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It is the property of a generous and noble mind to aid and do good to others.


I don't know what I should have done," Frayser confessed, "I know I could never have endured slavery. The idea of one human being owned by another is abhorrent." As Frayser looked over old family papers, she found a bill of sale for a Negro slave and a paper transferring a slave from one family member to another, perhaps as a wedding gift--it was a common gift to a newly married couple in the Old South. Finding these papers gave Frayser a sick feeling. "Yes, I am sure if I had lived in those days I should have been a rank abolitionist."1 Feelings like these led Frayser to work for better racial understanding. She began working for interracial cooperation in 1923-1924.2 Frayser had such a deep concern for Negroes and their plight, even her family and friends recognized her commitment to the downtrodden. She

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"shocked her friends by her sponsorship of blacks" and "poor white trash."3

In the early 1920s, southern women had just finished the struggle for suffrage and were sensitive to the inequalities that still remained in their society. Many of the arguments used against giving African-Americans equal rights were familiar ones to Frayser, the same ones which had been used to oppose the advancement of women.4 Mary Frayser worked many years for women's suffrage, but at the same time she was working in rural communities and knew the kind of problems the Negro encountered because he lacked any equal opportunity or rights in the predominately white community.

Frayser accepted segregation, because she knew she would have to toil within its framework to get anything accomplished. However, she worked for equal education, equal pay, and the political rights of all blacks. Frayser was especially concerned about Negro education since she viewed this as a stepping-stone to a better way of life for blacks. Frayser also appreciated the influence early upbringing had on one's view of the race problem, especially in the South, but

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felt that ideas could be changed through education. Additionally, she knew that ingrained attitudes could not be changed overnight; a slow start must be made.

Therefore, for many years Frayser labored quietly behind the scenes in interracial work. Though deeply concerned about the conditions under which Negroes lived and worked, she recognized that at this time change had to be sought within the framework of segregation. She knew if those who worked for better cooperation between the races pushed too hard, most white southerners, even those leaning toward change, would resist.

But for most southerners during the early decades of the twentieth century, the caste system that separated whites and blacks was regarded as both unassailable and eternal. The majority of the white community viewed African-Americans through narrow tunnel vision which only allowed for certain impressions of blacks. Those impressions traditionally acceptable to many in the white community indicated blacks were mentally and morally inferior to whites and therefore special restrictions were necessary to insure that they did not challenge white supremacy. Also black labor was an economic necessity for the South and that Negroes were completely unable to control their passions and therefore,

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were a threat to the delicate sensibilities of feminine whites in the communities. Black homes, neighborhoods, schools and recreational facilities were generally far inferior to those of whites, but the prevailing opinion and attitude was that black people neither needed nor could they appreciate improved conditions. Keeping Negroes segregated and "in their place" became a matter of great concern in the South. States passed laws that virtually disfranchised the Negro. Lynching and other forms of violence and intimidation came to be regarded as proper methods of control within the social system.5

Despite the general population's indifference or hostility to the plight of African-Americans during the years prior to World War I, there were several southern organizations which sought "Negro advancement within the framework of segregation." The three most important white movements seeking upward mobility for Negroes were the Southern Sociological Congress, the University Commission on Southern Race Questions, and the Southern Publicity Committee. The need for social justice and the desire to change the South's racist attitude motivated these groups. This formed the background for the eventual work of the Commission on

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Interracial Cooperation (CIC). Largely composed of descendants of the plantation aristocracy, members of these organizations felt motivated by a sense of paternalism towards blacks. They believed if improvements were made in the environment of blacks, the cultural level of the race would be raised.6

Will Winton Alexander was the guiding force behind the creation of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation and was affectionately known as "Dr. Will." A Methodist minister, Alexander left preaching in order to pursue work which he believed desperately needed doing; to try to educate for a change in attitude, a change that was as necessary for the white citizens as it was for black people. For a quarter of a century, Dr. Will would direct the CIC's efforts in the whole South--black and white, rural and urban, ignorant and enlightened.7

