Education and the Southern Negro

Some parts of the Southern States of America have recently been the scenes of intense anti-negro mob violence. This violence was part of resistance to the attempts by the American Government to integrate negro and white school children within the American system of education. One of the reasons given why the negro should be rejected is that he is “biologically inferior” to the white, and that integration of negro and white will ultimately create a general lowering of human standards, both biologically and socially. We of the Socialist Party do not accept these vicious assumptions. The question important to us is this: What is it about the biological make-up of the various branches of the human family that prevent it from living together in a universal harmony of mutual co-operation? The answer is nothing, and this is the principle that is a guide to Socialists on this issue.

It is now a little over two years since, in 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of negro and white students, within the American educational system, was unconstitutional. It is little over a year since the High Court ordered Federal District Judges to enforce this ruling “. . . with all deliberate speed.” The Atlantic Edition of the New York Sunday Times (9th September) gives a State by State account of what has been accomplished toward the integration end since these decisions were made. Its message to those who claim such integration as an ideal, particularly when dealing with the States of “ the deep south,” is grim.

“Virginia.—There has been no integration in the State’s public, elementary or high schools, nor is there likely to be any this year.”

“North Carolina.—No negroes have entered the high or elementary schools of North Carolina.”

“Georgia.—Relying upon legal safeguards enacted prior to and after the U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in the public schools, Georgians expect to operate their schools on the customary dual basis.”

“Florida.—In Florida a record number of students have started back to school—all in completely segregated classrooms—without incident.”

“Alabama.—There is no integration anywhere in Alabama’s public schools, except at the college level”

“Mississippi.—Not a single negro student has been integrated in a white school.”

“Louisiana.—Louisiana begins the school year with segregation still strictly enforced in all elementary and secondary schools.”

In all these States, which include a total of 1,900,000 negro school children, resistance to integration is being organized at the highest civic levels.

In Texas, Arkansas, Delaware, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee, with a total of 550,000 negro school children a very casual interpretation has been placed on the directive “. . . all deliberate speed,” although some measure of integration has been achieved. In no sense is the principle of integration completely accepted by appropriate State Boards of Education.

Border States, such as Columbia, Missouri and Maryland, which contain 250,000 negro school children, whose populations are less than 10 per cent. negro, are steering a definite course in the direction of integration. In a word, action on the Supreme Court’s ruling, for the majority of America’s southern States, is being resisted in one way or another.

Both negroes and whites have founded organizations to protect what they think are their best interests. Negroes have founded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples, and throughout the south this organization has attempted, by court order of Federal law, to enforce the ruling. On the other side of the tragic rift the White Citizen’s Councils exist solely as anti-negro bodies. Their doctrine is an irrational horror of “Jim Crow.” Their hopes and desires probably amount to nothing more than the realisation of the sentiments expressed in the corrupt version of the song sung to the tune of John Brown’s Body, “we’re gonna hang a nigger from a sour apple tree.” At all events, he should certainly be kept in his place.

This September began the new school term. In some border States of the south, where integration has been partial, some ambitious negro mothers packed their children off to schools which had formerly been exclusively white, and so were produced some explosive, very ugly situations. Clinton, Sturgis, Oliver Springs, Clay, and Mansfield were towns that received much publicity as scenes of mob violence.

Sturgis is a mining community of 2,500 in Kentucky. On Wednesday, the 5th September, nine negro students tried to register at the local high school. They were confronted by an angry mob. The New York Sunday Times (9th September) reported: “That night four units of the Kentucky National Guard moved into town: next day the guardsmen escorted the negro youths to school. A crowd of five hundred townspeople yelling for “nigger blood,” tried to break through the ring of troops . . . As the negro youths left school Thursday the mob shouted: “We’ll get you niggers if it takes all year.” Friday the negroes did not go to school—several reported their parents had been threatened with loss of jobs unless they stayed home . . . But all across the south last week there were sporadic outbreaks—every day new demonstrations against desegregation were staged, and every night, in front of some southern schools, a cross was burned.”

