Mr. Talmadge's Anathema

(YOU AND SEGREGATION. Vuloan Press, Birmingham, 1955; $1.00 paper-bound, $2.50 cloth; 80 pp.)

Since relinquishing the Georgia governor's chair, Herman Talmadge has had little to do but snarl defiantly at the Supreme Court. As the self-appointed prophet of the Jim Crow forces, he has burned at white heat ever since what he terms the "calamitous action" of the Supreme Court in May 1954. Mr. Talmadge has now taken it upon himself to write a bible for his disciples. In a small volume, You and Segregation, the fiery demagogue describes the deadly sins--i.e., the Supreme Court, the NAACP, and bloc voting.

In the introduction to his book, Talmadge dips liberally into the red paint and covers well-nigh everybody who opposes segregation with about three coasts. Having established that those for integration are mostly Communists, or at least least fellow-travelers, he procedes to warn all true Americans of a sinister "three-way attack" now being made on the Bill of Rights. ("Make no mistake about it, the issue is your freedom.")

By a strict interpretation of the Constitution, Talmadge is of course able to make a fairly good argument that the Supreme Court does not have the power to regulate public school education. Although he lacks any depth as a political theorist, in him echoes of Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun are clearly present. Talmadge sings the same songs that states' righters have sung for generations, and which to the South still seem good old tunes.

As a defender of the status quo, Talmadge is naturally forced to rely most heavily on tradition and precedent to support his position. ("Citizens of the United States are entitled to know and to have assurance that the law will not mean something today and something else tomorrow.") Talmadge seems unable to realize that the Supreme Court was interpreting the law just as much when it laid down its "separate but equal" doctrine in 1896, as it was when it changed its mind in 1954.

Beyond the constitutional arguments, Talmadge bares his teeth and growls the loudest at the NAACP. He particularly dislikes NAACP-inspired bloc voting which he considers "unfair" election practice. (Talmadge himself has Georgia voting districts so rigged that although his choice for governor in 1954 won only 36.6 percent of the popular vote, he was a landslide winner under the state's county unit system.) But bloc voting is only one of the NAACP's crimes. They are also opposed to poll-taxes, have a powerful lobby, and hold parties where whites are sometimes seen dancing with Negroes. The NAACP is a terrible menace to America. ("They take the same attitude about swimming pools. If they can't swim with the White people, they don't want to swim. And they don't want White people to swim. Instead, they yell for the Supreme Court like spoiled brats.")

God is also opposed to the NAACP according to Mr. Talmadge. This piece of revelation is gained by observing that "nature has produced white birds, black birds, blue birds, and red birds, and they do not roost on the same limb or use the same nest." With the Constitution and God on his side, and Abraham Lincoln's "true views" thrown in for good measure, Talmadge is pretty well equipped to defend his sovereign state of Georgia against innovations.

The pay-off of You and Segregation is not how Talmadge rationalizes his views, but what he proposes in order "to preserve our liberty." Although he never exactly comes around to an active nullification doctrine, the Supreme Court is most definitely not the final word for Herman Talmadge. He says: "The day the United States Supreme Court orders Georgia to integrate its public schools, that will be the day Georgia's public school system will be legally destroyed. . ." Should this scheme be declared unconstitutional, as it probably will, Talmadge intimates that he has other tricks in his white-supremacist bag.

Except that Herman Talmadge wrote You and Segregation, the book might be dismissed as just another poorly-written, ill-conceived diatribe. But the author, like his father, is a tremendously powerful Southern spokesman. And by his big talk, he betrays himself as a desperate man who will try most anything to preserve a doomed social custom. Unfortunately like all demagogues, his fingers are never far from the public pulse.