unspecified-- his racial identity disappears entirely, then what should he feel? What would you think of that? What would you feel, to be absorbed in an American bloodstream? TURNER: Well, unfortunately, the melting pot, pot has had a pretty, uh, homogeneous and uninteresting flavor to me. Uh, if it could be a true melting pot where the contributions of various groups are acknowledged as such, and that various groups are permitted to make the contributions that they could make and it is accepted as such, then it could be something of value, but unfortunately, it has become a grey mass of, uh, mediocrity. And I reject the melting pot idea if it means that everybody has to come down to the same standard. Uh, if, uh, losing one's racial identity means becoming a part of a grey homogeneous mixture, then I, I say it's not worth it. WARREN: Have you read a recent book by Oscar Handlin called Fire-bell in the Night? TURNER: No, I haven't. WARREN: He makes the point that the distinction between equality and integration is crucial. That, um, many people in the negro movement now failed to make that distinction, have created (??) have equated (??) integration to a shibboleth, forgetting the real issue. TURNER: I would agree. WARREN: You would agree with that? TURNER: Yes, I feel that, uh, those who concentrate on integration and ending segregation have much too narrow a goal because I feel that the basic issue here is restoring to this country--well, maybe not restoring but implementing for the first time, uh, economic justice, social justice, political justice, and that goes far beyond the bounds of, of ending segregation per se. WARREN: Let's take a case that's a little different from the way you propose it now. In the New York schools, for certain people, like Reverend Galamison, integration is crucial. TURNER: Uh-hm. WARREN: Immediate integration. Bus them in, bus them out. Stir up dust. That's the main thing. Without that, he says, let the public schools go to hell. Maybe they've served their purpose (??) anyway--he said this, you see. Now, uh, that is an extreme integrationist's position. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: Now, the other position is held by, uh, people like, uh, those of standing (??), like Dr. Kenneth Clark and other negroes who will say the main thing is not integration; the main thing is equality. Because we have to have a period of adaptation, given a rough situation like that. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: Where we have a crash program for equality at schools, and equality (??) politics but don't make integration, as such, a panacea. That's something to be worked toward. TURNER: Well, let me put it this way-- WARREN:--how would you put it? TURNER: I would say that, uh, the goal is certainly quality education for all children but I don't think we can overlook the fact that failure to integrate the school system means that for a negro child that is not, uh, a goal which he (??) could attain. In other words, I think the end towards which we are striving and the end toward which all of our programs here in Cleveland have been directed is quality education for all, but at the same time we would emphasize very strongly--we would insist, in fact, that integration must be part of that total plan. Integration, however, of a poor school system leaves an integrated poor school system. It does not solve the basic problems of quality education. WARREN: What do you think offhand about the busing system? TURNER: Well, I think it's-- WARREN:--in New York? TURNER: I think it's a means to an end. Uh, it cannot be seen as an end in itself. WARREN: Would it achieve its end, given the New York system, the New York situation? TURNER: Well, I'm sure the New York situation would be somewhat like ours. I think that busing will achieve the end, and I think here we have to go a bit further. We have to see that the majority group is concerned about the education of its children. And when there is a minority group, which is isolated from the majority, um, they are not gonna be concerned about the education of that minority. Now, the goal of integration, um, the immediate goal would be to put negro and white children in the same situation, so that the concern, which is not there for moral reasons, has to be there for selfish reasons. In other words, they're gonna be concerned about a school system in which their children are located. Um, and that is, you know, one of the reasons why integration has to take place. WARREN: Now, let's distinguish, let's distinguish two things here. Uh, if one is assured, say in Harlem, that there will be this crash half billion (??) dollar program immediately put into effect. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: Will integrate high schools, say, but not integrated grade schools because they can't--the projection really can't be done, say, with the movement toward integration--integration not as the, as the means but as an end. The equality being the --being the means taken on right now. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: Not sacrificing any principle, you see, in the matter. As a practical matter, how would you feel about that? Or, would you say integration or death on those schools now? TURNER: No, I, I wouldn't take that position. I would not say integration or death. I would say, however, that, um, it is too easy to feel that by putting in half a million dollars or half a billion dollars into a segregated school system that you're eliminating the evil of the segregation. Uh, I feel that I would rather put much of that money or begin to make similar plans to put much more, uh, money into creating the kind of integrated school system, um, and that is something of the future. But put, I think if we put too much attention on improving the quality of education without, uh, putting at least as much, if not much more attention, uh, on the problem of creating an integrated school system, which will be vastly superior to anything we have now, then we're gonna find ourselves in a continued, uh, uh, dilemma. WARREN: You mean, separate but equal, you mean? TURNER: That's right. Separate but equal. WARREN: Well, suppose that's not the objective. Suppose on reasonable ground the practical difficulties are, are so great that you can't get the integration now-- TURNER:--uh-hm. WARREN: You can simply try to bleed toward integration, as it were. You can do it at the high school level. TURNER: Um-hm. WARREN: But you can't do it at, at the first to eight grades. TURNER: Well, I would agree. I mean, in a sense, you cannot abolish-- um, here, for example, we're talking about planning educational parks-- WARREN:--yes. TURNER: Now clearly-- WARREN:--in Cleveland, you mean-- TURNER:--in Cleveland, yes-- WARREN:--yeah-- TURNER:--we would like to see the creation of educational parks. Well, in the time span between now and the time that these educational parks are created, we still have the problem of educating children where they are. Now, clearly, you're going to need, uh, a crash program. You're gonna need upgraded quality in those schools until the time when you can create that kind of system. Um, I think I would--if that is, indeed, Mr. Clark's position I would tend to agree. We have to focus