Galamison describes what he desires for African Americans in terms of integration, and he discusses African American identification with Africa. Galamison contends that African Americans, by and large, are much closer culturally to the United States than they are to Africa and he claims that some degree of integration should be possible even in areas where people of one race constitute the overwhelming majority. Galamison contends that class discrimination exists in the United States alongside race discrimination, and he discusses proposals to integrate New York City's schools. He also discusses his decision to send his son to private school and the responsibility he believes people have to improve the public school system. Galamison considers the leadership and tactics of the civil rights movement, and he also discusses how desegregation might unfold differently in the North than in the South. Galamison contends that, during his lifetime, he has witnessed a decided shift in popular opinion against discrimination, and he closes the interview by claiming that an African American's duty to further the movement is to stand up against circumstances that victimize him or her.
Image: Original caption: 3/16/1964-New York, NY- The Reverend Milton Galamison, leader of the March 16th school boycott, leads white children into the predominantly Negro P.S.21 in Brooklyn. Galamison said if the children were denied entry they would attend a freedom school at his Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. The boycott was not as successful as the first civil rights boycott of New York City schools on February 3rd, but still at least a fourth of the students stayed away from classes. Copyright Bettmann/Corbis.
Audio courtesy of the University of Kentucky.
Milton A. Galamison
Milton A. Galamison (1923-1988) was a minister and civil rights activist. A native of Philadelphia, Galamison completed his undergraduate degree at Lincoln University. He received a master's degree in theology from the Princeton Theological Seminary. Galamison worked as pastor of the Siloam Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York, one of the largest Presbyterian congregations in New York City, from 1949 until 1988. During the 1960s he led a number of protests and demonstrations in New York City. These included a September 1962 parent sit-in at the New York Board of Education to protest school segregation and a July 1963 demonstration to demand that more African American and Puerto Rican workers be hired to work on public construction projects. Galamison was arrested nine separate times for his participation in various forms of civil disobedience. In 1964 and 1965 Galamison served as chairman of the Citywide Committee for School Integration. In 1968 and 1969 he served on the Board of Education and became its vice president.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
RPW: This is Tape #1 of a conversation with the Reverend Galamison, June 17. Proceed. …may provoke something. Do Negroes want real integration, or what Eric Lincoln calls – quoting him – a conspicuous superficial integration which relieves them of any self hatred and insecurity but allows them to lead a life separate from white society? Let’s talk toward that general topic.
Rev. G: Well, of course, integration doesn’t mean leading a life separate from the mainstream of society. Integration, on the other hand, may not mean assimilation and loss of identity, and this is what I think Negro people are trying to make clear, that Negro people don’t want to feel that they have to completely lose their identity to the degree that there is a culture difference or a color difference. The color difference of course we cannot lose. There must be integration and acceptance in spite of whatever differences may exist, and what disturbs many Negroes in terms of talking about integration is that it’s felt by some that we must completely lose our identity. So I would put it this way, that I think the Negro wants integration into the mainstream of American life in terms of jobs, in terms of education, in terms of the ability to purchase a home and live where he wants to live, and to really partake of the fruits and advantages and opportunities of American society. He does not, however, want to sacrifice being a Negro or to feel so much disrespect for himself that he doesn’t accept himself as a person in order to achieve it. And I don’t think it’s necessary that the Negro completely lose his identity.
RPW: Do you remember the article by Norman Podhoretz in Commentary a little while ago, in which he said the only solution for the race question is assimilation – do you remember that article?
Rev. G: I remember the article and I’ve heard the point of view expressed before, but I don’t agree with this point of view. I feel that if – well, that we are not that limited as human beings, that we cannot accept people in spite of differences, and if complete assimilation means losing our identity, then this we will never do as a people. And there may be some question about what the word “assimilation” means in its deepest aspects, but assimilation even to me at – if this is the term we want to use – doesn’t actually mean losing one’s identity.
RPW: He’s talking about actual blood absorption, of course – Podhoretz is.
Rev. G: Well, there’s been a great deal of that already. I think only a small percentage of Negroes in this country are now actually whole blooded Negro people, as it were. And yet the Negroes who are not altogether Negroid, that is, who apparently are the result of intermingling, are still regarded as Negro. And I think that this will continue to be the situation, and I don’t see that anything is particularly wrong with it. But Negro people are going to have to be accepted as Negro people. We can’t wait till the whole human race in the United States is so intermingled and so confused that everybody has lost his racial identity.
RPW: That is, you view it as a kind of pluralistic society with individual choices being the criterion of all major relationships, is that it?
Rev. G: This is true. And I understand that there are other cultures where the differences of people are respected, and where the differences of people do not represent insurmountable barriers to unity and to living together and to sharing all the other things that human beings share. I feel that we in America are going to have to get to this point where we will accept people, not because they are like we are necessarily, but because they’re people.
RPW: This leads off in several directions. One is Du Bois’ old notion of some split in the Negro psyche, the pull toward the absorption into the Western European American cultural complex, the other being the pull toward African or the American Negro tradition, the real problem for some Negroes and still is for some Negroes by their own account. You don’t feel this is an issue, I gather.
Rev. G: It is an issue in a sense, but only because we are passing through a certain period in American history. My feeling is that the extreme leaning toward African culture among Negro people is based on the rejection and the lack of acceptance that the Negro people is based on the rejection and the lack of acceptance that the Negro has felt in his own culture. It’s also due largely to the fact that Negroes feel that everybody has to have a home base and just as the Jewish people for example have re-established Jerusalem, or Israel, as it were, and have the right now to call this home, Negroes need some place to call home in order to give them a complete feeling of identity and status as human beings in the world. Now, this, however – this whole idea of the relationship to Africa, I think, has been grossly exaggerated. I think, for example, that the American Negro is much closer to American culture than he could possibly be to African culture, that we cannot write off three hundred years. However horrible they may have been in the experience of any Negroes, and however unwelcome the Negro may have felt in this culture over these three hundred years, he certainly is much more closely related to the American scene and the mainstream of American life than he is to the major ways of life in Africa at the moment. And if many Negroes were to go to Africa they would see this.
RPW: As Richard Wright found out.
Rev. G: Yes. Richard Wright, after being disillusioned in America went to France, and after being disillusioned in France went to Africa, and died a disillusioned man, realizing that he didn’t have the kind of affinity with African culture that he thought he would have.
RPW: On the matter of integration again, Oscar Handlin’s recent book, A Bell in the Night, makes a sharp distinction between integration and equality, and he goes on to say that the emphasis on integration can actually turn that word into a shibboleth while the real focus should be on problems of equality. Does this distinction concern you? Is this a fundamental distinction?
Rev. G: Yes, it may be a meaningful distinction, but so long as the Negro feels that his failure to achieve equality is due basically to his race, then he has to work in other areas. My opinion is – and I’m trying to turn this over in my mind – my opinion is that the only real equality for Negroes in America is integration. That is, short of integration he has no equality. Short of his participation in the mainstream of American life in terms of the same education that everyone is getting, in terms of the same kind of housing everyone else is getting, in terms of the same kind of housing everyone else is getting, and in terms of the same kind of employment that everyone else is getting, he can’t have any kind of equality. And these areas of life are denied him basically, we feel, anyway, because of race.
