The men in this group discuss the extent of integration in the churches of Bridgeport and describe some of the problems of Bridgeport's public schools. Asked by Warren about segregation in Bridgeport's schools, some contend they care less about ending de facto segregation than they care about equalizing opportunities for all students. They also discuss schools in surrounding suburbs and consider busing as a means of desegregation. Considering E. Franklin Frazier's position on black colleges, the men disagree with Frazier and believe that historically black colleges and universities will survive. They believe that black colleges are better situated to teach African Americans about their history and cultural heritage. The men also describe unity and collective identity among African Americans, both in the North and in the South. They provide some anecdotal evidence of the growth of this unity among African Americans who would not have participated in the civil rights movement earlier. The men close by considering to what extent African Americans continue to feel a tie to Africa.
Sound quality is somewhat poor throughout, and approximately the first seven minutes are especially garbled, though mostly intelligible. There are about nine seconds of silence in the middle of the recording. The recording ceases abruptly after the end of a sentence. These men may be Reverend Peters and Reverend Johnson.
Audio Note: Tapes 2 and 3 are missing, but the transcripts are complete.
Audio courtesy of Yale University.
Bridgeport (Conn.) men
This is a group of men who live in or near Bridgeport, Connecticut. They are not identified in the recording.
CONVERSATION 1, TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitzed texts are based upon typed transcripts created in 1964. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Q: One question I have been interested in locally is this – how much integration is there, if any, in churches in Bridgeport in this neighborhood?
A: Very, very little. I think it would be as small a percentage as 1%. This would be on both sides of the city. Isn’t that true, Jim? Yes. There’s one noticeable exception. There’s a church – Newfield Methodist – on the corner of Central Avenue and Stratford Avenue, which has about ten Negro families in membership. This is a white church. This is very large and even the large churches like the United Church downtown have only one or two.
Q: How much of that is the result of just residencies on the part of the parishioners? That is, if there are ten Negro families, are they in the same neighborhood? Is this the natural place to go to church or not?
A: Not necessarily. With Protestant churches you know, our area churches aren’t very much the rule of home so in the case of these people at the Newfield Methodist, for instance, some come from Stratford.
Q: How did this get started?
A: They just wanted to go to that particular Methodist Church and that’s where they’ve gone. I think there may be other reasons sometimes. For example, there may be a shift – the atmosphere – a Negro has a white friend and he goes to church or – this is just off the cuff, but sometimes there may be something interesting they talk about and they want to go there. That may be one out of ten families – I don’t know about this case.
Q: Is there any resistance there, do you know?
A: It’s wealthy, that’s all. Apparently it’s just a few different methods, different from other churches where there is this kind of small division. I’ve heard since I’ve been in Stratford of several situations where Negro families were present but the resistance isn’t open. It’s just the feeling – what are you doing here?
Q: This wouldn’t be traced back you’d say, to the Pastor – the particular pastor in any case?
A: I shouldn’t think so. I happened to be talking to the Pastor of the Newfield Methodist just yesterday and he was saying that these people have been a part of that church for a long time.
Q: Under various Pastors?
A Yes. They change every two to three years. I think the Pastor has a lot to do with it sometimes. I think, for example, in churches where there was no integration, the Pastor, while he was there, should recommend changes.
Q: I know this mother whose children play with our children all the time and she taught here in Bridgeport. She was divorced shortly after the birth of her younger child – her younger child is about eight, the same as my younger child – so after she was divorced she looked around for some job and she went into teaching, which she had no special training for before but she picked it up fast. Her first job was in a school in Bridgeport, I forget the name of it – she told me – which is in the middle of a Negro section of town – what school is that?
A: Elementary school?
Q: It was elementary school –- she teaches 4th grade.
A: It could have been any of these. It could have been Waltersville –- it could have been on the other side of town. Bridgeport doesn’t have a Negro section as such, see. There are several sections with a heavy Negro count.
Q: She said here the student body was almost completely Negro. 90% -- roughly 90%.
A: Probably Lincoln or Waltersville or the one over near Black Rock. Even there it’s very difficult to tell if you got a Catholic School in the community.
Q: In this school she says, she had rather horrible encounters. It couldn’t be very long ago she was there, probably six years ago she was teaching there. She said she couldn’t take one more year of it because of the brutality she encountered -- she said the teachers just went through the day waiting for the time -- just waiting for the time to pass -- there was a completely lack of attempt -- and this one pupil in particular -- she named one -- he really made life intolerable for her -- a pupil in that school. She said she just couldn’t take it another year. The potential was too great. Now my question is this -- would you find that kind -- or do you know of that kind of situation in a school in Bridgeport now, with everything included, where school on the part of the Negro is just a walk-through, with the faculty demoralized and I think she said there was not a single Negro teacher there when she was there. It was completely demoralized and as far as attempts to understand and teach a child -- it was at a bare minimum. The lady was transferred the next year and she said, thank God for that, because she said the strain was just too much for her.
A: There are a lot of problems. We’ve got not only the Negro situation but also Puerto Ricans and I know that Bessie Farr, for example, she tells about language difficulties she’s had in classes of 35, 40, 45. but she says, as far as attempt to get through to them, I’ll talk to them; I’ll try and I’ll try to make an attempt -- I don’t know this woman you speak of, covering such a radically different situation.
Q: Well, she’s still shaken by it. And it is a feeling that it is a question of system and whether truly a system, and there is no human contact – nothing has been worked out in the way of human contact. She was saying well, this is it. She was sick of being sold on notions she couldn’t demonstrate -- he resented the school. She said that teaching in ________ school, is de facto segregation. She said you got chiefs and Indians.
A: They’re in Lincoln School.
Q: It may not be the same school now?
A: (Peters) I think Roosevelt’s worse than Lincoln for them. Of course, my feelings and reasoned opinion have always been that when it comes to this whole question of de facto segregation, the main thing that we are striving for is equal education; that so often a school being in a predominantly Negro areas somehow becomes last on the totem pole. Lincoln School, of which we were speaking a moment ago, for instance, has the third floor condemned. The building -- I know a lady who went to school there -- a lady on several of our committees who went to school at Lincoln thirty years ago and she said it was an old school then. The records show it’s over a hundred years old. She said it was always an old school -- that was her expression. She said now, right today, the third floor is condemned. They have split sessions in all of kindergarten, all of 1st grade, and all of 5th grade there and they are about to expand it even further -- the split sessions -- because of limited space. From the teachers I found out that they are low on various supplies, and certain things they have to buy out of their pockets. Well now, to my mind, this is the biggest argument against de facto segregation and while I will always agree with some of the theories of some people who say -- put them in buses and carry them somewhere else -- what they really need to do is make the education equal in every school, or else they will have a lot more complaints about this because their education isn’t equal.
A: (Johnson) I would like to add one footnote -- I agree with what you say, but about the system itself in Bridgeport. I don’t care whether it’s a Negro child in a predominantly Negro school or a white child. I think these towns surrounding Bridgeport have got them best by far in many respects. In the Methodist and Congregational churches where they sometimes draw kids from Bridgeport for Sunday School, the same as in our church where we draw them in from both cities, the Stratford kids will stand out much more than the Bridgeport kids. Very definitely -- there’s no comparison.
Q: Why is that?
A: I think they have a better system in the surrounding towns -- Fairfield and Stratford. It has become rather obvious that most Negroes settle in the big cities. More and more it’s true and more and more, the people -- same as the money, the people of influence move out of the cities into the suburbs and inevitably they build better schools. They pay the teachers better wages, they have a better system and the child in the city which is invariably the person in the lower economic groups, suffers. This isn’t true just here but all over.
Q: How much protest is there about that here in Bridgeport?
A: (Johnson) I can sum it up in about three words – Jim Peters #1, Andy Devoe, #2 and John Staple are a few of the individuals who stand out who are really pulling, I think.
Q: Otherwise there is no organized –
A: (Johnson) There is, isn’t there Jim -- but it’s hard to get people to act. There’s a committee for the Improvement of Bridgeport Schools -- all the schools -- I mean this particular committee I refer to is in Bridgeport, it’s all for Bridgeport and it’s called the Citizens’ Committee for the Improvement of Bridgeport Schools and they’re frustrated awful by the city government. The city government doesn’t consider schools a #1 issue, they consider keeping the tax rate down, the #1 issue, and in accord with that many of the parental (?) workers and a lot of effort they’ve been giving -- they begin to see that they have an outstanding superintendent, but everything he asks for that would improve the system, they cut it out every year.
Q: How many guidance counselors have you got in Bridgeport?
A: At one time we had no full-time counselors in any of the high schools. This in a big city like Bridgeport. This is unheard of in some big cities, you know.
Q: You raised the question a moment ago -- you said the ________ system, that doesn’t apply here, I suppose, but might at some future date begin to apply -- I’m very unclear in my mind but I have my own feelings about this. I’m certain that the segregated school, in the past anyway, has been a bad school and I’m certain that if I were, say in school “B” and this ________ school “A” was predominantly a Negro school and there was some shifting now and I was welcome to shift into that school, I think I would resist, probably, instinctively resist. Not as much to ________ putting a balance somewhere clear across town -- I would arbitrarily resist that. But I think this is sort of reading my own feelings now. Have you any notions about that?
