More than two years ago, headlines in the United States and around the world proclaimed the end of second class citizenship for Negroes. The Supreme Court had decided unanimously on May 17, 1954, that school racial segregation laws were unconstitutional. But for the first year, not much happened.
The undercurrents of southern opposition to the Court opinion remained undercurrents. Every one knew integration would take time, but no one outside of the South ever doubted that it would eventually be effected. Many realized there would be problems, but these, people felt sure, could be ironed out within a short period of time.
Access to Education?
A statement in the CRIMSON typified the feeling in most of the world outside of the South: "Now, finally, the Supreme Court's decision outlawing segregation will eliminate this whole problem [of second-rate citizenship] at one stroke. It will give the Southern Negro access to the education without which he can never hope to achieve equal status."
But the South, and especially the deep South of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, was not considered when all the wonderfully optimistic statements were made. As a result of activities over the past year, however, all this has changed. Now the South must be considered. It has organized its forces. White and Negro leaders talk mainly about principles now, and the practical moderate has been cowed into silence.
The Declaration of Principles
The Miss Lucy affair at Tuscaloosa, Mississippi's Till murder case, and the Montgomery bus boycott all illustrate the pent-up emotion in the South which comes to the surface periodically. Similarly, the March Declaration of Constitutional Principles issued by 19 Senators and 77 Representatives, all from the South, illustrates the new determination and the new organization of the whites: "we regard the decision of the Supreme Court in the school cases as clear abuse of judicial power... This unwarranted exercise of power by the court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the states primarily affected..."
It has become a battle of principles which few foresaw two years ago. Both sides are trying to solve a complex problem by sweeping generalizations. The Negro as a person and the varying local situations are no longer considered in rational terms by most southerners, regardless of their color. They have become secondary considerations, to be ironed out after general policy is decided.
Importance of Local Level
Two years ago Harry S. Ashmore prophetically stated in his book The Negro and the Schools: "It is here (at the local level) that the South will have to determine the future of its educational system. Wise leadership at the upper levels can help, and emotional excursions by the leaders of either race can do great harm. But in the end the new patterns will have to be hammered out across the table in thousands of scattered school districts, and they will have to be shaped to accommodate not only the needs but the prejudices of whites and Negroes to whom these problems are not abstractions but the essence of their daily lives."
It is unfortunate that in many areas of the deep South the problem is not being worked out in these terms. Rather, advisory committees on education, like those in North and South Carolina, are established by the white leaders to plan overall strategy for the entire State's school system. Similarly, leaders in most southern states seriously think they can placate the Negro by building big, shiny new segregated schools. In some districts, it may work. But according to one NAACP official in Nashville, who also likes to make generalizations, "No Negro will ever be satisfied with a segregated school, no matter how good it is."
Negro More Moderate
Although both sides stand firmly by their principles, it appears that the Negro, or integration, side is more moderate, and more willing to make some sort of a compromise arrangement than the whites. The leaders of the segregation movement refuse to listen to reason; instead of encouraging moderation they oppose it, even when it seems to be the prevailing sentiment in a given area. At the University of Tennessee, for instance, a group of students requested the administration for premission to form an NAACP chapter; their petition was refused.
Similarly at the University of North Carolina, the administration was forced to accept three Negro undergraduates for admission last September by court order. Expecting the same reaction from students to this as it felt, the administration tried everything to treat the Negroes as a special case. They even tried segregating them in a special section at the football stadium.
It was only through student pressure that the University was forced to accept the realities of the situation. Subsequently, on February 8 of this year an Associated Press reporter could state: "Three negro undergraduates have been absorbed in the 6,500-member student body at the University of North Carolina--with no more violent reaction than raised eyebrows."
Acceptance at this one university does not mean, however, that it would be so easy at other institutions in the South. Most southern states have, admittedly, shown a certain willingness to integrate students at the university level. Some, such as Tennessee, have suggested tenative plans for integrating first at the graduate level, and then working down to the college and finally the school level, one grade more each year. But even this scheme, better than nothing, to be sure, does not face the realities of the situation.
The rather frightening truth of the situation is that few Negro high school graduates at present are adequately prepared for college, and even fewer have a desire to go to an integrated institution.
The Southern Project
In this respect the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students has conducted a Southern project for the past two years. The objective was to encourage more of the best Negro students from Southern high schools to apply for admission to good interracial colleges in the North. During the two years 78 Negro high schools in the 45 largest southern cities were visited. 3,178 students, all in the top ten percent of their senior classes, then took a modified college entrance examination. Of these, 1,732 passed. And 578 applied for admission to an interracial college, with 523 being accepted.
