At Sewanee, Tennessee, the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church opened its 105th meeting yesterday. The Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill presided. More than 100 of the church bishops from the United States and the Panama Canal Zone were in attendance. This meeting is being held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary observance of The University of the South in Sewanee. The university is owned and operated by 21 dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Dr. Edward McCrady, vice chancellor and president of the university reviewed the history of the school at a dinner meeting last night. A formal reception held at the home of McCrady followed the dinner. Today the Rt. Rev. Sherrill received an honorary doctor of civil laws degree. The Rt. Rev. Thomas N. Carruthers, bishop of South Carolina and chancellor of The University of the South presented the degree.
The main business sessions will begin tomorrow and continue through Wednesday. Among those on the program for tomorrow are Dr. W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft, executive secretary of the World Council of Churches, and Dr. W.G. Pollard, executive director of the Institute of Nuclear Studies at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
In a report on religious items of current significance that ignored the developments in Nashville, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas, during the past two weeks would be ignoring one of the most pressing and important social problems with which all citizens, religious or not, prosegregationists or desegregationists, must be concerned. For cutting across the internet using the whole legal, political, and otherwise model crosscurrents, lies the simple consideration of the rights and dignity of the individual, and that, regardless of race, religion, nationality, or socio-economic status.
Today I should like to explore some basic facts in the matter as well as to suggest certain long-range, ideological implications of the problem, and this without regard to personalities, political, religious, or otherwise.
Our culture here in America is deeply rooted in the Judaeo-Christian ethic, and many of our mores, customs, and traditions stem from the beliefs and teachings of the Hebrews, from Genesis to Revelation. It was the Master himself who violated the current social taboos by demonstrating his respect for the individual. The little children whom he insisted be permitted to come to him; the lepers; the blind; the tax collector, an insidious individual in Palestine at this time; the woman of Samaria; as well as the more “respectable” Pharisees and others of the time. There is no mention anywhere in the scripture that he asked one his race, his nationality, or his economic status before ministering to him. The Hebrews themselves are not a race in the sense we use the term today, so we have no way of knowing which racial group Christ himself would best have fitted into.
Stemming from this recognition of the importance of the person as a person, philosophers who envisioned a better social order than existed in their time, generally advocated a system wherein there was a high degree of personal freedom and rights. It must have been this basic ethic back of Jefferson’s thinking (which, incidentally, was in no sense original with him) when he wrote those revolutionary but immortal words that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” Time does not permit exploring the social context of society at the time he wrote those words, nor does it allow discussion of the semantics of the terms used. But throughout our history we have adhered to this philosophy in principle, however much we have departed from it in practice – which, unfortunately, has been all too often.
It is a very simple faith. It holds that man is not only equal in the sight of God but that he has (or should have) the same equality before the law. It was to bolster this principle that the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution after the War Between the States, forbidding a state the right to abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens or to deny to any person the equal protection of the law. It is, in the main, controversy over the meaning and application of this constitutional passage that the problems have arisen in Nashville, Little Rock, and elsewhere.
The sociologist recognizes at least three levels of social problems. One is where everyone, or almost everyone agrees on the existence and nature of a problem, and there is a high degree of agreement upon the desired solution. Integration, obviously, does not fit into this category.
The second level is where there is general agreement upon the existence of a problem, but no consensus as to the desired solution. The third is where only a vocal few insist there is a problem, but the majority do not recognize its existence.
It is the second level with which we are concerned here, namely both pro-and anti-integrationists agree that there is a problem, but there is no agreement upon a desired solution. Hence, we are going through the turmoil of seeking a solution in harmony with prevailing community opinion and also with existing constitutional requirements, a solution that it is impossible, in the present situation, to find without compromise or acquiescence. One or the other must give – perhaps both.
