Rowan discusses various aspects of the civil rights movement. Rowan believes that the traditional black leadership organizations are not dead, and that there is a need for associations that will look out for the legal aspects of the civil rights movement. Rowan discusses the difficulty in making a distinction between the civil rights movement in the North and in the South. He describes the feeling of regional persecution throughout the South due to the prejudices of the northern states. Rowan provides his views of Lincoln and Jefferson, and he concludes with a discussion about the political power African Americans have.
Audio Note: Audio from tape 3 cuts off a few paragraphs short, but the transcript is complete.
Image: National Security meeting on Vietnam in the Cabinet Room, White House, Washington, DC. Carl Rowan speaks as John McNaughton (in soft focus, foreground left) and Chester Cooper (partially obscured by chair, in background) listen. United States Federal Government, public domain. LBJ Presidential Library Online Photo Archive.
Audio courtesty of the University of Kentucky.
Carl T. Rowan
Carl T. Rowan (1925-2000) was a journalist, author, and television commentator. He was a staff writer at the Minneapolis Tribune in the 1950s and wrote extensively about the civil rights movement. He wrote a syndicated column for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1966 to 1998, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1995 for his commentary. Rowan also was a commissioned officer in the Navy during World War II, was appointed Deputy Secretary of State by John F. Kennedy, and served as ambassador to Finland in 1963. In 1964-1965 he served as Director of the United States Information Agency. Rowan was the first African American to attend meetings of the National Security Council. He was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the National Press Club in 1999, and in 2001 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright dedicated the State Department’s press briefing room as the Carl T. Rowan Briefing room.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN CARL ROWAN MAY 14 TAPE # 1
RPW: This a conversation with Mr. Carol Rowan, May 14. The other day, Mr. Rowan, I was talking with Adam Clayton Powell. He said that the old-line leaders – organization leaders like NAACP, CORE, and the rest are dead – they’re finished – their role is over. How does that strike you?
Mr. Rowan: I don’t think this is true at all. I think this is an overstatement of the sort of which we have too many today. In our kind of society, where every man’s rights, whether he be white, Negro, green or what, are based certainly on some fundamental principles of law, there always will have to be an organization whose role is to look out for the legal end of man’s civil rights. Now, let’s take for example the white man in this country. He has been for a long time where the Negro is trying to go. Even under those circumstances he had to have an American Civil Liberties Union. He’s had to have a great many other organizations designed to protect those rights guaranteed under our Bill of Rights. And I think that there will be a very important role for the NAACP to play for a long time. Now, let’s carry it beyond that. Another old-line organization, I suppose, would be called the Urban League. There is not enough street demonstrations that you can arrange that will take over one of the functions that the NAACP has played over the years and continues to play, and that is to help many a Negro get over this transition of moving from a rural area to a city, and moving into the industry in a position where he can more or less work on his own and with some degree of self-assurance. The fact is that just too much has to be done for the Negro in this area for anybody to assume that the Urban League has lost its usefulness.
RPW: Do you see the point – another point that he insists on in conversation, that there are two revolutions or two movements going on simultaneously. The southern one is primarily middle-upper class – a civil rights movement, primarily, and for votes. The other being a mass movement in the north – in the big urban centers in the north. It’s quite a different order, and it’s not unrelated to civil rights but it’s economic opportunity. And it is charged by another kind of frustration entirely – two different kinds of movements, one is a mass movement, the northern one, and the other a middle class, upper class Negro movement. Is there a distinction?*
CR: Well, I find it very difficult to make any real distinction between the two movements. I think they both flow out of a very, very deep and growing feeling of resentment about second class citizenship, however it’s manifested. Whether or not it’s the indignity of an individual walking into a registration place in Mississippi and being given some long ridiculous test and then denied the right to vote on the grounds that he’s not qualified, or walking into a real estate office in a suburb of New York or Minnesota and being given the runaround and told he can’t buy a house. These are all indignities that flow out of these passions over race, and these stupidities that exist in this field of race. And I find it very difficult to make any distinction as between the
* “garbled” handwritten in left-hand margin beside Mr. Warren’s question.
movement in the south and the movement in the north, and indeed I find it difficult to draw any great lines as between the class of Negroes who are interested in the movement in one place or another.
RPW: That is, you feel that the old notion that the split between the mass of Negroes and the middle-upper class – it no longer holds, or it no longer holds to the same degree?
CR: Oh, I don’t want to pretend that there aren’t some differences between the mass the so-called upper class of Negroes. These differences do exist. There would be a difference in approach, for example. You would probably find more of the so-called lower class Negroes participating in the street demonstrations. For example, there would simply be a lot more Negroes in the upper classes who have less time and less opportunity to be out there – teachers and doctors and lawyers and government officials have some commitments that don’t leave them all the time that some other categories may have for getting in the streets and protesting.
RPW: May I interrupt now to see how we’re doing on the tape? Let’s cut over to article of some months ago in Commentary – did you happen to read that?
CR: No, I didn’t – no.
RPW: Well, his point – his basic point is this, that there’s no solution to the problem of race except assimilation.
CR: Well, I certainly would not be in this country, and I don’t think there’s any solution except as a large number of American whites are carried along in the conviction that assimilation –
RPW He means blood assimilation.
CR: Oh, I –
RPW: Not cultural assimilation but blood assimilation.
CR: This may – if you carry this business of prejudice to the ultimate conclusion, obviously you can reach that conclusion. But I just happen to think that it is possible to create a bi-racial or a multi-racial society in which there is genuine equality of opportunity and mutuality of respect. And if you don’t believe that, then you’ve got to believe that this world of ours is heading toward one of the ugliest explosions on this business of race that it – that man has ever known. I just don’t believe man is so much an animal, and so addicted to his ignorances at this stage of civilization that he can’t find some accommodations for what looks a little bit different from what he is.
RPW: How would you state the way the class economic problem on one side and the race problem on the other intersect in our present situation? How would you state that relationship?
CR: Well, they do intersect in a great many ways. You find, for example, that much of the racial problem in a great many areas has a large degree of economic base, that is, the conflict over jobs so you get conflict between, let’s say, the lower classes of whites and the lower classes of Negroes on the one hand. You get a degree of disinterest on the part of the Negro upper class as against the Negro lower class, and this can become unfortunate. You get a degree of snobbery on the part of the white upper class which likes to base its disinterest or its disinclination to move with any boldness, on the imperfections it sees within the Negro lower class. For example, you get a white middle class or upper class individual who will look at a Negro living under conditions of squalor and come to sometimes the stated conclusion but more often the unstated conclusion that somehow this Negro must want to live this way, otherwise why would he be living there, and that since he is there and apparently wants it, this justifies the system that produced it.
RPW: In new book, “The Crisis in Black and White,” he makes a good deal of a distinction. The Negro, he says, interprets a situation almost purely as race – almost purely as a matter of race. The white man tends to emphasize the other aspects of it. The Negro sees elements – frequently sees elements that are economic or have other social aspects, as merely a matter of race.
