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  • Frank Porter Graham, Racial Gradualism, and the Dilemmas of Southern Liberalism

Seventy years ago, in November 1949, at the fifteenth annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association (SHA) in Williamsburg, Virginia, H. Clarence Nixon did something that has never again occurred in the history of this organization: he reviewed the SHA's past presidential addresses since its first meeting at the Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1935. Trained by University of Chicago historian William E. Dodd, Nixon became more of a political scientist than a historian. Like the iconic C. Vann Woodward, Nixon saw southern academics as agents of change. He taught at Tulane University in the 1930s until he ran afoul of the locals because of his supposedly subversive views on race and labor. In 1938, he became one of the founding members of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW), briefly serving as one of its first executive secretaries and then moving on to teach at Vanderbilt University.1

In his SHA retrospective, Nixon was brutally honest, pointing out that many first-generation SHA historians saw themselves as defenders of southern traditions against Yankee invasion. Citing past addresses by the earliest SHA presidents, Nixon sarcastically declared that they had rung "clear bells of regional patriotism." E. Merton Coulter, longtime University of Georgia historian, told listeners during the first SHA presidential address that "the South must meet words with words" and that southern [End Page 7] historians "should march together no less surely than soldiers, and ammunition should be garnered, stored, and used with as much precision."2

Nixon's words were somewhat gentle but nonetheless biting. If all the Association's presidential addresses of the past decade and a half were assembled as a "composite," he wrote, "the general pattern of interpretation would be a far cry" from the conclusions that Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal had recently reached in An American Dilemma,a landmark study of race that appeared in 1944. Unlike Myrdal, Nixon's composite SHA president had concealed African Americans in "a woodpile of constitutional abstractions, ignoring [them] statistically and spiritually." The composite SHA president gave "little or no consideration" to the nation's ten million black people, writing "very profusely of the South as a minority and of sins against that minority." The composite SHA president reached the "wishful conclusion that the South must be left alone to solve its own problems and then not solve them." Nixon noted that, though it was not the historian's function "to rectify the defects of his society," it was his responsibility to "take pains not to personify these defects." Against the backdrop of the Cold War and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, he concluded that southern historians "should support no regional iron curtain against the interchange of ideas."3

Nixon contributed another bit of advice about presidential addresses, perhaps offering wisdom for us tonight. Perhaps most important, he repeated U. B. Phillips's admonition that presidents of historical organizations should not "'take themselves too seriously.'" Nixon went on to describe the various types of presidential addresses that we often hear. Sometimes, he said, SHA presidents provided a digest of a recently written book, in "a sort of elongated autographed inscription." Sometimes they tried out a book that they planned to write. Other times they undertook to "sum up … teachings" or the "learning of a lifetime." Or, still other times presidents might "turn publicist for an hour" and provide a "view of the world to the world."4 [End Page 8]

Although my talk tonight combines these shortcomings, Nixon's words offer a useful warning for present and future SHA presidents. He might have also added that historians, products of context and history, are themselves sometimes actors in historical processes that they are not able to comprehend fully. During Nixon's generation, throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the South experienced profound change, much of it resulting from the nationalizing forces of the New Deal and World War II, during which the federal government injected massive amounts of capital and intellectual energy into transforming the region. To say that all of these changes underlay the destabilization of white supremacy is obvious, but it should not be understated.

Historians of the South both observed and participated in these changes. In 1949, after all, at least a portion of Nixon's audience consisted of "southern liberals" who came from academic environments that shared values of free speech, rationalism, and intellectual inquiry. All southern liberals, almost by definition, were white, educated, and academics, writers, or journalists; most, though not all, were men. They also shared a desire to nationalize the region, to incorporate its economic and social system into the national mainstream. Nonetheless, southern liberals still believed in the necessity of exposing the South's underdeveloped and exploitative social system through a free press and a free academy. As empiricists, liberals hoped that the display of the region's problems would spotlight challenges that were national and global, and not merely regional in nature, and would lay the basis for rational change.5

Despite scholars' interest during the 1970s and 1980s in southern liberalism, most of the work of the past two decades has instead emphasized the 1930s Popular Front. That era saw the emergence of southern New Dealers willing to reject segregation, in some respects laying the foundation for a biracial alliance for racial justice. These studies scrutinize a Popular Front willing to ally itself with socialism and communism in order to change the South's social and racial order. Those on the left, like the SCHW's Virginia Foster Durr, embraced a Popular Front approach that contained communists, unionists, fellow travelers, [End Page 9] and social reformers. By the 1940s, the advent of war and then of the Cold War helped fracture this alliance under anticommunist attacks.6

Popular Front reformers might be considered part of a designation "southern liberal" that included a wide spectrum, in which some leaned left, while others leaned right. Some supported and developed challenges to racial and economic inequality; many, perhaps most, believed that racial segregation would remain in the South for the near future. Explaining this conundrum—how the mid-twentieth-century southern liberal intelligentsia adapted or did not adapt to convulsive changes that were occurring around them—seems central to understanding how we southern historians evolved over the twentieth century.

I would like to devote the bulk of my address to exploring the complex life and career of perhaps the most important southern liberal of his generation, North Carolinian Frank Porter Graham. President of the University of North Carolina (UNC), supporter of organized labor, New Dealer, mediator during World War II, and Cold War internationalist, Graham was a pivotal figure with a national reach. Never one to avoid controversy, he is known also as the target of a furious anticommunist assault during the late 1940s and early 1950s after his appointment to the Senate in 1949, when he suffered attacks that focused on the subversive qualities of his racial liberalism.

Graham himself was a historian who taught at UNC for nearly a decade before becoming its president in 1930. In the early 1920s, he began doctoral work under the direction of William E. Dodd of the University of Chicago, a leading mentor for southern-born historians. Notoriously restless intellectually, Graham never finished the Ph.D.—even though, curiously, he became best known affectionately as "Doctor Frank." At the London School of Economics in 1924–1925, his ideas about industrial society blossomed under the influence of social democrats such as economic historians R. H. Tawney, Eileen Power, and Lilian Knowles; political scientist Harold Laski; and sociologist L. T. Hobhouse. By the time Graham returned to Chapel Hill to rejoin the UNC history faculty, in the autumn of 1925, he had become a believer in economic and social democracy, what he called a new humanism. As an academic leader and national policy maker, Graham reminded his [End Page 10] audiences that human development was evolutionary and could only be understood historically; notably for us tonight, he was also deeply committed to the value of history and the importance of preserving it. Graham was personally involved in the construction of the history department at UNC, and without his support the Southern Historical Collection, officially established in January 1930, might never have developed as it did.

Graham's nineteen years as UNC president (1930–1949) were turbulent ones, in which he oversaw the establishment of a multi-campus university, managed draconian cuts and salary reductions during the Great Depression, and defended academic freedom from conservative attacks. Yet his most delicate duty as university president was the defense of racial segregation. While Graham worked to oppose segregation, sometimes behind the scenes and often out in the open, he remained obliged to defend it. In understanding this contradiction, it is important to emphasize that Graham came to view racial gradualism as a key concept. While gradualism often reinforced racial segregation, for Graham it also provided a way to rationalize the end of segregation and to create and maintain a support system for black and white activists who were able to challenge it more openly. Over time, during the 1950s and 1960s, Graham's gradualism evolved into a tool for pushing a recalcitrant white South forward and for overcoming what he worried would be a racial backlash.

Historian John Hope Franklin first met Frank Graham when Franklin began teaching at Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh in 1940. Franklin remembered how the UNC president blithely violated racial taboos by hosting Franklin for dinner at the President's House in Chapel Hill. According to Franklin, Graham earned a reputation in the black community as a white leader who was "understanding and helpful." Black people were convinced, according to Franklin, that Graham was "doing what he could, which might have been very little, … but he was doing what he could." Graham was a gradualist, according to Franklin, "in the middle, as it were, trying to mitigate the problem of race, and at the same time, trying to hold on to a position where he could be influential and have some impact on the ultimate solution of this terrible social problem." Although Graham "was trying to be reasonable," Franklin noted, "all the reasonableness, as sweet as it was, was on one side. On his side." As slowly as gradualists were willing to go, "it was too fast for everyone else." In the end, according to Franklin, Graham, though a "man of considerable courage," naively believed that "you can reason with people … [and then] get them to change over a gradual time." Although Graham was attacked as a radical, Franklin reflected, "I think sometimes it's too bad that he hadn't been more radical, he wouldn't have fared any [End Page 11] worse." From Franklin's point of view, although Graham could theorize about civil rights, "he did not envision the immediate end of segregation." Instead, Franklin continued, Graham inhabited a world that could not "visualize the university as an institution significantly different from that which he knew"—and that meant, for the immediate future, the continued exclusion of African Americans from UNC.7

Segregation had been a cornerstone of the University of North Carolina since its founding in 1789, just as it was for all publicly supported institutions in the state. Not only did the state's political leadership insist on unequivocal racial orthodoxy, but it also embedded inequality in the state constitution. As a result, when the first rumblings of legal challenges to segregated public higher education emerged in the 1930s, there was little Graham could do within the confines of the law but oppose them. In two notable instances, when Durhamite Thomas R. Hocutt applied for admission to the all-white University of North Carolina in 1933 and, five years later, when Pauli Murray attempted the same thing, Graham enforced the state's policy of race-based exclusion.