The commission launched a new method of dealing with racial problems in the South. An appeal went out to selected individuals of both races to come together and discuss the problems and how best to go about solving them. The commission agreed that the work would be done quietly and

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without publicity at the local level, in the communities.8 Although the CIC was never a widely known organization in the South and did not have a large membership during the inter-war period, its members courageously attacked a variety of problems facing blacks citizens. The source of these problems was the predominate attitude of southern white citizens toward Negroes and the result was the isolation of the black citizens from education, better work, and from recreation facilities. The commission began a slow and careful campaign against lynching; sought to improve black health, recreation, and educational facilities; encouraged greater economic benefits for Negroes and tried to educate white southerners to the injustices faced by black people.

The CIC never attacked segregation itself, and from the perspective of the 1990's, it was a conservative organization. During its existence, however, southerners considered it liberal and progressive. Its method of working through interracial committees was a sincere attempt to deal with the South's problems. Though the organization never had a large public following, it played a vital role in preparing the southern middle and upper classes to accept the civil rights

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movement, which finally began in the late 1950s. The commission strove to make it socially unacceptable to use violence and intimidation against blacks who sought to improve their status in American life.9

The two basic aims of the CIC were the correction of injustices and betterment of conditions facing African-Americans. The commission sought to improve the plight of Negroes who were helpless to help themselves. Secondly, to improve the interracial attitude out of which the unfavorable conditions grew. The CIC wanted to awaken the social conscience of whites who permitted or were blind to the neglect of the negroes.10

Alexander and the Commission brought the races together to work for a common cause and soon recognized the necessity of bringing both sexes into the work. Alexander was aware that Negro women were almost without recourse for change in their own lives and he appreciated the latent power of white women, if they were properly aroused. For these reasons, Alexander decided to include white women in the work of the Commission.11 No step the CIC would take, during the quarter

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century of its life, influenced it more than the decision to include women in the organization. Several men had misgivings about accepting women members because they were afraid the ladies would tend to become overly emotional.12 Despite this fear, under the leadership of Mrs. Jessie Daniel Ames, Director of Women, the CIC women proved to be a dynamic force for change.13

Shortly after their incorporation into the CIC, the women launched a crusade which shook the major premise of the southern myth right down to its roots.14 White women of the South had been made the excuse for the darkest phase of race relations: "to protect their honor," a whole region had been blighted by the shame of lynching.15

Leaders of the CIC believed lynching was the chief cause of unrest among Negroes and they decided that halting this practice and other forms of violence should be a major concern of the commission. Since lynching was nominally carried out in defense of "Southern Womanhood," women on the commission became particularly devoted to its eradication. Jessie Ames

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became the leader in the anti-lynching crusade. Ames explained that a speech given by the Negro educator, Nannie Burroughs, stung her conscience and sparked her anti-lynching zeal. Burroughs had said, "that lynching was carried out for the protection of white women and when white women got ready to stop lynching, they'd stop it and it wouldn't be stopped before."16 She realized a sense of responsibility had been placed upon her shoulders with the knowledge that women must ultimately be the ones to end lynching. This understanding motivated those on the commission to declare loudly against the practice.17

Mary Frayser had been interested in the living and working conditions of blacks since she first saw the family papers detailing transactions involving buying and selling slaves. She had always worked for the betterment of Negro lives and the CIC allowed women to become part of the movement, she worked actively in South Carolina against lynching. She felt the state's anti-lynching law was completely inadequate. The $2,000 fine levied against those convicted of lynching offered little deterrent to the practice. Frayser believed the injustice done to Negroes was

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deep and abiding and therefore, both state and federal laws needed to be strengthened and made drastic enough to prevent the murders of blacks citizens.18

In 1938, a group of concerned South Carolinians formed a Southern Commission on Interracial Relations and they asked Frayser to serve on the Executive Board.19 She gladly accepted the position. This group would later form the nucleus of the South Carolina Division of the Southern Regional Council (SRC). The main assets of the Council were its members who were deeply committed and striving for change. They understood the old evil of slavery and the new ones of paternalism and segregation that burdened the South. The SRC sought to be a regional organization, not from a desire to separate itself from the rest of the nation, but from the conviction that the organization had unique advantages. It could serve as a convincing demonstration of southerners working together as fellow citizens without regard to race and could tap local resources often inaccessible to agencies outside the region.20