our attention on what the, what the panacea is going to be, and that is an integrated school system, and we have to plan for that. But in the meantime, we have to upgrade the quality of the schools with which we are now working, and in which children now find themselves. WARREN: According to the morning's Times, um, um, Harlem (??) opinion tends now to veer toward the crash program and play down integration as--as an either end or device. TURNER: Who says this? WARREN: The New York Times this morning. TURNER: And who's plan, who's doing this? WARREN: This is simply a news story. I mean an analysis of the present situation in, in Harlem. TURNER: Um-hm, yeah. WARREN: Excuse me a second here-- [Tape 2 ends; tape 3 begins.] WARREN: This is tape 3 of the conversation with Mr. Cohen and Ms. Turner, proceed. You were going to say something, Mr. Cohen, about, uh, Mr. Farmer and Dr. King on the matter of self-improvement and Stalin (??). COHEN: Yeah, uh, it seems to me that the appropriate thing for Jim Farmer to have done was not to have done things that appeared to be, uh, uh, blocking off the expression of hostility and resentment that occurred in the Brooklyn chapter of CORE, but rather to develop programs for other chapters of the national office, which adequately express that same sense of frustration in the ways that Mr. Farmer thought appropriate. Now, quite obviously, the World's Fair demonstration that he and Bayard Rustin led was a hastily put together, very expensive operation, uh, in which I suspect very few of the people who participated deeply believed. Uh, it was an attempt to, uh, to answer in a, uh, pretty pedestrian fashion what Brooklyn CORE was doing. I suspect that there were other kinds of action projects, uh, that the national office could've come up with that would have projected the same, the same sense of hostility and frustration in a way that was, uh, acceptable. It seems to me that the response to such hostility has to always be programmatic and it also, it always has to run deep. I mean it has to hit at problems that people can recognize, and channel off, uh, the emotions and the feelings that, uh, that Brunson, uh, and Englander and these other people were expressing. And in a sense, uh, the same thing applies to what, um, Martin Luther King was saying about being the best street sweeper and so on. Uh, it's no longer appropriate to talk being the best street sweeper. Uh, what it is appropriate to do is to involve those street sweepers and the taxicab drivers and the post office people and every other person in a movement where by doing things themselves they achieve, uh, a kind of involvement and a kind of personal excellence that they have never been able to achieve before. You don't want to be the best damn street sweeper but if you can engage yourself in a movement that's gonna open up opportunities for a lot of other people, uh, you're making a much more, uh, I think a much more profound contribution. So we aren't worried about street sweepers but we are worried about building a movement that's gonna really, uh, change things. So I say that what King said was just inappropriate. WARREN: Was that, uh, ever appropriate, historically speaking? Was that a bad thing for Booker T. Washington to have said, back yonder seventy- five years ago? COHEN: Uh, that's a hard kind of question to answer. Uh, people in different historical circumstances respond differently. Obviously, very few people in the movement now, in their guts, could respond positively to the image that Booker T. Washington projected because that is not what we feel in our guts now. And we would make a judgment and say, 'Well, if Washington was black or if he was a moral man he shouldn't have said it.' But, uh, quite plainly there were compelling historical reasons for him to say it. I think it's much easier for us to confront the contemporary counterparts of Booker T. Washington and say, 'Uh, buddy, you're just out of step with history, and, uh, there are more creative things you can be doing.' WARREN: But as a historian, uh, you certainly are acquainted with the problems assessing the motives and, uh, the significance of people of the past imaginatively. So, uh, maybe King is our Booker T. Washington, would you go that far? COHEN: Maybe King is a--pardon? WARREN: Is our Booker T. Washington, would you go that far? COHEN: No. Uh, what we were saying while you were changing tapes, uh, King comes from a Southern context. And he talks out of a Southern context. He talks out of a situation where black people are oppressed and deprived in a way that people who live in the North really can never even understand. And the building of confidence and the building of pride is a much, much deeper problem in the South than it is in the North. And I suspect that when Martin King was talking to that--uh, Bridgeport audience in Connecticut he was really talking to black folk in the South. He-- WARREN:--is it strange that so much leadership has come from the South in the freedom movement? I believe it has come from the South. COHEN: Well, I think we're seeing a change in that. Uh, I think that what's happening now, uh, all across the country in, on a local level and in national organizations, is that we're beginning to realize in the North, that we have in effect passed the first stage. We have just about gone through the first stage of the struggle, which you might call the public accommodation stage. Uh, we can pass fair housing laws and FEP legislation and public accommodation laws in the North, uh, from now until we're blue in the face, but until we achieve what, uh, what Ruth Turner was calling economic and social justice, there will be no need, no substance in those, in those laws for the mass of, uh, black deprived, or for that matter, for the mass of white deprived. So, that our job in the Northern part of this movement is to move beyond the stage at which the South still is, uh, the public accommodation stage, and to establish a model for building a movement that is going to achieve basic, the basic social and economic justice, that's gonna make legislation meaningful. WARREN: You speak as though the race issue were a rider on a broader concern. COHEN: No, no, no, now. This is, this--as a matter of fact, I've been- -if we weren't so damn busy doing things here I'd been trying to write something about this. Uh, no, but it's ironic that the major side effect of the civil rights struggle in the last, oh, ten years, has not--the major side effect has been the national recognition of poverty as a pressuring, as a pressing social concern. Uh, the oppression, the, uh, deprivation the black people face in this country, they face and have faced as a result of they're being black, not of any other social and economic conditions. But the fact of the matter in 1964 is that they face that deprivation and, uh, oppression with increasing numbers of white people. It is no longer possible to say to the white plumber, 'Move over, buddy, and give me a job, because a job is his job and in New York there are 27,000 building trade people unemployed and they, they will not be reemployed even if the industry moves ahead at, uh, at its top pace. So, it's not that the race issue is a rider on this more fundamental