AUGUST 5, 1960
NEW YORK—I have received a letter from "a farm woman that has lived here in the northern part of Orange County, Little River Township, N.C., all of my life." She is an old woman, and perhaps age has given her wisdom, so I want to quote some of what she said:
"I am a Methodist and I believe God made each of us and watches over us no matter what creed we follow...We have a Negro problem in the South and I think it will take a lot of the best minds to solve it. The folks around here that I have seen are all up in the air about it more than the religious issue. My days are spent, but I stand up and let myself be heard...
"The best minds working together can come up with something that will unite us all in the march to victory...Love of our fellow beings helps us to be a good soldier marching for freedom as proclaimed on our Statue of Liberty."
This old lady believes that we can elect a Roman Catholic as President and we can treat the Negro as a fellow human being.
I sometimes think that the very old and the young people are best able to face our difficulties and decide that we can live together in peace and dignity so long as we know what we believe in and stand up for it.
I went Tuesday night to hear Charles Laughton's version of "John Brown's Body" by Stephen Vincent Benet. This is a beautifully arranged dramatic version of one of the poems that I like best, and I cannot speak too highly of the performances of Angela Wood, Donald Moreland and Bernard Engel.
Next year we will be celebrating the centennial of the Civil War, and it seems fitting that this beautiful stage version of the poem should be revived at this time. Too few people, I find, are familiar with this 1928 Pulitizer Prize poem.
To me, the beginning, with the scene in the slave ship and then the story of John Brown and his sons and the uprising at Harper's Ferry, provides a remarkable understanding of the turbulent years that preceded the War Between the States. The poem certainly should be read by everyone in this country who wants to understand the background of our present racial problems.
Lincoln's death was a tragedy in that it deprived us of the gentle and strong leadership through the years of reconstruction. These years were marked by so many excesses that the enslavement of the colored people was prolonged and the bitterness created that still exists between the North and South. One can only hope that during the centennial there will be a wisdom and understanding among our leaders that will draw our nation into closer unity, which was Lincoln's greatest objective.
I must also mention the music that accompanies this presentation of "John Brown's Body." With the score composed by Fenno Heath and a chorus of 16 persons conducted by Robert Browne, it sets the mood for the production.
The play—or perhaps I should call it a dramatic recitation—nearly closed down in Greenwich Village because of the lack of patronage. It is now in the little theatre of the Hotel Martinique at 32nd and Broadway. If you have an opportunity to attend, I think you will be moved more than if you simply read the poem.