A: (Peters) I have some very definite notions and I hope you’ll make it clear that many Negro leaders will disagree with me on this although there are those -- I personally think as I suggested a few moments ago, that the main thing they are after is equal education. I personally feel it’s the Supreme Court decision that’s really gotten on the wrong grounds. We don’t care what grounds they’re stomping on, we’re glad that it came through, but I think the real grounds for it should have been the fact that the separate education wasn’t equal. . Well, as you know, the Supreme Court decision was what southerners called and rightly so, a sociological decision. It was based on the fact that it is inherently wrong for students to go to school with ________ race. From my own experience in going to school in Washington, D.C. and things that I have seen in other places, noting that the education was definitely not equal, it makes me realize that here, in my mind, the big question is not the one of transporting students from one place to another to have a sort of balance -- in my mind this isn’t the big question at all -- the big question is, do we have equal education and with this in mind my thoughts would be then to improve the education of our schools in predominantly Negro areas, rather than to toy with this idea of transporting them. I think this idea of transporting them is a drastic and perhaps dramatic appeal for equal education -- for that reason then if people were demanding such things I would probably support them. Not that I agree that this is the answer to it, but in order to provoke those in authority to the extent that they would really make the education equal.
Q: How do you feel about that?
A: (Johnson) I think I would reject the idea in my mind. This, of course, is my feeling -- of taking my kids, for example, and transporting them somewhere just to make the situation say, integrated. If it’s a chance for them to get a better education there, I would push the idea of getting my kids over there if I could, and I certainly could respect anybody if they simply did not want to be transferred to a certain school that wasn’t quite up to the level of the school where the kids have already gone. I say this with a good deal of amount of background because I was transferred when I was in High School, for example. They have enough count from there to go ________ and in the Junior High School they figured what High School you ought to go to. It just so happened that all the high schools weren’t equal in the city -- they just weren’t. And those concerned would go to certain ones and say you probably will make out better here, you there, you there -- regardless of their color, race, etc.
Q: And regardless of their home location –
A: (Johnson) And regardless of their home location. My traveling distance was something like eighty some blocks from my home. It took an hour and a half to get to.
Q: That’s a lot of time out of a kid’s life.
A: (Johnson) Of course, the thing that came out – in this particular high school where they had about 2200 boys and no girls -- about two thousand of the kids were Jewish kids. It just happened to be that the Jewish kids in Philadelphia were in better schools and were better scholars than the Italians, Negroes and all the rest of them. They could make the better grades and pass the tests better, so they all got sent to this school. Somebody might have hollered right away, what are you doing, you’re segregating the Jews over in this district school. They would have said no, we sent them there because we feel that this meets individual treatment, rather than anything else.
You made a brief mention of the time element. I just want to mention here for the record that my wife went to high school traveling 23 miles one way every day. The bus left at 7:30 and made about a forty mile trip around picking up other students going from Middleburg, Va, to a place called Leesburg. There was a school much closer but in Virginia schools are segregated and this was the closest Negro school.
Q: That’s quite a trip every day.
A: Every day too -- one way. Amazing.
Q: What about looking at another aspect of it. Say a city like Washington which is predominantly a Negro city now. How can you possibly then work out balanced schools?
A: (Johnson) This is your town, Jim. You can talk.
Q: I was speaking, you see, of transferring by mandate from the school board, say fifty or sixty white pupils supposed to go to that school. Where are you going to get them in Washington? It is a sensitive thing, you see. How can you do it?
A: (Peters) Of course it couldn’t be done in Washington, there’s no question about it. The school system in Washington -- the last figures were something like 76% Negro.
Q: I read the figures last year.
A: (Peters) It’s gone up every year. So this definitely couldn’t be done in Washington and in many other places, where it would be not only illogical but rather impractical. Again I say, I think that the people who are pushing for this really want what I want -- equal education. I think this is just a mechanism they’re using in ________. I don’t think anybody would quibble about going to Howard University or Tuskegee, if they thought they would get an education equal to what they’d get a University of Alabama or somewhere else. If they thought it was a top-notch college.
Q: That reminds me of something that Franklin Frazier has in his book you know about the future of the American Negro college or university in this connection. He expresses some doubts about its future.
A: Of course, they’re just about filled to capacity all of them. They’re not wanting for students now.
Q: No, they’re not wanting for students.
A: (Johnson) Like West Virginia took in Negroes before this segregation movement ________, I think if ________ not just exchange students. I think the future of the Negro college ________. We’ll always be pretty well. We got roots there for the Negro that he can’t possibly get if he goes to Yale or if he goes to any other school. I feel he misses something when he misses the chance to feel the sense of warmness of his people, his history, a chance to feel the proudness of the Negroes from all over the South. As long as there’s a Negro in this country I think he’ll welcome a chance to send his kids to a Negro college.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: Virginia U in Richmond.
Q: Virginia U. Then you went to Howard, didn’t you?
A: No, then I went to Crozer in Chester, then I went to Howard.
Q: Did you have any courses with Mr. Frazier?
A: Just once. Back in -- it must have been twelve years ago. I’ll welcome the chance to send my kids to a Negro college for their undergraduate education. I think that would qualify them for any graduate work they want to do, so long as I know the college I send them to will be credit enough for the chance ________
Q: I heard him lecture, it was back in the late 40’s I guess, an informal kind of a seminar for about two hours, he was very impressive.
A: (Johnson) They say he was a lot better when he was younger – you know, they say –
A Well this was about seventeen years ago – sixteen or seventeen years ago. He was wonderful.
A: (Johnson) And this is odd, too. A lot of the Negroes who were born in the north or had been there for a long while, will ask a guy like me, or ask a guy like Jim, why did you go to a Negro college? And they’ll wonder why do I send my kid there? Maybe tuition was lower for one thing or I think beyond that, maybe grants to Negro colleges. They feel very keenly and deeply the need for a sense of roots among the Negroes, their history, their past, their heritage and for the most part, with very few Negroes teaching history of anything else, or anything else for the law, for the most part, I don’t think they get into it except into a good Negro college myself. I think that makes the difference. Almost every one of our leaders has had to struggle ________ has spent some time in a Negro college. And many of them didn’t have to do it. I mean today. I think tomorrow --
Q: This relates in kind of a backhand way, doesn’t it, to the fabricated history that the Muslims put out -- they have a false history -- a made up history, I mean -- isn’t that rather the case there, opposed to the late history of the Negro race, rather than true history, but it appeals -- the big thing “appeal” to the needs identified by yourself and –
A: It’s the same thing as Proctor –
Q: What was that?
A: Read the article by Sam Proctor who was president of and now is with the Peace Corps. Sam Proctor studied there too. He studied for a while and imitated the white man’s ways. He had a sort of dollhouse society life. Really he was saying we had no sense of our real roots and our real heritage, no sense of any kind of pride. He said we lost our identity and I’m quoting Proctor on this -- we lost our identity, our names, our songs, our past. We knew no world but the white world of North America. So for years one imitated its institutions, its culture and its sins. Across the tracks on the other side of town, we had a little of everything they had and until World War II this was the story, these two communities existing side by side, with the same trappings and the same veneer.
Q: Yes, that’s undoubtedly true, but now could you tell me what the difference is now in determined awareness of the Negro’s heritage? What is the new awareness? Would you undertake to say that?
A: There’s one thing, and I certainly felt this. Here’s the difference, for example. I’m walking down the street in the south and there’s a man, colored like I am. I speak, he speaks back. Up to about four or five years ago, I walked in the street in the north, I speak to a man and he may or may not speak to me – you see what I mean. But now, I speak as almost everybody speaks, and it’s all right to feel the passage of time based on the fact that no one begins to feel so outside of this earth. We all feel that we’re part of this time. I think this is part of this new feeling. And that sounds like a little thing but this has been a big job for some folks who don’t walk in picket lines and didn’t used to want to be identified and still some don’t. Just as Jackie Robinson – the token demand. This really
Q: Tell me this – that’s a little bit like we’re back to Frazier again -- his description of the class structure of Negro society, remember, and the ambivalent feeling that the upper class has about the whole question of integration. The ambivalence he points out indicates in the Negro upper class, where if you have integration, there is a fear of loss of status on account of integration.
A: But this fear, I think is ________ -- I’m in a doctor’s office, I pick up his Medical Journal. The doctors are out there marching and fighting for integration -- and they’re not thinking of losing -- they’re going to gain. The teachers in the south, they say the heck with the schools, the heck with the system, if I lose my job I’ll find another. You find you don’t have any choice, if the kids march, they’re going to lose their jobs anyway.
Of course, you find more of this in the south, of what you’re speaking here -- this oneness of identity than you do in the north. What we referred to a few minutes ago were some people who wouldn’t dare go to Birmingham under any circumstances and hear about the King or anyone else and these people wouldn’t even go to Washington in the March on Washington. But when Jackie Robinson had Martin Luther King and Roy Wilkins out on his lawn on a Sunday afternoon last month, they were there as a sort of a social set apart from the people fighting. But they are in the minority. They are in the tremendous minority. Even in the north.
Q: Even that’s dwindling now?
A: Definitely. Even they are sort of moving to the edge of the circle. They’re not committed, not really. It’s more of a social matter. When they see guys like Dr. Anderson, a fine physician, they see outstanding lawyers, they begin to think. When they see outstanding personalities like Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr. –
Q: Let me cut back just a moment on the same line of thought to the same heritage and history, and the white professor of history is opposed to the Negro professor of history it would be of some difference. The question in my mind are what you mean by the – so much that is not, you see, in the western Judeo-Christian tradition, you see, after the Negro’s transport from Africa, what did he maintain, what did he keep? I know this is a debate – I’ve read DuBois on this, I’ve read Frazier -- I know it’s a real debate between Negro historians. Just take Frazier and you go -- direct different views.
A: Do we know how much?
A: (Johnson) A fellow comes here from Africa, for example, Sam -- anyways he’s from Ghana ________ if it’s Monday in Church, he’s sitting there on our organ, he’s playing songs. He can play the piano, too. He’s been a teacher over there. And suddenly he feels the tension of the music that we’re playing. It’s an amazing thing, he says. This is it. And there’s something in the soul of the African I think that’s in the soul of the American Negro that hasn’t quite been covered up or hidden by the fact that they imitate the white man so well. And I think this is something you can’t quite put your finger on or quite isolate or quite characterize with words, but I think it’s there and I think you feel it more than anything else.Collapse
CONVERSATION 1, TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitzed texts are based upon typed transcripts created in 1964. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Q: We were talking about the heritage question, weren’t we when we knocked off?
A: Of course, when it comes to this matter of heritage, there’s also another point of view on it which perhaps should be straightened out and that is this -- there have been many times persons who talked of sending Negroes back to Africa --
Q: Emancipation -- the resettling and colonization –
A: (Johnson) Right. And more recently, in a slightly different way, the Black Muslims for separation or give us some part of the land, which isn’t exactly back to Africa but it seems they come under the same general Garvey movement. I feel, as an individual, very little kinship with Africa as a continent. This is my home -- America. The only land I know. I feel a kinship to other black persons in America that’s slightly different than the brotherhood I hope I feel for all persons generally. But I don’t think I would ever want to go back to Africa. I don’t agree with the African students who say -- this is not your home. Just for the record I want to quote my feelings on this. I’m not a black Muslim, I don’t think, but I feel a very keen sense of oneness with anybody black.
Q: That’s the Muslims sense of oneness you mean –
A: I don’t know if it’s the same sense as they treat it –
Q: Oh, you use that word –
A: (Johnson) I feel the sense every time I see an African, there’s something in men that stretches out. I’m sort of like down there you see -- that if I could stand on the shores of Ghana, Algeria or any place over there, I’d feel somehow that here are my roots, in spite of the fact that I’ve been in America all my life and my people are here and I want to know something about them. I want to know why my kids in church have another certain beat to music and can understand it from the time they are of small age until they reach maturity. I feel that deeply, it’s a part of my heritage and I wish I could translate it into words -- into time -- and everything else I try to touch. I feel that very keenly and I’d like to know about it. And I want to say some pride, some going even further than this, just like the Muslims are doing too. They go back to the continent of Africa and they talk about black Solomon and this and that, trying to give you a sense that because they are black, they’re not wrong and that they’re not evil and that you have to be ashamed. That even like the Irishman may think about his homeland, and though he may become American and maybe though thoroughly American, maybe he’ll still have a keen sense of pride in Scotland, or somewhere else or in some Scotch ________. I want to know something like this, if I can -- as difficult as it may be, I’m trying to impart to my kids. The heritage I feel, as an American, that’s something else I think we need to feel. As an American Negro, even, our contribution I don’t think is quite as deep as I’m trying to feel -- need to feel that ________ Africa. I may not be too clear --
Q: You made it very clear to me –
A: (other man) (Peters) I understand what you feel and I, of course, definitely don’t feel it. I don’t feel it at all. I think Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry and Frederick Douglas and the things he went through, I feel kinship with the Negro slave, but it doesn’t go back to Africa for me.
Q: Let me ask another question here -- the notion of color, as color. Now this is not a question of the Negro, African, but of the color, as color, as opposed to white man, you see. Now do you have any sense of a mystique – that’s the only word I can find in the way of a neutral word – for all colored races, say Indian and Eskimo and Chinese, as differentiated from white man?
A: (Johnson) I don’t feel that yet. A lot of our leaders, for example, say so much of a percentage of the world’s people are colored. I can’t quite go for this. I can’t figure like you toward the Chinese as I do toward a man who I know is a black man or toward the Indian. I don’t quite feel that or for instance toward the Jew, who though he is colored, is trying to identify himself to somewhere in your life that I should identify him with. I’ll identify with his suffering with anything, with anything. I don’t care what color he is. As far as this general color thing, I haven’t quite got that. And this is just me. But when people
I say, so what? So it’s --
Q: That’s the black Muslims. At least as far as I understand it the mystique is all color, all color as opposed to white man – isn’t that the line they draw?
A: I don’t see how their roots spread out. They got quite a tree there. I don’t know. I just don’t know, that’s all. But I share the problems of people, though, when they’re suffering because of their color – whether it’s Chinese or Japanese – when it’s because of their color, I begin to feel then just a little pinch of it. The Puerto Ricans, for instance, are a good example. Some of them look just like the American Negro or the African Negro in countenance but their complexions are foreign. But they don’t identify with us in feeling and I don’t quite identify with them, not just because of the language barrier I think, but because of something maybe that I can’t touch.
Q: It’s a very different culture, isn’t it, their –
A: (Johnson) I think their culture must be a lot different.
Because my argument, when it comes to culture, always is that the Negro’s culture is the American culture, that there’s nothing in the Negro behavior or attitude to opinions of the ________ of Africa.
This may be so.
This is the –
Jim and I think half the people go above the water -- or beyond the water. The best of drums, and the feeling of these ________ One fellow from Africa said the difference between the African and American Negro is that the American Negro is just a black-skinned white man. I think eventually they will overcome this mental impression. I think we owe a lot to Africa while this recent struggle begins with us and I think Africa will owe a lot to us if we made progress.
Q: Well, clearly, the whole independence movement in Africa in the last few years had great repercussions here and America has a bigger fight than Africa and I think took that clearly that will be going on --
A: (Johnson) We got ashamed a little bit that they were making such strides while we were sitting in Chevrolets and Cadillacs and satisfied. I named the two cars in the yard.
Well, of course, what I feel very keenly about -- while the emergency of the African nations has been inspiring, that perhaps the main thrust of our efforts has been, in recent years, of America’s suggesting to the world that here is a democracy at work and yet it hasn’t shown itself as relates to the Negro -- and I think this has been pertinently more important than the emerging African nations to our struggle, the power of Russia, the vast rapidity of our communications. I think these things have meant much more to our struggle than the emergence of the African nations. Of course, as I said before, this is one thing close to another.
Q: Perhaps both are true, too. In that particular case -- they could both be contributing, couldn’t they?
A: (Johnson) I think you’re right too, Jim.
A This moment, I shall say the crisis occurred in the last ten years, of course it’s been a long process way, way back. It wasn’t a clean start in ’54 -- long before that as we know, but it’s been a whole new tempo and a whole new temper to the Negro’s rise and his entering into the American life, the last ten years or so. Now would this have been possible in ’35, say, twenty or thirty years ago? What’s the difference in 1935 and in one sense an almost ideal circumstance for it to arise, but what makes the difference?
A: (Johnson) The time has to be right. An idea, as it says here, it’s ready to be born. There are many factors. I heard Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, of Birmingham, Alabama, say once when in Memphis a couple of years ago that we, the Negroes, have been tired of a lot of things for a long time but we are just now getting around to tell you about it. Something he mentioned to a white friend of his. The Negro has been sick and tired of segregation for a long time, disgusted with the signs with the inferiority status, the whole bit. But serving in World War II did make a difference and then as I said this communication -- this matter of communications has really made a difference and these things combined, made this the right time for it. Some people ask me -- why 1963? I say, well this isn’t just because this was a hundred years after emancipation, but there are so many other things are right and I don’t think it could have happened twenty or thirty years ago, unless we had all these other factors and the Negro was ready.
Q: Could you have found the Negro leadership for it thirty years ago?
A: I think so.
Q: Could you find that -- what I’m getting at -- this is a question not a statement -- an enormous number of Negroes now who have had good educations compared to the number in ’33.
A: I think Billy Mays would have been our Martin Luther King.
Q: Would he? Really?
A: Really. I’m almost certain of it.
Q: Now the number, you see, just the number of articulate and cultivated, you see --
A: (Johnson) I don’t think it is. I don’t it’s a factor. Take for instance a country like Africa, which still doesn’t have too people, we might say, who would fit into this class of being educated, etc. These few can lead the masses and I think that the other factors that you mentioned, Jim, gave impetus to the present-day leaders to lead the masses. I’m not too sure but after all, this is still how I feel. Basically, a movement of -- this fellow calls it a revolt -- whatever you want to call it, in which the number of educated and well-trained leaders have been the key factors. There could have been a handful but the other things were conspired and the people will follow. You put a mass movement in front of them – the mover of the mass, it’s not been a movement of the ________ so much.