CR: Well, I think – this is one of those over-generalizations where you would have to say which Negro. I would say that the majority of Negroes would be inclined to see – let’s say, discrimination in employment, mostly as a matter of race. Whereas certainly anyone who has served in government, for example, in the kind of jobs I’ve had the last three years – begins to talk about what we call the circle of gossip. We see that the good jobs are passed out because of their circle of gossip. A man in an important position goes to a cocktail party with other men in important positions and he mentions, I need so-and-so to fill a really important job. And maybe at that cocktail part somebody mentions to him somebody who can fill that job. Well, if there’s nobody at that cocktail part who knows any Negroes or who knows any well enough to feel that he can recommend them for that job, the Negro doesn’t have a ghost of a chance of getting that job. Now, this is a social factor that’s involved in discrimination. And one of the things I’ve pointed out is that Negroes have to break through this circle of gossip and get some people inside the circle who know some Negroes and who have become accustomed to recognizing Negroes for good jobs, and until this happens the Negro is going to be discriminated against in employment for a considerable amount of time. Now, there may be other social factors, many other economic factors that go into this thing, and they lead to what you can call discrimination by individuals who don’t have the remotest thought that they’re discriminating in any racial way.
RPW: Relating to that, there is a notion we encounter sometimes that the successful Negro – any form of success tends to be – the form is under suspicion from the unsuccessful Negro, from the masses, from the lower classes. They feel immediately there’s been some possibility of a sellout loss of continuity. Now, much is made of this by a good many Negro writers and a good many white sociologists too. But the suspicion is there. Do you feel this?
CR: Oh, there’s no doubt about it. The suspicion exists beyond any doubt. Now, let me say that there’s nothing unique about this, in so far as Negroes are concerned. I was talking with my predecessor, Ed Murrow, yesterday, and I talked to my other colleagues who were formerly newspaper men. We find, for example, that when a newspaper man moves into government there is an absolute rising of suspicion among newspapermen that somehow or the other there must have been some degree of sellout, some degree of compromise of principle involved here. The same thing exists in the Negro community. Now, one of the problems in the Negro community is that the demigods – and it should be clear that there are demigods, who are interested in self-glorification among Negroes too – they tend to use this argument against anybody who happens to disagree with them or their particular tactic. It’s common, for example, on the part of the demigods, that if a Negro says – a Negro leader or somebody in a position of prominence says this is wrong, it should not be done this way, the quickest way to shut him up is to call him an Uncle Tom. And it’s a rather contemptible tactic, but fortunately we’ve got more Negroes of success who feel themselves in positions that are secure enough that they don’t feel they have to run with the demigods, and I think when we have more of them we’ll find that the Negro as a whole is better off.
RPW: That is, you think that – if I read you aright – hear you aright – that people are in peripheral situations outside of formal leadership – that they do a great service to change the image of the Negro in the public mind. Is that the idea? Just the fact that their image of men of power and competence and success is a value in itself?
CR: Oh, absolutely. Now, as I pointed out – I forget with whom I was talking in Finland – oh, I guess it was a Time Magazine reporter – I pointed out to him that every Negro in a position of responsibility who does his job well, or especially one who does his job excellently, is aiding immeasurably in the civil rights struggle because he is carrying along with him a segment of public opinion in this country – of white public opinion. Now, one of the things that distresses me about some of these people who style themselves as the new militants who are replacing the NAACP and the Urban League and so forth, is that they would have you believe that somehow or the other by their militancy alone they can force a solution to this business. Well, it just isn’t feasible in a society where the Negro represents a ten percent minority.
RPW: That is, you assume that a solution can only come by some cooperation with a white society and not by mere militancy isolated from other elements?
CR: That’s right. Well, for example, I think you have to have many approaches. First of all, you’ve got to work on the white man’s conscience, and that’s what urban leagues and NAACP’s were doing all these years when they tried to arouse the conscience of the church people of the nation. You’ve got to work on the white man’s concern about his economic posture and you’ve got – that is, you make him understand how much it’s taking out of his pocketbook to pursue these policies of discrimination. You’ve got to work on the American concerned about this country’s position in the world, and that’s why there’s been all this talk about the role of race in international affairs, and you’ve got to work on the public opinion media in this country, and move them over to a position of greater concern and greater militancy. All this has to go along with the street demonstrations or the street demonstrations produce nothing but rancor and violence and bloodshed and bitterness. But not very much in the way of progress that’s beneficial either to the Negro or the white man.
RPW: You get people like Lauren Miller saying that the liberal is over – goodbye white liberal, you see, in quotes – or James Baldwin saying that the white liberal is an affliction and cannot be endured longer, and Adam Clayton Powell saying there’s no place for him except to take orders – that whole line is very very strongly marked – quite different types of Negroes – not just one type.
CR: Well, they would be one type generally in the sense that they are afflicted with a great deal more frustration and a great deal more bitterness in some cases than would be so among another group that would certainly call itself Negro leadership.
RPW: Is this element in it true, that the Negro movement or Negro revolution or whatever we choose to call it, is the first time that there has been massive self-determination among Negroes – it is necessary then for the Negroes to control their own – quotes – movement – whatever this is, you see.
CR: Yes, well, now let me say that in saying what I’ve just said I don’t want to indicate that I believe it’s wrong to say that the Negro should speak for himself, because I do. I don’t particularly relish the fact, for example, that in our Senate today, trying to decide what will be the rights of twenty million American Negroes, a hundred white men are making all the decisions. I don’t think that’s good for the Negro, and I don’t think it’s good for this country. I do believe, for example, that the recent militancy has caused the Negro to have a new realization of the possibility of making decisions that decide your own fate. But I don’t think that’s the most important thing about the militancy at all, and in saying that I want to make it clear that I have supported the sit-ins and the various other demonstrations. I think the important thing is that they serve to raise to the surface what has been a latent sense of decency on the part of this white ninety percent majority in the United States. I think that the peaceful demonstrations which were completely in keeping with the First Amendment to the Constitution, did serve to create a broader white understanding of the need for this nation to move and to move urgently to give the Negro some redress of the just grievances that he’s had for all these years. But I think all this talk about Negroes wiping white people out of the picture is a great deal of sound and fury that some people are using to impress themselves as to their own importance, and it doesn’t really have a great deal of bearing on what’s going to happen in this country.
RPW: What about the argument that the Negro has had a very defective conception of himself, you know – he didn’t have basically a strong ego, that he had been maimed by his experience on this continent, and that now for the first time he has a vision of himself which is different?
CR: Well, I must say that there is plenty of validity to that point because the whole system for lo these many years has been to crush the Negroes’ pride, to crush his self-respect and make him believe that he was an inferior, to make him believe that this was the only lot in American life to which he was entitled, and moving away from that kind of brainwashing is a tremendously difficult process. But, the thing is that some people would have you believe that this so-called angry speech that somebody might give, or an angry article that somebody might write, or that violence in the street has pulled the Negro’s ego and self-respect back up to where it ought to be, and I would maintain that this is an exercise in self-deception, that this may begin to move the Negro in the other direction, but that nothing is going to move that ego and that self-respect up to where it ought to be, until the Negro gets all the other things that make it possible for him to live with self assurance that he can compete with the American white man and that he can live beside him and make the best of whatever equality of opportunity that exists. Now, in this sense I am saying that a Negro youngster out on that street participating in a demonstration who is not doing anything in his school work and who knows it, who is gaining nothing in the way of cultural background and who knows it, is going to go home that night and know that he is still just as much an outcast from American society as he was before he went out on that street and expressed his anger and his fire and his unhappiness over the situation. So the point I try to make in my speeches – and heaven knows, when people are talking militancy and even some are talking violence, you aren’t necessarily the most popular man in the world when you say, all right, go on out and participate in that sit-in, but when you get through go home and do your homework, because you can ram open the door to the table where the white man is feasting, but if you go in and sit down at that table and you are uncertain as to which fork to pick up, you’re still going to feel like a man who’s on the outside.
RPW: There is a very violent reaction against Dr. King’s position, of course. Let me read you a passage from Dr. Kenneth Clark on this. You probably know the passage.
