HOW THE NAACP PLOTS THE NEGRO REVOLUTION
In the schools, courts and jails of America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has fought since 1909 for Negro rights. Their success in the U. S. capital has been called the Washington Miracle. It’s beginning to look as if they’ll make the miracle stick even in Dixie
MACLEAN’S WASHINGTON EDITOR
ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS about Washington that the tourist folders don't mention is the fact that more than half its residents, more than four fifths of the children in its completely integrated public schools, more than two thirds of its teachers and perhaps a quarter of its scores of thousands of civil servants are Negroes. In no other major North American city is the proportion of colored people so large and nowhere in the United States is there less discrimination.
The U. S. capital provides convincing evidence that the nation’s 19.000.000 Negroes are at last moving rapidly toward a decisive vic-
tory in their long and at times seemingly hopeless fight for first-class citizenship. An important Negro government official, or a successful Negro business or professional man in a chauffeur-driven limousine, is a fairly common sight in Washington these days. At a concert or a play there are sure to be beautifully dressed and often strikingly attractive Negro women in the audience. Negroes stay at the most fashionable hotels, eat at the finest restaurants, are invited to many of the parties reported by the society pages of the newspapers. They own homes in good districts. And when a prominent Negro was refused membership in the exclusive
Cosmos Club last winter, several white members resigned in protest (though the club did not change its decision).
A lot of Negroes think Washington is the best place on earth. Yet only a decade ago it was a community where they constantly encountered segregation, restrictions, contempt, embarrassment. The change in their status in Washington is remarkable for at least three reasons:
(1) Because it happened so quickly.
(2) Because it happened on the fringe of the South. Washington, squeezed against the east bank of the Potomac River by Maryland, where discrimination is rampant, and looking across the Potomac at Virginia, where there is even more discrimination than in Maryland, has become an island of tolerance in a sea of prejudice.
(3) Because it happened when the black population of Washington was rocketing upward and the white population was declining. This deflated the old idea that tension and strife
are inevitable when there is a sudden rise in the ratio of blacks to whites.
The Washington miracle, as it’s occasionally called, is for Negroes a triumphant chapter in the story of their social revolution—a revolution that is entering a new and accelerated phase, that is being pressed so resolutely that the most vicious opposition hasn’t been able to stop it, and that is beginning to shake die-hard Dixie Land states like Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.
By far the strongest force in this revolution is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP was formed in 1909 by a handful of Negroes and whites who had been shocked by the Springfield, Illinois, race riots of 1908, in which scores of Negroes were killed or wounded and thousands were chased out of town, and by the widespread and incredibly brutal lynchings that took an average of about a hundred Negro lives a year in the U. S.—this without a single murderer being punished.
As a result of the efforts of the NAACP, lynching has become a rare crime and the organization, which now has 380,000 members, no longer has to concentrate on preventing sadistic half-crazed mobs from burning Negroes at the stake or hanging them or shooting them or torturing them to death.
THE END OF JIM CROW IN WASHINGTON
Instead, in all regions of the U. S., it wages an unceasing campaign to win the Negro the same kind of justice accorded whites and the same opportunities to get an education, find a job, buy a house and cast a vote. This campaign has been responsible, to a great extent, for the improvement in the Negro’s position at Washington. His position, of course, is also improving elsewhere.
“We kept hammering away at Washington for years,” Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, told me recently. “We were determined that the capital of the United States should not continue to be a Jim Crow town.”
Wilkins, a tall, lean, soft-spoken graduate of the University of Minnesota who for years was a newspaper and magazine editor, believes that what Negroes have achieved in Washington, they can achieve throughout the U. S. In a twohour conversation we had at NAACP headquarters at Freedom House in New York, Wilkins outlined the enormous problem of unemployment that is confronting Negroes. About 35,000 unskilled jobs a week in the United States are vanishing because of automation. Those are the sort of jobs most Negroes have. While there's a government scheme to teach employable skills to laborers displaced by automation, countless Negroes, particularly those of middle age, can’t enroll, for they haven’t the education to read the textbooks. Statistics reveal the Negro’s plight: in Detroit he constitutes 19.5 percent of the labor force but 61 percent of the unemployed, in Chicago 14.7 percent of the labor force and 44 percent of the unemployed, in Philadelphia 13 percent of the labor force and 54 CONTINUED ON PAGE 72
cominued from page 17
If not this fall, then in 1964, Dixie politicians will begin to feel the power of the Negro vote
percent of the city’s unemployed people.
