America's negroes need more than votes
DR. MARTIN LUTHER
KING'S recent nonviolent campaigns in Alabarn which led to thousands of arrests had as their aim to get equal voting rights for negroes. iven when they get them. as they surely will, the battle for equality will not be over.
Bar some Southerners in America, prejudice is drunk in with their mother's milk: the function of the negro is thought to be like that of the moon, a subsidiary. The innocent enough origin of much racial discrimination comes out in the pathetic -emark of a seven-year-old legs° girl to a white playmate: I'd hate to be coloured, wouldn't you?"
Whatever the origins, discrimination against negroes is a terrible blot on the democratic and Christian image of America. It is against the law, against the Constitution. and in most cases -at least, for some of the time —against consciences as well.
Christians know, besides, that as in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bondsman nor free, so there is neither black nor white. Incidentally, a learned Franciscan once said to me in Jerusalem that the Semites were a black people. Perhaps we should have more images and pictures of a black-skinned, Semitic Christ dying on the Cross.
Today matters are rationalised more than they were. say, 40 or 50 years ago. In 1920, the Governor of Mississipi was asked by the Mayor of Chicago to take back some of the negroes who
had come North seeking work during the First World War.
His reply, by telegram, was unadorned: "1 desire to state that we have all the room in the world for what we know as n-i-g-g-e-r-s, but none whatever for 'coloured ladies and gentlemen'. If these negroes have been contaminated with Northern social and political dreams of equality, we cannot use them, nor do we want them."
Today, through the process of rationalisation, most Southerners wouldn't affirm the negro is unequal—only inferior. They wouldn't have minded Vatican I defining that black men have souls in preference to defining Papal infallibility. as two American bishops wanted at the time.
They would probably .agree with St. Paul, if pressed. on the principle of Christian egalitar ianism. Only, the Apostle was ignorant of twentieth century circumstances . . The negro is not so clean, you see, not so thrifty, not so industrious, not so intelligent, not so law-abiding, not so sober, not so chaste, as the white man is.
Many who make such criticisms do so in all sincerity. It doesn't occur to them that in the cases where the accusations are true, discrimination and segregation have had a direct or indirect causal influence. They are protesting against their own sins, and by protesting perpetuating them.
America's race problem— which is really a caste problem— is of concern to the whole free world. America is the most powerful nation on the contemporary scene, but is she the most moral, is she true to herself?
Many of the emerging nations of Africa and Asia are as yet uncommitted to the Communist or Western way of life. They have before them the choice of a swift thrust of economic development on the slave-pattern of China—or the slower, more humane process of improvement on a democratic pattern as in India.
America, by reason of her superior financial resources— and, let it be said, by reason of a generosity unparalleled in history—epitomises the equalitarian way of life for less developed lands. It is essential, in these crucial times, that equality be something more than a nice, emotive word written into the American Bill of Rights.