The Charlotte News

Saturday, October 29, 1938


Site Ed. Note: We reproduce the rather interesting letter to the editor below. It is, no doubt, judging by the times which were and which followed, especially after the War, no doubt, true to its time, at least in some quarters of certain parts of the South, indeed, in some quarters of certain parts of the country as a whole. Such thoughts even to this day uneasily coexist with some parts of humanity, of course, though, no doubt, few would be willing to state them thusly, expressed publicly along color lines, at any rate.

The fault of the letter writer, as the equally candid Editor's Note expresses in part, is not just that he takes a color line approach to the matter, obviously embracing two-year knowledge of this apparently pure poor white woman against the word of a black man unknown to him except by prior record of criminal conviction, assuming for the moment that the crime involved some triable issue of fact, which we can safely assume presumably for a jury to have been called upon to render a verdict, an issue involving either identity or consent or the fact of any sexual assault on the woman at all, as opposed to "leering", which often became equated in the minds of the scantily minded, the hungry, as "rape", in fact, in these earlier days of the South's turbid history, but that he also takes the inherent leave to believe, and through the eyes of an apparently reasonably well-educated individual, judging from the appearance of the letter, that the lynch mob was so much an accepted part of the justice system that he could attach his name to such a plain invitation to drag the convicted defendant from his cell and do it, and then send that opining to a newspaper to be published as a letter to the editor.

That The News published it is of course testimony to its open forum concept, the belief that it was far better to air such grievances, to dispel the air from the inflated balloon, than to allow it to blow harder from behind closed shudders until the mob actually formed and bore its torches to the jail and breached its barred borders behind some cowering sheriff or deputy, not likely in a larger city of the states by 1938, but still quite highly volatile enough to be performed in the smaller hamlets and townships across the South, even in North Carolina in those times, as Cash's 1935 Baltimore Sun piece gave testimony, or that the frontpage of The News screamed out in its sixtieth anniversary edition in December, 1948, or that the national headlines screamed out from various places from within the South in the 1950's and 1960's re the notion of vigilante "justice".

This concept, of course, is nothing more than a bunch of fools hopped up on something, talking themselves, like a bunch of old hens, into a dizzying dither until the mob mentality takes its sheet and does its dirties with it, to vent some collective frustration, hidden from all, most especially themselves, on someone, usually some unknown in the community, probably, in fact, more often than not, a complete innocent, guilty of nothing more terrible than being a stranger for whom no one could or would properly vouch, no one of any "standing" at least in the white community--as the nigger hadn't done paid his dues to 'em properly, least wise such that they could see it, some kind of troublemaker prob'ly.

And never mind that in the instant case of which the editorial speaks, the sentence of twelve to fourteen years for a rape was quite significant punishment in fact, especially if the incident involved conviction on the basis, as usually is the case, of one person's word against that of another. Twelve years in a cold, dank cell, probably about 6 x 8 feet, a single thin mattress, devoid of privacy all day, everyday, howls of disgust in the wing's winds, howls of hatred in one's ears constantly down the hall, just out of eyesight, threatening, howling in the wind, fall, winter, spring, summer, day in, day out, twenty-four, weekends included, for twelve lingering dead years. No one, when one considers that, need examine it too closely as some nice quiet bit of studious solitude. Twelve years of hell on earth. And then, upon release, years more of wandering, of solitude probably, with the past very close behind always, threatening to catch up to the menial job and squalor most likely bequeathed by this conviction. Strange to think that such was not significant enough punishment for an act of which the man may or may not have actually accomplished, especially given forensics available for determination of such crimes in 1938. But ingrained racism can raise the hackles of many a stranger.

But times change as the winds blow September to September.

Once upon a time, along about 1964, we think it was, we were paused in an automobile in northern Virginia, resting with someone, waiting on someone else. This person with whom we rested, an elementary school teacher by profession at the time, and very wise in many things, heard a little girl, probably about 8 or 10, singing a lyric: "If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the mornin', I'd hammer in the evenin', all over this land. I'd hammer out justice. I'd hammer out freedom. I'd hammer out love between..."