CR: Yes, I know – I know Dr. Clark quite well.
RPW: On the surface, King’s philosophy appears to reflect health and stability, while Black Nationalism betrays pathology and instability. A deeper analysis, however, might reveal that there is also an unrealistic if not pathological basis in King’s doctrine. The natural reactions to injustice and oppression are bitterness and resentment. The form which such bitterness takes need not be overtly violent but the corrosion of the spirit is inevitable. It would seem, therefore, that any demand that victims of oppression be required to love those who oppress them places an additional and intolerable burden upon these victims. That’s a lot to hear at one time I know.
CR: Yes, well, let me say this – I would be inclined to agree with what Kenneth Clark says. I think that to ask the victims of oppression to love their oppressors may have some merit only from a propaganda point of view, from the point of view of affecting American public opinion. But I think that in terms of the reaction of the American Negro, that it’s really wishful thinking to assume that for any – that in any really meaningful sense the Negro is going to love his oppressor. I don’t know of any group of people in human history who ever really loved their oppressors, and I don’t think the Negro is such a super human that he’s going to be able to do it either.
RPW: Well, Dr. King and others who have seen him in operation, say, in Birmingham and a few other places, bear witness to a real change of temper in certain moments of crisis under his –
CR: Well now let me say this, because of one man’s personality, or because of one man’s ability as an orator to appeal to the people he’s leading, he may indeed be able to prevent them from resorting to violence under the greatest provocation at a given time. But this does not mean that he has induced those people to love their oppressors. They may be filled – their hearts may be filled with bitterness and the utmost of contempt, but at the same time under the spell of leadership of this particular man they may simply have been induced not to let this contempt manifest itself in overt physical aggression.
RPW: As you see the nonviolence primarily as tactical then, is that right? And precautionary?
CR: Well, I think that its validity would be more tactical than real in any spiritual sense of the word.
RPW: Taking the whole Negro movement now – it’s called a revolution. Is that word properly applied – revolution – properly applied. In what sense can we say it’s a revolution?
CR: Well, I think it is a revolution in that it is a rapid and dramatic change in the Negro’s outlook upon the means he wants to apply in moving toward the status of a first class human being. But actually, what the American Negro is doing today is as I see it, a part of a much broader thing that’s happening the world today. I regard it as part of a whole worldwide movement against colonialism and against racism. I think these things play on each other, and that what’s happening in Asia and Africa the last few years has had a very definite effect on what the Negro masses are doing in this particular country*
RPW: Would you related that in itself to something even broader, a conception of the individual which was not functional in the world before – oh, the last hundred and fifty years?
CR: Oh, yes, very defini8tely, and I would say – I would relate it also to some of the lessons man has learned in the 1930’s particularly during World War II, and lessons he’s been more willing to face as a result of the threat of atomic extinction.
RPW: In all revolutionary situations of history tells us about, there is a drive for centralization of leadership – various leaders have knocked off along the way – you move toward the central leadership – usually toward one man. Have you seen any tendency of that sort in the Negro movement the last, say, seven or eight years?
CR: Oh, I’ve seen signs of one man increasing his prestige and his role as a leader, yes, but I don’t think that in terms of the Negro civil rights movement we have moved anywhere close to a position where you could say there is a
*Handwritten notes above this paragraph
single leader, and I don’t think there will be in the foreseeable future.
RPW: There clearly isn’t one now. It’s a question of what the tendency is.
CR: Oh, I don’t see any real tendency in this direction.
RPW: There is always the process of overreaching in promises and overreaching in appeals in any situation like this, and how much of this overreaching process in the bid for power or the bid to define policy?
CR: Well, I would say that there is a very definite element of overreaching on the part of some of the leaders of the really more militant groups of Negroes, particularly young groups. When a leader, and particularly some who ought to know better, would lead these groups to believe that by militancy alone they’re going to reach the Negro’s goals, then I call this overreaching, and overreaching in a very sad way because it can only lead to further frustration and bitterness on the part of people who already have a great deal.
RPW: Do you see, given the general idea of nonviolent demonstration, given that in general, but under that head a distinction between illegitimate and legitimate demonstrations?
CR: Oh, I do, indeed.
RPW: How would you approach that question?
CR: Well, now, let me – I probably ought to read for you a section of a speech I gave before the American Civil Liberties Union just last week.
RPW: Do you have a copy of it?
CR: Yes, I do and I’ll be happy to –
RPW: Well, if I can get that, then, we won’t take the time to read it now on the tape – we’ll just put that on the record and I’ll go at it -. Would you have classified, given your distinction –
CR: That’s all right. Go right ahead. This is Mr. Savage, our director –
RPW: Oh, yes, you called my house this morning. How do you do?
CR: And a copy of my speech before the American Civil Liberties Union.
RPW: End of Tape #1 of a conversation with Mr. Rowan. Proceed to Tape #2.
(end of tape)Collapse
TAPE 2 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN CARL ROWAN TAPE #2
RPW: This is Tape #2 of a conversation with Mr. Carol Rowan – continue. You know the notion first put forth, I guess by Du Bois – appearing in many forms since – of the split in the psyche of the American Negro – on one hand the pull toward the African tradition, or even toward the American Negro tradition, toward some mystique of blood and culture; on the other hand, the pull toward identification with the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Western European tradition. First, do you feel this – any such division of impulse?
CR: Yes, I see many manifestations of this dichotomy, really, of the Negro’s thinking, and –
RPW: Do you feel it yourself?
CR: Oh, I don’t think I particularly feel it myself, because I made the intellectual conviction a long time ago that as an American and as one who believes color to be of incidental importance, I’m going to put my stake on first-class citizenship in this country as an American and enjoying all the rights that pertain to Americans. But I have had many acquaintances, for example – well, I’ve run into a Negro who would say, I want – who would, for example, complain about racial discrimination and then turn around and criticize another Negro for moving into a white neighborhood on the grounds that that Negro was showing a lack of pride in his own race to move among white people. Now this is the psyche split that I see manifested on a very practical matter.
RPW: Some Negroes I know say that they feel a real sense of loss or vague anxiety if they think of the total absorption of, say, Negro blood into an American race, the disappearance of Negro identity – as a blood identity. Do you feel anything about that one way or the other?
CR: No, I’ve never had any moments of anxiety over that, particular probability.
RPW: For some people it’s real.
CR: Yes, I’m sure it must be, just as for a great many whites, this is the all-consuming fear, and I find a lot more things to worry about and I haven’t gotten around to spending any time worrying about that one.
RPW: Let me approach the question of the notion of cultural identify and therefore personal identity through the Southern white situation. Is this tenable as a proposition, that the Southern white man feels that to be himself, to have identity, he must buy a whole tradition that he would call – in quotes – Southern? One of the things in that is a certain attitude toward race, that even a man who does not feel individually or personally the racial necessity – the impulse for racial discrimination, feels somewhere he must participate to maintain his cultural identity, that once he could see that this is not necessary for his cultural identity he would be freed of the whole thing. Does that make any sense?
CR: Well, I think that’s tenable as a proposition, but I think there’s a lot more to this business of feeling the part of a white Southerner.
RPW: Let’s have the rest of it then.
CR: Well, for example, let’s talk about how people respond to feelings of persecution. I would say that millions of American whites feel that they and the South have been persecuted. Now, some will carry it all the way back to the days before the Civil War, to what happened in the Civil War, to what was done in the Reconstruction Period, et cetera, et cetera. Others will bring it right down to today where they will swear that magazine X, for example, is always writing about the fault of the South and never about the fault of the North, or that the press of this nation is trying – has long tried to say that racial discrimination is a Southern problem and not a Northern problem. Well, the fact is that this feeling of regional persecution tends to make a man defensive and to feel more Southern than he may really feel on racial terms alone. *
RPW: So far that’s about the same thing I was bunglingly trying to say.