In dealing with Hocutt and Murray, Graham became an intermediary in a dance between segregationists and civil rights advocates. In the aftermath of the Hocutt v. Wilson (1933) case, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) executive secretary Walter White reported in 1936 that the UNC president had privately told him that, should the NAACP's campaign against segregation succeed, it "'would please him greatly.'" White, as the NAACP's longtime leader, regarded the Hocutt case as an important step forward in the strategy of challenging segregation through litigation, and he assured Graham that "there was nothing personal against you or the University of North Carolina, for which we have tremendous admiration." White saw common ground in Graham's support for a "principle which is of vital concern … to the Negro, and in the larger sense, to white people of the south and of the country."8 White followed this initial contact by visiting and meeting with Graham. In November 1940, the NAACP invited [End Page 12] Graham to join its board, an invitation that the UNC president apparently declined.9

Pauli Murray's challenge to UNC segregation in 1938 similarly exposed the limits of Graham's racial gradualism. The story of how Murray applied to UNC for graduate study and was rejected is well known, as is her famous exchange with Graham, who, as UNC president, was obligated to defend racial exclusion. Murray was born in Baltimore but grew up in Durham, attended that city's all-black Hillside High School with her friend Thomas Hocutt, and belonged to a distinguished family connected to the city's black elite. At age seventeen, Murray attended Hunter College in New York City, graduating in 1933. She later had a career as a lawyer, a civil rights activist, and the first ordained female African American Episcopal priest.10

On December 14, 1938, UNC sent Murray a letter of rejection, maintaining that "members of your race are not admitted to the University." Murray immediately appealed to Graham, pointing out that the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938), which required states to provide equal graduate programs or to integrate their universities, had changed matters, as did the emerging fascist threat in late 1930s Europe. In a remarkable correspondence with Graham, Murray exposed the internal contradictions of Graham's racial gradualism. She thought little of Graham's incrementalism, which, she argued, represented "an evasion on the part of Southern white leaders and a strengthening of the bars of racial inequality." Instead, Murray advocated a more direct approach: "open discussion" and a "give-and-take process" that directly confronted racial discrimination.11

Murray and Graham ended their correspondence amicably, and they corresponded periodically over the next thirty years. Graham's tenuous position on civil rights—officially protecting segregation but informally supporting efforts to upend it—became a trademark of his gradualism. Drawing on early-twentieth-century white reformers who accepted segregation, Graham saw the end of segregation as a product of evolutionary rather than revolutionary change, requiring changes in [End Page 13] attitudes, especially white attitudes, through the beneficial effects of religion and education. Although Graham's gradualism meant postponing racial justice to the indefinite future, he also supported the most advanced efforts pursuing this goal. During the war years, he endorsed the Southern Conference for Human Welfare's race-blind policies during its meetings, and he advocated for its ambitious anti–poll tax campaign. In April 1944, Graham welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Smith v. Allwright to prohibit the Democratic Party's white primary as a method of voter suppression, telling reporters that "it was his hope that the state and parties would accept the Supreme Court decision and cooperate in carrying out its intent." These were all indications of how far removed Graham was from typical white southern liberals, most of whom approached topics related to race gingerly. While most of them abandoned the SCHW soon after its creation, he remained its president at the insistence of its most advanced white progressives, who saw him as protector and sponsor.12

In an oral history conducted in 1974, Clark Foreman, southern New Dealer and integrationist who worked closely with Graham in the SCHW, contextualized Graham. Foreman compared Graham with two other prominent white southern liberals, UNC sociologist Howard W. Odum and Commission on Interracial Cooperation director Will W. Alexander. Graham, Foreman said, was "much more courageous" than Odum, who tended to "retreat into research." Graham, in contrast, "would meet the problem and try to do something about it." Alexander, Foreman said, "was more active in first line fights than Frank was," but when Alexander got "in difficulty" he often "need[ed] to call people like Frank Graham to help him. And Frank would do it." It is worth noting that Foreman and Graham established a close working relationship that survived well beyond 1938. An outspoken opponent of white supremacy, Foreman often relied on Graham for political cover.13

Much of what animated Graham's gradualism reflected his deep belief in democracy and constitutionalism. As an employee of the state of North Carolina, he abided by its laws and constitutional restrictions requiring segregation and exclusion. As a democrat with a small d, he possessed a deep faith in popular wisdom and majoritarianism. Not until [End Page 14] those laws and constitutional restrictions changed democratically and constitutionally could he act; and those restrictions would change only if white southerners' hearts and minds—a phrase he often used—also evolved. While Graham's adherence to constitutionalism provided a justification for accepting segregation, it also became a reason to challenge it. In later years, he recounted how, once it became clear that the Supreme Court would soon outlaw racially segregated universities, he presented a statement to UNC trustees advocating that the university voluntarily desegregate. It had become apparent that the Supreme Court would act, and he urged that North Carolina "itself should take steps to provide ultimately for the admission of Negroes to State institutions." Segregation "must ultimately go," he maintained, "so let us begin within the State to take steps to that end." But the UNC board of trustees quashed the attempt and even had Graham's statement stricken from the record.14

In retrospect, Graham's gradualism contained an internal contradiction. Confronted with the violation of human rights that the apartheid South represented, he welcomed the erosion of white supremacy that became apparent during the 1940s. But Graham, in the end, was willing to tolerate and even defend racial injustice. The advent of World War II forced Graham to consider these contradictions. He occupied the front lines of interventionist federal policy that came with World War II. During the whole war, Graham served as a public member of the National War Labor Board (NWLB), which considered tens of thousands of cases involving wages and working conditions in American industry and frequently intervened in the workplace. In many ways, the NWLB was among the most active wartime federal super-agencies mobilizing the American economy. For Graham, even while he continued as UNC president, the board became a full-time job for which he lived in Washington, D.C., and commuted on weekends to Chapel Hill in order to conduct university business.15

The war brought greater federal intervention in American society, including civil rights policy. The so-called Double V campaign came to define how the victory against fascism was linked to a victory against racism at home. In June 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802—largely in response to the threat of a March on Washington. The executive order prohibited discrimination on the basis [End Page 15] of "race, creed, color, or national origin" in defense industries and government; required that all federal agencies "take special measures" against discrimination; and mandated that contractors incorporate nondiscrimination into their employment practices. FDR's executive order also established a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to enforce nondiscrimination.16

Although the FEPC considered most discrimination cases, in some instances the NWLB became involved. In a crucially important decision, reached in what became known as the Southport case, oil workers at Southport Petroleum from Texas City, Texas, challenged the company's wage scale, which paid black workers less than white laborers. In June 1943, Graham, writing the opinion and directive order for the NWLB's unanimous majority, unequivocally endorsed equal pay for equal work. He described his decision as having been made "on the basis of the facts in that case and its wider significance for simple justice and human good will." While this ruling raised wage rates across the board, the opinion eliminated any distinction by race, stating, "All workers affected shall be classified as laborers and shall receive the same rates of pay for that classification regardless of color." Similarly, in other categories of work, the Southport decision eliminated racial classifications and adopted "the democratic formula of equal pay for work equal in quantity and quality in the same classification." The Southport opinion was momentous, what one contemporary called "'one of the great decisions in the annals of American law.'"17

Though Graham might have been heartened by the Southport ruling's elimination of race-based wage differentials, he worried about possible white backlash. Indeed, in the immediate postwar years there was ample indication of such a backlash in the eruption of racial violence and the emergence of aggressive and popular southern white segregationists. In response, in December 1946 Harry S. Truman created the President's [End Page 16] Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR), appointing Graham to serve as one of its fifteen members. Issuing its report in October 1947, the PCCR provided a historic road map for federal intervention through protections against voter disenfranchisement, especially elimination of the poll tax; the creation of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee; the enactment and enforcement of federal antilynching legislation; and the establishment of new agencies such as a national civil rights commission, a civil rights division of the Justice Department, and a joint civil rights committee in Congress.18

Dorothy Rogers Tilly, a Georgian involved in the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, and Graham were the only white southerners on the PCCR. As the committee moved toward its recommendations, both he and Tilly expressed reservations. In the end, the committee's report To Secure These Rights included a single paragraph, written by Graham and sometimes referred to as a minority report—but hardly long enough to qualify as one—that agreed with the goal of eliminating segregation but opposed what it called "the imposition of a federal sanction." The dissent further maintained that federal aid to the states should depend on nondiscrimination, not nonsegregation—at least, not before the states themselves altered their laws and constitutions that required segregation. Rather, Graham continued, "the best way ultimately to end segregation" was to improve the "educational level of the people in the states affected" and "to inculcate both the teachings of religion regarding human brotherhood and the ideals of our democracy regarding freedom and equality as a more solid basis for genuine and lasting acceptance by the peoples of the states."19