Now, the person with whom we rested, hearing this song sung by the little African-American girl nearby the car in which we sat, having, she said, never heard the song, for whatever reason--though we know she had, as we had heard it played for her ears many times on the record player ourselves, at least within some easy earshot of hers, but probably not sung like that before in that a cappella form by a young child--inquired of us as to what kind of song the little girl was singing with such lyrics about using a hammer to hammer some things. The school teacher's voice, which we knew well by inflection, expressed some sad dismay and shock at the recognition of these lyrics. What on earth was she going to hammer?

So, we explained the song. Sort of like John Henry. The song was popularized by a threesome who sang that other song she liked, the one about the wind and the roads. Those two, she knew well, for she taught the first one to us, and imparted the second one also to her schoolchildren. So, having understood now the child's lyric as something signifying not rueful hammering but a poetic hammering out of justice and freedom, like one would on a typewriter, say, the teacher's face then changed to a broad grin which she in turn imparted to the little girl nearby.

Mr. Bluebird on her shoulder.

We wholeheartedly agree with Cash that school teachers were and are still grossly underpaid. We owe them our lives, whatever lives and learning we may possess, each of us, especially in this day and age where opportunity for education is universal, in the United States anyway. Cash was a school teacher himself for a short time, for two years in the mid-twenties. And his sister, by 1938, was teaching high school in Liberty, N.C., later becoming an elementary school teacher.

Teachers, we know from our experience from learning from them, work in dedicated manner at their jobs, frustrating as they may be to impart to our little noggins things which we need to understand to get on in life, and doing so not only on small salaries relative to their educated peers, but also under great constraints sometimes bound upon them by textbooks and teaching standards imposed by their times, texts and standards sometimes, no doubt, behind the greater understanding possessed by a given individual teacher. It is then that the creativity of which many teachers are greatly possessed comes to the fore to advance the ball down the field ahead of their times, sometimes through the cleverest of means, all to our collective great benefit. Teachers may not be so good at representing themselves from their humble pulpits to demand more pay, as Cash urges that they do for their own sake. There is much sacrifice in being a teacher and that trait probably carries over to the realm of demanding any greater payment than the particular state allows them.

Once, we were watching Ed Sullivan, March, 1970, it was. A pre-recorded segment was aired in which a singing group sang a couple of songs. The first began: "When I find myself in times of trouble..." We had never before heard this new song. This teacher with whom we were sitting while listening to the song said, "I teach that song to my school children." That prompted a quick laugh. "That song just came out tonight, not even at the record stores. You're thinking of another, you know, the one about the bridge." "No," came the reply, "I know that one and we sing that one, too." Emphatically, she continued, "I teach this one to them, have for a few months now."

Well, we let it go, knowing that the teacher was tired probably, it being Sunday night, and a new school day about to begin for her next morning.

Then, several years later, long about 1987 maybe, though we don't quite recall, we were looking through some sheet music which had belonged to this teacher, sheet music she used to teach her school children songs during the day's lessons. Sure enough, there amid the squiggly notes and chords was the song. We remembered the March, 1970 Ed Sullivan show and our momentary consternation about the presumption by the teacher of foreknowledge before our vastly superior knowledge possessed of this particular singing group's portfolio. But by the time of this latter discovery, our knowledge had sufficiently long since increased some such that we had become aware that the song in question had actually been first recorded about a year or so before its general release to the public. So, whispering to ourselves a little, putting the four and four together, we determined that the teacher was probably correct in her belief that she had been teaching the song before we ever heard it.

There are many ways to teach and many ways to learn. But, the letter below does not, we put to you, possess any wisdom other than that of what might be gleaned by opposition, and in the brief Editor's Note which follows it. Perhaps, by 1961, the letter writer had learned new things himself. We don't know. If not by then, perhaps later. Maybe before 1961. We don't know that either. We have no idea who he was or what he became or didn't. We do not re-publish the letter to do any harm to the letter writer, but it provides us with a lesson across time, maybe. And maybe the lesson is that we should always listen to the music, always.

