Raven, Jefferson and ODK Societies, tape 2

DATE: 20 February 1958

OCCASION: The Raven, Jefferson and Omicron Delta Kappa Societies, 8:30 p.m., Peabody Hall Auditorium

TAPE: T-140ends

LENGTH: 30:24

Play the full recording:

Unidentified participant: [...] and the possible eventual destruction of the remaining—of the agrarian—agrarian society will have any effect upon this problem?

William Faulkner: It will in that, I think—the agrarian culture was the only culture the white man went to much trouble to—to train the Negro in. As that vanishes, the Negro becomes more and more of a problem. When that's completely gone, he will be still more and more of a problem, and for that reason the white man will have to do something to—to substitute that agrarian economy, which took care of the Negro. I—I mean by—by "took care," which assimilated the Negro. The Negro had a—a definite place in that economy. Now the only contact the Negro has with the white man's culture is the time-payment icebox and—and the automobile that he'll own some day, if he don't tear it up before he finishes paying for it, [audience laughter] but there's no other contact with the white man's culture that the Negro has since he was—since he left the agrarian economy of slavery.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: I'd like to probe—really, question, your statement, that no nation can exist with second-class citizens. I'm not aware of any civilization either ancient or modern that has not, in some form, had a second-class citizenry. For example, the Hellenic civilization probably reached its flower because the leisure of—of one class was made possible by the labors of ones who were not only second-class citizens, but worse. I'm not defending second-class citizenship, but it seems that some civilizations exist not only in spite of it but, in fact, because of the second-class citizenship. So I would like to know if there is historical precedent for your statements.

Unidentified participant: This: I don't know any of those civilizations that have not had a second-class citizenship, but I don't know of any of them in which that second-class citizenship was an arbitrary condition compelled on the second-class citizen by the others. He found his own second-class level. He was not compelled to it by the color of his skin. If that second-class citizen could rise from—from his second-class citizenship, he was—he was allowed to. There was nothing to stop him. In our economy it's pretty hard for the Negro to get very far. That's the only difference.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: In Egypt many thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of workers that were held in slavery, and they could not get out of it. [...] those people [...].

William Faulkner: True, but some of them broke out. You know, Moses led a big gang of them out himself. [audience laughter and talking]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir. [audience talking]

Unidentified participant: [I think as you were talking, you're taking as the best man being] [...] [and since] [...] [activities, eventually taking—and taking] interest in what we're doing a while voting, you want the best way of educating people who are thinking about the [unity, not only themselves]. Don't you think that there should be a great attempt to encourage the Negro [to vote as] much as possible in the South and to think of what he's doing, rather than going to [practically] every means to discourage him as at present?

William Faulkner: Well, sir, in—in principle, yes, but I think that to give a man a vote when he has no conception of what he's voting for or against is not going to improve him nor his condition much. I still think that the education should come first, but then I agree that a lot of white folks that vote haven't got any business voting, too, [audience laughter] but just because they do vote, it's not going to help things to give a lot of Negroes that haven't got any business voting the right to vote. I think that—that if we've got to start educating somebody somewhere, then let's start with—with what is amenable to it, and the Negro—in his present condition he wants to advance himself. He would be more amenable to education than the white man would because the white man has got spoiled by it. The white man says, "My laws make me go to school, and if it—I've got to have a good school that suits me. I've got to have a good football team, or I ain't going there. I've got to have cheerleaders or I may not like it." The Negro, I think, anxious to better his condition—and I hope that some of his leaders tell him it can be done only by education—might be more amenable to education, to realize the responsibility that he has when he has the right to vote.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, do you think that the integration policies in the North have been successful, and if not, why? [audience talking]

William Faulkner: Well, probably no integration policies have been successful, but then most of the agrarian policies have not been too successful, yet somehow agriculture advances, somehow the—the—the human condition in which Negroes and whites have to live has advanced slowly. It has gone backward since that Supreme Court decision, but since '65, it had advanced gradually and steadily, and I think that it will continue to advance gradually—gradually and steadily.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, before you made the statement that the northerners were afraid of the Negro. What are your reasons for that?