If Graham relied on religion as a key ingredient in gradualism, his own experience with Presbyterians seemed unencouraging. Charles M. Jones, his pastor at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, was an integrationist and social activist who enjoyed Graham's support. Serving as a ruling elder at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, Graham, a lifelong Presbyterian, strongly identified with his pastor, with Jones saying and doing things that the UNC president could not because of his office. Jones recalled that he depended on Graham for political cover and that "a lot of times he saved my skin." At meetings, Graham was a key mediating presence and would say "almost nothing" until he heard [End Page 17] everyone else's opinion, when he would sum up, in an attempt to find a middle ground. Graham preferred to engage in "talking personally to a man apart from the meeting." Although he was "tender toward the feelings of the conservatives in terms of working with them," according to Jones, Graham was also "very frank about the principle involved." Graham was a "compromiser," according to Jones, but he stuck to his core principles.20

As he did for others further to his left, Graham protected Jones as the minister edged toward even riskier interracial experimentation. Beginning in 1942, Jones hosted a discussion group that met for Sunday breakfasts, and eventually he invited African American students from the historically black North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham to join in. Jones's precarious position became further exposed in July 1944 after a student group at the church organized an interracial picnic at Chapel Hill's Battle Park and invited a few members of an all-black navy band studying at the wartime preflight school at UNC to join the group. About twenty black and white people, including four black band members and three North Carolina College students, walked to the park, with white female coeds participating. The picnic caused a furor, confirming local fears that Jones was entering into dangerous racial territory.21

In December 1944, Jones's opponents in the church sent a petition demanding his resignation. Despite the support of the session, the church's ruling body, another group sent a petition in September 1945 again demanding his ouster. Graham nonetheless remained a stalwart Jones supporter. "In this most difficult and complex field all of us need all of the Christianity of which we are capable," Graham wrote in early August 1944. He admitted that he himself fell "far short of the teachings of Jesus, but I am doing my best to keep moving and even stumbling toward the goal which He has set for us all." Endorsing the session's support for [End Page 18] Jones, Graham declared his backing: "I told you, and I will say again, that I will stand by Mr. Jones against the attacks now being made upon him."22

These events did not deter Jones. On January 19, 1947, a UNC student group sponsored a benefit performance by the acclaimed African American soprano Dorothy Maynor, the first time that the largest venue on campus, Memorial Hall, would be integrated. Jones advised the students about how best to invite her, and, because the campus hotel, the Carolina Inn, did not accept black guests, the Joneses hosted the singer in their home. Despite calls for intervention, Graham had refused to ban Maynor. Although the concert occurred without incident, it provided further evidence for segregationists about how Graham's racial liberalism threatened white supremacy. Soon after the concert, David Clark, Southern Textile Bulletin editor, die-hard opponent of organized labor, and Graham's longtime conservative foil, sent a letter to the North Carolina legislature. Attacking the Maynor concert and its organizers, the letter singled out Graham, who had attended the concert, sitting in the seventh or eighth row with black members of the audience. Using a common racial slur, Clark reportedly recounted how the "'stink got so bad that we had to open the windows.'" Jones, who considered Clark's description as "the funniest letter I ever read in my life," noted that the room was hot, but that the windows were already opened. For Jones, the concert was an example of how to exploit the "permissive" period at UNC to make a larger point. Hoping that the event did not ignite a "state-wide rumpus," it was nonetheless "educating, really." More important, Maynor's appearance seemed to fit with Graham's gradualism and his belief that the minds and hearts of southern whites would, over time, change for the better.23

Graham's approach became less tenable as African Americans pressed to tear down segregation. In Morgan v. Virginia, the Supreme Court in June 1946 struck down a Virginia law requiring the segregation of commercial buses traveling routes across state lines. Four years earlier, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), organized in Chicago, adopted the strategy of direct action by the testing of segregation through civil disobedience. Meanwhile, in April 1947, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a white pacifist and civil rights organization, joined with CORE to sponsor the Journey of Reconciliation, an early version of the Freedom Rides. [End Page 19] Beginning in Virginia, eight white and eight black men boarded Greyhound and Trailways buses, traveling on bus and train trips to North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky between April 9 and 23, 1947. The group made stops along the way, speaking to sympathetic audiences and explaining the significance of the Morgan decision. Fully supporting the protest, Jones hosted the civil rights workers for lunch when six activists arrived in Chapel Hill on April 13, meeting a student group that included participants from UNC, Duke University, and North Carolina State College (now North Carolina State University). The riders had already encountered threats once they crossed into North Carolina, as bus drivers delayed leaving Oxford, a town about forty miles northeast of Chapel Hill, unless the black passengers moved to the rear of the bus. There were also arrests in Durham.24

The riders faced trouble at the Chapel Hill bus station, after two African American and two white riders, including the famed organizer Bayard Rustin, boarded a bus, and the two interracial pairs sat in the front section reserved for white passengers. While the riders were arrested, a crowd gathered in a menacing way and even struck one of the other white riders, James Peck. Many in the crowd were white taxi drivers who resented a recent decision by the Chapel Hill town government permitting African American cabbies. Jones soon arrived at the police station and drove the arrested men, who had posted bond, to the Presbyterian manse on Franklin Street. A group of cabbies followed him, staying at the curb but threatening violence, while shortly after their arrival an anonymous phone caller warned of trouble if the protesters did not leave town immediately. Jones's phone calls to the police for help received no response until, on his fifth call, he warned the police of possible violence between sympathetic white UNC students and the angry mob. After the police arrived, Jones drove the civil rights protesters on to Greensboro. Although Graham remained publicly uninvolved, he called the Joneses and offered them sanctuary at the President's House. He also placed a phone call to Chapel Hill police chief W. T. Sloan, urging "full police protection for 'any and all persons.'" Not surprisingly, however, Graham was blamed for encouraging Jones and providing a safe harbor for his activism.25 [End Page 20]

In March 1952, twenty-six Chapel Hill Presbyterians wrote to Orange Presbytery to request the organization of a new congregation in Chapel Hill "in order to meet more adequately spiritual and pastoral needs of our community." The petition opened the door to a full-scale investigation of Jones's congregation, which was widely known for its advanced racial views. Jones's civil rights activism had earned him many enemies in the presbytery, which oversaw the Chapel Hill church. Orange Presbytery, which had heard numerous complaints after the Journey of Reconciliation bus riders were in Chapel Hill five years earlier, had briefly considered intervening. In June 1952, Tom Henderson, an elder of another church in Orange Presbytery, was heard to comment about Jones that "we want to get rid of him because of this race business."26

The presbytery responded to the petition for a new congregation by organizing an investigative judicial commission, which was chaired by Greensboro pastor Z. T. Piephoff. The commission operated mostly in secret, focusing its efforts on Jones's adherence to doctrine, his willingness to admit and baptize members, and his inattention to church order.27 The judicial commission's chief complaint was that Jones was insufficiently Presbyterian.28 Visiting the church five times, the commission interviewed church officers and the pastors and reviewed church records. However, the commission never heard Jones preach, and it did not examine records of work with UNC students.29 According to Chapel Hill congregants, the commission made little effort to reconcile [End Page 21] conflicting testimony, was inclined to follow prejudged conclusions, and was "more interested in rumor than fact." The commission's cursory approach, according to critics, reflected "a stronger desire to discover criticism than to arrive at an accurate report."30

In late 1952, the judicial commission demanded Jones's resignation, but, by return mail, he refused. It further recommended that all church officers should resign, but the church's ruling session rejected the recommendation. At a congregational meeting on December 7, 1952, with a standing-room-only crowd, the commission presented its findings. Although in New York City in the midst of his work as a United Nations mediator, which employed him for sixteen years, Graham was kept fully informed about the case. Before the congregational meeting, he sent a telegram to former UNC law school dean and church elder M. T. Van Hecke, who reproduced Graham's statement and circulated it during the congregational meeting.31

The Presbyterian church, Graham declared in the telegram, was "not the exclusive expression of Christianity," though it had "a deep personal, spiritual and historic meaning identified for us with the personal, spiritual and historic meaning and mission of Christianity." Jones was "spiritually devout, personally humble, and selflessly dedicated," Graham added, and led a "Christ-centered Church devoted to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man which, in reverence, humility, love and mercy, transcend differences of race, class and doctrine." In the troubled world of the early 1950s, where "peace has been broken and freedom crushed under the combined assaults of communistic atheism and materialism, we would not exalt the sectarian differences which may divide us."32

Citing what it called a lack of proper church procedure and theology, the commission insisted that Jones and the session should resign. Perhaps predictably, the congregation, according to a commission member, left the meeting "shocked." Church officers immediately organized another congregational meeting on December 14, which overwhelmingly rejected the commission's recommendations, asserting that "any termination in [Jones's] ministry would be most detrimental to the [End Page 22] welfare of the church." In addition, the church agreed to appeal the commission's report to the presbytery, which met January 20, 1953. Graham again intervened, this time in person.33

