Apathy and Hope
"It has been quiet here since May 17," writes the newspaper editor at the University of North Carolina, and his statement is a key to Southern student opinion about the Supreme Court's outlawing of segregation in public schools. In a sampling of student editors, The Florida Flambeau found that despite some radical opinions on both sides, a wait-and-see attitude prevails in most Southern universities. This quiet seems to show that most college students have accepted eventual integration of whites and Negroes.
The closest thing to forceful opposition comes from the editor of the Mississippi State College newspaper. In certain counties, the paper points out, where the ratio of students is eight Negroes to one white, it will be many years before integration is even feasible. The paper therefore supports an amendment to the State constitution allowing the abolition of public schools. The paper also says that "countless other devices can be called into legal use" to prevent mixing the races, including "the use of military and police power." Some students are extreme, says the paper, while others "stand in a quagmire of apathy, whispering "it can't happen here." But even this determined paper admits that integration will happen, perhaps not before "20, 30, 40, or 50 years."
Another editor in the deep South writes that "colored people will be admitted to the University as students sooner than most care to think. If it must come, then gradual integration is to be desired rather than a sudden flux." The University of Alabama paper claims that the entrance of large numbers of Negroes would keep the Negro "classified" in one group, while "individual Negro students will have a chance to demonstrate their ability."
The University of Georgia editor agrees that "desegregation must be a lengthy process," but asserts that "segregation cannot and will not continue indefinitely in Georgia or in any other state." Still, at the present time, most students oppose admitting Negroes "because of trouble that might develop. Because of our backgrounds, we simply are not ready now for such a change." And with a bit of curious advice, the editor urges "the less that is said about segregation by everyone concerned, the better things will work out."
Such apathy is not restricted to the deep South, for even in border states like North Carolina and Tennessee, the students are not excited over the issue. North Carolina's paper says that "desegregation will be no problem when it comes--whether that is next week or five years away." There are efforts to end segregation--a group of students is at work to end undergraduate segregation voluntarily before the Supreme Court does it legally--but there is no strong student movement. Part of this relatively tacit acceptance of Negroes as undergraduates comes from the fact that Negroes are already enrolled in graduate schools--living in a separate section of the dormitory but eating in the common dining hall.
Another school that has admitted Negroes at the graduate level is the University of Tennessee, where few students are "violently opposed to desegregation in any way." Students showed last spring "to the booming majority of four to one" that they favor the Supreme Court's ruling. Again, the editor urges slow integration in the face of the disinterest of most students. "Perhaps," he says, "this is just the lull before the storm."
But no storm seems on the horizon if these editors are typical of a new Southern attitude. Those who oppose speedy integration argue from practical grounds, not moral or social prejudices. And the proponents of slow but steady integration show a calmness that should encourage the Supreme Court in the task of implementing its decision.