The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It WON’T Be Like!”: Part 6
Southern Fried Baloney
This post is the sixth in a series. Each entry in the series will be building on
information and commentary in the earlier entries.
So it would be best to start reading with the Introduction to the series.
Please note: Any bolding in quotations in this entry has been added
to call particular attention to some wording.
ALL CAPS or italics within quotations were present in the original quotations.
The following conversation was shared in the book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. (I have interspersed appropriate pictorial examples from the era within the discussion.) Published in 1960, the book chronicled Griffin’s experiences traveling through the deep South after disguising himself as a Negro through a process that temporarily dyed his skin. In this chapter he has reconstructed from his notes a discussion he had regarding the current civil rights situation of the time (1959) with a group of Negro men over breakfast at a YMCA café in New Orleans. The “elderly man” was the proprietor of the café.
“We need a conversion of morals,” the elderly man said. “Not just superficially, but profoundly. And in both races. We need a great saint—some enlightened common sense. Otherwise, we’ll never have the right answers when the pressure groups—those racists, super-patriots, whatever you want to call them—tag every move toward racial justice as communist-inspired, Zionist-inspired, Illuminati-inspired, Satan-inspired…part of some secret conspiracy to overthrow the Christian civilization.”
“So, if you want to be a good Christian, you mustn’t act like one. That makes sense,” Mr. Gayle said.
“That’s what they claim. The minute you give me my rights to vote when I pay taxes, to have a decent job, a decent home, a decent education—then you’re taking the first step toward ‘race-mixing’ and that’s part of the great secret conspiracy to ruin civilization—to ruin America,” the elderly man said.
“So, if you want to be a good American, you’ve got to practice bad Americanism. That makes sense, too,” Mr. Gayle sighed. “Maybe it’d take a saint after all to straighten such a mess out.”
“We’ve reached a poor state when people are afraid that doing the decent and right thing is going to help the communist conspiracy,” the proprietor said. “I’m sure a lot of people are held back just on that point.”
Little Rock 1957
“Any way you look at it, we’re in the middle,” concluded the elderly man. “It’s hard for me to understand how letting me have a decent job, so I can raise my children in a better home and give them a better education is going to help the enemies of my country…”
The situation described in this discussion was nothing new in America. The “Communist threat” in America had been used as a rallying cry since the time of the Russian Revolution in 1914. The “Red Scare” of the 1950s, culminating in the witch hunts of Joseph McCarthy, was just the latest incarnation of the habit of blaming any and every problem in the country on an alleged widespread “infiltration of Communists.” If laborers in certain industries in the early 20th century were tired of working for slave labor wages under hellish conditions, and dared to organize strikes to try to get relief, the answer had never been to calmly consider if maybe, just maybe, their complaints were legitimate and something should be done to improve their lot. It was easier to just claim that they were being “radicalized” by Communists into taking action, when they should have just accepted their lot in life.
And the same was true for the Negro any time after the Russian Revolution. From the earliest years on, if they complained about vigilante lynchings throughout the country, about no voting rights, about segregated trolley cars, about being treated like subhumans…they must have been radicalized by the Commies. It certainly couldn’t be that they had legitimate complaints! As you can see by this 1934 poster—
In the previous installment of this series, I asked where these folks alleging that the “Negro Problem” in the US could all be blamed on “Communist agitators” got their ideas. Surely the people in those raucous protests with the hand-scrawled signs spewing hate-filled rants at small children and young people weren’t all “deep thinkers” who had spent considerable time carefully researching the problems of America and had come to a well-informed conclusion about a direct Civil Rights/Communist connection.
Right. They weren’t. I am convinced from my own research that the vast majority of the anti-integration protestors, such as the ladies in New Orleans, described in an earlier blog entry, who screamed at little Ruby Bridges, had been radicalized themselves by a different kind of “agitator.” For instance, in the struggle to integrate the schools of Nashville, Tennessee, in 1957, two such agitators won wide attention:
In Clinton [Tennessee, desegregated in 1956] and Oak Ridge, [desegregated in 1955] as later in Nashville, the first sign of resistance came from white men who claimed to represent the Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government, quickly followed by members of the Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan.