question. The race issue is fundamental and it's what's generated in the awareness of this more fundamental question. We'll continue moving on the race issue, and hoping that through our efforts and the efforts of other people working in the white community, that we'll able to achieve the justice that will make it possible to bring this race thing to a, to a fruitful conclusion. WARREN: I must say I have, I've sort of lost the thread here, not meaning to. Uh, when you're actually discussing, you seem to make the economic and class question prior to a race solution. Am I misunderstanding you? COHEN: It's not, it's not a question of priority. You, you take the goals of the movement up until today. They have been, uh, the achievement of equality in a formal sense, in a legalistic sense: fair housing, open occupancy, fair employment, public accommodations, equal schooling. And then you sit back and you think, Well, let's just suppose--in Cleveland, in New York, or any other Northern city--that we had this legislation, that we had a desegregated school system. You ask the question, what then would we have? Now, with respect to schools--this is what Ruth was saying a little while ago--we can desegregate the schools in Cleveland tonight and tomorrow morning we would have many of the same fundamental problems that we still have. School desegregation cannot be fruitfully implemented unless we affect some very basic changes in our educational system. WARREN: Fair housing-- COHEN:--fair housing cannot be implemented until masses of people have the, the economic wherewithal to implement it. The same is true of, of fair employment. Fair employment is not gonna get anyone--is not gonna get a significant number of people jobs because jobs are disappearing at a much more rapid rate than they are being created. So, it's not a question of priority. It's a question of asking yourself, how you fulfill the goals of the civil rights movement. And we've begun to see that you fulfill the goals of the civil rights movement by moving on two levels: the legislative or--the legal, and, uh, other levels such as the social and the economic. TURNER: (??) WARREN: Ms. Turner? TURNER: Um, you want my comment on that as well-- WARREN:--yeah, yeah. TURNER: I keep referring to the statement that, uh, Bob Moses made in a treatise--and I can't remember what it was now--but the statement was, that it is our job or the society's job to prepare itself for the negro. And I think this is extremely relevant to what Dr. Cohen has been saying. And that is that, you know, until the problem of unemployment is solved, uh, the ending of segregation to the negro will mean nothing. It will mean absolutely nothing. It will simply mean that we will have, uh, integrated unemployment rolls. And unfortunately that's not the kind of solution for which I am working or anyone else for that matter. Uh, the same result would be true in education. We'll end segregation tonight and tomorrow we will have a desegregated, poor educational system. And it is poor because it isn't preparing any children--at least in Cleveland--for the kinds of jobs that are opening up now. Uh, similarly to, in housing, we will end segregation tonight and find that no negro can afford to buy the kind of houses that are now available for sale. So, um, clearly we have to work for, for more than just desegregation. Um, this is--this isn't gonna solve many of the basic problems. WARREN: Let's approach the question another way. Let's say that tomorrow morning, we have the economic system functioning beautifully: we have jobs for all, we have FEP, uh, laws enforced, on the books and enforced, have integrated education, what then? TURNER: Well, um, if that's possible. (laughs) It seems like we could settle back and live happily and normally again. Uh, except, we have a problem of attitudes to overcome. The problem of, of working out after the segregation has ended working out the adjustment of people, so that they can really gain from the experience of integration. Unfortunately, the minds of too many Americans are so narrow that they wouldn't be able to gain that much from being, living next door to a negro or working next to one. So that's another area in which we would have to turn our attention. And we'd also have to turn our attention to the problem of overcoming the backlog, overcoming the tremendous gap, um, that has existed over these four hundred years, and that will have to be done by giving priority, giving special preferential treatment to negroes, by, um, equipping them to overcome the problem of and the gap that has existed between the white and negro community. WARREN: What kind of backlog are we talking about? What kind of difference between the communities are we talking about? Let's push that a little bit. TURNER: We're talking about the basic economic difference. For example-- WARREN:--excuse me. We were gonna settle that. We had that settled, you know, tomorrow morning. TURNER: Oh, well, all right. You still have a problem of, uh, people not being prepared to take the jobs that are now open to them. That's, even if it's settled tomorrow, you still have the problem of many young people not able to take the jobs now opening, um, because of the fact they haven't had the proper education or background. So special training programs, crash programs, and what-have-you would have to be initiated. Uh, for the dropouts, for example, uh, for the ladies on ADC, um, to train them for the jobs that are now open and available. WARREN: We keep getting away from race, though. I am trying to isolate the race, you see, from the economic context. TURNER: I don't know if we can. I'm trying--I don't, I don't see how you can, uh, in a sense-- WARREN:--race is--excuse me-- TURNER:--yeah. WARREN: You can't separate the race question from the economic context? TURNER: Well, you--I mean, I think that the two are very much intertwined. You're saying that you're erasing the conditions, and yet, you still got the backlog, uh, which comes from all these centuries of negroes not being treated as equals and consequently considering themselves not equals. You got all the--the business of, of brainwashing which is, um, that is, lack of respect of oneself to overcome. You've got the problem of a, of a white society, and white standards, and--and white textbooks, and, and the fact that the negro's not been able to see himself as, as participating in the society to overcome. These are all psychological factors, too, of course. Um, many problems would not be solved by ending it, you know. Psychological problems, sociological problems. WARREN: You read/know (??) Podhoretz's, uh, piece in Commentary some time back? TURNER: No, I'm sorry. WARREN: He said that there'll be no solution of the race question until the absorption of the negro race. Here's the quote: "The negro problem can be solved in this county in no other way than by assimilation." TURNER: I won't, I won't buy that. I refuse to accept it because it seems to me then that we are accepting again the American standard of the melting pot. In other words, in order for me to accept you, you've got to be like me. And we have got, as a country we have got to reach the point where we can accept individuals as they are and not force them