Courts Rapped As Encouraging Lynch Law

Thinks Failure To Inflict Death Penalty On A Negro Charged With Rape Invites Mobs To Action

Dear Sir:

While we all are opposed to lynching to some extent, and all good citizens should try and let the law deal out Justice to the criminals, it seems that the law fails at times to perform its duty. We have been under the impression all the time that rape was a capital offense in this state but it seems this all depends.

About July of this year a woman whom we will call very poor in the world's goods, was out in the woods picking up some small wood to cook her scanty food, when up walks a Negro black as the ace of spades and committed rape on this white woman. Not a blacker crime has ever been committed in this or any other state, and the woman was as white as any lady in North Carolina. I have known her for two years and not a blemish on her character have I heard of. But this week they tried the Negro in court and gave him only twelve to fifteen years in the penitentiary. Now, what we are wanting to know is, who is it that the Negroes must commit rape upon to be subject to the death penalty? I am almost convinced it isn't the poor people; for this is a genuine case of where the penalty was not exacted. If the thing would have happened in the states south of us, a thousand citizens would have strung him up to the first tree they came to, and, under these circumstances, we cannot blame them.

And to make this crime even more black the same Negro was under a suspended sentence for another crime of the same nature. The law thus administered is sending out invitations to a necktie party.

S. L. McAllister.


[Note: In any case, we emphasize our dissent from the opinion that "a thousand citizens" could not have been blamed had they "strung him (the Negro) up to the first tree." One wrong does not justify another.--Editors, The News.]

Plaint in Pinafore

To begin with, we might make our manners and our courtliest bow to the South Piedmont school teachers, who have just ended a meeting here. And we'll add our voice to their perennial major plaint: certainly, school teachers should be paid more money. Certainly they should enjoy the benefits of retirement incomes, and certainly they should be protected from politics by tenure provisions.

But it seems to us they are going about getting these desirable things in a specious way, and that it would be better if they were perhaps a shade more candid with their employers, the public. We mean to say that there are two educational problems, teacher welfare and child welfare, and that the teachers would be more convincing if they boldly set forth their own aims, which are worthy and understandable, without alleging that all of this is primarily for the sake of the dear little children.

Indeed, they may ask for the moon and sixpence bonus, so long as they ask it forthrightly for themselves.

The Smuggling Judge

In New York City customs agents descended upon the apartment of State Supreme Court Justice Edgar J. Lauer and carried off four large valises full of gowns, hats, jeweled slippers and other articles of feminine finery allegedly smuggled into the United States by a man posing as the official of another government and thus avoiding inspection. A maid in the judge's home has sworn that this curious official brought the goods there and dined with her master and mistress, who thanked him.

Justice Lauer accuses the maid of seeking revenge for being discharged, and says that the matter will be cleared up when the true facts are known. And, to be sure, the rule of American law is that the innocence of a man shall be assumed until he is proven guilty in a fair trial. But wait a minute.

A year ago Justice Lauer had to pay the collector of customs a fine of $10,400--double the domestic value--on jewelry, furs, and other rich apparel which he and his wife neglected to declare when they returned from Europe. This alone justified his impeachment and removal from the bench, and the fact that he was not so impeached and removed is an ironic commentary on the sequel to the first smuggling episode, as well as the judiciary of New York State.

Business Enlists

It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. By no means wholly an ill wind is the anxiety that has sprung up in the United States since Munich--anxiety over our state of preparedness for whatever tests the country may be called on to meet, anxiety over the Monroe Doctrine, anxiety over the survival of democracy in a world that is rapidly jettisoning that form of government.

Two billion dollars in prospective utility plant enlargements have been blown in by this wind already, and it sprang up only weeks ago. National defense is the reason given for it, and national defense undoubtedly is the principal consideration. But there are secondary considerations, and they are important. The money is to be spent at the request of the Government, with the HFC to underwrite any necessary part of it. The power companies are cheerful at the prospect of spending it. Does this mean that the Government and the power companies understand each other? Undoubtedly it does.

Next move for national defense will be mass production of standardized war equipment. This will require considerable outlay for machinery and machinery that makes machinery--in short, big orders in capital goods. It is upon this industrial classification that the Government spending program has had the least effect, and it has been said upon excellent authority that the country could never achieve prosperity with capital goods lagging behind.