And finally, the most dominant personality in both counties during their times of crisis was the same audacious outsider: Frederick John Kasper, a tall, handsome, twenty-six-year-old firebrand whose drawl and dress (white shirt and tie, tan suit with matching Texas-style hat) concealed his evolving identity as a well-traveled professional agitator from New Jersey.
The picture of Kasper that eventually emerged was a dense tangle of contradictions. At various times he claimed to be president of the Tennessee Citizens Council and an official of the TFCG. His “little black book” held the names and phone numbers of Klansmen and other racial extremists all over the eastern United States. He was said to have earned a degree from Columbia University, operated bookshops in New York and Washington, and befriended the radical poet Ezra Pound, then confined to a mental institution. Kasper, like Pound, was bluntly anti-Semitic—but for reasons unclear, he was openly supportive and friendly toward African Americans until the early 1950s, when a new and menacing personality seemed to take over: Kasper became a rabid racist, burning to make a niche for himself as a roving troublemaker whose mission it was “to protect and defend the purity of the white race.” [Southern Spaces journal: “Walking into History: The Beginning of School Desegregation in Nashville. John Egerton, May 4, 2009.]
Given all the hoopla about possible “Communist provocateurs” stirring up the Negro, implying that they were sneakily trying to undermine US law and peace, it is amazing to see how actually it was the segregationist side that seems to have been more directly influenced by this alternate kind of agitator! Kasper’s first foray into the South was in 1956 just in time to stir up protests in Clinton, Tennessee.
… That fall, as the approach of school desegregation in Tennessee was being reported in the national media, the young rebel hurried to Clinton. He almost succeeded in blocking the admission of a dozen black students to the high school there, but the local leadership was ready and willing to obey the law. And so, while Donald Davidson [head of the pro-segregation “Tennessee Federation for Constitutional Government] was sending TFCG lawyers into state court in Knoxville to press for restoration of segregation by legal means (a strategy that would prove fruitless), Kasper was out in the streets of Clinton, thirty miles away, stirring up fury among disgruntled whites eager to answer the law with brute force.
Within two days, this mob had taken on a life of its own. They soon overwhelmed the six-man Clinton police force and a hastily summoned auxiliary of deputized citizens. Governor Clement responded swiftly, first with scores of state troopers and finally, at the end of a chaotic week, with a battle-ready unit of over six hundred soldiers from the Tennessee National Guard. They quickly retook the town from the anarchists, staying on patrol there for almost two weeks. During this surreal encounter, Kasper and dozens of his followers were arrested, bailed out, arrested again, charged, tried, acquitted, indicted, charged again, convicted, sentenced, and released on bond while awaiting appeal. Meanwhile, the black students remained at Clinton High School, and the entire town seemed to drift unsteadily into a post-traumatic state of shock.
Kasper’s deeds finally caught up with him in 1958, and he was sent to federal prison for a time. But …
… Until then, he never lacked for money to post bail or appeal a conviction, and even the federal authorities found it hard to put him in jail and keep him there.
As a freelance provocateur, his services were in demand by one segregationist group or another—the TFCG, the Citizens Council, the Klan. [ibid]
He no doubt thought he’d hit his big break when he heard of the plans in 1957 to integrate Nashville. Clinton, Tennessee was just a small town (population still under 10,000 in 2010). But Nashville would be the Big Time.
The desegregation plan that was finally settled on for Nashville was similar to that which led to Ruby Bridges going to a newly-integrated school in New Orleans. The schools would be integrated slowly over time, one grade per year, starting with a small group of Negro six year olds in first grade, beginning in the fall of 1957. Considering the horrible threat posed by these little bitty kids, Kasper was ready to go on the offensive.