But. if the job prospects of the Negro are bleak, he has bright prospects, too. In this fall’s congressional elections, he'll have enough votes to seat or unseat quite an assortment of candidates. The politicians in the North are aware of his strength and President John F. Kennedy has let it be known that he’ll appoint Robert Weaver,
a former NAACP executive who is federal housing director, to be the first Negro member of a U. S. cabinet when there is a
Politicians in the South, if they don't discover the Negro’s strength this fall, can count on discovering it in the 1964 elections. Roy Wilkins is convinced, like other Negroes I talked with in both the North
and the South, that the tide of history is running in favor of his race. Lately, indeed. hardly a week has passed in which Negroes have not been heartened by fresh gains.
Congress, for example, has initiated action to eliminate such impediments to Negro voting in the Deep South as the poll tax and the badly abused literacy test—a
test by which, in a classic case in Mississippi, a registrar of voters disqualified a Negro voter on the grounds, as the registrar wrote, of “pore spilling.’’
Following are a few of the other significant gains:
Federal courts have issued a series of orders to compel southern cities to speed public school integration;
The Roman Catholic archbishop of New Orleans has voluntarily decided to desegregate parochial schools, and has excommunicated the irate Catholic racists for stirring up trouble;
In more and more southern cities the principal stores, hit where it hurts by Negro boycotts, have desegregated their lunch counters and hired Negro help:
Attorney General Robert Kennedy has increased the number of Negro lawyers in the justice department from ten to fifty, and announced that neither violence nor disorders will be allowed .o interfere with the department’s plans to hasten desegregation;
A dozen or more northern U. S. centres are reshuffling their school zones so more white youngsters will attend schools that have been predominantly Negro and more Negro youngsters will attend schools that have been predominantly v.hre:
The Taconic Foundation of New York has contributed $250,000 and the Field Foundation of New York has contributed $75.000 for a drive to register more Negro voters in the South, where it’s estimated that a mere thirty percent of the Negroes of voting age are registered, compared with sixty percent of the whites, and where the aim is to boost the number of Negroes eligible to vote from 1,750,000 to 3,000.000.
Directly or indirectly, the NAAC'P’s influence was behind each of these dese!opments. just as for half a century it has been behind prac ically every step :h' Negro has advanced in his slow. pa:nful. unbelievably difficult and dangerous journey toward first-class citizenship.
The Negro's progress has not come about by chance. Negro parents have not turned up from nowhere with their children to demand that the children be admitted to segregated schools: Negroes of college age have not been promp ed by a personal whim to demand a m:ss:on iO segregated universities; boycotts of s'ores that would neither employ Negroes nor serve them at lunch counters have not been spontaneous affairs' and if the odd sit-in has been an impulsive gesture by studen s. most have not. Politicians haven't been moved only by a sense of fair play to introduce legislation to protect Negroes, and cases involving the constitutional rights of Negroes have not reached the Supreme Court of the United States by accident. All hese things have been part of the NAACP’s uninterrupted war against racial oppression. It has, as a rule, selected, encouraged and coached the children and the young men and women who ha.e tried to break the color barrier in schools and universities, choosing those who would represent their race with courage and dignity and would not cringe or flinch when they were slapped, kicked, s oned. jeered and shrieked at by frenzied segregationists. It has organized the boycotts and sitins. has lobbied for the legislation, and has manoeuvred with forethought and wisdom to put before the Supreme Court points on which a ruling was likely to benefit Negroes.
It has a special legal defense and education fund, fed by donations from individuals and companies interested in the Negro's cause. In addition, a sizable slice of
the NAACP’s regular income of roughly $1,000,000 a year, which is chiefly from a two-dollar annual membership fee, is earmarked for legal costs. These run high. In South Carolina alone, at the moment, the NAACP has $54,000 worth of litigation on its hands, including ten breach of the peace cases that are on appeal. In one of these cases it is defending 388 students arrested at Orangeburg in 1960. They were among 1,200 students who paraded to demonstrate against segregated lunch counters. Although Dwight D. Eisenhower. then President of the U. S.. commented that their peaceful procession was “unquestionably a proper expression of a conviction." they were attacked with tear gas bombs and fire hoses by Orangeburg police. When that failed to halt the march, the 388 were jammed into the jail. Later, sixty-five more students were locked up for a second demonstration, which consisted of singing The Star Spangled Banner in front of the Orangeburg city hall. South Carolina is a tough nut to crack and Orangeburg's lunch counters still ban Negroes.
