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Auburn University student discusses the Civil Rights march on campus and his involvement

BROADCAST: 1965 | DURATION: 00:11:01


Studs interviews a white student on the Auburn University campus after a Civil Rights march. The student explains that he is there to be sure a white face is present and to stand up for democracy. He describes the event and speaks to his family background. The student expresses the experience of black students on the integrated campus and how it has changed. (Tape 6, part 2)


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Studs Terkel Again, my host and hostess, who are remarkable people have remarkable guests. This is after the meeting on the steps of the state capitol, Montgomery, and among them are people who met them for the first time. And a group of students from Auburn, whe- and I'm talking to a young student now about - Auburn. Let's identify Auburn, for - I know it's in--

Auburn University Student Auburn University is in southeast Alabama. Approximately ten thousand five hundred students. It's Alabama's land grant college.

Studs Terkel And a number of you came to participate in the march. To witness it.

Auburn University Student Yes sir. We came down to see see if we could contribute anything to the march. In my case I think I wanted it to be one white face seen in the crowd. I feel that the march is a good thing for the Civil rights movement, but not if only Negroes are present in the march. Governor Wallace needs to see the white face there, because the white face, presently is the ones that vote in this state,

Studs Terkel And particularly in this instance a face of a southern white.

Auburn University Student Well, of course Governor Wallace will not know that, but he will see the white face in the crowd.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] How come? Auburn - supposedly the climate, the tempera- Do you represent, your feeling? That's okay, Kathy, you can come in. Kathy? Do you - this is quite unusual. How many were there of you, that came in?

Auburn University Student Well, there were some of the instructional staff at the university and several of us that were students. This was not an organized group coming down, it was more people getting together among their own friends and deciding whether to parti- to participate or not. I wouldn't - I don- I think it's only fair to say that we are definitely in the minority at Auburn, but it is good to see that people are participating, even there if there is one or two or 50 in a crowd of 10,000.

Studs Terkel What made you do this?

Auburn University Student Well, personal convictions. I don't think - well I worked with the Peace Corps for several years in a country that was Black. And I certainly couldn't work in that country and tell those--

Studs Terkel This is in Africa somewhere?

Auburn University Student That's right. I couldn't ser- I certainly couldn't work in that country and tell those people about the beauty of democracy and come home and not stand up for it.

Studs Terkel What led you to this? Where do we begin? You represent very few, at the moment, we'll come back to the campus in a moment, too. What's happening there, maybe, or is not happening there. How did it begin? Just, that experience in itself, or were there other other factors?

Auburn University Student Well, certainly the Peace Corps was very significant in this change. I grew up in a Southern family, good Christian family. But, of course, segregationist. And obviously I followed the same line as my parents did. In joining the Peace Corps, it was definitely an idealistic reason. Getting, working with people from other states in the union during our training program, I realized that segregation wasn't the only thing in the world. That, in fact, it proved to be, proved to me to be immoral, irreligious, and undemocratic. I think these these feelings grew the longer I was away from the states, and could have a more objective outlook on the United States in general general, and in the South in particular.

Studs Terkel What about your parents? Do they know about your participation or have you ever discussed this, this feeling you have with them?

Auburn University Student Well, we have agreed to disagree. They - we have talked about this at a time but obviously there is, there is not very much a middle ground in which we can operate. So the issue is just generally closed when I am at home.

Studs Terkel It's never discussed at home, then.

Auburn University Student No it's not. It's better not to. We find that we both wind up not seeing the other one's viewpoint. So we find it's just better not to discuss it. My parents did not condemn my actions or my viewpoints. They realize that I am a thinking individual and I'm certainly entitled to these viewpoints. [pause in recording]

Studs Terkel So it's you and your - and this no communication on this particular subject.

Auburn University Student Well let's say not, not let's not say no communication. Let's just say that we we understand each other's viewpoints and we respect them.

Studs Terkel Coming back in this matter of respect. Your fellow students at - on campus at Auburn. What's the climate? It is now - there have been a couple of Negro students, now, on the campus.

Auburn University Student That's right. Auburn was integrated, I think, around two years ago now with a graduate student, and since then two undergraduate students have entered the university, all three being male.

Studs Terkel What's gone on since?

Auburn University Student Well the first quarter that the undergraduates were there, they were met with animosity. Not - no violence, just the silent type of animosity, the more severe cases of segregation: not being spoken to in the classroom, being ostracized from the public in general. But talking to one of the colored students recently, I understand that this situation has certainly disappeared. They are very happy with their new role at Auburn. They are entering into campus activities as much as possible, they are being accepted by the students, they are being spoken to on campus. In their dorm in which they live, the students are beginning to mingle. White students come down to visit them in their room, and they go up to visit white students in their room. Certainly a healthy atmosphere is beginning to develop.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] That's interesting. So they do have white friends, socially.

