Too Late, Too Late

The Negro Newspaper.
by Vishnu V. Oak.
Ohio, Antioch Press. 170 Pp. $2.50.

Jim Crow America.
by Earl Conrad.
Duell, Sloan, And Pearce. 237 Pp. $3.00.

The High Cost Of Prejudice.
by Bucklin Moon.
Julian Messner. 168 Pp. $2.50.

The Protestant Church And The Negro.
by Frank S. Loescher.
Association Press. 159 Pp. $3.00.

Color And Conscience
by Buell G. Gallagher.
Harper. 244 Pp. $2.50.

From Slavery To Freedom.
by John Hope Franklin.
Knopf. 622 Pp. $5.00.

The Negro In America
by Arnold Rose.
Harper. 325 Pp. $3.75.


Vishnu V. Oak’s The Negro Newspaper is an absurd and hysterical little pamphlet, published—quite justly—at the author’s expense, which could easily have been written the day after Booker T. Washington made his “Separate-But-Equal” speech at the Atlanta Exposition. It is the first volume of a projected series of four concerning Negro business and argues, so far as I can wrest any meaning from Mr. Oak’s stammering prose, for a segregated economy. Mr. Oak, apparently, considers this a desirable, if temporary solution for most problems faced by Negroes, and one which will, in addition, prepare them in some degree for their future splendors and responsibilities when America finally comes of age. He waxes rather petulant concerning the failure of the race to rise—within the limits set by segregation—to that lucrative position Americans so highly esteem; one can almost hear him saying, “They got no git-up, they don’t stick together.” “They” also have no money and as to where, in this complex economy, the money for a self-sustaining Negro economy is to come from, Mr. Oak is valiantly vocal but not very lucid. It will—presumably—be donated by philanthropic organizations (who tend anyway to unwise investments) and wealthy Negroes, unsuspected hordes of whom are, at present, pettishly investing their gold in Cadillacs.

One does not learn much about the Negro newspaper from Mr. Oak either. He discusses the “faults” (sensationalism, political irresponsibility) and the “virtues” (militant race pride) of the Negro press, betraying only the vaguest understanding of the forces dictating their existence. I suppose Mr. Oak, for all his strident good intentions, is betrayed by his astonishingly uncritical acceptance of the status quo and by his admiration for dynamic business methods, no matter how dangerous or how brutal these methods may be. This allows him to say, in answer to the not unreasonable contention that Negro capitalists are no more soft-hearted than white ones, that “the exploitation of a people by some of its own people is less devastating than exploitation by outsiders.” (The italics are Mr. Oak’s.) This—unless such a formidable loyalty is limited to Negroes—would make American labor one vast, happy, if rather sweaty family, chortling in proud delight each time the boss-man acquired a new mansion.



Earl Conrad, in Jim Crow America, is not so fanciful, though he espies at the bottom of the racial squabble the glint of the Yankee dollar. He reduces the problem, therefore, to an essentially economic one, the solution to which will be found in a coalition of black and white in the ranks of American labor. But this attractive hypothesis demands of labor an organization, awareness, and power it does not have; it assumes a homogeneity in this most diverse of nations; and it discounts the profound ambition of the laborer to enter and to assume the loyalties of the middle class. If Mr. Oak writes as though we were living in the 1870’s, Mr. Conrad has never, apparently, gotten past the 1930’s, a period which was, to say the least, unique for most Americans and which is not likely, if repeated, to be quite so luckily handled. Mr. Conrad tirelessly amasses fact, figure, incident, and even allegory to prove that the status of the Negro and the unendurable legends used to support this status are based on nothing more profound than the lust for gold.

