Audio Note: Tapes 1 and 2 are missing, but the transcripts are complete. The sound on tape 3 is very distorted (pitched high) at the beginning and gradually gets better. The voices are intelligible throughout. The recording ends abruptly in mid-sentence.
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a civil rights activist. Along with A. Philip Randolph, he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963. Rustin assisted in the founding of the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942. He was a strong believer in the nonviolent tactics of Gandhi, and counseled Martin Luther King, Jr. Among many other efforts in the causes of pacifism, civil rights and decolonization (such as in India and Africa), he organized an early "Freedom Ride"--the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, a nonviolent test of the Supreme Court's ruling banning race discrimination in interstate travel. He advised King during the Montgomery bus boycott, and was instrumental in organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Because of his open homosexuality, much of his participation in the civil rights movement and pacifism was behind the scenes. He testified on behalf of New York state's gay rights bill, and late in life considered gay rights the most important frontier of civil rights. Rustin's legacy includes the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex, Bayard Rustin High School, Bayard Rustin Library, and the Bayard Rustin Social Justice Center.
Rustin discusses strategies for the civil rights movement and the advancement of African Americans. He favors integration over separatism and believes that identity is found in struggle, not culture. He discusses his concept of the meaning of integration. In response to a question by Warren about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s conception of African American advancement beyond the civil rights phase, he expresses disagreement with King and notes that objective changes in circumstance, not just "self-improvement," have aided the rise of minority groups in the past. He advocates that an economic program be enacted to make possible such a rise by African Americans. He criticizes Malcolm X, saying that while he and the Nation of Islam may help some African Americans individually, they do nothing to achieve structural change. He discusses the value to the movement of demonstrations, and their future, in detail. He believes demonstrations should now involve the "white dispossessed" to illustrate that African Americans and whites share problems. He says that integrated schools are necessary to prepare children to live together in society. Rustin talks about the dispersed leadership of the civil rights movement. He feels that this is healthier than a centralized leadership, and points out that each organization has a role.
CONVERSATION – ROBERT PENN WARREN and BAYARD RUSTIN
RPW: Now, talking – I’m just going to plunge in – at some point along the way I would like to have you talk a little bit about your biography, if you will, but suppose we start with this general topic first. It’s very commonly said that you, almost rare in – almost unique in this sense – certainly rare – that your involvement in the Civil Rights movement has been primarily in terms of – quote – wealth, you see, rather than in terms of race. You have that special kind of intersection of these two concerns.
BR: Well, I think that’s true. As you probably know, I was at one time a member of the Young Communist League. I became a member fundamentally because at that time it was my feeling, even if mistaken later, that it was only the Communists who were sincerely concerned – this was at the time of the Scotsboro [Scottsboro] case and this kind of thing – and I felt that others were not militant enough. This also came from the fact that I had for some time felt that certain problems which the American Negro faced could not be solved as race problems, but that many aspects of our society would need some change or to change prior to the Negro’s gains of certain status. Now therefore when I left the Communist Party I went to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation which had with it the Reverend A. J. Mustie [Muste] who for many years had been a social reformer. After that I then went into the Socialist Movement.
RPW: For what date was it, the year of your going into the Fellowship of Reconciliation?
BR: 1941. And this happened because, if you will remember in June of ’41 I hit the term and the Communist Party then violated what were to me two sacred trusts. One was peace as a Quaker and what had become an imperialist – what was to them at that point in the imperialist war became overnight a people’s war. Plus the fact that they then called me in and told me not to work against discrimination in the armed forces any longer. This brought me to my senses in terms that I saw that these people were not truly interested in justice wherever it existed, but in justice if it was in keeping with the foreign policy of the Soviet Union.
RPW: Justice of the two in other words.
BR: That’s right – yes.
RPW: Let me interrupt a second now and check this to be sure we’re doing all right on this – all right – so we’re doing all right then. Will you go ahead, sir?
BR: Well, now, I would say that the emergence of intense industrialization bringing more and more Negroes into our large cities, the movement of the white middle classes out of our cities, the emergence of automation, and other aspects of the technological revolution, have all the more convinced me that when Negro groups talk about preferential treatment in a Negroes to uplift them economically, when in fact many whites are simultaneously being put out of work, and when Negroes are ill-prepared to do many types of work, indicates to me all the more now that it is essential to have certain basic forms of social change in our economic and social institutions if it is possible to accommodate, not only the Negro with whom I am concerned but the poor white. Next we would find that Negroes and whites will be fighting each other in the streets for a few jobs which do not exist and fighting each other in the streets about jobs which do not in fact exist for the underprivileged. Therefore, I have come to believe out of this that it is imperative that we – that Negroes and whites (interruption ...)
RPW: We were talking about automation and the propagation of rights and Negroes, jobs or nonexistent jobs.
BR: Right. And under these circumstances I came to see that we would have to build in this country a political movement – a new political movement. I do not mean a political part, but the kind of political movement which got the civil rights legislation through Congress. This was a movement made up of civil rights groups, other minority peoples, the best elements in the trade union movement, the churches played a magnificent role – that is, the religious groups, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish, the intellectual students. There was a great consensus of congealing here of all the best elements in our society which broke the back of the filibuster and got legislation through Congress, the first important social legislation since 1938. Now I would like to see that same kind of coalition of forces backing a number of things which mean really quite fundamental change.
RPW: You would see it in terms of existing political properties, is that right?
BR: I would see it in two terms, that existing elements in both the political parties would come together, but in a sense that is realigning the political parties and making over and above the general political part structure a force which as it moves then moves the parties. For an example, I think that the party that negatively Goldwater is having some of that effect, and positively I think the civil rights movement is forcing things a little more open and Mr. Thurmond is leaving the Democratic Party and going into the Republican Party is another illustration of the kind of thing. It isn’t so – it’s not only important that there should be such a political force. The important thing is, what is it dedicated to? And I think it has to be dedicated to full employment, it has to be dedicated to public works, not public works as of the ‘30’s, where you just give men jobs until the economic situation opens up, because many of these men will never again be employed. It has to be in terms of training. I think also we have to redefine what work is now, and an illustration of what I mean is this – that I believe that now we must recognize that the work of the young people is to develop their minds and skills for the benefit of society. There is no more sacred work. Therefore, I think that high school and college students who could not afford it should have not only their books paid for and their tuition paid – if necessary, get a salary in order to make it possible for them to consider their work school. I think in these ways we’re going to have to redefine work. I think in addition it means that we are going to have to have some democratic planning in the society in order to know what to prepare people for as the machines take over various areas, and that means some basic re-assumptions. One is the assumption that if the private sector of the economy is not capable of keeping people at work with dignity, then the public sector must come in and play a larger role. I think this also means that we must evolve a society of Negroes and other poor people are to be healthy people, where the society says to these people, we know you do not have education, we know you cannot get certain types of work, but nevertheless you must be healthy, therefore, the state sees to it that anyone who cannot afford it has medical care. And I think that this argument is to me an integral part of – and here’s the strange thing in this whole struggle that the Negroes are now making for justice. But I reject the idea of working for justice for Negroes as being impractical as well as immoral, if one does that alone. One now has to see it as a problem of attempting to deal with the inconsistencies and the wrong assumptions in the entire society.