Through it all runs a continuous, unchallengeable thread: Ours is a government of law, not of men. And if enough citizens are of the opinion that the law, as interpreted by men, is inadequate or unjust, there are constitutional ways to rectify the matter. The Georgia proposal for resettlement of southern Negroes in white communities is no solution, though in a few instances it might lessen the acuteness of the problem in some communities if it could be made to work without doing violence to the rights of the individuals concerned. The use of the National Guard to defeat the orders of a federal judge is no solution. If enough Americans wish to amend the Constitution to provide for racial discrimination, there is a way by which this can be done, but it is a safe assumption that few would admit they would like to see this happen.
But the whole issue is even broader than merely national constitutional requirements, for it involves an ideological division among Americans that seems confusing to about everyone except the voter. He continues to recognize that which makes democratic order and that which does not. And while the connection may be incidental (more likely, co-incidental), there is a relationship between the Kasper-like advocacy of racial supremacy in this country and the autocratic orders that have developed, still exist in some places, and are still developing in some parts of the world.
Leadership in churches, government, education, management, farming, etc., seem to be divided, roughly at least, along liberal or conservative lines, i.e., the so-called left or right. But the American voter has seemed to sense that he cannot really be liberal without at the same time being conservative, and vice versa. That is, though liberal, he wishes to conserve the best that has been proven good in American life; and while being conservative, that there is need to recognize that change is inevitable. Sometimes to oppose change is good; at other times actively to promote it is better. So, he goes along with this leadership, making his daily decisions according to his own pattern of values in the light of his understanding of our past history, present condition, and future probabilities and possibilities.
The voter seems to feel instinctively that two world wars, particularly the second, were fought between kinds of autocratic order that in principle were left and right ideologies that had gone to maturity. Expanding imperialisms competing for limited world markets were primary cause for World War I. From the American viewpoint, both original opponents in that war were autocratic to a relatively high degree. When the security of American democracy became threatened the American voter demanded that his country enter the war against that particular group of nations which clearly threatened that security.
Again, in World War II, both original opponents were in many respects autocratic, from our own conception of democracy, and the American voter had little choice but to enter the war when it became clear that the security of his kind of democracy was threatened. And it is more than significant from the standpoint of segregation versus integration to reflect that the opponent we faced was one that had come to power mainly upon the vicious doctrine of racial superiority.
So it is today that the memory of the voter is not as short as many let themselves believe. He recognizes that within our own generation two world wars have been fought to uphold our conception of a democratic order, one in which the dignity of the individual is stressed, where there is free speech, freedom of religion, and all the other freedoms. He recognizes that we live today in a world of rapid change and pyramiding danger. This is reflected in the results of a poll just conducted by the American Institute of Public Opinion in which the voter was asked, “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” The replies, in this order, were: keeping out of war, 34%; high cost of living, inflation, 22%; and integration problems, only 10%. It’s highly unlikely that a mere 10%, however vocal and vociferous, will sway the course of the nation away from the basic commitment to the belief that “All men are created equal.” And it becomes increasingly difficult for us to pose as the leader of the democratic, free world, striving for a world in which all men can be free, and at the same time deny basic rights to a racial segment of our own people.
It is true that ours is far from an ideal society, but it is one developed within a framework of law that permits orderly revolution constantly to take place. We need to recall only such things as removal of religious and property qualifications for voting; abolition of slavery; the granting of the ballot to women; and similar changes, to realize that we have come a long way from the tiny nation of 3.5 million souls who founded what they hoped would be a “more perfect union.” At that time, one out of every five in the population was a Negro; today only about one in ten belongs to the colored racial groups. Ours is a society of classes, yes. There are social classes in any society; but perhaps our own is based more nearly than any other on an aristocracy of ability, industry and thrift – not upon inherited nobility or royalty. The greatest advocate of social change of all, as he walked by the Sea of Galilee, recognized only the worth, potentialities of the individual. So He saw possibilities in Matthew, a publican, who wrote the first Gospel; in Peter, a lowly fisherman; one Judas Iscariot – he believed in giving him a chance to prove himself.
So today, in the midst of a temporary turmoil, proponents and opponents of integration would do well to recall American history and the principles upon which our nation was founded. A reporter cannot tell whether what he says makes sense to his listeners, but he can think at this junction of no better injunction than that of Paul the apostle who urged the Philippians in these words, “… Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just… think on these things.”