In a stormy, seven-hour meeting before a full audience, a defense team composed of UNC law professors Henry Brandis Jr. and M. T. Van Hecke, both church members, along with Graham, made the case for Jones. Opening for the Chapel Hill church, Graham sought a middle ground. The judicial commission, he said, had raised legitimate criticisms. At the same time, Graham maintained, the commission was misinformed about other issues. Jones's theology was unconventional but effective, appealing to students wondering about the role of religion in modern life and "troubled about the impact of science on their religious beliefs." The commission described a different church than he knew. "Strike him down, if you please," Graham declared, "but there is something in that man that can't be struck down." Jones, by speaking about racial justice, challenged "the social order of our time." He was, according to Graham, relevant in Cold War America, a time of great doubt about spirituality and science. Jones was motivated by a "'divine discontent'" that challenged complacency, and he took "literally the fundamental doctrines that God was no respecter of persons" and "that we should love God with all our being and our neighbours as ourselves." Jones believed, Graham continued, "that God is the Father not of some but of all of mankind" and that Christians "with real faith" were obligated "to take up our cross and follow Him." If they did so, said Graham, "there would be enough power in the Church to transform our sinful selves, our un-Christian society and our broken world." True Christianity could even "redirect the springs of Fascism and Communism, with their tyranny, subversion and hate, into streams of reverence and brotherhood, freedom and democracy." True Christianity would combat and defeat poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and injustice—all forces that fed the "totalitarian threats" to democracy. Jones was an activist in a "Christian spirit," Graham suggested, and, despite vilification for his activism, "no word of bitterness [had] crossed his lips." Rather, Jones expressed only Christian love toward "those who misunderstand him."34 [End Page 23]

Despite Graham's aggressive defense, Orange Presbytery backed up the commission and empowered it to seek Jones's ouster.35 After Jones again refused to resign, on February 17 the commission, by a vote of 7-1, dissolved the relationship between him and the Chapel Hill congregation, thus essentially firing him, while it also dissolved the session. Few in the Chapel Hill church were surprised, with one member describing it as a "'foregone conclusion that [Jones] would be fired.'"36

When the Chapel Hill Presbyterians appealed the commission's decision to the North Carolina Synod, which oversaw Orange Presbytery, the synod responded by organizing its own judicial commission to review the presbytery's actions. Graham appeared before the synod commission on May 22 along with two other church officers from the Chapel Hill church. Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, he said, was "dynamic" and "of great value" to its community and state. "I have never felt the Spirit of Christ," Graham continued, "more real in any church." The church had admitted error and sought "forgiveness for its mistakes," but whatever mistakes it had made did not "require our minister to be taken from us." Graham next addressed the rumors about "all kinds of beliefs or lack of beliefs" in the church, such as charges that atheists and Unitarians were church members and that the congregation was a "hotbed of communists." Graham praised Jones's advocacy of racial justice. During the war, Jones welcomed African Americans into the church, and when they visited, Graham pointed out, "they were seated just as you or I would have been," not placed in a segregated balcony or "in some corner." Although forty church members left the congregation over Jones's policies, double that number joined the church. "I know of no minister," Graham concluded, "who could be put ahead of Charlie Jones."37

On June 2, the synod commission ruled that Jones had not had a fair hearing and was therefore denied due process. It ordered a full [End Page 24] presbytery trial.38 A week later, the southern Presbyterian governing body, the General Assembly, established yet another judicial commission. Reversing the synod commission's finding of error by a divided vote of 16-15, the General Assembly also specified that a trial could occur at Orange Presbytery "should it be so desired." Notably, thirteen of those dissenting with this decision joined in a minority report, declaring that the General Assembly was condoning a "Star Chamber" inquisition. The General Assembly judicial commission's chair, the prominent southern Presbyterian Ernest Trice Thompson, wrote the minority report.39

In response, in July 1953, Jones resigned at Orange Presbytery's next meeting. A "full and fair trial" by the presbytery was "unlikely," he said; the commission, acting as "investigator and prosecutor," denied Jones access to its evidence. "To add the function of judge and jury to the same group," he added, was "asking too much of human nature." Any such trial would be "productive of little save hard feelings," he argued, and "would keep the church and community stirred up for another year. no matter the outcome of the trial." Jones concluded, "It would be better for the Presbyterians of Chapel Hill to be free from the anxiety and tension that would be involved in further and futile litigation."40

The fight over Charlie Jones was chastening for Graham, who regarded the minister as a close friend and ally and as a proxy for pushing the limits of segregation. But the fight about Jones illustrated a weak part of Graham's notion of racial gradualism, which depended on the power of religion to alter attitudes and facilitate racial progress. If changing hearts and minds through religion provided an essential path to racial justice, the results among North Carolina Presbyterians were discouraging.

Jones's case coincided with the rise of newly determined southern segregationists who attacked opponents by linking communist subversion with disloyalty to white supremacy. Since the 1930s, Graham had been [End Page 25] condemned for his support of organized labor, his defense of free speech on campus, and his participation, as its president, in the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. The segregationist attack on Graham became uglier following his appointment to the U.S. Senate, and his resignation from the UNC presidency, in late March 1949 after the death of incumbent J. Melville Broughton. In May 1950 Graham faced a special Democratic primary to fill the remainder of the seat's term. Graham's most serious opponent, Raleigh corporate lawyer Willis Smith, used issues of race and anticommunism to expose the limits of Graham's racial gradualism.

The heated 1950 campaign and election exposed the political fragility of gradualism.41 To assuage white southerners' growing fears of federalization, Graham made clear to voters his continued commitment to evolutionary change and states' rights. The question of desegregation, he told voters, should remain a matter for states to consider; federal intervention was counterproductive. Religion and education were critical to changing hearts and minds. Graham had long advocated "voluntary cooperation of all our peoples—not federal compulsion about school or about jobs." If he was returned to the Senate, he told voters, he would defend segregation, and, as he told an interviewer, "everybody in the Senate knows that."42

The Fair Employment Practices Committee became an important campaign issue, testing Graham's loyalty to white supremacy. The FEPC went out of existence during the war, after constant opposition by southern conservatives and conservative Republicans. Between 1945 and 1950, southern congressmen continued to oppose reestablishing the FEPC, despite the support of Harry Truman, and the legislation encountered Senate filibusters. The issue of federal intervention in civil rights dominated the 1950 election in North Carolina, as Willis Smith relentlessly questioned whether Graham's gradualism could adequately defend segregation. Because Graham won a plurality but not a majority in the May 27 primary, Smith called for a runoff. The ensuing three-week campaign brought more attacks. With a week left in the runoff campaign, the Raleigh News and Observer complained that "the race issue has been made the paramount issue by the Smith forces and with increasing emphasis in this second primary." Smith's emphasis on the FEPC issue [End Page 26] was intended "to arouse the passions, the fears, the furies of both white and black men." As the News and Observer pointed out, much of this message was pushed by handbills, posters, and informal newsletters. Even as Smith was insisting that "he loves the colored people," the newspaper continued, "his supporters were furtively paying cash for a job to a print shop that was ashamed of its work, preparing the most incendiary unsigned handbills seen in North Carolina in half a century."43

During the final week of the second primary campaign, Smith's forces accelerated their attack. Smith's supporters, the Durham Morning Herald reported, organized "a last-minute underground assault" against Graham using "weapons cast in the racial-hatred die," by printing "[t]housands and thousands of copies of handbills and pamphlets designed for defamatory purposes." Some of these were notoriously racist and others more subtle, but they amounted to an all-out racial appeal. The underground anti-Graham media, according to the News and Observer's editor Jonathan Daniels, reflected a "naked program of the Dixiecrats" to inflame the race issue in the South. Smith also made public attacks relying on the race issue. On June 16, he charged that Graham supported the FEPC as "Yankee-sponsored legislation" that would bring control of employment to "the bureaucrats of Washington."44 Four days later, Smith told an Asheville audience that Graham was "party to the sabotage of Southern traditions." Graham had failed to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with other white southern senators in opposing the FEPC, Smith claimed, and refused to join the effort to protect the filibuster.45

Graham, touring the eastern and Piedmont portions of the state late in the runoff campaign, found hostile crowds. In Elizabeth City, in the northeast, no one was willing to introduce him, and many refused to attend the speech. On the stump, he encountered frequent questions about his support for segregation. Three days before the election, Graham noted to a companion that it was "'right strange … to see laboring people for whom I've worked for 20 years turned against me.'" On June 23, a day before the runoff election, Graham visited a Guilford County mill village, where his speech was disrupted by hecklers blowing their car horns. High Point mill workers hurled racial epithets at Graham, refusing to shake his hand. In some places, mill workers even spat at [End Page 27] Graham because of what they thought were his pro-integration beliefs. The net result of this racist campaign was Graham's defeat.46

After losing the 1950 primary, Graham eventually went to work for the United Nations, where he was freed from the constraints of his employment by the state of North Carolina. Long an internationalist and a supporter of American leadership in the postwar world, Graham spent the next two decades working for the United Nations as a mediator, mainly in the intractable India-Pakistan conflict over the border region of Kashmir, mostly without real results. At the same time, he served as a spokesman for the UN's concept of a world order based on human rights. Graham's role at the UN broadened over time, as he delivered more than 1,500 speeches around the country during the 1950s and 1960s.47 As part of his advocacy of human rights, Graham in his last decades also became a forthright advocate of racial justice, but he did so by using a revised version of gradualism.

