Throughout the South generally, and here in Tennessee particularly, the critical issue of human rights was the subject of violent action, gubernatorial recommendations, legislative proposals, and considerable vocal gas from many sources. Bombs endangered the lives of citizens in Alabama, destroying property in the process. It reached the point where a leading pro-segregation newspaper commented acidly that “It is no longer a question of integration; it is a question of whether Alabama is a safe place for citizens to live.” At least four Negro churches were damaged in the explosions, but the local authorities spurned the governor’s offer to send in detachments of the National Guard to assist in maintaining order. Apparently the city fathers are not overly concerned about the safety of lives of their citizens.
The governor of Tennessee on Thursday of this week delivered his own brand of interposition in the segregation issue, which after all did not amount to proposals to do anything new. The major theme of his position is that authority should be given local boards to assign pupils to whatever schools they wish – authority which good legal advisor, outside of the state government, point out the boards already have. One phase of his recommendations, if carried out, could conceivably create a three-headed school system instead of the twin-headed one we now have; namely, create a system of schools for Negroes only, one for whites only, and a third for integrated schools. This obviously could create more confusion than clarification of the issue, and is a stalling tactic, designed to appear all things to all people.
Regardless of the innocuous nature of the recommendations, members of the legislature are prepared not only to take them seriously, but also to go beyond them and try, by state statute, to nail down segregation – at least for the next two years. Commenting upon both the governor’s recommendations and the vocal explosions of certain members of the legislature, the Knoxville News Sentinel comments quite appropriately that the proper steps for the legislature to do on the subject is exactly nothing. Whatever it does will probably only lay the basis for further litigation in the courts, stall the issue for two years, and the next general assembly will be confronted with the same problem in aggravated form.
Out of all this welter of proposals, charges, and counter-charges stands one amazing fact: the lack of ability or willingness to meet probably the most crucial social and moral problem of our time, and to deal with it in a realistic, rational, informed manner.
Closely related to the issue of segregation is the movement on the part of some Tennessee legislative members to enact legislation restricting the operation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organization that has spearheaded efforts to bring about school integration. Present proposals would require this organization to submit to public officials membership and financial records and would make it a misdemeanor to instigate a lawsuit in which the NAACP is not a direct party.
Well, perhaps the legislators should require this of all organizations of all kinds in the state. Certainly it should do that for all if it does it for one. It might be enlightening to them also to read the First Amendment to our federal Constitution, which guarantees the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition government for a redress of grievances. Sometimes it may be that the courts are the final resort of presenting such petitions without hope of achieving the desires of the petitioners. This is the same amendment, too, that protects religious freedom. Freedom is indivisible, and tampering with one cannot but help weaken others.
Well, it would seem as if Tennessee is committed to mediocrity in higher education. For several years now, Memphis State College has contended for elevation to “university” status. This year, they have seemingly made it, via the side door. The main proposal was to have it called the “University at Memphis.” This week, a so-called compromise arrangement would continue the college under control of the State Board of Education, but would give it the title of “Memphis State University.” The original plan would have made it an integral part of the University and place it under the control of the board of trustees of the university. Tennessee does not now have and never has had a first-class state university. The question boils down to whether it would be better to concentrate on developing a great institution in the present university, or dividing what is already mediocrity between two so-called universities. Proponents of raising Memphis State insist that it means no more expenditure than would otherwise be entailed. If it is not going to be improved – and improvement would cost money – then why call it a “university”? There is no magic in the mere name. But opponents of the plan are not fooled, for once having gotten her nose under the tent, future legislation will be sought to divide funds between Knoxville and Memphis instead of as at present among the several state colleges. If a mere legislative act would create a better institution, the conclusion is obvious that all state schools of higher learning should be dubbed “university,” which in the light of the ability of the state to support education is ridiculous. Probably more Tennesseans than ever, desiring graduate training of real university caliber, will now be compelled to go beyond the confines of the state to get it.
A magazine of national circulation points out in its current issue that no pope in modern history has, in it’s words, “so persistently cultivated the universality of the Roman Catholic Church” as has the present Pope Pius XII. Within the year just ended the 80-year old pontiff received about a million people in audiences (including people of all faiths) and delivered more than 200 speeches and radio talks, and many more minor addresses.
Among the varied activities of His Holiness are such things as lecturing before 700 gynecologists on the subject of painless childbirth; speaking to racing drivers and members of an automobile club on politeness; receiving such notables as Germany’s evangelical Lutheran Bishop Otto Dibelius, and our own Atomic Energy Commissioner Lewis Strauss; workers of Lombardy; the Roman nobility; 360 U.S. servicemen from NATO; and officials of the U.S. Office of Public Information. Included also among those who came to see him was Baptist ex-president Harry S. Truman. He spoke to the Seventh International Astronautical Congress, to whom he said that their efforts to explore the universe were legitimate before the deity.
The British Catholic Historian, Christopher Dawson sums up this activity on the part of the pope by saying that “Never perhaps in the history of the Church have the peoples come to Rome in such numbers and from so many different regions…. We seem to see the beginnings of a new Pentecostal dispensation by which all men hear in their own tongues the wonderful works of God.”