What are the motives behind the 1954 Supreme Court decision? In 1950, when President Eisenhower was president of Columbia University, he commissioned an enquiry into manpower wastage. The report of this enquiry was published in a book written by Dr. Eli Ginzberg, director of the enquiry, entitled “The Negro Potential.” Reporting the results of this enquiry under file title “Waste of Human Resources,” The Manchester Guardian (15th May, 1955) said: “America’s 15,000,000 negroes are its single most under developed human resource, and they cannot reach their full potential usefulness until they are thoroughly integrated with the white population . . . The report said that if education for negroes was raised to the level of that now available for whites, the annual rate of negro high school and college graduates would be more than doubled . . . It said that file record of negro troops in the war (1939-45) was less good than that of white troops. It attributed the difference to the handicaps brought from civilian life by the negro soldiers and the fact that they were segregated. It said that records of Korea, where negroes were integrated, showed a marked improvement.” Quoting the report itself, The Manchester Guardianfurther said: “Only when negro and white families can live together as neighbours, when negro children and white children can play together, study together, go to the same church—only then will the negro grow up properly prepared for his place in the world of work” (Our italics.)

The results of this enquiry, which are bound to have influenced the thinking of men in high administrative positions, should be noted in conjunction with other facts. The conference of Southern Governors held in Alabama in 1955, was told that in 1900 the south had only 9 per cent. of the nation’s manufacturing facilities; now it has 25 per cent. In 1939 the south’s industrial output amounted to 11,000 million dollars; in 1955 it reached 60,000 million dollars. In the next ten years the south expects to build 10,000 new factories

What does all this mean?’ It means that in conditions of general boom, when the southern States are expanding their industries fairly rapidly, because of prejudice and segregation, the southern negro lacks the modern cultural equipment necessary to his efficiency as an American wage worker. It means that the vast mass of human material in the shape of the southern negro is not being exploited to its full capacity. The issue is not one involving any “forces of progress,” and the New York Sunday Times (9th September) will only assist confusion when it claims that the issue is “the right to learn.” The real issue is that Capitalism, in its further development, in its further consolidation, is being fettered by the prejudices of local southern opinion.

What then is the role being played by the pro-integrationists and reformists in the south? The end to which they work is the integration and consolidation of the American working class as a stereotyped, regularised social grouping, efficient to the highest degree, regardless of colour, creed or clan. They seek to make all American workers the mass products themselves of a mass production technique, known as the American education system. This education is the cultural priming that the mentality of the modern wage worker presupposes. It is geared to the demands of industry. It accomplishes much more than a working knowledge of the three r’s. It cultivates a nationalist sentiment, it inculcates the values and moral concepts that provide the solid ideological pillars supporting modern propertied society.

The word integration, within the context of this problem, is used narrowly to mean negro school children receiving the same education as white children within the same classroom. This may or may not be accomplished. What is certain is that capitalism cannot contain any truly integrative principle. Capitalism of necessity sets man against man in one way or another. Even if negro children did receive the same schooling as white children, it still would not make the process of education integrative, for the education system constantly selects and excludes. Its streams and channels are selective, and its examinations are designed to exclude rather than incorporate. The education that a child receives marks his handicap or his advantage in the race, which at the lowest level starts out from being a dustman’s son and finishes ideally in being a bank manager, or perhaps even a doctor. But this is “success,” and “success” comes only to the few. Education is one of the ladders by which it can be reached. At the bottom of the ladder is the broad thick base of “failures,” but with selection and exclusion, the ladder is narrowed down until at its topmost pinnacle we find those for whom initiative was a virtue. They made the grade. The worker is in constant competition with the worker next to him, competing for places to live, competing to get food, competing to get jobs, and competing to hold them. Any truly integrated social situation would have to be outside this narrow individualistic competition. Only the society functioning along lines of mutual co-operation and meeting the real needs of man as a whole can be truly integrative.

One thing surely will frustrate the southern integrationist’s hopes, and that is a slump or a margin of unemployed. With little point in taking up the negro labour .slack, surely the fervour of the Government’s bent on educational integration will be cooled, and events have taught us that in such a case we should expect an intensification of race hatred. Such events should teach the white worker that he is a victim not of any “black menace,” but a victim of the indiscriminate vicissitudes of a system which is not concerned with his true human needs. The “black menace” problem for the white worker is a myth, just as the hope that educational integration under capitalism will bring the negro worker happiness is also a myth. In fact, with each other’s help, they have a new world to win—Socialism.


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