RPW: Undoubtedly that’s true. Let’s say, the racial difference has made for inferiority of opportunity of various kinds. We know that, beyond the shadow of a doubt. I think he has in mind some specific problems that arise. Now, one problem would be the problem you have been intimately associated with, that is, the integration of the New York schools. The problem of just the racial, Negro and white children of school age in public school systems. How can you integrate, you see, in the absolute sense, given that situation. This is a problem you have given a great deal of thought to. He was – in Washington, D.C., for instance, where integration as such, he would say, is not the prior concern because of special just numerical problems. It has to be approached on terms of equality then, not in terms of integration as such.
Rev. G: Well, you see, if you accept the philosophy behind the Supreme Court decision, that apart from integration in the public school system there can’t be any equality, then it’s difficult to accept this premise that this particular gentleman is holding forth. I agree that there are some areas in which the Negro problem must be solved apart from integration. Education I would contend though is not one of them. I agree, too, that in some areas in the educational system we have a growing number of Negroes in proportion to white. This should not be a barrier to integration. It should not be assumed that white people always have to be in the majority in a particular situation before integration should be attempted or effective. This is another bad philosophy I think that we are victims – of which we are victims, let me put it that way. The statistical problem or the logistics problem in most areas is not at all insurmountable, and there is hardly any area, however urbanized it may be, where a meaningful degree of integration cannot be achieved. Now, if this particular author is saying that there are some problems in America which even transcend the race problem I would certainly agree with this.
RPW: That is, class -
Rev. G: Class, yes, indeed – I certainly agree that there are some that transcend the race problem. I would agree that we have a class problem too, that needs to be overcome, that discrepancies in income and disparities between classes of people have not been resolved by the democratic system as many people felt they would be resolved. However -
RPW: Both black and white you’re talking about now.
Rev. G: Yes – and black and white people suffer from the class stratifications in the culture. But the Negro not only wears the badge of an inferior class because of his color, no matter how comparable he may be in every other respect, culturally, educationally and monetarily, he is still an inferior misfit in the minds of other people within the framework of the culture. What disturbs me most, though, about the thinking of many people in our society is they think that class prejudice and class discrimination is more forgivable than race discrimination, and my contention is that any kind of discrimination or any kind of prejudice is bad, no matter on what superficial basis it may be exercised.
RPW: To what extent would you accept the present program of the New York school system? What reservations do you have about that program now?
Rev. G: My feeling is that there are two school systems really in New York City, not one. One system is the all white school system and to a degree the integrated school system, and the other system is the segregated school system which certainly is not producing the best in terms of our Negro children. That is, the discrepancy is seen mostly in the academic performance, and the academic performance of the children in the segregated schools is invidious by comparison to the academic performances of the children in the first system that I allege to exist. Now, my major criticism is that if we don’t solve the segregation problem we haven’t solved any basic problem, because this is the basic problem. My feeling is that all the prejudices and discriminations of the culture which affects the Negro in housing and in employment and in areas of social life, that is, I don’t want a Negro in my home, I wouldn’t want a Negro to marry my daughter, are also brought to bear on the Negro in the educational system. Tragically enough, people refuse to recognize this, and that we need an integrated school system not only to protect the Negro from what happens to be white dominated school system, but we also need an integrated school system to protect white children from the arrogances and the racial supremacy feelings that they are inclined to feel, being defended – I put that in quotation marks – from contact and classroom relationships with Negro children. The whole culture, unfortunately, the pattern of the culture dictates the impossibility of having an equal educational system that is segregated. Now, New York City has not made meaningful steps in the direction of desegregating the school system. They are hedging and avoiding and procrastinating, and managing all kinds of efforts which are not bringing about the timely and the planned desegregation of the school system. They feel free to place the onus for integration on some Negroes in terms of open enrollment, but they do not feel that white children apparently should be inconvenienced in any way to help bring about a desegregated classroom, and this is the thing that distresses me.
RPW: What about the acceptance of the present proposal by the various organizations. How do you react to their acceptance?
Rev. G: These proposals of course have not been accepted at all, as far as I can see. That while the board of education publicly cried that organizations that were interested in desegregating school system ought to submit plans, it is not my feeling that these plans and programs submitted by the organizations were ever taken very seriously. Secondly, everyone knows that it would be almost illegal for the board of education to take a plan or a program submitted by a secular group or a layman’s group or a civil rights group and to impose this plan upon the city. So there wasn’t really, I don’t feel, much sincerity behind these demands for plans and programs to be submitted, but they did manage with these demands to divert the public from the real issue, and that is that the board was not desegregating the school system. Now, to further dramatize what I accuse to be insincerity, our board of education dumped the responsibility for developing a plan ultimately on the state, and Commissioner Allen of New York State appointed a three-man committee here in New York City to work out a program. This program was worked out and printed up within the space of about two months and became known as the Allen proposals. Then Dr. Gross came out with a plan behind the Allen proposals, after saying this is the kind of thing around which we ought to rally, which almost completely bypassed the Allen proposals and which was a diametrical contradiction actually of what Commissioner Allen had proposed. And this is about where we are at the moment. This plan has been modified to a degree, and some embellishments have been placed on it, and some of the civil rights groups have said they will now support Dr. Gross’s plan, but it still falls far short of the Allen proposal which was supposed to have been some kind of an official proposal with status, and there just doesn’t seem to be any serious intent on the part of educational officials to implement with purposeful and deliberate speed a desegregation program in the city.
RPW: That is, you would not go along with the other organizations in these provisional acceptance of the Gross plan?
Rev. G: In a sense I must go along, because some of my people were involved in the deliberations, and I was not when perhaps I ought to have been. So I must of necessity support the Gross plan because I indicated that everyone should exercise his own judgment in relation to the Gross plan. However, personally I am far from satisfied with it and I still think it’s a complete betrayal of the Allen report.
RPW: Here’s the kind of problem that we often get stuck with, the question of your relation to your own children and your relation to the public school system. If my information is correct about the private school – well, one child is.
Rev. G: Yes, well, now, about the public school system, of course, the public school system here as in many areas of the country, is deficient, and one would wish that people might unite to protect the school system or to improve it, as it were – I meant, improve it. But one of the reasons why whites don’t realize how badly the school system needs improvement is because the Negro situation is so much worse, and because there is some playing of the Negro community against the white community, and it’s been difficult to achieve unity because of the integration struggle, and the school system does not generally improve. Frankly, I would say that the profession of teaching is suffering as are many professions. We seem to be getting more and more people today in all kinds of work who are only salary conscious and clock watchers and who do not take professional pride in their work, who are not artistic about their professional activities and of course workers like this don’t produce the best kind of results. I think the school system is suffering from the kind of professional deterioration that almost every profession is in this country. I think this would be true of nursing, I think it would be true of the ministry, I think it would be true of medicine, and a number of other areas.
RPW: On the question of your own son, you thought you couldn’t sacrifice his development in terms of supporting an abstract principle, is that it?
Rev. G: Well, let me put it this way. My son’s being in private school was not at all related to this struggle in the beginning. I don’t think I was involved in this struggle, if I remember correctly, when we first put our youngster into private school. He started in a nursery school. It was simply a matter of having him in school and my wife was working and we felt it was time sort of wean him away from home. Now, when he got the age where he was ready to enter public school, there came a question of whether he should go to my wife’s school where she taught or whether he should go to some other public school. Well, now, if he had gone another public school there would have been no one home to care for him in terms of lunch and that sort of thing. And my wife didn’t feel that it would be an objective situation to have him in her school where she was teaching. So we continued him on in private school. Then by the time he got to the age when he might have gone to public school, I was so involved in this struggle and I was being so vilified by many people in the school system that I did not feel that I should expose my child to the kind of attitude which I knew prevailed in the school system against me among many principals and teachers. I did not feel that he could be dealt with objectively and I think he’s paid a high enough price for what his father is doing simply in terms of, you know, absence from home and all this sort of thing. At least he’s entitled to the best education we can give him and this is what we’re trying to do.
RPW: Let’s try to find a parallel problem on the part – or see how far we find a parallel problem – let’s explore it – on the part of a parent who says I believe in integrated schools – who honestly does believe in integrated schools, let’s say – let’s posit this man – but I don’t want my child now put in the schools as they exist to support this matter of integration. I want to keep the child here so I can protect his interests, next year and the year after and the year after, whatever period you say. Now, he’s over a kind of barrel too, isn’t he? As I was over as you were over.
Rev. G: Well, it depends on what our motivations are, and whether -
RPW: Assume this man is honest, you see, and really wanted to integrate the schools, integrate society. But who will say no, I won’t permit this, I’ll fight it, because the school he’ll go to can’t be made decent within three years or four years.
Rev. G: Well, this may be, and of course this is the right of private choice, for people to send their child to public schools or to private school.
RPW: Or to fight the transfer – that’s his right too, legally.
Rev. G: Well, he can fight a transfer. You see, if it’s not at that expense of what you’re trying to do to the school system or what you’re trying to do to other children. You see, when you talk about sending children to private school, I contend that for many white parents in the New York City community they have a private school anyway. The only difference is everybody is paying for it. And not only is it a private school, it’s a kind of school from which they – in which they are protected from anything that they may not want in it including Negroes. So this is my argument. You know, when it comes to the integration situation here in New York City, my contention is that we don’t even have a public school system in many respects, that it’s being operated for the benefit of some at the expense of others, and of course it’s being operated, I would content, at the expense of the children who are not faring well or who are being deprived because of the pattern of the culture, and the feelings in the culture, which generally exist toward Negro or minority group children.
RPW: That’s clear. There’s no argument about that I think. I don’t think anybody could reasonably say there is an argument about that. It’s a question of how you deal with a man who though he may be mistaken thinks he’s acting for the good of his child even against his – a certain set of principles he may believe in. It’s not a question of good guys versus bad guys, is what I’m getting at in this matter.
Rev. G: Well, this of course is a matter of opinion. I don’t that – you know, I’m interested in categorizing people as bad guys necessarily, but I think that we have lived too long in America where we are willing to entertain the prejudices and discriminations of some people, however much they may exist to the disadvantage of other people, and still we’re willing to label these people decent people. Now, I think we’ve just got to get to the point in this culture where we realize that people who do not treat other people as human beings because of their race or their color are not functioning as human beings themselves, that you can’t dehumanize someone else without dehumanizing yourself to a degree, that you can’t be dishonest and unfair to other people without being dishonest and fair innately as a person, and that we can no longer accept this as something that just happens to people, and accept it as a perfectly normal thing, you see. So I couldn’t agree with you in terms of your description of the kind of person you’re talking about. Such a person is objectionable to me as a person, and I think that, you know, too long we have paid the price for people this in the culture and allowed them to feel that they’re wonderful people when really they are not.
RPW: Well, now, what about the person – another hypothetical case – who elects the private school, say, as I have elected against my principles. I still pay my taxes but I put my child and my own enthusiasm into the private school – against my will.
Rev. G: Now, this is an individual right. On the other hand, I would argue – and this is my criticism of you – I would argue that we have a responsibility to correct those things in the public school system which may have prompted us to send our children to private school. In other words, we still have a responsibility I think to all children, and if we do try to salvage our child, at least we still ought to continue fighting in the public school area.
RPW: Suppose a man down the road who fights the transfer system – still fighting for the improvement of schools so he could transfer. He is in the same moral position as I would be or you, wouldn’t he be? He’s still working to change the schools, make them adequate – up the road, there. Change the school he doesn’t want his child to go to now. Excuse me, just a minute. I’ve got the change the tape. This is the end of Tape #1 with the Reverend Galamison. See Tape #2.
(end of tape)
TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
RPW: Tape #2 with Reverend Galamison – proceed.
Rev. G: Yes. We are affirming the right of people to send their children to private or public schools. Beyond this, the motivations and the truth or inaccuracy behind the motivation must be considered. And in terms of the question raised I would say this, that a man may have a right to take his child out of an integrated school because he feels that the standards are going to go down because the school becomes desegregated – I’m saying this is his right. But there would be almost no scientific data to support his supposition that the standards are going to go down. That is, let me put it this way – while the standards of the school generally may be lowered because you’re bringing in a group of children who are below standard in terms of over-all norms the standards may go down. The standards of the individual child do not go down. That is, in those experiments and pilot projects that have been attempted in various places around the country, the last two reports came out on pilot projects in California on Christmas day – it’s indicated that those children who were performing continued to perform, that the standards of those children that are up to norm and above norm continue at the same pace, and that over a period of time those who are behind in their standards catch up. So while I’m saying that this is a very realistic and understandable fear that people ought to understand whether their fears have any real foundation before they operate on the basis of these fears.
RPW: That point, Mr. Galamison, is a little different – though I’m glad you spoke to that one too. The man who believes in integration and says, if you come to the school where my child now is I’ll welcome you, but if my child is transferred I will protest it, I will fight it, because it would be to an inferior school.
Rev. G: Well, you see, it isn’t the school itself, the building, that’s inferior – if the Negro child is behind standards, below standards, let me put it that way, he’s going to be below standard whether he moves to the white school or whether the white children move into his school. I content that this is not the issue behind the refusal on the part of people to transfer. Only one construction can be put on the kind of attitude which says it’s all right for Negro children to transfer into my community, but I will not have my children transfer or travel to a Negro school, and the construction that I would put on this is just race arrogance. This is all it is. And an assumption that integration is completely to the benefit of the Negro without realizing that there are many other values apart from academic values which would accrue to the white child in a situation like this, you see. And I content that it’s only a lopsided master racist feeling that allows people to make expressions like this. I don’t mind if Negroes transfer to my school but I will not support any integration effort which involves the movement or inconvenience of my own child. I mean, children are children. Why should a white child be any better to transfer to effect from desegregation than a Negro child, you see, and it’s because the school system supports this arrogance and this lopsidedness that we protest, because this is precisely what the New York City system is willing to do – transfer Negro children all over the place even on a compulsory basis, but refuses to transfer white children. Do you understand what I’m saying?