In the sultry heat of late July, more than a month before the beginning of the new school term in Nashville, John Kasper seemed to emerge out of nowhere as the sparkplug of a string of protest rallies in the city. He claimed to be president of the Tennessee Citizens Council, but reporters quickly learned that he was the “outside agitator” who had stirred up a rebellion in Clinton (where he was still causing turmoil with a “White Nationalist” newspaper called the Clinton-Knox County Stars and Bars).
… A special pre-registration of first graders was announced for August 27. When a small number of black parents and their six-year-old children arrived at five soon-to-be desegregated schools, white demonstrators organized by Kasper were already marching around the buildings. Some of them carried signs proclaiming segregation to be “the will of God,” a basic right of white people, and a patriotic duty under the flags of the United States and the old Confederacy. In this tense environment, only thirteen black children were registered. With Kasper, the Klan, the Citizens Council, and others of the same persuasion roaming the city under the watchful eyes of Nashville police—and with special security teams shadowing some public officials who had received anonymous threats—the countdown to September 9, the first day of school, proceeded in an atmosphere of mounting anxiety. [ibid]
Only 126 black children were eligible to be transferred to nearby white schools, and ¾ of those families eventually decided to avoid the change. Some black families received anonymous phone or mail threats. As the article quoted above notes:
The success or failure of Nashville’s first step on the long road of desegregation would depend in the end not on white acceptance but on black courage. When Monday, September 9, 1957, finally rolled around, only nineteen apprehensive black six-year-olds walked with their adult escorts past agitated crowds of whites to present themselves for admission at seven previously all-white elementary schools. [ibid]
Notice the God is the Author of Segregation message
Yes, they had to walk the same kind of gauntlet little Ruby Bridges would later walk in 1960. And Kasper was there to make sure it was as painful as possible.
… He had enlisted the help of a defrocked Presbyterian minister named Fred Stroud for a last-ditch effort to stop desegregation in its tracks at the schoolhouse door. Stroud, previously dismissed by one Nashville congregation, had started another called Bible Presbyterian Church. To him, segregation was the binding will of God, and his mission was to preserve it or die trying. Kasper had no such religious or messianic motivations, but he saw Stroud as an indispensable ally among the local white citizenry.
A few blacks may have been registered, Kasper told a crowd of about three hundred followers outside the War Memorial Building on the eve of school opening, but “blood will run in the streets of Nashville if nigra children go to school with whites!” A rallying cry swelled up from the crowd: “Not one, not now, not ever!” Police officers, including some in plain clothes, were scattered throughout, stone-faced in response to the fiery rhetoric but alert to any signs of violence.
After the main crowd dispersed, Kasper continued his rhetoric informally to smaller groups.
“Our country was born in violence,” he told them. “Tomorrow is the day. Every blow that you strike will be a blow for freedom.” In another context, he was more explicit: “I say that integration can be reversed. It has got to be a pressure down here which is more or less like a lit stick of dynamite, and you throw it in their laps and let them catch it, and then they can do what they want with it—let them worry about that.” [ibid]
There were the usual protests at the schools the next day, with the usual Rebel Flags, KKK signs, Bible quotation signs, Communist conspiracy signs, and signs about the ungodliness of Race-Mixing. And the crowds indulged in the usual spitting on small children and their parents, and hurling vile epithets. But Kasper was, in the end, unable to rally a large enough “army” of protestors to win the day. That night there was even an explosion at one of the schools, but rather than fueling the protests, the fact rallied the local governmental and law enforcement leadership to come down hard on the rabid segregationist protestors…and Kasper. Who finally was convicted and served time for conspiracy.
(For much more about the Nashville integration movement, see the article linked above.)
