The simple and tragic truth of the race situation in the Southern states where three-fourths of the country’s Negroes live is that in a time of total war Northern agitators of the black man are giving new leases of life to Southern agitators of the white man. The whole story is in that. Its tragedy goes especially hard with those Southerners who have loved and fought for the Roosevelt administration through three terms and who have admired the First Lady for her industrious and undoubted humanitarianism.
The issue of race segregation, which the South considers a thing apart from the general issue of advancement for the Negro, had already been raised, hatefully and dishonestly, by Talmadge when the war came. It was not a genuine issue then. Talmadge could have been beaten on it. But it became genuine when Negro leaders outside the South, with the apparent backing of Mrs. Roosevelt and the possible support of the Administration, made the war an occasion for the most intensive campaign ever launched against any and every differential, minor or major, between white man and black. If these leaders had been willing to confine their fire to discriminations against the Negro in war production plants and in training schools, the Talmadges and all -they represent in demagogy, fanaticism, Ku Kluxery, and psychopathic hate and fear would not have been given new leases. They have chosen, however, to go crazy with their championings, scouring the land for trouble, entering loud complaint even against the calling of Negro babies “picka* ninnies,” and making plain beyond question an intent to use the war for settling overnight the whole, long, complicated, infinitely delicate racial problem. Their argument has its appeal, true. They say that America must prove the democracy for which it is asking its people to fight abroad by making it complete at home. In the circumstances, however, they might as logically say that because America’s house is on fire, America must take the occasion for renovating the kitchen or putting Venetian blinds in the parlor. So little are they concerned by the fact that their all-em-bracive crusade means a domestic war while their country is making supreme war abroad that they have invited their followers to think in terms of a Double V-for-Victory—victory in battle with Hitler and victory in battle at home. Victory, unhappily, doesn’t work that way. The battle at home begins to threaten the battle against the man with the little black moustache. He happens to be the greatest race-hater in history, the Jim Crow of all the ages. He has called the Negro “lower than the ape” and will treat him so if he gets a chance.
These Negro leaders who insist on appeasement as their price of full participation in the war say that Southern white liberals who are opposing them in what these liberals think are the interests of the Negro and the Nation do not properly estimate the current feeling among the Negro population. An answer is that these leaders themselves and their backers in high political place have brought the feeling to its intensities. A more compelling answer is that there is another feeling which is being agitated to white heat too: that is the feeling of white majorities in the South—where most of the Negroes live. Listen, for grim example, to Horace C. Wilkinson, Birmingham lawyer-politician, who had retired from a career of talented gadflying until the present race excitements brought him back for a speech to the Kiwanis Club of Bessemer last July 22nd. Mr. Wilkinson began by quoting a Birmingham bus driver who had pointed to a group of Negroes and told him, “Right there, mister, is where our next war will break out, and it may start before this one is over.” Following a court-room method which practice has made perfect in him, Mr. Wilkinson told his audience: “I regard that as an overstatement of the situation, but I was impressed with the man’s sincerity when he detailed numerous recent instances of insolent, impudent conduct on the part of Negro passengers that necessitated ‘calling the law,’ as he expressed it. I learned that there seems to be a disposition on the part of many Negroes to disregard and resist the Jim Crow Law and that in many instances it has been necessary to stop and hold buses and street cars until officers could be summoned to make unruly Negroes occupy the part of the car reserved for them or remove them because they refused to do so. Montgomery is having similar experiences.” The speaker then launched into a long list of “atroc-ites.” He told of a telephone call to the Louisville & Nashville Railway office in Birmingham from a conductor in Anniston who was holding his train because “a Negro was determined to ride in the white car, the law to the contrary notwithstanding.” He told of “white men at the Republic Steel works who are complaining about Negroes being given jobs that have always been filled by white men—they want the situation relieved by law, but they want it relieved.” He described a scene in a Dothan liquor store where Negroes’ had grown “tired of waiting in line and decided to take matters in their