RPW: On the question of transfer I think what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander as far as inconvenience is concerned. I wasn’t raising that question. I was simply taking the case where the child – white child in school A would be transferred to school B, which is for the moment an inferior school, irrespective of race, you see.
Rev. G: Yes, but you see, but the school is inferior because no white children are in it. Now, by this I don’t mean that Negro children are inherently inferior – this is not what I’m saying at all. The question goes right to the heart of why the Negro school is inferior, and the Negro school is inferior because of the racial and cultural attitudes and ethnalcentricims that the average teacher brings to the school, and the school is inferior because there are no white children in the school to protect the Negro child from a white school system.
RPW: All right. Now, let’s say this – if – how long would it take to make that school equally good – bring school B to school A? – That is to say, the Negro school up to the school A which is predominantly white, say?
Rev. G: If it were done in the right way and with real purposefulness, this can be done with the repopulating of the school and the revising of the curriculum over a summer. That is, when the school opens in the fall the standards are set – new standards – the curriculum which is a comparable curriculum has been revised, the teaching staff has been carefully selected, and all the elements that go into the making of a good school can go into this school. Now, maybe you still – you have the Negro children in it, you see. These children may not catch up right away, but over a period of time they will if history is accurate in any way catch up to the others.
RPW: I think that clarifies some of the things I had in mind. Let me ask you about the present collision between Dr. Kenneth Clark and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. What seems to be at stake in that collision? In terms of social good?
Rev. G: I have been avoiding dealing with this question publicly because there are so many aspects here that can be verbalized and misunderstood. I would suggest, first of all, that much of the – I hate to say this – don’t have this typed out – I mean, I’m saying I hate to say it -
RPW: You’ll have a transcript anyway.
Rev. G: First of all, there appears to be a problem of controlling the funds. This is a natural problem that would arise over a hundred million dollar grant to a community, and I think that basically this is the local struggle – who will have charge of distributing the funds and who will control the personnel that handles the purse strings. But secondly, the question about the degree to which this is political is – well, it’s a question that almost doesn’t require an answer, because my feeling is that this war against poverty operation represents a new kind of political patronage anyway, that no longer do we have a number of jobs an old types of patronage to distribute as political powers, but this idea of social work, this idea of getting into the community and involving as many people as possible and making large grants in terms of funds, is pretty much a political operation. I’m not saying it’s bad – it’s very good in its effects, and it’s very good in what it intends to do, but I don’t think anybody should overlook the basic motivation behind it, and the basic motivation behind it is I think a political motivation. I had a hard time getting that out. I’ve been dodging this question of course.
RPW: Congressman Powell told me that all of the old leadership is dead – they’re finished. That is, all the organizations – the Urban League, the NAACP and all the rest of them, all are dead. The new leadership will be recruited from other sources. How would you respond to that remark?
Rev. G: I would say that this depends on the manner in which established organizations (interruption) – I agree that there is movement among the people that transcends at this moment movement among the constituted civil rights organizations. However, I would take the position that the degree to which the civil rights organization survived depends on how they will keep pace with what goes on. That is, I’m not at all convinced that the established organizations are going to let the people completely go by them and not fit in in any way in terms of serving the needs and aspirations of the people who are on the move. My feeling is that they may well do this. I think that there is a place in the struggle at this point for all kinds of levels of operation. For example, I think that the white community has great confidence in the established civil rights organization, much more so than it has confidence in the smaller organizations or in the new movements which are springing up. This means that they will continue to support the established organizations, and it also means that the degree to which white support is won to various efforts may depend on the degree to which the established civil rights groups will involve themselves in this effort. It’s just a little difficult for me to believe that established civil rights groups are going to allow themselves to be left by the side of the road in this struggle.
RPW: How do you define the nature of the new impulse you say that is – that has been manifesting itself in the masses. What is the nature of that impulse? How would you define it?
Rev. G: It is, I think, a growing feeling of frustration of a growing intolerance with injustice. That is, for a long time I think the Negro people did not protest against their own plight and I felt that there was no way out of their own plight. For a long time I think Negro people accepted the image of themselves that had been projected by white society, and regarded themselves in many ways as undeserving and inferior, and white society as superior. However, I think that these attitudes no longer exist among the masses of the people, and that Negro people are beginning to more and more realize that their deprivation is not due to any inferiority on their own part but due more so to a moral lapse on the part of white society, and that they have – or their predicament has been created by the cultural and social and economic influences which are hangovers really of the slavery ear, and that with this new image of himself and with this new understanding of the perpetration of injustices and discriminations on the part of white society, the Negro masses are moving to – if not redeem themselves, certainly to rescue their children from these historic practices.
RPW: Did you see the review in the New York Times Book Review two weeks ago of a new book on the race question – Crisis in Black and White – in a review by Mr. Saunders Redding?
Rev. G: No, I didn’t.
RPW: That rather undercuts my question. He was saying this – quite the opposite of what you were saying. He was outraged because the author of this book had said that the great crisis in the Negro revolution was a re-definition of identity.
Rev. G: Well, this is pretty much what I have said.
RPW: That’s what you said – yes.
Rev. G: This is not at all far afield from the same thing that I’m saying, and I believe infinitely that a man’s own opinion of himself is a very important thing, and if you have a feeling of pride and self-respect about yourself, then you do not allow people to do to you some of the things that you would permit when you don’t have a sense of pride and a sense of self-respect. And I think that the Negro people have grown in pride and have grown in respect and have altered their own image of themselves considerably and they have also altered their image of white society, and that with this altered image of society generally the Negro has found motivation to fight and not accept the kinds of situations in which he permitted himself to be placed before.
RPW: Yes, that’s the question I had hoped you would speak to. A moment ago you were talking about white – it wasn’t acceptance but it may have been cooperation – with the established organizations. This implied the efficacy of the movement involved somehow white attitude and white activity. Now, what is the role of the, say, the white man – liberal, I almost said – who is spoken so badly of by James Baldwin and others in relation to the movement. The person who has some sympathy with the Negro aspirations and some sense of the justice of their claim. What’s his role?
Rev. G: I happen to be one of the people who feels that this struggle will not and cannot be won without the active participation of white people. In fact, I have said jestingly sometimes that I think white people are going to take the civil rights movement over and perhaps this is not a jest. Perhaps this is the way it ought to be. I remember after a meeting in the Sheepshead Bay one evening, being interrogated by a number of vociferous white parents in the school lobby who were distressed by some of the things that I had said, and there was a white man in the community who stood beside me and who said, this is our fight – you know – this is my fight with you – this is our fight with each other. Don’t badger him with these kinds of questions. I don’t know that he wasn’t right, and I don’t know that there is a great deal of work to be done among white people and also with Negro people in the civil rights area, that white people cannot involve themselves and very effectively. When you inquire after the role of white people in the struggle, I feel that white people have an indispensable role in this struggle, and I think a good bit of it is among white people as well as with Negro people.
RPW: That’s not quite James Baldwin’s remark that the white liberal is an affliction, unless we stop to re-define liberal there.