William Faulkner: That conclusion['s] drawn from—from the experience I've had with the northerners. They—they—they love the Negro in theory, but they don't want much to do with him. I've noticed that the southerner, he—he don't love the Negro in quantities, but he will defend some particular Negro. It may be the nigger just owes him money—but anyway, [audience laughter] whatever the reason is, he will defend him. And that's what I meant. I simply generalized from what I've heard northerners say. They—they—they express so many, to me, bizarre reasons for the Negro's desire to—to advance himself. They seem to think that—that he's—wants to take revenge on long oppression from the white race. That may be true in—in certain cases, but I think in general the Negro don't especially want revenge on the white man, that—that his attitude toward the white man is something like the white man's toward him. He likes a few of them, but he don't think much of all of them. [audience laughter] But his low opinion of all of them is not worth going to a great deal of trouble to get revenge.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [Sir, I don't mean] to suggest that I'm a northerner, but [audience laughter] we often say that the [northerner ought to] come down and see how things are going on, and we often say that they don't understand our problems, yet we in the South have an opportunity to do something progressive, and I don't think that any of our leaders have ever come up with a good working plan yet. What do you think about that?

William Faulkner: I agree with you. [audience laughter] That's what I'm talking about tonight. I agree with you. But then, I don't know of any of—of the northerners that have come up with a good practical working plan yet.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, as I understand it, you believe that much of the leadership problem that we've got today is caused by an active noisy minority in each state, and if so, if I've understood you correctly, I wonder what your reasons are for believing, for thinking, or for wondering why the hapless majority refrains or keeps from using their numerical superiority to overcome this leadership problem.

William Faulkner: Well, one reason is they don't want to be mixed up in something unpleasant. Another reason is that—that people that compose that noisy majority—minority—in Mississippi, anyway, if you say something or do something they don't like, they may set your house on fire. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir. [audience laughter]

Unidentified participant: Sir, if Virginia's plea for moderation was ignored once before with particularly disastrous consequences to her, as you mentioned before, do you think there's much hope for Virginia particularly caring to take the lead in the South on this question?

William Faulkner: It seems to me she should. It seems to me that—that Virginia should feel something of the same responsibility toward the other states of the South—that the Virginia younger sons moved into with the surplus slaves two hundred years ago—that the father might feel toward his sons. It's a—I would say maybe the strongest tie would be some tie, an—an attenuation, but still intact, of blood, of culture, of thought, of having shared in—in the same disasters. I think it's—there's a definite tie. I think that—that Virginia, that what we'll, if you'll allow me, the soul of Virginia feels the same tie toward Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia as the soul of Mississippi and Alabama feel and of—of—of respect toward the—the mother stock in Virginia. I think that that's—that's an—an actual condition.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in the Deep South, Mississippi and Alabama, the people seem to be controlled, more or less, by the Ku Klux Klan. You mentioned the houseburnings and stuff like that. And do you think any examples that we set or any reasons we give, are going to break through those—those members of the Ku Klux Klan who are backed, in a lot of cases, by the law enforcement agencies, who are—are pretty ignorant, a lot of them? Do you think that we can do anything to break through their attitude?

William Faulkner: I think so. That's the point I make. If—if there was a definite quality of—of leadership in common sense, apart from emotion and any dragging out of old battle flags, that the South, the wilderness, the frontier part of the South, could hear and know about, they would have some—some reason to feel that if we can throw off these—these noisy people, too, that there are people in other parts of the South that feel as we do. The—the liberal in Mississippi, he's hemmed in more or less by the sort of people that burn crosses and—and whip Negroes and compose lynching parties, and he's afraid to say anything. Well, he knows that if he says too much, something unpleasant may happen to him. Then no matter what he says it may not do any good. But if he found out that there were people in other states that felt the same way as he does, just as the people that—that form Citizens Councils and the KKK, they find out that there are people in other states that—that feel the same way, so it builds them up. I think that's what we need. The people that—that will look on this as something that is—is going to change, whether we like it or not. It may be that—that all of us curse the day when the first slave was sold into this country, but that's too late now. And to live in—in this country, anywhere in the world today, and to—to—to be against giving a man what equality—cultural, educational, economic—that he's capable and responsible for, is like living in Alaska and being against snow. You've got snow. It's—it's foolish to be against it. You've got it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, this is just a simple question. I wondered if you could tell us if there's any particular class or economic group in the South which the Klan draws its members from, or whether they come from all walks of life in the South.

William Faulkner: By and large, they come from the—the poor unsuccessful white man. He has—has worked hard by his lights, and, of course, he has worked hard. He never gets very far ahead, and he knows that he never will. He sees the Negro with the same sort of land he's got, with poorer tools and not as much credit as he's got, make a better job of it, to—to raise his family, and they seem to be happier than he does. And he—he doesn't like that. He's envious. He hates the Negro because the Negro is beating him at his own poor game, which is—is to make a living on forty acres of poor land. His only superiority over that Negro is—is not economic any longer. It's because he's white, and that Negro's not white, and so he's going to do everything he can to keep that Negro black, because it makes him feel good. That's the only thing, the only edge he has.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, in the light of what you've just said, you also said that the Negro won't wait any longer, and that he will demand rights, and that there's not time to educate the white man, but don't you really think that it's—it is a matter of time and a long time before the Mississippian or the south Alabamian will actually accept any sort of integration [in the South]?

William Faulkner: Yes, I agree with you. I think it will be at least fifty years. I—I meant that—that the Negro is now in motion toward more equality, and he's got a lot of white folks and government bureaus and courts behind him. I didn't mean that he's going to—going to either blow the country up or change it tomorrow. I meant that—that now he has got pressure, outside forces, helping him move forward, and that is what I think we've got to—got to cope with. Either use it, direct it, or let it run over us. But it will be fifty years before, at least, before the integration as the NAACP talks about it, if that ever does come. But he will—it will be less time than that before he gets more equality than he's got. I think it'll be less time than that before he can vote in Mississippi, or before his—he—he has to pay the same interest on his borrowed money the white man does, that a white man can't cheat him, can't charge things on a farm commissary book and refuse to let the Negro add up the figures, as he can do now in Mississippi.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, a lot of southerners argue that complete integration would greatly lower our standards of education, but don't you believe that within a few years after complete integration, if it worked even moderately well, there would be an overall improvement in our standards of education?

William Faulkner: I don't know. It seems to me to improve standards of education we've got to get some folks out of the schools, not get more in it that don't belong there. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Joseph Blotner: Sir, being a liberal in Mississippi, as it seems to me you are, you have probably had experiences with this vociferous group that seems to know only violence to accomplish its means. It seems to me that—that you might have had some experience with this group, and my question is, have you, and if you have, could you relate what they were?

William Faulkner: Well, quite often, as individuals they are—are not too dangerous. They're just noisy. When enough of them get together, they can usually be handled as those North Carolina Indians got rid of theirs. [audience laughter] That a little firmness will do a lot with them. Of course, that don't keep them from coming around at night and setting fire to the barn. That's just an occupational hazard you've got to live with. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Since you say Virginia must take the first step, how would you propose this, especially since the administration has closed the door as far as education is concerned?

William Faulkner: Well, that would be something which Virginians must decide. What I hope is that Virginia will say, "Something has got to be done about this, and you people in Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia, let's decide what to do, either to control it or let it run over us."

Unidentified participant: We did have a vote here, though, sir, and [whether it was] overlooked—the Gray Plan—just a start in the right direction. [...]

William Faulkner: Well, the only answer to that is to vote again, and vote again, [audience laughter] and vote again. If you tell people something often enough and long enough, whether they believe you or not, they may follow you just to get you to hush. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, it seems to me that the main contention here tonight is that the economic and educational status of the Negro has propagated in him mores which are detrimental to our society. If this is so, why not, while segregated, raise his economic standards and raise his educational standards?

William Faulkner: Good, I agree with you. That's what I'd like to do.

Unidentified participant: Furthermore—

William Faulkner: I would like to give him such good schools that he wouldn't want to go to the white schools. I would like to give him so much equality in his own race and responsibility for it and make him have to spend so much time being responsible for his own equality, he wouldn't have time to bother with the white man's. Yes, I agree with you. That's what I would do.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, would you advocate letting the Negro pay his own taxes, too?

William Faulkner: Well, don't he?

Unidentified participant: [...] we know.

William Faulkner: Well, he—some of him does. He gets drafted into the Army just like he was a white man. He risks the same death as a white man does. And probably, if he had the vote, he'd vote for the same scalawag and scoundrel the white folks elect, but he would at least have the—[audience laughter] have the right to have voted for him.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, assuming that we in Virginia take the initiative to lead in this integration movement for the South, what guarantee, if any, do we have that incidents similar to those that just happened in New York in the last couple of weeks won't happen again down here? If we don't have any guarantee, what steps would you suggest that we take to stall off any such incidents? Particularly, [...] the knifing and robberies and so forth.

William Faulkner: I would say that we train the Negro first into the responsibility of having the privilege of going to the white school before we dump him into it, that he should be—be selected by rigorous examination before he was permitted into the white schools. In the meantime, white teachers should be sent to the Negro schools to train the Negro teachers how to teach the Negro [students] to be equal, responsible for the right to go to the white schools. I think if that's—I'm sure what we all want not to happen is a thing like Little Rock or Clinton, to have troops with bayonets compel Negroes into white Virginia or Mississippi schools. That's exactly, as I see it, what we're trying to prevent, which is—if we don't do something, we will have.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, the Negro professional men of the South—its doctors, [in particular,] and the lawyers—themselves act as a blockade against the younger, the better-educated Negroes. In important matters, in [the] medical societies, they won't let them pass the board examinations, so what are we going to do about that? [You have] these old guard Negroes who won't let the new, better-educated—the more liberal Negroes in as leaders.

William Faulkner: They will have to be bypassed, just like the—the old-guard white people that want to—to stop progress will have to be bypassed. We don't have time, any more, to—to wait around for the old mossbacks to die off. [audience laughter] That might solve it if we had more time, but we don't. Something's got to be done pretty soon, and they would have to be bypassed. And I'm quite sure there's a lot of that, that they prefer the status quo, they don't want to change and upset things, that probably they—they don't want a lot of—of smart young Negro doctors and lawyers getting in their hair. It makes them behave a good deal like white folks. [audience laughter]

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, as a foreigner, I have regarded the southerners and the northerners, all Americans, as members of the American nation, but here and elsewhere, I have observed that there is a difference between the southerner and the northerner. [And] I see a problem here which seems to me greater or more dangerous than the problem of segregation against the Negroes. Would you please comment?

William Faulkner: I think I understand what you mean, but I don't believe any problem can face this country that we won't drop everything and confederate on, unless it may be the abolishment of automobiles. [audience laughter] But we are not going to confederate on the problem of segregation. That's the only issue that—that we—we balk at. But anything else is ephemeral, and the—and the American don't take that seriously any more than he takes most of the—of the stuff he talks seriously, that a great deal of his talk that sounds serious and meaningful to the foreigner, it don't to the American because he—it never occurs to him that anybody's going to really believe that, but—[audience laughter]

Dean F. D. G. Ribble: [...] one or two more, Mr. Faulkner?

William Faulkner: Whatever—whatever you ever like.

Dean F. D. G. Ribble: Let's give them about two or three more and then [...]. If we have about two more questions, and then I think we've held Mr. Faulkner long enough.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: I think this last comment is of some interest, and I was wondering if you felt that the problem which we face in Virginia and in the South has any strong international consequences insofar as the future of the Western civilization. That is, what do our neighbors across the oceans think of us in Virginia, let's say, as this young man has just pointed out, when they observe our actions in regard to Negroes?

William Faulkner: I imagine that they have a very—pretty—a very poor opinion of us, but I think that their opinion of us is not near as important right now as what—what, we—Virginians and Mississippians and Alabamians—have got to think about ourselves. Let's look after our own opinion about our behavior, and then let's worry about what somebody else thinks about it.

Unidentified participant: As slow and as inefficient as it may be, do you feel that the best problem or the best solution to race integration would be race assimilation?

William Faulkner: No, sir, I don't think that that would—would solve many problems. The same amount of—of bickering would go on, and they would find another subject for it. I think that the only thing that will solve that problem is—is not integration but equality, for the Negro to know that he has just as much and just as valid rights in this country as anybody else has. That his money is just as secure. His children have a right to just as good an education as anybody else does. His vote counts as much as anybody else's. That he don't have to pay any more for the Cadillac that he dreams of owning some day than the white man has to pay for it.

Dean F. D. G. Ribble: I know I'm speaking for each one of us when I say we're all most grateful to Mr. Faulkner for a very interesting and a very stimulating evening. That concludes this evening. [applause]

[end of recording]