The Charlotte News

Friday, May 5, 1939


Site Ed. Note: "A Wise Father" sounds a note echoed in The Mind of the South, congratulating Cam Shipp and The News for "the most uncompromising and thorough study of slums ever carried out in a Southern town", accomplished in 1937, leading to the Federal grant for the Charlotte housing projects in 1939. (Mind, Book III, Chapter III, "Of the Great Blight--and New Quandaries", section 9, p. 374)

While we do not possess sufficient anecdotal or statistical data on the projects of Charlotte to render any judgment on their merit per se, it is well known that in most American cities these Federal housing projects, however well-intended in their origins, became through the years virtual petri dishes in large for the cultivation of crime and criminal victimization and general anomic ennui among the poor and economically marginal inhabiting them.

Mare's-nests of the urban planners of the 1930's--who thought they were embarked on the creation of the new Utopia, free from the ravages of poverty.

Yet, they were, or seemed to be at the time of their creation, a step at least in the right direction from the abject, rat-infested squalor which they replaced.

Whether, however, they merely provided the appearance of a cleaner exterior for the eyes of the people passing on the highway to and from work, from and to their parkly suburban homes, or made any real improvement at all in the lives of those who were forced by penury to inhabit them, is certainly debatable, and always has been.

Anyone who has ever set foot in one of these places, (at least the multi-storied variety of which Charlotte's were not), and smelled the putrefactious reek of alcohol and stale urine mixing in the corridors, seen the evidence in the small, dark rooms inside of rampant narcomania, and gazed into the glazed, drooping eyes of the inhabitants whose silent, languid visages bespeak dead-ends and non-existent tomorrows, cannot leave with optimism that these places do anything but breed the ills they were designed to ameliorate. Only the occasional expression of a child being a child, wonted to nothing else and so not expecting the as yet unknown, breaks the monotonous dirge to which one's senses are plainted--the silent progression played out generationally before one's eyes, from innocent child to ambivalent grade-school student to bilious adolescent to hardened adult to defeated middle aged and beyond--exceptions to the cycle being so rare and requiring so much moral and spiritual fortitude to emerge from it that when they occur they prove the rule.

Gradually, these encampments for the economically dispossessed are thankfully being dynamited, bulldozed and replaced, the older ones anyway. And in some the residents have asserted their pride and installed neighborhood watches on crime, though too often of an excessively military flavor, for their self-preservation, to supplant what the police haven't the manpower or in some places the will to do.

Had Cash known what the future held, his celebration would have been foregone, his praise for Shipp and The News made tepid by the woefully inadequate result finally achieved. Yet, in a time of Depression for the country, any advancement was significant and it would be folly to criticize those who did what they could with good heart and scarce resources. The praise still belongs. A start was made from the late nineteenth century. Yet, 65 years has passed since these replacements were new.

With the end of World War II, the country could have and should have washed these mitigating shelters from the landscape and spread the prosperity of the 1950's and beyond to replace them with something not substandard. Much and many would have been saved by it, both within and without their walls.

To complain about crime in the city today is to complain primarily about such projects and their pervading effect on the communities which surround them.

Human beings have a hard time thriving in dank, concrete walled cubicles which afford no view of the outside world save for other dank, concrete walled cubicles. The domesticated pet animals of the middle class receive better treatment than the occupants here. Yet, these are their homes, those whose means are enough insufficient to have to house themselves and their families in them. There is no lawn to call their own to which to go and loll leisurely in the sun. What communally shared area there is often as not is inhabited by the feckless and dangerous, children, teens, adults pawning their lives for narcotization or purveying same to others in exchange for the means to acquire their own. There is no jacuzzi or pool or clubhouse or tennis court by which to ease the cares of the day. There are only those walls--gray, miserable and ever threatening.

And there is that omnipresent putrefaction in the corridors.

It is little wonder that the projects breed the things we deplore; there is little deterrent, especially to the callow adolescent, offered by jail to someone born and raised in one.

Brave Words

But Their Value Hangs On England And France

If words mean anything, Adolf Hitler got a clear answer from Joseph Beck this morning. Poland, he said, was for peace all right. But for her there existed no such thing as peace at any price. And so she had no notion of surrendering her rights in Danzig or of being blocked off from the Baltic by yielding sovereignty over a part of Pomorze--which, as he pointed out, has the highest percentage of Poles of any part of Poland. She was ready to continue peaceful conversations, which were not backed by threats, looking to a reasonable settlement of the case of Danzig, however, and to the improvement of Germany's communications with East Prussia.

But whether the stand can be maintained depends in the last analysis on whether Britain and France have really developed a backbone or are still prepared to retreat. For, supposing that Hitler is not entirely mad, that is the thing which will determine his behavior. Czechoslovakia once talked just as Poland now talks. And to suppose that she did not mean it is to underestimate the long-ago proven courage of the Czechs. But she counted on France--and Hitler knew that France was prepared to betray her--that she must give in once he had demonstrated it. Poland is prepared to hold out at war longer than the Czechs, but left to fight Germany alone she cannot win. And if Hitler succeeds again in demonstrating that England and France are broken reeds, then Poland, for all her brave words, must surrender, too.

The Public Pays

For The Conflict In The Ranks Of Labor

The soft coal shut-down seems to be more due to the quarrel between CIO and AFL than to anything else. For the dispute is less about wages and hours than about a demand of the United Mine Workers, John Lewis's union, which has hitherto enjoyed a virtual monopoly of unionization in the field, to be allowed to strike without penalty against a rival labor organization. The AFL claiming that the CIO has been muscling into its private preserves, has set out to retaliate by muscling into Boss Lewis's citadel with rival unions. The outlaw cause is Boss Lewis's answer.

It is unnecessary to waste any sympathy on the operators themselves. Taken as a whole, they are probably the most ruthless and reprehensible lot of employers in the United States, and the sad case of coal today is mainly the result of their long adherence to entirely indefensible policies. Part of their attitude of the moment may perhaps be explained by genuine fear of retaliation on the part of the AFL if they submit to the CIO demand, but all the reports seem to indicate that it is primarily motivated by the hope that unionization will collapse completely in the struggle between the two groups.

But the thing does serve to show how utterly incompatible with the public interest the conflict in labor ranks is. The people who will finally pay the bill are the coal buyers, and those who depend on them for services--which is to say all of us. Indeed, in New York and other Northern cities, the bill is already being paid in rising prices and increasing inconvenience. Labor had better put it in its pipe and smoke it that this sort of thing is exactly calculated to lose the public sympathy which it must have if it is to attain its legitimate objectives.

A Wise Father

Who Knows And Claims Credit For His Offspring

It's a long story from its beginning in The News on Feb. 7, 1937, when Reporter Cameron Shipp and a photographer went on a serial tour of description through the city's slums, to the President's signature yesterday on a USHA loan contract with the Charlotte Housing Authority for more than two million dollars. After the story once began to take form and action, other characters gradually emerged to play the leading roles, notably Mayor Douglas, City Manager Marshall and associates, the members of the Mayor's committee of investigation, and, for the actual job of whipping an idea into tangible form, Chairman Edwin L. Jones and the members of the housing authority.

These are the persons who must receive whatever credit there is to be for the materialization of low cost housing in Charlotte on a great scale. And yet, we beg the little reader's indulgence long enough to claim for The News the vision to see the slums as they were, the nerve and the skill to describe them as they were, and the crystallization of the popular will not to leave them as they were.

Which is a rhetorical way of saying that these impending housing projects, which are only a beginning at what is to be a major activity for years to come, are our babies. And having stated as much, we blush with returning modesty and resume impersonality.

Draft And Ulster

Gave De Valera Chance To Detach Northern Ireland

Britain's action yesterday in hastily withdrawing a proposal for conscription in Northern Ireland was canny. For the Irish Republic's Prime Minister, De Valera, had already seized eagerly on it and begun to make capital of it by ringing denunciations and proclamations that all Ireland is "national territory."

The British bill did not propose to conscript Irishmen who live in the republic, which has the admitted right to decide whether it will support England in a war or remain neutral. Merely it proposed to conscript them in Northern Ireland (Ulster), which is not a part of the republic. But De Valera and his henchmen, like a great many other champions of liberty after they have once achieved their end, have grown ambitious and want to swallow Ulster, too.

Unfortunately for that, the overwhelming part of Ulster's population has hitherto made it perfectly plain that they would resist with force any attempt in that direction. Ulster is Protestant. The Irish Republic is mainly Catholic. And the two have militantly opposed each other ever since Cromwell's day.

But conscription gave the De Valera-ites an excellent opening. For it gave them an opportunity to set against the powerful desire of the Northern Irish to remain closely attached to England, against the potent motive of religious dislike and suspicion, against the great driving force of tradition, the natural reluctance of many of these Northern Irish to go out and get killed for England.


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