Chips on His Shoulders
William Worthy is a man with a fight on his hands. For Worthy this is not an unusual state of affairs. Ever since he graduated from college in 1942, he has been involved in some conflict, generally in the area of civil rights. Now 35 years old, he shows little sign of mellowing.
At present, his major antagonist is the Secretary of State, a man who has made many enemies during his years in office, and who stands a good chance to make more. Worthy's fight is not entirely with Dulles, for it is too broad to be concentrated on any one man. A foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American and a 1956-57 Nieman Fellow, Worthy declared war on the State Department for its ban on American journalists travelling in Communist China. The war in not a private one anymore, but when Worthy left the United States to visit Red China in December, 1956, he was almost alone in his defiance.
Since he returned to America, where the State Department denied him a new passport, many less forward newspapers and journalists have come to his support. He is still discouraged, however, about the lack of courage displayed by others at the time that Dulles issued the ban.
Worthy is disappointed about other things which he sees in America's domestic and international policies. He could not bring himself to vote for Adlai Stevenson last fall, because Stevenson's party is the party of Senator James Eastland. He says now that he is sorry he did not at least register some sort of protest against the Eisenhower Administration. "Mr. Dulles," he says, "becomes more incredible by the day." Worthy is also incensed over the unbalanced and overly rosy American propaganda about integration which is given out abroad by officially sponsored American Negroes, who are looked upon by other Negroes as "either streamlined Uncle Toms or victims of brain-washing."
Worthy's career previous to his trip to the mainland of China has been composed partly of active, but non-violent protest against segregation and partly of distinguished service as a foreign correspondent. His integrationist career has its roots in his family life. In 1916, before he was born, his grandmother was arrested for picketing the white-supremacy movie "Birth of a Nation" when it was shown in Boston, where Worthy's late father, a doctor from a small Georgia town, had moved. Worthy graduated from Boston Latin School and Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and in 1951 studied for a year in the field of adult education at the University of Oslo. Between Bates and Oslo, Worthy acted as a public relations assistant to A. Philip Randolph, President of the Sleeping Car Porters Union and now a vice-president of the AFL-CIO. During this time, he received help in his work from the staff and editors of the Afro-American, and when he went abroad, he began sending dispatches to that paper.
As a correspondent for the Afro-American, whose circulation is greater than any other Negro newspaper, he has covered the Asian Socialist Conference, the Korean peace negotiations at Panmunjon, and the Asian-African conference at Bandung. He has traveled as extensively as any American reporter can behind the Iron Curtain.
Worthy's experience in the integration conflict has been almost as wide as his knowledge of international affairs. In 1947 he participated in a project sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Equality to test a Supreme Court decision ending segregation in interstate commerce. With an inter-racial group of 15 men, he toured the Upper South, and procured $250 in a damage suit against the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. There were a dozen arrests in two weeks during the trip. In 1948 he was part of a CORE group which challenged discrimination in a Greyhound Bus Co. terminal in Washington, D.C. The management closed the terminal and poured ammonia on the furniture and floor in order to make the inter-racial group leave, but, as Worthy says, "we stuck it out for a couple of hours."
It is easy to see why Worthy does not feel kindly, personally or racially, toward official Washington. He feels that the State Department, through security officer Robert Cartwright, attempted to smear him by implying that his conscientious objection in 1944 was a draft-dodging device. Worthy believes that this is simply clouding the issue of his constitutional right to a passport and was very gratified to hear that Senator O'Mahoney of Wyoming had said "Worthy's reputation as a citizen is unsullied, and the State Department owes him an apology."
If the issue of Worthy's passport is ever settled, the reporter still has the fight against racial intolerance to continue. He will not be happy until he can present an honest and yet optimistic picture of the life of the American Negro to the people he meets abroad. A very mild-mannered and unimposing man, he is characterized by a doggedness which will keep him in a fight until it is finished or he is.