Q: I have been aware of, which in my estimation has been certainly a shift in the center of gravity of the thing – anyway you see, being urban league and all this ________ time which has been operating quite a long time and laying all the ground work presumably, all the vast legal history that’s going into this now – to the NAACP. But where would you have found -- you said service in World War II made a difference. Well that in itself is an education – a change – interest in other worlds, another age of reference. It’s not only to say the college but even the American infantry was true too. Do you think a certain change of reference has risen and while the -- I just don’t see the -- I’m speaking for myself now – not as a question -- I don’t see where you’d have found this number of young student-age Negroes thirty years ago to have done what they have done in the last few years – that is providing their own leadership and their own sense of organization. I just don’t see where you would have found them thirty years ago. This is a whole new generation, you see, of -- it’s grown up -- of education, experience, cultivation, sense of organization -- all these things --
A: (Johnson) A reporter asked a child in Birmingham -- why are you in this demonstration -- do you really know what you’re doing? And the child said – I don’t understand all of it, but a hundred years of segregation is enough. I understand that. Well, let’s say here’s a little child, and all Negro children are faced with this problem, - the Negro was willing and the people who are going forward in this -- we have our leaders -- but are not, as has been suggested here, the trained leaders. Dr. King says the Ph.D.’s and the D students got together. I think Billy Mays would have been our King, and I think Walter Wise would have been our Wilhelm and I think we’d have gone forward.
Yes, sir -- Charlie Houston would have topped Herbert any day in the week.
Q: All right, let’s grant that -- I wonder how it would work out --
A: Let me make a quick note on this because I’ve been hitting this handle for a year anyway. I think another contributing factor and I think our country made a mistake to our advantage, was starting this year ’63 by emphasizing one hundred years. I think folks just began to realize that it was one hundred years when the emancipation took place. It was, I think, that very thought alone that was enough to trigger a revolt, I just hope we don’t have to wait too many years to keep it going. And incidentally, although nobody notices it now, five year ago, in 1958, the NAACP had offered the slogan: FULLY FREE BY ’63. I heard it then and said to myself, they’ll never make it. But next year I hope our slogan is: OVER ONE HUNDRED YEARS NOW – even if it’s only one day over. ________
The psychological thing to do. That after a hundred years, if you ain’t made it, you’ll be dead in another hundred, so as the kid said to me in Birmingham, I just don’t give a damn. I may as well be dead and be free. So -- he just didn’t care --
Q: I was just coming back to the same question here. The explanation is fine now, everything you say is true, I’m sure. The hundred years is true -- it’s a great symbolic force that’s worked a psychological reflex on people.
A: For instance, take that hundred years and you’ll see how far you’ve come -- the white man, you see --
Q: But here’s another point – what has happened in the last thirty years? There’s another point -- the moral of that story to me is -- OK, that’s fine -- now the rest of it.
A: I can’t see much. Just the years of my life. I haven’t seen too much. I think I’ve been waking up in the last thirty years to the balance of this story. What was bad in this whole situation.
Q: All right, all right.
A: I haven’t seen too much.
Q: What I’m thinking of -- I’m older than you are see, by quite a bit and I remember the attitude in the twenties as a very different world.
A: We didn’t see that. This is the previous generation you’re talking about.
Q: During the thirties. You see the whole awakening -- you could see it going on day by day.
A: I was born in ’31.
Q: You see, in ’31, I had my first job.
A: You got a retrospectus we don’t have.
Q: Just the fact -- it seems incredible to me what actually occurred, you see, in one generation. I could see the beginnings of it.
A: Do you get the impression any easier?
Q: Well --
A: This is what people always say to me -- don’t you think 25 years can solve this? I say no, not unless we keep going at the pace we’re going now.
Q: I’m not offering this as an argument to solve this, I’m just offering this because of the fact of the tremendous accomplishment, in almost a secret way , during that period. The fact is, everything was right you see, everything was right and --
A: I’m quoting the phrase of a friend of mine -- what I’ve seen in the last thirty years of this race, he says, sometimes I think the folks were satisfied with nothing, of what they call achievements. And look at -- how did they have it? Look at Joe Louis, never kicked ________, never trusted us for a while. Who else besides Joe Louis, Marion Anderson maybe who’s still enduring on the singing in Constitution Hall -- lots of them. These things, I think -- I don’t see the enormous amount -- I see the quarreling in the NAACP, the steps -- I mean this is all the groundwork and maybe we’re building on that -- but it doesn’t impress me -- the last thirty. I went to a high school where finally a teacher woke me up. A Jewish teacher woke me up one day in history class -- reading the history book and they were talking about this -- the great strides of progress -- now the Negro can be found being a porter on trains and found to be cutting white folks’ hair. This is a sign to the way American democracy will work. She closed the book and slammed it down and literally threw it out the window. She said, Johnson, if you believe that trash, she said, you’ll forever be satisfied with nothing.
Q: Yeah, yeah.
A: (Peters?) You see, things haven’t really come so far, in as far as I can tell, because this is 1963 and the land of the free and the home of the brave and the whole criteria for democracy, this whole experiment here, this is the sum of it and yet I can’t stop in a motel in Delaware if I drive down there on my way to Washington.
Q: I know that.
A: So perhaps because I’m young I’m not impressed with the achievements of the last thirty years. They don’t show me anything.
Q: I know that. I’m not saying the game is over. I’m saying that the very rapid achievements of the last few years perhaps would not have been possible without this generation or the cooperation of an enormous number of Negroes getting a new perspective on the world after serving, as I said, in the American infantry to go into Harvard or wherever it is, you see. This whole range of new experiences for that generation that grew up in your time.
A: I -- I don’t know. You hardly notice changes when you are young. I think if you went into the army you took a philosophical viewpoint and took a stand on some things and would go along with some others whose minds were tuned to certain things they were feeling and reading. This is quite an experience, too. This could have happened any time. You just see the roses again to pull on.
I really can’t see your point. I understand it, but I can’t see that as being -- I think the Negro would have been ready for this revolt thirty years ago.
Q: I think I purely term it as an aspiration on one hand as much as on the other, to justify with that version – yes. I was thinking about where are the powers, you know, of the range of vision and qualities of leadership and the power of organization -- it’s stupendous, I feel, organization.
A: No. In 1935 if we could have had Russia for a threat, if we could have had nuclear explosion as a real possibility of total destruction, if we could have had the image of the American white man being thrown out across the world as being not all that he said he was, and everything else. If we had all these facts, in spite of any other, ’35 would have been the year.
Q: You think so. Well, that’s --
A: Even 1900 would have been the year. I don’t think, without these facts, even if we point out a few others, I don’t think we’d made any strides. These things brought out the courage in our leaders. They were here. It gave them a chance to know -- that I have support, so to speak, among my fellowmen of the same calling, of other leaders, and we’re ready now to make it. And some still haven’t got it.
Q: Perhaps you’re right --
A: And none of these well-trained leaders are leading.
Q: All right. Just grant that –
A: This is a herd, that’s what I’m afraid of. They will follow -- they will follow -- they’ll just follow, that’s all. People will follow. The masses aren’t the ones I’m thinking of it’s just these that started to give our leaders today, who are no greater than Billy Mays, and Sam Houston and the rest that I had the privilege of reading about just touching it a little bit.
Q: But I was in no way saying that they were greater or better, it was just that the number of people who -- I think that from this, this is what I seem to observe, is the --
A: Unfortunately we have ________. In ’35 our courage hadn’t come from numbers -- and in fact I think there are so many people involved in it –
Q: No, it’s not a question or courage, either.
A: I don’t know. Numbers -- I don’t know.
Q: Just in my own life span, well let’s take literature. In 1925 when I was at school, there were no Negro writers, you see, and it was a novelty. Now, in the last 25 or 35 years, you have a glittering galaxy of them, you see.
A: I don’t think you can beat --
Q: That makes a difference, you see.
A: There was DuBois in ’25. He sold a black book --
Q: Yes, that’s right. I know his work pretty well. I’ve read it for years -- about reconstruction and other books.
A: There was Carlan Woods. You see this has a definite in our sort of school. These men couldn’t have gotten the chance -- a guy like Louis Lomax who harbors enough muscle to push forth and get out a quick best-seller -- these guys will make it, if Louis will write it -- I’m no judge of writers. Well a Negro in a day can write something and he can become a writer -- I don’t know how the critics judge him, etc. But they’re not all James Baldwin, I don’t think, not to my reasoning. They’re not fellows who could write like DuBois could. But you can get credit easier now, because they found –
Q: The climate’s better for it -- the climate, the way it was made better for it, was by the fact that there were more Negroes who were writing well, in the last 25 years than there were before.
A: But were they getting a chance to publish their work. Were they getting a fair chance for the public to read them.
Q: There’s a better chance now -- they’re writing better.
A: May I suggest this, and this may be way out, that possibly considering the viewpoint from which you have been able to see this over forty years, that possibly, you, as well as many, many other persons had the idea that thirty years ago the Negro was pretty satisfied. Many people today are amazed that he Negro is so dissatisfied. Newsweek did an article that came out last week and it stated that a lot of people think the Negro is quite funny. Well, the fact is that lots of times the Negroes were laughing to keep from crying and a lot of people thought the Negroes were pretty happy standing on the corner laughing when the white people came by and really, they were ready to revolt then.
Q: That’s a stereotype --
A: And it could be that in this kind of setting, one would assume that the Negro is pretty satisfied with back doors, and signs, and the like --
Q: Being satisfied was not the question I was raising -- I said they were being more articulate in the last 35 years. It’s not merely true of the Negro, but it’s true of all America that there’s been better education available to more people than there was -- whether it’s good or bad -- there’s just more of it. There’s more range of talent available now.
A; Excuse me, I’ve got to get back to UB.
I appreciate writers like Hughes, Carlott, Dunbar --
Q: Well, May I impose on both of you again? Later on?
A: Certainly. I thought you were going to talk -- you were impressed – you wouldn’t want to finish that would you?
I think now I’m more impressed and this is before 35 years ago. It was writers like Dunbar, Eustis, Richard Wright -- I’m just as impressed as anybody by these new fellows -- I’m reading now. I don’t know why.
Q: Richard Wright belongs in the new things.
A: Go back to Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson and some of our other Negro poets and writers --
Q: I’m not making an interrogation of -- you know -- a question that you have named, say, three instead of one -- that’s what you said - there’s only a statement in this. I don’t think it’s a question. Thanks a lot.
Thank you, Jim.
You call it. I know you’re tired -- why don’t we cut it off now ** Make it with both of you again later.
A: All right.Collapse
CONVERSATION 2, TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitzed texts are based upon typed transcripts created in 1964. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
Well, Rev. Peters, just a moment ago you raised a question in my mind which is discussed quite widely and not always with the same outcome -- you said there were six people in the state that were thoroughly committed to the cause -- this raises in my mind the question of what is the role, as you envisage it, of the “White Liberal” in the movement?
Rev. Peters: First I would like to suggest that I have many criteria also of determining Negroes who are really dedicated to this struggle and I more or less classify Negroes in three general groups -- those who are complacent and lackadaisical and unconcerned about this struggle and view it as a struggle that is really someone else’s struggle; those in the #2 category -- the Negroes who are willing to give their money and their time for discussions in the north or in the safe areas; and the third group, of course, is that militant group ready to go wherever necessary to do whatever necessary for this cause. They are personally identified with it and ready to die for it, if necessary, though this just isn’t their aim. Well, in my mind, the white persons are in this same general breakdown with the exception, of course, I suppose like the persons in #1, are rather not unconcerned about the problem but are dedicated to fight against it. The half dozen persons I mentioned who are really dedicated and whose motives I would not question, are the persons who have gone into the south to make known their feelings. About the matter on more than one occasion and for some reason I can have complete confidence in them whereas there are many other white persons, of course, who give large sums of money and talk about the problem just to ease their troubled consciences and there are others who simply feel that this integration struggle is right and so they want to have a share in solving this problem, but it never becomes personal with them. There are also those simply hypocritical about it; they will say words that’ll please whomever they’re with at that particular time. These persons, of course, cannot be trusted to my mind. I hope that answers the question about the persons I feel are really dedicated to solving this problem. Though I mentioned only a half dozen of the hundreds of persons that we have in the state who are -- well, for instance, the March on Washington.
That’s very clarifying. I want to go quickly, further along -- this is in a different direction - if I may. I have read and heard from various quarters that said that the movement should be purely Negro; that the white man should have no part in it. That those who try to take part should be kept out of any point of significant action. This should be entirely a Negro movement. I have heard this in some high quarters, as a matter of fact. Mr. Johnson?
Rev. Johnson: I think Jim and I were sort of agreed on this – that we welcome help from all sources that are sincere. I think that almost all of the most respected Negro leaders, most of them anyway, would also agree with us on this point. We are too much in debt already to many people who are white, who have stayed on the front lines in this cause, in both the north and the south. We are too much in debt to some of those in the north especially, who behind closed doors, have made enemies that this might be -- our friends -- and we can’t see anything particularly advantageous in saying that all black folks were leading in this thing, they were all in the front lines, they were holding the reins, so to speak, of the horses. We can’t say this at all. There is something
I must say that what concerns me most in that whole question, if I
may interpolate it, is that it’s not a question of a white man’s role in the movement, but laying the groundwork for living together after the movement is finished, after it is completed, that is his work. So I am rather disturbed that you have taken, without qualification, the that really the movement isn’t solely the concern and by Negroes, and Negro leadership. And this admitted cooperation.
Rev. Johnson: Jim has been in Albany, Georgia, he’s been in parts of Alabama and other parts of the south, and he has seen, I am sure, as I have seen on several occasions how people, especially those who are going through the thickest part of the struggle, welcome everybody who is their ally. I’m not too sure even that there is any alternate goal in having Negro leadership at the front in the long-range program. I don’t think where we are trying to build up home rule for ourselves and everything else, I think we should take the struggle as it comes and welcome the help as it comes, from whatever quarters. I think your interpolation is correct. I think those that hold to that rule -- what the Negro to hold the reins, etc., stay in front, etc., I think they are in the distinct minority but these days when you can grab the press headlines they feel there is a difference on the part of the majority. They probably get more attention or –
Rev. Peters: At the same time, I would like to explain that it’s very important that the persons who are leading are definitely dedicated to the principles involved and the persons who seem to be suggesting black supremacy are probably ____________ that only a Negro understands a Negro. I would trust myself in a demonstration under the leadership of ________, Forsberg, or Shaprio or McGuire, as quickly as I would any Negro leader because I am convinced of their dedication to the solution of the problem. However, there have been problems in the upper echelons of the NAACP where Clayton Powell for instance, suggested that certain legislation that he was trying to present, the NAACP was against. And of course this bit of ________ that many of us are not aware of the details of, this causes truly some of the problems but by and large the statement which, up to a few moments ago was true, that we are not seeking all Negro leadership -- there was a problem as you know, in the March on Washington, when one of the Bishops who was taking part in the program said he would not go on if John Lewis’ speech was read as it was written. Well now, this was not acceptable to John Lewis, but when other Negro leaders had this same feeling, it was done but I doubt seriously if his speech would have been changed just on the basis of the Archbishop who made the statement. I think this shows that in this strength the most important thing is not whether the person is white or black, but how deeply concerned he is about this question. I know many Negroes whose judgment I wouldn’t trust in a demonstration and I shall hope this should be the spirit of it all. I think the White Liberals have many reasons for their support and the reason doesn’t really interest me as long as they are really dedicated to solving the problem. Then, of course, you’ll say they may be Communist-inspired. As a Negro, I am seeking my freedom from the injustices that have been cast upon me and if a person is only trying to help me, seek this freedom, whatever his personal reasons are -- of course it’s impossible for me to explore his mind -- until he admits he is a Communist. I want that support.
I suppose the appointment of Mr. Greenberg provoked this line of discussion more freely than anything else that has occurred -- in the legal defense division of the NAACP. That raises another question -- how deeply do you think anti-semitism appears in some quarters? How deeply do you feel that is grounded? Does it appear around here, for instance. Are there any anti-semitics around here?
Rev. Peters: I don’t think any of us have seen evidence of any degree of anti-semitism in the integration movement or in any other areas of Negro life that I have been aware of.
Rev. Johnson: I want to follow through on that because sometimes you find yourself at the _________________________ with a group of friends and they ______________________have brought up this question quite often and it ______________________________ (see handwritten note in margin) I don’t hear it from the common people -- I only hear from the persons I ______________ 20 years ago who talk about the Jew having a store and all that and making all the money. Maybe somewhere in Harlem or somewhere else around the country there is and I am wondering if somebody is trying to make it a problem, and if it is a problem, I wish someone would give it study – some thorough study and have someone point out things definitely. I doubt if our people really know what a Jew is.
Rev. Peters: In further comment on that also, here in Bridgeport we’ve had problems. We have been wrestling with the problem of slum housing and in a few instances these slum landlords happen to be Jews and that the Rabbis have let us know that they will take a stand with us against these slum landlords whenever necessary. Mr. Ribicoff came from Washington about a month ago and he talked to a group clergymen because we were dissatisfied with the speech he gave condemning the March on Washington, and right after the March on Washington he spoke to 50 clergymen in New Haven explaining his position and he explained ours and the Rabbi was right there with us explaining his disappointment as well as our grievance. _____________________________________at all, not in this struggle, or in the general Negro community.
One episode I was referring to __________ the secretary of the NAACP in Philadelphia, his name is ________ -- was rebuked by The National Organization for statements he had made about Jews as landlords and merchants in a neighborhood which is predominantly Negro -- a sort of Harlem, I suppose.
Rev. Johnson: That was why I said we may be from it some. I was brought up in Philadelphia. There we did have a feeling about the Jewish merchant on the corner -- we talked about it -- many Negroes felt that that Jew on the corner got all the money, etc. etc. ____________________________________________________________________ (handwritten note in margin) is not real increase of this kind of feeling. I think there may be some of this in the country though I think it is more in the respectable clubs. They may have an underhanded campaign to pit the Negro against the Jew, I don’t know. In most places where I hear of anti-semitism, it comes from the white man, not from the Negro. For example, I have a friend - we were together every day in school and I knew this fellow liked Negroes and__________________________________________ Finally we explored and we talked about it and after that we got along together.
