The Charlotte News



The South Hides Its Eyes

By W. J. Cash

Cash had the utmost scorn for the kind of Southern "leader" who, on hearing the South termed the nation's "Number One Economic Problem," did nothing positive, but cried out instead that he and his region had been insulted. In this article Cash named names: Senator Olin D. Johnston (South Carolina Democrat) the kind of New Dealer who strove to shout "nigger" louder than any competing politician; and anti-New Deal Senators Josiah W. Bailey (North Carolina Democrat) and Walter F. George (Georgia Democrat).

--Note from W.J. Cash: Southern Prophet by Joseph L. Morrison
(This article appeared in the Reader section of Prophet.)

Two of the gloomiest things about the South that I know are the reaction to the report of the National Emergency Council that the South is the nation's "Number One Economic Problem," and the fact that I can nowhere descry any political or economic leadership which seems in case to deal with the matter realistically.

Before me, as I write, lies the report of a speech by a gentleman wherein he adverts to the report and sets himself down as believing that it is not true. Not true! That report was based entirely on the findings of Dr. Howard Odum's "Southern Regions of the United States," and the United States Census Reports, and behind it lie many years of systematic examination and tabulation of facts by a corps of workers trained in gathering just such data. There is not a single statement in the report which is not backed by an enormous amount of material which has been checked over and over for errors. And all that material adds up the fact that, by every measure known to sociologists, the South shows a vast and accelerating lag—that, under all the indices of civilization, the region, which is potentially one of the richest on earth, is increasingly backward as against the rest of the nation.

To say that you don't believe it is true is precisely as rational as though you had said that you do not believe it is true that the earth is round, simply because you had never taken the trouble to examine the evidence.

The gentleman whom I quote is not, however, very important, and if he were the only one it would not matter. But alas, he is only echoing a general chorus. Over in Tennessee a gentleman who represents the Southern States Industrial Council was so infuriated by the report that he wrote directly to the National Emergency Council denouncing it for having "insulted" the South! His organization, as I understand it, exists for the purpose of getting factories to come South, and I suppose he was partly actuated by fear that the report might scare some of them away. But to say that a recitation of statistics and facts is an insult—whew!

Nor does it at all stop with him. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Norfolk papers, The Montgomery Advertiser, the Atlanta papers, The Raleigh News and Observer, The Charlotte News, The Greensboro News, The Chattanooga News, and a few others did, indeed, accept the report as authoritative and concern themselves only with what might be done about it. But if the papers I see are representative—and I see a great many of them—the reaction of the greater part of the Southern press was most remarkably like that of the gentleman I have just cited. "What! Have we then nothing to be celebrated for?"--Such was the general tenor.

And when we turn from the newspapers to the politicians—oh, yes, there were politicians in the South who greeted the report with open arms and from the housetops loudly proclaimed their belief in it. But who were they? Why, simply the Olin Johnstons. Men who have hitched themselves to the New Deal wagon for political purposes and who loudly applaud anything the New Deal does, not because they have looked into or understand or give two hoots about the merits of the case, but simply because it promises to be a good vote-getting device. Men whom the South quite naturally distrusts.

But the overwhelming majority of Southern politicians rejected it out of hand. Josiah William Bailey came down to North Carolina and made a speech to the Young Democrats at Raleigh in which he denounced it by innuendo all the way through, and made appeal to all the old bloody shirt themes to rouse up sentiment against it. George of Georgia did much the same thing. And so all along the line. Indeed, many of them actually gave their clientele to understand that the thing is somehow a menace to White Supremacy in Dixie.

It is a prospect which is baffling. These men are the ablest men in politics in the South. And yet, faced with a factual report, they refuse to consider and recognize it—perhaps even to look into the evidence upon which it is based, but simply decree that it is not so and have recourse to nonsense about "Sherman's Second March."

Obscurantism has always been the greatest curse under which the South has had to labor. There are understandable historical reasons why it should have developed a vast defensive-complex during the slavery-Civil War-Reconstruction battle, why it should have insisted for many years that it had absolutely nothing wrong with it but was in fact the nearest thing to paradise on earth. But that sort of thing is too utterly dangerous now for any man with any intelligence or sense of responsibility to indulge in. The South faces pressing problems—the problem of how to use the resources so as to increase its wealth, without merely giving it away as under the idiotic Mississippi Plan—the problem of what to do with the tenant farmers and croppers who in ever-increasing numbers are being thrown out of employment and onto the relief rolls by the machine and the decline of the cotton economy—the problem of a decent living for its Negroes and its white slum- dwellers, who presently pile up such an appalling disease and crime bill for Dixie precisely because it does not afford them that decent living.

And not to face them, to go on yelling that everything is lovely and that all we need is to be let alone, is simply to invite disaster. Any man who does it ought to be retired from public life as certainly as the Olin Johnstons.

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