Yes, it would seem that perhaps the actual, documented “provocateurs” of segregation were far more real than the alleged Communist provocateurs who were supposedly trying to “bring down the United States” by starting a Race War over integration. Although a few of these men were agitators who went to the front lines, there were many more who just used the printing press and the airwaves to promote what you might call the “apologetics of segregation.” It was these men, both religious and secular, who seem to have been the ones who fed the protestors with their signs and slogans. In particular, by trying to bind the yearning by blacks for Civil Rights to Communism, they succeeded with many readers and listeners in equating segregation with Patriotism, and/or equating segregation with “true Christianity.”
In doing so, it is my personal conviction that they ended up using Religion and Patriotism as a “cover” for their own deep-seated personal Racism.
It was embarrassing even for many bigots to come right out and say that they just plain despised Negroes for being Negroes, and looked down on them as an inferior creation of God. It might also be embarrassing for them to imply that they held an irrational belief that they could be “contaminated” by physical contact with any Negro. For of course, many Southern whites had, for a century, employed Negro maids and cooks and nannies in their own homes…sometimes even Negro wet-nurses to nurse new babies! All of these servants came into intimate physical contact with the families of their employers. And most restaurants typically hired Negroes as waiters and cooks, “touching” the food and dishes served to white people…even though Negroes could not eat at those same restaurants! So the argument based on a concern that a Negro eating a sandwich at a Woolworth lunch counter might “contaminate” those whites around him, rang hollow.
And insisting that the “White” race would be irretrievably contaminated and degraded by any intermixing with the Negro race seemed pretty backward scientifically by the 1950s. It was so much more “palatable” to be able to insist that God Himself demands segregation…for whatever reason. And of course, if the godless Communists were pushing integration, then it had to be an evil. These were “righteous” concerns.
Which brings us once again to the publications and broadcasts of the Radio Church of God, the institution founded by radio evangelist Herbert W Armstrong.
From the mid-1950s right up to Armstrong’s death at age 93 in 1986, he and his protégés promoted a perspective on segregation and integration that was almost identical to that of the rabid segregationists of the Deep South. Although, in an article in the October, 1963, edition of his Plain Truth Magazine, Herbert Armstrong went to great lengths to make sure his readers understood that his ministry was not “taking sides” in the US debate on integration of that time. As you can see by this headline in the magazine:
Yes, as Herbert explained at the beginning of this article:
IN THIS issue we again call attention to the serious RACIAL CRISIS which, Biblical prophecy shows, threatens the very END OF THE WORLD!
But the PLAIN TRUTH is not taking sides!
We are not viewing this strife from the standpoint of the white Southerners of the United States, nor from the standpoint of Negroes now demanding integration—but rather as ALMIGHTY GOD views it. And He is quite aware, as we are, of how many of the Negroes feel. Their cries are reaching His ears—and He will answer, HIS WAY, and in His DUE TIME, and right every wrong. Also He is quite aware of the fact that in many respects the Southern Whites in America have been greatly misunderstood and misjudged in the North. They are suffering injustices, too.
I’ve read all the articles Herbert Armstrong and his associates wrote in the Plain Truth and Good News magazines during the period of the Civil Rights movement. (They are available in PDF versions online.) I have been utterly unable to find any explanation from him or the other writers exactly what “injustices” the Southern Whites were suffering from. Nor have I found anything to indicate in what situations they had been “greatly misunderstood and misjudged.” But Armstrong made this sort of allegation a number of times in his writings.
He had equally few specifics that he ever shared to indicate he actually realized and understood why Negro Americans might “feel” bad. For instance, there is this, in the “Personal from the Editor” column in the same edition of the Plain Truth.
Of course there is another side of the picture. The Negroes in the United States are the recipients also of fabulous BLESSINGS which their brothers in Africa could, and should, but do not enjoy. But the crusaders put emphasis ONLY on the dark side. They never remind American Negroes that, as a whole, they have more and larger refrigerators, electric washing machines, radio and television sets, automobiles and even homes, than the average WHITE person is able to afford in England, France, Spain or ltaly.
