To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
Considering ourselves among the "casual readers" of Mr. D. L. Halberstam's article on "The Negro in the South: I" in the Dec. 1 issue of the CRIMSON, we agree that his article sounded "one-sided" in the extreme. We can agree with Mr. Halberstam's view that the NAACP denouncement of the treatment of Negroes in the South generally and in Mississippi particularly is propaganda. (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines propaganda as, "Any organized or concerted group, effort, or movement to spread particular doctrines, information, etc.") But it does not follow that, as Mr. Halberstam's article implies, propaganda as such is a falsehood or is destructive. And we do not believe that the NAAP's propaganda against the treatment of Negroes in Mississippi can be rightly considered as such.
Within the past year, five Negroes in the state of Missippi have been murdered and hundreds of others have been terrorized and/or threatened with economic strangulation. The crime committed by three of the murdered person was the undemocratic act of getting the Negro population to exercise their Constitutional right to vote; or had themselves attempted to exercise that right. If Mr. Halberstam believes that to propagandize against these violations of the civil and human rights of Negroes in Mississippi is "to obscure the true picture in the South" and is destructive to the resolution of the racial problem in the United States generally, he is quite mistaken.
To our minds, the best way by which these undemocratic acts against Negroes can be prevented is by bringing them to the attention of the American public at large, hoping that knowledge of these acts may touch the better instincts that seem to be lacking in the character of many of our countrymen in the South. In doing so, one would hope that the American people would find it necessary to act--through their government and other institutions--to democratize that part of our country which has yet to experience it.
It is, we believe, with this purpose in mind that the NAACP has conducted what Mr. Halberstam calls its propaganda campaign against the South. Further- more, we are certain that the NAACP, as do most thinking Americans, sympathizes with what Mr. Halberstam calls "the South's problems." But this does not mean that it must acquiesce in, and remain silent about, the South's hesitancy--and in some places (e.g., Mississippi refusal--to do something about its problems. Such would be tantamount to a denial of the very democratic principles upon which this country was founded.
There are several other rather one-sided aspects of Mr. Halberstam's article on which we would like to comment. First, we would like to agree with (his) statement that there is a double standard of justice in Mississippi particularly and in the South generally. However, his implication that this double standard of justice operates to the advantage of the Negroes is quite misleading.
For example, it is well known that a white man in the South can insult, molest, and even rape a Negro woman without being legally reprimanded for such an act. But if a Negro should even look too closely at a white woman, he is liable to be imprisoned or physically beaten--even to the point of death. Almost every case that we know of where a Negro has been convicted of raping a white woman, death was the penalty rendered. On the other hand, we understand that there is not one case on the record where a white man has received the death sentence for raping a Negro woman.
In short, "In the South the Negro's person and property are practically subject to the whim of any white person who wishes to take advantage of him or to punish him for any real or fancied wrong doing or 'insult'... Violence may occur at any time and it is the fear of it as much as the violence itself that creates the injustice and the insecurity." (Arnold Rose, The Negro in America-1948)
Although Mr. Halberstam may be correct about white Southern parents being apprehensive about opening the schools to Negroes who have a higher disease rate than whites, he fails to emphasize the fact that many of these white parents are themselves responsible for this situation. Having been relegated for centuries to the lowest economic position in the United States generally and in the South particularly, it is not surprising that Negroes have the highest disease rate of any other group in this country...
Another aspect of Mr. Halberstam's article on which we would like to comment is his statement that the Mississippi Negro "has found the last remaining way to beat Twentieth Century Responsibility." On the question of taxes, it is true that in certain parts of the South Negroes pay lower taxes than whites. However this has little to do with a desire among Southern Negroes to beat the so-called "Twentieth Century Responsibility." It is rather a result of the Southern Negro's low and depressed economic status.
"The typical Southern Negro farm family has an income of but a few hundred dollars a year. It is considerably lower than that of the average white farm family. This is due, in part, to the fact that Negroes are more concentrated at the bottom of the 'agricultural ladder' than are whites... The income of the average Negro family at any given level of ownership or tenancy is always much lower than the income of the corresponding average white family." (Rose, op. cit. See also G. Myrdal, An American Dilemma-1950; R. Sterner, The Negro's Share-1943).
Even if the Southern Negroes were able to pay taxes on the same scale as the more prosperous white population (and, incidentally, there are Southern Negroes who do), they would not be able to partake freely and equally in the public benefits provided by their taxes. It is a well known fact that:
"In regard to public benefits... wide-spread discrimination exists in the entire South... It is more difficult for the Negroes than for whites in similar economic circumstances to get on the relief rolls, and relief grants are often lower for Negroes than for whites... Hospitals, libraries, parks, and similar recreational facilities are much poorer for Negroes than they are for whites. This is true in spite of the fact that the higher sickness rates and the inferior housing conditions in Negro sections make the need for all sorts of health and recreational facilities so much greater in Negro neighborhoods....Streets are not keep up in Negro section of Southern cities the way they are in white sections. Public utility equipment is often loss complete in Negro than in white neighborhoods (and) police and judicial protection in the South is not so much organized for Negroes as against them." (Myrdal, Op. cit....)
On the question of common-law marriages, we think that Mr. Halberstam has twisted historical facts in order to picture the Mississippi Negro as a person attempting to beat the so-called Twentieth Century Responsibility. Common-law marriages are not a means used by some Southern Negroes to avoid financial and legal responsibilities. Such marriages have their roots in the old slave society of the South and can be understood only in their proper historical context.
At the end of the Civil War, the majority of Southern states legalized all existing Negro common-law marriages and some states left it to the courts to legalize all existing Negro common law marriages as they arose. (See G. T. Stephenson, Race Distinctions in American Law (1910). For those who have not had the opportunity to study American Negro History (and we understand that no such course is taught at Harvard), the following analysis of the origin of the Negro family may prove useful: "The uniqueness of the Negro family is a product of slavery. Most slave owners either did not care about the marital state of their slaves or were interested in seeing to it that they did not form strong marital bonds. The slave owners who did not want some of their slaves to marry were those who had Negro mis-