One evening in 1955, Howard Spence, a Mississippi field representative for the NAACP investigating the Emmett Till murder, was confronted by Klansmen who burned an eight-foot cross on his front lawn. "I felt my life wasn't worth a penny with a hole in it." Twenty-four years later, Spence had become a respected pillar of that same Mississippi town, serving as its first black alderman.
The story of Howard Spence is just one of the remarkable personal dramas recounted in Black Lives, White Lives. Not all of the tales told by the sixteen blacks and twelve whites interviewed are as encouraging; some are bitter accounts of failed promises, misunderstandings, and lost opportunities. Black and white, rich and poor, men and women, collectively they reveal in their own words the paradoxical realities wrought by three decades of tumultuous racial change.
Beginning in 1968, Bob Blauner and a team of interviewers began to record the words of those caught up in the crucible of rapid racial, social, and political change. Unlike most restrospective oral histories, these interviews capture "live" the intense racial tension of 1968 as people talk with unusual candor about their deepest fears and prejudices. The diverse experiences and changing beliefs of these individuals, most of whom were interviewed again in 1979 and 1986, become an extraordinary commentary on the development of race relations since the 1960s.
Bob Blauner has taught, lectured, consulted, and written on race relations for more than 25 years. He is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.