While it defends most Negroes who are arrested for protesting against discrimination in one form or another, the NAACP, as the watchdog of Negro rights, also often plays the role of plaintiff. When a principle is involved, no case is too small for it. and no case is too big. Last year at Greater Grand Forks, North Dakota, where there is a military camp. Negro soldiers were unwelcome at restaurants and bars. A white bartender, to discourage Negro trade, charged one soldier five dollars for a bottle of Coca-Cola. NAACP attorneys heard of this, discovered that the bartender had violated North Dakota law-s by cheating the Negro, and pressed charges against him. He was sentenced to thirtydays in jail and fined $100.
The Arkansas massacre
Most cases revolve around broader issues and the NAACP has won decisions from the United States Supreme Court that clearly establish that the Negro, under the U. S. Constitution, is in no way inferior to the white. The best known of these decisions ordered the desegregation of schools but others have been equally vital. Just a year after it was founded the NAACP launched an action that brought a court declaration that Oklahoma's "grandfather clause” was illegal. I his was a clause in the election legislation to prevent Negroes from ever becoming voters on the grounds that their ancestors weren't eligible to vote in slavery days. If it had not been ruled against by the court, it would undoubtedly have been copied throughout the southern states. Because of the early case, and subsequent cases, there is no question today about the Negros legal right to vote, although southerners go to great lengths to obstruct him.
Another NAACP case paved the way for desegregated interstate travel on planes, trains and buses, and desegregated facilities at airports and railway and bus depots. Another led to the outlawing of statutes to confine Neno dwellings to fixed zones in cities and towns. Still other cases established the Negro's right to serve on juries, to have Negroes on the jury if he's being tried, and to be given a trial that is free from racial bias.
While much of the South even today has two brands of justice, one for whites and one for Negroes, things are vastly better than they were before the NAACP devoted four years to securing the release of twelve Negroes condemned to death and sixty-seven others sentenced to long terms of imprisonment at Elaine. Arkansas. At that town, in 1919. Negro sharecroppers. unable to get an accounting for
their crops or itemized bills for supplies the landowmers charged against them, hired a white lawyer to handle their claims. This infuriated the landowners, who retaliated by surrounding a Negro church and killing several worshippers w'ith a crossfire of bullets. The Negroes, in defending themselves, killed a white. Within hours, white mobs massacred more than 200 Negroes and drove 1,000 others into a stockade, where they were held and tried by a kangaroo court of landlords, which sentenced the twelve to death and the sixty-seven to prison.
The NAACP fought these sentences right up to the U. S. Supreme Court, which, in 1923. ruled that all the defendants should be released.
Two years later, in Detroit, the NAACP retained the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow. to defend a Negro physician. Dr. Osian Sweet. Sweet and his family had moved into a house in a middle-class white neighborhood. As night approached, a mob gathered around this house. Sweet's appeal to police for protection was rejected, and when darkness fell his windows were shattered by rocks. The next night, the mob
gathered again and fired bullets through the windows. Sweet or one of his relatives returned the fire, killing a man in the mob. At Sweet's trial. Darrow convinced eleven jurors that it had been necessary for Sweet to protect his home, but the twelfth juror said: "I don't give a damn what the facts are. A nigger has killed a white man and I II burn in hell before I will ever vote to acquit him." The judge, because of this statement, declared a mistrial. At a new trial. Sweet was found not guilty. The defense cost $37,849. an enormous sum in 1925 for a young organization largely sup-
ported by Negroes with low incomes. But it proved that at last there was an agency that would do its utmost to secure impartial justice for the colored race. The realization by lower courts that unfair trials would be appealed had a salutary effect—and still has.
“In the old days,” Roy Wilkins, the NAACP’s executive secretary, likes to recall. “a Negro could seldom get a lawyer, and nobody cared whether the Constitution applied to him or not.”