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The CIC, primarily a white organization, began a series of meetings in 1942 which culminated in the Commission's merger with the newly formed bi-racial Southern Regional Council (SRC) two years later.21 Sponsors of the new organization hoped it would be more broadly based than the old Interracial Commission. Will Alexander and Howard Odum, a liberal southern writer, wanted to attract business and professional people, in addition to the usual coterie of academics, clergymen, and newspaper editors, as members of the Council.22 The Council's programs encouraged interested community groups to instigate positive action in a wide range of social concerns including health care, education, economic development, housing, and rural development. The Council's strength was the interracial make up of its members. It used this broadened constituency to reach more southerners who shared its vision of a better, more just, and humane region for all the South's people.23

As a member of the SRC, Frayser traveled throughout

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South Carolina speaking on interracial cooperation. It was hard for her to know just how far to go in discussing inequities in education and economic offerings between whites and blacks, when both races were represented in the same audience. At an interracial meeting in Chester, South Carolina, Frayser expressed appreciation for those concerned enough about the problem to attend. She reviewed the problem of some white county school boards diverting to white schools part of state funds intended for Negro education. Frayser believed serious consideration should be given to a proposal that bonds be issued for education of South Carolina Negroes in elementary and high schools. The main thrust of her address however, dealt with the belief that democracy rested upon the loyalty and intelligence of all citizens. To deny opportunity to any group, race, or class endangered democracy.24

Frayser wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to explain her concerns for African-Americans. She told him she was against the poll tax and for equal opportunity for all races. In her estimation the whites in the state who stood for equal opportunity constituted a small but active minority, seriously working toward better race relations. As an astute

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political observer, Frayser was not afraid of federal intervention and welcomed government funding for social programs. However, she felt Roosevelt's main objective now should be his re-election. She wrote of the racial issues for future consideration after re-election and after the war had been won. Frayser was well aware of the attitude of white southerners toward anything pertaining to Negro rights and did not want anything to stand in the way of Roosevelt's fourth term. She felt he would accomplish great work on race relations after the war was over. She believed he was the "most courageous champion of the rights of those of least opportunity that has ever occupied the White House."25

In seeking help to further the cause of interracial cooperation, Frayser believed her wide network of women's clubs could be of service. In a letter to Dr. George S. Mitchell, member of the Southern Regional Council, Frayser commented on South Carolina's division of the SRC. This group centered its work in better race relations and Frayser wanted to know what the women's organizations could do to help. She also wanted Mitchell to keep her informed on the SRC's plans

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and to let her know what she could do.26 One of Frayser's goals in race work was to get the problem before the citizens of South Carolina. She accomplished this by securing spots on the programs of Women's Clubs for herself and other SRC members. She considered it a grave mistake when the program of the Federated Club Women's Institute did not include an interracial topic.27 Alice Spearman, Executive Secretary of the South Carolina division of the SRC, wrote Frayser seeking her help with club contacts, to get herself placed on club programs so she could speak on the SRC and interracial, inter-cultural responsibilities of white South Carolinians. "We must create ways to bring this before white citizens, and I know of no more natural or more desirable way than through this federated women's club group."28 This was certainly an important method of reaching the more settled segment of the white middle class, but an equally important part of society was the young white women of the community. These young women were struggling to integrate themselves into the mainstream of

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southern community life and could appreciate the difficulties of blacks striving to get a leg up in the predominantly white social arena.