Auburn University Student That's right. They do have white friends socially.

Studs Terkel Throughout my meetings with people, encounters, southern whites have a feeling among many, even segregationists who were, somewhat were rabid perhaps not too rabid, but nonetheless segre- who I think would accept integration were it not for the fact they were afraid their friend or their boss or someone would say something about them, offer some sort of reprisal. This fear, is this a factor, you feel? Do you sense this?

Auburn University Student Well, certainly the student must consider the fact that by showing friendship or impartiality toward the Negro, that he can be ostracized from his community - the white student community on the campus, of cou- that is. But, this is - I I think that this has been a gradual thing, it has taken a few liberal white students on campus to show the other students the way. When the few liberal students spoke to the Negro and the Negro spoke back, they saw that there could be an amicable relationship between them. And I think this probably broke down the barrier. It always took that first person to take the step to say, "hello and we're glad to have you at Auburn," something like that. After that initial step was broken down, I think the, let us say the moderates or conservatives or whatever term you want to use, fell into line much more easily.

Studs Terkel The presence of these students, these Negro students.

Auburn University Student Well I think the climate at Auburn is changing very gradually. It has gone from, "We will not integrate," to the fact that - to the apathetic attitude toward the whole thing. That it's really something that we're not interested in on campus, we have other things to consider. But the climate is changing. I think the climate is more healthy. "The Auburn Plainsman", our student newspaper, is certainly a liberal newspaper. We have segregationists writing newspaper articles on the paper, but all in all it is a very liberal paper.

Studs Terkel You you spoke about apathy. So once it was antagonism, and there is some interest on the part of some students [unintelligible] something else called apathy involving a major portion of the student body?

Auburn University Student I think apathy would sum it up now. Now, going back to this term antagonism, please do not, don't interpret that to mean a violent, or a violent form of antagonism. It was just the fact that they, that the student himself, the Negro student was not accepted period. He - walking across campus - to quote one of the students, he said, people, "I was, I wasn't even there. People stared through me. People stepped aside when I walked by." It was just the the human contact that all of us must have in our society. It wasn't there. And this hurt him very much. It was very demoralizing. But they saw it through that first quarter, that first initial term and now things are much better for them.

Studs Terkel In a phrase, he was he was an invisible man then, but now he's visible to some.

Auburn University Student Well, in his words he is, yes. And I feel that is true. I ca- I know on several occasions I've spoken to him on campus when we've come across each other, and there has been no noticeable reaction from the rest of the student body, would be just like I was speaking to another white student on campus.

Studs Terkel Montgomery. You were here today on this day, this obviously historic day. March 25th, 1965. Have you been to Montgomery before?

Auburn University Student On several occasions, yes. Montgomery, as you know, is the state capital of Alabama. I've been here to visit the state capitol and I've been down here on business on several times.

Studs Terkel Your feelings about today, in a general way?

Auburn University Student Well, it was the most impressive thing I've ever seen. It's quite ironic that it took Governor Wallace to make democracy shine its brightest, in its brightest hours. I don't think that this march, these demonstrations o r anything will have any effect on the average segregationist within the state of Alabama. He will still be violently opposed to segregation, to integration in any form. But when a black man and a white man can walk down the street in the heart of the Confederacy, and say no to segregation, say no to discrimination, I think America has gone a long way. I think the rest of the world should never forget that. They're very quickly to - they're very quick to blast our so-called constitution and our so-called equality of man, saying what a farce this is when when your Negro can't vote. But they certainly, but they should not forget that this is probably the only country in the world where the minority group, the oppressed group, can stand up and demand its rights, and the whole power of the federal government gets behind them and [see this done?]. This is democracy at its finest hour.

Studs Terkel What do you think will happen? Now that many of the marchers are gone, will leave home. And we're back, here we are: Montgomery the day after, the morning after the day before.

Auburn University Student Things will go back to normal. Things the government did that that Dr. King said that should never happen. Normalcy will will prevail again on the streets. The status quo will go back. The segregationist will stand on the corner and shake his fist and say, "we shall not integrate." And that will be it for the time being. But the United States is going to change. The federal government obviously is changing, with a new Democr- with a new voter law coming before the public and it shall be passed. I think this this is an historic moment. As far as our country is concerned, as far as our democratic system is concerned. Of home, of local significance is the fact that our good governor has been slapped in the face. He has been embarrassed to the very roots by the fact that people stood in the front of his very capital and said, "We shall overcome."