Interview with Rev. James Lawson
QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

OK, I'M THINKING OF THAT ELEMENT IN ANY TOWN AND SPECIFICALLY IN NASHVILLE, THAT WERE MODERATES AT THE TIME IN THE WHITE COMMUNITY WHO MAY HAVE FELT SYMPATHY WITH YOU ALL IN THE SIT-IN MOVEMENT, BUT WHO WEREN'T GONNA DO ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR AND WHO WERE WAITING AND WATCHING. WHEN DID THAT, WHAT INCIDENT CAUSED, OR WAS THERE A CRYSTALLIZING INCIDENT THAT CAUSED THAT ELEMENT TO COME OVER TO THE SIDE OF THE SIT-IN MOVEMENT?

Rev. James Lawson:

You have to recognize that in the South generally, those people who counted themselves as moderate also felt that they understand best how race relations could proceed, so that those of us who acted by organizing movements and events were really counted as very radical people, as upsetting race relations in the community. In fact, what we heard frequently in Nashville in those days in the sixties was that Nashville was a moderate city and had the best working relationships with black people and that in fact the sit-in was not the way to do it and that the people causing the sit-in were going at it all wrong. That it could better be done through calm, quiet negotiation and the rest of it. So I'm not sure how you would, how you would type moderates at that point because so many went that route, even the Tennessean, see, did not think that we knew what we were doing, or that we had much to offer about how to lead Nashville to begin to desegregate downtown. Now, that doesn't mean we didn't have white people who were supportive from the beginning, 'cause that's not true, we did. We had a sizeable number of white people--Will Campbell was one of the major folk helping us organize that--who were our observers from the very first sit-in. We had white people who stayed in the background and out of the place but kept an eye on what was going on, so if we needed to have court witnesses and information and a whole lot of other things, we had it in place. And it was a good, it was a safe, way in many cases because then they didn't have to identify themselves in a church or a university or school and thereby get themselves kicked out. And we did that, quite deliberately, so we had any number of folk who were like that and gave wholehearted support, but supported it from that side. But the notion of the moderate element in some ways is an immoderate element, because it presumed to know more about what was hurting black people than we ourselves knew. And it presumed to know more about how we ought to make those changes than anybody else. Now, at that point, you also have to say that conventional black leadership in some ways also was comfortable leadership and therefore really didn't share in many ways the nitty gritty pains of black folk living under segregation and dehumanization. So--