CR: Yes, well, that I think is a real factor.
RPW: It’s a very unfortunate factor to stake your identify on that, isn’t it?
CR: Yes, it is indeed. Now you get the other factor, of course, of having – of, say, just reading casually from time to time statistics showing, for example, that the number of white Southerners rejected in the draft is considerably higher than the number of white Northerners rejected in the draft. You get the economic, cultural, other indicators, of a lower level of society in
the South than in the North. Now people who read this are naturally inclined
*“Use in end” handwritten above this section.
to look for things to bolster their prestige, and therefore a man in New Orleans,
for example, may get a subtle or a subconscious boost to his ego by going to a hotel where he knows Ralph Bunch [Bunche] can’t stay the night, or where he knows the highest Negroes in Government couldn’t get a hotel room.
RPW: Now we have a parallel then between the white Southerner situation vis-à-vis the North, and the Negro situation vis-à-vis the white man, don’t we?
CR: Yes, that right.
RPW: That is, the white Southerner feels defensive – he has objective standards – lower literacy rates, lower this, lower that – in the same way the Negro has vis-à-vis the white society.
CR: That’s right.
RPW: So we have a very strange parallel here, don’t we – a psychological parallel and cultural parallel?
CR: That’s right. And you will see it reflected to a degree in the fact that a great many Negroes will react almost automatically with suspicion to a white man with a Southern drawl.
RPW: They do indeed, I can tell you.
CR: Yes (laughter). And it’s only after a considerable amount of experience and a considerable – the attaining of a considerable degree of intellectual sophistication that a Negro is really, honestly able to say that he doesn’t judge white men by where they come from.
RPW: Or white men by the color of their skin – to carry it further along.
CR: Yes, that’s true.
RPW: In other words, you would say with this paranoia that is shared by both the Southern white man and the American Negro.
CR: There being one significant difference that I think we ought to recognize, that in the case of the Negro it is not nearly as often a paranoia or a false feeling of being persecuted as it is in the case of the white Southerner. Any Negro alive can recall from recent memory enough real incidents of persecution and discrimination to give him his feelings. Whereas in the case of the white Southerner these feelings may be no more than an attitude passed on by another generation.
RPW: Right. I’m talking about the way it works psychologically and not the relevance in terms of background.
CR: That’s right – that’s right.
RPW: The problem in different degrees where it’s a real problem for both of these groups.
CR: Absolutely – absolutely. And this of course is a big factor in this revolution that we’re talking about. The – some Negroes would have you believe - and this could be particularly true of the demigod who likes to throw around the word Uncle Tom – he would want to have you believe that the difference in attitude is the extent to which one Negro has been bought out by a white man and the other one has not. But actually what one man does as against what another Negro does may indeed be merely a measurement of the degree to which he’s afflicted by this thing we describe as paranoia.
RPW: You see also occasionally the same contempt the modern city man has for the modern rural citizen reflected among Negroes – Northern Negroes against Southern Negroes. I’ve see that myself occasionally, even with say, Northern Negroes who came to Mississippi to work in civil rights – occasionally.
CR: Oh, yes, you see these – these are the things that help to confirm your belief that people everywhere are fundamentally the same whatever their race, because you can see these bits of snobbery operating among Negroes too, and you know then that they are capable of just about the same degree of decency and the same degree of indecency as are white citizens.
RPW: James Baldwin says in his last book that the Southern mob does not represent the will of the Southern majority. What, if any, sense does that make to you?
CR: Oh, I think this is true. I think from my own observations in the South as a journalist and otherwise –
RPW: And you were born there too.
CR: Yes, I lived there the first eighteen years of my life.
RPW: Tennessee, wasn’t it?
CR: That’s right – that the vast majority of Southern white people would like nothing better than to get out from under this burden of supposedly being a different breed of Americans. There is – whether we will it so or not – a certain kind of stigma attached to being a white Southerner, just as there is a stigma attached to being a Negro. And –
RPW: The moral is, don’t lose a war.
CR: Well, yes – that’s right. But I think a lot of Southerners for example – deep inside themselves they’re bothered by a statement, for example, that the practice of racial discrimination is hurting this country abroad, it’s hurting the United States in its struggle with the Communist world. Now, they’d like to find some cheap easy way to get away from a situation where somebody is saying that what they are doing is damaging the Untied States and damaging the cause of democracy. Therefore, they do not like what the mobs do, they do not want to be a part of some of the more brutal denials of civil rights in these recent years. But the truth of it is they also happen to live in times when men are more inclined to hate trouble more than they hate injustice, and therefore they find silence the better part of wisdom.
RPW: Some people actually engaged at the period of their lives in the movement in Mississippi and in other parts of the South, have told me – including Charles Evers – that they were optimistic about a reasonable settlement in the South before very long – before you would get it elsewhere. Mr. Evers says that the Mississippi segregationist is raised to respect courage at least – raw courage. He sees the Negro showing it – he’s not going to like it but he’s convinced of something. This man crosses a line and he can be trusted then in a certain way. Is he dreaming?
CR: Well, I think he may be dreaming about the extent to which this respect for courage is going to operate, but I don’t think he’s dreaming in terms of the fact that a reasonable settlement is coming. I don’t think there’s even a half educated person in Mississippi who doesn’t know that this thing is coming because it’s got to come. And I think every one of them knows that it’s going to come a lot sooner than he wants it. And I think with the right kind of political leadership and with the right kind of leadership from the press, it would have been accepted a long time ago.
RPW: Do you mean the local Southern press or the outside press?
CR: Well, the local Southern press primarily. I note that –
RPW: There in Mississippi –
CR: Well, I know there is –
RPW: The Free Press of Jackson – it’s a Negro paper.
CR: Yes, I know –
RPW: The Tuscalulu* paper – the Tuscalulu paper stood out against it.
CR: Well, you see, I look at this whole picture of what’s happened in the South, and I note that the greatest degree of accommodation and the greatest transition on a peaceful basis has come about in those communities where there is a reasonably responsible press, and a reasonably responsible political leadership. But where you’ve got poor political leadership and a press
*Unable to read correction written over Tuscalulu.
that moves with the passions of the area, of the times, you get trouble. It’s as
simple as that.
RPW: It’s a simple matter of courage then for the people who should be leaders, isn’t it? The responsibility of leadership – it boils down to that, doesn’t it?
CR: Oh, absolutely. This is crucial to the future of this country.
RPW: What’s happened to leadership in parts of the South?
CR: Well, I go back –
RPW: There is none in Mississippi, except Silver – James Silver.
CR: Yes, that’s right. But let’s go beyond that to the power structure, you see. You talk about your power companies, your gas companies, your big merchants, your big manufacturers. A lot of them with some Northern control, for example. These are the people who have abdicated responsibility. These are the people who are sending this nation down the road to far more costly conflict than any of us may comprehend today, simply because they refuse to use the great powers that they have.
RPW: Like the steel industry in Birmingham.
CR: That’s right – absolutely. And with a nod from this part of the power structure you’d get a lot more press responsibility in the first place, and you’d get a lot of more political responsibility in the second place.
RPW: Talking about he South, do you remember Muirdahl’s [Myrdal’s] scheme – what would have been, he thinks, a reasonable reconstruction – first the compensation of the slaveholder for the emancipation, second, expropriation of land for freedmen but with compensation – not the giving of land to the freedmen but a long-term sale, you see – a price, but – you see – and various other things, including some shifting of population. Do you find resistance to any of those stipulations that he lays down?
CR: Well, let me say first of all that I’m really the furthest thing from an expert on the Reconstruction Period. My knowledge of what actually took place during Reconstruction is considerably limited. But in terms of these particular things you’ve spelled out, I don’t see any fundamental objection to them.
RPW: You know many people would simply explode at the thought – both Northerners and Negroes –
CR: Of what?
RPW: Of the notion of compensating the slaveholders after the Civil War for the emancipated slaves, and the notion of compensating for the expropriation of land – it’s compounding a felony – it becomes a moral affront.
CR: Well, that’s why I say you have to dig into a lot of specific circumstances that pertain to that particular time to decide whether or not some small measurement of morality may lie on the side of compensation.
RPW: The point I’m getting at – is really a theoretical question through this – is an abstract moral issue as opposed to the fact that moral issues may be imbedded in the economic and other issues – so deep that they have to be treated as less than abstract.
CR: Yes, well, on the strictly abstract moral terms, yes, I would object to that. I would not say that you ought to reward a man for ceasing to do what’s immoral, and I do believe slavery was and is immoral, and I would see no reason to compensate a man for ceasing immoral actions. Now, the question – there may however be a question of whether or not the rest of society played a role in leading that man or sustaining that man in an immoral operation. Then, of course to cut that immoral operation off may leave you with some obligation. Now, I’m not saying this pertains. All I’m saying is that these abstract moral issues are generally not very abstract, and –
RPW: There is also the possibility – possibility at least, that if this had been done you might have avoided the serious consequences we have had in the South in the Reconstruction and after.
CR: That’s possible, but I would doubt very much, however, that these changes that Muirdahl [Myrdal] spoke of – or that this kind of settlement would have changed very much the fundamental problem that exists here, and that is the fundamental problem of people having a need to feel superior to somebody, having a clearly distinguishable minority group to pick as the inferior group to use as the scapegoat for whatever disabilities and inadequacies the area of the South might have continued to have. I just doubt that any kind of arrangement would have wiped out this rather deeply imbedded notion that the white man was meant to rule and the Negro was meant to be the slave.
RPW: What do you think of Lincoln?
CR: Well, I must say that I think Lincoln was a great president and that his attitudes were way ahead of his time.
RPW: The fact that he held certain strong racist views doesn’t make you modify that?
CR: Well, I’ve read some statements that would tend to be considered racist views on the part of Lincoln, but I read – for example, I quoted Lincoln in a speech last week, and it’s in this copy of the speech that I gave you. This is a statement that shows a brilliant understanding of this business of human freedom, the foundation on which liberty is based. And it’s the furthest things from a racist statement, and I much prefer to think that this statement was the voice of the true Lincoln, and not some of the things I’ve heard quoted that have racist –
RPW: After the Emancipation he – he was waited on by a committee of three Negroes from Washington and environs, and said I must tell you you can never hope to enjoy equality with the white man.
CR: Yes, that’s so – yes.
RPW: What about Thomas Jefferson and the question of race and slavery? How does that strike you? Do you feel any ironies at that fact?
CR: Well, now let me say that even the most enlightened man tends to be to some degree a slave of the circumstances that pertain. And if you go back a hundred years, I would think that even as enlightened a man as a Lincoln, or back further, even as enlightened a man as a Jefferson, might have found it difficult to conceive of the day when the Negro could move far enough away from the chains of bondage that pertained to him to really walk at the level of the American white man.
RPW: That is, you want to modify or at least put against the notion abstract moral definition historical relativism and the question of context?
CR: That’s exactly right. I think that in abstract terms Lincoln was not a racist, and in terms of his own personal ideology, his own personal philosophy; the same thing with Jefferson – he was a Democrat, but in terms of historical relevance, and in terms of the situation that existed in his time, many statements were made about what seemed to be possible that would look a little foolish today in terms of what has happened.
RPW: That was the point I was getting at.
CR: Yes, that’s exactly right.
RPW: Of course that – your view is not universally held.
CR: Oh, I know – there are some people of course who find it convenient to hold to the view that Lincoln and Jefferson were racists because this puts them in distinguished company, you see.
RPW: It’s also held by certain Negroes another strike against the white man.
CR: Yes, well, I –
RPW: This can be used both ways.
CR: yes, that’s true.
RPW: Both ways – you find the citizens’ council quoting Jefferson – I mean, pointing to Jefferson and Lincoln, and you find certain Negroes pointing to them with a finger of scorn. It can be used either way.
CR: Yes, I find myself fortunate not to be in either of those groups.
RPW: One more thing on this tape. Let me read a quotation about Negro history. The whole tendency of the Negro history movement, not as history but as propaganda, is to encourage the average Negro to escape the realities. The actual achievements and the actual failures of the present. Although the movement consciously tends to breed race pride, it may also cause Negroes unconsciously to recognize that group pride is built partly on delusion and therefore may result in devaluation of themselves for being forced to resort to such self-deception. That’s by Arnold Rose – Muirdahl’s [Myrdal’s] collaborator.
CR: Yes, I know Arnold Rose personally.
RPW: From Minnesota?
CR: Yes, that’s right. Well, I – let me say that of course there is a conscious effort on the part of those who deal in Negro history to use it as a means of bolstering group pride. I think there is some validity to this approach, simply from the practical point of view that so many Negroes have no knowledge of Negro history, no experience that they’ve had in our public schools was designed to teach them much about their past history. But I would say that group pride is not necessarily based on self-deception. I would say that pride – and I would encourage the Negro to work on individual pride, rather than race pride, myself – let me say this – but that it’s really based more on the achievements and the status of today than it is on what somebody did at Bunker Hill.
RPW: I must say that I have seen so many of the bad effects of the use of history in the South that I am suspicious of all such uses of history.
CR: Well, I am simply suspicious of any efforts to create deep feelings that are based simply on the fact that you are of this racial group, or you are of this social group, or you are of this religious group, or you are of this cultural group, - because they all lead to a narrowness of mind and a narrowness of heart that it seems to me has never brought human beings anything but grief in the long run.
RPW: You’re just fearful of the Shovanism [chauvinism] that’s involved there?
CR: That’s exactly right.
RPW: Let me take you off the hook. This is the end of Tape #2 of the conversation with Carl Rowan. Proceed on Tape #3.
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TAPE 3 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon 1964 typed transcripts of Robert Penn Warren’s original interviews. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site.]
ROBERT PENN WARREN CARL ROWAN TAPE #3
RPW: This is Tape #3 of the conversation with Carl Rowan – proceed. Let me cut back to another topic that we almost approached yesterday – the question of white and black symbolisms in Western culture. Some Negroes see society as impregnated with such symbolisms. I have a friend in Nashville who says he has trained himself to reverse these symbolisms.
CR: What – do they mention these symbolisms, for example?
RPW: Values – good equals white – bright light equals truth – darkness equals ignorance – the texture of light and dark symbolism.
CR: White is pure.
RPW: White is pure – black is impure – good and evil. The question how this is a subtle assault through these symbols on the integrity of the Negro. How serious do you think this is a problem?
CR: Well, certainly – now, in my very first book, as I recall, I wrote a section on this very subject and it’s true that this is indeed a factor. Now only is it a factor in the white mind, but it becomes a factor in the mind of the ordinary Negro, including the Negro child, and it is an extremely subtle transition into this whole question of group behavior and attitudes in one group toward another group. But it’s a factor nevertheless. I doubt very much that any campaign is going to reverse those symbols.
RPW: Now, here’s a point that is curious – some of these symbolisms antedate the contact between the races. That is, in Africa itself some anthropologists have pointed out that the light-dark, white-black symbolisms are used there – in dances of good and evil, say – ritual dances – the good will be attired in white feathers and white marks, the evil character, the symbol of evil, will have black feathers and black robes. Or – this is true in many other – in Asia too, where you have the white and black and light and dark as a natural symbolism without reference to race – where there’s no racial contact with the white race.
CR: Oh, I’m sure that this flows out of something that has nothing whatsoever to do with race. For example, I would suspect that you could carry it back to the time when man feared the dark, for example, and he much preferred daylight.
RPW: The wolves weren’t out in the daylight.
CR: That’s exactly right. So I don’t think that these symbols in themselves flow out of any racial feeling.
RPW: Though some Negroes do claim that they have been exploited deliberately by the white man.
CR: Oh, I don’t think this is any great problem in that sense. Long after all our racial problems were solved I expect that brides will still be wearing white as a symbol of their pristine pureness, and men would still prefer – some of them, that is – the daylight to the darkness.
RPW: Here you have, then, an intersection of natural symbolism with a social symbolism. In other words, it’s an insoluble symbolism.
CR: yes, that’s right. The symbolisms will be there, no matter what. Yes.
RPW: How much is the question of race used as an alibi by Negroes for ordinary failures that should be accounted for on other grounds?
CR: Well, that’s hard to say. It was used I should think a lot more in times past than is the case today. But I would say that in many instances when it’s used today it’s used often without the Negro who’s using it as an alibi being aware that he’s doing so.
RPW: In other words, it’s even more destructive when it’s unconscious?
CR: Yes, I think so. You run into a slight here or a slight there, and it gets to be part of the pattern, and it almost becomes a part of your natural response to assume that somebody is discriminating against you. I’ve known many instances where people have assumed that discrimination was involved when nothing even remotely akin to it was involved.
RPW: We hear the debt to the Negro – the question of preferential treatment and the – Whitney Young’s Marshall Plan – now, clearly there - there are – clearly they are necessary actions to be taken in terms of remedy. How would you distinguish between the debt to the Negro and – well, first, how would you interpret the debt to the Negro?
CR: Well, let me say that I – well, I would support the government’s undertaking the kind of actions Whitney Young spelled out, I would support it on a basis far bigger than a debt to the Negro. I view it as the country’s debt to itself in a sense. You’ve got a tenth of the population which is not contributing all that it should or could to the economy, to our society, to everything that we’re trying to do. And obviously the only way to make that ten percent able to make a full contribution is to help it to make up this gap – educational gap, cultural gap, economic gap – that has been imposed because of discriminations of the past. Now, you’ve got to get the Negro out of this vicious circle somehow in which – that’s the circle in which he is unable to move in certain areas because he’s not had the background or the experience, and he’s unable to get the experiences because of the present condition he’s in. And I think of course the federal government does have an obligation to make some dramatic moves in that particular direction.
RPW: Now, how would you distinguish such moves toward remedying the Negro’s situation and a move toward attacking the problem of lack of education and lack of privilege in general?
CR: Oh, I definitely think that ought to be done. That’s why I’m such an advocate of the President’s War on Poverty program.
RPW: That is, the question of the Negro would be, then – it would be something subsumed under the general topic of the attack on the loss of human resources in American in general?
CR: That’s right – that’s right. It’s merely an extension of what I think the nation ought to be doing for any of its people who are underprivileged and who lack opportunities because of the injustices of the past. For example, I have written many articles about the state of the American Indian and what I think we ought to be doing to remedy that situation.
RPW: That is, the general proposition of the use of human resources takes precedence in your mind then over the question of mere rate of application in terms of race?
CR: Yes, I would put it on a far broader basis than the simple question of race.
RPW: Let me read a little passage here on the danger of slogans – let’s see how you react to this statement. There is a danger in the newfound militancy. Negroes may become the victims of their own rhetoric. Some Negro leaders have already shown a tendency to react to labels rather than to substance. Once a proposal has been called moderate or solved, they are obliged to attack it automatically without regard to the merits of the case. In ’63 most Negro leaders attacked Kennedy for opposing the strong – in quotes – and supporting the weak version of the C.R. Bill before the House Judiciary Committee. Yet the strong version is in some ways weaker. For example, it omitted the creation of federal registrars to insure Negro voting rights. The label “weak” had been taken by the Negro leaders for this bill.
CR: Oh, I agree with that observation completely, and one of my points is that Negro leaders have got to fight this business where a man gets up and calls something moderate or pussyfooting or calls somebody an Uncle Tom, and immediately – or some proposal Uncle Tom-ish or a compromise, and that will-nilly you’re supposed to be against it. This is anti-intellectualism and it’s a reactionary viewpoint in itself, and I think that one of the worst things that could happen would be for Negroes to fall further victim to this slogan area.
RPW: Let me read you another quotation. The color question is a social problem, and as such is not essentially different from any other social problem. By reason of this fact, it is part of these same processes of adjustment, social problems by their very nature do not lend themselves to immediate or absolute solutions. This is by Professor Gordon Hancock, who is a Negro.
CR: Yes, I know. Well, in the most general sense of course that’s true. Certainly no social problem of any magnitude lends itself to an absolute solution, and I doubt very much that it’s feasible to talk on this race problem in terms of an absolute solution. Now, the other part of it, whether or not a social problem will lend itself to immediate action or immediate solution, well, once you’ve said that there’s no absolute solution there’s no question in my mind as to whether you can then talk about an immediate solution. But if you assume that there can be a partial solution but not an absolute one, I say that many social problems do lend themselves to immediate solutions if you don’t mean by “immediate” the next five minutes, or –
RPW: How do you relate this to the slogan “Freedom Now”?
CR: Well, this is just a case of another one of those slogans which illustrates or articulates a feeling or an attitude of frustration. But certainly has no relationship to what’s possible.
RPW: It’s a poet statement then?
CR: That’s right – that’s right. But it has no relationship whatsoever to the possibilities and realities of the world in which any of us live.
RPW: Now, a sophisticated person know that there is always a lag between the emotional statement of urgency and the possibility of achievement – we all know that - knows his history or even just the facts of life. But there are a lot of people who don’t have that kind of sophistication.
CR: Well, now let me say that Freedom Now is a slogan – sure – but it balances off another slogan that the Negro has head for many generations. We can’t solve this problem overnight. Now, that’s a slogan and it’s also a truism. But the Negro has said, no, looking at it in a realistic, intellectual way, obviously we won’t solve it overnight. But the demand is that we work as though we want to solve it overnight. And it’s somewhere between those two slogans that the area of realism lies.
RPW: That is, you would see this as one more example of a necessary polarity in all human action, between the urgency for immediate – for action, and the fruits of action in reality?
CR: That’s exactly right.
RPW: Do you remember – did you read Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust”?
CR: Yes, I did.
RPW: Do you remember the passage on homogeneity, toward the end – the South – and homogeneity – Negro and white – somehow as opposed to some values outside in the South – do you remember that? It’s a very vague passage, you see.
CR: yes, I remember it vaguely, but not very well.
RPW: Well, if you don’t remember it , you know with any sharpness – (talking together)
CR: … I don’t remember it with any sharpness.
RPW: There’s something related to it, though, of some interest. A good many historians say that the Negro in America is much more like the old American than like the modern American.
CR: In what way?