RPW: Let me ask you two questions around that point that cross my mind. One is, is this the question of numbers in employment, not quotas but simply more or less empirically arrived at count, you see – it’s not, say, a Negro quota equals such a percent, but just a question of visible numbers, you see, in the industry – such a thing as you have in Atlanta – this is the boycott in Atlanta - putting eighteen people in various grades – each in various grades. This is where truck driver, say. That is not – the transitional technique. Does that strike you as sense or not?
BR: Well, I am in favor of attempting to do everything at this moment for upgrading and finding work for Negroes. But in the long run I do not believe that the quota answer is an answer, precisely because of the fact that up to forty thousand people out of jobs. Now, under these circumstances, given the attitudes of many people toward Negroes, I think what you will do is get a resistance to this because a man, regardless of what color he is, if he doesn’t have a job tends to fight anybody to get it before the other fellow. So that the answer lies in Negroes and whites, North and South, pulling together around the slogan of full employment now for all. Otherwise I think that we’re going to have the kind of thing we have in Newark, New Jersey, where Negroes and whites are fighting over the few jobs that are available.
RPW: That’s what labor – the Newark trouble you think?
RPW: Job trouble?
BR: Yes. I think you have fifty-two percent of the city Negro, and almost three times as many Negroes unemployed as whites. But the white man who is employed is extremely nervous about any philosophy that tends to suggest somehow or other that maybe he’s dispensable, and he’s got enough sense to know that something basic must be done. And I think that the whole history of this country of the economic situation getting bad and tension between Negroes and whites simultaneously getting bad, or in good times you have less tension indicates to me that there must be a broad outlook where we are insuring everybody who will work jobs.
RPW: Now there’s another question – the second one I had in mind – around that point. This is in Dr. King’s last book, his program for the disadvantaged, you see. Now a part of that is justified on the same ground you take. This is a of all people who are disadvantaged. Then he moves over to a justification for the Negro’s participation on the ground of back wages, you see – slavery. How do you approach that special justification?
BR: Well, Dr. King is a minister, and if one wants to analyze the problem morally there is no one who would not say that the Negroes have been so badly treated that they deserve some special consideration. But if one attempts to put this into operation at this period, then let us look at the figures. Special treatment can come to Negroes who have been prepared for this special treatment. That is, to Negroes who have had college educations. That is less than three percent of the Negroes in the country. The big problem is that the ninety-seven percent cannot be dealt with in this manner, and to me they are the more important because the educated can always more easily fend for themselves. What do you do about the quarter of a million people who are being run off farms in the South, who have an average of four children, whose average age is 45, who have an average reading rate of third grade? No makeshift less than finding full employment in a period of automation and a redefinition of what work is can accommodate these people. And here I’d like to give you another illustration of the kind of thing I mean. In New York City teachers find it difficult to teach because they’re babysitters, they’re policeman, they take children to lunch, they do a thousand things. Now, I would like to see someone called as assistant teacher. She would be poor Irish women, poor Negroes, poor certain type people who have all their lives taken care of the children of the rich and the powerful. They are said to have no skills but they have one of the world’s most profound skills, the skill of loving and being able to deal with children. If in New York City alone we took several thousands of these women, elevated them to assistant teachers, gave them $4,000 a year, and let them do the housekeeping at the schools, reduce the process and let the teachers teach them to read and write and not to have to take three sessions of children to the toilet, and not to have to serve lunch to three groups of children. I think that, while I talk about fundamental change, there are many many things which could be done now that would be extremely helpful toward putting people back to work if we were prepared to redefine work and open things up. Another illustration is that in Harlem there are great numbers of young boys who because they have not been able to get work have become skilled at taking care of the younger children in the family and skilled at teaching these children to play sports and other things. Why do not we open up more parks for hundreds and hundreds of these boys to work? Or why does New York City not do something about Central Park, which when I came to New York was a beautiful park? We could put to work five hundred young men if only at $50 a week or $40, and really making it livable and beautiful again? So that I am not only for pie in the sky, I am for this moment certain kinds of economic changes coming about. For example, I am for the fact – I mean, I believe social security should not be given to a man for thirteen or twenty-six weeks, but be given to him until he finds work, and that society helps him find work in these periods between work. Secondly, I believe that we must reduce the work week and the work year. I think that when you give people more leisure, the one thing automation cannot touch is the service of humans to humans, and that we ought to explore this because of the tremendous human need. I think in New York City alone we could stand maybe a hundred small clinics where people could come for help in psychiatric problems which they have. And we could put people to work in running these. In the housing projects in New York City, it’s ridiculous that bureaucrats run these. There are men and women unemployed in those houses. They should be set up on a cooperative basis where they make their own decisions democratically and run them, so that – that would be something –
RPW: Let me go back to Dr. King for one more question, for a moment – if you are justifying the program on the ground of back wages, doesn’t this strike a very invidious distinction between, say, the Negroes on such a program and the people who cannot say that they were – answered to the word “slave”? (talking together) false track, really?
BR: Yes, this is one of the reasons I reject this tack – that I do not think it is an especially constructive track. Furthermore, I would be – say that there are a number of other people, as individuals, white, who may in their own way have been as greatly mistreated. I remember on my block there was a red-headed boy and all of us used to chase him, black and white, and call him Reddy. And we just ran him out of our society. Now he’s been penalized too. But I don’t think that ever a social movement can be based on past sins. It has to be based on the collective needs of people at this time, regardless of color, creed, race.
RPW: That’s what I was getting at. (talking together)
BR: Dr. King knows this is my view because I have said this to him after reading that section of his book.
RPW: Yes, well I’m sure he knows this is not universally accepted position. I think he slipped on that. I think he wouldn’t stand on it if he had thought it through. I don’t think he thought it through really.
BR: I daresay perhaps he didn’t.
RPW: I’m a great admirer of his but I don’t think he thought that through. Nobody thinks everything through.
BR: That’s right.
RPW: Let me turn to the riots this summer, which you know a great deal about and I know were deeply involved in emotionally. (interruption). We were talking about the riots. Now, of course there are many questions around and about the riots. Let’s take one question – we know these things are socially conditioned – the participants are conditioned by society in a certain way. Now, what do we make of that fact? Is that – recognizing that, then where do other responsibilities come in, on the part of police, on the part of the City Fathers, on the part of the Negroes in influence – taking these various factors, you relate them to the fact that social condition –
BR: Well, I think, sir, it’s most important to understand the three stages of a riot first. Number one, I think that the rioting was the result of pent-up frustration, pent-up frustration that grew from the economic conditions, the absence of hope, and the confusion that one finds in ghettoes, the inability to sleep at nights in the summer because you sleep in shifts, and the inability to sleep because the trash is not collected at proper hours, and garbage collectors come in the middle of the night – all kinds of filthy dirt in addition to the conditions outside. Now there was a second stage, and that is the stage that all criminal elements use. When they see something going on, regardless of what caused it, they then move in because they’re criminals, black criminals or white criminals, whatever it happens to be. The third stage is the stage where certain political groups for their own objectives try to keep the situation stirred up. Now I would say, therefore, if one goes back to stage number one, the responsibility on the part of black and white people of good will is as rapidly as possible to relieve these frustrations by working for jobs, for decent housing, and for quality educated schools. If one comes to point number two, one is then in a very difficult position in regard to police. They have to maintain some degree of law and order. The problem that I think made a number of people in Harlem angry, was the police used force far beyond that which was necessary. Now, I don’t think the police did this because they got into a back room and said, let’s be nasty. I think it is because they are afraid of the ghetto, they are frightened men and they do what all men do when frightened, behave as if the truth were not true. This is the ticklish part. I think what we were trying to get the police to do in New York was to recognize that until we can deal with these fundamental questions, no matter how well they behave it is never good enough, and that if they had set up a board it could review cases of so-called brutality, and if we had some responsible Negro on that board that people knew, this would be a bow and would make this kind of thing less possible. So far as the third stage is concerned, where the political folks come in to make hay, as when they attempted the progressive labor people for their own means to keep a parade going on Lenox Avenue when they knew there would be problems, that has to be dealt with as we attempted to deal with it, by the Negro community’s intelligent leadership itself. It was not the police put an end to this, it was those of us who went into the streets and got people off the streets, who organized the youth to keep them off the streets to make that parade absolutely impossible to take place. They had finally thirty people. So I – this is the opening statement I would –
RPW: Yes. Let me raise the question about Philadelphia, where there was a police board of review. Now, was that an effective board, or was that just not enough?
BR: Well, I know Clarence Pickett, who is the former head of the American Friends Service Committee, who was the chairman of that board, and I had quite a long talk with him afterwards and I would trust his judgment. His judgment was that if it had not been for the police review board, the likelihood is that they would have had trouble earlier and to a greater degree, that it was in fact helpful. But you will note that I said earlier, even if police behaved ideally there would be frustrations. You must think of the police as jailers, that is to say, if you have a ghetto, which is like a cell, which people are to be kept in, they end of looking upon the police because he maintains order there, as the man who is finally responsible for keeping them there. Furthermore, he’s the white man they see every day, or the Negro man they are taking orders from a white superior, and therefore the Negro police becomes an Uncle Tom. Now, I don’t agree to all this, but I am trying to get you to feel what people feel.
RPW: Let me ask you this – Negro police were the first targets of the riot in Philadelphia I understand from the papers.
BR: This may be – I –
RPW: - men following their natural course of duty as far as I know
BR: Well, they may be – I don’t know the Philadelphia story – I’ve not studied it. I can say two things. I do know Negro policeman in New York who are amongst the most brutal police, and I think that here again an explanation is needed. The Negro has all of his life been told whatever field he goes into he’s got to be better at it than anybody else. Therefore the Negro policeman is out to do two things, to prove he’s a good policeman, which given the nature of our society and vengeance toward criminals, etc., very often means mistreatment, and secondly, he is trying to prove to the people downtown that he is not being soft because they are Negro like himself. So I can well understand this, being – the place in the given situation.
RPW: Now, what about the relation between say the – we’ll say white riots, like they had in New Hampshire, like the English riots, of – quotes – unoppressed young people, what kind of psychological ground do they have in common between the – if any – between that and the Harlem, Rochester, Philadelphia riots? How much is a world question and non-racial question?
BR: Muirdahl [Myrdal] once pointed out in the American Dilemma that wherever you find Negroes of whatever class they are exaggerated Americans, they will be more of that in their effort to become a part. I think we’re talking about two different things that have a common root. I would call the poverty in Harlem physical poverty which comes from the absence of plenty. There is another form of violence which comes from the poverty of plenty. Now at the root of both of these is the same thing, the feeling on the part of young people that they don’t belong, they don’t know what their place in society is, that somehow they are a subclass which has nowhere to go, and there is a great deal of frustration among white youngsters, even rich ones, children who tear up a house in Long Island and who take dope in Westchester, and it springs from the basic fact that we don’t have hope, we don’t have a future, we don’t know who we are. And I think there is less excuse for their doing that, because in addition to everything that they’ve got, the Negro also has physical discomfort – it’s a plus matter. But I think it springs mainly from the same thing.
RPW: You tie both the disorder among the privileged white young and the underprivileged Negro young to a common ground in a lack of direction and a lack of a direct sense of identify, is that right?
BR: Yes, sir.
RPW: Both these counts?
BR: And I use the term “poverty of plenty” advisedly.
RPW: It’s a good term. How much of the general feeling of a crisis of identify do you accept in terms of the Negro movement or the Negro revolution? How do you interpret it?
BR: I interpret it quite seriously from my experience with great numbers of young people who are forced to say, who am I, black man? out of the conditions that they face. But who would have to ask that question if they weren’t white in this society? Now therefore the thing which I think is wrong is not the posing of the question but the answer.
RPW: Let me cut back to the question we were talking about before we were – before we got back on the tape. You were talking about the word “responsibility” in quotes as it has been used in various ways in relation to leadership of the movement. Do you mind saying that again or elaborating it?
BR: Well, I feel that the word “responsible” is a bad word because it has moral overtones, and I think we have to make it clear that we disagree with people tactically and otherwise but not morally necessarily, that we are impugning their morals. So I’d like to use the word “responsible”, that is to say, not responsible but relevant. Is it really workable, is it getting us somewhere? Because a great number of people who have quite as much moral commitment and dedication as I have, but I just don’t think what they’re doing is relevant and meaningful in the situation.
RPW: Well, suppose hypothetically we take a person who is a pure opportunist, though. How would you treat him?
BR: I think he has to be called an opportunist.
RPW: And not irresponsible?
BR: No. This is just opportunism, and we have such people.
RPW: Though he may be relevant?
BR: Right. And if he’s relevant he has to be called an opportunist.
RPW: A relevant opportunist.
BR: That’s right.
RPW: All right – we have some – all right.
BR: Oh, sure.
RPW: No question about it. Let me touch something quite different, American history. How would you assess these persons or their symbolic significance, say Thomas Jefferson?
BR: Well, I feel that Thomas Jefferson must be judged in his century and not in ours, and although Thomas Jefferson as I understand it in fact held slaves at the time when he was writing the Declaration of Independence, I understand that before his death he came to see that slavery was quite wrong and to free his slaves, or even if he didn’t free them –
RPW: He didn’t free them; he was against slavery.
BR: Against slavery – right. Now, this to me in the time that Thomas Jefferson lived was a very advanced and forward position. A great number of people who tried to judge men in past centuries by today’s standards – this is to me extremely stupid because you and I, whether we like it or not, are subject to and do react not only by what we necessarily ourselves feel but what is socially acceptable, and I think I look upon Jefferson as a very great person.
RPW: Is it merely a matter of social acceptance, or is it just a matter of the possible range of vision one generation may or may not have?
BR: I agree with this – exactly – exactly.
RPW: How about Lincoln?
BR: Lincoln freed the slaves – a difficult decision. It took a man of some vision to do it, and I do not take the view that many Negroes take, that because Lincoln said, to save the Union I will free some, all or none, that this detracts from him. He had the mission of saving the Union. In the process he came to see that slavery was wrong, and he had said this even earlier, and I look upon him as a very remarkable man.
RPW: There’s another question around him, and I suppose around Jefferson too, that though Lincoln freed the slaves, almost certainly he was a racist by modern day standards.
BR: Here again, I don’t know how anybody could have come out of Lincoln’s background and have been much farther advanced on this question than he was. We have to remember at the same time there were Negroes freed who were holding slaves, and I’m not going to completely damn them and read them out of the human race. But the objective thing is important. He freed the slaves, and this was a great act and an act which took some courage. Furthermore, let me say, sir, I think it’s a very difficult thing to tear the innards of people apart. I am perfectly willing to judge men finally by what they do. I know that there are a great number of white people in this country who may have been very confused about Negroes. Society has taught them to be confused. But over and above that they find the courage to treat Negroes with dignity. Now, there’s a sense in which that kind of confused person, who can yet overcome deserves a great deal of credit. I don’t ask every white person to like me. I ask him to treat me decently, and I assume Lincoln – because he freed the slaves – and I assume that Jefferson – because for his time he was an advanced political thinker, and because he came to see that slavery was wrong. My grandmother used to say to me, Bayard, never judge people by where they are but by the direction in which they are taking – because that is the way you will want to be judged. I am not in favor of killing heroes – I just am against it. We all need them.