The U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, issued on May 17, 1954, forced Graham to reconsider his well-reasoned but internally contradictory notion of gradualism. The Court's decision involved federal intervention and compulsion, both anathema to Graham, but it also confirmed his belief in the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court. In an address to southern Presbyterians assembled in Montreat, North Carolina, just over a week after the Brown decision, Graham described himself as a churchman who believed that segregation was "unChristian, undemocratic and, in its spiritual exclusion, morally damaging to both the privileged and the disinherited." He had possessed a faith that segregation—what he called the "bi-racial structure"—would eventually disappear "under the impact of the increasing influence of vital religion, dynamic democracy, scientific and social studies, the rising humane spirit, and the freedom and dignity of man." Over time, Graham argued, "successive generations of college youth" would become leaders in business, labor, agriculture, religion, and industry, and they could "challenge the mores and change the laws of the states." Although he admitted that churches had "lagged in the leadership which would have given effective meaning to this view," gradualists now faced a court mandate and, like other white southerners, had "the duty and opportunity to work for the acceptance of the decision in good spirit through the increasing responsibility of the churches" and "in the rising [End Page 28] responsibilities of the colleges in their authentic interpretations of the American dream." White southerners needed to face the future "with calmness against hysteria, with knowledge against rumor, with faith against fear and violence, and with firmness against nullification." Graham nonetheless emphasized the value of persuasion over compulsion. Racial attitudes lasting for centuries would not end instantly "with the compulsion of power." Court decisions were effective only through "acceptance in the minds and hearts of the people." In thousands of communities, committees of both races should be organized to "work wisely, resolutely and cooperatively for carrying out the law of the land in good faith."48

Graham's overseas mediation experience at the United Nations persuaded him of the worldwide imperative for peoples of color to free themselves from European rule. Civil rights advocates at home also accepted anticolonialism as a domestic issue, arguing that if the United States wanted to present itself as a center of liberal democracy, it should not tolerate white supremacy. In 1945, the UN formally banned racial discrimination, which, although far short of what antiracists and anticolonialists wanted, provided a basis for connecting American civil rights internationally.49

Although colonial empires often ended in bloodshed, Graham believed that anticolonialism and gradualism were interrelated and mutually dependent. His faith in gradualism's relevance in the age of Brown also reflected his views about the Cold War struggle against communist totalitarianism. Segregationism would never disappear without a realization of a moral imperative to embrace racial justice in the cause of fighting the Cold War. Resistance to desegregation "by evasions or stratagems of attrition," he declared in 1955, "not only would be damaging to the moral basis of our individual respect for law but also would constitute heavy blows against the moral power of free peoples in the struggle against both Fascist and Communist dictatorship." The rising tide of segregationism, Graham added, indicated the difficulty of changing white attitudes. "Segregation may die on the pages of the decision of the Supreme Court," he warned, "and yet live in the minds and hearts of men." Attempts to placate segregationists by removing the "emotional basis" for their opposition did not in itself involve a "surrender to nullification." Gradualism could undermine the "emotional ground" of resistance from hard-line segregationists, while also avoiding [End Page 29] "the compulsions of federal force resulting in contagious fear and further resistance."50

Although by nature relentlessly optimistic, Graham thus worried about where Brown would lead. When Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, attempted to integrate in September 1957, a white backlash ensued. In a speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, that December, Graham maintained that interracial communication had "broken down, cleavage deepened and lines hardened in many places." Denouncing segregationism, he maintained, "This is no time for defiance or glibness or hysteria." The Brown decision was revolutionary. "No basic change in the mores of any people anywhere," he said, "ever took place suddenly in the long history of the human race." He favored "interchanges of views and not exchanges of hate; sympathy, not vilification; and understanding, not violence." He favored a "joint initiative" of the president, governors, Congress, and leaders of both races to lead a "co-operative effort to correct some of the misinformation and remove some of the emotionally sincere fears which underlie some of the demand for the closing of the public schools."51

The Frank Graham of the 1930s and 1940s would have regarded civil disobedience as a threat to the orderly disintegration of Jim Crow. However, by the 1950s he had changed. Once again, the key to his transformation was religion. Facing white obstructionism, massive resistance, and segregationist militancy, Graham became an admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and his philosophy of nonviolent disobedience. Graham first met King through Benjamin E. Mays, who, as its president, invited both of them to Morehouse College's commencement in the spring of 1957. Two years earlier, King had vaulted to national fame in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955–1956, in which King led civil disobedience against the Alabama city's segregation of city buses. [End Page 30]

While King received an honorary degree to a standing ovation, Graham was the featured speaker at the Morehouse commencement. His speech recycled many of his arguments for the UN, but he added a pointed appeal for "universal brotherhood" in "this atomic age," along with racial justice, as "most necessary and practical for human freedom, survival and progress on this earth." Graham praised King for his nonviolence in his movement's struggle for freedom, dignity, and opportunity under the law. Noting that King studied under Mays at Morehouse, Graham described how King drew inspiration from Jesus and Gandhi. In the long run, Graham predicted, the "gospel of love" that King espoused "would prevail over bombs and hate; spiritual faith over economic pressures; and the Cross, forever warm with the blood of human brotherhood, over all the burning crosses lighted with the hot oil of prejudice, privilege, and power." Later that year, Graham joined the National Advisory Committee of the Crusade for Citizenship, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's voting rights project. He remained a resolute supporter of King through the 1960s.52

In 1956, North Carolina enacted the Pearsall Plan, which was named for former Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Thomas J. Pearsall of Rocky Mount. Pearsall chaired two study committees appointed by the governor to consider the state's response to Brown, and the plan bearing his name encompassed legislation and constitutional amendments that enabled local school boards to resist desegregation through school closures and public support through school vouchers for all-white private schools. In June 1959, Graham told an audience at the graduation ceremonies of Livingstone College, a historically black private college in Salisbury, that North Carolinians preferred integration to the closing of schools. Graham added that he preferred the nonviolence of King, who, he declared, "'had the answer of our time … not hate and violence, but love and non-violence.'"53

In early 1960, after the beginning of sitins by black students, Graham applauded the courage and moral rectitude of the protesters. A little more than a month after black students from North Carolina A&T State College requested and were denied service at a Greensboro [End Page 31] Woolworth's, Graham told a UN model assembly in Williamsburg, Virginia, that the protesters were "'standing up for the American dream'" and that African American young people were "'in their day and generation renewing springs of American democracy.'" In late May 1960, in a commencement speech at Bennett College, a historically black women's college in Greensboro, Graham declared that it was a "'matter of pride to me'" that the Greensboro sit-ins had their "'origins, not in Moscow, but in North Carolina.'" The emerging student movement, he added, had "'its head waters in the Judean hills and its sources in the American Revolution.'"54

Graham justified civil disobedience as part of an admirable "struggle for 'a fairer America.'" Americans should, "'in this critical hour, … rise to the responsibility of our greatness.'" Notably, many of Graham's speeches praising protest took place before black audiences. "Non-violent petitions against local laws" that violate established law against segregation would, he told a group at Durham's St. Joseph's African Methodist Episcopal Church, "prevail over prejudice and fear" and "monstrous bigotry." The civil rights movement demonstrated that "the ideals of the American Revolution have gone around the world and come home again." Again referencing the struggle against segregation in a worldwide context, he declared that "the future of the country and in fact the human race" hinged on "how well we solve our human relations problems in the South." Americans should protect "democracy without vulgarity" and "rise to the responsibility of our power." "Speaking as a human being," he concluded, "we must rededicate ourselves to equal freedom and justice under [the] law."55

By the early 1960s, Graham's racial gradualism had evolved into a program that endorsed civil disobedience while continuing to insist on attitudinal changes in the white South. In an essay on the Civil War Centennial, Graham argued that southerners should not "find themselves continuously and tragically isolated in their struggle apart from or against the main stream of the modern world but to recover their great creative leadership in the nation and the world." He reasserted the [End Page 32] difficulty of breaking down white supremacy. The depth of resistance, evidenced by white segregationism, would not be comprehended "without recalling that at no time during the period from 1619 to 1954 had there been any real integration in public elementary and secondary education in the Southern states." "No sudden and complete change in the established customs and laws of a wide region," he added, had ever occurred "without military subjugation or a totalitarian dictatorship," both "repugnant to all people, North and South, white and colored."56