This is a very common situation, at least it is not too rare in my experience, to find a person who is anti-semitic and pro-Negro at the same moment. That is not uncommon among white people in my experience. It’s illogical, anyway. Cutting back to the question we touched on earlier about the white man in the south -- did you notice in your experience in Virginia and Washington and through the south -- is there any difference between the young people -- the new generation -- and people now middle-aged and over -- or do you find about the same pattern --- about the same proportion of
Rev. Peters: I have found in the deep south, especially in cities where we have tensions dealing with our problem, that the only persons near you were usually from somewhere else and were in the struggle -- that this was one of the problems in cities under tensions like Birmingham, Ala., Jackson, Miss. and Augusta. The line of communication between whites and Negroes is severed so completely until there isn’t any way to see who the Liberals are or what age the Liberals are in the community. Of course I know this doesn’t get at the age question. In the north, I still can’t pinpoint any specific age. I find Liberals of all ages and persons with better attitudes of all ages. I think the weight would be toward the college set but I can’t make it any more specific than that.
Rev. Johnson: I want to go back to about 12 or 13 years ago, to an experience in the south -- especially at the University of Virginia and at Williams and Mary. We spent about three or four days on the campuses of these universities. Students came from all over the south – Georgia, Mississippi, for a debating session and everybody stayed on the campus. We had eight or nine days there we would have loved it. This group certainly was far more liberal than their parents. In fact, we even saw students of these cities were different from the teachers. The kids who were hob-nobbing with them and debating with them, expressing thoughts and views. These kids had a real sincere and honestly outgoing spirit, the democratic spirit. If they had a chance, you felt that they would break their molds, all of them would, and I think in the present struggle some of them had broken those molds and had sat at lunch counters and have left college campuses and gone to Negro colleges as expected. They were different from their teachers and we realized that some of their teachers were ready for it too. I have generally felt in the large cities of the south especially where the colleges are and the college community is, there is a great reservoir of strength ands support for the cause of the Negroes’ freedom and democracy. In the north, I have found it different, ___________ in communities like Stratford, for example, where there is not as much, believe it or not, communication as there is in some cities in the south. In many cities in the south, whites live next to the Negroes, and so forth and so on, and there may be lines of _____________ but here sometimes the lines are even sharper. I don’t know your community but like in Southport and Westport maybe I guess this hold true; or take Lordship, for example, I probably could make a survey there and find far more prejudice than I would in the south in many cities, among persons of the young group. In a few instances where the churches are taking hold and trying to open channels of communication and channels of understanding, and Jim is going in and so am I, to speak to the youth group, we get questions that let us know that the white young person of today has not come to grips with this problem -- they haven’t begun to think about what they see in the headlines. I think they are a more reserved generation because they don’t understand the problem and I think there are far more communities like this in the north than I could find in the south. I’d like to explain this more fully but I don’t know how to do it.
There is the question of the phrase that has been raised many times for forty years in various forms. It appears in Oswald Spengler, and it appears in other phrasing in Frazier’s great work. There is the general shift of the race question over to an economic and class question. The class question absorbs the race question. It becomes then a matter of economic justice prior to the matter of racial equality -- economic opportunity rather than racial equality as a key to the problem of race. I wonder what that question evokes in your mind?
Rev. Johnson: I think it is unfortunate, although I’m afraid it might be true; that maybe this is some form of saying the same thing eventually about economic matters, motivation and everything else. I think this is unfortunate but probably true. I might cite some of the appeals that are made in this struggle for people to do the right thing. It is not always on a plane of racial equality but more on a basis of, look here, let’s run the gamut on this struggle of economic equality. If I interpret this correctly, I think this is also reflected in the Negro in America who has achieved an economic sense eventually and forgets in a sense, the racial struggle, the fact that we should want all of our people to be free. I thank God for men like Jackie Robinson and others who over and over again say, “Look here, you think I’ve got it made, but I haven’t got it made as long as there isn’t racial equality for all people.” And many people will not experience for many years to come, I feel, this sense of equality but I think they all have a sense of price that can be respected for what they are even if they don’t have a dime in their pockets. I think it is unfortunate that it is on this plane and that this is certainly a part of our American way of life. (Illegible handwritten note in margin)
Rev. Peters: I’d like to look for a moment at the other side of the coin here. The Negro is on the bottom of the economic totem pole. Some may say someone has to be but why the Negro and yet segregation has caused this. Here in Bridgeport where Negroes are able to get good jobs in many cases, if you go through the factory you will see that the Negro is still on the bottom. He may be making $2.50 an hour, but this is still the low level in that particular place and the suggestion that the Negro is the last hired and the first fired isn’t a joke. It’s a reality, this brings into focus a lot of problems for the Negro and these are economic problems. You might remember a few months ago they were demonstrating in New York at the Downstate medical center construction site, I believe it was, for jobs and as one of the ministers told me at one of the mass meetings, these are jobs that pay from eight to twelve thousand a year for men who wear overalls, and we want our share. The Negro hasn’t been able to get the job, and in many ways this in itself is a caste system. This has made it impossible for many Negroes to rent, for instance, the kind of apartment they would like to rent. We have our problem here with the slum landlords. Why? Because a Negro doesn’t make enough money to get an apartment in the north end. They require that you make 4 times the monthly rent in salary, so he goes to the slum landlord who will allow him to rent even if his monthly rent is 1/3 or 1/2 of his total monthly salary. The slum landlords have no limitations. Segregation then, does have its companionship with economics, and the Negro, as you also know, has found many ways to work economic boycotts to get what he wants. I know this isn’t exactly your question but the Negro has realized that economics go to the heart of this and so Negroes have used their buying power to gain jobs for Negroes. You see this whole economic structure came out of the difficulties in the deep south. A man who know owns one of the largest shoe stores in Columbia, S.C. went into a store some fifty years ago to buy a pair of shoes. He tried them on and the clerk started to wrap them up and he said -- well, that isn’t the pair I want and the clerk said when a Negro puts his foot in a shoe where it is wrapped up for him -- nobody else is going to want it. The man started his own shoe store. Economic pressure then is the one thing that has caused business in the south to be far beyond Negro business in the north and they run rather close together -- the economics of it all -- it becomes a caste system: a second-class system of citizenship; the Negro being second in class in the type of job he can have; and this restricts his housing abilities, this restricts his educational possibilities and many other things. Economics have a lot to do with it. And this is why the F.E.C. section in the Civil Rights Bill is so important. This is also why the March on Washington wasn’t just for freedom but for jobs also, because we feel this is really the first step to full integration.
Some people, of course, go so far as to say this is the key -- the key to it all. There are emotional differences though that can be taken around that point as you talk to different people -- some people would resent the introduction of economics into the question as somehow being irrelevant to the definition of personal equality.
Rev. Johnson: I think I happen to be one of those who sort of resent it. Yet I have to face a stubborn fact that it’s there; and for the average man in the street this is the meaning of equality -- the fact that he can get the job he wants, go into a store and buy what he wants and buy the house that he wants, etc., earn what the white man can earn at Avco who is doing the same work and if he has the same talent, etc. This is what is, but I think we ought to keep before the people is the man as an individual, as a person, a man as a human being, etc. I am going through one of the worst phases of my life watching these stupid debates and the stupid things coming to us through TV about civil rights. “We have gone pretty far, we’ve done pretty good, we’ve got a good bill.” It’s simply expedient, but not good. I think you could call it right -- it may be communicably sound or communicably expedient, but whatever you want to call it, it can’t be good and I think in terms of another plane -- unless it recognized the stubborn fact that a man’s a man for all of his skin, all of his color, all of that. The Negro can’t be satisfied with any kind of bill that says -- on this street you can go, in this store, and the next one maybe you can’t, that one you can and the next one you can’t, because the government says so. There is something about this whole business that doesn’t touch me at all, that I feel is so hypocritical, that the Negro instead of getting happier, ought to be getting more bitter than ever before in the next 5 or 6 years. We ought to be really fed up to our noses right now with the kind of political footballing that goes on -- they say -- “look now, you are making progress but slow”. This is against the person and this is against the sense of the image of God that I know is in me and I know as a human being and the sense of dignity I’ve got, I feel that anything -- political expediency, economic equality -- anything except to say that I am in the image of God and that I was created in this inalienable right and should have had it yesterday.
How much difference do you think is there between say the son of a semi-starving and dispossessed miner in the Eastern Kentucky coal fields, when starvation is all over the place and where the child has no chance, or little chance of education -- and the Negro child in similar circumstances. Now let me say I recognize the difference -- I should like to hear you speak of the nature of the difference.