Now the NAACP has a legal staff at New York, with Robert L. Carter as general counsel, and each of its regional offices has a list of lawyers, most of them active NAACP volunteer workers, who can be called on day or night. These lawyers. when they go to court, have the benefit of what Wilkins describes as “a solid legal foundation for equality of citizenship, laid stone by stone through five decades.” If a case warrants it, they also have the benefit of experts like Herbert Hill, the NAACP’s labor secretary; Jack E. Wood. Jr., its special assistant for housing; June Shagaloff, special assistant for education. Miss Shagaloff, who is pretty enough to be mistaken for a movie star, is currently directing the effort to persuade school boards in northern cities and towns to revamp school zones so that there will be both Negroes and whites in all schools. While there is no segregation in the north, or none that is openly admitted, the fact is that thousands of schools are all-white or all-Negro. This results from residential patterns-^-the majority of urban Negroes still live in ghettos —and from a habit school boards have had of gerrymandering school zones and resorting to other devices in order to separate blacks and whites. The contention of Miss Shagaloff is that the all-Negro schools are invariably inferior to the allwhite schools; that having to attend an all-Negro school is bad for Negro children from a psychological and sociological standpoint; and that the separation of the races in school perpetuates racial distrust and misunderstanding.
When you talk with Wilkins or June Shagaloff or Herbert Hill or Jack Wood or any of the people of NAACP headquarters. you can't help noticing that besides being intelligent, well-educated and personable. they have their hearts and souls in what they are doing. Wilkins once disguised himself as a laborer and tramped through Mississippi gathering evidence that contractors on federal government projects were underpaying Negroes. Tf he had been exposed, he would certainly have been manhandled and might easily have been killed. Miss Shagaloff, who ventured into an Illinois district where there was a rumpus about school desegregation, was jailed for disturbing the peace. Most of the others have had similar adventures.
I spent an entire afternoon in New York with Gloster B. Current, the NAACP’s director of branches, listening to him recount the experiences of NAACP’s branch officers and executives in the various regions. Current himself, a saxophone and clarinet player who once led a popular band in Detroit, gave up his musical career and returned to university to get a degree so that he could join the NAACP staff. “Most of us.” he said, “are here because we got interested in the cause. It’s the same with the volunteers, a lot of whom give almost as much time to NAACP as its employees. We feel we’re making history, changing things, improving conditions for the Negro.”
Without this feeling, they might not take the risks and make the sacrifices they do. One of them. L. C. Bates, owned the Arkansas State Press, a flourishing weekly. Because he was a leader of the integrationists at Little Rock, where wild riots mark-
ed the admission of a few Negro children to white schools, the segregationists ganged up on him. and advertisers withdrew their advertising from his paper. He soon lost the paper and what Current terms “his self-sufficiency.” Now he’s an NAACP field secretary and. at the age of sixty-two. in the midst of the hazardous assignment of persuading Negroes to register as voters in a region where whites don’t want Negro voters, and where another NAACP field secretary was jailed for doing what Bates is doing.
Then there is Aaron Henry, a druggist, of Clarksdale, Mississippi. In February with five others he was convicted of criminal conspiracy, for his part in leading a boycott. His conviction is now being appealed. Meanwhile, he has been arrested on a trumped-up charge of making indecent proposals to a white boy, and threatened by anonymous letters and phone calls. In Mississippi, the threats cannot be taken lightly. In 1955 in that state. Gus Courts, the ex-president of one NAACP branch, was shot and wounded; an officer of the same branch. Rev. George W. Lee. was shot and killed; and Lamar Smith, an officer of another branch, was also shot and killed. Lee and Smith had been trying to get more Negroes on the voters' list.
Not only individuals, hut whole families, devote themselves to the NAACP. At Baltimore. Maryland. I met Mrs. Lily Jackson, president of the Maryland branch and a member of the NAACP national hoard, and one of the most distinguished Negro women in the U. S. She has directed the Negro's struggle for equality in Maryland for more than a quarter of a century. A seventh-generation American—her original ancestor in the U. S. was an African chief captured by slavers—she told me that much of her life had been lived in “a little ghetto.” Her children had had to go to “Jim Crow schools, swim in little old Jim Crow swimming pools” and at high school were not taught the same subjects taught at white high schools, so that they weren’t eligible to enter the better colleges. They made the grade in spite of that. One daughter became a concert singer. Another, Juanita, managed to transfer from a nonaccredited college to an accredited college. now has a large law practice, and is the NAACP attorney in Baltimore. Juanita is married to Clarence Mitchell, the NAACP’s director at Washington and the Negro’s key lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Their twenty-two-year-old son, named after his father, was jailed for participating in an NAACP sit-in in 1960 and this year, with the blessings of the NAACP. will be a candidate for the Maryland legislature.
