An Education in Georgia: The Integration of Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes
by Calvin Trillin
Viking, 180 pp., $3.95
This book, somewhat expanded from an earlier version that recently appeared in The New Yorker, is the work of one of its staff writers who had spent a year in the South as a reporter for Time. Mr. Trillin is an excellent and conscientious reporter, who observed in detail the sequence of events he reported, and became closely acquainted with the principal figures involved. His writing is clear and incisive, and relieved occasionally by touches of low-keyed irony, which are the only departures from objective description and analysis be permits himself. His approach to the dynamics of exclusion in the University of Georgia is very similar to that Berton Roueché brings to his New Yorker accounts of dramatically loathsome diseases: not ethically neutral, for both authors are clearly opposed to the phenomena they describe, but detached.
This has both good and bad effects. It makes the reader feel like a phony Jules Feiffer liberal: but, them, who—if not New Yorker buffs—are Feiffer’s models? But it also keeps the book clear, despite the complexity of events it records; and permits the reader to perceive some interesting implications of Mr. Trillin’s account that a more passionate or ideological approach would certainly have obscured. The most important of these is the same as that which Hannah Arendt describes in Elchmann in Jerusalem. The shocking trail Eicher and Mr. Holmes share is the eagerness to serve a racist cause more from a sense of role than from any discernible personal feeling.
A man who would organize and arrange the murder, under torment, of six million people he did not especially dislike is, indeed, more appalling than a man motivated by hatred. Miss Arendt’s point, however, is that he is also, in his very “banality” and lack of feeling a more representative modern type: the small bourgeois careerist who responds only to the demands and expectations of those who might affect his success, and who cannot give a human response either to his victims or himself. I do not mean to suggest that segregation and extermination are comparable. But the similarity between Eichmann and the segregationists Trillin describes is not a matter of their having behaved with equal callousness and cruelty, but of their racism, whatever its degree, being so much a matter of social response and so little a matter of principle. This seems—and I think rightly—to trouble Trillin almost as much as segregation itself:
The University, of course, had been double-dealing for a year and a half; and it was instructive to see the double-dealing presented as a legal defense by a state that had vowed open resistance to integration. In the effort to correct the false notion that the South has a monopoly on bigotry, the equally false notion has been created that the North has a monopoly on hypocrisy, and I had often heard it said that “in the South at least everybody knows where he stands and people are honest about it”… But …