Most of the people who attend these meetings are middle aged or older, although membership in the organization itself shows a fairly even distribution of ages. There is good reason for this. The younger people came faithfully, when the group was first established but soon grew bored, finding that the meetings rambled on for hours at a time with promises, protests, and trivial discussions replacing concrete ideas for action.
On the other hand, it is quite difficult for leaders of the NAACP to determine just what actions they should take. For one thing they must contend with a deep-seated apathy among most members of the Negro community and a bitter resentment among some of its older leaders. Besides this, most of the people in the organization have tiring jobs which occupy most of their time during the week. Men and women returning from work at Campbell's have not even enough time to change out of their white uniforms before doing their shopping. Each night the women must make sure that all their uniforms and equipment for work are washed and cleaned; many people must go off to do other jobs.
The real problem for NAACP leaders, however, is the segregation has left them totally unfamiliar with the white world, and its ways of doing business. And since the white community holds all political and economic power here, negotiations must be carried out on its terms.
But few Negroes are well-enough read to judge the white man by his literature; none, of course, has ever been invited into his living room; the only impressions Negroes have of white society derive from what they have seen as domestic servants or what they have gathered from movies and television programs.
When the NAACP does decide to act it often makes serious mistakes, largely as a result of its faulty understanding of how the white community operates. For instance several months ago a group was formed to discuss job possibilities with the Chamber of Commerce here. However, there was never a stable bargaining team, and each week a different set of NAACP members would visit the Chamber office to talk things over. Of course, since much of the meeting time was consumed by the Chamber's briefing the NAACP on what had been decided the week before, the Chamber soon began to feel a justifiable sense of frustration.
Few town leaders recognize NAACP members as the true spokesmen of the Negro community. Instead they refer to a wealthier class of local Negroes: men who, by slightly superior education, have long been leaders in their isolated world. These people, of course, have as much to lose by integration as the most conservative white man. They band together with white leaders to keep segregation alive.
A Powerful Uncle Tom
The principal of the Negro High School here has been the most powerful figure in the colored community for the past 30 years. White men speak his name with a certain amount of respect, and a few even call him "Dr." in recognition of some questionable degree. This title adds to the impression that the principal is forever trying to sustain: by using (and often misusing) large words and grand concepts, he succeeds in persuading the majority of the Negro community that his intelligence and high level of education have made him omniscient. To prevent anyone from challenging this notion, the principal has skillfully got rid of most of the other knowledgeable people who have been on the high school staff.
He is, of course, extremely careful to follow the directives of the white community. Recently the students at the Negro high school held fair, which their band was supposed to inaugurate by marching down the town's main street. A conference between the principal and the police resulted in an eleventh hour decision to change the route, and the band was instructed to follow a set of smaller streets in the Negro quarter. The principal's actions during the Freedom Rides were equally predictable. He left town himself and drew up another order saying that no teacher was to participate in the demonstration, under threat of expulsion.
A Negro Slumlord
Negroes who have become wealthy in Chestertown know that their fate depends upon the approval of the white community. Most of the worst slums here are owned by a Negro businessman who knows that his property can be condemned whenever white leaders decide to step in. This man is also a member of the Cambell's personnel department. During this month's union campaign he received some sort of payment to go among local Negroes, campaigning for management. Since he wields considerable financial influence within the colored community, he was fairly successful in allowing Cambell's executives to put across the firm's argument without openly raising the racial question.
It is men such as the school principal and the slumlord whom the white community has in mind when it discusses Negro leadership, and when it contends that even Negroes don't want integration. To gain wealth and prominence in this segregated community most of the ambitious Negroes choose to become Uncle Toms. By so doing they guarantee themselves the political support of the white community and, consequently, the support of less wealthy Negroes who are financially dependant on them.
Taken together these wealthy Uncle Toms and the militant members of the NAACP comprise only a small proportion of the Negro community here. Most Negroes have remained silent about civil rights. "You workin' for civil rights?" one young Negro asked a colored member of our project. "Man, you backin' the wrong horse. They'll never let you get anywhere so you better get out and make the money you can."
Although few Negroes in this town are well off, it would be wrong to formulate a direct equation between segregation and poverty. Many colored people here own nice suburban houses, and almost everyone has a car and a television set. For the past generation, at least concentrated on doing as well as possible within the confines of this topsy-turvy half-world. Since "doing well" often means that husband and wife must work as many as twelve hours day, few people have time to worry about anything outside their personal problems: food, entertainment, and a little extra money. Unless a group such as the NAACP sets out deliberately to arouse the community, not many of these Negroes would even think about taking the risks that the phrase "fighting for equal rights" implies