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Charles Morgan Jr.


By Ellen Lake

He looks like an Alabama sheriff--all 300 pounds of him--as he reclines on the divan of the Leverett House Guest Suite, his wrinkled shirt unbuttoned, his huge belly rippling under his undershirt.

But aside from his accent and the numerous homey aphorisms scattered through his speech ("You got to get people together so they don't spit at each other on the sidewalk"), Charles Morgan Jr. doesn't sound like a Southern sheriff. First, he doesn't know the meaning of the word "drawl"--he talks non-stop, the words tumbling out of his mouth.

Second, and more important, his words aren't those of a Sheriff Rainey--or of any other segregationist. For Chuck Morgan is a member of that close-knit band of rebels called Southern liberals who periodically speak their minds--and shatter the peace and quiet of the Southern way of life.

Morgan was practicing law in 1963 in Birmingham when his time to speak came. That spring, Martin Luther King led a series of demonstrations in the city's streets. In September the Birmingham schools were desegregated. Two weeks later a bomb shattered a Negro church, killing four little girls. The next day, Charles Morgan Jr. rose to address the Young Men's Business Club of Birmingham.

"I was mad as hell," Morgan recalls. "I made a speech I'd written that morning. When I got through, everyone applauded, and someone moved to admit a Negro to membership in the club. Like everything else in Birmingham, it died for want of a second.

"After that I knew it was all over. I didn't wait to be ridden out of town, but I knew the rail was coming. Within four or five days, I packed my bags, closed down my office and moved."

Morgan became director of the Southern regional office of the American Civil Liberties Union in Atlanta. He still holds that post--an exile from Birmingham, but not from the South.

How did Morgan become a liberal? "I just grew up in a world where you didn't hear so much cussing out of Negroes every day. My father came from east Kentucky and I never saw him exhibit any prejudice. He shook hands with Negroes and called them Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Lee was my hero, until I found out he fought on the side of slavery."

"As I grew up, I didn't change. Lots of people around me began to change--and the climate changed--but not me." Morgan pauses briefly. "There are tens of thousands of Southerners who grew up like me. A lot of them moved out and went north. A lot are still there, living relatively happy lives. Most of them are rarely ever confronted with the decision about what to do."

Morgan does not feel that these moderates can be expected to be a powerful force for change in the South. "The fiction of the Northern liberal that the Southern moderate is going to rise up and speak out is silly," he says. "Ivan Allen (the liberal mayor of Athens) couldn't survive if 40 per cent of his votes weren't Negro. This base of support doesn't exist for most Southerners.

"A Northern liberal lawyer in the cool 4:30 comfort of his Madison Avenue bar says, 'Why don't you stay there and fight?' Then that same lawyer will send his Southern business to a firm all of whose partners are racists, and, rationalize it by saying: 'We want a firm that will win.'"

Morgan leans back in his chair, gulps a drink of his third glass of wine and takes a big breath. "When the federal government starts sending in registrars and enforcing the laws already on the books, when the North accepts the social responsibility that goes with the ownership of all the corporate wealth in the South, when Harvard and all the Harvards take the stewardship of their Southern investments as a social concern that is equal to their concern for the education of young men--that's when someone in the South who's a normal human being wedded to his hometown will be able to take the stances that are necessary to achieve change."

But Morgan hesitates to put the burden of overthrowing the southern way of life on the back of the Negro. "You can hardly expect a man to exercise his 'freedom of choice' to send his kids to an all-white school if he thinks they will be blown up in a church," he says.

Instead he looks to Washington for the solution of the South's racial problems, especially in the crucial areas of voting and the administration of justice.

In the field of voting he feels that Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach should blanket the South with federal registrars, whose presence would encourage the Negro registrants.

To improve the judicial system, Morgan advocates a two-prong attack. First, U.S. attorneys should use their statutory power to challenge the racial makeup of federal grand juries. Second, he feels that the Justice Department should employ the 1964 Civil Rights Act to integrate legal facilities (from paddy wagons to court drinking fountains) and jobs (from clerk to state trooper). "Right now the only facility which Negroes and whites share is the electric chair," Morgan says.

Although Morgan is deadly serious about his objectives, he loves to spoof his listeners along the way. After his speech in Leverett House last week, a member of the audience made his way to the platform and told Morgan he was too partial to Negroes. "My father is in the Georgia legislature, and he almost lost his last race because his opponent gave a barbecue for Negroes the night before the election," the young man declared.

"Was that the only reason?" Morgan inquired.

"Well, it was the big one," came the answer.

Morgan paused and grinned. "Looks like your father should give a bigger barbecue next year," he said.

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