Interview with John Seigenthaler
QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

UM, I GUESS THIS IS SORT OF A GENERAL QUESTION NOW JUST AS A - UH, AS A SOUTHERN YOU KNEW WHAT THE STAKES WERE THAT THE FREEDOM RIDERS WERE -WERE, UH, WERE RISKING. UH, WHY DO YOU THINK DURING THIS PERIOD - EARLY 60'S, THE-UH- THE SOUTH WAS SO RESISTANT TO THIS SORT OF CHANGE?

John Seigenthaler:

Well, the South was -uh– resistant because it -uh- it was change that represented -uh- revolutionary upheaval of standards and practices and morays. I mean, you know, I grew up -uh– in Nashville in a totally segregated society, I mean, and never had a second thought about it -uh- throughout my entire youth. I mean -uh- it never occurred to me as a—as a child that the world should be different. Uh – inevitably though, it begins to sink in on you that –uh- not only the separation is there, but also that the -uh- total inequity is there. The wrong is there. And with that realization comes a sense of guilt that thinking Southerners were carrying with them throughout their lives. And, -uh- those people who were involved in that Klan violence -uh- had no sense of guilt. they only had a fanaticized sense of self-righteousness. Protect the Old Way, whatever the cost. And they controlled the Police establishment -they clo- they controlled the political establishment -uh– and uh, in a very real sense, they were saying the same thing: "Nobody gonna turn us around. Nobody was gonna stop us. Nobody cares whether we do violence to these people." And, -uh- it was the first time Black America had ever challenged that directly in my lifetime. And looking back on it, it's hard to realize that -uh - such a short time later, a quarter of a century later, but it was -uh- it was an ultimate test of wills. And -uh- and I think as a Southerner, I, I uh, I sensed that with a sense of foreboding for what might happen, in terms of violence, but with a sense of relief that finally the confrontation had come and that we were going to be able to cleanse ourselves of this guilt. Purge our region of the wrong. And so that was, I think, in the background of my mind, even though I was going through -uh- motions every day that were so fast paced that I had no reas—reason or opportunity to reflect on, on the culture that produced it.