Good O' Boy Roundup Report - March, 1996

1. The name of the event

ATF Director Magaw suggested during the Senate committee hearing that the name, "Good O' Boy Roundup," alone implies that blacks were not welcome at the Roundup. Rightmyer, however, contended that the term "good o' boy" carries no racist connotation to him. According to Rightmyer, a good o' boy "could be a woman, it could be a black, it could be a Hispanic -- if he is a good o' boy, he is a good o' boy. That means he is honest, straightforward with you, he is not going to steal from you; what you see is what you get." He said that the term "good o' boy" refers to someone who will "be up front with you, [who] is going to tell you what the hell he thinks right there, you don't have to worry about him lying to you or stealing from you." While conceding that the term may connote something different to people in the North, Rightmyer contended that this name was not intended to send a message that blacks were not welcome.

Other persons interviewed also differed over the meaning and intent of the term "good o' boy." One black Secret Service agent described good o' boy as an "endearing term" used in the South. A black ATF agent said it was not derogatory but rather used for people who are "friendly" and not "trouble makers." Another black ATF agent did not consider the term racist because he grew up in the South and heard both whites and blacks call each other good o' boys. On the other hand, one black ATF agent said good o' boy is synonymous with "redneck" and "bigot." Another black ATF agent believed that a good o' boy is a "prejudiced white male." A third black ATF agent equated the term good o' boy with the Ku Klux Klan. Others equated good o' boys with racism, rednecks, and intolerance. Overall, minorities more frequently viewed the term as implying some type of racism or bigotry, with whites much less likely to subscribe to such an interpretation. Thus, regardless of Rightmyer's interpretation or intent, the name of the event led some minority agents to believe they would not feel welcome and to avoid going to a Roundup.

Even recognizing that some people perceive the term "good o' boy" as limited to southern white males, we are not convinced that Rightmyer intended to be exclusionary when he chose that name. First, Rightmyer was not the only person who shared a broader interpretation of the term; countless others did as well, including some black agents. So his professed non-racist interpretation is not, on its face, disingenuous. [ / See also Rosalie Maggio, The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage, 121 (1991) (good old boy: loyal Southerner, Southern supporter, side kick, crony, pal, goombah); Dictionary of American Regional English Vol II 728 (Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall, Eds., 1991) (Good old boy: a man who embodies the traditional values of the white, rural South). We even found one author who could not come to a consensus within his own mind as to what the term means. Compare Steve Mitchell, How to Speak Southern, (1976) ("Good ole boy: Any Southern male between the ages of 16 and 60 who has an amiable disposition and is fond of boon companions, strong drink, hound dawgs, fishin', huntin', and good-lookin' women, but not necessarily in that order.") and Steve Mitchell, More How to Speak Southern, (1980) ("Boy: Any Southern white male under the age of 50, usually preceded by the words "good ole," meaning he is amiable, likes a drink now and then and is fond of fishin', huntin', and good-lookin' women.) ] Second, the empirical fact is that ATF had only one black agent in the immediate area when Rightmyer selected the name in 1980 -- Larry Stewart in the Atlanta office. We found no evidence to suggest that Rightmyer chose the name with the intention of excluding Stewart. [/ Stewart said he did not meet Rightmyer until 1985. We do not know if Rightmyer was aware that Larry Stewart was in the Atlanta office prior to meeting him. ] Because the name was chosen initially for a relatively small, very private event that did not start out with the intention of being a large annual event for a broad range of attendees, it is more likely that Rightmyer did not consider the possible racial implications of the name when he chose it.

Irrespective of original intent or appropriateness, it is clear that Rightmyer and other Roundup organizers were insensitive to the fact that the phrase "good o' boy" might convey an exclusionary message to minorities and thus discourage their attendance. Some non-minority attendees, however, acknowledged the name's potential negative connotations, and believed a different, more neutral name should have been chosen, particularly when, beginning around 1990, Rightmyer learned that some people had begun to attribute racist tendencies to the event.