own hands” and “practically took over the store.” He recalled “the Montevallo incident, when a number of young ladies attending the State College there were insulted by Negroes throwing kisses to them as they waited at the railroad station for a train to carry them home.” He mentioned “race trouble narrowly averted at Tuskegee when there was a clash between the white civil authorities and the Negro military police in the white business section of the city,” and how, when the Negroes had been disarmed, officials at Tuskegee demanded that “their pistols be restored.” “The situation is regarded as extremely serious by many of the most substantial people. One man in whom I have utmost confidence told me that practically every responsible male citizen in the town was a special officer of some kind.” Mr. Wilkinson then spoke of a legal action “filed by a group of Negroes in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County undertaking to force the American Legion in Alabama to charter Negro posts.” He quoted Wendell Willkie’s address to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at its Los Angeles convention and declared that Willkie had “advocated a program that, in my judgment, would inevitably result in two things, namely: the destruction of segregation and the amalgamation of the races. . . . As I see it, the difference between Mr. Willkie and the national leadership in the opposing party is the difference between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum.” He noted the local morning paper with “an account of a demand for a racial show-down made on the President of the United States by A. Philip Randolph, International President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,” and cited Randolph for making much of “two lynchings” and of “the execution of Odell Waller, a Negro share-cropper in Virginia, for coldblooded murder.”
Then, like the preacher who gives fifty-five minutes to luscious descriptions of sin and closes with a five-minute appeal against sinning, Mr. Wilkinson said: “These instances, like boils on the body, are indicative of a condition that needs attention. They are not mentioned for the purpose of arousing feeling against the Negro race but for the purpose of showing you that the time has arrived for discussion that will provoke serious consideration of the situation in Alabama and the South and bring forth suggestions for a solution of the problem within the law and under the Constitution of the United States. . . . About 10 percent of the population of this country are Negroes. The whites being in the majority, it is their right and responsibility to work out the problem within the law and by a law that all whites and blacks must obey. It must be done that way. Extra-legal methods, however necessary or effective they may have been in days of yore, are not to be resorted to now.”
Mr. Wilkinson’s speech has been quoted and passed about all over the South. Its pieties against extra-legalism were not among the popular parts. I have outlined it here without prejudice to questions of fact and of right-and-wrong, Its significance is in the feelings it represents and those it arouses. Set these against the ones that are being aroused among the colored people and you have your trinitrotoluol.
Alabama’s United States Senator Bankhead found his state in such a fever of racial trouble and anticipation of trouble when he came home last summer that he wrote a letter to General Marshall, Chief of Staff, suggesting: “If you feel obliged to have Negro soldiers in the South as a result of social or political pressure, can’t you place Southern Negro soldiers there and assign the other Negro soldiers in the North where their presence is not likely to lead to race wars?”
A fact as sure as science is that the white majorities of the South are unwavering and total in their determination not to have race segregation abolished. And Southern liberals, who in other days have befriended and championed the Negro to the point of getting themselves mentioned adversely in Klan circles, are too well aware of this to believe that anything but harm to the Negro, the South, and the na-tion-at-war can come of current agitations. “The Southern Negro,” said Mark Ethridge, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, in his now famous statement as a member j of the President’s Committee on Fair Labor Practices at the hearings in Birmingham last July, “cannot afford to drive from his side, in his march to a greater fulfillment of his rights, the Southern white men of good will who have been his chief asset and his chief aid.” Mr. Ethridge said this in prelude to his historic declaration that “There is no power in the world—not even in all the mechanized armies of the earth, Allied and Axis—which could now force the Southern white people to the abandonment of the principle of social segregation. It is a cruel disillusionment, bearing the germs of strife and perhaps tragedy, for any of their [the Negroes’] leaders to tell them that they can expect it, or that they can exact it as the price of their participation in the war.”