RPW: What about Kennedy? How do you accept his political and social role?
BR: I think Mr. Kennedy did a number of things that I was very happy to see. I remember when I took the first Youth March and the second Youth March to Washington, and prominent Negroes went to the gates of the White House to see the President of the United States and Ike would not receive us even though we had forty thousand people in Washington. Mr. Kennedy, one of his first acts was to restore dignity to the Negro people by receiving repeatedly their leaders and hearing their problems. That was good. I think that by and large Mr. Kennedy’s behavior in times of crisis in this country, such as Mississippi and others, is not all that I would like to have seen. But he did move vigorously. I think that Mr. Kennedy’s greatness is in part the greatness of the Negro youngsters who were in the street, because he had no intention of sending a civil rights bill to Congress, but because of Birmingham and other things which were happening in the street, even he, in presenting that bill to Congress, said, I do this to get the people off the street. We must have legislation now. And therefore I think he got a great assistance from the Negro people. But again I judge him – he sent the civil rights bill, it got through, and this will make a place for him in history.
RPW: The nature of pressure to a social movement in times of pressure, Birmingham was a violent situation. If it hadn’t been violent no civil rights bill, given the context. What do you say about the use of violence?
BR: Oh. Who used the violence, is the question. By and large Negroes did not resort to violence in Birmingham. Violence was directed toward them. Dr. Martin Luther King’s insistence and the people by and large, with a few little scattered incidents that didn’t amount to much, remained nonviolent, and it was not only that violence was used against the Negro, it was that the Negro by and large absorbed that violence. But even after three children – or four – were murdered, they did not take to the streets and raise hell. They said we’re still going to be nonviolent. This deeply touched the hearts of the American people. I would say that wherever social change is involved, some violence is inevitable, usually on the part of those who have rather than those who have not. To the degree that the have-nots can remain nonviolent, they therefore reduce the inevitable violence to its irreducible minimum. To the degree that they retaliate with violence, to that degree do they bring more violence into the situation and thus multiply it. But Gandhi used to say, go to – be courageous and accept in a great movement death as you would accept your pillow at night, but do not resort to violence yourself. And I think that this is true. There will be injury. The purpose of our movement is to reduce that injury to the least possible.
RPW: Yes, but some people would maintain that the nonviolence succeeds only because there’s a threat of violence at the same time, that the nonviolence succeeds because of the threat of a Harlem riot or the threat of a riot in Jackson, Mississippi. It didn’t come off but the threat was there. This is a built-in paradox. Does that make any sense to you?
BR: Yes, it does. But I’d like to state it another way. It seems to me that people who speak in this manner see what I call the open violence but do not see the covert violence. For example, I think the violence of our society of which I am a part, of keeping people in ghettoes, is a much more extreme form of violence because it touches the entire personality and warps it, than Negroes throwing stones and Molotov cocktails during a so-called Harlem riot. Now, if one knows that in injustice there is itself violence hidden and seen, what one does in a nonviolent project is to not create violence but to bring it to the surface so that, like a sore, it can get light and air and be cured. This is, as you say, a part of the – was the word you used? –
RPW: A built-in paradox.
BR: This is a built-in paradox, that – it’s there, and somehow or other what you have to do is get it up to the surface where it can be dealt with. I’ll give you one illustration of a simple thing, but it impressed me deeply. Some years ago I was at a university in the Midwest. A girl was supposed to have lunch with me and introduce me – she was from the deep South – and she – the woman said this dear girl is – she can’t do it. She says, she’s sick, and to have to sit with you at lunch is going to make her terribly sick. I said, I think you ought to encourage her to come. The girl came, and in the midst of the meal she threw up all over the place and ran out crying. Now, I was accused by some people of creating a violent situation. I feel that nothing is better than if she faced this, and this was a kind of psychological violence I was encouraging. But I am good friends with that girl now, and she’s working for the national YWCA. The paradox is there. There is a certain threat – I am sure a man who owns a store who feels that he is being boycotted – feels that people are behaving violently toward him – but it is the fact that until his pocketbook sometimes has been touched he is not made to face the reality of the situation and to become a human being himself, and it’s a tedious process. And love is not all soft. Love has a very hard side, and that is making people face themselves, and one is obligated to use whatever is necessary that isn’t – where the purpose is to redeem him as it is to hurt him. I think purpose – if I went into a boycott because I wanted to put the man out of business, then I know I was not behaving nonviolently. And if a man were put out of business and really changed his mind, I would be the first one to go to the Negro community and say let’s take up a collection and put him back in business.
RPW: On this point, I had a question – you talk about here your own motive as a criterion, you see. Now, let’s go back to your responsibility, some vision of yourself, of objective values. That is not relevance – the criterion relevance – you’re opposing there – do you see what I mean? You’re proposing a moral criterion. Now, how do we – I’m not trying to create a logical trap – I just wonder how you put these things, these two criteria together.
BR: Yes. I put them together very simply. Where you are concerned I cannot really see in your heart, therefore if you do an objective act and it’s good, my assumption must be, unless there’s a political evidence to the contrary, that you’re doing it for that reason. However, I can see into my own heart and my own motives, and therefore I have the right really to examine my own – not yours – and to make certain that what I am doing is right and not destructive. Now, this is not to say I don’t make some judgments on other people in these regards. But when I do it I know that I am on dangerous ground. But I’ll be compelled to make ethical judgments all the time about other people – I say we are, but we’d better do it with a whole lot of humility.
RPW: That’s something that we are compelled I should judge to make and to act in terms of our ethical judgments of other people - ourselves.
BR: Right – exactly. But I think we have to be very, very humble when we do it. We have to be certain that we are opposed ourselves not to injustice to Negroes or this or that, but we are opposed to injustice anywhere it exists, first of all in ourselves. And that’s my primary responsibility, not to try to analyze Farmer’s heart or Roy Wilkins’ heart. I have finally to say –
RPW: Or Senator Eastland’s heart.
BR: Or Senator Eastland’s heart. I finally have to say I agree with his behavior or I don’t. Now, on Barry Goldwater’s for example, I do not take the view that many people do that he is a racist. I won’t get into that because I can’t answer that. That’s in his heart. I say he is dangerous because he is building his political power on people who are racists and who approve of it.
RPW: You mean you take their past records as a basis of this?
BR: Right. Two Ku Klux Klan people have made him peer – they are racists, you see. Now, to accept their support is to me dangerous. There are certain people in other groups that he defends who are to my objective knowledge racists. And to build political power on these people makes him not necessarily a racist but one who accepts support – political support of the racists, because I think it may be true that he ahs contributed to civil rights groups.
RPW: Johnson is going to have some voted that are racist.
BR: Yes, he certainly is.
RPW: If he doesn’t he’s going to be licked.
BR: That’s right, and I of course – this is a reason that in the process of supporting Johnson I am trying to get people out to vote for him, not on Johnson’s program but on my program and in trying to get what I believe into Johnson’s program and to getting huge consensus for that.
RPW: I see your thinking all right. Sure, you’re using the tools that God gave you.