to our own standards. I would reject that, that theory totally. Um, I do reject it. WARREN: What about--do you feel, um, as a negro, the problem of symbolisms in a white culture? Values being tied to light, to white as symbol and darkness carrying, uh, symbolisms of, uh, less value or evil? TURNER: I feel it very strongly. And this is, of course, one of those psychological things that has to be overcome after the conditions are erased. The fact is, that over the cent--over the centuries here, uh, white lies are not nearly as bad as black ones. And, um, you know, there are just all kinds of symbolism. Black sheep and white sheep and--yeah, it, it's very clear. And in fact, it was probably done purposely at some point. WARREN: Purposely? What about those African tribes where you have a dance of good and evil, and the, uh, dancer representing good wears white headdress and white, uh, robe and the dancer representing the evil principle, uh, wears black? TURNER: Yeah, but there are also some Asian, uh, cultures where white is a sign of mourning, and we don't read about those in our history books, and we don't hear about them and talk about them, as in our society. WARREN: Well, suppose we have both kinds. Uh, why is it difficult to say that night is the time of terror and day is the time of, you know, the terrors of the jungle disappear or the cave disappear and we carry those? That is not a, a put-up job by the nasty white man, this symbolism. TURNER: That may be but it's been very useful for his purposes, in view of the fact that the, that the white/black, uh, symbolism was made so important in slave times. Um, that, uh, in fact, it was made so important that negroes tried to bleach their skins to get away from it and straighten their hair-- WARREN:--some still do. TURNER: And some still do. But clearly it has had an effect. Um, you know, it's no accident, it seems to me, that Christ is always portrayed as a, as a blond, blue-eyed person in white robes. Uh, um, baptism is always taking place with white, um--I think that, to a certain effect, this is cultural and can't be overcome but in terms of the effect that it has had on the negro psychology, it has to be overcome. At least, we have to give him something to balance it with and we have not done this in this culture. We have not appreciated the beauty of blackness. Uh, a tiger or a panther is appreciated for his blackness but a negro woman is not. Uh, at least not in the white (??) culture. All of our beauty contests-- WARREN:--it was in the Southern white culture. TURNER: Yes, but sub-rosa and in a very degrading kind of way. WARREN: But still appreciated, as such. TURNER: Never openly and never portrayed in newspapers, and never on television, and never talked about, never advertised in magazines, no. WARREN: Well, not now. There was no TV in the days I'm talking about. TURNER: Well, it wasn't in any of the media. It was never praised in any of the media. Beauty contests never, uh, considered blackness as a criterion for beauty. Um, negro girls were not encouraged to in fact to participate and are still not encouraged to participate in beauty contests because somehow being black does not mean, uh, that you're a candidate for beauty. WARREN: Let's cut back to the Reconstruction for a moment. Let me ask both of you this question. Uh, Myrdal, you know, has a scheme of what would have been the ideal solution to Reconstruction in the South. Uh, first, the compensation to slaveholders for the emancipation; second, expropriation of land for resettlement of freedmen but payment to, to the, uh, landowners for it, and there are some other items to it. Let's stop on those. How do you react to those? TURNER: Uh, well, they would've been steps in the right direction, but, uh, there has to be included in a plan like that some way-- WARREN:--let me, let me--excuse me, let me stop just a second. Would you object, or do you feel any resistance to the idea of compensation to the slaveholders for the emancipation? TURNER: Morally, yes. Uh, because I feel that they unjustly held slaves in the first place. WARREN: What about the Athenians, now? Would you, uh, do you feel it was an immoral situation? The Athenians held slaves. TURNER: I think any time a man that degrades another man to the position of a servant, uh, without respecting his human potential and dignity that is, uh, is an immoral situation. WARREN: Is that unhistorical, Mr. Cohen? COHEN: No, no, I don't think so. I don't think it's unhistorical at all. Uh, I think that, uh, a lot of your recent questions turn around something that is very important to answer, however. When you ask if all of the economic problems were solved tomorrow, or if they had been solved after Reconstruction, or if they were solved whenever, uh, then would we be happy? Then would the problem be solved? Obviously not. Uh, your question about light and darkness. Uh, after the legalism, uh, after we have a legal, uh, solution to this problem and after we have the, the economic and social preconditions that will not make people see negroes as someone who wants to share their scarcity, we'll still have a lot of problems. There'll still be a mythology of blackness. Uh, and that's not gonna disappear very quickly. Uh, but it seems to me, we have to recognize that, that people and societies move in, uh, complicated and often, uh, in very curious way. And, uh, one of our jobs is to try anticipate what the most basic levels are in which they move and try and reach some solution there, and hope that, uh, after we reach that solution, uh, we can confront these other rather more subtle problems, and, uh, see what can be done about them. WARREN: Do you feel a resistance to Myrdal's proposal? Suppose you knowing what you know now live in '65, how would you respond to this proposal of Myrdal's Reconstruction settlement? That's not, that's not all of his proposal. That's part of it. It's the beginning. COHEN: You mean the compensation of, the compensation of slaves-- WARREN: Com--compensate-- COHEN:--excuse me-- WARREN:--compensation and then the expropriation of land with compensation for land. COHEN: Uh, expropriation of land for the, uh, for the freed negro? WARREN: But payment to the owner, ex-owner. COHEN: Well. From the point of view, from the abstract point of view, uh--it, uh, it might well have been a functional scheme. It might've worked. Uh, from a, uh, moral point of view, I think what Ruth said was right or was correct, rather. That, uh, from that sense, it's impossible to condone morally, uh, paying someone for taking away something which was never his damn property to begin with. But, uh, there's a, there's a further point, which I think I was trying to make a few minutes ago, and that is that--in a social movement you can't assume that tomorrow people can be made sinless or can be made so humane that they are no longer human. Uh, and part of our job, it seems to me, is to, uh, make it possible for people to still remain human and--be somewhat more humane. WARREN: Let me put the question more, uh, sharply. Suppose you had the power--knowing what you know now, uh, and, we're back there at that time, and could've said, 'We'll have it this way; you will do it this way. You will compensate the slaveowners for the freedmen. You will expropriate land for their use but pay the planters for the land.' Knowing what you know now about the course of the last hundred years, would you do it or not? Assuming also that this would've worked. Would've evened out society. Would you have done it? TURNER: You know, it's, it's so difficult here in our movement now to plan from one week to the next-- WARREN:--no, now answer this one now (??)