“A sit-in,” says Mrs. Mitchell, “is not to cat a piece of pie or drink a cup of coffee. It’s a symbol of resistance to the systematic limitation of a whole race of people. The African independence movement has
hardened the determination of Negro students in America, who follow African politics closely. When TV shows them Africans running into machine-gun fire for the sake of Freedom, our students say, That’s it.’ ”
While segregationists still have the upper hand in most of Maryland. Mrs. Jackson. Mrs. Mitchell. Mrs. Mitchell’s husband and son and other NAACP workers have managed to desegregate some of the public schools in the state and the state university, and are striving for a public accommodations law that would open restaurants to Negroes. In this, they have the backing of the U. S. State Department —Maryland restaurants on the New YorkWashington highway have created international incidents by ejecting diplomats from the new African republics.
When I interviewed Mrs. Mitchell she was being accused of heartlessness and inhumanity. She had tried in vain for years to get Ocean City to let Negroes swim in the ocean and sun themselves on the ocean beaches. So. when a tidal wave destroyed much of Ocean City in March, and the U. S. government was discussing compensation for those who lost property, Mrs. Mitchell wrote a letter to Washington saying that no compensation should be granted without a provision that Ocean City would stop being a "lily white" resort.
She chuckled at the criticism. After all. w'hy should Negro taxpayers have to help pay for beach facilities restricted to whites? Anil it was plain that Mrs. Mitchell, beleaguered, embattled, condemned. was having fun.
And so. when I visited him at Richmond. Virginia, was Lester Banks, a ruggedly handsome man who looks like a professional football player. He has succeeded. since the year began, in having Virginia’s legislators revoke the state charter of Lincoln Rockwell’s Negro-baiting American Nazi Party. He has. besides, knocked the teeth out of a proposal by segregationist legislators that Race and Reason, a pseudoscientific book by a man named Carleton Putnam, be a text in Virginia schools. The gist of the book is that Negroes are mentally inferior to whites, a theory w'hich the American Anthropological Association strongly repudiates.
The Virginia legislature, after NAACP representations, defeated the segregationist motion, although an amended motion did instruct the state board of education to consider the advisability of using the book.
In Virginia, especially in rural areas, the Negro is still very much a second-class citizen and the politicians, hell-bent to keep him that way, have passed so-called “massive resistance” legislation—the resistance being against desegregation. In the cities, there has been a token integration of schools, but Jim Crow reigns supreme in smaller communities.
One county. Prince Filward. may be the only populous county in a civilized country without public schools. It closed them in 1959, rather than obey a court order to integrate them. Private schools, financed in the main by state “tuitional grants,” have been set up for white children. The grants are available to Negroes, who could also have set up private schools. But. if they’d done so. it would have defeated the drive for integration. So. although most of them are poor, and although they’re unhappy being “disadvantaged," they’ve steadfastly declined grants of up to $240 a year per child. Lester Banks says firmly: “Public schools will be reopened in Prince Edward County on a desegregated basis, if we faint not." Meanwhile the NAACP and the colored Prince Edward County Christian Association have been operating "morale and activity centres.” which are not substitutes for schools, but w'here children have su-
pervised play and recreation, and review' what they’ve already been taught so that they'll be capable, if and when the schools reopen, of picking up where they left off.
Banks, in Virginia, has about as hard a job as a man could have. He’s been threatened time and again: crosses have been burned by the houses of NAACP members: court decisions won by the NAACP have been frustrated by new laws. A threat of imprisonment hangs over his head and the heads of his fellow' NAACP officials in Virginia for refusing to divulge the names of NAACP members
and contributors to a committee of the legislature.
Yet he fights on and on. always positive that his cause is just and will eventually prevail. He is. in his own quiet, smiling way, a brave and admirable man, who works for a brave and admirable movement, and who. in a sense, is a symbol of the Negro’s coming victory.
Why is the American Negro winning his revolution? Part of the answer is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which in spite of its aw kward name is so widely known that when
Langston Hughes, the great American Negro poet and author, gave a present to his godson. Langston Chuba Nikeve. a boy in the Nigerian hinterlands, the boy looked at the NAACP stamps Hughes had stuck on the wrapping and said: “That’s the good organization that fights for the rights of the black people.”
I he rest of the answer is that there are American Negroes w ho are ready and w illing to suffer ami even to die to assure their children the same opportunities that America. the land of liberty, offers everybody who hasn’t a dark skin. -fc