One early organization working for better understanding between the races was the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) whose policies led many southern women to begin thinking more broadly about the interdependence of the races.29 In an address before the Southern Sociological Congress, Willis D. Weatherford, President of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Graduate School, stated that the same type of agency which could improve conditions for whites could do so for Negroes as well. He knew of no fiat of God that made the color white any more valuable than black. He believed every social agency working for the uplifting of the white race should also be working toward the same purpose for blacks.30

Women were attending state universities and newly founded women's colleges in increasing numbers. Many believed they would benefit by having a YWCA organization similar to the men's association. Until 1873 females had been permitted

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to participate in activities of the student YMCA, but that year women at Illinois State Normal University organized the first student YWCA.31 The goal of both the YWCA and the YMCA organizations was to help new students adjust to college life. Religious meetings, many of them evangelistic, were the center of the program.32

In 1906, the student YWCA organization merged with the community YWCA associations to form the Young Women's Christian Association of the United States of America. This brought the combined groups under a national leadership. A major task of the new organization was to expand its student work into colleges, universities, and high schools, and among black young women attending colleges and high schools.33

Negro women and girls had been included in the membership of local YWCAs in all sections of the country from the earliest years, and the national organization could not have been unaware of the crucial importance of just and friendly interracial relations. Progress had been slow and at times tension strong. The national association needed all its

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wisdom and skill to hold the organization together while working on the problem. The staff worked continuously and constructively over the years on the problem of race relations.34 This organization's slow, steady pace toward equality for all its members helped create a viable organization through which other groups could work.

In October 1940, Frayser wrote the YWCA questioning them about sponsoring an Interracial Institute.35 The student leaders were interested, but first a committee had to be formed. In November the Winthrop YWCA organized an Interracial Committee with Mary Frayser as Faculty Advisor. The group agreed that they should study race relations at one meeting each month for the remainder of the academic year.36 They would also work toward promoting the Interracial Institute. The YWCA agreed to sponsor the institute, a first for the organization at Winthrop. The group scheduled the meeting for 11 January 1941. Elizabeth Stinson, General Secretary YWCA, Winthrop College and Frayser agreed that only

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the white race would be invited since they believed it wise to move slowly in the direction of improved race relations.37

The Winthrop YWCA Interracial Committee sent letters to all the white colleges in South Carolina and a few in the Charlotte, North Carolina vicinity inviting them to send delegates to the Institute. The letter stated that the committee proposed no emotional or radical presentation. However, associated with better educational opportunities for both whites and blacks was the question of social and economic progress for all the people in the South. The Institute leaders also hoped to address the inequalities of rural and urban educational opportunities for both races.38 The Institute drew delegates from numerous schools throughout the state and the report of the Findings Committee recommended: that the colleges represented organize a committee to stimulate study of interracial relations; there should be an annual intercollegiate interracial institute; students should try to interest others of their school in the problems of race; the delegates should undertake a study of the use of

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educational funds in communities and oppose diversion of the funds appropriated for Negro education to the white schools.39

The Institute was such a success that the YWCA Interracial Committee planned another one for November 1941. In a letter to Frayser, Elizabeth Stinson wrote, "we all realize it was your unflagging interest and endeavor which made it all possible." Stinson hoped that Frayser received real satisfaction in knowing she had made possible Winthrop's first conference of this kind.40

It was 1946 before the National Association of the YWCA adopted an interracial commitment "that the implications of the YWCA purpose be recognized as involving the inclusion of Negro women and girls in the mainstream of association life." Progress was slow but continuous.41 However, Winthrop's YWCA members had forged ahead five years earlier to try to improve race relations in South Carolina. Frayser continued in her capacity as Faculty Advisor and helped guide Winthrop's students toward a better understanding between the races.

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In the South, race relations pertained to mostly blacks and whites. However, Frayser did not limit her interest for the oppressed. In a letter to Reverend Ryland Knight, Pastor of the Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, Frayser wrote of her concern for the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. She would submit the matter of its repeal to the Women's Council for the Common Good at its January meeting. In the meantime, she would bring it to the attention of other organizations.42

Mary Frayser championed the downtrodden and exploited all her life. She took up the cause of blacks, poverty stricken mill workers, and rural tenants, whose condition, it seemed to her, was little better than slavery. Frayser and her associates worked persistently trying to effect changes in the area of race relations. At times she must have felt as if she was on a treadmill, working hard, but getting nowhere. In a letter to her niece, Elizabeth, Frayser wondered just what they had accomplished in the past fifty years, but she thought some things had changed.43

If Frayser was paternalistic, it was toward the whites

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of the South. According to the Bible, parents should not anger their children; Frayser took this doctrine to heart in dealing with the recalcitrant population of the South. Her method of securing the cooperation of reluctant southerners was always one of persuasion and education.