-- TURNER:--no, but I'm just saying the complexity of the issue is, is such that you just can't give an on-the-spot? WARREN: I will give you the consequences. If that would've happened we'd have avoided this massive poverty that's been, uh, in the South for a hundred years, and we'd have had the integrated school system that began with the, the Freedmen's Bureaus and all of that. Would've worked out--we'd be over the hump long back. But the price would've been to pay the slaveholder for his "property," and pay the, uh, landowner for the expropriated land. It all comes out beautiful, would you still do it or not? TURNER: Well, you see, I would question that it would all come out beautiful. WARREN: Now, no, now that's not the terms of the question. That's the terms of the question. TURNER: No, no, no. But I want to make this point, because in doing so you have in a sense reinforced the slaveowner's attitude about the negro, uh, that he was something that was indeed property and was recognized as property by those who are paying him for the, for the property. WARREN: I didn't state it that way; I stated it the other way. TURNER: I realize that but I'm still saying that the problem of attitude, or the problem of basic human respect for another individual would not have been solved by doing this, and if it had not been solved, I'm not so sure that we wouldn't still have many of the problems that we have. WARREN: I didn't put the question that way; I put the question in another way. Suppose we got the, uh, a more or less workable integrated society, that we don't have now anywhere in this country, would you, would you have paid the price? TURNER: You ask me if I would compromise with my ideal for the end result. WARREN: (??) ideal, two ideals (??) two ideals here in competition, aren't they? TURNER: Yes, they are. (exhales) Of course, you're asking an idealist of this and that's why it is so hard to answer. (laughs) I'm an idealist. WARREN: But you're an idealist with two different ideals that now compete. TURNER: Um-hm. I know that. (pause) I, I really just cannot answer that because, um, because you're making assumptions that I can-- WARREN:--no, I, I'm entitled to make the assumptions; that's the terms of the game. TURNER: All right, but you're making assumptions means that I can't answer the question. WARREN: It means you find it too painful to answer the question one way. A real split, isn't it? TURNER: That's right. I think that's about the best assessment of it. It's too painful to answer the question, and then also all the relevant premises are not agreed upon--(laughs)-- WARREN:--no (??)-- COHEN:--what about this (??), that's not--that poses the same kind of question, not really. A member of our executive committee-- TURNER:-- (??)-- COHEN:--and a very close friend of both of ours who was killed recently, here in Cleveland, in the process of a demonstration. Uh, and we can go on asking the question between now and the date that we die whether his death was in vain or not in vain, uh, and whether the ideal of the movement, uh, was in some sense in conflict with the ideal of preserving his life, which I think was very much worth preserving. Um, Ruth wants to say something. TURNER: I'm saying that we were not in the position to decide one way or the other. That was a matter of faith and we, we accepted the results of that and interpreted them. I don't--I mean we are not, uh, uh, and we did not put ourselves in a position to decide for Bruce. COHEN: Well, yes, but--well, I mean there is more to it than that because in a sense we helped to decide what, what happened to him even though, you know, tracing responsibility is, is a very tenuous business. Uh, we did help to decide what happened to him and that's what we all felt for--and I think still probably still feel to a certain extent. WARREN: That isn't a parallel, it seems to me, to the question I proposed-- TURNER:--it's a conflicting ideal; it's a conflicting ideal. COHEN: (??) ideal. WARREN: How would you respond, uh, Mr. Cohen, if you had a power to, uh, put Myrdal's program into operation and the certitude that it would bring on a decent, uh, integrated society? COHEN: Well, my response is really the same as Ruth's, that--or perhaps I'm a little more cynical than she is. Uh, I don't know. Certainly, I think in the abstract, if you gave anyone, uh, a chance to think about this they would probably say, 'Well, if I had the--if I had the power in that situation to achieve, uh, the utopia that you say I have the power to achieve, to achieve-- WARREN: --at that price? COHEN: At that, at the price of money, um, I think probably that most people would say, 'Well, take your damn money and give me the utopia.' Uh, but--the point that Ruth is making is that that is not the way things happen. WARREN: That's not the question I'm asking you. I'm asking you what resistance--if you (??) feel resistance, how much resistance do you feel to it? COHEN: Well, it seems to me that most people, especially people in the movement, would feel a deep resistance to that kind of a massive compromise of their ideals. Uh, the reason I suggested the example of Bruce Klunder was that this is precisely what happens in any social movement. You have one foot in society and you have one foot very much outside of it, on a purely, moral, uh, level. And, uh, you can't resolve that kind of situation. It's like assuming you can resolve any serious moral dilemma. What you do is, is the best you can. WARREN: Can you solve anything abstract moral grounds ever? Except your suicide? COHEN: I don't think you ever solve your suicide on abstract moral grounds, uh, to tell you the truth. But, again, I think that's a, that's a rather arbitrary way of putting it. You don't solve anything on abstract moral grounds because this is not an abstract moral world, but your abstract moral grounds have a real vitalizing-- [Tape 3 ends; tape 4 begins.] WARREN:--Ms. Ruth Turner, Cleveland, May seventh. Back to Myrdal and his plan for an ideal Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War, you said you would not, uh, accept even a guaranteed, uh, success of the plan, the compensation of slaveholders, uh, for the emancipation or to landholders for expropriate land. Is that right? TURNER: I said, as I recall, it was a painful decision to make. Um, and, of course, by token of my experience here in the movement, such assurances, uh, when delivered by certain people mean little but, um, given the question as, as put, I guess I would painfully make the decision to compensate. Uh, in other words, there are certain times when I will compromise with a, with an ideal, uh, for the sake of another. WARREN: Isn't this a little bit like saying, I will compromise with my ideal for the sake of achieving my ideal? TURNER: Um-hm. It's a real contradiction. In fact, the involvement