On the basis of the exam scores, two interesting statistics stand out. The first is that only three out of every 100 graduates from Negro high schools in the South were qualified for a good interracial college. Also, only six percent of the top-ranking Negroes from Southern high schools did as well or better than the average student who took the regular entrance tests.
It might also be noted that only about one-third of those Negro students qualifying for interracial colleges actually applied. Thus, motivational and economic factors--especially the former--play a significant role in the Negro's actual academic record. Integration at college level, therefore, really proves little by itself. The problem is a much more real one at the school level, where at least the educational and motivational factors can perhaps be straightened out, if not the economic. The Negro in an integrated college is there in spite of, not because of, his secondary school training.
It need hardly be emphasized that the Negro is not of a natural intellectual inferiority compared to the white. As Harold A. Ferguson and Richard L. Plaut, Executive Vice Chairman of NSSFNS, have pointed out, "There is no evidence of differences between the intellectual achievement of whites and Negroes because of innate racial differences. The evidence points rather to differences in environment, to differences in socio-economic status, to differences in the educational background of the family, and, finally, to differences in educational motivation."
Integration No Panacea
Such problems as these, which point almost inevitably to the conclusion that even separate but equal facilities can never raise educational standards of the Negro to those of the white, are ignored by the white leaders in their fixation with a principle. And even the spokesmen for the integration viewpoints tend to forget the complexities of the situation in their enthusiasm for ending the dual school system. Yet it has been decisively shown by Ferguson and Plaut, in a survey of 32 public high schools in 11 northern states, that only 53 of 3,300 Negro seniors finished in the top quarter of their classes out of a total senior class enrollment of 10,400.
In this battle over principles, there has also been little discussion of what would happen to the school system if the Negro and white races were given similar schooling opportunities, and the Negro were to take advantage of them. Eli Ginzberg discusses this in his book, The Negro Potential: "If the education of southern negro males were brought up to the level of southern white males, the actual number of Negro high school graduates in the region would be tripled, from about 11,000 to about 32,000. If the education of northern Negroes were brought up to that of whites in the North, the number of Negro high school graduates in the North would be nearly doubled, from almost 14,000 to almost 25,000.
If these figures are realized, the obvious prob-
Equality of Opportunity?
If these figures are realized, the obvious problem of overcrowding immediately arises. A national conference on the topic, "Approaching Equality or Opportunity in Higher Education," sponsored by the American Council on Education, has examined the situation in colleges. The conference came to three conclusions: 1) educational opportunity through the next two decades will extend in the abstract ideological sense; 2) the enormous increase of college enrollments in the 1960-75 period, however, will result in an overall reduction of educational opportunity (by 1975, 3,800,000 men and women will be reaching the age of 22 annually, compared to 2,100,000 last year); 3) the change in birth rates among the several economic groups will bring relatively more highly motivated youths from upper status groups into college, at the expense of the less highly motivated youth of lower status groups, including the Negro.
Yet, problems such as these fall away in the South before the battle over principles. They are undoubtedly in the back of many people's minds; but to southerners they do not seem as important as the basic issue of whether or not to comply--and how to comply-- with the Supreme Court decision.
It is no good blaming this situation on the "white rabble rousers" in the Citizens' Councils, either. For the most part, these men are not uneducated, unreasoned leaders longing for a brawl.
Black Monday, a book written by Tom P. Brady, is one of the Citizens Councils guides. It is dedicated "to those Americans who firmly believe socialism and communism are lethal 'messes of porridge' for which our sacred birthright shall not be sold." On the back cover is written "Lest we forget integration of the races and the destruction of White America is one of Communistic Russia's objectives."
Lawrenceville and Yale
In his book, Brady makes use of all the old, tried and true biological and communistic arguments against the Negro. Black Monday is one continual emotional outburst; and yet Brady is a graduate of Lawrenceville School and Yale College.
Similarly, the leader of the Federation for Constitutional Government in Tennessee--that state's version of the Citizens Council--is Donald Davidson, professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Davidson spends his summers teaching at Bread Loaf in Vermont. He staunchly contends that there are "intelligent men in control of the Citizens Councils. And this is very good, since, if they weren't those advocating violence would be."
Not Very Good
It may be relatively good, but it certainly is not very good. For even these educated men have become dedicated to a principle which allows no reasoned, objective discussion of the issues within the framework of the Supreme Court decision. Their position is one step further removed from reality than the integrationist, who is willing to work within the framework of the Court decision, but who tends to forget some of the complexities of the problem in his enthusaism for ending the Negro's second-class citizenship.
Certainly deciding principles is an important part of the current struggle in the South. In some instances it may be the only way to attack the problem. But it should not cloud all the other complex issues, as has been the recent tendency in the South.