Mr. Ethridge was speaking of a fact. He was passing no judgment, simply stating a truth without recognition of which there can be no practical approach now to the very real problems and needs of the Negro in the South. A New Dealer, a favorite of President Roosevelt for many posts and missions, a publicist criticized in some Southern quarters for his championings of the Negro, and a member of the President’s Fair Employment Practices Committee, he found it necessary as a man accustomed to getting things accomplished to make this statement of fact. Much as the statement disappointed some of his liberal friends in other parts of the country and angry as it made the national Negro leaders, it disappointed and angered even more the reactionaries in the South who are looking to gathering racial tensions as a shining chance for discrediting not only the New Deal but the whole liberal position. The race issue is one on which, when once it is hotly enough raised, anybody can beat anybody below the Potomac. To have Southern liberals like Mark Ethridge and Virginius Dabney taking forthright stands against agitation for settlement of the whole Negro problem overnight in the face of an enemy across the sea, even as they lead in demands for the Negro’s full participation in the industrial and military tasks of the war, has been confusing to the Talmadges of Dixie, to the Fascists, to the Klansmen who are itching so to ride, and to those gentlemen who took it upon themselves recently to use the club on a great Negro singer in Rome, Georgia, who had nothing but peace and good will in his heart.
The no-compromise leadership among the Negroes will have none of this fact-facing on segregation, however. At the 33rd annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Los Angeles last July, Assistant Secretary Roy Wilkins is quoted as vowing there would be no faltering in the all-or-nothing policy: “The issues are clear; the stakes are great; the path is straight; the tensions are tremendous; the pressure crushing. This is our answer to the Ethridges of Kentucky, the Dabneys of Virginia, the Graves of Alabama. This is the watchword that must go forward. We cannot give up the trust!” And A. Philip Randolph declared: “It is better to die fighting than to live begging.”
What is it that makes them so determined, these leaders who, in most instances, are perfectly honest in their conviction not only that their race has suffered much and is entitled to much, but also that this is the great time? There is, of course, their quite correct estimate of the difference between the democratic battle-cries with which this nation has gone to war and the want-of-democracy in many of our practices, especially towards the Negro. There is their correct understanding, too, that the Roosevelt administration, both for political reasons and for genuinely humanitarian ones, is inclined to back any and every proposal now for advancement of the Negro. More basically, there are the not-to-be-disputed facts of suppression, injustice, cheating, and denials practiced against Negroes by whites all over this land, with resultant low standards of living and low chances of improving the standard. There was a very real need of the famous Executive Order 8802 against discriminations in war-time industrial jobs. There was need of it not only as a measure for fullest employment of American manpower, but also to protect the Negro against economic hardships resulting from discriminations on the part of both management and labor in war industries, especially in the North.
The issuance of Executive Order 8802 is a story worth telling. In the summer of 1941, because of nation-wide discriminations in war industry jobs and training schools, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters called for a “Negro March on Washington.” With the support of Secretary Walter White, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he arranged for buses and special trains to bring an estimated 50,000 Negroes to the capital. This proposed dramatization turned out to be too dramatic. Mrs. Roosevelt asked that the march be called off, and was refused. When President Roosevelt made the same request he too was refused, until he agreed to issue the order banning discrimination against Negroes in war industries and setting up the Fair Employment Practice Committee, two of whose seven members were to be Negroes. Someone sent Walter White copies of my syndicated Southern column criticizing him for the proposed march. “On numerous occasions,” he wrote me on July 14, 1941, “we have pleaded with the President to break his silence and to speak out against this discrimination which not only was doing an injustice to the Negro but was definitely jeopardizing our national security through reduction of our productivity by approximately ten percent. The first time I urged him to do this was at a conference at the White House last September 25 (1940) at which were present Secretary of the Navy Knox, Under Secretary of War Patterson, A. Philip Randolph, and others, On that occasion and on several others the President gave as a reason for not taking definitive action against this discrimination that ‘the South would rise up in protest.’ On several occasions I have said to him ‘What South are you talking about, Mr. President? The South of Bilbo and Cotton Ed Smith, or the South of Frank Graham and Mark Ethridge?’ (This was before Mr. Ethridge had faced the facts about segregation and incurred the displeasure of the national Negro leadership.) I assured the President that apparently I had more faith in the inherent decency of Southern white people than he did in that I was certain that at least on an issue like this far more Southerners would approve his taking an unequivocal stand than would disapprove. . . . But for five months we were given the run-around. Appeal after appeal was made to Washington with little tangible result. Conference after conference was held, and nothing happened. Knudsen of OPM refused even to meet or discuss discrimination with any Negro delegation. . . . Discontent and bitterness were growing like wildfire among Negroes all over the country. Communists were trying as usual to capitalize on this. It was only then that Mr. Randolph and several others of us planned the March as a last resort to get some consideration of the plight of the Negro. . . . We are glad that things turned out as they did, though the executive order does not go nearly as far as the circumstances warrant or the needs of the situation demand.”
Unquestionably there was need of federal interference in the Negro’s behalf, and both the Negro and the war effort have been helped. In the great melee of men and goods and money which war production brought about, the Negro was losing his relative economic status quo. With peace jobs eliminated and war jobs denied, he was in danger of being worse off than before in comparison with the white man. During the boom times before 1929 he had been admitted more and more to skilled trades and the training required for them, but in the following days of depression he had lost I out (as he generally does). Representing about 10 percent of the total population, he accounted for about 20 percent of the unemployment during the 1930’s. After war producing began, the situation grew worse rather than better. Of 29,215 employees at 10 war plants in the New York area only 142 were Negroes. In 56 plants at St. Louis there was an average of only three Negroes to each. There were practically no provisions for training. But in the year after Executive Order 8802 was issued, the situation improved, partly as a result of the increasing manpower needs and I partly as a result of the order. The aviation industry, which had less than 300 Negroes in January 1941, had 3500 in April, 1942. The number employed in navy yards increased more than 300 percent.
Liberal Southern leadership, especially the liberal press, has applauded these gains and defended against other Southerners the Executive Order and the Fair Employment Practice Committee which have contributed to them. But Southern liberals have tended to draw away from the Administration and from the Negro leadership as evidences multiplied of an intent to use the war for breaking down the whole structure of Southern race relations. Editor Vir-ginius Dabney wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last April that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (and its magazine, The Crisis) had been “responsible for many important and justifiable advances on the part of the Negroes, but the manner in which it has stirred Negro citizens, and particularly Negro soldiers, to demand the complete wiping out of all racial differentiation overnight, is one of the chief reasons why there is such interracial tension among us, and why some Negroes are indifferent to America’s war effort. . . . So difficult and complex a problem as the race problem cannot be solved in any such abrupt and hasty fashion as the N.A.A.C.P. seems to desire.”
Against this attitude of the liberal Southern white man is the persisting one of northern Negro leaders. Reciting injustices to the Negro “particularly in the Southern States,” The Crisis declared editorially in March, 1941: “The Crisis leaves to its readers the question of whether there is a great deal of difference between the code for Negroes under Hitler and the code for Negroes under the United States of America—the leading democratic nation in the world.” Roy Wilkins vowed in Detroit after the Soujourner Truth riots that the Negroes are “fed up with this democracy stuff.” And when an official of the N.A.A.C.P., William Pickens, issued a statement praising the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee, first Negro aviation unit in history, he was officially dropped from the executive board for implied acceptance of segregation.
Southern Negro leaders have not made up their minds whether to follow the Southern white liberals or the Northern crusaders for all-or-nothing. But they are for the most part willing, nevertheless, to stress the national need in wartime and the boon of this country to all of its people. “In spite of the immemorial denials of so many democratic blessings to him,” wrote President James E. Shepherd, of the North Carolina College for Negroes, in a letter last spring J to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the Negro will be loyal | because he knows that at our worst he has higher hopes here than any other land will offer him at its best.” And Presi- ! dent F. D. Patterson, of Tuskegee Institute, has denounced Walter White and the current activities of N.A.A.C.P. as definitely harmful to his race. “Walter White’s ego,” he wrote a Southern Negro editor last March, “is undermining the effectiveness of the N.A.A.C.P. This organization has shown itself to be an effective instrument of protest against injustice in the courts and discriminations which have an implied state and federal sanction. The decisions it has been able to obtain from the Supreme Court in regard to these have been significant and far-reaching. But in the realm of practical adjustment of Negroes in American life, it fails miserably. The very nature of progress is a give and take affair. The extent to which White has been able to get the official ear in Washington has accomplished little because it has been used to protest adjustments short of what he has deemed was complete democratic integration.”
That Northern Negro leaders are determined to use the war as their shining chance for immediate and all-inclusive elimination of racial distinctions is a matter not in dispute, since they proclaim it. What about the Roosevelt Administration? Is it, too, looking in that direction? Throughout most of the South the activities of White, Randolph, and the others are identified with Mrs. Roosevelt and her known position on the race question. What the Administration itself has in mind I do not attempt to say, but there is a growing disposition among anti-New Dealers in the South to believe that it follows the First Lady. Governor Frank Dixon, of Alabama, a nephew of Author Tom Dixon (“The Klansman,” “The Leopard’s Spots,” etc.) intensified this point of view last July when he refused to sign a contract with the Defense Supplies Corporation for 1,-750,000 yards of cloth to be made by Alabama convicts. He gave as his reason a clause in the contract against race discrimination in performance of the work.
Especially objectionable to Southern employers is a practice under which the United States Employment Service is said to permit of no entries indicating race on its cards. Employers who are able to adjust their plant operations to the working of white and colored employees together are confronted with an irreconcilable situation when the Employment Service, which has a monopoly of available new workers, sends them colored stenographers, clerks, or secretaries to be installed in the same offices with white employees. This practice is the greatest single source of irritation and suspicion in the whole anti-discrimination policy of the Administration. For many Southerners it constitutes proof that Washington is interested not merely in manpower for the war effort and a fair share of jobs for the Negro but in breaking down race segregation in the South under cover of war. A definite departure is indicated in Section 5 of a United States Employment Service Bulletin, issued July 1, 1942. This permits the honoring of “discriminatory specifications . . . if the employer refuses to eliminate” them. Governor Dixon criticized in his statement “those who seek to foster their own pet social reforms in a time of national crisis.” Jumpy as he may have let himself become on the race issue and hostile as he may be to the Administration, he will have company of Southerners more liberal than himself if his suspicion that the Administration is using the war to force reforms in this or any other field is correct, More and more there is growing an appreciation of the fact that domestic crusades which mean a division in the face of the enemy are suicidal and that the so-called Double V (for victory over enemies abroad and over enemies at home) is really a Double X, a double-crossing of hopes for the very arena in which domestic crusades are waged.
Race segregation is an issue which cannot be forced in the South without hate, fear, violence, and a tragic dissipation of energies that belong to the war. Whatever the right and wrong of it, there are too many irreconcilables to make a solution possible now.
Something which the agitators for complete equalities between the races overlook is the vast difference between the Southern situation and that elsewhere. Of the 12,800,000 Negroes in the United States, more than three-fourths are in the South. The “Negro problem” in a state like New York, where Negroes are only four percent of the population, is different both in nature and in degree from the problem in Mississippi where Negroes are 49 percent of the population. And the differences are multiplied by variations in education, living standards, health, civic responsibility, and law-abiding. In part it is the Southern white man’s fault that the Southern Negro is less qualified than he might be and should be for the full participation now being demanded. But the fact of that lesser qualification is sure, The kinds of advancement to which he is most entitled and of which he is most in need are those which will qualify him for participation. Most of the agitation for doing away with segregation and all other racial distinctions now comes from states where the percentage of Negroes is small, but the basic problem is in states where the percentage is large. The difference is too often overlooked: Proportions of Negro to Total Population
Illinois. . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. 5 percent
Pennsylvania . . .. 5 percent
New York. . .. . … 4 percent
California. . .. . .. . .. 2 percent
Ohio . . .. . .. . .. . .. . .. . . 5 percent
Indiana. . .. . .. . .. . … 4 percent
New Jersey. . .. . . 5 percent
Connecticut . . .. . . 2 percent
Georgia. . .. . .. . .. . . 35 percent
Alabama. . .. . .. . .. 35 percent
Mississippi . . .. . . 49 percent
Louisiana . . .. . … 36 percent
South Carolina 43 percent
North Carolina 27 percent
Virginia . . .. . .. . .. 25 percent
Florida . . .. . .. . .. . . 27 percent
If individuals and organizations undertaking to lead the Negro were forced to live where most of the Negroes live, there might be a much better meeting of minds on the subject.
An argument among those who are proposing that the war be made an occasion for forcing advances for the Negro is that promises of advancement after the other World War were not fulfilled. If the promises were of total elimination of all racial wrongs, discriminations, underprivileges, and economic hardships, they have indeed not been honored. But if they were promises of a progress greater than the race had ever made before and greater than any other group is making, with a constant more in prospect, there are aspects in which they have been honored in excellent degree. There has been a striking advancement in Negro education, for example. In 1910 about 30 percent of all Negroes were illiterate. Today only about eight percent are in that classification. There were 64 Negro high schools in 197.5, today there are 2500. There has been advancement in health. Fifty years ago the annual death rate among Negroes in the United States was approximately 33 per thousand. “Heroic improvements in health facilities and modes of living,” reports President Edwin R. Embree, of the Julius Rosen-wald Fund, “have cut that rate more than in half—to an estimated 14 per thousand. This is still 32 percent above the annual death rate of 10.6 for the United States as a whole, though it compares favorably with the death rates for total populations in all but a few very advanced countries.” And it is immensely better than the Negro death rate of about 25 per thousand before the last World War. There has been advancement in organization. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has expanded from about 50 local chapters to more than 500. The National Urban League (of Negroes) is organized in 48 cities. The National Negro Congress has 102 chapters. The ranks of organized labor have been opened. In Alabama one-third of the 102,000 CIO members are Negroes. Reflecting the improving lot of the Negro is the Negro press. There are now 280 Negro papers in the country, with a total circulation of 1,406,800. Negro business organizations have also flourished. The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, largest Negro business in the world, had assets of $476,695 in 1918. Today those assets are $7,222,192. The company’s insurance in force has grown in the same period from $16,096,722 to $57,780,690.
A very great advance has been in factors represented by the radical decline in lynchings. Careful records of Tuskegee Institute include only two lynchings of Negroes this year. The number has been similarly near to zero for several years. It compares with 64 lynchings in 1918, 80 in 1919, or, going further back, 130 in 1901. Unhappily the number may increase now as a result of the agitations of the white man against the black and the black against the white.
Another advance has been in the number of leading Southern daily newspapers that have championed the Negro. This, in some respects, is the most notable advance of all, for the friendship of the white liberal Southerner is the Negro’s basic hope in the South. An improving point of view among Southern whites towards the Negro was illustrated, too, in the South-wide outcry against Governor Talmadge of Georgia when he interfered with his state’s higher educational system and raised the race issue in excuse.
The greatest advancement for the Negro—in what it promises even more than in what it has brought about—is his discovery by the Democratic Party. For the first time in history the Negro vote went to this party in 1932. It went again in 1936 and 1940. In so far as it represents something near to a balance of power in pivotal states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio, it may have become now of more value to the Democratic Party than is the vote of the white man in the South. The Negro may actually exercise more political power in the nation now than do the white Southerners who vote. That is a tremendous fact. Its implications run in many directions and some of them are tragic. In an increasingly political and federal day the Negro is going to be competed for by both parties in years to come and on a basis of concessions that will bring unprecedented advancement.