in the movement in itself presents many such contradictions. WARREN: Could you explain that, please? TURNER: Yes, I believe we, uh, talked about it briefly before, the fact that, uh, in the recent school demonstrations at sites were put in the position of saying that, uh, well, it's not an exact parallel, no, but there is a compromise in ideal by saying that you're ready to sacrifice human life for the sake of preserving human life. Um, and that was, in a sense, what, what we had said at the outset and that's exactly what happened. Uh, that is the kind of contradiction in which you find yourself. That, uh, the immediate sacrifice is going to bring about something that is, that goes beyond the immediate. But in the process you, uh, are giving up something valuable. WARREN: Some people I have put this Myrdal question to have felt actually insulted by it. Did you feel insulted by it? TURNER: No, not insulted by it. I think it raise some very basic questions, the kinds of questions that we grapple with really daily in the movement, um, because this is not a cut-and-dry, black-and-white. It's a matter of constant adjustment and readjustment. A matter of feeling at home with contradictions and not too many people do that easily. I don't. WARREN: Let me change the topic a little bit. Going back to the question of leadership, in all historical situations of mass movements or revolutionary tendencies, there is a kind of, uh, tendency to overreaching. Do you see this process now going on in the problem of negro leadership, an overreaching process in these bids for power or for policy? TURNER: In a sense, yes. Um, I know in particular, uh, someone like Malcolm X, who--well, actually is not really saying anything so very basically different from what we are. I mean, he's adding the dimension of the use of violence if all else fails. And in a sense, of course, has an appeal to an audience which is beset with frustrations-- [knock on door]--as negroes are-- [Pause in recording.] WARREN: You were saying that Malcolm X was an example of the overreaching process. TURNER: Well, let me say that, that the solutions he spells out are attractive solutions. They are solutions to which I respond in moments of real depression. WARREN: Excuse me. Uh, this includes the racial separation as, uh, part of the policy, his policy you approve? TURNER: No, I'm talking about the solution that he spelled out in Cleveland not too long ago, which was ballots versus bullets--or the ballot or the bullet. Uh, making the point that if the ballot didn't work pretty soon, then the bullet would follow. WARREN: Would the bullet work? TURNER: Well, let me say that, those of us who are involved in organizing a community--at least, I feel a heavy responsibility to that community, and I feel that any time I organize around the bullet phase, I'm asking for something that can approach mass extermination. And therefore is a much too risky business for me to try to organize anybody around. Uh, I think that it is courting disaster. WARREN: This is one of those, uh, wild, uh, sort of speculative questions. If you could by an act of will, like that, without having to watch the consequences, no pain, exterminate all white citizens in the USA, would you do it? TURNER: No, I am a, uh, I pride myself on being a humanitarian. I would not want to resort to the methods that inhumane people use. WARREN: This wouldn't be inhumane. They would die like that--[snaps fingers]--without ever knowing it, simultaneously. TURNER: Well, you still have human problems left. I don't think that, there is any like that solution to problem of living on, on earth with people of different kinds, temperaments, and, and what-have-you. WARREN: Suppose you could get rid of them--another hypothetical question--like I stipulated, all be gone like that. With a flick of the finger. Would you do it? TURNER: No. Because they will have existed, and you can't wipe the memory, or the, the fact that they had existed out of a lot of people's minds. Um, you would have to cope with that for the rest of your life. And I think that would present--as I think Germany is--uh, in the process of discovering, some very basic and real questions and problems. Uh, the exterminating of people or a group of people doesn't solve anything. It doesn't solve the basic human problem of man having to live with man. And in fact, the very fact that you use that kind of method complicates the problem, uh, of living together. WARREN: Do you see, uh, Mr. Brunson as an example of the overreach in the power bid or the policy bid? TURNER: Are you talking about Brunson who was involved in the stall-ins? I think, getting back to the point we raised before, any effective-- and, and I hate to use the word responsible because it's so misused--but any effective leader, any committed and dedicated leader has got to have his foot with the community at the same time he's made a step ahead of them. And if you are not making and taking pains to keep in touch with the community every step along the way, I think you're overreaching them. WARREN: What about the kind of touch with the white community? What relation is that you really have to that? Is there some problem here too? TURNER: You mean in terms of keeping in touch with them? Yes. Clearly, there's a problem with that. Uh, but the fact is that we do have a community to which we respond and which responds to us. We cannot expect to bring the whole community along at the same time because we're all at different levels of awareness and different experiential, uh, development. So, that as long as we're in touch with a community I feel as though we're still fulfilling our obligation as leaders. If we reach the point where we no longer speak to any, and speak for any, or with any, then I think we're no longer the leaders, uh, that I would like to call myself. WARREN: Do you distinguish between two kinds of demonstrations? Say, uh, those of general dissatisfaction and those with specific targets or objectives? TURNER: Yeah, I imagine there are different--yes, there are probably those two different kinds of demonstrations. WARREN: Would you say one is legitimate and the other one is illegitimate? TURNER: No, I would never make that distinction. I think we have to evaluate each demonstration on its own face. WARREN: (pause) The random expression of feeling is potentially as useful as the, uh, channelized targeted demonstration, is that it? TURNER: Let me say, in terms of bringing about change, clearly the constructive and targeted and channeled demonstration aimed at something, um, is, is perhaps more useful. Um, the random demonstration of feeling, however, may convince in those communities where the power structure or the leaders are not convinced, of the intensity of the feeling in the general community about those problems. WARREN: What do you think of Abraham Lincoln, Ms. Turner? TURNER: I believe I have always wanted to study the history of and the life of Abraham Lincoln because I believe that, unfortunately, much of that is passed on about him is not true. I, in fact, have some evidence to that effect. That Lincoln shared in many ways the same prejudices and feelings that his counterparts did. WARREN: If he did, how does that affect, uh, your feelings