Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 9. 1967.
US remains two nations
US remains two nations
Racial tension to probably the greatest problem faced by the united States. The problem has the Administration extremely worried while the white suburbs are gripped with fear or racial clashes.
Our first face to face experience with this racial problem came in Chicago, a city of four million people, one-quarter of them Negro. South side Chicago, predominantly Negro, is one vast sprawling slum.
For mile after mile we saw the same views as we rode the elevated railway; rows of two storey brick tenement buildings, sagging verandahs supporting battered old refrigerators and stacks of boxes, backyards clogged with litter. Play areas consist of rubble strewn old building sites.
At street level it looked even worse. Refuse clogged the gutters, groups of men lounging in doorways eyed us as we passed. One never saw a white person here.
Supposedly as a contrast, we were then taken to one of the immense low cost housing schemes, erected by the City of Chicago with federal assistance. Here, within a few blocks, some 30.000 people (97 per cent of them Negro) live in about a dozen large apartment blocks, each over twenty stories high.
The Pastor of the local Lutheran Church, a white, spoke with us about life in the area. He was bitterly critical of the attitude of whites towards the provision of such housing.
"The City seems to imagine that placing people in such concrete ghettoes fulfills their responsibility," he claimed. "But they still do not treat these people as human beings."
He pointed to the green expanses of lawn between the apartment blocks They were fenced off with signs proclaiming a $10 fine for anyone walking on the grass. The children have only small areas of asphalt to play on.
Most of the people living in the apartments were women and their families whose husbands had left them for other areas in search of work. Most live entirely on welfare payments, as deserted wives. Often there will be a kock on the door during the night —a welfare officer calling to check that the husband is not there.
Bring found with any man, whether husband or not may result in cancellation of welfare payments and eviction. If a household's income rises above a certain figure they will have to leave. The next step up socially from the low cost housing schemes is the slums.
Describing the local residents as "very fine people" the Pastor spoke of communal activities they undertake, such as the bulk buying of food. Local shopkeepers were able to charge up to 50 per cent more than in other areas.
He was scathing on the War on Poverty. "The first thing they do with their money is to rent an office, hire a secretary, buy a typewriter and wait for someone to come to them!" Over half the local funds for the War are spent on administration expenses.
He was even more scathing in his comments on the local "machine" of Chicago's democratic Mayor, Richard Daley. No organisation or person must acquire sufficient power or influence to threaten the position of the local political boss.
He referred to a recent case involving a fellow Pastor who had set up a successful youth group in his church. It was an instant success and as activity followed on activity the Pastor came to be considerably respected by the local community.
One evening while an orderly dance was in progress in the Church hall, it was raided by police who claimed there was disorderly conduct, and arrested twenty members of the youth group. That was the end of the youth group.
While most Americans are unhappy at the racial conflict there are some sections of the community, namely the real estate agents, who must welcome it.
'Block-busting' is a commonly employed and profitable practice. They will encourage Negroes to move into a previously all-white street or block. Then they will visit homes in the area, warning residents that the negroes are coming, and that the value of their properties will decline.
Perhaps the home is worth $20,000. The real estate agent offers them $15,000 which is reluctantly accepted. A few weeks later the agent sells the same property for $25,000 to someone who will rent it to Negroes.
Then everyone will start to sell their homes, adding to the profits to be had. Contrary to what is usually claimed, the movement of Negroes into an area increases rather than decreases property values
Later during our visit we were able to view the racial problem in a very different setting; the city of Racine, Wisconsin. A mixed industrial residential city in the heart of Wisconsin s dairying area.
Out of a population of 100,000. 10 per cent were Negroes, equivalent to the national average. The negro community is concentrated in the centre of the town, near the commercial area. Unemployment is very low here and most Negro families enjoy a regular income. Yet still the issues of housing and education burn.
One housing question was centred on the issue of "open housing." This refers to nondiscrimination on racial grounds in the sale or leasing of property. State law already forbade such discrimination, but left so many loopholes that it was practically meaningless.
One woman speaking to a member of the local anti-discrimination committee, seemed to speak for most of the others present. "Of course we are opposed to discrimination," she said, to a murmur of agreement and nodding of heads, "but why can't I sell my house to whom I please? Why must we be coerced into these things." Others clucked their agreement.
Education is the other field in which the racial issue is very dominant. Schools in the central city area have large numbers of Negro children. The burning question was, should school zoning be enforced, or should anxious white mothers be allowed to move their children to other public schools.
Again the same ritual as with open housing was being enacted.
A prosperous local businessman thought the Negroes had little to complain about. "In the USA," he said, "everyone regardless of race, colour or creed has equality of opportunity."
The chairman of the local Republican Women's Organisation saw the whole problem as the Negroes' failure to take advantage of their opportunities. We didn't stop to argue.
Visiting Little Rock, which gained world-wide notoriety in 1957 because of riots over a Court ordered integration of its public school system, gave us a view of the racial situation in the South.
Surprisingly Little Rock is a community which has always contained a large liberal element, even prior to 1957. it achieved its unhappy notoriety through being one of the first cties ordered to integrate explained the Assistant Super-intendent of the Little Rock School Board, himself a Negro.
Even though the schools have been integrated in compliance with the Court order, there has been little effective integration. The Negro population is heavily concentrated in certain areas of the city.
Schools in these areas are 100 per cent Negro. Schools in the white areas averaged 97 per cent white; 100 per cent in some of the exclusive residential areas.
The compulsory bussing of pupils to schools in other parts of the city to achieve a racial balance in each school (as is practised in some northern cities) would cause a great deal of trouble, he felt, For the meantime they were content to leave things where they were.
The School Board was most careful to see equal amounts of money were spent on schools in white and Negro areas.
A drive into the plantation areas around Little Rock was a drive into another world. The dusty roads were lined by the shacks of Negro share croppers.
Old electric stoves and washing machines on the verandahs of homes with no electricity or running water, and a car which obviously had not run for years, In front of the houses were pathetic attempts to gain a little status.
Political power in the area rests in the John Birch Society which trucks Negroes to the polls to vote for their candidates. Our guide thought that conditions had improved immensely in the last few years, as" many families now receive welfare payments for the period the plantation owner does not employ them. Two years ago many of the children wore no clothes at all during the summer.
The local school had been forcibly integrated with the result that most of the white children now attend private schools in Little Rock. Only the children of the small number of poor whites remain.
The former Negro school was a delapidated four-room wooden building — no toilet facilities and no playground. The farmer all-white school appeared a model—modern and well equipped.
However, tremendous problems still existed. The standard of education given to the Negro children previously was so bad that most were at least two years behind white children of their own age.
A recent report on the racial situation in various American cities read like a weather forecast. "Atlanta—situation calm; Cincinatti—situation tense . . ." But whether or not the summer is long and hot, few people are likely to remain cool.
Many whites are sympathetic only until the issue touches them personally in some way. In such a situation it is understandable that many Negroes see no alternative to violence as a means of changing things. The black extremist groups are still small, but growing.
The only hopeful sign is that white children may be more tolerant and understand the problem better than their parents. But for the meantime the USA remains two nations —black and white.