Richard Arrington Jr. (1 of 2) Interviewed on July 23, 2001

BCRI Oral History Collection
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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Introduction to interviewer, Edward S LeMonte, and interviewee Dr. Richard Arrington Jr.

GPS: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Map Coordinates: 33.516200, -86.813870
00:01:22 - Early Life and Childhood: Living in Birmingham

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Partial Transcript: Dr. Arrington, let’s begin at the beginning, would you talk about you early childhood, family experiences, and your growing up years?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about moving from Livingston to Fairfield, his family history and life as a child in Birmingham. He discusses early role models, and seeing electric lights for the first time.

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.); Blacks--Segregation; Fairfield (Ala.)

00:13:06 - Early Life and Childhood: Industrial Highschool

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Partial Transcript: When I finished Industrial High School, where I had studied dry-cleaning, because it was an industrial school and it offered us, what had called the straight academic program for those students who intended to go on the college. But most of the students of course were studying some trade, tailoring, upholstery, shoe repair, auto mechanics and things of that sort.

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about studying dry-cleaning in high school, his high school experience and his parents.

Keywords: Industrial High School

Subjects: Arrington family

00:29:53 - Early Life and Childhood: Living In a Segregated Society

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned your mother’s concern in particular about police encounters or other incidents. Were there any terrible incidents in your childhood or times when living in a segregated society was very punishing and you knew at the time?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about his experience and knowledge of segregation as a child.

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.); Blacks--Segregation

00:32:54 - Early Life and Childhood: Church

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Partial Transcript: You’ve talked about the importance of family, of high school and of the community that you grew up in that produced role models. Were there other
institutions or organizations that were important in your early years, church, and civic groups, anything along those lines?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington mentions the importance of church in his life.

Keywords: Church; Conley Bethel Primitive Baptist Church

00:35:11 - Education: Miles College

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Partial Transcript: I ended up going to college right here and actually two blocks from where I grew up at Miles College. And I go to college, I start as a freshman, I have no idea what I’m going to study, but as I said I knew I was going

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about the path that led him to study Biology at Miles.

Subjects: Biology; Miles College

00:38:03 - Education: Graduate School

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Partial Transcript: And that I said, “I’m 20 years old and I just graduated from college.” And I leave Alabama for the first time in my life, I take the greyhound bus and off I go to Detroit and I married by that time too at 20 years. So off we go on the bus to Detroit, I’ll never forget it was a tearful moment, I cried, didn’t want to leave home.

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about being one of only a few black student at the University of Detroit and not having to deal with segregation or the first time. He also talks about teaching at Miles after receiving his Master's, receiving a National Science Foundation Fellowship, and applying to Ph.D programs.

Keywords: Biology--Study and teaching (Higher); Education

Subjects: Miles College; University of Detroit; University of Oklahoma

00:45:39 - Politics: Voting

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Partial Transcript: Were there any thoughts at all at this point in your career about public service, politics, anything other than higher education?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about registering to vote and voter tests.

Keywords: Jefferson County (Ala.); Pitts, Luscious

Subjects: Voter registration

00:52:56 - Politics: The Civil Rights Movement

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Partial Transcript: During the time you were in college, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was handed down by the supreme court and then I guess during your graduate school years, the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps peeked and had its greatest impact. How did those developments in the civil rights arena either affect your life or shaped your thinking during that period of time?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about his awareness and involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and in desegregation, including his children attending desegregated schools.

Keywords: Civic League; Fairfield (Ala.)

Subjects: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; Civil rights movement

00:57:50 - Education :Doctoral Studies

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Partial Transcript: 1961, I was at Washington University when he was chosen president. In fact, I first met him when I was a graduate student at Washington University and he came to St. Louis to speak to a group of Mileans, I attended that sessions and that was when I first met Luscious Pitts.
L: So you taught at Miles and then went off and earned your PhD ultimately--?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about his doctoral program.

Keywords: Pitts, Luscious

Subjects: Miles College

01:00:28 - Politics: Summer of 1963

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Partial Transcript: So you left beginning your doctoral work in ’63, were you here during the summer of ’63 when the demonstrations were occurring?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about working with Civil Rights Leaders. He also mentions George Wallace and the assignation of John F. Kennedy.

Keywords: 1963; Gaston, A. G. (Arthur George), 1892-; Halls, Peter; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963; Montgomery, James; Wallace, George; Woods, Abraham; Woods, Calvin

Subjects: Civil rights movement

01:09:29 - Education: University of Oklahoma and Discrimination

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Partial Transcript: But those were things that sort of stick with you, but I was Oklahoma in ’63 for three years and enjoyed it. Took 2 1⁄2 years, taught there the last semester I was there, the whole three-year period and it was basically a good experience. Socially it was, somewhat different. Oklahoma turned out to be not that different from Alabama, they had gone through a lot of litigation already about desegregation and I wasn’t aware of that, as I should have been.

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about discrimination in off-campus housing and the University of Oklahoma, discrimination at restaurants, and the history of segregation on campus. He also talks about his friendship with Professor Harley Brown.

Keywords: Norman, Oklahoma; Oklahoma City (Okla.); University of Oklahoma

Subjects: Blacks--Segregation; Discrimination in housing; Discrimination in restaurants

01:21:48 - Career: Career in Education

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Partial Transcript: But was there ever any thought of going some place other than Birmingham, or did you assume and understand on completion of your doctorate that you would return to Miles College and resume your career there?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington summarizes his career as academic dean at Miles, director of the Alabama Center for Higher Education, and work with the Carnegie Foundation.