about him, and about the March on Washington and the ceremony at, at his, uh, monument? TURNER: Well, it means to me that--well, I, I take a rather different view of, of such heroes, uh, so-called. I feel that American history has vastly, uh, distorted their position, although I think that he was the man at the time to commit a very important historical act. It's not really that relevant how I feel about him personally. Nevertheless, because I am aware of the distortion that is taking place in American history books generally, I'm sensitive to an overrating of any individual. WARREN: What do you think of William Lloyd Garrison? TURNER: Uh, he's a man who also performed an important historical function, and I have to evaluate him in terms of the function he performed. Uh, I have no feelings about him as a man except that he did a job and he did it well. WARREN: What view did he take of the negro after the Civil War, do you know that? TURNER: The negro after the Civil War? Uh, I think in terms of what happened during Reconstruction and the fact that many of them attempted at least to begin to take their part in the, in the community, um, were elected to the legislature in some cases-- WARREN:--I'm sorry; I meant Garrison's behavior after the Civil War. TURNER: Oh, I'm, I'm not qualified to comment on that, Mr. Warren. WARREN: What about Robert E. Lee? How do you view him? What kind of an estimate of character would you give us on that? TURNER: As, as I said, I'm not really concerned about my own feelings about a personal, uh, a man and his personal abilities and qualities. I'm concerned about the historical role that he played. Um, Lee's role was one that I do not respect. WARREN: How do you see his role that you don't respect? TURNER: I think he, uh, was a leader in, in an action which was divisive and destructive. Um, and I think that his role as the general of the Confederate Army did not work in the best interest of history, and I have to evaluate it as such. WARREN: You'd like a bad man on the right side of history rather than a good man on the wrong side, is that it? TURNER: No, I'm not gonna say that. WARREN: Well, actually you just said it. TURNER: (laughs) Well, in this particular case-- WARREN:--make it, make it general now. Let's don't, let's don't (??) creep out of it. TURNER: Okay. I will say that a bad man who performs an important historical function has to be judged on the basis of the function he performed. WARREN: A homicidal maniac in a good cause is more to be admired than a, uh, decent, uh, idealist who's backing the wrong horse historically, is that it? TURNER: Um, I would say that in being not really a historian but not being a novelist or someone concerned with personalities, I would have to look at it in that way. WARREN: Not being concerned (??) with personalities? Well, that means not being concerned with moral values, doesn't it? TURNER: Well, I don't, you know, you're making a distinction here I'm not gonna go along with it. Making a distinction between the personality and the role he performs. I think that the personality has an effect on the role he performs. In other words, if there had been a bad man who was in Lincoln's position he couldn't have performed the role that Lincoln did. Uh, the two are very much connected. WARREN: Why couldn't he have signed the Declaration--the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure? Many bad men went along with it. TURNER: Well, let me put it this way. If a Hitler had been sitting in Lincoln's seat--Hitler with his own particular and peculiar psychological makeup--uh, even in view of the fact that, that was the need of the time, Hitler may not have signed it. WARREN: He might not, no. But let's assume he would have, as a reasonable and effective war measure. TURNER: Well, I'd also have to evaluate the other things that Hitler did. I'm, I'm not only talking about a man as he exhibits himself in one particular act. I mean, his time on life--his whole time on earth is gonna be--uh, he's going to do a lot of things while he's here. But I'm judging the important acts, uh, in terms of their effect on history. WARREN: What about Thomas Jefferson? How do you feel about him? He was a slaveholder. TURNER: He was but he also performed a very important historical function. I think, um, Thomas Jefferson was a wise man. Again, like Lincoln, he shared many of the prejudices and--and attitudes of his time. Um, I am concerned primarily at this point though with his historical function and the effect he had on the process, um, realizing that, um, he was one of many who shared the same attitudes. WARREN: Now here we're abandon--abandoning moral absolutes and going into matters of, um, of historical relativity, aren't we? TURNER: Yeah, in a sense we are. Although I'm still not leaving out, um, the role of, of goodness and badness as it relates to the way a man carries out his historical function. WARREN: (pause) Most revolutions--well, all revolutions, I guess, in the past have been directed toward the liquidation of a class or a regime, haven't they? TURNER: Yeah, I think that's right. WARREN: If the negro revolution is a revolution, what's it liquidating? TURNER: I think it's liquidating something quite different, and that's why I think this is a quite different kind of revolution. It's liquidating injustices. Um, I don't think those injustices are carried necessarily by a particular class of people in this country. Uh, I think, although it is quite true that the wealthy are in control, um, I don't think the problem is to be solved by liquidating the wealthy. On, let me say the class of people who are now in the position of power. We're talking here about basic and fundamental changes that have to take place throughout the fabric of our society. That goes beyond class. WARREN: It's sometimes said that hate and hope are the great motive powers of, um, social change. What about that in relation to the present situation? TURNER: Hate and hope? I would say that in the particular movement in which I am involved, hate doesn't have much of a function. Hope does; despair does. You're acting on despair with hope. Um, you're acting on frustration with hope. None of us really have time to hate; it's too all-consuming. Similarly, we don't have time to love. Um, not in any intense personal kind of way. WARREN: You mean in, in the ordinary sense of personal affections? TURNER: That's right. Except as they develop through a working relationship. We're talking about another level here. Agape, perhaps, uh, using the Christian phrase, uh, talking about something that really isn't as intense as hate and love, as we usually use those words. WARREN: How far do you follow, um, Dr. King, Martin Luther King's view of the philosophy of nonviolence? TURNER: I'm not a committed, uh, pacifist, nor do I adopt nonviolence as a philosophy of life. I will not carry it, uh, no matter what. I feel that I adopt nonviolence presently as a tactical, uh, necessary philosophy. But I will not take it as an ultimate and an absolute. WARREN: Do you think Dr. King's influence in the North is now waning? TURNER: I do. I do because I do not feel he addresses himself to the problems, the basic problems that Northerners, uh, in a sense are in a better