Uncle Toms  


"Uncle Tom" is a name given to blacks (often considered leaders) who catered to the will of whites and the status quo. He or she could have been a newspaper editor, school principal, college president, politician, grocer, preacher, teacher, or farmer. Whatever the social standing, an "Uncle Tom's" main objective was to placate whites in the hopes of getting some personal reward for services rendered. Certainly not all the people who occupied these positions acted as Toms. These individuals could be counted on to carry out spy missions for the White Citizens Councils, deny activists the use of services, property, or equipment vital to the movement's success, or to simply sabotage a particular project. Most "Uncle Toms" had a well-established history of working closely with local white leaders prior to the movement, so they were not at all difficult to find when the need arose. These individuals, because of either fear or greed, or a combination of both, helped segregationists thwart the freedom movement at every level. It is certain that had it not been for "Uncle Toms" consistently "selling out" their people and the freedom struggle, the civil rights movement would have enjoyed many more successes.

Mississippi Valley State University students protest
A group of Mississippi Valley State University students protest the decision by then-President James Herbert White to expel all students who were involved in protesting civil injustice and curriculum issues (specifically the lack of a Black Studies program). The students believed that the president was merely catering to the wishes of powerful whites.

From the Charles Marx Collection, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi.




audio Click on the play button to hear the following excerpt.     Total time: 37 seconds

Well, keep in mind, in those days—and probably this is one of the tragedies of the transition period—that there were many Negroes who wanted to reassure their white friends that they wanted no part of this, that they were happy with the way things are, [and] they didn't want any change. They depended too long on the white man and didn't want to be thrust out without dependence. A lot of white people listened to them, and they in some respects were the real Uncle Toms of that era.

-- Erle Johnston