Civil Rights Interview
Mr. Wadley was born in 1955 in the city of Rockford, Illinois. As a kid he would often times go out and hang out with his friends doing sports activities or fishing. Growing up Mr. Wadley was not well off financially so he grew up in poorer part of the city. Since he grew up in a more norther state many schools and neighborhoods had already been integrated. There was still segregation in places, but the area that he grew up in was already integrated. Since he grew up in a mixed community he also went to an integrated school. Mr. Wadley had many friends and a lot of them were African American, including his girlfriend in high school. Mr. Wadley graduated high school in 1972, and later went on to coach basketball at McCallie. Growing up in a integrated community Mr. Wadley said he didn't understand why people would judge others based on the color of their skin, even to this day he could never figure out how people thought it was okay to judge others on skin color.
Me: What was your communities opinion on the Civil Rights Movement?
Mr. Wadley: My communities viewpoint was not like it was in the south, we had our black communities where they lived, then you had the small mixed of whites with blacks where I lived, and then you had your richer white communities. We didn’t have any race problems because we were already integrated but they lived in certain sections of the town, they didn’t go to some of the more fluent public schools or anything like that.
Me: What was your opinion on the African American group?
Mr. Wadley: I was an exception to the rule, my first friends were black and we would spend the night with each other back in ’61, ’62, and ’63 so it was not common, and it bothered me when I got to see my friends picked on because they were black. My parents always raised me to treat people with respect no matter what color they were so we were probably one of the first families that had interracial marriages before it became more common. They were some of my best friend so integration wasn’t a problem
Me: How did you African American friends react to the civil rights movement?
Mr. Wadley: They were all in favor of it because they knew that they were the ones being fought for, but they were in favor of it especially in the south because the south was more separated than we were. Ours was subtle in the north in that they grouped them into areas and kept them there, and weren’t able to better themselves to get out of that pod.
Me: Did you do anything to outwardly support the Civil Rights Movement?
Mr. Wadley: Being as young as I was I didn’t support it other than just being aware it was going on because being that young nobody would have listened to me. We would watch what happened, and I remember in ’68 when Dr. King was killed and it upset me because I was in favor of what he was doing, but it really upset the black community and they were kind of lost now because their leader was gone.
Me: As a whole did your community support or oppose the movement?
Mr. Wadley: The town as a whole I think supported the rights of the blacks to vote, it wasn’t anything like the south was going through it was more subtle. Dr. King said he feared the north more than he feared the south because the south you knew what was going to happen whereas in the north as long as the rich kept the African Americans in a certain area, at a certain level of income then they were happy, and since our schools were already integrated and we all played sports together I didn’t think anything about it. So the town itself, even though today that same town is considered a very racist town because of the way they entrapped the African Americans due to income, was supportive of the movement.
Me: Do you remember the start of the Civil Rights Movement?
Mr. Wadley: Yeah, I remember watching television when I was 7-8 years old, and I remember watching and listening to reports. I didn’t just sit in front of the television but I was aware. I remember when bloody Sunday happened and I just shook my head because I thought the south was just so backwards.
Me: Did it change any ideas you had based on the Government?
Mr. Wadley: No, I thought the government was trying to enact equality when Kennedy and Johnson were trying to pass the Civil Rights Movement legislative. I had a really bad opinion on the south, I just thought they were a bunch of rednecks that hated blacks and were in the dark ages. I wasn’t aware of how my community was trapping and enslaving the African American community with living location and job because I was too young and because we were poor I thought everyone was like us. I came from a totally different idea of what racism was. I grew up with black people, and I had a black girlfriend. I just thought the south was a bunch of crazy people.
Me: Do you remember Malcom X? What did you think about him?
Mr. Wadley: I thought Malcom X was a very militant leader. It wasn’t until the last ten years till I realized he had changed his views during the later part of his life, that’s what really caused his own people to kill him because he was changing his views, and was leaning more towards Dr. King’s views.
Me: So you were always on the side of Martin Luther King?
Mr. Wadley: I was yeah. I’ve always sided with the equal treatment of people being right, it bothers me today just as it did when I was younger when I saw people mistreated because of the color of their skin because that wasn’t a problem in my family.
Me: With everything that was going on did you ever get scared?
Mr. Wadley: I think the night that Dr. King was assassinated, and there were small riots going on, that was scary. I never did understand why they rioted within their own black community. They were upset, but we were fearful of that.
Me: Did it anger you the way that African Americans were treated?
Mr. Wadley: Yes I was very angry, I’ve been angry with them since the seventies. Once I started realizing what was going on, you know I didn’t use the “N” word and I wouldn’t permit it I just felt like that was a degrading term and I would never use it. It bothers me when they use it on each other, and I coach basketball and wouldn’t let them use that, and it always bothered me when I would see people picked on because of their skin, it bothered me and I haven’t gotten over it, it still bothers me today.
Me: Do you feel that the Civil Rights Movement was successful or do you feel like we still face a racial problem today?
Mr. Wadley: I think it was a great start that should have been started earlier and I think that we have improved, but I still think that there is a lot more to do. When you look at Chattanooga, the idea of separate but equal, look at some of the inner city schools and how they’re treated financially as opposed to signal mountain, east Hamilton, and you can see money’s not being put into them because they’re a black school and they’re not producing because of the grade of teaching they are being taught. There is such a thing as white privelage, and we that are white there’s certain things assumed about us and if you’re black there’s certain things assumed about you already, and they’re constantly fighting. We have kids here who if they want to go to signal mountain they’ll get pulled over because they’re black, and if you’re white you won’t get pulled over. Same things with awards, some people are getting awards just because they’re black not because of how good they are. It’s getting better but it’s still going to take time for everybody to accept them for black as equal. Even our churches aren’t as integrated as they should be. I happen to have a son that’s married to an African American girl and that’s not too common, it’s become a little more common but ask the average McCallie kid when you come home and say “I’m going to bring my girlfriend home”, if she’s black see what happens. People say “Well I’m not prejudice” but how many black friends do they have that they go out and eat with? It’s getting better though, it’s gotten a lot better since the 50’s and 60’s, but we still have to strive to continue.
Me: Finally, do you have any ideas as to how we can better it?
Mr. Wadley: I think our churches need to become more integrated, and I think that everything we do needs to be more diverse, and to make students be more aware of it. They’re trying to do that with black history month, but we don’t do as much as we probably should be doing, and hopefully we do enough to where it would eventually faze out because everybody knows what’s going on. So I think more awareness is something we need, of finances, educational opportunities, and I think we need to do a better job of that.