Keywords: Alabama Center for Higher Education; Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Ford Foundation; Pitts, Luscious

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.); Miles College

01:30:00 - Career: City Council

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Partial Transcript: L: So you were there from ’70 until you were elected mayor in ’79, and there was a moment of political initiation at some point during that stage, when did you first have the thought descended to you of becoming involving in politics and public life?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about getting involved in politics for the first time, running for city council and his first council term. He mentions speaking out against the police and working with the white community.

Keywords: City council members; Connor, Eugene, 1897-1973; Shores, Arthur D. (Arthur Davis), 1904-1996; Vann, David

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.); City council members

01:55:41 - Career: Motivation for Running for Mayor

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Partial Transcript: Was there any thought on your part of perhaps running for mayor in 1975 at the end of your first term?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington say that the Benita Carter incident was his motivation for running for mayor.

Keywords: Carter, Benita; Vann, David

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.). Mayor

02:00:08 - Career: Leaving Miles College

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Partial Transcript: (inaudible) but you raised a question my leaving Miles College, what happened at Miles College was there was a search for a new president and John Monroe, who had come to Miles from Harvard some years earlier, led an effort to get me back as president and apparently had spoken with the bishop, who was the chairman of the board.

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about leaving Miles and how Dr. Clyde Williams became its president.

Keywords: Monroe, John; Williams, Clyde

Subjects: Miles College

02:05:49 - Career: City Council Second Term

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Partial Transcript: Could we talk a little about the second term, your second term as a council member was 1975 to 1979, David Vann was mayor during that period of time, you mentioned that your first meeting with David had occurred during the 1971 campaign when he had forwarded some campaign funds to you, you had not met him during the period in ’63 when he was very much involved with the negotiations between black and white leaders?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about his second term on the city council focusing especially on David Vann as mayor. He mentions some about his run for mayor against Vann's reelection campaign.

Keywords: Boutwell, Albert Burton, 1904-1978; Connor, Eugene, 1897-1973; United States. Voting Rights Act of 1965

Subjects: Vann, David

02:23:19 - Mayor: Campaign

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Partial Transcript: L: Two questions before we move into your campaign and first term, prior then to the Benita Carter tragedy in the summer of ’79, your plan was to finish your second term as council member, leave politics, return to I assume a full-time career somewhere in higher education?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about running for Mayor in 1979 and winning. He mentions financing his campaign and working with businesses in Birmingham. He also mentions some of his campaign platform.

Keywords: 1979; Bradford, Tom; Campaign funds; Carter, Benita; Farley, Joe; Gaston, A. G. (Arthur George), 1892-; Harbert, Raymond; Thompson, Hall; Vann, David; Woods, John

Subjects: Campaign promises; Political campaigns

02:47:00 - Mayor: Winning First Term

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Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about transitioning into office and some of the issues he faced including selecting a chief of police.

Keywords: Davis, Willie; Myers, Bill

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.). Mayor

03:02:26 - Mayor: Police

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Partial Transcript: L: (inaudible) difficult to in a reasonable period of time covered 20 years as mayor, but I think there are some areas that we could group questions and thoughts on your part and I guess one of them would be to return the topic of police and you’ve talked about the professionalization of the police department a long-term process that began during your first term as council. I recall that the issue of the shooting policy was one of the kinds of important police issues that came up early in your tenure as mayor, I wonder if you could speak to that and other things related to policing that reflected your commitment to the professionalization of the department.

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about reforming the Birmingham police department.

Keywords: Deustch, Arthur; Fraternal order of police; Myers, Bill; Police Reform

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.). Police Department

03:11:02 - Mayor: Affirmative Action

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Partial Transcript: Related to the police department and all other department but certainly more extensively were very basically was the question of affirmative action in the consent decree. At the time you entered office the question of discriminatory hiring practices was before the courts?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about affirmative action, accusations of reverse discrimination, and his progress in diversifying the Birmingham workforce.

Keywords: Reverse discrimination; United States. Supreme Court

Subjects: Affirmative action programs; Affirmative action programs--United States

03:26:06 - Mayor: The Birmingham Plan

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Partial Transcript: I don’t know how successful it has been, but we reached a point where they started working with us rather than against us. We got the Birmingham plan put in place and the Birmingham plan, in my opinion; it’s a significant accomplishment. I don’t think it was a productive as it could have been, because quite frankly I don’t think we ever got really the mentality among a (inaudible) minority contractors, they were going to get a set aside, but with all those rough balance, one very pleasing moment for me was one day when six young black contractors came in my office.

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talk about implementing the Birmingham plan and attempting to help minority contractors, and small businesses.

Keywords: The Birmingham Plan

Subjects: African American business enterprises; Economic development

03:41:09 - Mayor: Downtown Revitalization

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Partial Transcript: One of the projects that David Vann had begun was the commitment to downtown Birmingham the revitalization of downtown, would you comment on your views of downtown and what your administrations did over the years on behalf of downtown Birmingham and your assessment of success or failure?

Segment Synopsis: Dr. Arrington talks about attempting to revitalize downtown Birmingham. He mentions projects like the McWane Center, dealings with Sloss, plans for improvements that did not happen, plans for parks and issues with recruiting business. He also talks about improvements to the 280 area including the Summit. His discussion on annexations includes David Vann's time as mayor.

Keywords: Annexation (Municipal government); McWane Center; Pizitz; Sloss Furnace Company; United States Highway 280 (Ala. and Ga.); downtown revitalization

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.)