OCTOBER 2, 1961
NEW YORK—During a recent two-day speaking trip in North Carolina I was impressed, in Piedmont County, by what seemed to me a very relaxed situation as far as the race question was concerned.
I spoke at a college in a lecture series to which the town was invited. There was no segregation, and a number of Negroes attended. Both Marian Anderson and Thurman Arnold had previously appeared on this series, and on both occasions there had been an increase in the number of Negroes in the audience. On the night I spoke, some of the rows in the rear of the hall were so far back that I could not see very well the people who asked questions, which were repeated by the young student chairman and then answered by me. After the meeting I was told that it was the first time a question had been asked by a Negro. They were very pleased to have this happen and hoped it would mean more interest and active participation in the future.
I asked whether in this particular county there was any prohibition against the Negro vote other than the economic one of being able to pay a tax when it was required. I was assured there was no difficulty whatever, but that frequently Negroes seemed indifferent to the right to vote and very apathetic in using the privilege which in some states is denied them.
It seems to me that one should say to all citizens, no matter of what race, color or national origin, that their minimum duty is to use the right of participation by vote in their government. There is an obligation to make the vote meaningful by a study of the issues and personalities, but not to use it is a denial of one's belief in democracy and weakens the structure of our society.
A recent editorial in Ebony Magazine, entitled "The Care and Treatment of White Folks," takes our Negro citizens to task for sometimes meting out to their associates and guests of the white race the very kind of treatment from which the Negroes themselves suffer. It seems to me, however, that this is a perfectly natural human reaction. It takes great maturity to keep constantly in mind what must be going on in the hearts and minds of other people. To expect in a short time to wipe out the bitterness which for generations has been building up is to expect an awful lot. We are all human beings, and the color of our skin makes very little difference in the way we react in love and hate, joy or sorrow.
"To succeed," the editorial concludes, "the Negro has always had to be better than white folk. By his behavior let him prove that he can also be bigger." This, too, is asking a good deal. Women, in the competition that exists in the economic and professional world, have had always to be better than men to hold the same job or attain the same success; yet I am not at all sure that women, because of this, have learned to be really bigger people.
I rather think that those among us who have had fewer strikes against us in the past—and who have less to surmount in our daily lives—should develop greater discipline and try to accept the realities of the situation which arises from years of inequality and injustice. We will thereby move slowly to the point where we will be unconscious of our differences and able to think of each other as people whom we like or dislike on a completely equal basis. When that day comes, ours will be a stronger country and we will be on the whole a happier people.
In some parts of our country we should reach the desired results very much sooner than in others. Thus I read with extraordinary satisfaction of the success of the group that had been working on a cooperative basis in Atlanta in integrating eating places on a very large scale without a ripple of protest. This is an encouraging sign. Indeed, I have long felt that if things were done quietly and with a minimum of publicity, we could do a great deal and have a minimum of opposition.