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.


Mississippi - Jackson: Charles W. Tisdale Interviewee
Tom Dent interviews Charles W. Tisdale in Jackson, Mississippi. Dent asks about Madison County and notes the large number and public nature of the civil rights battles there specifically mentioning Bob Moses and George Raymond. Tisdale notes that he saw Moses in Memphis in 1962. Tisdale says Madison is divided Black elected officials serve the wishes of the White community over the needs of the Black community. Tisdale says only about 3 or 4 Black elected officials actually speak for the Black community. Dent calls it "neocolonialism." Tisdale says that Madison County will never progress because it is the heartland of "White power", sighting nearby Yazoo County. Tisdale notes a slave rebellion that had been planned in Madison Country that was broken up by Black informants. He says Whites "kill with impunity," noting a man who was killed in jail and the guard said he hanged himself. They discuss the slave and plantation history of Madison County, noting the Andrew Jackson was married nearby. Tisdale says that there is scarce Black leadership but names Karl Banks and McCullum who are both supervisors for the county as decent leaders. Tisdale explains that Blacks were terrorized more in Madison and Yazoo counties because there is a large Black population in that area and if they were given representation they would be the majority. Tisdale notes some professionals returning to Madison County from Canton, naming Blackman, Smith and Nichols. Dent asks about the post-civil rights time period when he notes infighting, particularly in the Head Start program and between George Raymond and Reverend McCrea. Tisdale states that the infighting was instigated by the Whites due to their control over the economics of the region and "inherited perspective" and naming the Mississippi Plan. Tisdale notes the Canton has a higher percentage of Black on Black crime and says it is due to a sense of powerlessness and lack of worth instilled by White dominance and intentional scheming. Tisdale says that the loss of the NAACP in the area is acutely felt and that it destabilizes and decentralizes the Black community. In their place, Whites place Black leaders who are malleable to their wishes, naming Aron Henry and Rev. Johnson. Tisdale says that there is no vehicle currently where people can discuss real issues facing the Black community without facing in fighting or arrest. Tisdale says that educated children should try to leave the state: that the politics are too high a price to pay. Tisdale names Benny Thompson, a Supervisor in Bolton, as a good Black leader and they speculate the reasons for his success. Tisdale says the lack of education on ethical principles and philosophy has a real effect on Black leadership. Dent says that young Blacks are more interested in making money then leadership. Tisdale says that the youth of the community don't think of themselves as African Americans, they think of themselves as "bark skinned White folks" and as such refuse to fight for the betterment of the community. They think only for themselves. Dent brings up the case of a Federal judge in New Orleans who was caught with a bribe., The tape cuts out and replays a few times., 
North Carolina - Charlotte: Harvey Gantt
Tom Dent interviews Harvey Gantt in Charlotte, North Carolina. They discuss Gantt's recent unsuccessful Senate run against Jesse Helms, whose election tactics were designed to be divisive and racist. Gantt talks about why he decided to run and the importance of people of color running for office. There was an educational process necessary within the Black community during the election campaign. Gantt discusses the differences between North Carolina and South Carolina and between the cities of North Carolina. He talks about his decision to leave Charleston, South Carolina for college at Iowa State University and why he returned to the South to become the first African American student to attend Clemson University. He discusses his life as an architect and a politician., 
North Carolina - Durham: John Hope Franklin
Tom Dent interviews John Hope Franklin over the telephone [recording cuts out in places]. Franklin is in Durham, North Carolina. He is originally from Oklahoma. He lived in North Carolina previously, left in 1947 and returned in 1980. He now teaches at Duke University. He talks about North Carolina as a progressive state and about the research he has done on African Americans in North Carolina. He compares the communities of Durham and Greensboro, discussing the Sit-in movement. He talks about what bothers him currently in the community and the decline of the cities. He criticizes George H.W. Bush's presidency and laments the problems with leadership. They discuss the decline of the Black main street.,