FEBRUARY 6, 1961
WALTHAM, Mass.—In the past few days I have twice had the opportunity of hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak—once at the annual Roosevelt dinner of the Americans for Democratic Action, on Thursday night, and again on Friday afternoon in New York at a meeting at Mrs. Dorothy Norman's home.
Dr. King is a very moving speaker. He is simple and direct, and the spiritual quality which has made him the leader of non-violence in this country touches every speech he makes. He speaks, of course, for that Southern organization which is gradually gaining support all over the United States—the Congress of Racial Equality, known as CORE. Its new national director, James Farmer, impresses me as a very intelligent and capable man.
Three of the students who have taken part in the non-violent sit-ins or picketing were present with Dr. King, and one of them spoke. I don't think anyone could have helped but be moved merely by looking at the faces of these young people. Dr. King said that they were prepared for sacrifice and suffering, because they knew that a cause which did not require this of them would probably not develop the best in its followers.
Dr. King recounted the stories of ten CORE members who were arrested at a lunch counter in Rock Hill, S.C. Nine of them are on the chain gang today. Their sentence is for 30 days—and it has been snowing of late in South Carolina. Nevertheless two of the members have written to CORE headquarters to say that "jail is not pleasant, but for us it is a haven of freedom and preferable to the segregated society outside."
Does this shock you just a little? The words of these young men would seem to disprove statements often made that the Negroes do not mind segregation, that all agitation is brought about by outside meddlers who create an artificial atmosphere of dissatisfaction and unrest. Some of our Southern legislators, indeed, have blamed this on the Communists. Yet I am afraid these young people disprove such assertions by their peaceful resistance, and by their determination to do away with inequality between races and to have real democracy in the United States.
Controversy continues in New York State over various changes that have been recently suggested for its educational system. Some time ago I pointed out that New York City has long been proud of the fact that its City College gives free tuition to residents of the city, and I felt this tradition should not be broken by charging even so-called nominal fees.
Governor Rockefeller has now suggested that every student living in the state who applies for a scholarship shall be granted $200 if he is attending a university that charges $500 or more for tuition. The State University is backing this proposal. They see no reason why a boy who lives outside New York City should have to pay tuition, as he does today, when one living in the city can get it free.
I entirely agree with this point, but I think they are wrong when they try to eliminate what is good in order to bring about equality. What they should do is to see to it that all young people have the opportunity for free higher education. If the Soviet Union can give its young people not only free tuition but also a living allowance, then surely American taxpayers can do with fewer cosmetics or a little less liquor and put the money into free education for those able to pass the exams. This should be done on exactly the same basis as public schools. If anyone desires a child to go to a privately supported or denominational college of any kind, they should have to pay just as they do for private schools in the lower or secondary grades.
Governor Rockefeller's solution would be a help to private and denominational colleges, but it would not help general education. Tax-supported state and city colleges should be open to any city or state resident, and no scholarships should be needed. Qualifications required should be educational qualifications and tests showing capacity and desire for learning. I cannot understand why the government is only interested in benefitting private and denominational colleges. I am more interested in having an opportunity for all children to attend free tax-supported colleges that are of the very highest standards, for in this way our country will cease wasting human material. Certainly it is clear that we can no more afford to waste brains in this country than we can afford to overlook conservation of our soil and of our forests.