BR: Yes, exactly.
RPW: Let me go back to the time of the demonstration again just for a moment. Back in Nashville several – two or three years now there have been objectives with – I mean, demonstrations with pretty clear-cut targets. Last spring – and they’ve been fairly successful. Last spring there were demonstrations that seemed to have no formidable targets, not formidable objectives. One of the spokesmen, a clergyman, said, these demonstrations are not against anything except against being a Negro in America. That seemed to me to indicate something of a distinction. I don’t know all the morals of this distinction - distinction - demonstrations which have some target that you can, you know, define in the pattern of larger targets, then the demonstration has no target is an expression. Now, what do you make of that distinction?
BR: I think this is an excellent distinction and one that I constantly try to make. A demonstration should have an immediately achievable target, or it should have – it should throw up a position which if those in power or those who own the thing or whatever it is, can at least in part come through with some demand that you are making. Now, when a demonstration is just against being a black man in American, this is not a demonstration to me, it is a gimmick. This is not real, it is unreal, and sooner or later even one’s own group will not tolerate this, because they have to have victories in order to keep in the movement, and those victories must be clearly interpreted to them, so that they know truly what they have won. There is nothing you can win by going out on a demonstration because you’re black.
RPW: I suppose the only asset that can be credited to something like that, if it’s possible, is the threat element.
BR: Well, to the degree that there is just a threat element, then I say you’re in trouble, that one has – the objective to make clear to people here is not threatening, but that he wants them back in the human community. They cannot be happy until they are back in the human community, and the demonstration is holding a mirror up to them so that they can see themselves as they truly are and not as they think they are. And that is one of the reasons I have been in favor of pray-ins. It’s one thing for a white person to say I will not take Communion with Negroes. It is another thing to refuse to take Communion when a Negro is there, because now he has to feed himself with human beings, but the Negro’s objective in being there is not to embarrass or to disturb the service. This is quite wrong, but to win them, and by his own attitude of simplicity and gentleness to get people to see that he is a human being like they are.
RPW: You know the line that Dr. Kenneth Clark takes about the whole nonviolent movement.
BR: No, I’m not sure I do.
RPW: Well, I haven’t the quotes handy. He says in a certain kind of simple society like the South, it may work. In the North, and for many more sophisticated people in the North because he has no racist background, that to ask the oppressor – to ask the Negro to love his oppressor is to impose an intolerable psychological burden.
BR: Well, you see I do not use the word “love” very often, although I am as a Quaker profoundly impressed with what I think it means. Let me put it this way – to love Senator Eastland is essentially to take from him that which makes love for him impossible – privileged power. Sometimes people have to give it up or have it taken from them in a situation which they consider to be extremely unpleasant for them before they can be stripped enough to be real. This is – Jesus was not talking to the whole world when he said to a particular young man, your problem is money, and until you give it away you will find no peace. Take all thou hast, give it to the poor, and find your humanity again. He was telling him, get rid of power as you have exercised it because it stands in the way of your being a human being. Now therefore to create a political situation where Mr. Eastland’s power is limited, is to love him, because you are making it possible again for him to see himself as a human being. Now any Negro or any white, no matter what his condition, who is not prepared to do those things which help to make other people human beings is himself not a human being. And in this sense love is the concrete, the cement, whatever it is, which holds the bricks of society together. A mother loves her child when she calls him in and scolds him for stealing. She’s saving him. He doesn’t like it, he feels he’s rather be anywhere than being in the kitchen scolded by her. But she loves him, and she can’t let him stay in that condition. Now, in this broad sense I feel that we have simply got to hold up. Furthermore, what weapons does a minority group like the Negroes have for winning over other people. Are we going to force nine-tenths of the population to accept us? We have the economic power to make them accept us? We can create enough violence to frighten them to death? No. We have to win them.
RPW: Now, some people would say that there is enough power – not power at gun point, but a combination of powers, to actually make the power stick.
BR: I don’t believe it. In order – Negroes – one-tenth of the population have either no social, economic nor political power to force anybody to do anything.
RPW: Now, Wyatt Walker – Mr. Walker would say that he – the Negro does have that power. He’s quite explicit on that point.
BR: Well, Wyatt and I are very dear friends and I completely disagree with him.
RPW: He’s a very attractive fellow, too.
BR: Yes, he is. What the Negro has is the power to behave in such a way that he will out of his dynamism and his nonviolence cause the Church to move for the civil rights bill, cause the Negro movement to begin to move on economic questions. He will create an alliance of true power, made up of many segments of this society, who will then begin to look at the society.
RPW: Do you mean then, you’d be a catalyst, to use a previous word of yours which will organize real practical power in a new constellation, is that it?
RPW: That practical power is what will count in the end?
BR: Yes. Negro protests would never have gotten us the civil rights bill. What got us the civil rights bill is labor and the churches going into the Middle West and certain parts of the upper South, and particularly in the Middle West where we didn’t have Negroes to do it, and putting extreme pressure on these Congressmen to do the right thing, to stand up and to break that alliance between Southern Democrats and Northern Republicans which made closure possible. We never had the power to do it alone. You cannot get the Negro power to put Negroes back to work. You’ve got to get all kinds of segments of this society to come out for full employment.
RPW: This leads to another – I think I know where it will go but I want to ask the question anyway, and see how you think about it – in many parts of the country, Negroes look over the head of local government to appeal – and local society – to appeal directly to Washington – this is built in to the society for a hundred years – to look into – to look to Washington. There is a – at the same time the same Negro who said let us look to Washington for redress will also say, to hell with the white liberal or the moderate, you see, forgetting that that man he reads out of consideration – quotes – white liberal – moderate – or what you call him – marginal – is the very source of the power in Washington he is appealing to.
BR: Right – right.
RPW: There’s a line there, but still Washington is not an agency. Washington, taken by itself, is an agency of the electorate. If you offer an appeal it’s often the marginal man, it seems to me – does that make sense?
BR: Right. I agree with this thoroughly, and I think that this is another one of the sicknesses which – this springs from the intense frustration. But I want to put this in a broader context. When, ten years ago, 1954, the Supreme Court decision came, Negroes interpreted this, rightly or wrongly, as the beginning of a new era. Many people were writing at the time that this was going to mean – this was an across-the-board decision in principle and that things were going to jump. Now, ten years after that there are actually – and discrimination is not the whole reason for it – but there are literally more Negro children going to segregated classrooms now than before that. There are more Negroes out of work. There are more Negroes in slums, largely because – and here again not only because of discrimination, but these are the objective facts. Now, many young Negroes then say three things. If things are this bad in ’64, there’s something wrong with the major leadership, they’ve taken us down the wrong road. There’s something wrong with nonviolence, and therefore let’s start really asking how we can get something going there in violence. And third, there’s something wrong with these whites who pretend to be our friends. They haven’t made things better in the last ten years. We depended on them. They’re not – so it isn’t just that it’s a white liberal. Now, this is the result of, again, this kind of frustration where people, instead of being analytical, tend to react emotionally to a series of circumstances, and they are frightfully inconsistent and it is like building a consensus amongst great numbers of white people that there has got to be social change that we have any chance at all, and therefore by discarding any elements is wrong. The other aspect of this is, that many young Negroes today, and Negroes who are writing, are not humble in this respect. They say, I’ve been to jail, other Negroes have been to jail, and the question is that you become valuable in terms of how many times you have been to jail or how many times you’ve prepared to bare your chest. A young white student at Howard University who is one of the best – brightest – to come out of the civil rights movement recently – was told by some of the students, what the hell are you writing a book about this for? They said, we don’t need you to write a book. Come on, come to Mississippi and get arrested. Now, I said to him, don’t be taken in by this. Your contribution is to write well about it. Everybody is not needed on the firing – on the barricades, you know. And what I’m trying to say is, not only in the white community but Negroes also are judged wrongly. Have you been to jail? How many times have you been on the picket line? As if that’s all. And therefore this attack on the white liberal is in part an attack on – ought to be directed toward the objective situation which is a difficult one for everybody.