RPW: In the sense like the old – sort of old – old Southerner. Then like the new modern urban, type of mixed ethnic origin.
CR: Well, I don’t see much that would enable me to support that contention. There are a lot of kinds of Negroes in this country, and I know several kinds of them.
RPW: That is, you would attack it on the grounds of just the pluralisms in the general category of Negro, then?
CR: Well, on that ground specifically, but secondly on the ground that I just don’t think I’ve observed anything that would allow me to make that judgment.
RPW: One way they go at it is by saying that the essential – well, religiosity of the Negro which corresponds to the religiosity, you see of the older groups like the Southern society, back country New England?
CR: I’m inclined to think that the Negro, like the rest of the American population, has tended to move a bit away from this religiosity in the last several years.
RPW: On that basis, then, you could see that the – that Dr. King’s philosophy would apply perhaps to the South but not in the North, not in the big urban centers?
CR: Not to – certainly not to the extent that it applies in the South.
RPW: He is trapped in a way by thinking that what applies in Atlanta and in Birmingham could apply in New York or Detroit?
CR: It would apply in some areas of New York and Detroit, because there are sections of these big metropolitan centers that are really little more than extension of the South. So many of the residents having so very recently come out of the Southern setting. But certainly the dominant element of the Negro community in these areas would be quite unlike this Negro of the South who is devoted to great religiosity.
RPW: Let’s read another quote. The self image of the Negro middle class is one of ability and militancy. The middle class Negro is not obsessed with status pretensions as is the upper class Negro, nor does he suffer the abject despair of the Negro masses. As a result, he seldom displays the kind of insecurity that needs and the need for ancestral – sorry – he seldom displays the kind of insecurity characteristic, you see, of the other two classes – the bottom and the top. This is Eric Lincoln.
CR: I wonder who he’s referring to as the Negro middle class – that would be my first question. Secondly, I would say, based on what I assume he’s referring to as the Negro middle class, that the concern for status symbols is just as great as it is in any other segment of the Negro population, just as great as it is in the white middle class, and I would say that this contention goes against what a great many surveyors have found – for example, people who do marketing surveys. The Ebony Magazine marketing survey people and others who have generally found that this Negro middle class man will tend to buy a higher class produce than the white middle class man in some respects. This is in itself a status symbol in the sense that it’s an ego builder, it’s a self-image builder.
RPW: That’s the conspicuous consumption which is said to be characteristic of the prosperous Negro.
CR: But as I say it depends on whom he refers to as middle class. But certainly when you talk about frustrations, I would say that the middle class Negro may have more frustrations than the lower class masses in the sense that he is at a point where he begins to think more about his position in society, and he begins to think more about his inability to go certain places and do certain things.
RPW: To say it back and see that I understand you – that is, he has achieved professionally, intellectually and economically. There should be no barrier between him and his opposite number, as it were, in the white race? Now he finds the mystic bar rather than the economic and objective bars –
CR: That’s right. And it’s this bar that can be more frustrating in terms of a man’s emotions and his mind and his heart than some of these other barriers.
RPW: Because other barriers are at least supported by matters of specific objective differences that are not merely skin color.
CR: That’s exactly right.
RPW: Now, what about the idea of some hidden resistance on the part of upper class or upper middle class Negroes or however you choose to define such a bracket, against integration because it means a devaluation of their position. That is, within the Negro society they are secure, they have their prestige. In an integrated society they would encounter a kind of devaluation.
CR: Well, now this has always been an important factor economically – school teachers, school principals, the owner of a Negro theater in an all-Negro town, the owner of – well, I heard just recently, for example, of one motel owner who built a motel in the South largely because he knew the baseball teams would be training – going through spring training – and Negroes in the Northern community made such a fuss over their team having segregated facilities in the South that they forced the team to go to a hotel that would admit all the players, and this man who built the Negro motel lost his customers and so forth. But here was an obvious case of a man who found desegregation to be a financial burden on him. Now, this has always been true. I would say that the other factor is not nearly as great as some people think it might be, the resistance because of the prestige factor. Because that man’s prestige would be no less among Negroes for the mere fact that integration had come, unless, of course, integration affected him adversely in some other way, such as economically or costing him his job as a principal of a school or something.
RPW: We see it working in white communities the same way – a person who is, say, the social leader of a town of ten thousand has no position in a town of a hundred thousand – say, a lady who is a social leader in a town of ten thousand doesn’t want to go to the big city because she then loses her position – her relative position. Now, the position – the situation being that if you have an integrated society, that is, immediately there’s a devaluation of many Negroes who feel themselves – are, you see – important in the Negro community and are demoted in a world community, immediately. Instinctively – white people feel constantly about – in parallel situations.
CR: Well, I would say that there is something that’s more important than this factor in terms of the subtle or sometimes even subconscious running away from integration on the part of the Negro, and that is, that rather than fear of being demoted in this society at large, there is a feeling of insecurity and inability to play a proper role in this society at large. Now, you take a Negro woman – maybe she’s a college graduate, but the extent of her social activities has been in the Negro group – Negro bridge clubs et cetera – where almost no social contact with whites. It’s almost natural that there’s going to be a really great fear of being thrust into this white social world and it comes down to very specific things, like worrying about what to wear at a function where the majority of the people are going to be white, or worrying about whether or not you’re going to pick up the right fork, or worrying about whether or not you can discuss intelligently whatever it is that you think the white people are going to be discussing at the social function. And people generally tend to fear what’s new and what they don’t know, and whether – and this is a factor that’s got nothing to do with race, so you will find a lot of Negroes shying away from the integrated setting for that reason.
RPW: The same thing that afflicts all situations of social mobility, though, irrespective of race.
CR: That’s right.
RPW: Though race may accentuate it.
CR: That’s right – yes – exactly.
RPW: We hear the phrase over and over again – who wants to integrate with a burning house? I think Lorraine Hansbury [Hansberry] first gave, and Baldwin has, you know, circulated it. In other words, the repudiation on the part of at least a certain kind of Negro intellectual and perhaps the unsophisticated Negro, of middle class American standard values. How much of that do you believe is true? How much impulse to repudiate these values, to try to find something more fundamental?
CR: Oh, I doubt that there’s much of that. I mean, part of this is an expression of personal anger, personal bitterness, and so forth. But I see no signs of any real movement within the Negro community to repudiate American values, middle class, upper class, or what have you. I think these are fundamentally the only values the great majority of Negroes know, and I think what you may find is a desire to have a bigger role in determining what the values are and in shaping them, but I view this as different from the negative factor of repudiating what exists.
RPW: That’s intellectual formulation, then.
CR: Yes, I would suppose so, yes.
RPW: We all know something about the white man’s stereotypes of the Negro. Now the Negro has certain stereotypes for the white man. How would you describe those stereotypes? They often are self-contradictory of course.
CR: Well, stereotypes usually are when you get enough of them. Well, let me see if I can think of a few of them.
RPW: One is, the white man can’t tell the truth.
CR: Oh, I don’t know how widely held that particular one is. But I tell you –
RPW: You can’t trust the white man – that one – you can’t trust the white man – put it that way.
CR: Oh, yes, this would be a widely held one, that you can’t trust him, that secondly he’s never going to give up any more than you can take from him; thirdly, that white man has an insecurity he can’t control where women are concerned – that is, that all of his fears go back to – all of his emotions go back to the fear that the Negro is going to try to take over the white woman –
RPW: This is sexual insecurity on the part of the white man – that stereotype.
CR: Yes, that’s a stereotype.
RPW: The cold heart is another one.
CR: I don’t hear that one expressed much. There’s one that I’ve heard going around recently that everything he can see he controls.
RPW: To what extent, assuming these and other stereotypes of the white man by the Negro – to what extent can the Negro be entrapped by his stereotypes of the white man so that he can’t deal with them realistically?
CR: Well, let’s go back to what I have said has to be the solution in the kind of society we live in. If we’re going to form the kind of society that will permit Negroes and whites to live in peace, it has to be based on mutuality of respect and admiration. Now, if the Negro is on the one hand trying to wipe out those stereotypes that make it difficult for the white to respect the Negro –
RPW: The white man’s stereotypes of the Negro?
CR: That’s right – he’s trying to wipe those out in order to enhance his own position in society. But at the same time he cannot build up a stereotypes that make it impossible for him to respect the white man, because you start out with the assumption that there has to be a mutuality of respect or there is no respect of any cons4equence. And this is a really serious thing.
RPW: It’s a real problem then in your mind?
CR: Oh, yes, it – and a great many groups – the Negro leadership groups in past years have worked against it.
RPW: This is the end of Tape #3 of the conversation with Carol Rowan. Proceed on Tape #4 – I hope.
CR: Yes, I’ve got about –
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TAPE 4 Searchable TextCollapse
ROBERT PENN WARREN CARL ROWAN TAPE#4
RPW: This is Tape #4 – last tape – of a conversation with Carol Rowan. I suppose we both assume there’s no social change without power – power is the key of social change.
CR: That’s correct.
RPW: What kinds of power does the Negro now wield?
CR: Well, he wields a good deal of political power. He’s got a great deal more power in terms of the international situation. This whole question of race is so deeply involved in what goes on in the world that in terms of this nation’s leadership posture in the world the Negro is a very important factor. The Negro has got a great deal more economic power than ever before was the case. Indeed, I have pointed out to audiences abroad that this revolution and this new militancy on the part of the Negro is in itself an indication of progress, because without greater education on the part of the masses, without a great deal more money than the Negro’s ever been able to muster, he could never pay all these bonds and bails and court costs, that without political power the fact that there’s more support in the White House and in the Congress and in the courts than ever before was the case – this kind of movement never would have gotten off the ground.
RPW: In other words, you see this movement as the culmination of a long process, and not something that burst full-blown.
CR: Oh, absolutely not. The movement never could have gotten off the ground but for a great many things that have happened over the last several years.
RPW: And several generations.
CR: That’s right.
RPW: But as you no doubt well know, many Negroes of education and experience hate to take that view.
CR: Well, I’m not saying it had to take that long, but the fact is that all that has gone on in the past made this movement possible. Without the NAACP’s legal actions over the last many years, there would have been no basis for many of the things that are taking place today. Without – well, let’s take for example the – even the inadequate education that the Negro has gotten in the last hundred years in this country, that was crucial. I believe that if you want to keep a man a slave you’ve got to keep him ignorant. But once you start educating him, you’re asking for trouble in terms of keeping your slave, you see. And there were some states, for example, where members of the legislature wanted an official policy adopted that the Negro should not be schooled, that he should not be educated. Well, these people were right in the sense that if they wanted to keep him a slave they’d better not let him go to even a bad school. But he did go to those schools and we’re seeing some of the results of it today.
RPW: That is, Frederick Douglass was right- once you teach him the alphabet you’re through.
CR: Yes, that’s precisely right.
RPW: To what objectives is this threat of power directed? Let me put it differently. Every revolution has – is fared by hope and by hate. We have the hope – we know where that’s directed. Where is hate directed?
CR: Well, I would think that such hate as exists is directed at those public officials particularly, and those members of this vague thing that we would call the power structure, who have really abused their power and used it to block the Negro from getting any semblance of first class citizenship.
RPW: You find in most revolutions in the past the aim to liquidate a class or liquidate a regime. Now, there’s no class to be liquidated here that you could isolate – no regime to be liquidated, except, say in Mississippi. But where is this object?
CR: Well, there is a regime in a vague sense, you see –
RPW: Let’s define it.
CR: There is a regime in the eyes of the Negro, there is a regime presided over by a tyrant named Jim Crow, whose basic doctrine is the inferiority of the Negro. Now, this is the regime that the Negro seeks to destroy. Now, one of the problems today is that there seems to be a little bit of growing confusion as to what the purpose of all this is.
RPW: Let’s deal with that – good. Let’s deal with that.
CR: The NACCP has known where it was going all the time. The Urban League has known where it was going. And the goal has been – the first class status of the Negro within an American interracial context. But we’ve got some youngsters in the street today who I do not believe are at all conscious of where it is they’re going. They know what they’re against, they know what they want in terms of having this particular restaurant open its doors to Negroes, but in terms of a larger goal that has some relationship to American society and the Negro’s position as a whole, I just don’t think they’ve ever gotten around even to thinking about it, let alone making any decisions as to what it is they want.
RPW: Do you gather that a man like the Reverend Gulammuson knows what he wants? I pulled him out of the air – he’s just one –
CR: I don’t know this man, and so I wouldn’t have the remotest idea. But I would have to have some doubts about the depth to which he has thought about these problems in view of some of the things he’s said and done.
RPW: He has said some rather strange things, like the story that the public school is necessary –
CR: Yes, well, you see – you get a lot of foolish things said in any kind of program like this, and I think the remarkable thing is that the Negro has heard so many foolish things said about him over the last century, the remarkable thing is that more Negroes haven’t replied with more foolishness in the past. But we’re seeing some of it today.
RPW: We have the problem, say, of bussing in New York City. Some people say we will integrate at any cost – by bussing if necessary. The most extreme point – three hours a day – three hours a day of bussing. To get racial balance. This extreme view is mentioned over and over again. I know one person – a responsible person I think – who said to me in Washington, if necessary to balance schools in Washington, D.C., get the white children from Virginia.
CR: Well, I – I don’t go that far. I mean that’s a position that I can’t carry myself to –
RPW: That is, integration is to be treated in a context – well, other values too, is that it? Equality is one thing; integration is another.
CR: That’s right.
RPW: It has to be distinguished to make things work.
CR: The point is that you can’t make the physical presence in the same classroom of Negroes and whites the be-all and end-all of your objective. Now, I can say let’s have this community make a special effort to get some racial balance in the schools, not only because it’s good for Negroes, but also because it’s good for white people, because no white youngster growing up deliberately aloof from the colored people in this country is going to be able to cope with the kind of world we live in, et cetera, et cetera. But there is a limit to which I am willing to disrupt other factors that are important to the Negro and the white person and the country in order to achieve this racial presence in the same classroom. For example, I don’t want to bus Negro youngsters three miles across town just to put them in a white classroom if nothing else is being done to change the reasons why this segregated set-up existed in the first place – the Negro’s isolation in Jim Crow housing, the low economic status of those youngsters, the conditions that exist in the home because perhaps the father doesn’t have the right kind of job or the right kind of education. I say let’s do something about those things too in our efforts to achieve school desegregation.
RPW: And sometimes there’s a corollary that some values have to give in the face of other values. Even the values to integration in a special case might have to give before other values.
CR: Yes, answering that in the intellectual context, that’s certainly true.
RPW: That is, integration can become a chevalier which actually works against as a matter of equality.
CR: Well, that’s precisely my point – yes.
RPW: I was just saying it back so I’d be sure I got your –
CR: Yes – that’s precisely my point. Well, I’m going to have to – break it off.
RPW: All right – sure. This is the end of the last tape with Carol Rowan. End, end, end, end, end.
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