In this essay, Graham praised the protesters' attempts to enforce court rulings against segregated interstate transportation. Black people had rejected the "ways of hate and underground violence" but instead "openly appealed to the courts through due process of law." Graham praised the charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. African American students, "with the Bible in their hands, hymns and patriotic songs on their lips, and brotherhood in their hearts," voiced "their non-violent appeals to the conscience of the white people of the South." Nonviolent protesters sought "not to overthrow the Republic" but "to test and establish the law by due process in accordance with the ultimate decisions of the Supreme Court." "In sitting down," black students were "standing up for their American heritage and hope." The movement sought to fulfill the "unfulfilled idealism of the American Revolution" and was an American manifestation of a "world revolution of the colonial colored and exploited people of the earth for a better day for themselves and all their children."57 Student activists were part of "an indigenous Southern movement" that sought to enforce the rule of law.58 The freedom struggle drew from African Americans' "spiritual heritage" and their "American hopes." They, more than white segregationists, were "the most basically religious and the most fundamentally American of us all."59 [End Page 33]

Yet in the 1960s, Graham's approach to civil rights sometimes alienated him from white audiences. In late March 1961, he participated in a sociology forum for high school students of the Carolinas at Winthrop College, a state-supported women's college in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Delivering a plea for internationalism, Graham described the black student sit-ins as fulfilling American traditions. Although some early newspaper reports said nothing about his comments about black protest, his support stirred up a hornet's nest. The day after his appearance, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed a resolution criticizing Graham as a "known agitator" who had endorsed the breaking of the law. "This man would destroy every vestige of freedom as we know it," James Stevens of Horry County declared, and "would completely disregard all property rights." In subsequent debate in the state senate, Edgar Brown of Barnwell, a Democratic national committeeman, described Graham as an "intellectual smart aleck" and a "leftist."60

In a letter that he sent to friends and supporters in response to these attacks, Graham defended his point of view. Often advised to stay out of the fray, he explained that his instincts led him to do otherwise. In the end, he wrote, "taking stands as responsible citizens was a way of teaching." If anything, the experience validated, for him, the power of racial justice. He opposed those who, "because of the law's delays and slowness in compliance, would turn to hate and violence." Graham instead chose to stand with black leaders like Mays and King, "who valiantly struggle forward without sacrifice of convictions or compromise of principles, yet stand for enlightenment and understanding, nonviolence, love and brotherhood, as really the fastest and most enduring way for the fulfillment of our religious faith and democratic hopes." He reiterated connections between anticolonialism and racism at home and abroad. "In looking worldward," he wrote, "we need to look homeward; in looking homeward, we need to look worldward." Freedom began at [End Page 34] home, "but without an organized world in the Atomic Age we may have no home in which to begin."61

Writing to Harry Golden, the publisher of the Carolina Israelite, in June 1961, Graham explained the evolution of his notion of racial gradualism. When it was "the law of the land" in North Carolina that education should be segregated, he enforced that law as UNC president. He believed that desegregation would be accomplished without federal compulsion. It was possible to change the "law and the customs through religion and education at work in the minds and hearts of the people, and especially through successive student generations who would lead the way." Events, he argued, had borne out the gradualist approach. Now that the law changed with Brown, he enthusiastically endorsed compliance. But compliance was not possible without the twin ingredients of religion and education, which would "support and work for obedience to the law of the land," not only as a "moral right within ourselves" but also as a "moral influence in our now imperiled world, in which over 2/3rds of the people are colored."62

By the mid-1960s, Graham had reconciled gradualism with federal intervention in civil rights. He made few comments about either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965, though he observed in an interview in 1966 that he was "for all the recent proposals" of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, and he described Johnson as having "accomplished more in the area of civil rights than any Administration in this century."63 In retrospect, Graham's positions were controversial and prophetic, and he was courageous in his willingness to experience the enmity of segregationists. In a leadership position during the 1930s, he simultaneously defended segregation and sought to undermine it. Graham's racial gradualism proved effective mainly in providing a safe harbor for activists like Pauli Murray and Martin Luther King Jr., while it also created an ideological justification, through religion, for [End Page 35] evolutionary change toward an attitudinal transformation of southern whites among white southerners. He accepted nonviolence as a method to enforce the law, but ultimately he defended voluntarism and gradualism as the surest route to ending racial injustice.

But over time the concept of gradualism had little relevance, something that Graham probably recognized. By the late 1950s, the terms of the debate had changed, and he and other whites now had to respond to an African American–led civil rights movement. To his credit, Graham believed that he could adapt his gradualism to a new set of circumstances. He embraced the moral power of the civil rights revolution as part of a global attempt to undo racism and colonialism. He adapted gradualism by accepting black protest if it fit with his conception of majoritarianism, constitutionalism, and legalism. Graham justified nonviolent protest because it was based on Christian principles and would help enforce what was now the law.

In this way, Graham attempted to reconcile his faith in gradualism with the practicality of African Americans organizing a movement that was geared to coerce, if not persuade, Americans to dismantle white supremacy. Yet by the 1960s Graham must have realized—though he never expressed this thought—that gradualism, in the environment of the rapidly changing civil rights era, was not relevant, for activists embraced federal compulsion as the surest way to overcome segregation. The victories of the movement in 1964–1965 required the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, both of which represented the sort of compulsion that Graham most feared as a gradualist. [End Page 36]

William A. Link

William A. Link is the Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida. He delivered this paper on Friday, November 8, 2019, as the presidential address at the eighty-fifth annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Louisville, Kentucky.


1. H. C. Nixon, "Paths to the Past: The Presidential Addresses of the Southern Historical Association," Journal of Southern History, 16 (February 1950), 33–39; Sarah Newman Shouse, Hillbilly Realist: Herman Clarence Nixon of Possum Trot (University, Ala., 1986). The author appreciates the careful readings of this essay by Steven F. Lawson, Susannah J. Link, and Brenda Withington.

2. Nixon, "Paths to the Past," 35 (first quotation); E. Merton Coulter, "What the South Has Done About Its History," Journal of Southern History, 2 (February 1936), 3–28 (second quotation on 18; third quotation on 19).

3. Nixon, "Paths to the Past," 38–39 (first through eighth quotations on 38; ninth quotation on 38–39); Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (New York, 1944).

4. Nixon, "Paths to the Past," 33. On the SHA, see Bethany L. Johnson, "The Southern Historical Association: Seventy-Five Years of History 'in the South' and 'of the South,'" Journal of Southern History, 76 (August 2010), 655–82.

5. On southern liberals, see Charles W. Eagles, Jonathan Daniels and Race Relations: The Evolution of a Southern Liberal (Knoxville, 1982); John T. Kneebone, Southern Liberal Journalists and the Issue of Race, 1920–1944 (Chapel Hill, 1985); Morton Sosna, In Search of the Silent South: Southern Liberals and the Race Issue (New York, 1977); Michael O'Brien, The Idea of the American South, 1920–1941 (Baltimore, 1979); and Daniel Joseph Singal, The War Within: From Victorian to Modernist Thought in the South, 1919–1945 (Chapel Hill, 1982).

6. On the southern Left, see Linda Reed, Simple Decency and Common Sense: The Southern Conference Movement, 1938–1963 (Bloomington, Ind., 1991); Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950 (New York, 2008); Patricia Sullivan, Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era (Chapel Hill, 1996); and Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America (New York, 2019). For the best study of liberalism at the University of North Carolina, see Charles J. Holden, The New Southern University: Academic Freedom and Liberalism at UNC (Lexington, Ky., 2012). For a recent recasting of southern segregationists, see Jason Morgan Ward, Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936–1965 (Chapel Hill, 2011).

7. Interview with John Hope Franklin, n.d., Folder 4772, Frank Porter Graham Papers #1819 (Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; hereinafter cited as SHC); hereinafter cited as Graham Papers.

8. Jerry Gershenhorn, "Hocutt v. Wilson and Race Relations in Durham, North Carolina, during the 1930s," North Carolina Historical Review, 78 (July 2001), 275–308, esp. 290 (first quotation); Walter White to Frank Porter Graham, April 12, 1933 (second and third quotations), Folder 520, Office of the President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932–1949 #40007 (University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); hereinafter cited as Graham Presidential Records.

9. Walter White to Frank Porter Graham, May 8, 1933, Folder 520, Graham Presidential Records; Arthur B. Spingarn to Graham, November 9, 1940; White to Katharine Lackey (for Graham), December 10, 1940; and Graham to Spingarn, telegram, December 17, 1940, all in Folder 1164, Graham Papers.

10. Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (New York, 2017).

11. Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York, 1987), 114–29 (first quotation on 115); Rosenberg, Jane Crow, 65–76; Gilmore, Defying Dixie, 262–68; Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938); Pauli Murray to Frank Porter Graham, January 17, 1939, Folder 521, Graham Presidential Records (second, third, and fourth quotations).

12. "Favors Ballot," Raleigh News and Observer, April 28, 1944, p. 12 (quotation); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944). On Graham's leadership of the SCHW, see Thomas A. Krueger, And Promises to Keep: The Southern Conference for Human Welfare, 1938–1948 (Nashville, 1967), 38–39.

13. Interview with Clark Foreman by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall and Bill Finger, November 16, 1974, Atlanta, Ga., B-0003, Southern Oral History Program Collection #4007 (SHC). On Foreman's background, see Krueger, And Promises to Keep, 103–4; and Sullivan, Days of Hope, 25–40.

