A concise but significant statement of Arnold J. Toynbee, the historian, points up the crucial problem facing the world of today with respect to the matter of human relations and the possibility of future existence of civilization. He says:
“We are all now in the same boat, on board this small atom-bomb-haunted planet. Here is a common human plight that is more serious even than the possession of atomic weapons, because it is our moral plight that makes our physical weapons dangerous. Here is a ground for a humility that lies deeper than the various superstructures of mankind’s religions and ideologies. Here is a problem that is common to all human beings as such. Cannot we cooperate to cope with it without prejudice…?”
Obviously it is only when people of moral strength of all nations become vocal and without prejudice come to demand that the destructiveness possible in our physical weapons be turned to constructiveness for the improvement of mankind. “Without prejudice” is a challenge, but with prejudice there is little likelihood of avoiding catastrophe.
I reported some weeks ago on the outcome of the first heresy trial in the history of the Northwest Synod of the Lutheran Church, an outcome that found the Reverend George P. Crist guilty of nine of 14 counts. Reported also was the fact that his counsel in that trial, the Reverend John Gerberding, pastor of Holy Cross Church at Menominee Falls, Wisconsin, was forthwith charged on eight counts of deviating from accepted and acceptable opinions and doctrines of the church. This week the trial of the Reverend Gerberding was held by a board of seven pastors. They were unanimous in finding him innocent of seven of the charges and the eighth charge was set aside. Specifically what those charges were has never reached the press, and his trial was in secret. Penalty, if convicted, could have ranged from a rebuke to defrocking. In the case of the Reverend Crist, he was suspended from his charge.
And from Washington, D.C., the first city to desegregate, comes other information with respect to the matter of racial integration. A white [spokesman] and a colored spokesman for the schools there point out some of the problems that occur when pupils of the two races are taught together. They list them as follows:
- Withdrawal of pupils from group participation in activities involving members of the other race.
- Decline in scholastic performance.
- Organized and unorganized display of hostility toward person of the other race.
- Overt conflict between Negro and white pupils.
- An increase in classroom behavior problems.
Now none of these problems is desirable. On the other hand it would be surprising if they did not occur. This reporter happened to be teaching during World War II where everyday migrants, mostly from the South, and of all races, were pouring into our school. The same problems of adjustment were discerned there as are reported by spokesmen for the Washington D.C. schools. And those problems were not at all peculiar to Negro pupils. White students from the lower income strata of the South, and with meager educational background, had essentially the same difficulties in achieving satisfactory adjustment to the new school medium. The Negro of course had a further handicap because of his color, but then color there was not a matter for overt expression of hostility. It was interesting to study these students as they remained for one, two, and three years in the new school environment. Many of them, both white and colored, by the end of their school program, were no longer distinguishable from native students insofar as behavior, scholastic performance, and other characteristics were concerned.
In Bowling Green, Kentucky, a federal court this week received the first suit to force desegregation in the public schools. In the suit, the court was asked to end segregation of white and Negro students at Columbia, in Adair County. The suit grew out of a petition filed in the name of the Kentucky branch of the NAACP.
This past Tuesday the Adair County Board of Education refused to admit 23 Negro high school students and from 35-60 (the exact number is not reported) elementary students after they had been registered at Columbia schools the previous day. Attorney for the plaintiffs interpreted refusal to admit the students a clear violation of the Supreme Court order of May 31st for a prompt and reasonable start toward full desegregation. Aiding the local attorney will be Thurgood Marshall, New York attorney, who pleaded the case for desegregation before the Supreme Court.
And a final note in this week’s news regarding the racial problem in the schools. In Houston, Texas, about 50 Negro groups have united to ask the United States Department of Justice to investigate the organization known as Texas Citizens Councils, formed to preserve racial segregation. These groups charge the Councils with being un-American and undemocratic, and characterize their methods as constituting outright conspiracy to deprive American citizens of their civil and economic rights.
This reporter has referred to such Councils before, though not to the Texas groups. Apparently they are voluntary organizations dedicated to prevention of school integration of the races, and willing to use whatever means seems appropriate, but it must be admitted, within the letter if not the spirit of the law, to accomplish their ends. Economic pressure would seem to be their greatest and most often used weapon. A Negro or white person known to favor desegregation finds that the bank refuses him a loan or renewal of an old one. Credit is denied him at stores where formerly he was accepted without question. He finds that real estate agencies refuse to rent or sell him houses. Places formerly hiring people like him go on hiring others but refuse to give him a job. And employers find excuses, other than the real one, to dismiss him from employment. Hence, without access to credit, a job, a home, the individual finds himself in a precarious situation within the community. In addition to the economic pressure is that of social discrimination. Old friends shun him, he no longer receives invitations into their homes and they no longer accept invitations into his.
It would appear that here the organization has a tremendous weapon, and what the Justice Department finds and decides about such Councils should be significant. It is difficult to see how even the weight of the federal government could be used to force a bank to grant a loan it did not wish to, or a real estate agency to rent someone a house unless it saw fit to do so.
It is equally obvious that, if these tactics are true, the Councils are an organization dedicated to defeating what the Supreme Court has declared to be the constitutional law of the land. Yet nobody, least of all the justices of the Court, expected that achieving the goal set by their decision would be an easy matter. It recognized that such achievement could not come about overnight, for it set no deadline. Neither did it deny to colored citizens the equal privileges due them, nor refuse them the equal protection of the law, to which they were entitled. It merely said that states and local units of government should evidence an honest effort to comply with its decision and left it up to local federal courts to review local conditions and decide when such an effort was being made.
Obviously much remains to be done — and it will take along time — to overcome prejudices, misunderstandings, and practices of generations. It is heartening, though, that substantial progress is being made in various places even this first year, and doubtless each year will see additional achievements toward the goal of democracy in education.