Rev. G: Well, I think the word liberal has become so distorted that it’s almost impossible to define what a white liberal is at the moment. I don’t know that I would agree altogether with Mr. Baldwin. I don’t know that he would expect me to. Max Lerner complains – he’s a great admirer of Baldwin’s literary genius – but he complains that Baldwin doesn’t leave him any alternative, that is, that Baldwin condemns him for what he hasn’t done and then accuses him of some peculiar motivations for what he might do, so that he doesn’t know what to do. I think what Mr. Baldwin is saying in essence – and I’m taking great liberty in trying to say this – what Mr. Baldwin is saying in essence is that a great many white people bring to the civil rights struggle the same kind paternalism and the same kind of rugged indifference to the feelings and the aspirations of the Negro that they have exercised in other areas, and that this is not a good place for feelings of paternalism and feelings of domination that white people who get in the struggle must brings their cooperation and they must bring their gifts and share them with the Negro people, but that they must not try to take over, as it were, you know, within Negro groups, the leadership or the pace at which the movement, you know, will go, and they must not try to dictate and fall back on the same old patterns, you see, of missionary-ism.
RPW: Right. Let me read a question – or statement, rather, by Dr. Kenneth Clark about Dr. King’s philosophy. On the surface, King’s philosophy appears to reflect health and stability, while Black Nationalism betrays pathology and instability. A deeper analysis might reveal that there is also an unrealistic if not pathological basis for King’s doctrine. The natural reaction to injustice is resentment. The form that such resentment takes need not be overtly violent, but the corrosion of the spirit seems inevitable. It would seem, therefore, that any demand that the victim of oppression be required to love those who oppress them places an additional and intolerable psychological burden upon the victim. How does that strike you?
Rev. G: The remark amazes me because Dr. Clark is a psychologist, and it would just seem to me that a psychologist of all people would know that hate is a consuming passion, and that hate does as much harm, if not more, to the individual who entertains that hate, who internalizes that hate, than it does to the objects of the individual’s hatred. That when we are motivated by hate or any other consuming passion, we do not function objectively, we do not function realistically, as it were, and that no man can afford to live motivated by hate. In other words, let me put it this way – it’s one thing if an enemy tries to destroy you, but he has driven you to the supreme destruction when he can drive you to self destruction, which is a consuming hatred of him or of anybody else.
RPW: That is, you support the philosophical basis of Dr. King’s non-violent policy as well as a practical basis, is that right?
Rev. G: Yes, I think I would support both. I would also add that one can act against a wrong or an injustice or an enemy without hating the enemy. That is, the fact that I do not hate the person who is exercising some kind of evil against me doesn’t mean that I can’t rise up and fight him and defend myself against him and move to correct the injustice that I think needs fighting. In other words, activity doesn’t have to be born of hatred.
RPW: Nor does it have to be violent – is that also a coorelary [corollary]?
Rev. G: Yes – nor does it have to be violent. I would say this, I am not sure that every effort of this magnitude might not be served in some way by some segment that’s willing to retaliate in kind. But I think that history teaches us that violence begets violence and that ultimately in the long run, violence isn’t the real answer to anything.
RPW: If I understood you correctly, you were saying that you were not certain but that some violence – a dash of salt in the stew – might serve a good end. Is that right?
Rev. G: Well, let me put it this way -
RPW: Something’s going to happen anyway.
Rev. G: Yes. Passive resistance and nonviolence assume a civilized enemy – a human enemy, or at least a human enemy, and this of course is not always true. There are, as the Scripture puts it, some adders that cannot be charmed. And it does give some people comfort in their exercising of evil to know that nobody’s going to strike back in kind. Therefore, I contend that this is not a certainty in which a man should be allowed to rest, that nobody will ever do unto him as he has done unto them, and while I believe that violence is not the ultimate answer or the best answer to anything, I think that violence can have a certain restraining effect on the person who is doing the evil. That is, if a man who does injustice or exercises injustice against a group of people or against another man, is not quite sure whether he will suffer the same in retaliation, he will be restrained.
RPW: That is, a few rifle clubs is O.K. – is that right?
Rev. G: Well, we have a few rifle clubs, and about this rifle club business, that is, whether we are for rifle clubs or against rifle clubs, I ask people have they ever been against the existence of rifle clubs before, that is, if we’re against rifle clubs or are we just against Negroes having rifle clubs. And it seems to me that people who intend to live by justice and by truth and by mutual respect and decency should not have to fear Negroes having a rifle club any more than they fear existing white rifle clubs, don’t you see.
RPW: Yes, that would be true enough. What I really meant to say is this – in a place like, say, Mississippi, if we want a little violence, a little salt in the stew, just to keep it straight, you know, the record straight, then someone should in Machiavellian spirit, have a kind of stern gang, a little gang of dedicated retaliators, or would that follow, or just trust nature to take care of that?
Rev. G: Yes, well, what I’m trying to say is, while I’m not – I refuse to advocate violence as a principle, that some group – and almost all oppressed people have had such a group – that will retaliate in kind, might serve some kind of purpose in bringing about a swifter resolution of a problem that exists. This is what I’m trying to say. In general about rifle clubs I am not opposed to anybody’s having a rifle club. In Mississippi if white people are permitted to have weapons then Negro people ought to be permitted to have weapons. In other words, I just refuse to separate people racially in terms of the right to bear arms. This is the right I think of every person in this country, and if we’re in the same kind of situation where some people might have more respect for the rights of others and might be less inclined to commit violence against others if they had arms, then certainly these people have a right to have arms just as everyone else does.
RPW: I have heard it advocated – this is the Conference on Non-Violence at Howard University last fall – that perhaps there should be a calculated policy among Negroes of the brinksmanship of violence, to use the phrase used there, to toy with violence, violence as a short [sort] of lethal threat in the air, even though not forced all the way.
Rev. G: I think that nonviolence does this. I think that passive resistance does this anyway, that the objective end of nonviolence and passive resistance defined by sitting in and demonstrating, is to precipitate the opposition to violence.
RPW: End of Tape #2 of the conversation with Mr. Galamison. See Tape #3.
(end of tape)
TAPE 3 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
RPW: This is Tape #3 of the conversation with the Reverend Galamison – proceed. You mentioned demonstrations. Do you distinguish in your mind between an illegitimate type of demonstration and a legitimate? For an example, certain organizations oppose the stall-in demonstration, and many individuals did, as being illegitimate. Yet at the same time supporting other types of demonstrations. What kind of distinction do you make in your mind on such a point?
Rev. G: In my opinion, any demonstration short of violence is a legitimate demonstration. I think one of the mistakes we make is to suppose that we should only have those kinds of demonstrations that are going to meet with general approval. And my contention is that the demonstrations of the type which meets with general approval are the demonstrations that are least likely to accomplish anything. That is, one doesn’t devise a demonstration on the basis of the degree to which it’s going to please people. One devises a demonstration on the basis of necessity. That is, will this get the job done. And a civil rights struggle is not a popularity contest that we are waging in hope of winning as many friends as possible. A civil rights struggle is an effort that we’re waging in order to bring in justice, and it’s not expected that those who advocate injustice or who have stood by the status quo are going to approve of any effort that’s exercised to get the job done.
RPW: Well, we can scarcely assume that Mr. Farmer was defending the status quo when he opposed the stall-ins, or Mr. Whitney Young. Their motives must have been different from that.
Rev. G: Well, I refuse to speculate about Mr. Farmer’s motives. I will say this about the stall-ins. The stall-in gave a left wing to other activities on the day of the opening of the World’s Fair which meant that the sit-ins and the arrests in which Mr. Farmer participated himself didn’t get the kind of general public denouncement that they might have gotten ordinarily. It must be understood, too, that there is a difference between established civil rights groups and the smaller civil rights groups, the local civil rights groups. There’s a difference in terms of whom the different groups are responsible to. There’s a difference between the kinds of funds that these groups handle, a difference between who contributes these funds to the various organizations. So that every organization is not at liberty to function as every other organization.
RPW: I talked recently with Mr. Farmer about this point. He made a distinction of this sort for the – for my interview – for the record – but the stall-ins would partake of the nature of a general strike, not justified by the occasion. The time might come when a paralyzing tactic would be necessary, but not as long as there was some communication, some basis for, as it were, negotiation, which he felt existed at that time.
Rev. G: Yes. Well, Mr. Famer is of course entitled to his point of view. It ought to also be remembered, though, that the actual leaders of the stall-ins were four CORE branches in New York City which apparently disagree with Mr. Farmer.
RPW: That’s quite on the record. This raises another little question. In any popular movement there is bound to be, if not a struggle for leadership, at least a natural competition for leadership, and among the different policies that are proposed. Do you see a drift toward a centralized individualized leadership in the civil rights movement, or may I say more generally the Negro movement? A drift toward The Man, you know.
Rev. G: I would say, first of all, though, that this is not true of the CORE organization. I don’t think there are any -
RPW: Not CORE – I mean in general.
Rev. G: Yes, I know, but I want to bring this comment in. I don’t think there are any local CORE BRANCH leaders who are trying to displace Mr. Farmer in any way. But generally about a drift toward any individual leadership, I would say no, I don’t think that the Negro people will arrive at a point where they have one leader with whom everybody disagrees – I mean, agrees, and whom everybody follows, any more than white people have. All the people following Goldwater or all the people following Johnson, or all the people follow any-thinker among the white race. In fact, the competition in the civil rights movement gets keener all the time and I think that it’s good. I think that the differences may be good. I think it’s good in the sense that we should have various strategies and various tactics of operation. I think it’s good in the sense that there should always be some groups outside the pale, as it were, who are not controlled and who are not predictable in terms of what they may do next. But my experience over the past several months working closely with civil rights groups is that the rivalry will continue and that, you know, there will not be any one person who’s running the whole show, and I think it’s good.
RPW: Do you see any tendency as has been stated to me by Congressman Powell, that the mere fact of white money getting into the big organizations or some of the smaller ones has tended to draw their teeth, to modify their basic policies, to soften them?
Rev. G: I think that this is true of any effort, not only the civil rights effort. I think it’s true of the church, I think it’s true of any institution that he who pays the piper will call the tune, or try to call it, and if he’s not able to call the tune he’s going to stop paying. And I think one of the interesting things about our struggle here, as people involved in a civil rights effort, although I don’t call myself a civil rights person – I’m a clergyman doing what I ought to be doing – is that we have been able to get so little in the way of funds from people who generally contribute to other organizations and to other efforts which lie at a distance. That is, people who have given generously to movements in the South, people who give generously to major civil rights organizations, people who have supported monetarily for the most part the struggle of Negroes, have not supported this confrontation that we have waged here in this city of New York. And I think there are reasons for it.
RPW: What are those reasons?
Rev. G: I think that they don’t welcome it, number one. I think for the first time in many years whites in the North are actually confronted with a problem that they try to pretend only existed in the South, and that many whites have been able to call themselves liberal because they would send money to Mississippi, and if there’s a school integration effort in Alabama it appears in the newspaper that the Negroes in Alabama are struggling for equality. If there’s a school struggle here in New York City, the New York City newspapers print that some irresponsible leaders are trying to get publicity, you see. There’s a distinction when the battle gets nearer to home, and I think that white people in the North have had to sit back and actually examine themselves and they don’t like what they see, and I think that they are projecting their anger and their frustration on the people who are making them face this question. And I think basically they have indicated by their failure to support financially the efforts that they’re not particularly in favor of the effort. Now they’ll say – of course they are all confused about the school desegregation problem, even many of the most liberal white people are confused about this. But in other areas they will say, I’m in favor of the objective but I’m not in favor of the method, as if there were any other way to gain the objective apart from the method that’s being employed.
RPW: Switching to the South for a moment, some commentators, including Mr. Evers, Charles Evers, have said that they are optimistic for settlement in the South before one in the North. Does that make any sense? That speculation?
Rev. G: This may be, and some Northerners say this with a sense of sophistication, but there is a truth in it if the South does not find ways of evading desegregation and integration as the North has found. That is, let me say, there are many tricks and evasions being exercised constantly in the North to which the South may resort. That’s why it behooves us in the North to clear up these discrepancies as quickly as possible. We owe it to our Southern brethren rather than to pretend that all is well here and everything is wrong there.
RPW: So they can’t be exported. James Baldwin says that the Southern mob, the gang in the streets in Birmingham or Little Rock, does not represent the will of the Southern majority.
Rev. G: This may be true. I would not be in a position to know. (remarks by RPW) Yes. However, a statement like this appears to be predicated on a feeling that it’s the majority of people who get things done, and of course this is contrary to truth, and in most instances it’s a militant minority in any area that decides the direction of things. And certainly it’s a minority of Negroes who are deciding the direction of the civil rights struggle, who are adamant about school desegregation, who support even the major civil rights organizations, the small minority of Negro people man the picket lines, who do the sitting in and what have you. They are creating a rather formidable effect. Well, the same thing is true of the minority of white people. They are, however vociferous and however in error they may be, certainly creating the major impact on our society at this point. If there’s any lesson to be learned from it it’s not only that a minority of people gets things done, but that people who straddle the fence and people who don’t take a position are not effective in the movements of a society. But no revolution certainly, however baseful or however violence, involves the majority of people.
RPW: Following this line of thought, we would have the notion of a majority of white people, say in Mississippi or the South, who are uninvolved or who have no focus for expressing their opinion or afraid. Over against that would be some massive apathy or lack of concern among a certain percentage of Negroes. Is that a fair description or not? Following what you said.
Rev. G: Yes, I think that there are apathetic people on both sides. I think there are unconcerned people on both sides. I think there are cowardly people on both sides. I would agree.
RPW: Let’s go back to another topic of pure speculation. Myrdal says in his book, The American Dilemma, that there could have been a decent policy for the Reconstruction after the Civil War. Then he outlines what he would consider a decent policy from ’65 on. The first stipulation is compensation to the ex-slaveholders for the Emancipation. Second, expropriation of land for settling the Freedmen, but payment to the ex-landholders. Three, the sale of such land to the Freedman at a very small rate and amortized over a period of years. Those are the first three elements. I would like to know how you would respond to those three proposals. Not whether they would have worked or not – assume they would have worked, would have helped matters – let’s assume that. But would you find – assuming they would have worked, would have helped matters, that we’d be over some of the humps that we’re not over yet in the South and elsewhere, would you still object to any of them?
Rev. G: I wouldn’t object to any of them. I think that they would have been helpful programs to the plight of the Negro at that juncture. They would not, however, had all three been effective, spoken to the basic problem in which the Negro found himself which made this kind of program impossible. That is the recognition of the Negro as a human being. You see, the difference between other institutions of slavery and the American institution of slavery is that in no other instance, to my best knowledge, was a slave actually de-humanized and deprived of the image of being human, so that in other instances in history when slaves were freed they became people like everyone else. In America this was not true. Apparently in order to justify slavery the early Americans found it necessary to de-humanize and completely emasculate the Negro, so that even after he was free he was not recognized as a human being, and his efforts even in court to gain rights as a human being met with failure. For example, in the Plessey v. Ferguson decision it was adjudicated that no Negro had rights that a white person was bound to respect, and we are living in the backwash of this concept today. So that no matter what we had given the Negro I don’t think it would have brought an ultimate resolution to his problem unless we had also revised our propagandized concept of the Negro.
RPW: You wouldn’t have felt any resentment at the notion of compensating the slaveholders, the ex-slaveholders for the Emancipation – this as an affront to your dignity as a Negro? This ex post facto recognition of slavery as property holding?
Rev. G: Oh, no, I would not have objected to his being compensated for the years that he spent as a slave.
RPW: I mean the slaveholder being compensated for the price of the slave who has now been turned into a Freedman.
Rev. G: Oh, well – (remarks by RPW) – yes, well, I think Lincoln intended to do this and proposed it, and it would have been a fulfilled intention had not the slave masters, many of them, through their participation in the Revolution – not the Revolution, the Civil War, violated their right to get these grants from the government. Of course, if the slavery institution were recognized as a moral wrong then no man should have been reimbursed for surrendering what he had no right to in the first place. This intention to even do so was a political connivance based on a hope that the South might somehow be appeased, but it was not of course right.
RPW: We are up against the problem, then, aren’t we? If we assume that such a policy would have been have of real value, then on one hand we are recognizing, as you put it, a moral wrong – conniving was your word, I believe. On the other hand, we would be actually advancing the situation of the Negro Freedman.
Rev. G: Yes, well, it’s a dilemma. Maybe there’s something to be said for both sides. That is, if the nation sanctioned the slavery institution at the outset and people invested their money in the slavery institution, and reimbursement would have quietly ended the thing – of course money would – may be a small price to get ride [rid] of the slavery institution and also appease those who had been deprived of slaves. I mean, there’s something to be said for that fact. But my whole argument is that if this nation had taken a strong position in the beginning, which it never did -
RPW: What kind?
Rev. G: At the time of the Civil War. If it hadn’t – if we hadn’t taken such a quasi position, such an appeasing position toward the South, and if we had resolved this problem when we fought it out, that we would not be in this predicament today. You see, President Lincoln was not at all as much in favor of emancipating slaves as he was in keeping the nation together, and he said in essence that if to maintain the unity of the country he had to free the slaves, he would free them. If it meant he had to keep the slaves he would keep the institution of slavery. So this was not an altogether – a moral decision on his part. But the North was ready to make any concessions to the South even in terms of slavery. It was only that the South felt driven to the point that nothing the North could do would appease them, that the South was driven to the brink of the Civil War, as it were. But certainly there was no great emphasis on morality here, or no great emphasis on the rights of Negro people. The whole thing was kind of freak which grew out of circumstances that nobody had anticipated.
RPW: That is, the Emancipation was a historical accident then. Is that the idea?
Rev. G: I would call it that – yes. It was a historical accident. Yes, it was. That almost nobody could foresee. In fact, Frederic Douglas spells out in his autobiography his despair, his absolute and abject despair after the hanging of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, that the Negro problem in this country, the slavery problem would be resolved. And the Civil War to him was as much an amazement as it was to anybody because it was something that could not be foreseen. But through this peculiar convergence of circumstances when the North realized that as long as the South had free labor and a slave institution to help the South support its war, that the North decided that the Negro had to be involved in the war and began to move to the point where they recruited free Negroes, even from the slavery areas of the South, to help fight for their own freedom.
RPW: Against the will of the top brass of the federal army, of course.
Rev. G: Oh, yes. There were many problems in the army. There were many instances when the Negro was first involved in the army where the Negro was relegated to the worst and most subservient positions, and only after much protest on the part of some Negroes like Frederic Douglas, and only after some white people like General Grant put their foot down, did the Negro find himself designated to a station of any stature in the army.
RPW: Your remark about the Emancipation being an accident relates to a theory of all Negro gains in this country up to the present, not including the present, that Negro gains by and large have been a by-product of a general historical situation. But the present situation is different. It is not a by-product. It is created by the Negro will to create it. Does this make any sense?
Rev. G: I think I’d be inclined to agree with the premise that the Negro gains have basically been a by-product. But I would carry the premise straight through. I think even the Negro gains in America currently have been pretty much due to by-product – you know, have been pretty much a by-product of what is transpiring in the world. I think the rise of the black nations in Africa to positions of independence and freedom, the feeling in Asia against America because of America’s treatment of Negro people, the widespread knowledge of the heinousness of race relations in our country, the threat of Communism and our effort to maintain on our side the black nations and the yellow nations of the world, against the Communist camp – all these have been I think factors in creating an atmosphere in which the Negro could carry on this struggle.
RPW: Do you detect a change in the atmosphere, the general atmosphere, say, attitudes of the white society toward the legitimate aspirations and moral claims of the Negroes – some actual change of attitude – or not? In your time?
Rev. G: Yes, I think there’s been a decided change – perceptible in many areas. It’s only since I’ve been an adult, for example, that these public service commercials were played on radio and television invoking people to a concept of brotherhood and exhorting people against feelings of prejudice and discrimination against other people, not only so there have been many other developments which have created a change of attitude and reflected in the daily press, reflected in the kinds of programming one sees on television and hears on the radio today which are race relation stories spelled in a race relations context. There are in our time too – yes, well, let me put it this way – nearly every pronouncement of church and government today bears the words – without regard to race, religion, color, national origin. In other words there is a growing atmosphere in which hatred and discrimination and prejudice are becoming less popular. Let me put it that way. And it’s just evident in so many areas that, you know, I can very easily see attitudinal differences today as over against when I was a boy growing up.
RPW: How much optimism does this give you in considering the whole matter?
Rev. G: Let me say I really don’t know, and let me place my agnosticism over against what I understand to be the pessimism of the most rabid racist in the South. That is, my understanding is that even the rabid racist in the South feels that the dawn must inevitably break, and that the Negro must achieve full equality here, and that the most he is doing with his activities is procrastinating and holding back the inevitable. This is the way he feels. I am not sure I feel this way. I take the position that I don’t know, and that my struggle in the school effort is a confrontation that I am trying to put America to the test so that I can learn for myself whether those who, you know, advocate isolation and separation are right, or whether those who advocate the idealisms of democracy are right.
RPW: This is the end of Tape #3 of the conversation with Reverend Galamison. Proceed.
(end of tape)
TAPE 4 Searchable TextCollapse
RPW: Tape #4 – Reverend Galamison – proceed. Perhaps the problem at one level, at an early phase anyway, is not the matter of the extirpation of prejudice, racial prejudice, but a matter of confronting it and deciding what to do about it in the individual or in society. Does that approach seem to wash?
Rev. G: Yes. There’s no doubt but that it will take some time for people to be rid of their prejudices. That is, I get the feeling sometimes that the best antidote for prejudice is experience, and unfortunately the people who have the prejudice close the door against the kind of experience that might rescue them from these feelings. There were some studies in the fall of 1963 by a – two at least of the national magazines, which illustrated beyond a doubt that people who had had contact with Negroes had much healthier feelings toward Negroes in terms of jobs and housing and what have you than white people who had never had such contacts. So apparently in order to be rid of the fear and the irrationality one has to somehow take the lion by the tail or face the ghost, as it were, to see how unrealistic these feelings are. But like the people who most need to go to the psychiatrist, the person who most needs to get rid of the prejudices is the least likely to avail himself of such an opportunity.
RPW: What about the fact of the contact in the South with the Negro? There we have in some aspects of life a very massive contact, so mere contact would not -
Rev. G: Oh, no, not mere contact. It must be contact on an equal basis, on a man to man basis, not on a master-slave basis or on a paternalistic basis which are the only circumstances under which many white people ever deal with Negroes even in the North. I’m glad you pointed that out, because this is certainly vital to the whole question. But the point I want to make here is that Negro children, Negro people generally, should not wait till white people develop healthy attitudes toward Negroes. Therefore, prior perhaps to the eradication of prejudices we want the eradication of discrimination. There’s a difference. Discrimination is the denial of the right to have, and prejudice may be the denial of the right to be, as it were – let me put it that way. Because white people entertain these feelings which admittedly are wrong and unhealthy, this is no reason why Negroes should be deprived of jobs and housing and other things which are fundamental to being a human being.
RPW: What about the matter of the Negro prejudice against whites?
Rev. G: Yes, well, of course prejudice isn’t good because it’s prejudice against whites or wrong because it’s prejudice against Negroes. Anywhere prejudice exists it’s wrong, and as I pointed out earlier in the interview, not only is racial prejudice wrong, class prejudice is wrong, cultural prejudice is wrong, and these feelings must be outgrown no matter who entertains them.
RPW: What are the responsibilities or obligations of the Negro – whoever that hypothetical Negro is, you know – the Negro – toward the achieving of a society without prejudice or certainly without discrimination, and with a workable integration? What are his responsibilities?
Rev. G: The Negro has a responsibility majorly at this point to fight for the eradication of these external circumstances which oppress him, which victimize him, and which create many Negroes in the society who by virtue of the structure of the society fail or fall. Now, I read these criticisms in the newspaper and in the magazines and in other propaganda areas of white people who talk about the number of Negroes who commit crime and who talk about every – and who exaggerate, really ever anti-social act, you know, in which a Negro might be involved and which is exposed by the newspaper. Now, this gives people a false kind of security in their wrong and in their maltreatment of people. That is, people allow the existence of circumstances which create social failures and then they point to the social failures and say there, see what kind of person you are. People will deny Negroes the right to survive as human beings and yet criticize Negroes and further deprive them of the right being human beings because of what some of these external circumstances have done. Now, don’t misunderstand me. Some Negroes rise above these circumstances. But this does not justify the existence of the circumstances, and far more Negroes are falling victim and people who criticize this out of context just happen to be people who have no comprehension of the cultural and the social and the economic and historic forces which tend to make up all people and help create the kind of people that we find on the American scene. I have said, for example, about the Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, which comes under constant criticism in terms of – well, any time a Negro gets arrested or any time anything happens it’s dramatized and caricatured by the press. I’ve said that we couldn’t have a community with this kind of behavior if there weren’t people outside it who were far worse than the people inside it. And were there time I would go on and catalog an observation like this, but there is this tendency always I think among human beings to overlook and evade injustice and then to criticize or find satisfaction in the products of the injustice.
RPW: Not long ago I heard Dr. King – the last time I heard him – and he wound up his speech at Bridgeport with a “Best the best street sweeper” – that line – something very much like the self improvement line – be the best
and so forth. This is to a three quarter or five sixths Negro audience of course. But he was recognizing one kind of responsibility in the whole question of civil rights and in the question of the Negro movement.
Rev. G: Yes, well, I of course do not disagree with this philosophy that everybody ought to be encouraged to be the best of whatever he is. However, I think that we as Negroes have spent far too much time trying to deserve approval, that is, trying to deserve love. Now, as a Protestant clergyman who believes in grace, I don’t believe anybody can deserve love, and we run the gamut in our contentions about this. That is, some of us who believe that Negroes should dress a certain way and deport themselves a certain way and talk a certain way, and then white people will open up all the doors. Well, this is not true. There are just as many white people who resent a cultured comparable well deported Negro as those who resent a disheveled uncultured Negro you see. Or there are some who prefer an unlettered Negro to a lettered one. But I think as long as we operate on this basis that we must do something in order to be equal. We’re operating on a fallacious basis, you know. We are people apart – everybody is a person apart from these external values that man might place on another man. That is, a man on relief is still a person, apart from the fact that he’s on relief, or a man who has no education is a person in spite of the fact that he may not have an education. And I think that we are operating on a very superficial standard of values and that we fall victim to a very fallacious way of thinking when we content that the right of the Negro to be treated as a person and the right of the Negro to enjoy equality depends on something that the Negro should do.
RPW: One more question – a tough one, yes. One more question and then we can spring ourselves. In this obligation, suppose a young man, nineteen years old, eighteen years old, a young Negro in school or university, discovers he is a dedicated physicist of great talent. What should he do? Stay in his laboratory or go on the picket line?
Rev. G: I think he should try do both, that we don’t live in a vacuum, and our most isolated interests are subject ultimately to the urban flow of the social time here in the United States. My feeling about the whole social movement is that nobody is innocent, for example, that nobody is a bystander, and that nobody has a right not to be involved in some way or another. This would apply to both whites and Negroes, it would apply to an aspiring talented physicist as well as to the pupil who flunks out of school.
RPW: Well, suppose he’s a medical student and six months on the picket lines flunks him out of school – to take an extreme case.
Rev. G: Yes, well, this is a determination that an individual exercising his good judgment must make for himself. That is, one is not called upon, I don’t believe, to destroy some great good or some effectiveness that he might be able to give society if he develops his aspirations for a momentary thing. But on the other hand, I don’t think a man has a right to hide from the social struggle by deluding himself that he one day is going to be able to make a contribution that he wouldn’t be able to make if he had let the social struggle go by. My experience has been that the people who don’t get in the struggle when it’s going on, when they get where they’re going don’t get in it either, that only an ingrained selfishness allows a man to remain aloof from the problems of his time and not involve himself.
RPW: End – end – end.
(end of tape)Collapse