14. Interview with Frank Porter Graham, July 26, 1966, p. 15, Folder 3357, Graham Papers.

15. Warren Ashby, Frank Porter Graham: A Southern Liberal (Winston-Salem, N.C., 1980), 189.

16. Executive Order 8802, June 25, 1941, can be found at

17. Frank Porter Graham to Jonathan Daniels, June 14, 1943, Folder 1634, Graham Papers (first quotation); National War Labor Board Case No. 771: In the Matter of Southport Petroleum Company, June 5, 1943, in The Termination Report of the National War Labor Board: Industrial Disputes and Wage Stabilization in Wartime, January 12, 1942–December 31, 1945 (3 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1947–1949), 2:339–40 (second and third quotations on 339); Ashby, Frank Porter Graham, 187 (fourth quotation). For a fuller discussion, see Charles J. Holden, "Frank Porter Graham, World War II, and the Southport Petroleum Ruling: Making a New Case for Racial Justice," North Carolina Historical Review (forthcoming, 2020). On Graham and Japanese Americans during World War II, see Heidi Kim, "From Camp to Chapel Hill: UNC's Fight to Admit Japanese American Students during World War II," North Carolina Historical Review, 96 (April 2019), 182–205.

18. Steven F. Lawson, "Introduction: Setting the Agenda of the Civil Rights Movement," in Lawson, ed., To Secure These Rights: The Report of President Harry S Truman's Committee on Civil Rights (Boston, 2004), 1–41.

19. Ibid., 15–17; To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights (Washington, D.C., 1947), 166–67 (quotations on 167).

20. Interview with Charles M. Jones by Joseph Herzenberg, November 8, 1976, Chapel Hill, N.C., B-0041, Southern Oral History Program Collection (first and sixth quotations), hereinafter cited as Jones interview, SOHP; Interview with Charles M. Jones by Warren Ashby, June 9, 1960, Item 25, Box 4, Warren Ashby Papers (Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, Jackson Library, University of North Carolina at Greensboro) (second through fifth quotations). On southern white Protestants and civil rights, see Joel L. Alvis Jr., Religion and Race: Southern Presbyterians, 1946–1983 (Tuscaloosa, 1994); and Elaine Allen Lechtreck, Southern White Ministers and the Civil Rights Movement (Jackson, Miss., 2018).

21. Mark Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy: The Biography of Rev. Charles M. Jones (San Jose, Calif., 2002), 91–101; Jones interview, SOHP; "A Consideration of the Church and the Racial Problem by the Elders, March–June 1944," Folder 22, Charles M. Jones Papers #5168 (SHC); "'Rumors' Dating from July 2, 1944 and Some Facts," Folder 22, Jones Papers; Interview with Frank Porter Graham by Charles Jones, Anne Queen, and Stuart Willis, June 9, 1962, Chapel Hill, N.C., B-0004-1, Southern Oral History Program Collection; hereinafter cited as Graham interview, SOHP.

22. Letter to the Session of the Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, December 20, 1944, Folder 1748, Graham Papers; Letter to session, September 20, 1945, Folder 23, Jones Papers; Frank Porter Graham to Minna Pickard, August 2, 1944, Folder 1748, Graham Papers (quotations).

23. Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy, 108–9; "The Council for Religion and Life Presents Dorothy Maynor," Chapel Hill Weekly, January 17, 1947, p. 5; Frank Porter Graham to Cameron Morrison, February 19, 1947, Folder 548, Graham Presidential Records; Jones interview, SOHP (quotations).

24. Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946); Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy, 119–29; John D'Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (New York, 2003), 133–37; Derek Charles Catsam, Freedom's Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides (Lexington, Ky., 2009), 13–28.

25. "4 Men Testing Law against Segregation Placed under Arrest," Chapel Hill Weekly, April 18, 1947, p. 5; Bill Sexton, "Race Incidents Arise after Bus Seating Arrests," Chapel Hill Daily Tar Heel, April 15, 1947, pp. 1, 3; "Student Identified as Victim of Attack," Chapel Hill Daily Tar Heel, April 16, 1947, pp. 1, 4; Sigsbee Miller, "Race Case May Go to the United States Supreme Court," Chapel Hill Daily Tar Heel, April 18, 1947, p. 1; "Police Promise Arrests in Recent Racial Fight," Statesville (N.C.) Daily Record, April 18, 1947, p. 3 (quotation); Interview with Charles and Dorcas Jones by John Ehle, October 30, 1990, C-0455/2, John Ehle Papers #4555 (SHC); Graham interview, SOHP. See also Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy, 123–29; D'Emilio, Lost Prophet, 137–40; and Catsam, Freedom's Main Line, 28–32.

26. Edward Franklin Johnston Jr., "The Charles Miles Jones Controversy" (M.A. thesis, University of Virginia, 1980), 8 (first quotation); "Analysis of Report of Judicial Commission Dated November 30, 1952," April 25, 1953, p. 15, Folder 2431, Graham Papers (second quotation); "A Meeting of Reverend C. M. Jones with a Sub-Committee of Presbytery's Council Plus Some Interested Ministers—Early Spring of 1952," April 28, 1953, Folder 2431, Graham Papers; Charles Craven, "Graham Backs Pastor in Church Row; Showdown Is Postponed," Raleigh News and Observer, December 8, 1952, pp. 1–2; Ashby, Frank Porter Graham, 307–8.

27. "The Officers and the Commission," April 30, 1953, Folder 2432, Graham Papers; "Report of the Judicial Commission of Orange Presbytery to the Presbytery of Orange in a Called Meeting, January 20, 1953, in the First Presbyterian Church, Burlington, NC," Folder 25, Jones Papers.

28. "[Partial] Report: Judicial Commission of Orange Presbytery," November 30, 1952, Folder 2437, Graham Papers.

29. Johnston, "Charles Miles Jones Controversy," 20; Joseph M. Garrison to Charles M. Jones, July 5, 1952, Records of the Orange Presbytery Judicial Commission (Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.); hereinafter cited as OPJC Records.

30. Questionnaire, July 21, 1952, OPJC Records; "Analysis of Report of Judicial Commission Dated November 30, 1952," April 25, 1953, p. 3, Folder 2431, Graham Papers (quotations).

31. "[Partial] Report: Judicial Commission of Orange Presbytery," November 30, 1952, Folder 2437, Graham Papers, and in Folder 25, Jones Papers; "Charles M. Jones: Theology," n.d., OPJC Records; Charles M. Jones to Rev. G. Aiken Taylor, November 29, 1952, Folder 25, Jones Papers; Charles Craven, "Graham Backs Pastor in Church Row; Showdown Is Postponed," Raleigh News and Observer, December 8, 1952, pp. 1–2.

32. Frank Porter Graham to M. Van Hecke, telegram, December 6, 1952, Folder 2439, Graham Papers, and in Folder 25, Jones Papers.

33. Johnston, "Charles Miles Jones Controversy," 42 (first quotation); "Meeting of Congregation of the Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, Dec. 14, 1952," OPJC Records; "Report of the Judicial Commission of Orange Presbytery to the Presbytery of Orange in a Called Meeting, January 20, 1953 in the First Presbyterian Church, Burlington, NC," Folder 25, Jones Papers; "A Resolution Recommended by the Officers," December 14, 1952, Folder 2431, Graham Papers (second quotation).

34. "Summary by Frank P. Graham of His Written and Spoken Statements on the Case of the Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church," January 24, 1953, Folder 2433, Graham Papers (first and fifth through sixteenth quotations); David S. Greene, "Commission Authorized to Act," Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News, January 21, 1953, sec. 2, pp. 1, 5 (second, third, and fourth quotations on 1).

35. Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy, 194–96; Interview with G. Aiken Taylor by Edward F. Johnston, March 18, 1971, OPJC Records; Henry Brandis Jr. and John B. Graham, "Statement Regarding the Conduct of Reverend Aiken Taylor at the Meeting of Orange Presbytery on January 20, 1953," April 30, 1953, Folder 2432, Graham Papers; David S. Greene, "Commission Authorized to Act," Greensboro Daily News, January 21, 1953, sec. 2, pp. 1, 5; Orange Presbytery Judicial Commission report to the presbytery, April 23, 1953, OPJC Records.

36. "Church Body Dissolves Boards: 22 Chapel Hill Officers Affected," Greensboro Daily News, March 23, 1953, pp. 1, 3; Joseph M. Garrison, minority report, enclosed in Garrison to Howard F. Newman, April 13, 1953, OPJC Records; Johnston, "Charles Miles Jones Controversy," 59; "Jones Plans to Confer on Dismissal Tonight," Greensboro Daily News, February 26, 1953, pp. 1, 11 (quotation on 1); "The Chapel Hill Affair," Greensboro (N.C.) Record, February 26, 1953, p. A10.

37. Johnston, "Charles Miles Jones Controversy," 73–74; Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy, 235–37 (first through fifth quotations on 235; sixth through tenth quotations on 236; eleventh and twelfth quotations on 237).

38. Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy, 242–44; Synod Judicial Commission, preamble and report, OPJC Records; Arthur Johnsey, "Trial, Compromise Seen in Jones Case Review," Greensboro Daily News, June 3, 1953, pp. 1, 6; "Orange Presbytery Is Directed to Give Pastor New, Open Trial," Raleigh News and Observer, June 3, 1953, pp. 1–2.

39. Pryor, Faith, Grace and Heresy, 247–49 (first quotation on 249; second quotation on 248); "Firing of Jones Upheld by Church's Assembly," Greensboro Daily News, June 9, 1953, pp. 1, 7; "Church Trial Last Resort for Jones," Greensboro Daily News, June 10, 1953, sec. 2, p. 2; Minutes of the General Assembly Judicial Commission, June 8, 1953, OPJC Records; Minutes of the Ninety-Third General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Austin, Tex., 1953), June 8, 1953.

40. Charles M. Jones, "What the Chapel Hill Case Is All About," Presbyterian Outlook, August 10, 1953, pp. 8–14 (quotations on 9), and in Folder 2433, Graham Papers; Charles Craven, "Charles Jones Quits as Minister after Trial by Synod Is Refused," Raleigh News and Observer, July 17, 1953, pp. 1, 3.

41. Julian M. Pleasants and Augustus M. Burns III, Frank Porter Graham and the 1950 Senate Race in North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1990).

42. Frank Porter Graham radio interview, n.d., audio D-1819_11_04, Folder 5042, Graham Papers. See also James Free, "Graham Planning to Speak against Compulsory FEPC," Raleigh News and Observer, May 3, 1950, pp. 1, 6. For an explication of gradualism, see "A Problem Common to Both Races in the South," Durham (N.C.) Morning Herald, May 18, 1950, p. 4.

43. "Political Arson," Raleigh News and Observer, June 18, 1950, sec. 4, p. 4.

44. "Appeal to Prejudice a Disservice to North Carolina," Durham Morning Herald, June 18, 1950, sec. 4, p. 6 (first, second, and third quotations); "Political Arson," Raleigh News and Observer, June 18, 1950, sec. 4, p. 4 (fourth quotation); "Smith Supporters Hold Rally Here," Raleigh News and Observer, June 17, 1950, p. 3 (fifth and sixth quotations).

45. "Graham v. Smith," Charlotte Observer, June 21, 1950, p. 1.

46. Jim Chaney, "Graham Explains Platform in Eastern Carolina Tour," Raleigh News and Observer, June 21, 1950, pp. 1–2 (quotation on 2); Pleasants and Burns, Frank Porter Graham and the 1950 Senate Race in North Carolina, 229–35.

47. Frank Porter Graham to U Thant, March 25, 1965, Folder S-0852-0002-20, Records of Secretary-General U Thant (United Nations Archives, New York, N.Y.).

48. Frank Porter Graham, "Statement of a Southern Presbyterian …," Montreat, N.C., May 29, 1954, Folder 4580, Graham Papers.

49. Manfred Berg, "Black Civil Rights and Liberal Anticommunism: The NAACP in the Early Cold War," Journal of American History, 94 (June 2007), 75–96, esp. 81–82.

50. Frank Porter Graham, "Consideration in Southern Historical Perspective and in International Context of the Supreme Court's Decision against Racial Segregation: Wisdom in Its Faithful Implementation No Less Important Than the Decision Itself to Democracy Advancing in America and to Freedom Imperiled in the World," 1955, Folder 4582, Graham Papers. Graham assembled these ideas for an essay appearing in the Virginia Quarterly Review. See Frank P. Graham, "The Need for Wisdom: Two Suggestions for Carrying Out the Supreme Court's Decision against Segregation," Virginia Quarterly Review, 31 (Spring 1955), 192–212 (first and second quotations on 193; third and fourth quotations on 206; fifth and sixth quotations on 194; seventh and eighth quotations on 207).

51. Frank Porter Graham, address to Human Relations Council, Charlotte, N.C., December 5, 1957 (first through fifth quotations); "The Crisis for the Freedom and Survival of Public Education in the Southern States," 1957 (sixth and seventh quotations), both in Folder 4583, Graham Papers.

52. "Morehouse Honors Trio as 85 Get Bachelor Degrees," Atlanta Daily World, June 5, 1957, pp, 1, 5 (first, second, and third quotations on 1); "85 Morehouse Grads Hear UN Mediator," Norfolk (Va.) Journal and Guide, June 15, 1957, p. 14 (fourth and fifth quotations).

53. "Graham Says State Would Mix Schools Rather Than Close," Durham Morning Herald, June 3, 1959, p. 4B.

54. "Negro Protests Called Rebirth of Democracy," Durham Morning Herald, March 13, 1960, p. 12C (first and second quotations); "Dr. Graham Calls for Rededication in Bennett Speech," Durham Morning Herald, May 31, 1960, p. 4B (third, fourth, and fifth quotations). See also "Dr. Graham Receives Honor," Durham Morning Herald, April 12, 1960, p. 8A; and Frank Graham, "Standing Up for the American Dream," New South, 15 (July–August 1960), 3–7.

55. "Dr. Graham Calls for Rededication in Bennett Speech," Durham Morning Herald, May 31, 1960, p. 4B (first and second quotations); Bob Aldridge, "Graham Endorses Negro Demonstrations: Former UNC President in Speech Here," Durham Morning Herald, November 28, 1960, p. 1B (third through twelfth quotations).

56. Frank Porter Graham, "The Commemoration of the Beginning of the Civil War Affords Random Glimpses Again Not Only of the Heroism of the Unsurpassed Valor and Patient Suffering of the People on Both Sides But Also of the Tragedies and Hopes of Its Causes and Consequences to the People of the Nation, North and South, White and Colored," 1961, Folder 4584, Graham Papers; and published as Frank P. Graham, "The Meaning of the Civil War," Virginia Quarterly Review, 38 (Winter 1962), 36–70 (first quotation on 64; second through fifth quotations on 66).

57. Graham, "Commemoration of the Beginning of the Civil War," 30 (first quotation); Graham, "Meaning of the Civil War," 66–68 (second quotation on 66; third, fourth, and fifth quotations on 67; seventh through tenth quotations on 68). See a similar line of thinking in "Speech by Frank P. Graham at A & T College, Greensboro," June 2, 1962, Folder 4584, Graham Papers.

58. Frank Porter Graham, "The Diary of a Sit-In, by C. M. Proudfoot," 1961, p. 2, Folder 4584, Graham Papers (quotation). This manuscript is a draft of Frank P. Graham, "Foreword," in Merrill Proudfoot, Diary of a Sit-In (Chapel Hill, 1962), vii–ix.

59. Frank Porter Graham, "Amid the responsibilities and opportunities of this age …," 1960, p. 9, Folder 4584, Graham Papers (quotations); Frank Porter Graham to Aubrey Brown, July 11, 1961, Folder 39, Box 1, Ashby Papers.

60. "Graham Boosts Peace Work of United Nations," Greenville (S.C.) News, March 29, 1961, p. 15; "Graham Supports Sit-Ins as Being Legal Protests," Durham Morning Herald, March 29, 1961, p. 2; "Demonstration Penalties Earned," Greenville News, March 30, 1961, pp. 1–2 (first quotation on 2); "Students Told US Revolution Ideals Have Come Home Again," Greenwood (S.C.) Index-Journal, March 28, 1961, p. 7; "Solons Rap Frank Graham," Raleigh News and Observer, March 31, 1961; "S.C. Senate Readying Heavy Fire at Graham," Durham Morning Herald, March 31, 1961, p. 7C (second and third quotations); "S. C. Senate Blackballing Graham," Raleigh News and Observer, April 5, 1961; "State Supported College Ban on Educator Wanted," Greenville News, April 5, 1961, p. 1 (fourth and fifth quotations); "Academic Freedom Defended," Greenwood Index-Journal, April 14, 1961, p. 1; "S.C. Legislature Censures Graham for Winthrop Talk," Durham Morning Herald, May 11, 1961, p. 7C.

61. Frank Porter Graham, mimeographed letter, April 12, 1961, Folder 39, Box 1, Ashby Papers.

62. Frank Porter Graham to Harry Golden, June 8, 1961, Folder 39, Box 1, Ashby Papers. Graham remained a steadfast supporter of nonviolence. In March 1965, Graham, after the murder of minister James Reeb during the Selma to Montgomery march, described the "heavy thud of the blow which struck him from behind in the dark" that was "heard around the world." In November 1966, in a speech to the Southern Regional Council's annual meeting, Graham reminded the organization of its commitment to "Judeo-Christian heritage, the hopes of the American Declaration of Independence and the principles of the American Bill of Rights." Frank Porter Graham statement, March 1965, Folder 4585, Graham Papers (first and second quotations in note); Steven P. Miller, "Whither Southern Liberalism in the Post–Civil Rights Era?: The Southern Regional Council and Its Peers, 1965–1972," Georgia Historical Quarterly, 90 (Winter 2006), 547–68 (third quotation in note on 560).

63. Interview with Frank Porter Graham, July 26, 1966, p. 17, Folder 3357, Graham Papers.

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