Of Courage And Shame

Like many of his Harvard classmates, John Perdew took an active interest in the Negro's struggle for civil rights as it unfolded during his college years. Yet he watched the struggle as most of us must watch it, as a spectator and not as a participant. He saw, as we saw; but he did not feel, as we did not feel.

Last month John Perdew made a "spur-of-the-moment decision" and went to Albany, Ga., scene of some of the bitterest clashes between Negroes and whites, to join the forces of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. He went in large part because he "wanted something interesting to do this summer," and because a few friends--veterans of the battle--convinced him of the righteousness of SNCC's campaign.

He had only been in Albany a few days when the Albany Movement staged a massive public demonstration against segregation in a local movie theater. Following more than a block behind the crowd he was summarily arrested, and spent 20 days in jail. Fasting the entire time. Perdew now faces a clearly fraudalent charge of assault with intent to kill, leveled by local officials bent on crippling the SNCC effort in Albany.

His 20 days in prison in a little Georgia town have changed John Perdew. Now he says "I'm getting more militant as I go along" and refuses to return to Harvard. "I'm staying here until the job is done," he said last week in Albany

Like John Perdew, we saw but we did not feel. Now he feels. He feels the degradation of the Negroes, and he feels their relentless strength as they wage an ever fiercer battle for their rights as men and citizens. And he feels the shame of watching an American court make a travesty of justice, as it has and will do this fall in his own case.


Through John Perdew we begin to feel also. In his awakening we begin to sense what we thought we understood, but really saw with sightless eyes. In his courage we gain courage, and in his shame for his country we too feel shame. It is a shame that will only end when our professed ideals of justice are a living reality throughout the land.