AUGUST 2, 1957
NEW YORK—In discussing the Negro boycott of white merchants in Tuskegee, Ala., day before yesterday, I said that Southern whites have used economic pressure against Negroes in many areas. The story of how they have done it in Orangeburg and Clarendon counties in South Carolina is detailed in a pamphlet sent me by a member of the National Committee for Rural Schools.
In 1947, Negroes began to petition South Carolina for integrated public schools. When the Supreme Court decision was handed down in 1954, the White Citizens Council started a campaign of extreme intimidation and economic pressure. Those who had originally signed the petition were the first victims. Their names had already been printed in the local newspapers, most of them had been dismissed from their jobs and their lives had been threatened, but when the Negro community rallied to their support the intimidation and economic pressure was applied to the entire Negro population.
The Council offered $10,000 for a list of the Negro leaders.
White merchants were urged not to sell to Negroes. Starting gradually, with the restrictions applying to more or less luxury items at first, this boycott-in-reverse grew until the list of what Negroes could not buy from white merchants covered practically every basic need—such as gasoline, oil, automobile parts, hardware, tractors, fertilizer and seeds. Finally, they even added bread, milk and medicine.
Practically every Negro storekeeper in that area was forced out of business, so that Negroes had to travel fifty miles or more in order to buy bare essentials.
Negro workers who would not sign statements that they believed in segregation were fired from their jobs. Banks refused to give Negro farmers small crop loans.
In spite of all their difficulties, the Negroes have not completely lost hope. They now propose, with the backing of the National Committee for Rural Schools, to start a cooperative store run by their own Improvement Association. The cooperative would import, at wholesale prices, the commodities urgently needed. And, since the White Citizens Councils have declared that they will extend their campaign of economic pressure to prevent any produce from Negro farms being sold in the area, the cooperative would help the Negro farmers sell their produce outside the area.
The Negroes will start a credit union and have a reliable, well-trained co-op manager. They firmly believe that the White Citizens Councils will increase the economic pressure and the intimidation campaign, but they have the courage to stay and make what I can only call the peaceful fight for their right to live. To do that, they need help from outside the area in financing themselves.
This help must come from people who feel that this is a situation where violence should not be used, and that people, no matter what their race or color, have a right to live in the land that they love.
This is of concern to people in every part of our country, because if Negroes cannot live where they are, they will be forced to move elsewhere, and help will have to be extended to them there instead of in the areas where they are now settled and would like to continue living.
Actually, of course, the Negroes are of value economically to the South, but at present the White Citizens Councils can only see what seems to them a danger. It will take time and a little calm for them to realize that the danger lies as much in losing this population as in retaining it and accepting the fact that integration is as inevitable as freedom eventually is in all areas of the world.