RPW: Well, one question I wanted to ask you – have you read Stanley Elkins’ book called “Slavery”?
BR: No, I have not, sir.
RPW: There’s a question that revolves around that book sometimes I wanted to go into. And have you read Whitney Young’s new book, “To Be Equal”? Have you read that yet?
RPW: It’s just out now. Back to what I was saying – we were talking about before in a way – in various forms the notion of the Negro as a degenerate of society appears. Now, you were talking about that rather tangentially earlier – the catalyst of social change – this is – has earlier ramifications sometimes for other people. Would you say over again what you – or extend a little bit about what you said about the catalyst not to unless you said it on the other tape.
BR: I think he is a catalyst. That is to say that in the pursuit of freedom for himself, he was interested really in integration, which means getting his part of the cake, of becoming a part of the institutions as they exist. But in attempting to do that, he touched very basic things in this society. The Negro is not a revolutionary basically. He wasn’t a part of the thing as it exists. But unconsciously he becomes a revolutionary, and a catalytic agent, because what he wants cannot be given him for that basic change, and it’s in this context that – not because he’s better or good or anything, but objectively. Now therefore I was saying that when he touches the rent strike, what happens is not merely that a few Negroes get their rent reduced and a few rats are cleaned up and roaches, and hot water is given, but we are finding that more is now being made around the rent strike which affects everybody, and law which says human rights must not any longer be subjected to property rights. Here again, you see, he becomes a catalyst because he’s in the movement. The other aspect of it is that he, by challenging the hearts of people, he gets them to move. The churches in this country would not have moved unless the Negro was a movement. They have known for a hundred years what the Bible says, and the Negro began to move they were sucked into it. Another illustration would be that McCarthyism had gripped our colleges in 1960 – these people have been through a political experience – there were no political groups on the campuses, there was no groups for social and political actions. But when the Negro students moved in North Carolina and created the sit-in movement –
RPW: The race problem, you mean.
BR: Yes. They swept the remnants of McCarthyism or many of them off the campus. Political groups emerged to support them. Social groups emerged to talk about the nature of the society. This was fundamentally because the Negro college students were moving.
RPW: I get your message. Now, one other question about the North-South situation. Some Negroes said to me – most of them of Southern origin or living in the South – Charles Evers, for one and various others – that they were more optimistic – optimistic about either in the hardcore parts of Mississippi or Alabama. One girl went so far as to say more optimistic than she is of a settlement, say in the great Northern cities. And she goes on to say that here the two races have been together for hundreds of years in the same – on the land – in the same situation. There is a more personal relationship possible. All of the things that we said in the context of that relationship, the human recognition would still have been possible in a way which she does not find, say in a great Northern City. And she says a crucial moment of this, she says, gives a base for settlement and a more workable settlement. Does that make any sense to you?
BR: Well, that is an area – I mean, her reasoning – I don’t know –
RPW: Now, she was raised in the South. She was raised in Virginia.
BR: I don’t know enough to accept. I would like to project to them a more social and political circumstances. I believe that the distribution of the Negro in the South is conducive to a settlement there. He is not yet completely got so concentrated in cities where problems are infinitely more difficult.
RPW: But the movement is going in that direction.
BR: Yes, that is. And therefore this is one of the reasons that I hope that we find some means of keeping a number of Negroes on the land if we can. I think also politically that the potential voting power of the Negro, disgraced as he is in the South, is conducive to a settlement. I think that if the government is to put people back to work it is going to have to do infinitely more economically for the South, and I am convinced that that is more important than anything else, because what is generally called the racial attitude of the South, I believe is in large part an economic attitude, that when you have as many poor whites and poor Negroes side by side, that this is a part of the problem. In a situation where economically they are both being uplifted, a great deal of this thing we call prejudice is going to disappear. And finally – and the only psychological thing I can say is that my experience is that when people in the South finally see the light, they are often infinitely more consistent than a number of people in the North, who never having been through the traumatic experience of change, change partially, where people who have had to go through a traumatic experience often come out with much more insight, and that is my hope for the South.
RPW: Now, you were going to speak about the identify crisis in general.
BR: Yes. I think the identity crisis on the part of a number of Negro writers and thinkers today, has attempted to turn the Negro toward a separate state, a nationalism or a return to Africa, or a rejection of whites and calling for the emergence of a Negro expression. Many of them talk about Negroes as being the the soul people and they feel that from this a great new thing is going to spring. Now, I happen to believe that the Negro is in fact at this moment – does have a very peculiar mission, that he is, as it were, the chosen people – by which I do not mean the superior or that he’s any better or that he’s any more noble or any more depraved. It means I think that he has now an identity which is a part of the national struggle in this country for the extension of democracy. He is a movement; like many who are at the bottom of the barrel, if he shakes the barrel shakes, and I believe that we are chosen nonviolently to eradicate from this country the last vestiges of privilege and racism. This is our destiny. In the degree that a Negro goes into the streets or into courts or into restaurants, theaters, hotels, into the legislative halls or marches before them, as a part of that he will find his true identity, which is to say that out of his absence of privilege he moves beautifully and nonviolently and in the process brings a great deal of beauty to his country. Now, therefore, you will not find those who are deeply involved in the struggle concerned with the problem of identity to the degree that you will find those who stand outside the struggle doing nothing about it, debating who they are. A man finds out who he is expedentially, and I think this is what the real answer here is. I’d like to give you a few illustrations. For many years they have been telling us we have an inferior school system in this country. I think it was not until Negroes moved to get quality integrated education that the whole nation now is forced to debate the school question. President Kennedy promised the Negro and white leaders who marched on Washington that he would, when they went in to see him the night of the March for jobs and freedom, he promised them he would do something about it. His answer, inadequate but a good start, was war on poverty. This was not because the white poor were moving, but because the Negroes had to move. Therefore, we gave something to the whole nation. When one considers the situation in Congress, where the Congress seems to be designed so that social legislation is difficult to get, it is the movement of the Negroes trying to get the white to vote which will remove from Congress many reactionary Southerners who keep all of our grandparents from getting medical care, because they will block it. Now, our identity is to put content – total content into the Declaration of Independence, into the Constitution of the Untied States, which will from the beginning in that they institutionalized slavery. Our destiny is to clarify this and to make a great contribution to all people. That is to say, number one, our destiny is here, not in Africa. It is in cooperating with white people, not separating ourselves from them and thinking we’re different. It is in working with them, and being the catalyst for basic social change in this country. Another illustration is that although Pope John for an ecumenical movement around the world, the one place he got it fairly quickly was in the cooperation of Catholics, Protestants and Jews who for the first time were forced to come together to fight for a civil rights bill because we were in motion. Therefore, I take credit as being a part of the creation of this ecumenical movement. And that’s what I think our true identity is – struggle – and not a lot of foolishness about culture and the like, but that the culture which is truly new and which we will contribute lies in our struggle.