The stimulus of national defense upon investment in production of capital goods is significant in itself, but of fully equal significance is the psychological factor of co-operation between the New Deal and business. Business, after all, exists on orders, and if the need of national defense produces them, why, business will fill them gladly and profitably.

Verily, all this preparation may be primarily intended to impress Europe and the Far East, but its immediate effects will be most impressive at home.

The French Prospect

The next trouble spot in Europe may very easily be France. For that country is rapidly plunging down the scale. Daladier insists, indeed, that Munich was not a surrender, but in the next breath he admits that France can no longer contend with Germany for the mastery of the Continent, but must turn to her colonies as an outlet for her aspirations. And he goes ahead toward a pact with Germany which will commit France to the position of a second-rate air power, almost wholly at the mercy of the colossus on her eastern boundaries.

And as far the colonies--Japan is already beginning to tell France how she may run her prize possession, Indo-China, and threatening to grab the island which controls it. Moreover, there is nothing to keep Japan from seizing the whole when she chooses. For the French navy is quite inadequate to the task of defending it, and probably cannot hope for any aid from the British navy--which is so paralyzed with indecision that it might as well be on the bottom of the sea for all the good it is to anybody, including England. In Algeria, Mussolini's and Hitler's agents are busily stirring up trouble. And Germany is demanding a return of Tokyo and the Cameroons. In short, France's empire seems in a very good way to disappear in the next few years.

At home, the loss of markets consequent upon Munich and the Japanese victory in China is translating itself into rising unemployment, and labor unrest is increasing steadily. The financial difficulties facing the government grow always more pressing. And Daladier has about abandoned any pretense of maintaining democratic government. Altogether, there seems little left for the nation but to become a dictator-ruled satellite of the German political and economic system, or to leap into the chaos of revolution. And of the two alternatives, the latter is perhaps more probable, when we remember that the French are no such docile subjects as the Germans.

Site Ed. Note: Having spent considerable time there ourselves, and toured around the state a fair bit, we can report to you that we never saw any Reds ourselves there. Other than the ones on Green Street in San Francisco, back before 1990, we never heard of any either. State is mostly green in winter and spring and sort of buff in summer and fall. So...

Reds In Perspective

Henry G. Watters, commander of the American Legion in California, is a credit to the good sense of his organization. Before the Dies Committee, which believes everything, appeared the other day a Legionnaire from California, named Harper Knowles.

And Mr. Knowles proceeded to paint California as practically one great Red camp. First, there was old Upton Sinclair--who isn't in fact a Communist at all, but a Fabian Socialist, of the same stripe as Norman Thomas. And then there was the CIO. Then there was the teacher's union in the state--numbering many thousands--which Mr. Knowles knew darkly to be Communist because, forsooth, Bill Green hasn't recognized it! And then there was Leland Stanford University, which has always had the reputation of being one of the most conservative schools in the country but which Mr. Knowles gravely assured Mr. Dies & Co. was swarming with "liberal and subversive" (note the conjunction of adjectives) professors, each presumably bent upon wrecking the Republic and handing it over to Stalin.

But Mr. Watters will be a party to no such nonsense. He says flatly that he cannot be responsible for Mr. Knowles' claims. And that he doesn't believe them. There are probably Communists in the CIO in California, and in the teachers' union? No doubt. There might even be Communists at Leland Stanford. But--by that standard, says Mr. Watters, Knowles might even have listed the Legion among organizations having radicals on its rolls.

"I realize," he added, "that it probably would be irresponsible for any organization to be able to boast of the fact that they were entirely free of radical members."

The American Legion could use some more official spokesmen of Mr. Watters' good sense. And Mr. Dies could use such witnesses.

...And, with particularity, as to Leland Stanford University, once in July, 1976, we went to a free concert on the lawn there, heard Pete Seeger, sang some songs with Pete Seeger. Didn't see any Reds there either. Just people singing songs with Pete Seeger. Seems there was one about hammers of justice and freedom, if we recall correctly. Also mentioned bells. No sickles though. Not one.


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