First of all, I’m not in the slightest convinced that this allegation was true for the “average” American Negro of 1963. But even if it were, I am bewildered how having a bigger TV than a white guy in France would make the daily humiliation and restrictions and constant fear of the Jim Crow life “worth it.” And I can’t imagine that Herbert Armstrong himself (who had by all accounts of those closest to him a gigantic ego and a raging temper when thwarted in any way) would have tolerated for ONE MINUTE any of the limitations of that Jim Crow way of life…such as being told by a gas station attendant that he couldn’t use the bathroom if he had to pee badly on an auto trip! Herbert Armstrong would have gotten red in the face and bellowed at the poor fellow that he’d better produce a key to that bathroom immediately or suffer the wrath of God. (Then again, if Herbert truly was black, the attendant might well have pulled out a shotgun and told him to get back in his car. This kind of bluster only works with lackeys. Armstrong was too used to surrounding himself with lackeys who would humor his rages.)
In “The Real Cause of the Race Crisis,” also in this same October 1963 Plain Truth, Armstrong wrote:
… But I know Southern White people, and also Southern Negroes in the United States. The Southern White people did not really mean to inflict unjust discrimination. In many ways they took great pains to try to treat Negroes kindly, and to help them. In their own minds, I’m sure they believed they were treating the Negroes fairly.
I seriously, seriously doubt that Herbert Armstrong knew personally ANY “Southern Negroes” at that time. And I seriously doubt that he knew ANY “Southern White people” well enough to know what they believed about how they treated Negroes. Where on earth would he come up with the notion that it was generally common for White Southerners to “take great pains” to treat Negroes “kindly”?? This is not to deny that some White Southerners, perhaps many, had done this! I’m sure many did. Although sadly the evidence is that many would only feel comfortable treating Negroes with a modicum of respect and kindliness if no neighbors were looking. Jim Crow laws and customs were very particular about such things…
As for believing they were treating Negroes “fairly” by not allowing a small thirsty Negro child to get a drink of water from a fountain or go pee in a nearby bathroom when they needed to; by insisting that all Negroes sit in balconies in theaters and enter by a back door…if they were allowed in a theater at all; by shunting their children off to sub-sub-standard schools; by making public swimming pools off-limits in hot Southern summers; by refusing an exhausted Negro family a room to stay the night on a long trip–forcing them to sleep in their car; and on and on… is there any sane way to claim that these folks didn’t understand ALL of this was inherently “unfair”?
I don’t think Armstrong based his assertions on anything in the real world. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was all Southern Fried Baloney cooked up in his own mind.
Why do I doubt Armstrong’s claims to have personal knowledge about how race relations worked in America, about how Southern Negroes and Southern Whites thought? Because Herbert Armstrong, born in 1892, spent his first 25 years in Iowa, moved to Chicago after his marriage in 1917, and then moved to Oregon in 1924 when he was 32 years old. He remained there over 20 years, until he moved to California in 1947. Oh, he did a little traveling in the last five years or so of his Oregon sojourn, but they were all “business” trips for his ministry, and he would have had no time to “make friends” of any locals.
Besides, I’m not aware of any such trips he made during those years to the South. He wrote an obsessively meticulous and detailed autobiography which is available on the Web, which allows readers to pinpoint all of his comings and goings. And the only goings and comings he told about in his whole life that included having conversations with any Negroes was as a young man of 19, in 1912. It consisted of a stay of less than six months in Mississippi for a job. Surely he couldn’t have been making broad, sweeping generalizations in 1963 about the attitudes of Southern Whites toward Negroes—based on his six month Southern sojourn in 1912!
Armstrong’s longest stay anywhere up to 1963 had been his 20+ years in Oregon. What might the fact that Armstrong spent so many of his adult years in Oregon have to do with how well he knew and understood anything about the life of the American Negro?
The surprising answer to that question is in the next entry in this series: