The Charlotte News
Sunday, June 23, 1940
Site Ed. Note: "Decision" might appear on first read to be the writing of another paternalistic white Liberal of Cash's era--or, by our own standards today, even that of a segregationist. But this view is facile.
A thorough reading of Cash, the book, the Mercury, the newspaper editorials, demonstrates conclusively that his writing was always circumscribed in part by the type and breadth of readership he was seeking or apt to obtain in the given publication. His editorial writing on the South for The News, having a parochial audience, often differs by substantial degrees, though in the same general vein, from the sterner discussion in The Mind of the South. The assumption was obviously that it would take a more determined and better educated reader to buy or, to loan out from the library, and then labor through the pages of a thick book, than to read a short editorial in the daily newspaper of local distribution.
While all of his writing is characterized by psychological ploy, his newspaper editorial writing on race issues, rare as it was, is especially so. To tell white readers around Charlotte in 1940 that they should integrate would have been tantamount to saying man should land on the moon by 1969 or that the War would be ended by the dropping of a mere two bombs on Japan in 1945--nonsense which would have been alternately laughed at and scorned, perhaps violently scorned by some, in the end doing no good whatsoever. And he knew that. Indeed, when in 1944 his literary acquaintance Lillian Smith published her novel, Strange Fruit, about an interracial love affair, it was banned in many places in the South. Even such a relatively mild but mocking piece, not on race but religion as practiced in Charlotte, as Cash's "A Close View of a Calvinist Lhasa", published in The American Mercury in April, 1933, was reportedly banned from many areas of the city, including even the public library, (that being recounted by Mary Cash to Joseph Morrison in 1965, though hotly and vehemently denied by the then head librarian).
Thus, to embrace mildly the institutionalized segregation of that era, when every white person who spoke at all--including President Roosevelt--embraced it likewise, was not as it might seem, and certainly not as it would come to be, as sacred symbols of racial hatred being spewed by such bilists as Lester Maddox and George Wallace by 1962--"Segregation now, segregation tomorra, and segregation faweva".
By the latter era, Brown v. Board of Education, ordering the integration of public schools "with all deliberate speed" had been decided and the Jim Crow era of segregation thoroughly repudiated by the Supreme Court as never having fostered what the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson claimed as the territory of acceptable muster under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, "separate but equal". This event, the landmark Brown ruling, was still fourteen years away in 1940. And even the realization of the ideal espoused in Brown, a case coming out of Topeka, Kansas, not the South, (though companion cases decided simultaneously came from Virginia and South Carolina, as well as from Delaware), would not become a reality until the late 1960's and early 1970's, until much blood had been shed and litigation and re-litigation wasted trying to stop it.
So to take the stand publicly at that time, which Cash knew could never be easily achieved and privately told associates would never occur without prolonged violence, that the institutions of society should be fully integrated would have been to risk precipitating delay by stirring the hate-mongers to their worst all over again--the night rides, the whip, the rope. To advocate instead something which he knew could never realistically be accomplished at length without full integration, institutionalized equality of the races while maintaining institutionalized segregation, is in effect a stance in the realm of logical conundrum of which Cash was very fond of placing his reader's mind. Adopt the position which he knew at least some of the more progressive white people in the community and in the nation would readily accept, especially as the principle had the ring of a good Christian principle about it, and which was slowly carrying with it the force of law, which good Southerners were always loathe to disobey, while not abrading too badly the nice acceptable middle class conventions of the time of a segregated white society, one which is still grudgingly being shed in practice in many parts of the country, not just the South, even if the institutionalization of it had largely passed by the end of the 1970's. And so not alienate a priori even his more educated readership.
Cash was wise enough to know that such vast social changes of long-standing patterns of conduct and belief take at least a generation to effect but that there had to be a start somewhere. Just the public advocacy of such an heretical position as equality of pay for similar work between the races was quite bold and progressive for a time when white males in any given level of society clung to the notion of wage superiority over everyone else working in the same or similar position, be they of a different race or national origin or even of the other sex. As for African-Americans getting equal pay for equal work, the informal retort was apt to be something like, "They're over yonder in niggertown, that's different", and that even by the "best sort".
But if you are a Revisionist irretrievably bent on it, give Cash and his type of pioneer the retroactive lash of your inattentive tongue, do your damage anyway--but don't blame us for the result for which you at long last must have wished...
Should you be sitting on the fence about whether what we suggest is worthy of credit, read carefully and consider the first editorial of this date's column, "More Firsts", and consider why Cash took the time also to point out the absence of a public park, a drinking fountain, and a "rest station". Wonder why. (Poor feller must be dense. Don't he know why?)
But for the attentive, the power of and value of all of these editorials will be noticed, as well as the reason why we take the time to place them before you. Not so much always or even usually for precisely what they say, but rather for the process being exhibited, and that against the historical backdrop of the times in which the words were said. The process of changing opinion vastly and for the better is not accomplished in the realm of the facile or self-congratulating. Witness that it is the words of the Dead--Lincoln, Gandhi, King, Kennedy, Malcolm Little, for example--who died, perhaps sacrificed their lives, for what they believed, though at the time maybe not greatly popular, at least not so great as the self-congratulating Revisionist reaping the profits might lead us to believe, which often move us the most.
How Do These Lacks Fit With Big Town Idea?
While Charlotte is congratulating herself proudly on having climbed into the hundred thousand class, there are several distinctions which go along with that new status which we might look at also.
Charlotte, we're pretty confident, is the only town of 100,000 people in the United States which has:
1 -- Not only no uptown park but not a single public place in which the people can sit down and rest.
2 -- Not a single public drinking fountain in the downtown area.
3 -- No public "rest station."
4 -- Not a single proper trash receptacle on the streets. The funny little conical cans hanging on the lamp posts don't, of course, answer that description. Few people ever observed they are there. And when they do attempt to deposit trash in them, the wind promptly blows it out again.
We say we were pretty confident about this. We haven't, of course, checked all the other towns in America in the hundred thousand class and above. But we have checked over all those we remember. And to save us we can't remember any of them that didn't have all four of these things. There may possibly be some town of a hundred thousand which lacks one or more of them. But if we were betting men we'd lay you odds of ten to one that there isn't another similar town in the country which lacks all of the four.
The Example of Mexico Is Observed in Argentine
How canny are our nice little Latin neighbors--or some elements among them at least--and just how much they love the Big Brother of the North is again illustrated by the fact that it has been proposed in the Argentine Senate that all foreign-owned public utilities be expropriated.
Argentina hasn't done it yet, to be sure. But the fact that it can be proposed makes it plain that the lesson of Mexico has not been lost upon some of her people. Mexico has been playing fast and loose with us simply because of canny understanding of what we want most because of the international situation--the preservation of governments in Latin-America which are at least not out right Nazi and which we hope will be willing to co-operate with us. With that in mind, she has boldly expropriated American oil interests and got away with it. And with that in mind, she has continued to demand that we support her faltering economy by buying silver, entirely useless to us, at inflated prices--and got that also.
And now as the situation grows hotter, some of the Argentines turn a speculative eye toward playing the same game--for most of the foreign-owned utilities in the country are the property of citizens of the United States.
We have no desire to accuse Argentina unfairly. She hasn't, as we say, really done it yet. And she may not--for Argentina is not exactly Mexico, though she is akin to her. Nevertheless, it is to be remembered that there are strong Nazi elements in Argentina--people of German extraction and natives--who would dearly love to stir up trouble between Argentina and the United States. And so we may see it happen. If we do, we shall probably have no recourse but to grin and bear it.
Jap Eagerness To Grab It Heralds Trouble for Us
We may have trouble on our hands sooner even than we expect, and from another direction than Europe.
Japan is slowly going mad as she looks at all the ripe plums now lying around loose in the Pacific, with their owners no longer able to protect them. And it may be that her appetite will run away with her before long, despite the fact that the American battle fleet is lying somewhere beyond Hawaii.
Prize for which she is just now slavering is French Indo-China. Excuse is that arms are going through the territory to the Chinese. Time was when that was true. It is no longer true to any appreciable extent, for France has had no arms to spare for anybody for sometime now. But one excuse is as good as another.
Japan wants the province greatly. For aside from its own great riches, which include tin, it would put her in much better position to strike for the Dutch East Indies, whence come tin and rubber. And in addition, it would put her close to Singapore which would be our base if we fought for the Dutch East Indies.
How her eagerness is growing is indicated by the fact that three times in the last eight days she has renewed her warning to France about the "passing of arms to China." And if she moves, we are going to be squarely up against the decision of abandoning the East altogether or fighting. Perhaps the entry of Henry Stimson into the Cabinet was timed as a warning to her. For ever since his days as Hoover's Secretary of State he has favored a strong American policy as against Japanese aggression.
A Southern Court Wipes Out a Discrimination
The decision of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of the Norfolk Negro school teacher, who brought action on the ground that it was unconstitutional to pay him a smaller salary than was paid to white teachers of exactly the same qualifications, was the only possible one. The Fourteenth Amendment says flatly that nobody shall be discriminated against because of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." This was clearly a case of such discrimination.
However, the practice has been general, not only in Virginia but in the South at large. Indeed, the South has always spent at least five dollars on every white pupil to every one spent on the Negro pupil, despite much recent improvement.
It is a short-sighted policy. The case for the general segregation of the races we believe to be a good one, despite the fact that it entails a huge extra economic burden. All other considerations aside, that is so simply because of emotional reactions which are not to be controlled in most men--some of them very good ones--simply by rational propositions.
But the only way segregation can be just is for the Negro to have his portion measured out with the same spoon used for the white. Jim Crow laws and so on would be a good deal more defensible if it were actually true that the Negro generally got the same accommodations as the white man.
But to stint him in the schools is immediately against the white man's own interest. It is idle to deny that the case of the educated Negro raises problems of its own. Nevertheless, the plain fact is that the educated Negro is nearly always a far better citizen than the uneducated or poorly educated one. For instance it is from these last two cases, not the first, that the staggering number of Negro murders in the South arises.
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