RPW: That leads to another question. This, like all questions in the future, is bound to be an open question, but how do you envisage – what do you envisage as the meaning of integration? How do you think of it?
BR: I think of integration as fundamentally being that every individual, regardless of his color, will have the right and the obligations – both rights and obligations which are implied in the Constitution and in the creative laws. This means that children will go to school together. It means that color will have no place in jobs, that before the law all men are equal.
RPW: That is, you are taking this on a civil rights basis, then, primarily an SEPC [FEPC] basis - this is your ground work.
BR: Well, I think that that is the platform on which other things will come. In other words, I think, sir, that you do not change attitudes first, that attitudes are gravely shaped by the institutional way of life we live, and therefore I do not expect every white person in the country to like me, given our history, any more than I can not have some bitterness at times toward white people. We are both victims of having been trapped for three hundred years, and it wasn’t your grandfather’s nor my grandfather’s fault really. And if it was, what difference does it make? We’re here now sitting together. And if I have to deal with you and you are ill-mannered, I do not have time to assume that – and to look into a psychological history to find out why. I should deal with the situation the way it is. And I think the same thing has to be true of our social behavior. And therefore ultimately some Negroes will be rejected in a certain society just because they are not nice people. So what’s wrong is that they are rejected because they’re Negroes even if they are nice people. And so the attitudes will come, but first we’ve got to have what I think you call the FEPC approach.
RPW: Now, I was to try to get beyond that, and I’ve talked to various people on that question and some say what you say as at the moment, but it’s an open – it’s a matter of we start there and then history will take care of it in the future. Some try to envisage actual problems and actual programs beyond that point.
BR: Yes, well, I would say that my philosophy of faith in history leads me to believe that if you deal creatively and nonviolently with a problem which is before you, you are then setting the groundwork for a hundred years from now, no matter what the objective situation is. I think it’s the same thing a psychiatrist says to a patient who comes in and talks about what he’s going to be doing in two weeks. The psychiatrist says, now wait a minute, let us see what you intend to do tomorrow when you get up. Because I think I went through enough social planning when I was a Marxist Communist, and I know that the minute you have a blueprint you are – you tend to get ends and means separated, because if you’ve got a blueprint than any means is good enough to get to it. But I reverse the process – nonviolent, creative action now – take care of the rest as you go along.
RPW: I could give you an example of what I was speaking of in Dr. King’s discussion of the third phase, you see, the phase past the civil rights stage, the question of what he calls – well, to use an old phrase for it, the old, old phrase, self-improvement, a change of standards – a Negro’s responsibility, which is of course what take any white individual in the same position – adjusting change of status to the side – one the side which he lives.
BR: I am very unimpressed with this kind of thinking, because as I look at how other groups in our society who had many of the characteristics – or were supposed to have had – that the Negroes are now accused of – let us take all the ugly things they said about Shanty Irish, all the things they said about the Italians being gangster types and Jews being money crazy – all these things – as I look on how other minority groups got out of the ghetto and joined the American society fully, I discover that there were objective factors there, and not the notion of self-improvement. Self-improvement follows those factors. For example, many minority groups got out because land was free. Others got out in times of economic expansion. Others got out in a time of building of our cities and industrialization. Others got out as trade union movement was being built. The today is that the Negro finally rises and tries to do better in periods of economic confusion, in periods of automation, when there is no land in the West, etc., and the trade union movement is at a standstill. Now, I think, therefore, that if others got out in – because of objective circumstances – this is the reason I come forth with the earlier economic program I have outlined to you, because my aunt, who has lived in Harlem in filthy apartments for many years, got to the point toward the end where she just didn’t bother about training too much, because no matter how much you spray the roaches still came back. You got in the position where you prayed that the people beneath you remained dirty, because if they sprayed the roaches then came up to you. But now that she is living in St. Albans in a $15,000 house, her lawn and the lawn of her neighbors is more manicured. They are again exaggerated white and I think that the so-called improvement – now, by this – comes later. This I do not mean that we should not teach our children to be honest and to be moral and not to use dope, and all these things. But the economic self-improvement and all of this that’s so often talked about is ridiculous. For one thing the Negro is a consumer. While there are a few Negro millionaires, by and large the Negro population has which is difficult, to save its money as a racial group which is almost unknown, what could we break into that’s a master industry? Kaiser himself spent millions of dollars and then was finally run out of the automobile industry by steel and others who didn’t want him in it, in the automobile industries. So that I say the best way for the Negro to really improve himself is to become a part of the struggle. Illustration. In Montgomery, when Dr. King was crime amongst Negroes to one another fell almost to nothing because they had a sense of dignity.
RPW: Yes, I remember – yes.
BR: But certainly we should live up to all the standards, strive for all the standards that the society . This gives me an opportunity to say something about Malcolm X here. Malcolm X and the Muslims claim that they have cured prostitutes and dope addicts, and I am paid to say that perhaps they have. I know one fellow who was a dope addict that they cured. What they fail to see is that they do not work to destroy ghettoes; they do not work to get real jobs that are obtainable for people; they do not work to get real education for the Negroes. Their mind is off on Arabic somewhere. So therefore as the ghetto gets bigger and conditions get worse, for every prostitute or dope addict that they by some religious mysticism bring out of it – and I’m more happy for their doing it – the ghetto itself makes ten more. And therefore I think one must keep one’s eyes on removing the objective situation that makes for ghetto life.
RPW: Have you any guess about where Malcolm X is going next?
BR: Well frankly I think there’s every indication that Malcolm X doesn’t know where he’s going, and I think he’s somewhat frightened to come back here.
RPW: He’s played in several directions.
BR: Yes – yes.
RPW: Have you read the Post article? In the Saturday Evening Post?
BR: No – oh, yes, I read that. It’s the one where he talks about Goldwater –
BR: Yes. I feel he’s just lost.
RPW: How much organization does he have available now, do you know?
BR: Oh, very little – practically nothing. There’s a few frustrated youngsters and a few confused writers and others, but even before he left here these Sunday meetings which he was having got smaller and smaller. Because he does not have any – he does not propose, if he has any real answers to the immediate problems which Negroes want an answer to.
RPW: It’s a verbalism now so far.
BR: Yes. And tragically, in verbalization becomes in a period of confusion.
RPW: Speaking of progress, that there is a good deal of debate in the Negro leadership about the future of demonstration, about the kind of demonstrations that are possible in their next phase. What’s your line of thought on that?
BR: Well, my line of thought is – I have tow things to say. I think that we are in a period now where the fundamental problems can be solved through assistance from the federal government. We’re going to need millions and billions of dollars for tearing down slums, for public works, and putting everybody back to work. That’s a political job. And you have to work at it politically. Therefore, we must go into that job more deeply. However, secondly, I think that demonstrations must still be called upon because demonstrations have two objectives, not one. A demonstration first of all calls attention to an evil and simultaneously pricks the conscience of men. This will have to be done in the future at many levels. The problem is that in public accommodations it was possible to do the first and the second simultaneously, and the second is to cure the evil. You can go in front of a restaurant and demonstrate and prick the conscience, and integrate it - in the same act. In the North, however, today, where you are attempting to deal with jobs, schools and housing, you cannot simultaneously prick the conscience and solve it. You have to go to the legislature to solve it because you have to have billions of dollars. This is a part of that crisis, that many people don’t understand this need. But the demonstration is still valuable for the first aspect. A third fact about demonstration is that instead of demonstrations now, attempting to be fundamentally Negroes parading, we must gear these demonstrations I believe so that more and more of the white dispossessed feel comfortable in them. That is to say, that instead of marching now for – by a restaurant, even if it exists in the North, what we should be marching for, the Negro and white together saying we will not fight in the streets over jobs. We know that full employment has to be had. Give us work. We want no more relief. So I think there needs to be something new brought into it, and that raises a very serious question.
RPW: Yes – the social base has to be changed.
RPW: Let me ask another question not off that but related to it – a particular case. Another matter of the school situation in New York and elsewhere – but take New York. On one extreme we have the position – we have the PAT people. On one extreme we have the – those who sponsor massive busing system – of total mixing as a – the major criterion of education, the mixing of races. And how do you place yourself in this possible – oh, possible attitudes in between those extremes – as of now?
BR: I feel that the major problem has been the putting the thing in these extreme forms. I think we have to say what kind of school system do we need – number one, to prepare youngsters for the nature of Twentieth Century life, which again includes automation, technological change. And how do we prepare people, not only to make a living, but to live creatively in a democracy. Now, out of these two things I come to the conclusion that we need quality schools, and we need integrated schools, because I don’t believe it’s possible for people to live together in a society, in a democratic society and be separated in going to school. School is not preparation for life – it is life, and it ought to be democracy. Now therefore my position is, let us come forward again with something which is so new, something which is so novel, that whites would not dare to raise the question of busing, and that Negroes would not dare to raise the question of busing, because I suppose you know there are just about as many Negro parents against busing as there are whites.
RPW: Oh, yes, I know.
BR: Now therefore the most creative idea that has come out to me is – on a totally different level – is Dr. Maxwell Snowshen of the educational park, that is, the university in effect for youngsters. And the reason I say this is, that if you will think of the high school music and art which is in the center of Harlem, white people fight to get their children in there. They don’t raise the question that this is a high – a criminal area. They fight to get them in for one simple reason. The High School of Music and Art is one of our truly superior schools. Now I think when the question of educational parks can be clearly seen, when we come forth – maybe that’s not it – but when we do come forth with a real answer to how we truly prepare people in the Twentieth Century and how we get democracy in the school together, and come forth with a superior thing, people will support it. I have that much faith in the American people.
RPW: Let’s assume that. Meanwhile, there’s the mere business of nose-counting, of our racial basis and the public school – in the public school system as opposed to private schools or parochial school systems. Just how is a reasonable integration program possible, given that ?
BR: I think that this is extremely difficult to conceive of. For example, some economists and people concerned with the movement of population maintain that of the fifteen largest cities in America by 1972, ten of those cities will have a greater Negro population than white, and that the school system will have an even greater (talking together)
RPW: Sure, because you have this other –
BR: Right. Now therefore I have never been one who took the view that the school system and the board of education can deal with all contradictions of our society in one fell swoop. Wherefore I am approaching this also from another angle. I am urging Negro people all over the country to fight now for low and middle income housing in predominantly lily-white neighborhoods, on the basis that if you can then put Negro poor and white poor into those housing units, that this would be another way of maintaining an area where there were Negroes and whites living close enough to go to the same schools.
RPW: What sort of resistance would you find with real estate people on that?
BR: You would find terrific resistance, and I think that wherever we move on this, because of the confusions, there’s going to be terrific resistance, and I don’t know that anybody honestly knows the answer to this. But here again I believe that if you can make a few simple steps, such as the Princeton Planning in some areas has attempted to do, and if we are careful in the process of trying to get youngsters together who ought to be together, that this could be helpful. Now, the one advantage to the educational park is that it gets at this problem of the unfortunate poor education of some Negroes, because even if some of them go to white schools, they may end up in black classrooms.
RPW: Sure – sure –
BR: Now, the educational park provides for this, because there are things in a huge institution which children, regardless of their intellectual abilities, could do together – sports programs, music programs, etc. So that I still come back to the educational park as being one of the sanest ideas. Now if you ask me how are you going to that, real estate places being what they are, the resistance of and I don’t know.
RPW: And how soon is another question.
BR: And how soon. So I think we are in a very serious, serious kind of dilemma, and one of the things which I am hoping for, is that so some of the country’s greatest educators really get together and try to examine this in the light of the objective situation and not in the light of prejudice from whatever source it comes and prejudgment.
RPW: I just have a little – some sort of hesitancy about this particular problem that becomes more and more acute every day in a big city – I mean, really it’s like – you can – a person in New Jersey can work things out, because you have some –
RPW: It’s small – you can work it out. It seems almost hopeless.
BR: That’s because the Negro population in a place like Princeton will remain limited (talking together) is to fundamentally work around the University. But there’s no great business there, it seems, that brings in great numbers of people. I agree with you that I do not see my way clear on the school question. Many problems. Here converges all the contradictions of the society.
RPW: The particular ones. (not audible) What about the problem of centralization of leadership in the Negro movement, the civil rights movement – I’ll say Negro – I’ll distinguish that from overall civil rights. You hear things on both sides, regretting it doesn’t exist, fearing its existence – something that equates centralization with a power push, you see. Some people say it means a defect in responsibility because How do you think about that subject?
BR: Well, from long experience I would not want to see it – centralization. Because I think I will see cooperation. For example, the NAACP has a very neat cut-out job to do. The Urban League has a job which is very clear to do. CORE – SNCC – each has its own job. And in fact, as one moves it cause accommodation from the other – one pushes one, one restrains one, and keeps us on what I consider a fairly progressive course.
RPW: May I interrupt? On that basis, how do you interpret the SNCC and CORE attitudes in terms of the moratorium proposed, you see – back last – what was it? Late July, wasn’t it?
BR: Well, I feel that SNCC and CORE attitude was essentially the fear that if they signed such a document, they would have difficulty with their left wing –
RPW: With their own wing?
BR: But what is interesting to note is that they have not engaged in major picketing demonstrations and the like, and for very good objective reasons. So that when you come to what I call the reality, there has been this cooperation.
RPW: What they did has voided what they said.
BR: Exactly. And those of us who did sign it, went to Atlantic City and were a part of that demonstration. So that it’s – now the other thing I wanted to say is pretty philosophical. That is that no movement which has a unified leadership is a strong movement. There needs to be tendencies. There needs to be accommodation. And I think a movement ultimately is stronger. Now when the time comes we do cooperate. There was never greater cooperation than the March on Washington, the marches frantically to schools in ’59 – ’58 and ’59 – the prayer pilgrimage in 1957 – and I know because I have led most of these things, and I know that everybody has been cooperative. Furthermore, under attack there tends to be cooperation. There was no –
RPW: Yes, the ranks close.
BR: - you see – you have the four major groups cooperating in Mississippi on the voter registration – it’s an uneasy cooperation but it’s there.
RPW: What do you take as the gains in Mississippi this summer – the summer campaign?
BR: Well, I think that the major gain of the Mississippi project this summer was that there were a thousand youngsters from all over the North who carried back home an experience that if translated back home can be very helpful.
RPW: Now, how would that work out back home?
BR: I think that most of these youngsters are going to college campuses where they will interpret to other students on the campus what life really is like in Mississippi, the terror, the dread, the fear on the part of whites and blacks – because everybody is trapped. Secondly, I think it brought to the nation the concepts of
Original materials provided by the University of Kentucky and Yale University libraries and digitized with the permission of the Warren estate. Digital archive created and designed by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University.