This, in a way, is certainly true, but it is not the whole truth; it leaves too much unaccounted for; nor does it consider, even granting the truth of the hypothesis, how this unethical greed and exploitation have operated on the conscience of the American white or on the psychology of the Negro. Since Jim Crow America ignores this complexity and confusion, Mr. Conrad’s analysis of the Negro problem is finally superficial, a mere reiteration of the national shame. One is faced with a circular problem: if, on the one hand, Negroes achieved or were allowed, economic equality, prejudice would vanish; but, on the other hand, despite Mr. Conrad’s hopeful or angry pronouncement, this integration will obviously not occur until the bar of prejudice itself has been dissolved.

Bucklin Moon, in The High Cost of Prejudice, takes up where Mr. Conrad leaves off; he begins by an extremely careful tabulation of what it costs the nation in dollars and cents to maintain this inequitable structure and the circular manner in which this structure feeds on and perpetuates itself. From this, however, he proceeds to consider the deadly and invisible toll in terms of our integrity as individuals and our morality as a nation. This consideration, which might have raised the book to a high level of penetration, is unhappily blunted by easy generalization and compulsive optimism, that national optimism which must find the ray of hope, which must not admit the darkness, be it ever so overwhelming. Hence, his book has a peculiarly muted tone; one closes it wondering why it seems so thin and pale, why all of Mr. Moon’s earnestness and all of his dogged probing fail to be either moving or distinguished. This optimism is curious in that it is finally hopeless; one must, very literally, make the best of things, one must not explore anything profoundly. It is, one cannot help feeling, dangerous to do so.



In Mr. Moon’s book, therefore, and to a greater or lesser degree in all of these books, however indignant the author may be, the best foot is always in evidence and is finally and firmly put forward; as though, at the end of a fire and brimstone sermon, the preacher were to adopt a jovial, almost intimate air, and to say: but all of you—I know you will do better, your hearts are pure, surely, we will meet in heaven. The desperate tremor which accompanies this benediction is wished away; the drunkard, the nymphomaniac, and the sadist, all clothed in the garments of salvation, go home obscurely comforted and thoroughly unchanged. Perhaps, the note of hope is struck precisely in order to give people courage, to raise morale, so that the battle will not be lost. But this hopefulness depends on an insistent over-simplification, on platitude and platitudinous speculation, on a happy assumption that the status of the Negro is growing better, whereas, it is merely growing more complex.

This complexity whispers in Color and Conscience by Buell K. Gallagher and in Frank Loescher’s The Protestant Church and the Negro, in which books the problem of color is attacked from a moral and religious viewpoint. Mr. Loescher’s book is the less ambitious and perhaps the more successful: a heavily documented attack on the practical policies of the Protestant church, its systematic betrayal of the first principles of Christianity, its financial and moral support of the status quo. Mr. Loescher is, apparently, one of that unlucky minority who take their Christianity seriously, a hairsplitting refinement which the church has seldom considered necessary and which, indeed, it has frequently and strenuously opposed. The church, to be sure, has made “pronouncements” and is now on the record as being “against” segregation. But this has in no way affected the administration of Protestant dominated colleges, nor diminished the power of those restrictive covenants held by Protestant institutions; it has rarely led to an inter-racial church, except in those areas where Negroes (or Mexicans or Orientals) are so few as to be unnoticeable and too few to support a separate church. The decision of the church to be against segregation, which was belated in the first place, means, in practice, nothing; and those sufficiently uncharitable to put these pronouncements to the test—to demand, for instance, that Negro and white sit side by side in the church pew-are not entirely unjustified in concluding that these pronouncements do little more than save face. This cynicism, though, however accurate, is not quite fair, for these pronouncements, like these books, stem from disturbed and frightened consciences.



Buell K. Gallagher’s Color and Conscience reiterates Mr. Loescher’s thesis. It is vaster in outlook and angrier in tone; one would expect it also to be more penetrating, but this is not the case.

