Interview with Oscar Fendler
[missing figure]TY_OWf1w6rk
QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

Now, the union tried to organize across racial lines. What kind of reaction did that get?

OSCAR FENDLER:

They ran into trouble. They ran into friction on that. And they, they had to tread on water, so to speak, when they were doing it. And, and, best as they possibly could they didn't want to have any segregation between them so they treat them all alike, and that caused a lot of whites to resent it. The white person, even the white sharecropper, thought he was better than the black sharecropper was. And with tenants, like I told you, tenants, black tenants, there wasn't, there weren't too many black tenants, at least that I ever ran into. You must know that in this county, which was unusual, much different from what they had in Poinsett and these other counties, a number of very fine blacks had acquired land, ten acres, twenty acres, forty acres of land. And though you, these were pretty decent blacks and they had gone and got some education in the black schools they went to. Of course, the black schools maybe outside of Wilson which stopped at maybe the fifth grade. But they went, they got as much as they could. They could read. They could write. They could talk sensible. And I represented a number of them. You have to remember that most lawyers wouldn't represent a black. That was—it was just, beneath them, either had prejudice toward it, or they knew that if went over there, the courthouse and jury trials they weren't going to accomplish anything representing them. That was the challenge as far as I was concerned as a lawyer. I was always as, as, as for the underdog so to speak, and still am. So I'd represent anybody. I didn't care if he had any money. I didn't care what his color was. Didn't make a difference to me.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you tell me how, how landowners reacted to the fact that black and white were organizing together?

OSCAR FENDLER:

They resented it terribly.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you say—

OSCAR FENDLER:

No, I, only started. When you think about the reaction of a landowner, of the landowners to blacks and whites being together in the organization, they not only frowned on it, they vocally said, "We're not going to have anything that's going to stir up racial matters. We'd had a riot down at Elaine in this state, and it's terrible, a bunch of them were killed, maybe two hundred or more. And we don't want anything like that." And so they're, they're remonstrance toward Mr. Mitchell and his Southern Tenants Farm Union, or to Thomas, didn't get anywhere. They just ignored him and they went on and did the best they could, hoping that they could attract more and more numbers.