Have the power alignments and the tools of wealth in post-segregation Nashville changed much since 1957?
[Benjamin] Houston: Where do you think that the power was in Nashville, based on your behind-the-scenes understanding? Where were the bases of power in Nashville in terms of running the city? ....Campbell: A man who was the chairman of the board of trustees at Vanderbilt University was the publisher of the Nashville Banner.Houston: [James G.] Stahlman.Campbell: Jimmy Stahlman. He was by far the most powerful man in Nashville. He had allies, certainly, in high places, but that's partly because those allies were the ones who had stock in the Nashville Banner and he was beholden to them, the Nashville Life and Accident Insurance Company and so on. The governor at that time [Frank G. Clement], he was a good man who just wanted the controversy to all go away. He did not want protests to be happening, but he knew that he couldn't stop it.Houston: You have commented elsewhere that politics in Nashville were fairly modern for their time in the 1950s, and yet the social and cultural mentality was much more conservative. Can you elaborate on that dynamic?Campbell: What was it, ten or twelve, the Fugitives?Houston: Twelve, the Agrarians.Campbell: Yes, who were intellectuals, and they were widely respected. People would say, "he is a great poet, he is a great man, a great writer." And they couldn't go on to say, "but he is a bigot. He doesn't like black people, and he doesn't like poor people." That's another thing that troubles me . . . Whites didn't realize that the very people who were recruiting them for the White Citizens' Council wouldn't wipe their feet on them, and used them only for their cause.
Friday, September 02, 2011
The 54th anniversary of the desegregation of Nashville public schools is upon us. I have been reflecting on that tumultuous history and catching up on accounts of the time. I came across this interview with one of my favorite authors, Will Campbell, a white preacher and writer who acted as a kind of scout for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He has some interesting insights not just on how the entrenched wealthy class in Nashville used poor whites to do their dirty work, but also on the influence of the news media within the halls of municipal government: