NOVEMBER 9, 1959
DE KALB, Ill.Sunday—I noticed a story in one of our metropolitan newspapers, the other day, about a judge in Tennessee who had ordered the Highlander Folk School administration building to be re-opened. It had been padlocked on charges that at one time it had allowed beer to be sold there. The public prosecutor in Tennessee however, is doing his best to have Highlander Folk School's license as a school revoked. They have had this license for 28 years and were training both colored and white labor leaders and organizers, as well as holding many other seminars.
Repeated efforts have been made through the years to harm these people. The basic reasons are, first, the fear of trained labor leaders, who seem to be considered a menace in the South; and second, the fact of integration in all their meetings at the school. The first effort made to discredit the school was a charge of Communist activities. No proof could be found by the court and the case was thrown out. The current effort was to declare the school a public nuisance by alleging that rowdy meetings were held there and that drinking went on. I have been there only once, when I saw nothing stronger than fruit punch. But people who have been there many times assure me that there was never any drinking and the amount of liquor on the premises at any time was extremely moderate.
Everyone who knows the school attests to the fact that the colored woman who is educational director, Mrs. Septima Clark, is a fine person and also one of the most intelligent that could be found to fill this position. She was arrested last summer in a raid which has since been declared illegal. Three other instructors who were there for the summer were held for being drunk. In a column not long ago I described how one of them came to tell me about the incident. His mother happens to be a Southern lady who wanted him to have the experience of teaching in this school. None of those arrested had been drinking, but they were nevertheless declared drunk and held overnight in jail before being allowed to post bail the next morning. In the raid they searched Mr. Myles Horton's house but found very little liquor.
It would be easy for Mr. Horton, who could get work elsewhere without difficulty, to give up the school. But he is trying to prove the principle of the right of people who want a certain kind of education to receive it without discrimination. This, after all, is in accordance with the Supreme Court order for public schools.
It is shocking to me that any state in the Union, in order to circumvent a principle which the Supreme Court has laid down, should try to trump up false charges and hound reputable citizens. These people may not be doing what some of their neighbors approve of, but they are trying to carry out what they consider the right thing for their country and to live up to their own ideals. This should command respect everywhere.