TUSCALOOSA, Ala.--Nothing could be more "moderate" than admitting one Negro girl to a Southern university of several thousand students. Yet had Autherine J. Lucy remained on the University of Alabama campus last February 6, a mob would probably have murdered her. Angry shouts of "Where's the nigger?" "Get her!" "Kill her!" "Keep 'Bama White" were the answers which moderation received here. Less than one month after she registered, Miss Lucy was expelled from the University by the Board of Trustees. "Moderation" had failed, although in fact the incident was considerably more complex than it appeared on the surface.
The University is, of course, a state supported institution, and while the Alabama Legislature did not necessarily agree with the mob's actions, it agreed wholeheartedly with its objectives. Behind the Legislature, the vast majority of Alabamians were unalterably opposed to the presence of a Negro at the University. From two perspectives, funds from the Legislature and future students from Alabama homes, the University's Board of Trustees could not appear too much in sympathy with Miss Lucy and her NAACP cortege. Without these pressures from the outside, the Board would possibly have acted more effectively during the disturbances and in its treatment of Miss Lucy. At the same time, it is undoubtedly true that the administration simply lacked both courage and leadership, and probably also the inclination, to bring all its influence to bear on keeping Miss Lucy in school.
The Non-Student Elements
Another factor in the riots which was generally played down by the Eastern press was the participation of non-student elements, particularly union workers. These are the people who feel most acutely the economic presence of the Negro. They are also the people who can compensate for more through the feelings of superiority which the Negro's subservient position permits them. Adept at strike tactics, these ardent white supremacists were more than a match for police, and, of course, the University had no control over them whatsoever.
Two other factors in the Lucy incident are harder to assess: the part played by the NAACP, and the effect of a large press corps. Next to the Communist Party, the NAACP is easily the most hated, and the most feared, organization among Alabamians. The average Southerner's conception of the NAACP is incredible to one who has not experienced it. Many sincerely feel that the organization is subversive, run by Communists, advocates miscegenation, and is solely responsible for the Supreme Court's May, 1954, decision.
Unfortunately, one cannot do anything the least bit unusual without attracting a horde of reporters, whose delicacy is not among their virtues. After Miss Lucy arrived, Tuscaloosa became an arena in which for almost a week reporters beat the bushes for stories, and television cameramen vied with each other for the most sensational shot of the day. One picture sold to a syndicate for $1,500. In this circus-like atmosphere, students were more than willing to perform, while even faculty members rarely hid from the bright lights of national publicity.
Despite pressure from all sorts of extremist groups on the University, the Lucy incident has not directly involved academic freedom. Several professors are known to be ardent integrationists and to disagree heartily with the University's expulsion of Miss Lucy. None of these men have been subject to any reprisal, however, and most of them feel that the University has protected its faculty well.
Softening Their Views
Daland also thinks that faculty members soften their actual views in order to appear less objectionable to students. "If I became known as some radical character," Daland says, "then I would reduce my usefulness to the University." Students at Alabama are unprepared to hear that Negroes are in no way inferior to white people. Their whole background and immediate environment hold that Negroes are inferior. Any professor who taught an undisguised theory of equality would immediately be relegated to the lunatic fringe.
There is also a premonition among faculty members that their chances for promotion may be weakened by criticism of the University or by saying too many unpopular things. This is admittedly a reasonable suspicion, and probably true at almost any institution.
At any rate, the University has explicitly recognized the right to debate the touchy race issue. The Board justified its expulsion of Leonard Wilson by claiming that his conduct and charges "represent far more than the mere exercise of his right freely to debate the question of segregation."
Surprisingly, however, few faculty members and fewer students apparently really debate the issue. Segregation in the South, like Communism elsewhere, is really not a serious subject for debate. Even those who might be against it had rather keep silent, or simply nod their head, instead of questioning so sacred a principle as "separate but equal."
One professor called Alabama students "amazingly un-political." The typical campus political activity is the Student Government Association--a politics of office and status. For the most part, students seem unconcerned with or unaware of the political and legal aspects of the segregation issue Most discussion is carried on in emotional terms, such as the phobic fear of miscegenation.
Although almost all campus organizations passed anti-mob violence resolutions after the riots, being opposed to mob violence is like being opposed to sin. None of the groups condemned segregation, which is of course the basic issue.
The influence of the student government and the various organizations cannot be slighted, however. These groups were initially the only organized opposition to the mob action, and their petitions were effective, especially among non-fraternity students.
The big question is, of course, what will happen when another Negro arrives at Tuscaloosa. The answer is dependent on "if's."
The Big 'If's'
If the NAACP is more circumspect and refrains from staging an extravaganza, a Negro would probably meet no student resistance of important proportions. This is due primarily to the effects of the February riots. Probably the great majority of the students who participated in the demonstrations had no idea that their action would have such national and international repercussions. No one wishes to be characterized as a mobster, and only after the rioting was over did what had happened become clear. Students also realize that the reputation of the school was badly injured by the incident. Moreover, there is not only the threat of disciplinary action against rowdies, but the reality. So long as the next Negro does not antagonize white students, it is probable that white students will leave the Negro alone.
No matter what the NAACP and students do, however, there will be trouble unless outsiders can be kept away from the University. This is difficult if for no other reason than the US highway which bisects the campus.
Since the February riots, Citizens Councils have perfected their organization, and the Ku Klux Klan has even enjoyed a renaissance in Tuscaloosa. These people are a potential danger and a question mark, which will probably make trouble, perhaps even kill, another Autherine Lucy.
If nothing else, the events at Alabama five months ago illustrate that moderation in itself is no panacea to the South's race problem. In addition to merely admitting a carefully selected Negro, it is necessary to consider complex factors and to be prepared to deal with them. Alabama was not ready for Autherine Lucy, but it probably will never be cordial to the pioneers in integration.
The next Negro at Alabama must profit by the mistakes, however innocent, of Miss Lucy. Probably another student should not be admitted alone, for this gives extremists an opportunity to focus their attack. One Alabama professor suggested admitting around fifteen middle aged Negro school teachers who could scurry about the campus in fifteen different directions.
Above all, another Negro must be admitted with less ceremony from all concerned. The University was also guilty of treating Miss Lucy more like a celebrity than a student. This is not to say that the University should not be ready to meet an emergency, but it is not necessary for the Dean of Women to escort the student to class.
Likewise it is probably wise for a Negro not to ask for dormitory accommodations as Miss Lucy did. The more intimate the relations with Negroes, the less palatable they are to white Southerners. For a while, it is better for Negro leaders to be content with a little so that they may gain a lot. In Miss Lucy's case, they wanted everything, and lost it all.