Mr. Gallagher says rather little that Mr. Loescher has not, said, though he covers the ground so much more minutely that he seems to; he is concerned with history and the human personality, with time and society and the rigorous demands of conscience: he would make peace with them all. It is hard to assess his failure or give the reasons for it and harder still to say just why I found so much of his book repellent. It is not in what he says but somehow in the manner of his saying it, in what seemed to me to be a shrill and desperate self-righteousness, though Mr. Gallagher early declares his desire to avoid that pit. His book is at once so emotional and so careful, and strives so mightily to be both clear and honest, that it seems almost a blueprint of the advanced and disturbed American conscience; and his failure, with this comparison in mind, seems almost a prophecy of accelerating doom. His is a plea to time to halt for a while that we may make amends; and this is where Mr. Gallagher is defeated, for he does not dare to consider profoundly the independent energy generated by those two implacably interacting forces, history and the human personality. One hesitates to say—anticipating the epithets “mystic” or “defeatist”—that the emphasis is wrong, that there is no panacea, no deliverance, on the strength of good intentions. In a very real sense the Negro problem has become anachronistic; we ourselves are the only problem, it is our hearts only that we must search. It is neither a politic nor a popular thing to say, but a black man facing a white man becomes at once contemptuous and resentful when he finds himself looked upon as a moral problem for that white man’s conscience.



John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom is an ambitious, top-heavy history beginning in Egypt centuries ago and ending in America of the present day. The title gives the book’s tone and intent, but a simple reversal of the key words sums up its unintended effect. For Mr. Franklin, hopeful and painstaking as he is, can only prophesy a great day soon to come and dwell rather wistfully on the splendors past: this heritage and history which have become for the Negro in America, when not outright fantasy, an active source of shame. Mr. Franklin, a Negro and a Negro historian, is aware that there is demanded of him a greater objectivity than might be demanded of other men and in reaching for this objectivity he becomes very nearly fatuous and persistently shallow. His book—except for the desperate amassing of proof that the Negro is as loyal as any other citizen, has endured much, and deserves that freedom for which he has for so long been exhorted to be patient—is as pallid and platitudinous a performance as those high school textbooks which we feverishly consulted just before exams. Mr. Franklin, nevertheless, seeks to speak for the enlightened Negro, as Mr. Gallagher speaks for the enlightened white; and if Mr. Gallagher brooks no prejudice, Mr. Franklin harbors no bitterness. But their expressions of good-will, compulsive on the one hand and strained on the other, are defeated by the very necessity to formulate these expressions on the basis of color. One has the feeling that they protest too much.



Arnold Rose’s The Negro In America is a condensation of Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma, and is a more astute book than many of its predecessors and more comprehensive than any of them. An American Dilemma was impressed most forcibly on my mind long before I read it by a landlord, who, having refused to rent me an apartment, but wishing to assure me of his good intentions, told me he was reading it. I did not, happily, remain homeless long enough to discover what effect this had on his policy; but I am afraid that I brought to Mr. Myrdal’s book, when I finally read it, that same impatience the landlord had caused me to feel. This is not, of course, fair to Mr. Myrdal and his associates and it is certainly not what is called taking the long view.

But it is just the value of this long view that I am beginning to question. Presumably, taking the long view means that one is able to consider and interpret the present in the light of the past; ideally, it leads to that sense of time and history which can operate to make present pain endurable, preventing the disintegration of the person under stress. Nevertheless, this long view, of which we speak so glibly, must be examined: whose long view and for what purpose and from what viewpoint?

And the very moment these questions are asked, this long view—which is demanded most vociferously of Negroes—emerges as something less lofty, comes close, indeed, to being nothing more than a system of justification. The American need for justification is a good deal stronger than the American sense of time—which began, as we are inclined to believe, with the Stars and Stripes. Thus, not even Mr. Rose’s careful and comprehensive study escapes the pit into which all of these books fall: they record the facts but they cannot probe the immense, ambiguous, uncontrollable effect. The full story of white and black in this country is more vast and shattering than we would like to believe and, like an unhindered infection in the body, it has the power to make our whole organism sick.

We are sick now and relations between the races is only one of our symptoms. What is happening to Negroes in this country has been happening for a long time and it is something quite logical, inevitable, and deadly: they are becoming more American every day.



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