The remarks of a national CORE official at Harvard last week and the atmosphere of the NAACP convention reflect a disturbing attitude which appears to be growing in civil rights organizations. Encouraged by some successes both in achieving actual integration and in alerting the Negro population to the feasibility of action, some leaders, in their understandable militancy, have dangerously overstated their demands.
Alan Gartner, national treasurer of CORE, said last week that companies should make a special point of seeking out qualified Negroes and, if necessary, undertake the training of Negroes if no qualified men can be found. Although such a policy would inevitably lead to some discrimination against white job applicants, Gartner said this "may be an answer to the problem."
Even the most socially-conscious company might find Gartner's directive hard to follow; a businessman not particularly dedicated to the civil rights movement would probably find it annoying, unpalatable, and unworkable. It is one thing to agree to consider all applications for employment without racial prejudice. Searching for men who have not even applied for work is an expensive and far deeper commitment to the civil rights movement than most businesses may be willing to make.
In stressing the need for more jobs for Negroes Gartner is touching on an issue which is of more significance than many of the legal rights Negro organizations have been seeking. And he may legitimately ask that business, which is partially responsible for the enormous disparity in Negro and white job opportunities, now make special efforts to rectify the situation. Integration has become more than a moral issue; it is a major social and political crises in the nation. Continued denial of economic rights will no longer be tolerated by Negroes, as the recent march in Detroit dramatically pointed out. Business, therefore, cannot long isolate itself from this social revolution. For both moral and commercial reasons, businessmen should begin to investigate ways to introduce Negroes on their work force.
The shrillness of Gartner's statement, however, displays a lack of responsibility which can only alienate possible friends. Further, it is unreasonable to expect and demand that business assume the entire burden of integrating Negroes into the work force. This is a task to which the civil rights groups themselves should being giving increasing attention.
Responding to pressure for greater activism, the NAACP last week passed numerous resolutions backing vigorous activity in the battle for legal rights. The NAACP apparently did not notice, though, that one of the most radical competitors for Negro allegiance, the Black Muslims, have become popular partially because of their emphasis on self-improvement programs. The demand for militance obscured the need for the NAACP itself to prepare Negroes for work in an industrial and rapidly automating economy. Because the current slack in the economy has created intense competition for jobs, the problems faced by the Negro worker are more formidable than just discrimination. Just or not, the civil rights organizations are going to have to assume a large part of the responsibility for finding jobs for Negroes and training them for the work. Equality of educational opportunity is, of course, a major part of the long range answer, but this is quite obviously decades away. Full employment, another part of the solution, also is not an immediate prospect. In the meantime, it is unrealistic and unfair to expect business to do the whole job.