Interview with William Bradford Huie
QUESTION 32
INTERVIEWER:

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WHITE SOUTH? I MEAN …

William Bradford Huie:

Oh yes. The white South is this way: when you are talking about poor men in the South, poor white men, remember that poor white men have always got a very dirty deal in the South. Uh, in the slave days, blacks, slaves looked down on poor white men. And wealth—and well-off white men looked down on landless white men in the way that well-off people in India looked down on their poor people. Uh, so, [cough] I have had a little sympathy for the poor white man in the South, because I've had a poor white man look up to me and he said, "Mr. Huie, if I ain't better than a damned nigger, what the hell am I better of?" Now, it's well enough to dismiss this except Aristotle wrote two thousand years ago that, uh, every man yearns to be recognized for something. The purpose of living is to try to be recog-—somebody to value you for something. And so it is human for every human being probably to want to be recognized for something. Well, this poor white man, I can't turn around and say, "Hell, you ain't better than nothing than a hound dog," you see? The black man, who had once looked down on him, remember, as a slave or his grandfather, these people were natural antagonists, they were antagonists in poverty and actually poverty, you see, was the principal trouble between the white man and the black man. They were both hungry. And they were hungry in the Depression and they were hungry on into nineteen hundred and fifty-five. So, this is where they now, the men who became Ku Klux Klansmen, were not these poverty people. They were the people who had gone one or two steps up the ladder. And they saw the black man as a possible competitor. And that's, that of course is what's, why the Klan is being revived in, in the South today. Is because the black man is actually threatens the poor white man on his job at the General Motors plant a few miles away from here. But uh, uh, you had, you had a hatred and then, then you, you had the white man who would give money to the Ku Klux Klan, but who wouldn't belong to it. Uh, the FBI in 1955, '56 had an office in Decateur and after I became involved in stories like the Till story and the castration story and keeping Klansmen in prison, I have to be careful about my own movements. And the Klan in Decatur had informers, I mean the FBI had informers in every Klan group. And so the FBI agent uh, in charge of that office would stop at my house occasionally and we would go over their informers reports—all in Klan groups within ten miles of my home. And he would tell me which members of my neighbors—-who, which ones of my neighbors belonged to the Klan and which ones I had to look, look out for. So we, we had that, the but the people who were, who were most, who, who, who were most cruel to black people were the whites who lived in the heavily black communities. Uh, they felt far more threatened. The people in this county, where you have only ten, or twelve percent blacks, never felt threatened by black people. Uh, integration was relatively easy here. Um, I'll give you a story. Uh, my high school where I went to school and finished in 1927 is a block and a half from here. In uh, integration uh, I was, I was called a nigger-lover in the early years after Black Monday and then after our high school was integrated, of course their whole basketball team became black, or virtually all black, you know, they had stories where the black man home went home to see his mother after prac-after the game you know, and he says, "Well, mother, we got so far ahead tonight some of the white boys got to play." And so all that kinds of story, it's the same way but at any rate then, uh, we had a mayor in this time who used to, wouldn't speak to me, called me a nigger-lover and so forth. But he's a great sports addict, he used to be a—sports meant a great deal to him. So I'm in a barbershop one time, about 1963, I guess, you know, and so, I'm sitting in the barber chair, and the former mayor comes up to me and says, "Billy, you better…," and our team had just won the state championship, "Have you been up to see the basketball, see the boys' basketball?" So there were about dozen white men sitting there and I said, "Hell, no. You don't think I give a damn about seeing a bunch of niggers play basketball, do you?" And he acts offended. He said, "What do you want to talk about the team that way for?" Now here's the same man who had been calling me a nigger lover back in 1957 or '58 when I was a friend of Dr. King and writing this sort of thing. But now once it becomes athletics, this changes ev—of course in this, in this state where football and Bear Bryant and everything it's, you have, first you started with a lot of stories you see …