Rev. Peters: First, the white child has, even in the circumstances you describe, certain advantages over the Negro with things set up in our country as they presently are. The first thing this family would do would be to apply for state welfare or its equivalent in that state. Now, there are some places where the Negro is treated equally welfare__________ and there are some places where he is not. In the District of Columbia for instance, the welfare program is operated or handled and supervised by some southern Senators who have gone to great lengths to harass the Negro in particular, even those who must have welfare; they have gone to great lengths and have had many persons put off for minor violations or minor infractions of the rules. Now this white lad, or his parents, would come in contact with this; and then there is always the underlying possibility that he could find a way out of his miasma and that if he does, he becomes a totally free man, while the Negro, no matter what height he has reached - a Ralph Bunche or others -- he can’t get out of this. You see the hope is there, at least. It’s like being in service -- the enlisted men complain about the privileges that the officers have. The only difference, in this racial situation, is that the Negro can never be discharged from this service. It’s a service life he must always live with and forever complain about unless our cries are heard, complain forever about the injustices of it all. I know this doesn’t answer all of the questions that have been raised about the political situation of this poor lad in Kentucky and the comparisons of it all but if he has no political influence certainly the Negro doesn’t in similar circumstances. Even a Negro in better circumstances has a limited degree of political influence. I would think then that the two lads are equal basically in the matter I mentioned about welfare, except the white boy hoping to get out of it and some day become president of the United States. He can hope for this, and hope is rather important in the lives of many people.
Rev. Johnson: I don’t know if I can add anything to this but I think, too, that somewhere along the line of this Negro child’s life, he always runs into the possibility of saying to himself: this is happening to us because we’re Negroes. Right or wrong as that may be, for itmay be due to situations ____________But somewhere along the long because he gains knowledge of the American scene, he gains knowledge of his _______. Whether it is so or not, he will identify that his suffering a is a part of the overall picture and he is suffering because he is a Negro and this and that wouldn’t have happened to him if he had not been a Negro and his family had not been Negro. I feel this wouldn’t happen to a white fellow who wouldn’t have to cross this line in his life -- he faces the real facts -- that it is because of a situation that existed in a coal mine, etc. This question is as tough one and I don’t know that Imight________ into it.
Can I get something there aside from your remarks -- that sometimes he blames on the fact of his being Negro, things that are not actually related to matters of his race. They are matters of either his personal bad luck, or matters of bad training that might be traced back to his being a Negro, although not directly, or faults of character or matters of judgment, and this becomes a kind of a blanket and easy alibi under the guise of self-pity, a device for avoiding criticism. Is that what I was getting from your remarks?
Rev. Johnson: I think so, and right away voices will come up saying: “well, I know cases that” -- but I think this is true. On one side I can see the white man and I think this still holds -- I have had some interesting conversations in the south with while fellows in railroad stations and cracker barrel stores. They’d say, you’re apt to feel that because you’re a Negro and you are the son of ________ and this thing was doomed on you. On the other side of the fence I have heard Negroes cry: “I was born black so I must have been cursed” and there may be something wrong with him that even goes back to heredity. In this kind of situation you get all kinds of weird things coming out of it. You get those who feel that -- white is right and black is wrong -- though they may be black. So, humorously enough, we have had situations where Jim and myself, we can speak to our people and say something and they look at us like we’re nuts. A white man can come in and say the same thing to them and their heads go up and down. It’s like two different hands coming with the same truth. I think we not only blamed some time, things as you put it, that we should not have blamed and have self-pity, but by the same token, we turn the thing over and we see life also in a warped way. This, I think, is true.
Rev. Peters: I want to say I think your statement was very well put and this is very true. There are -- while they are not in very great or large number or vast majority of them in any sense -- there are Negroes who, let’s say for instance, with a limited I.Q. will blame all of the things that happen to them on the fact that they are Negroes. Well, that’s is not true. Here is a man that was perhaps inferior from his birth -- I believe persons are born superior to others and some are born inferior to others and in varying degrees all between and this has nothing to do with race. There are those who can attain a place intellectually in any race but here is a fellow who even if he had gone to white schools, if he had had perfect opportunity, would not have made it. He has limited possibilities and yet this person will say: “this has happened because I am a Negro”. So this is a very real problem but it is not as widespread as it might seem we are suggesting or he might have suggested in the statement about when we speak. It is not as widespread as that but it does exist and they all point to the fact that there are persons who will believe words from someone else quicker than they would from someone in their own race. This probably in slavery time would be someone like Uncle Tom -- people like him who had extra privileges but yet there were Negroes who would cut each other’s throats to gain a better position. This brought about a distrust -- if a white man said something they believed him while if a Negro said something they may or may not have believed him. This does not exist in a large degree in this day but there are evidence of small instances of it. I think your statement – your opening statement about this was very well put and I would endorse it.
Again picking up something you said, Rev. Johnson, some years ago I read a study by Dr. Charles Johnson, later of Fisk University, whom I came to know some little time before his death and discussed this a little with him. The study I am thinking of pointed out the scaling of values according to color. Exactly what you were saying. Surveys were made to ascertain the pressures to make color a value in itself among Negro children in school, and his point was -- I forget his phrases -- that this is the basic tragedy of being a Negro in a white country -- that the color is absorbed symbolically and metaphorically into all matters.
Rev. Johnson: It comes back to me now that Dr. McNeil of Detroit, who has also died since -- ______ was in the Book of Revelations. One time he was preaching about symbols there – the white stone, the white robe, the white everything, and I thought he was -- I don’t just know the word -- I thought he was anti-God, anti-___________ or something when he took all of those things and threw them out and changed all the colors of them because of the value put on them in this country and he said, no, when I get to heaven I’m going to put on my black robe and I insist on black shoes.
Rev. Peters: I was in a class in that mood, I don’t know who it was or when it was but it was someone left-handed at Howard and he said that man’s concept of God was based largely on things around him and in these days of white supremacy no one imagines a Negro God and in these days of masculine supremacy, no one imagines a female God. We picture God as a white man inevitably in our thinking. I just threw that in –
Yes, indeed. Cutting back to something you said earlier about the matter of the possibility of self-pity, of using race as an alibi in occasions of self-pity, comments by people like Frazier and others, or the lack of self-criticism in the Negro Press has been a defect of the press. It refuses to apply the standards of conduct or performance to other Negroes that we apply to a white or that whites would apply to each other; this being a defect that is pointed out fairly often and most recently Frazier was speaking about it.
Rev. Peters: You might say that while there is this degree of self-pity we mentioned, I don’t want to make any mistake about the fact that the Negro in America has a difficult time. He can walk in and apply for a job and they say no. He doesn’t know why. He can’t get a decent education. He is given an inferior education, given an inferior home, inferior job and then the white man will look at him and say -- you are inferior. I don’t want to make any mistake about the fact that many Negroes suffer so much because of segregation until many times they are not sure. Is it segregation that is beginning to mean so much or my own lack of ability? A real question arises. The Negro press in a sense, in a dramatic and ofttimes scandalous way, the Negro press dramatizes the misbehavior of Negroes in the community. They play up many instances of scandalous things like cutting, stabbing and things like that and to my mind that is exposure and this exposure should cause the Negroes who are not acting in socially acceptable ways to change. Maybe this is a way-out approach but I feel that Jet magazine showing the ridiculous things that it shows in it’s “Man of the Week” section that people are talking about, shames many Negroes into not doing this type of thing. This is just an opinion that you might disagree with. I hope you will.
Rev. Johnson: I think much of what you say is true. I think this criticism of the Negro from the Negro press in many ways may not be meant as criticism and is meant as sensationalism in reporting and trying to sell newspapers. I have also been sort of proud of a lot of our writers especially on the Courier staff and some on the Tribune staff for the way they prodded our people and criticized, etc. I have been proud in the south of some men who have written down there like Willie Mays ________ Hancock and the press, who have been quick to sort of try to put down the rule to some of the Negroes as to what he has to do, etc. I think there has been this criticism of ourselves, etc. and I can’t, of course, appraise those who have appraised the newspapers from a realistic standpoint because I don’t know how and I think there has been real criticism. Whether they have gone far enough, I don’t know – I can’t say.
Let’s skip over to another topic for a moment. It is rather hard to phrase, this topic, without ________ decision. It is sometimes said history owes the Negro something. Now what I’m getting at is this: Is this metaphorically speaking -- say this race has been enslaved and deprived by the press and therefore is then an injustice? Or – is this a way of saying that because of past deprivation there should be press restitution made? Or – is the only restitution justice? You see what I’m getting at (very faint -- something about human rights)
Rev. Peters: Well of course there can be no restitution for 100 years of segregation, for the horrors of slavery -- there can be no restitution for blood that has been spilled can’t be gathered back up. It can be replaced for a man who is yet living but in this case there can be no restitution for it. However, when it comes to the persons who are asking for extra advantage, I think it falls in the same line with those who are asking for quota systems in jobs. Now the persons who are making these requests won’t admit it but they have somewhat quietly shared this feeling – some that I have talked with. And I really believe that this is the answer to it. They don’t expect 10% or 25% Negroes hired on a certain construction job, but the hiring pattern has been so segregated for so long until this is more or less of a gimmick, this is more or less of a trick if you might call it that, though I think it’s a very --
I remember the last time we talked about Lomax -- Lomax’s book. Since I was here, I have gotten the book that had been on order and I have read it. I remember your view of the book – the view of both of you of the book, and it seems you were in agreement about it. I read it with some care and I am very curious to know, what were your points of objection? I am not putting myself in the role of defender for the book -- I am simply curious to find out on what point you find yourselves in collision with his presentation.
Rev. Peters: I didn’t quite finish the book and this isn’t fair but I read enough I think to -- Well, his candid appraisal of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an opportunist, he said King was -- Perhaps the most critical of his general statements were about King’s theological training, then he was so rash as to question the theological institution of our country.
