People Without a Country

The Negro American

edited by Talcott Parsons, edited by Kenneth B. Clark
Houghton Mifflin, 781 pp., $9.50

Some truths are too terrible to be uttered. They lead nowhere but to despair. They subvert hope, the ultimate pillar of the social order. We prefer to cast about for assuaging myths. One such truth, which goes back to Heraclitus, the founder of the dialectic, is that conflict is the essence of life, that “war”—in his own dark phrase—is “the father of all things.” It is not a maxim on which to found a society for eternal peace. Another such truth casts its shadow over the civil rights movement. All kinds of insights, concepts, and hypotheses are trotted out and tested in the 750 pages of the huge symposium, The Negro American, except the one which seems to me the most fundamental of all. The confusion, frustration, and despair of the civil rights movement become comprehensible if one looks at the American Negro (a less hopeful but more accurate description) simply as a people without a country.

The Negro is the second oldest imported stock in our country. Only the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant predates him, and that only by a few years. The distinguished Negro historian, John Hope Franklin, in his contribution to this symposium, reminds us that the first Negro indentured servants were brought here in 1619. That was a year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. After three-and-a-half centuries of living in America, the Negro is still a race apart. Ours is the world’s oldest and most successful experiment in apartheid. The South Carolina code of 1712 set up special laws for Negroes to “restrain the disorders, rapines and inhumanity to which they are naturally prone and inclined.” This is still the white stereotype of the Negro. In 1964 it was heartbreakingly possible for the White Citizens Council to place in newspaper advertising a declaration of Negro inequality made one hundred years earlier at Peoria by Lincoln, his reluctant Emancipator. “In a fundamental sense,” Philip M. Hauser writes in this same symposium, “the Negro really did not enter white American society until World War I.” And even after World War I Negro soldiers returning from their segregated regiments were lynched, sometimes in their military uniforms, while the renascent Klan warned them to respect the rights of the white race “in whose country they are permitted to reside.” Even now, in our enlightened time, Congress is queasy about passing a civil rights bill with an “open housing” provision because most whites don’t want to have Negroes as neighbors. After three-and-a-half-centuries in residence, the Negro still does not feel at home.

ALL THESE PROBLEMS of open housing, educational standards, and different ways of life, would disappear, of course, if the American Negro, like other Negroes, had a territorial base in which he was the irrepressible majority instead of an unwanted minority. The American Negro may not yet be ready to compete on equal terms with the white man, but he is far more advanced than most of the darker peoples who have won their independence …

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