Lois Deloatch (LD) Interview with John Hope Franklin (JHF) at his home on July 6, 2007
LD: When and how did you meet Sam Reed?
JHF: I really have no idea. It must have been shortly after I arrived back in Durham in 1980. He just turned up! I felt like I'd known him forever. Of course, it was very difficult to say no to Sam. Early on I became a part of the Trumpet of Conscience. Sam was very interested in my views and using my way of looking at things as part of the program. He wanted me in the Trumpet organization as an active participant to the extent that I could. I went to his breakfast meetings.
LD: Who else was involved?
JHF: Walter Brown, Joe Bowser, Hilly (Elizabeth) Frazier, and Dr. Bouleware who was the first black to be elected to city council. By the time I got involved with Sam, Aurelia's health was failing so I couldn't be as active as I wanted to be.
LD: How would you describe your relationship with him?
JHF: Well, I regarded myself as a volunteer in his activities – not a leader – mover or shaker. All you had to do was indicate that you're interested, and he'd place you right in the middle of it.
LD: Would you agree that Sam was a social activist? Why?
JHF: Yes he was. He wanted to change things and he worked diligently to that end - with all the resources he had. He was definitely a social activist. He wanted to change the social order. He came out of an extraordinarily radical background. I expect he was once a communist and so he wanted to change society to accomplish equality and justice for everyone.
LD: What qualities enabled him to cross the racial and social divide in Durham?
JHF: He strongly believed that society needed change. He felt that much reform was needed and he was willing to do anything in his power to change society for the better. This is not your typical "do gooder." It wasn't just doing good, but more a fundamental determination on his part to change society for the better.
LD: What was your involvement with the Trumpet of Conscience? Did you write for the newsletter? Attend events?
JHF: I am certain that at least one of my pieces appeared in the Trumpet. I went to various programs he had. He was always trying to get you to go to this meeting or that meeting. Without being obnoxious, he urged you to go to a meeting even if you couldn't do it.
LD: What did you hope to accomplish by being involved with the group?
JHF: Well, Sam was more grassroots than I was and I admired that in him. I wanted to participate in the basic, fundamental, grassroots movement and being involved with him was a way for me to do that.
LD: What is your assessment of activism in Durham?
JHF: Not much of it. There are no Sam Reeds that I can see. You know there's this sort of polite movement – not to press someone or hurt one's feelings. Sam would get under your skin and push and move you. We don't have anyone like that now. Any kind of movement toward reform or change is much more formal and much less crusading. Sam was a crusader who came out of a tradition of fighting for what you believe in. I wonder what his views would have been on what's going on now.
LD: What is the role/value of grassroots activism in general?
JHF: It's democratic. Grassroots mean a larger number of people, irrespective of their class or position, are participating and being heard. It gets at the fundamental and basic needs that must be addressed for people to successfully work and live together. It calls on the person's most fundamental beliefs to get out there, not just for himself, but for society.
LD: What you think was the impact of Sam and his group?
JHF: Unfortunately, it didn't last. It was a movement that needed more than an individual to carry forward. As long as Sam was alive and energetic you didn't need anything else. Unfortunately, it didn't get translated into an organizational effort. That's very unfortunate. There was something good about it. It needed some kind of activity beyond an individual. It was the loose structure that attracted people like me to it; however, it was also the looseness that led to its demise.