Frayser believed that if young people could be educated earlier about racial prejudice, association between the races could be improved. She spent many years working quietly within the system of segregation, seeking interracial understanding between blacks and whites in South Carolina. Change came slowly, but Frayser and the groups she worked with laid the groundwork for the breaking down of the system of segregation. To near the end of her life in public service, Frayser worked diligently toward this goal.

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1Whitney, Lewiston (Maine) Journal, 3. Frayser Papers.

2Mary E. Frayser to Alice Spearman, 28 May 1948. Frayser Papers.

3Elizabeth Perry Upshaw to Ron Chepesiuk, 7 September 1980. Frayser Papers.

4Wilma Dykeman and James Stokely, The Seeds of Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), 88.

5Ann Wells Ellis, The Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1914-1944: Its Activities and Results (Ann Arbor: Xerox University Microfilms, 1976), 1-2.

6Ibid., 2-3.

7Dykeman and Stokely, Seeds of Change, xiv-xv.

8Southern Regional Council 30th Annual Meeting Program, 15-16 November 1974, 3.

9Ellis, Commission, prologue to book, no page number.

10Dykeman and Stokely, Seeds of Change, 80-81.

11Ibid., 88.

12Ibid., 81.

13Commission Program, 3.

14Dykeman and Stokely, Seeds of Change, 81.

15Ibid., 88.

16Ellis, Commission, 59-60.

17Ibid., 60.

18South Carolina Division of the Southern Regional Council notes, April 1948. Frayser Papers.

19F. Clyde Helms to Mary E. Frayser, 13 April 1938. Frayser Papers.

20SRC Program, 7.

21Frayser was a member of the South Carolina Division of the SRC's Executive Board, 1946-1952. Note card. Frayser Papers.

22Morton Sosna, In Search of the Silent South (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 119.

23SRC Program, 7.

24Newspaper article, 10 January 1941. Frayser Papers.

25Mary E. Frayser to Franklin D. Roosevelt, [rough draft ca. 1944]. Frayser Papers.

26Mary E. Frayser to George S. Mitchell, 18 July 1945. Frayser Papers.

27Mary E. Frayser to Adele Minahan, 24 June 1945. Frayser Papers.

28Alice Spearman to Mary E. Frayser, 19 November 1947. Frayser Papers.

29Dykeman and Stokely, Seeds of Change, 85.

30Gilbert Osofsky, The Burden of Race (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1967), 253.

31Mary S. Sims, The YWCA an Unfolding Purpose (New York: Woman's Press, 1950), 34-35.

32Ibid., 57-59.

33Ibid., 60-61.

34Ibid., 34-35.

35Mary E. Frayser to Elizabeth Stinson, 21 October 1940. Winthrop Student Organization Records, Young Women's Christian Association. Ida Jane Dacus Library Archives, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina. Hereafter cited as YWCA Records.

36Meeting minutes, 27 November 1940. YWCA Records.

37Elizabeth Stinson to Mary E. Frayser, 25 October 1940. YWCA Records.

38Letter sent to colleges and YWCAs throughout South Carolina from Thelma Ricklin and Mary E. Frayser. YWCA Records.

39Report of the Findings Committee of the First South Carolina Intercollegiate Interracial Institute, 11 January 1941. YWCA Records.

40Elizabeth Stinson to Mary E. Frayser, 22 January 1941. YWCA Records.

41Sims, The YWCA, 71-72.

42Mary E. Frayser to Ryland Knight, 15 October 1943. Frayser Papers.

43Mary E. Frayser to Elizabeth Perry, 20 July 1945. Frayser Papers.