Interview with Mayor Joseph Smitherman
QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

OK FIRST THING I WOULD LIKE YOU TO GO BACK BEFORE YOU WERE MAYOR AND UH, WHEN YOU WERE A BUSINESSMAN, UH, WHAT WAS YOUR ATTITUDE [overlap] THIS IS FOR REAL.

Mayor Joseph Smitherman:

Well, I ran an appliance store when I got out of high school, I got married. Uh, people get married very young in the south in those days and I got married and I got a job selling appliances first with the railroad and then appliances. We didn't have much industry in Selma in those days. Mainly cotton and agricultural. So I got a job selling appliances with sears Roebuck and then later on went into an appliance business with two partners on a shoestring. And uh, some of my best customers were black school teachers you know, you'd often get caught in a, and they were genuine friends, these were the few jobs the blacks had in those days and professions, and you know, you dare not call them Mister, or Mrs. and you dare not put it on their stationery Mister or Mrs. this is sometimes it would really bother you, you'd meet them in a bank or something like that and they're one of your best customers and yet you'd have a white person who might be one of your worst customers and uh, you would try to walk around, uh, or get to the other side because you had a lot of white pressure, it was just built up in you that—we never had the Ku Klux Klan in this area, we had what you'd call the White Citizens' Council which, and I was a member of it, that uh, we'd promoted, separate but equal philosophy, and uh, one of the things was to bring economic pressure on any blacks that tried to integrate restaurants, or get out of line, so to speak and this sort of thing and uh, then the whites also put pressure on each other if a white person was shown sympathetic or so-called liberal to a black or had a black waitress or something, uh, you'd get a group to go by and say, Hey what are you doing? You helping promote these radicals and civil rights idea, integration. So uh, you had that sort of pressure on you in those days. And all politicians that ran for off- ice had that cause I came from a poor background, uh, I grew up on welfare, uh, it wasn't food stamps, uh, my mother was a widow woman, with 6 children, I was the youngest. We moved to Selma when I was a month old. And my father died when I was 2 months old, no hard-luck story but just the facts. And uh, we had, we got a welfare check and uh, we had uh, surplus food. we had the powdered potatoes, the powdered milk, uh, the barley bread, apples and cheese and so forth and you got food, you didn't get the stamps that you could swap for beer or whatever, but we had a lot of pride and I was ashamed to go get it. You know, because I lived in the railroad section of town, and these other kids had food uh, but I would go get the welfare food, and I was ashamed of it and I wanted to get out of that environment. And uh, I struggled through those days, getting married young and the appliance business and what and I guess, in some instances blacks had it better than I did and many of them worse, but they would take jobs that whites would not take, like being maids and things like that or taking washing, uh, even though many times I wish we did because uh, if you went hungry for a day and a half, you know what it means. So…