Stringfellow discusses the civil rights movement, segregation, and American political leaders. He begins by questioning whether non-violent protest tactics continue to work. He describes the role of nonviolence in the civil rights movement and practical measures that could be taken to stop violence in the movement. Stringfellow also explains that he feels that the civil rights movement has become a mass movement involving ordinary citizens. Stringfellow provides his opinions on school segregation. He states that segregated schools are a result of segregated neighborhoods and housing, and schools must be integrated before neighborhoods can be integrated. Stringfellow also explains his thoughts on political leaders including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Abraham Lincoln.
William Stringfellow (1929-1985) was a lawyer, an Episcopal lay theologian, and a social activist. In his junior year at Bates College in Lewisburg, Maine, he organized a sit-in at a restaurant that refused to serve people of color. After his graduation from Harvard Law School, he moved to Harlem to work with poor African Americans and Hispanics. He defended victimized tenants, poor persons who were victims of social exclusion, and people whom few others would defend, such as sexual offenders. He protested the Vietnam War, was involved in the Sojourners movement in Washington, D.C., and sheltered Daniel Berrigan, S.J., when Berrigan was on the run from federal authorities. His theology is controversial and widely discussed. Bates College began awarding the William Stringfellow Award in 2000 to recognize one student and one member of the local community for their work in peace and justice in Maine.
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.]
WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW – N.Y.C. – MARCH 13th
I think the thing that concerns me now is a – is that the northern city is a frontier and the prospect is of a great acceleration now of mass uncontrolled and unled lives. It seems to me that the watershed of the peaceful demonstrations has been pretty much reached – was reached early last summer and the tangible results of the peaceful demonstrations have been so limited in terms of working any practical changes in the lives of ordinary Negroes in the city ghettos that the issue now arises of whether or not nonviolent tactics work.
Now, is this a matter of decision among leaders, or as you seem to imply, unled spontaneous violence, not policy but spontaneous outbreaks, without particular objectives, just expression.
For example, about a month ago now in Cleveland, in the middle of the winter which is significant I think, a Negro boy was arrested; I don’t know if the arrest was justified or not but apparently that touched off a riot reportedly involving a six or seven hundred people. Negroes engaged mainly in looting stores of white merchants and the like. Well, as far as I know, no one planned that but the frustration of people is so high, so acute, that this apparent little incident was enough to touch it off and the prospect is, I am afraid, that there will be more and more and more of that. There already has been a considerable amount in the North, there have been few, well small riots. Now in Minneapolis, in Chicago and New York and Detroit and this one in Cleveland and Seattle even, Los Angeles and it seems to me that is quite likely to accelerate, and one must remember too that the Negro Revolution has been nonviolent so far in its tactics and ethics, is a rather unique thing. In other great American Social Revolutions, with the exception only I think of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the tactics on both sides have been those of violence. For example, in the Labor Revolution or in the Veterans’ Bonus March on Washington.
Do you think that this violence will spill over into the South?
I think – yes, particularly in the parts of the South that most resemble the North, for example Atlanta.
It is a big city. Rather than Mississippi, for instance, rather than rural Mississippi, of course you have violence there now, what I am talking about is mass explosions is one way there now, by and large.
Well, I don’t know, it is hard to – it is an unpredictable situation; conceivably there could be violence in a northern city, which is so shocking that some real social change results from it, but I am inclined to think that it is unlikely and that if there is a –
Which is unlikely?
That if violence comes, it will be a – it will have constructive results.
You think unlikely it will have results?
I think it is conceivable that some kind of violence could take place that would be so shocking to the white community, that they would get off their butts and really do something.
But you don’t think that violence would accomplish that?
I think that it is more likely that if there is spontaneous violence on the part of Negroes and aggression by Negroes against white people and white stores and white institutions, that the response of the white community will be to suppress that violence and then will really be in trouble and – because I really don’t have confidence as a white man, that there is enough maturity in the white community, to respond in any other way; though I would say also, that if – again if there is Negro violence, that what white people are called to do is not to resist it, because the only way that violence and hostility absolved is in voluntary love, but I have not great confidence that many white people are prepared to practice that.
But have you practice that – assuming a riot is underway, what does the mayor do, call off the police and say we love them? Anybody on the street, black or white.
Well, I think there are two questions; one is what does the mayor or the police – what do they do, and I suppose they try to control, to stop the violence by whatever means they have at their disposal, by force. But I would distinguish that from whether or not white people who are involved take any action on their own.
You mean the man who owns the store?
Yes, or the man who happens to be on the street when something happens.
You mean whether he would just take the knife in the ribs, the brick on the head without fighting back. There is no discipline for that.
Uh, huh. What do you mean?
Well, I mean if the Negro demonstrators are trained to this, the man walking down the street has no discipline and no theory, he can’t make it up himself as he goes along, very well.
I agree. One would have hoped that there would be the grounds for such a discipline in a – you know – in the churches, in the white churches, but I don’t really think there is, but that doesn’t diminish my belief that that is the only way that there can be an absolution of the violence.
What practical measures could be taken, just say in New York City that would head this off, assuming that you had the power to put them into operation for getting the difficult things done.
Well, a lot of things. One is for example, in the school business as you know is the current focus here, and I think that one very practical measure – step that would be taken is to fire the President of the Board of Education, Mr. Donovan; he is an able man and I think a sincere man and he has a pretty good record on Civil Rights as these things go, but he has made some very improvident statements that have made him a kind of symbol of the obstinacy of white society to integration and I think has to be a – his usefulness has been sacrificed -- I think so far as the moral of the Negro community is concerned, for Donovan to be a – dismissed, that would be considered a victory, and in terms now of the issue of forestalling violence, what we need to have is some very concrete things that can be pointed to as signs of progress. Very much the same situation prevails, I think, in Chicago with Superintendent Willis – I don’t know anything particularly in detail about him, but he has become a symbol and even if he now comes forward with some better plan for integrating the schools in Chicago, it is not going to get a hearing because the hostility to him is so –
How much is the busing issue here, a symbolic issue and how much is it a real one, it has real value as a remedial measure?
Well, I think it has real value, for one reason particularly. The reason why there are segregated schools as everyone knows, is because there are segregated neighborhoods, segregated housing, and it seems to me to deal with the housing issue is a much more complicated and long-range issue; I mean – how do you abolish a ghetto? Well, I don’t know how you abolish a ghetto but you won’t do it overnight and so, I would say, that is a long-range job and it is going to take ten or fifteen or twenty years, perhaps longer; but that in the meantime, we can prepare some people in the city, in the community to adjust to and live in integrated neighborhoods and integrated housing, and one way to prepare some people for that is for them to be as school children in integrated schools; and the only way you are going to integrate the schools – the only way you are going to do that is to get around the existing neighborhood segregation, so you transport kids out of their neighborhood to another school, and I approve of that – it is a very tactful device.
Is the Princeton plan adequate?
I would say no; let me mention another thing, that is – I would hope that if there were and what I would like to see there is the busing of students all over the place. I think it is very important that some white students be brought into Harlem schools, as a way of driving home or bringing to the attention of the white community in a form that they can no longer ignore, since their kids will be affected, the abominable conditions that prevail there, and that I think will be very edifying and maybe in a technical sense, some children in these years will be deprived in their school education but maybe there are some more important things to learn about. Maybe for a kid and his parents to see the inside of one of those schools is what must be suffered, for us to get anywhere. The apathy and the lack of concern among the white leadership in New York, including but not only the political administration, is almost ridiculous in its extremes, because they all know or they have been told or they have had the facts presented time and time and time again for years and years and years, and yet these conditions persist. Now like I know one junior high school in Harlem, know of one junior high school in Harlem where there is such a shortage of classroom space, that four or five classes use the auditorium simultaneously – well – you can’t teach a kid anything under such circumstances, because he can always hear what it is going on in the other class meeting a few rows away, and kids are kids and so they horse around and wave to their friends and whatnot, and it is just ridiculous and yet such conditions persist.
You will find some Negroes, some very thoughtful Negroes too, I know, you have said this to me, they are against the busing because it solves nothing, the school itself is the real issue, the busses are , only a symbolic value, and they are actually against it and will say so. Now, these are people whose integrity can’t be questioned, see, one of them I know was raised in the Harlem schools, educated there, he knows in a way that neither you nor I could know, but he said it is quite ridiculous to make this an issue, what you need is money for the schools and lots of teachers, lots of white teachers, but – the busing is a deception, it deceives the Negroes to make this an issue. This – I quote this from this young man, S Carmichael is the person who said this, these words, there are others who said it.
Well, it is no solution to anything but I do some limited of practical arguments favoring it, like the ones I mentioned – the housing – and it is a way of further sustaining hopefully the nonviolent character of the protest and may in fact be a way in which we get more money for the schools in Harlem, particularly as I say, if some white kids have to go to Harlem schools and find out how awful they are, then there will be a new – an additional pressure on the school administration to do something about conditions there that they haven’t had up to now.
We are up against, then, the matter of the father or the mother of a family who wants the best for their child, which is a quite selfish but a very human way – you know – my child is not going to fight the bus again to get to the schools, now I will welcome any Negro into this school but I will not let my child be bussed if I can avoid it and as one of my Negro friends said – and I don’t blame him – he says Harlem is no place to be, he says “I’ve been and I know” – this is a problem that is hard to deal with.
But then – buy my feeling then is, let the complacency of the white community be disrupted, I mean that all across the board as far as I can see, the recalcitrant in the racial crisis, the element in society to represent the real obstacle to public integration, is not the so-called die-hard southern segregationists, I don’t think – but it is the nice white northern liberal, with all his sincerity and good intentions and whatnot, who is asking now the question “Well now, what do the Negroes want?” and fails to realize when he asks that question that he is assuming that it is his prerogative to dispense to the Negro, what the Negro will get, and that, I think, is the real essence of white supremacy, and I think it is deeply embedded in the mentality of most northern – white northern liberals and it is that which must be somehow exercised if we are going to have peace ---
Did you ever read The Conquest between Irving Howe and Ralph Ellison?
I haven’t seen that yet, no.
It bears on this point.
Yes, I have heard something about it.
It is a very important document, I think.
The other thing that is disturbing to me is that so little thought, as far as I am aware at least, has yet matured in either the Negro community or among the white people, about how the races can be reconciled – I mean, if there can be a certain degree of enforced integration in public institutions, but that is not the same thing as reconciliation and that is the issue that mainly concerns me, and I guess from my point of view what is really at the root of it is – has in a sense nothing in itself to do with the race, what it really has to do with is whether or not a man is reconciled within himself; if I am free enough to love and accept myself as a human being, then I have no problem about accepting another human being, no matter what empirical differences there may be between him and me –
Are you speaking as a psychologist or are you speaking as a theologian when you say that, or both?
Well, I am not a psychologist and I don’t know if I am a theologian but –
Well, I mean your role behind that remark, anyway.
Yes, theologically I would say, that is the real issue, and it is an acutely threatening one to a lot of people and one that both Negroes and whites share in common – I mean – part of the problem surely of the contemporary American Negro is that he grew up and inherits – not just the exile of slavery and sometimes physical and personal suffering of a specific character, but also that many American Negroes acquiesced in the idea of Negro inferiority.
A psychiatrist I know in New Haven tells me that he has some Negro patients – a psychoanalyst – he says it’s a shocking thing to find in an analysis or even in preliminary investigation, this hidden fact, the Negro doesn’t even know it – Sambo is right, I guess.
I know a number of Negroes who hate themselves and the way it become conquertized is they hate themselves because they are Negroes, but I think the issue is the same for such a man, essentially the same, as it is for a man who – what? – hates himself for any other reason.
There is an objective in this case, connected with the visibility and all of that – given that fact and I assume that to be a fact – concretely what is to be done as far as the – just keep it on the Negro for a moment – I think it is probably right about the white man, I read your diagnosis –
I think there are two levels. There are a lot of practical things that can be done that might help to create a climate in which the – whatever you want to call it – the theological issue or the issue on a more profound level can be resolved, for example, it has now just become a matter of the survival of the nation, that there be public integration, you can’t have an economy of this complexity etc. that leaves out gainful employment and therefore the of education and ordinary rights of citizenship, you can’t run an economy that leaves out twenty million people. That means, it seems to me, that white men have a profound self-interest in as rapid and as peaceful public integration as possible. If these people are excluded from jobs now with automation and all of that, then what is going to happen? Well, the only social alternative is some kind of public assistance and that is going to be more expensive for me than to abdicate help to provide for them ---
That is not merely a race question now.
No, no, it isn’t, it is acutely – it acutely affects this particular group in society.
It does indeed, but now let’s take say X number of jobs and Y a number of people and Y is bigger than X, you are solving something, if you do a ratio or if you do a proportion , you are solving something sure, but you still have something unsolved, something very radically unsolved. That is a question ----
Yes, I am just saying that we have to begin where we are and – take another thing which is – we very much need, it would seem to me, a citizenry in the country, we increasingly need one that is highly educated and skilled in which there is more opportunity for higher education and whatnot – well, among others who need that and particularly need that are Negro citizens; but then if you look at the colleges, you will find now a lot of southern universities and colleges that are tokenly integrated, but then look at the northern colleges and they are also just tokenly integrated, and the main reason as far as I can see why that is so, is not because there aren’t qualified Negroes already coming out of high schools in a significant number, but because most Negro families can’t afford $3,000 a year to send a kid to college, to one of the northern colleges, so then I would advocate and call it preferential treatment if you want – I would advocate special scholarships and special efforts to recruit large numbers of Negro students.
How much as the Negro been dented, shaken up?
I think very much – that is – it has been what now, almost over six years since the peaceful demonstrations and so on have been organized – demonstrations have been going on, and in the last say year and a half, at least here in New York, there has been, I think, a very significant change in the participants in the demonstrations – that is, in the early days it was students and clergy but now like in the march on Washington and the school-boy cops here and in Chicago, the people that have been demonstrating along with students and clergy and so on, have been housewives and women who – middle-aged Negro women who work as domestics, say, and who may well risk their jobs by becoming involved and who are I think naturally conservative about and apathetic, but they – my impression is – in substantial numbers have now become involved and that indicates that – the days of substantial apathy are over, though that may be succeeded by cynicism too, I suppose but ---
Because of small delivery – I mean – of the demonstrations –
--- But that returns to our discussion of nonviolence that – when it really comes to the practical life of some American Negro today. What has he got to show for the nonviolent tactics? Well, the things that I think he remembers that first come to mind are the assassination of M [Medgar] Evars [Evers] or the bombing of the church in Birmingham – or the dogs, the police dogs and hoses and billy clubs and there are thousands of people who have been in jail and – as over and against token integration at the University of Mississippi or whatnot – it might even be argued that the nonviolent demonstrations have increased the resistance to change on the part of white people – I don’t know – but I could understand a Negro feeling, if that is what is taking place and even increasing.
When the SCLC had a conference in Montgomery a year or so after the demonstrations there, they couldn’t get a single church given to them for the big meeting, something happened to the Negro community. Do you have any theorizing about that, any information?
How long ago was this?
This was – it was a year and a half after the – I have the exact date somewhere – after the bus strike, the bus business there, successful demonstration and it came back at a state-wide conference, not one church was available to them for a meeting, for a rally.
But I think that wasn’t true after the bombing.
No, I guess not.
I think they had a big – as well as the service they had. I was in Jackson on some cases, some two years ago and there was to be a meeting in the Negro community that evening, and we were invited to go, the lawyers and the defendants who were on the cases. When we arrived at this little Negro church, there was an argument going on between the deacons and the minister, the minister had invited us there, in which the deacons were saying it is not fitting to use the church for a political purpose or a controversial purpose, it is alright to come here to pray etc. and indeed, the meeting did not take place; there was a prayer meeting but nothing about the demonstrations or the integration crisis was permitted to be discussed but I think that that kind of apathy and noninvolvement is – is surely diminishing and I don’t think that it is a substantial problem anymore.
Probably some people in Mississippi and Louisiana will say that it is.
It may be more so in the South than in the North.
Do you have any notion why the leadership should have been so heavily southern in the movement? It has been altered somewhat now but –
Well, I suppose that one answer may be Uncle Tom – that is –Collapse
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.]
WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW – N.Y.C. – MARCH 13th.
Where were we? Let me go back to the matter of apathy; you say you think that the apathy among the Negroes at least in New York is definitely waning.
Yes, the school boycott is the first one, this is a good example of that – I mean – there it was, four hundred thousand kids were out, well that means that the parents of four hundred thousand kids had to make some decision, so I don’t think it is – the revolution is no longer confined to the organized Civil Rights movements or to the students or to the – some of the Clergy, and whatnot, but really does involve the and final person.
It is taking on the quality of a mass movement now, you think?
Yes, but without – then the next thing is – but without a unified or recognized leadership.
Has it ever been true that in this state there was ever a recognized, unified leadership?
Well, I don’t know, there is a theory around that revolutions are the work of elite but –
When did they emerge? Is the leadership of phase 1 ever the leadership of phase 2 or the leadership of phase 2, the leadership of phase 3?
I guess not, I mean that like right now in New York, I think the same is true in Chicago, there is an acute leadership crisis, because it becomes clear that the revolution has matured enough so that it is obvious that there is some real power at stake, both within the revolutionary movement, so to speak, and what is to be gained in the revolution, and that means there is a lot of infighting and back-fighting, and in fact if there ever needed to be real proof which there does not, but if there ever needed to be real proof of the profound humanity of the Negroes, it would be to witness them fighting among themselves for little scraps of power.
How do you see that split now, in terms of national or in terms of New York, or both?
Well, I know most about New York, of course, I would say the main line Civil rights groups which here are core [CORE], NAACP which have been in the filed for so many years, and who have provided both the leadership and the financial resources and so on for what has been our receding in importance and in influence and our thought as to gradualist as having too many contacts with white society and of receding into the background. I mean there have only been two things so far in which there has been a real unification of the Civil Rights organizations of various kinds and that has been the March on Washington which was the preeminent example and then the first school boycott here was a united front, but as you know, that unity has already fragmented into –
What blew that up?
I think – I don’t know Golansen personally but I think from seeing him perform, that other Negro leaders were fearful that he was too personally aggressive?
Yes, I don’t know, that is just my intuition.
This personal aggressiveness for power or a matter of over-reaching as a matter of tactics, may ---
I am inclined to think more of the first, that there is personal competitiveness and jealousy and also some feeling that if there was to be some kind of united focused leadership, that he was not the one upon whom that mantle should be bestowed and –
How much do you know of his history and is there much ground for that belief in his past history or is this just an assumption, if it , don’t like it.
I don’t know much about his ---
What do you know about Ruskin?
Oh, quite a good deal. I first had contact with him, oh, twenty years ago, when he was involved with a Pacifist Movement at the time. I think he is a genius, organizationally especially and he was the real person who engineered the March on Washington on a practical level.
I have heard the contrary, I don’t know anything about this, but I have heard the other theory that he was not a good – was given this reputation because he was under fire and was a cover-up appraising him.
Well, I don’t know and I certainly don’t know the whole interior thing; it was true that he was under fire and it was something of an achievement that that did not discredit the March on Washington.
His previous pacifist –
Yes, and he was convicted of them all, in a sense ---
That is right, I forgot ---
--- And that was not generally known or publicized or used by some, by Congressmen and whatnot, with any great effect.
It was in the papers.
It was in the papers but as far as I can detect, it never caught hold enough or was publicized enough to be ---
I forgot this. I know this – Dr. Hedgeman takes a view that and I have heard elsewhere that he is not a good , he was covered up for by the
who couldn’t afford to let go. Randolph had to cover him (inaudible)
Well, just from what I have seen, not only the present time, but when he was especially working among college students and whatnot on the pacifists business, I have a great respect for his ability and his – and almost professionalism, I would say, in nonviolent agitation.
Is he optimistic in this matter of nonviolence, nonviolent demonstrations, do you know?
I haven’t talked to him recently. The last time I did, he was not optimistic. Of course, by theory is – hypothesis is that the violence that is most likely, won’t come from the extremists groups or from Malcolm X who wants Negroes to arm and resist and so on, but will be of the character of the – like the Cleveland riot and be an explosion but may be provoked by an unrelated – or apparently unrelated incident, but the kind of temperature of the ordinary Negro is so high that there will be spontaneous violence, without anybody ever sitting down and plotting it or planning it, and that is the most dangerous and destructive kind of violence.
Yes, you are right. There are people who yearn for that, though – say they do –
Isn’t it like – it has some kind of , -- I don’t know, I guess we will never know the truth about the assassination of the nice President, but as far as I can figure out, there is no direct connection between the assassination and Civil Rights as such.
Yet, the assassination came at a time when – after the bombing and so on in Birmingham, when there was acute frustration and I think apprehension about violence with the Negroes, and then the assassination happened and more or less everybody identified with it had a good cry and a lot of tensions unrelated were relieved, and – although I think also that that has pretty much dissipated itself but it did forestall –perhaps – violence for a couple of months.
What do you think is the – underneath the ritual grief etc. – is the Negro toward Kennedy now, -- a way to talk – saying such a thing as the Negro attitude now, but you see what I am driving at.
I think there are two attitudes. One is some self-conscious attempt perhaps to make him a symbol and martyr for Civil Rights – you know – the easy comparisons with Lincoln and that kind of thing, but I think also that it’s factually unjustified and that a lot of Negroes realize that, but there may be some kind of utility in remembering Kennedy in that way, on the grounds that his assassination – how do you put it – his assassination is an argument against any form of extremism in the racial crisis and other matters, and this tends to perhaps mute extremism of – but that he is as an authentic martyr for Civil Rights is ridiculous – he was a practical, hard-headed, fairly liberal politician who acted on Civil Rights when he was under pressure and he was forced to do so, politically speaking. I think that is the record and I don’t think that it is unfair, and I support it.
That is true of Lincoln, too, though isn’t it?
Yes, I think very much so.
Is any other type possible as an effective thinking?
I don’t know that it is, under our system.
Under what system might it be?
Well, I don’t know – see –
It is a question of manipulating power and who can manipulate power. (inaudible)
I don’t know that there is, at least in America.
Well this thought is sometimes very shocking to the Negroes (inaudible)
they don’t come to terms too easily.
Well, that is my point, that there may be a kind of at least temporary immediate tactful advantage in not being realistic about Kennedy’s role, because of the shock of the assassination itself and martyrizing him about it, even if the facts don’t justify it.
This then, understanding you are right, you were saying that the martyrizing of Kennedy serves a way to contain nonviolence –
And stifle the opposition to integration to some extent and to keep ------
Both. and to establish opposition to - white opposition to integration, and this can even be thought of as a conscious – as conscious on the part of Negro leaders ---
What do they decide to do when they have the memorial service at the end of the Morning [mourning] period? Well, they decided to go to the Lincoln Memorial and – you know – repeatedly comparisons have been made – well, as they obviously would be – between the two assassinations and – you know – it is by some coincidence, the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and all this contributes to it.
And the Vice-President contributes to the parallelism, too, the name. What do you think of Johnson, by the way?
Well, I sort of like him. I --- overlooking a kind of corniness in his speeches and whatnot, I think it is likely that he will get more results and in a shorter time. I think that has already been in documented, to some extent, the tax business and the education bill.
Throw me out when you are ready. How much stereotyping of Johnson is the black to end the cause because he is a southerner?
I don’t think so much – like – Dick Gregory has a gag on his – that after the assassination – it was something like after the assassination, twenty million Negroes held their breath until Johnson’s first address in which he put Civil Rights at the top of the agenda and then Gregory says “I’m packed” – and I think also on the record, he has a pretty good record in Congress on Civil Rights. I don’t detect any very critical ---
Where else could he go? I don’t know, I am just asking.
I don’t think there is any alternative.
I should hope not, politics are politics.
Of course surely the Southern senators have recognized that, too, and the debate and so on about the bill and the filibuster if there is one is some kind of ceremony --
Speaking of someone who is trapped, is he maybe trapped by a moment –
What about the Negro leadership (inaudible) Negro slogans, gets them away from the real issues ---
I think in New York, that has been the history – you know – they predominantly have voted Democratic in response to the letter of the Democratic politicians, locally and national, and –
What about ?
To add a power to, for example.
? freedom now, you know ---
Yes, but that is fine for a while and it has been fine for six years, but I think now there have to be some results, and they have to be results that affect everyday life of the Negro, in his in his school, in his job or chance for a job, in very practical situations like that, so for example, if the Civil Rights Bill passed tomorrow, that is not the end of the story and I don’t think it will even have much of an impact in the Negro community, because it will be so long before the Bill will have any practical consequences, there may be years of litigation about some of its provisions and the difficulties of enforcement and the possibilities of evasion are just tremendous in such a bill. We know that because we have such legislation in some of the northern states and whatnot, and there are very little practical consequences.
Not to underrate the importance of Civil Rights, but is the question fundamentally a Civil Rights question at all – how would you argue that point?
I think that it is a lot of things together. I think it is a question of Civil Rights in the sense – so to speak – what does it mean to be an American citizen? Well, that is a question that is as much for me as it is for the Negro, and hopefully even the Negro struggle to be recognized as a citizen is one that makes my own citizenship more secure, so it is not merely racial in sense although it has this focus; but I think it is other things too, it is now in the terms we were talking of earlier, a matter of whether or not this society will survive in any kind of liable sense, and there are other things we can do – like Germany had a problem before the war of how to deal with 10 or 12% of its population and they decided rather than – so to speak – integrate them, they would try to exterminate them, and it seems to me that our choices are roughly those, too, if there is not integration, as a practical matter of segregation cannot continue with the momentum of the protest against it and therefore the only other social policies that are imaginable are of a very of confining or exterminating or exporting American Negroes and I hope that the country isn’t prepared to do anything like that, but my point – in terms of the possible policies, the only one that has anything to command it, is integration, and for the sake of the Negro sure as such – so to speak – and also for my own sake and for yours and for all of us.
As a matter of Civil Rights, without underestimating it, can be thought – lack of Civil Rights – as a symbol of something rather than as a disease itself (inaudible) attacking the symptoms – After attacking the symptoms, Civil Rights is important, yes, I am not denying – nothing has been said – this line of thought I find to some Negroes is very chilling, they don’t like to mention it – some mystical values has been attached to Civil Rights as such – this tends to be middle-aged Negroes who respond this way, see what I mean?
I think two things. On one hand there is a certain uniqueness to the Negro cause – I mean – plenty of other people have suffered discrimination and so on in this country, but nobody ever – nobody else has the inheritance of slavery, not the Jews, not the Italians, not the – not any of the immigrant groups.
They also have a cultural background, a kind of cultural continuity.
Yes, but really the cultural background of American Negro is really America.
Most of the American Negroes are more like the old Yankee, the old southern than he is like the vast of American population. Does that make sense to you?
Yes, yes it does. But the other thing is Baldwin’s point of course, when he says that he doesn’t want to be integrated into a burning house – I agree with him. The Negro revolution poses the much deeper issue of – what kind of society this is and is to be, or perhaps should be.
Let me turn it around it a little bit. Is this physically a middle class – a middle class revolution – aspirations are to get in on the American middle class values ? Or is this a false question?
I don’t think it is a false question and I think that – I don’t know – this is just a guess – my impression would be for most of the participants in a – now that the rank and file people are involved – it is the first, that is, an aspiration for simulation to the middle class.
-- A very important middle class –
Yes, but I think – I mean, there are some voices exactly like Baldwin’s who are saying that – and see the issue as a critique and condemnation even possible and at that point, I would join the second group.
Do you see what Baldwin ? What kind of a vision he has for society to come – Do you see that – a governing vision?
I don’t think he does. I mean – I don’t think he has seen it either yet – I am very sympathetic toward all his – or most of his indictment, I wait to hear from him some word in the terms of what we were talking earlier, about reconciliation, about how there can be some kind of integrity and unity in society that transcends race. I don’t think –
I think there are damn few who do, white men or black men, I don’t think the issue has even been addressed yet and ---
It is high time that some Negro did.
I agree, in fact our friend Mrs. Hedgemen is able to be more articulate about this than any Negro that I know of. I have just been thinking about that, as a matter of fact, some kind of a – I mean – the time has come to talk about how do you love your enemy and now how do you love your Negro, white man or vice-versa or any more of the kind of egalitarian propositions because they, I think, are pretty empty anyway but a much tougher ---
You must know , this critique of (inaudible) God is talking to a natural man, not a redeemed man.
But I would say then, it is exactly in the actual event of bearing the hostility or the aggression of another, that a man’s redemption is worked out.
Yes, but this is worked in that process by something that happened, some spiritual has taken place so can’t conceive of that, he is a natural man according to
There is a precedent after all, I mean the crucifixion itself was the precedent and it is that and not particularly nonviolence as a political or even revolutionary tactic , but a different character in which the love volunteers to accept and bear whatever one’s enemy offers, and whatever one’s enemy does for , is not destructive of the love, even though he may end up dead, if you love the world that way, if you love another that way.