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Integration sometimes seems like a silly problem in many ways. Why, we ask naively, do people hate other people for the color of their skin? A human being is a human being -- it's not right or reasonable to deprive him of those things we would want for ourselves or our families, just because his face is black.
Of course we know to what extent we harbor the same feelings in our own "Northern" communities -- but for the moment I would like to examine a little bit of the insight as to why it is so hard to convince people that present policies must be changed.
A white child in the Deep South grows up seeing things that we in the North often don't see. In his area, where whites may make up only slightly more than half of the population, he comes in contact with Negroes and may accept them easily in whatever context he meets them. But a child quickly notices that when it comes to things such as school, or church or death, there is a distinct line where the two races do not meet. The two are different -- and the inference is that the White is superior.
If a person forms the belief that Negroes are inferior when he is three or four years old -- how easily will he change them when he is thirty?
Not only have these beliefs been formed -- but the beliefs serve to make the situation true. Negroes have been forced into inferior schools -- which in turn often limits their economic status. They are inferior to most of the whites in these areas. And the whites fear that a mixing of the two will automatically lower themselves.
We talked to a woman in Birmingham who has a doctorate from Ohio State. She told us how hard she was working on a bi-racial committee -- and she told us how the group did just anything for a colored boy who would come to them when he was hungry or homeless. She stressed the fact that the whites love the Negro -- but how childlike and untrustworthy the Negro inevitably is.
Another man pointed out that what the white was really fighting was intermarriage. He said no one cared if they voted or not -- that was one thing. But the fear was intermarriage.
Despite the opinion that the civil rights movement has been kept alive because of the efforts and encouragement of Northern people coming into the South for that specific purpose, there are whites to whom this is the worst part of the problem. Perhaps this is only because they're fighting the change anyway, or sometimes because they are doing their best to solve the problem. At any rate, incidents such as the two deaths in the last two weeks, only serve to arouse emotion instead of thought in many.
This is an American problem, it needs all people to solve it, not just Martin Luther King, or the whites in Alabama. But it is a problem for which complexities have been increasing for one hundred years. It's going to be a long and a hard job.
-- Judy Helms