In what sense? Can you develop that?
Rev. Johnson: He had a tirade against King’s theological training itself. He went back to King’s boyhood, the kind of era he was brought up in, in a sense the kind of training that few had gotten, toying with the people’s emotions, etc. That he was the kind of man in this kind of movement who did not have real organizational ability and in a sense was riding the crest -- an opportunist, that in a sense he had no real control over many situations, etc. and so on. That he was more a follower of the tide. We also felt that his sense of criticism of the general Negro minister, of what we even consider the genius of the Negro ministers. He felt that this was a long drawn-out thing, falling aside. You got the feeling that this man was looking at the Negro minister as he was looking at a minister such as King, who was incapable of being an intellectual but had to be a pseudo-intellectual and I certainly thought that some of the statements that seemed to bear this out said that here was a fellow who was not really a scholar, not a real genius. Now it just so happens that King and I are contemporaries and we went to school together at Crowther. This man was brilliant -- brilliant at a time in Crowther Seminary when they had on the faculty such men as Morton Scott, Insman and men like Pritchard -- men who were real scholars and the school itself was known not for its making of ministers but for the training of scholars. And with that kind of situation and with those teachers, King was #1 in the whole school. He received a fellowship to go to Boston University to study for the ministry and he studied there. He’s a man like Lomax, who I know was never in any top school. There was a minister here in Stratford, for example, who was a jailbird here in town. In other words, he was not in the fight for freedom or anything. He was known here as a fellow who deadbeat people, who was a liar, who was a Baptist minister himself who used the same sort of creed, the same sort of talent in the pulpit that King has to use and uses better and he looks on this fellow as a pseudo-intellectual. This sort of thing really burns us up too because he knows backgrounds, he knows training, he knows sincerity and we know that when it comes to having a mind, this King has the best and he can lead anyone he wants to lead and comes out with a real understanding of it. But the pseudo-intellectual we felt was Lomax with the kind of stuff he had in the first 50 or 60 pages, writing as though it were his own, making brief acknowledgements in the introduction, etc., his indebtedness, etc. It was almost all phrases, the great masses of it. He took the ________ Magazine listing a catalog of things. This fellow didn’t bother to check on hardly any of the information he had. I have yet to find where Lomax is in the deal anywhere in this fight for freedom. I think he’s a pseudo-participant in this whole struggle. I think he’s the real opportunist and I think our people will know that.
Rev. Peters: This too – in his criticism of the Baptist Minister in general, the Negro Baptist Church in particular having Negro Baptist Ministers for administrators -- #1 – having been a Negro Baptist Minister himself, although he never mentions that fact, incidentally, he should have explained that while Negro Baptist Ministers are not capable to be the kind of administrators they are capable of being, this is because of their tremendously heavy work load, it is because no other person like a Negro who comes to his Minister, no other person comes to his Minister for the things that the Negro does. We serve really as real estate agents, job employment agencies, counselors, everything -- whatever their needs are. He is aware of this and this, in many cities does create problems in administration but it has been definitely proven that where the Negro Ministers can allocate their work, i.e., hire a man for this, that we can do as much administrative church work as anyone else and I think this was a criticism that was unfair from a man who knew better. I think his criticism of King’s administration of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was untimely and perhaps unfair. He is constantly being criticized for the size of his staff but he doesn’t hire people to sit around in an office. A lot of people do send in donations and don’t get receipts for their contributions. This is true but this is because the staff is out working on voter registration, working in all other areas of the struggle, not equipping a well-run office and Lomax should have known this. There are facts that are obvious and available. I could imagine him, on the other hand, criticizing a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars because he did have a well-run office. Well, you’ve got to take your choice. I think King has made the wise choices in all the things he has done and Lomax, who was aware of this, in his criticizing, I think was unfair. These were some of the criticisms of the book. Also, NAACP has made a long list of all the inaccuracies in describing the NAACP policy. We can get you a copy of it.
Well, that brings up another question -- Lomax says that there is some evidence of a crisis in Negro leadership now. He wants to discover the power in the movement. Of what moment is the competition or struggle for power growth of leadership -- what’s the nature of it? There’s bound to be, of course, a debate about politics -- people don’t agree on politics. Is there more than this here?
Rev. Johnson: I’m going to ask Jim to take the first shot. He was down in Richmond, Va. two weeks ago at the SCLC’s conference and the report he brought back to me, especially about the --
Rev. Peters: Of course there has been an inter-service rivalry in the Civil Rights warfare also but a lot of persons have blown it up and made it more pronounced than it is. For many years the NAACP has been the organization and incidentally, all of the Civil Rights people belong to the NAACP, but the NAACP has been the organization that is taking the slow, almost conservative, legalistic approach. Lately the ________ on racial equality which is about 22 years old and the LCLC which is about 7 years old, have taken on a more exciting, direct-action approach and because of this and because of their differences of opinions, the white press in particular has made a great deal of these differences between the organizations and the Negro press to some degree but not as much as the white. Well, Albany, Ga. was the first place where all of the organizations worked together and then of course, the meetings leading up to the March on Washington were a dramatic example of the fact that they were going to work together and I was in Richmond at the SCLS conference last month where the principal speaker was Roy Wilkins and the theme of the convention was the theme of national CORE and that is -- freedom now -- and Roy Wilkins in his opening remarks said -- Martin, there are a lot of people who don’t want to see us on the same platform but we are fighting for the same thing and we are going to be together at least until this war is over. I think this says in clear form that we are not really struggling for power. On the local scene there may be questions from various Negro leaders but in Cambridge, Maryland Gloria Richardson, although she’s not well -- she’s connected with SMCC’s organization, she is a leader in and in Englewood it seems to be Joe Burke. In other places, other leaders, but we are all fighting for the same thing and any of the national leaders could come in and speak to these local groups. I was at the funeral of the children in Birmingham who were killed in the bomb blast at the 16th Street church and who gave the only statement besides the minister? Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King. At the funeral of Medgar Evers, who was an NAACP leader, who was there? Farmer, King and Wilkins. We are all together really in this struggle and so the struggle for Negro leadership is a small one. It is not as much -- who is going to do is as -- Will it be done? That means most to the average Negro.
Rev. Johnson: I just want to add briefly to that, that I agree wholeheartedly with what Jim has just said -- our differences are overplayed by leaders. Jim and I have sat in cars on long rides and saw some of these leaders and heard them talk intimately. There has been no more dissension then you’d expect to find normally in any such situation, I don’t think. I admired what Adam Clayton Powell said when he called King the #1 man. King is the kind of man who can accept this humbly. He may get the greatest applause but he isn’t fooled. He knows, for example, that in Birmingham for example Jim, there is Constance Baker Martin -- he needed her to fight this local thing. There are so many aspects that each group needs the other and there are groups that, in a sense, have become specialists in certain things and some day we are going to have some demonstrations that will show this country more than the March on Washington how little these arguments are. People struggle for power, I think, because it brings the prestige they need but all of these leaders can get all the press releases they want, they can get press notices, etc. and believe me, there is no money at the top. This is in the sight of God and every man’s life, so to speak, is on the spot.
I would like to have you both speak about the question of unions, if you will and discrimination against Negroes in unions. This, I must say, came to my attention rather late. I was not aware of it until a few years ago and I assume there is a minimum of this, not knowing a great deal about unionism in the north.
Rev. Peters: There are no Negroes in the plumbers’ and electricians’ unions in Bridgeport and this includes all of Fairfield County, I am sure and in the union that serves Bridgeport there have been some terrific conversations about it and some promises have been made in the last ten days that something will be done about it. There are qualified Negroes who have applied and have not gotten in. There are Negroes in some of the other unions. I know a Negro who is president of the union in a plant and there are only 110 Negroes in the plant. This is a plant that hires nearly 1,000 and a Negro is president of the union. This is one of the companies here but in the plumbers’ and electricians’ unions there are no Negroes. This problem comes about – well, the problems in the construction unions, for instance, come about because it seems a lot of the fellows bring their brothers. Pure and simple -- they do bring their good friends or brothers or cousins or something. Negroes are more or less eliminated because the jobs are gone, more or less, before the Negro hears about them and there is no excuse for the unions not hiring Negroes because it is a vicious cycle -- you can’t get the job because you don’t belong to the union -- you can’t join the union because you don’t have a job.
Do you think that the fact that it discriminates against the Negro has undercut, undermined the Negro’s faith in the process of the union, the function of the union, in the sense of criticism of the role of the union in labor? Do you have any evidence on it?
Rev. Peters: I think the Negro accepts the union theory because it means equality, but where Negroes are excluded from the union they just want to get in because they feel that once they are in, they will have this equality.
Rev. Johnson: I think there may be some cynicism but I don’t think it’s very widespread. I know that many fellows I know in the church and community, work hard in the union, work hard for it -- they wear union clothes, they insist on union shops, they’re union-minded, but there is a certain amount of distrust -- no more distrust however than a man develops at a certain age, that is developed by all men in all instances where the institution is run by human beings. The kind of distrust that he has to be watchful and careful and he has to be especially watchful and careful because he is Negro.