Can I Get a Witness? by Unknown

Can I Get a Witness? by Unknown

Author:Unknown
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


LUCY RANDOLPH MASON

(1882–1959)

Lucy Randolph Mason, photographed here for an article in the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel. Lucy Randolph Mason Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

THE REST OF US

Lucy Randolph Mason and the Search for Dignity for American Workers

Susan M. Glisson and Charles H. Tucker

The renegade Baptist preacher and civil rights activist Will Campbell once said that nice people are hard to write about because they’re boring. But it was Campbell and his peers who led students to rediscover figures like Lucy Randolph Mason, a white woman of aristocratic-Virginia origins who broke with the white supremacist norms of her day and helped organize interracial unions in the American South in the 1930s.

It’s difficult to uncover any scandals in Mason’s life. There is no compelling morality play scenario, no Damascus Road conversion experience to lend a dramatic and gripping “before and after” narrative of how she lived her life. Her family, privileged in status through a prominent historical name but not in money, raised her in an Episcopalian home and taught her to care for others. Her parents demonstrated that lesson through their own examples. So when Mason began her own public life, there was no theatrical family rift whereby she was cast out on her own to follow her revolutionary cause. For part of her life, she was a mundane civil servant, working under a Democratic administration in the Great Depression environment that toyed with radically progressive ideas and that approved of her stances, so there was no whistleblowing, WikiLeaks-style upending of an oppressive regime. Even as a union organizer, she wasn’t on strike lines or part of boycotts of union-busting bosses.

What did Mason do instead? She wrote a lot of letters. She wrote press releases and media advisories about factory conditions. She identified officials, ministers, newspaper editors, and business leaders who opposed unions, and she met with them. She asked them, politely, to reconsider their positions. And sometimes, she changed their minds, or at least persuaded them to soften their public denouncements of union activity. Even when they disagreed with her, the men (and they were always men) remarked on how charming and polite “Miss Lucy” was, how respectful and engaging.

You will not find a Che Guevara–style revolutionary trope in any story about Lucy Mason. In our current climate of reality television and celebrity worship, the story of a nice, petite, white-haired woman writing letters and meeting with powerful elites doesn’t have the soundbite-shaped, headline-grabbing drama that would earn attention. Even beyond the entertainment-driven approach of most media, what most draws our attention in efforts to protest social injustice are marches and public protests, not relationship building across enemy lines or educational brochures (the memes of their day) to subtly shift mind-sets.

But don’t let her mildness fool you into missing how radical she was. Mason was not only a true iconoclast, she was also the most terrifying of change-agents: she was a member of the social elite who saw the system for what it was,



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