The Whole World Was Watching
an oral history of 1968

Seth Gifford

Interview and story by: James Gorman
This story is based on one of a series of interviews conducted by South Kingstown (RI) High School students in the Spring of 1998. All of the interviews were focused on recollections of the year 1968. In addition to the student's edited story below, you can find on this site the electronic transcript of the interview and a quicktime recording of the encounter , as well as a table of cues and contents .

The War was a Mistake

I grew up within a big family on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island where I attended Moses Brown High School. My father was an investment banker, and my mother stayed at home. I was active in the Quakers, which was a group against the war.

I had practically no chores at home growing up until I got married. Even though I had no idea of what I wanted to do, I had no intention of selling stocks and bonds. There wasn't any discrimination in my neighborhood that I can remember. A colored maid worked for our family when I was young, and that didn't seem to pose any problem or seem strange at all. I never thought discrimination against people of color was as bad as it evidently was. I am always amazed that discrimination was such a big part of the politics in the South, and still is. Growing up, I liked to listen to jazz; Benny Goodman, black and white bands, and jazz combos. Although music was not an important part of my life, I did attend concerts for some of the "big bands" in Providence and Warwick. When I went to Moses Brown, which is a private school run by Quakers.

School didn't have much of an impact on me other than giving me an education, which I found useful later on in life. My family and only my family encouraged me to go to college. If I had it my way, I wouldn't have gone to college, but I did. Since I went on in later years to law school, I am glad that I went to college. I went to Brown University and joined a fraternity, which was a place for me to hang my hat when I was in college. I met the girl whom I married at Brown and other than that, none of my friends had any influence in my life. My wife was a very talented nurse and administrator, and I don't think she felt there was anything she could not do. I went to law school and have been practicing law ever since. I didn't really follow political and social issues when I was in school, but after I graduated, I did.

Later on after college, I joined the Socialist party, and I was a supporter of Norman Thomas for president one year (that was in 1948, when Harry Truman ran). After that, I became interested in the Democratic Party locally, and I helped both Governor Denny Roberts and Mayor Joe Doorley. I was involved in both of their campaigns and administration. I was a member of the Ward Committee in Providence and I attended all of those meetings and conventions, and I helped out preparing platforms and things on Election Day. In 1945, I went to work for the union itself, and I worked for the union until about 1954. I voluntarily left because the textile industry was shrinking. I then went to work for the state and started attending law school at night. I worked for the state until the voters kicked us out around 1959. I have been practicing the law on my own ever since.

I didn't really pay attention to the Cold War, and I thought that the anti-Communist thing was overdone. I was against nuclear testing and any development of nuclear power. I first became aware of the war in Vietnam when the government started drafting people and sending people over there. I disapproved of the United States involvement in the Vietnam conflict. I was against the whole Vietnam War and the war at home, and if there was a demonstration, I may have participated in it. I was active in the Quakers which was a group against war and attended their meetings where pacifists congregated. I attended conventions regularly, both city and state. When I saw Vietnam vets in wheel chairs and on crutches, and in body bags coming home from Vietnam, it just heightened the fact that I was opposed to the war. My opinion of the war as time went on was that it became more and more apparent that it was a mistake.

I didn't take any great action against the escalation of the Vietnam War except to speak out. I felt it was proper. I thought it was a good move when Lyndon Johnson announced on TV that he would not run for the presidency a second term, because I did not like him at that time. I wouldn't like to see anyone assassinated, and when Martin Luther King, Jr. was, it disturbed me because he was a great leader. He had a lot of good qualities including his promotion of nonviolence, and he had a lot of guts, too. I thought Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great guy. I didn't participate in the integration of public schools, but was around when it was accomplished in Providence. I knew the people who were involved in opposition to it, and I would not have allowed them in public schools either as a student, a teacher, or an administrator. Today, my summation would be that Blacks, women, Latinos, and all other minorities have come a long way in the last twenty years. Watching the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, I thought the treatment of the people who were demonstrating outside was really, really poor. It was in a way typical of political leadership in Chicago. Nixon, I think, was shrewd, and I think he shot himself in the foot with that Watergate business.

Glossary Words On This Page
Cold War
Lyndon B. Johnson
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Richard M. Nixon
Norman Thomas

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