Southern Journey Oral History Collection


This collection of oral histories, completed from 1991 to 1994, contains narratives of 119 individuals describing the activities and people involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. The narratives also detail daily life for the African American community during this volatile period in the United States.

These interviews were conducted by writer Tom Dent as research for the documentary and book project Southern Journey: A Return to the Civil Rights Movement. Inspiration for the project stemmed from Dent’s earlier experiences conducting a Mississippi Oral History Project (1978-1983) and researching the autobiography of his friend Andrew Young. He was influenced by the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon to travel throughout the American South and collect the stories of the Civil Rights Movement in a variety of cities and towns, including Greensboro (North Carolina), Orangeburg and Charleston (South Carolina), St. Augustine (Florida), Albany (Georgia), Selma (Alabama) and various towns in Mississippi. The interviews are arranged in alphabetical order within these town and state groups. Interviews of note include, John Marshall Kilimanjaro (Greensboro, North Carolina), Annie Devine (Canton, Mississippi), L.C. Dorsey (Mound Bayou, Mississippi), and Andrew Young (Atlanta, Georgia). His goal was to capture the voices and perspectives of the individuals who have rarely been heard from in the history of the movement.


Alabama - Eutaw: Eutaw Folk Festival
Tom Dent records performances at the Eutaw Folk Festival in Eutaw, Alabama. He talks to people in the audience about the festival, and about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival., 
Alabama - Selma: Alvin Benn Interviewee
Tom Dent interviews Alvin Benn in Selma, Alabama. He is bureau manager at the Montgomery Advertiser in Selma. They talk about whether or not there can be an effective coalition between Black and White populations and the Black community gains equity. Benn points to the case of Marion Alabama in Perry County, where the city school system was incorporated into a county-wide system to force integration. Marion Academy, which is almost completely White, was created in response. They discuss the possibility of a Black politician winning a political office and what it will mean for the community. Benn says Black and White communities in Selma get along well and mix socially. He uses the return of the National Guard unit as an example. Benn talks about former school Superintendent Norward Roussell's contract not being renewed by the School Board. He thinks Roussell was unsuccessful not only because he was Black, but also because he had an abrasive personality and came from outside the community. He would have gotten farther with more diplomacy. Benn talks about his children's experiences going through school in Selma, where they were put in level one and level two. Henry Sanders and others have pointed out that the level system is used to segregate Black and White students within integrated schools. Benn tells the story of Terri Sewell, who is at Harvard Law School on a Marshall Scholarship. She is a product of the public school system and received parental support. He sees parental support as instrumental to education. Dent points out that if encouragement does not come from family, it may have to come from someone within the school system. Benn cannot confirm that a discriminatory level system ever existed and suggests he talk with Superintendent James Carter. Dent tells Benn about an interview he performed in Charleston with a young Black man who felt that he would never have attended Notre Dame if it had not been for a White teacher who took an interest in him and suggested he take certain classes and apply there. Dent aske Benn about the "Jeff Davis crowd" in Selma. Benn says, "they love me and they hate me." He talks about covering the Black Belt for the Montgomery Advertiser, the birth of the Alabama New South Coalition, and their effectiveness. They have built a political and social empire. The White community's criticism is that they are using their political base to enrich themselves. He uses Rose Sanders' involvement in Greentrack as an example. He sees Dallas County as the strongest point of the Black Belt, based solely on the population numbers. The political power base has shifted from White to Black. They discuss Congressional redistricting. Benn talks about the division between Black and White that still exists in Selma. Public schools that are primarily Black are severely underfunded. Benn thinks that in recent years, the power structure has recognized that Selma's role in the civil rights movement could be monetized, which has brought them around slowly to its value. Conflict occurred when they tried to plan the twenty-fifth commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery march. A biracial group called One Selma has been formed to address mutual concerns. Dent describes how the City of Greensboro has effectively managed the civil rights commemoration there. There are plans to turn the path of the Selma to Montgomery march into a National Historic Trail. The region's problems continue to stem from the power struggle between the Black and White communities. Change will be slow., 
Alabama - Selma: Henry "Hank" Sanders Interviewee
Tom Dent interviews Henry "Hank" Sanders in Selma, Alabama. He talks about Black political strength in the Black Belt, and Black representation in politics. Although well-represented in some areas, there are few Black probate judges, which is the highest office. Political power is limited by economic power. In order to make real developmental progress, economic power is needed. Controlling communication helps control the economic situation. Green County is politically the strongest, and Dallas County economically. Selma holds a symbolic role in the region., 
Alabama - Selma: Rose Sanders Interviewee
Tom Dent interviews Rose Sanders in Selma, Alabama. She talks about her family background. Her mother's family is from Wilcox County and her father's family is from Mobile, Alabama. They traveled throughout the southeast due to her father's work as a Methodist minister. She was born in Salisbury, North Carolina. They lived there and Kentucky, and she graduated from high school in Greeneville, Tennessee. She attended went on to university while her parents moved to Dynamite Hill in Birmingham, Alabama. She spent her first summer there in 1962, amid the violence. A young Black man was killed on her street and Reverend Shuttlesworth was there. Her parents' home was threatened with violence. They discuss a book on the subject, part of which she wrote. She was only in Birmingham that summer. She spent the rest of her time in Harlem, where she became involved in the arts. She moved without knowing anyone. A friend introduced her to the Adair family from North Carolina she did not know, and they took her in. She started working with children on the block, some of whom she is still in touch with, and formed a youth theater. Reverend Adair (whom she calls "Rev") was able to find her a job in youth theater. She graduated from Harvard Law School, graduating in 1969. She spent a year in New York working for National Welfare Rights and married Hank Sanders. They then spent a year in Africa before returning to Alabama. They lived in Ibadan, Nigeria and studied the Africanization of universities there following independence, discovering that there had been no Africanization. They returned with an interest in teaching at Black colleges. They came to Huntsville, Alabama, where she worked with Madison County Legal Aid Society. She and Hank took the bar exam separately, knowing they were not likely to both pass if they took it together due to the rampant racism of the Bar. Hank moved to Selma in 1971, where he had heard there were very few Black lawyers. She did not want to move there, but they decided they would stay for five years and then she could choose where they lived next. They became immediately involved in the community and stayed. They organized the Black Belt Arts and Cultural Center. They discuss Black Fire in Birmingham, who had both a dance and theater group. They were run by Vera Marcus. Black Belt did not receive any funding at the time, which is how they have managed to survive into the present, unlike other arts groups of the era. She points to Mayor Joe Smitherman as the "main issue" Selma has to deal with now. She attends school board meetings as a watchdog. She has sued the board, and plans to just listen and not speak at the meeting tonight. Education is a critical issue in the area. They have produced a generation of Black children with no skills or confidence. Sanders was one of the organizers of the 21st Century youth leadership program. She talks about the program, its organizers and funding. They talk about mutual acquaintance Jerome Smith who is active in the program. She also runs a musical theater group called Children of Selma. She also runs an adult group who will be putting on her new play about internalized racism and self-hate. Dent compares it to his play Ritual Murder. Sanders is looking for a creative person to help develop the group. She is hoping to leave Selma in the future. She feels her children have had to deal with negativity rooted in community opposition to Sanders and her husband. Files have been charged against her for her opposition to illegal activities within the school board. She talks about trying to meet with Mayor Smitherman, but being denied access to his office. A camera man taped the resulting altercation. The cameraman has since died. Sanders was arrested.,