The Supreme Court has also discovered the Negro. It has decided against lower court convictions of Negroes where Negroes had been excluded from the jury. It has ruled that the pay of Negro and white school teachers must be the same, that railroad and other facilities must be equal in quality and service, that equal graduate schools must be made available. An interesting result of the decision for equal pay of school teachers, as Jonathan Daniels has pointed out, is that the teaching profession among Negroes tends to be more than ever one of the best paid ones available to the race and to draw, therefore, the best talent of the race, while the same pay for white teachers, representing a low income according to white standards, will continue in its present tendency to discourage talent in school teaching among that race. Each of these Supreme Court decisions means enormous forward marches and promises for the Negro. But the promise can be spoiled by any sharp aggravation of race relations in a South which seems for the present honestly seeking an adjustment to the decisions.
The Negro was discovered, too, by the New Deal. Even though some of the measures brought actual hardships on him rather than help during the first years, the whole target was the underprivileged American; and since the Negro is as a class the most underprivileged, it is he who has received most of the benefits and who will profit most from the social and economic measures as they are adapted and systematized in years to come.
Best of all for him, in the long run, the Negro has been discovered by the economists. There was a time when, except for his own convenience and the conscience of white men, it made little or no economic difference whether the Negro ate anything or wore anything, was sheltered anywhere or had the comforts and gadgets of civilization. But that was before mass production made mass consuming a practical necessity of a machine age. More and more now the great corporations and business establishments know that the final process in their economic integration is the manufacture of customers. And just as the South as a whole contains, because of its comparative poverty, the great potential customer pool in America, so does the Southern Negro, whose economic lot is the lowest, represent the Southern purchasing power that offers most to development.
Much of this advancement of the Negro has come about as a result of efforts by the very leaders and organizations that are agitating him now to demand a radical and immediate more in the midst of a war which threatens him most of all Americans. The very hands that have given him so much of this are in danger now of taking it away. If the war is lost or if the peace between white men and black in the South is lost, there will be no advancing, nor any holding of advances made. This war must be won. And the black man in the South, where most black men live, must get on with the white man in the South, no matter what Washington orders or New York demands.
Segregation in the South is not going to be eliminated. That is a fact to be faced, but it does not preclude a constant improvement in the Negro’s side of Jim Crow. Universal suffrage is not going to be granted the Negro in the South now, either, and that, too, is a fact to be faced. But it does not eliminate the Southern process under which more and more Negroes are being permitted to vote. The poll tax, an institution operating far more against white voting than Negro and preserved considerably more in the interests of those who fear union labor and the tenant farmer than of those who fear the black man, must be abolished. But many Southern liberals believe the repeal must be left to the states themselves, that the federal government has proved too rough-handed and uncomprehending to settle suffrage problems in the South. It is interesting to note—and pertinent to all that has been written here—that Alabama would in all likelihood have lightened its cumulative poll tax in 1939 but for outside agitation against race segregation. When the Southern Conference for Human Welfare met in Birmingham in the spring of 1938, Frank Dixon had just been elected governor on a platform calling for reduction to two of the number of years of back payment required under the law. With a legislature completely in his hand at that time he could have brought about the reform if he had put the whole power of his office into the effort. He was prepared to do so. But when some of the Northern Negro leaders, Northern federal officials and communists who composed a part of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare made a scene over race segregation (required by Birmingham City Ordinance), there resulted such a flare-up of racial and anti-communist feeling that the new governor changed face altogether on his poll tax promise and made only the most perfunctory request for it when the legislature met.
A real advance, even though small, which the South was about to grant under spur of its own developing liberal impulses, was destroyed by untimely outside agitation for the impossible. And that is what threatens now. The Negro needs much and is promised much but there is no hope for him unless he gets along with the white men of the South.