position to, to grapple with than Southerners. WARREN: Do you feel he simply is, is socially retarded, is that it? TURNER: No, I'm just, I just think he is not politically aware and--uh, sensitive. WARREN: But this fact being the result of living in a more primitive social order, is that the point? TURNER: No, this fact being the, being the result of having to cope with, with such basic problems that the more important general implications of those problems escape you, not being able to see the forest for the trees. Um, also the certain personality makeup, I don't think he's a politician, nor do I think he thinks like one. I think you have to. Because we're playing in a sense a game of power, and we have to understand the dimensions and the implications of it. WARREN: What kind, what kind of power does a negro have to, uh, negotiate from? Will you explain that to me, please? TURNER: Well, I think he has a certain amount of political power to use in the balance of power kind of way. I think he has a great amount of economic power. Power of withdrawal, for example. Um, not in the sense of, of building an empire but withdrawing trade from those agencies that don't cooperate. He has a great moral power because the negro is the only, uh, group which is raising the real moral questions of our time. WARREN: Then, we are back to, uh, the element of the struggle in which Dr. King places emphasis on, aren't we? The moral power is the same as his theory, isn't it? TURNER: Yes, except that I'm talking about it in a different kind of way. I'm, I'm not saying that the negro should be a suffering servant for, for an American conscience. WARREN: Does King say that? TURNER: I feel that he does. Um, I feel that, that we have to also be aware of the fact that the American conscience has become quite deadened by insensitivity and, and by luxury in many instances. And we have to be prepared to use other methods to reach, uh, the American. WARREN: Where in the world do you find the conscience, in what country or group of the kind you admire? TURNER: Nowhere that I know of. I think, perhaps, in certain of the socialist countries like Sweden, um, there's something more, something of a better awareness of the general wellbeing--that may be true of England. I don't know; I haven't been there. It's not true of Germany. I don't know if there is any place in the world but, um, I don't really make my decisions or, or implement any ideals on the basis of who else does it. WARREN: Some people do, of course, where they create a never-never land, to say it's some country X or Y or something, of course. One more question. (pause) The tendency of any mass movement or revolutionary movement is to concentrate leadership finally in the man, the one, the leader. Do you see that movement going on now? The movement toward a concentration of leadership, a concentration of power, or the possibility of that? TURNER: No, on the contrary I see a proliferation of power, and leadership, and I think that is the real, one of the healthiest signs of this movement. That there are people all over the place who're emerging as leaders. And I think as long as that's the case, then we have something very creative and positive here. I, I really would dread to see the day when that power and that leadership is, is located in one person. WARREN: Take the opposite situation where it is totally diffused. Uh, where is that, uh--well, to use a hideous word--responsibility located? TURNER: Well, I think that, that we can't have that situation either. I don't think every man is a leader. I don't, I think that we have to have leaders in constituencies. But I'm saying that we need a lot of constituencies or we need more than one, uh, spokesman for a community. Uh, responsibility lies in--in accountability to a constituency. It, it lies in having somebody to whom you return with your decisions (??). WARREN: How does responsibility relate to, uh, some ultimate vision of society? TURNER: Hm. How does it relate to an ultimate vision of society? WARREN: A vision of what can be had, your ideal city? TURNER: Well, it seems to me that I can best make the example of, of politics as I'd like to see them. This ideal of responsibility, as I just outlined it, accountability, uh, to a--to a group of people. It seems to me that many of the problems of our politics today is that the leaders are not responsible and do not feel responsible to anyone besides themselves and their own interests. I would like to see the kind of society where those who are chosen for leadership are responsible for those who have chosen them and feel responsible to their needs. And, uh, I feel that only by doing this that we have anything that approaches a democracy. Only by eliminating that personal selfish motive, uh, that creeps into so many leaders, um, do we establish the kind of society that I think I'll feel, feel happy and secure in. [Pause in recording.] WARRREN: This is the end of the conversation with Ms. Ruth Turner. End. End. End. End. End. End. No more. No more. [Tape 4 ends.] [End of interview.] Ruth Turner (now Ruth Turner Perot) was the Executive Secretary of the Cleveland, Ohio chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and a member of the National Action Council. Turner was born in Chicago, Illinois where she attended Oberlin College and studied the German language. After her graduation, she received a grant and attended a university in Germany. A year after returning from Germany she received her Master's in Teaching from Harvard School of Education and taught German in the Cleveland Public Schools before becoming the Executive Secretary for the Cleveland Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Turner is credited with articulating the Black Power philosophy. In this interview Ruth Turner describes her involvement with Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and recalls the events in Birmingham, Alabama that convinced her to leave teaching and devote herself fully to the Congress of Racial Equality. Turner describes civil rights leadership within the white community and the role of the white liberal or the "white committed." She describes the situation in which a white civil rights activist, Reverend Bruce Klunder (1937-1964), was killed during a demonstration. Turner discusses the civil rights situation in Cleveland and compares it to the situation in the South. She also discusses the lack of African American involvement in Cleveland in civil rights activities and proposes why African Americans in Cleveland are not as organized as they are in some southern cities. In addition, Turner explains the role that past generations of civil rights workers have played in pushing the movement forward. Turner describes the issues surrounding African American identity and the tension between African Americans and other ethnic minorities in Cleveland. She touches on school integration and explains her belief in quality education in addition to integration. A gentleman named David Cohen joins the interview late in the conversation and describes the poverty experienced by many African Americans in Cleveland. He explains that social, economic, and legislative changes are needed to fulfill the goals of the civil rights movement. Civil Rights