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Interview with Lonnie King, September 28, 2009

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:31 - Early life / Grandfather's influence

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Partial Transcript: Arlington, Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: King recalls his childhood in Arlington, Georgia, mentioning two experiences of racism that left a vivid impression on him, including first learning the meaning of the n-word. King describes the influence of his grandfather, an evangelist preacher and secret supporter of the NAACP, on the development of his character and beliefs. He briefly mentions the way in which white primaries excluded black people from voting during the Jim Crow era.

Keywords: Arlington, Georgia; Eugene Talmadge; Jim Crow laws; John Hope Elementary School; NAACP; preacher; racism; revival; violence; white primary

00:06:59 - Confronting racism while in the Navy

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Partial Transcript: I later on went into the Navy.

Segment Synopsis: King remembers the discrimination he faced in the Navy, including being assigned menial jobs like maintenance and cleaning and being refused a transfer to a better job. He remembers appealing to a white superior officer who advocated on his behalf to arrange the job transfer. King recalls wanting to return to Atlanta after his service so he could become involved in political activism.

Keywords: Navy; civil rights movement; political activism; prejudice; race; racism

00:13:56 - Involvement on the cusp of Civil Rights Movement

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Partial Transcript: So when I came back in '57, I played football and did very well on the football team and got somewhat of a following.

Segment Synopsis: King talks about attending Morehouse College, where he met Julian Bond and other key figures in the civil rights protests. He briefly talks about the historical importance of Morehouse College in shaping leaders in the civil rights movement, and credits a lot of that to Morehouse's long-term president, Dr. Benjamin Mays. King talks about receiving admonition and support from the presidents of the other black colleges in Atlanta, regarding the student protests he helped organize. He also mentions working with Julian Bond and Rosalyn Hope to draft "An Appeal for Human Rights," the first student petition of its kind widely published in the media.

Keywords: An Appeal for Human Rights; Benjamin Mays; Greensboro sit-in; Greensboro, NC; Howard University; Julian Bond; Mordecai Johnson; Morehouse College; Rosalyn Pope; Spelman College; petition

00:24:19 - Shaping the non-violent movement: formation of SNCC

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Partial Transcript: It was not difficult to recruit students, was it?

Segment Synopsis: King discusses growing the student participation as the movement gained traction. He describes students' reactions to the philosophy of non-violence, explains non-violence as a specific strategy, and situates their movement within the history of the suppression of slave revolts and black protests in the U.S. He highlights the role of young people as actors in creating change and fighting injustice. King describes how the initial idea behind the SNCC developed, and how the group was organized at Shaw University. He discusses the way television news coverage created a wider culture of support surrounding the student protest movement.

Keywords: Denmark Vasey; Ebenezer Baptist Church; John Lewis; Marion Barry; NAACP; NBC news; Rap Brown; Shaw University; Stokely Carmichael; The Theory of the Leisure Class; Thorstein Veblen; broadcasting; church; class action lawsuit; control; honorific consumption; involvement; mass participation; mass support; news coverage; news media; non-violence; nonviolence; protest; slave patrols; suppression; television; white violence; youth

00:37:36 - Desegregation of Rich's Department Store

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Partial Transcript: How closely did you work with Dr. King's SCLC organization?

Segment Synopsis: King relates the story of how Dr. Martin Luther King became involved in the SNCC-organized desegregation of Rich's Department Store in Atlanta. He describes some of the tensions between the student-led SNCC and the more traditional black advocay organizations. He also talks about the black power structure in Atlanta at that time, and explains why some black leaders were against the methods used by the SNCC.

Keywords: Herschelle Sullivan; JFK; John F. Kennedy; Magnolia Room; Rich's Department Store; Richard Nixon; William Hartsfield; black leaderships; black power structure; coalition; economic access; privilege

00:46:44 - Mobilizing the African-American vote

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Partial Transcript: Let me read you this quote.

Segment Synopsis: King talks about the efforts of SNCC to register voters across the southern states. He describes the importance of the vote, and talks about low African-American voter turnout. King also traces the history of voter enfranchisement in the U.S., and speculates as to what the future will bring in terms of political gains.

Keywords: Voting Rights Act of 1965; black vote; voter registration; voter suppression

00:53:10 - Desegregation of schools

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Partial Transcript: Let's get back to Atlanta for just a minute.

Segment Synopsis: King emphasizes the series of lawsuits filed by SNCC to integrate parks and recreation areas, courthouses, and other public facilities. He explains a bit of the history of the Supreme Court's broader interpretation of the 14th amendment in cases leading up to the repeal of the separate-but-equal doctrine in Brown v. Board of Education. King talks about the importance of addressing current problems of education, and highlights the work that Teach for America does in schools.

Keywords: Brown v. Topeka Board of Education; From Slavery to Freedom; John Hope Frankling; Plessy v. Ferguson; Roger Taney; Supreme Court; Sweatt v. Texas; Teach for America; colonialism; incarceration; prison pipeline

01:05:59 - SNCC's internal split / Freedom Rides

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Partial Transcript: What role did SNCC play in some of Dr. King's programs?

Segment Synopsis: King compares SNCC's approach to that of Dr. King's, situating it within the wider ideological spectrum of non-violence versus black power. He mentions the decline of SNCC over time, due to the transitory nature of its student base. He recalls participating in Freedom Rides, which were efforts of activists to desegregate public transportation across the South. He briefly mentions the role of religion in the movement, as well as the degree of direct involvement of black pastors and churches. He also comments on how he and other activists were under FBI surveillance.

Keywords: Black Power; FBI; Freedom Riders; Freedom Rides; J. Edgard Hoover; Malcom X; baptist; church; church bombings; integration; nonviolence; pastors; religion; surveillance; transportation

01:17:58 - Collective leadership in Civil Rights

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Partial Transcript: Well, I think you'll agree that Dr. King was, without a doubt, the leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

Segment Synopsis: King contextualizes Dr. King's role within the broader Civil Rights Movement, by describing him as the 'leading voice' of the movement rather than its singular leader. King recognizes the collective efforts of other black leaders and organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, and reflects on the more recent representation of black voices in America.

Keywords: A. Phillip Randolph; Dorothy Height; representation

01:21:16 - Civil Rights Movement: past and present

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Partial Transcript: Looking back, Lonnie, what do you think was the Movement's greatest triumph?

Segment Synopsis: King talks about the immediate effects of integration in opening public spaces for black people, but recognizes the continued challenges that key pieces of legislation, such as the Voting Rights Act, face in being renewed. King reflects on the engagement of young people in activism, in which he notes a discontinuity of political mentorship to younger generations. He discusses how conservative court appointments affect the judgement and application of the law in current civil rights cases. King mentions the need to address the issues of improving education and building black leadership in the African-American community.

Keywords: appeal; appellate court; conservatism; court bias; prejudice; republican; reverse discrimination; summary judgement; trial court

01:30:05 - Career and family

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Partial Transcript: Well, what has life been like for Lonnie King after your civil rights career, or are you still a civil rights activist?

Segment Synopsis: King talks about his various professions in management, real estate development, and teaching. He mentions his family, including the accomplishments of his grandchildren.

Keywords: Georgia State University; Harvard University; activism; federal government; professorship; real estate; teaching