Walter White on Race Problems in the US
Sunday, December 18, 1949
This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Chairman Johnson E. Fairchild opens Cooper Union Forum. Mentions some upcoming programs. Introduces the current program "The race problem in the United States with Walter White speaking." Introduces Dr. Walter White, on leave from his position at the NAACP, author and researcher on race problems.
Mentions Ralph J. Bunche who had spoken there the week before. He follows Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, Booker T. Washington in the business which is not yet finished. I want to talk to you not only about the race problem in the United States but in the entire world today. Discovery by Soviet Russia of the splitting of the atom. Marshall plan. Wherever they went in Europe, people said "Either you continue Marshall Plan or other aid to us or perhaps we will go communist." People in Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific asked why aren't we getting aid too? We suffered from the war too. We found among the colored people who constitute two-thirds of the population in the world a growing revolt against racism. Radio and news agencies are spreading stories about discrimination in the United States. White cites some examples. Tells a story about Jose Laurel of the Philippines. We talk one thing about democracy but we do something quite different when a person has dark skin. People all over the world ask us, "how can you call yourselves a democracy when you allow lynching, disfranchising and discrimination to happen without protest?" Difficult question to answer. We do not claim to have a perfect democracy. We do have discrimination. We also have organizations like NAACP and others that are making some progress in the elimination of discrimination. We can criticize our government. Not so in Soviet Union. Our national reputation is sinking. We say that we are fighting for a free world but we continue to allow discrimination in the United States. Talks about Pandit Nehru from India. China joining with Soviet Union. Imperialism in Asia. Dutch and French in Korea, Indonesia, Indochina. British imperialism in India. Formosa, Philippines, Guam, Hawaii may be stepping stones of Soviet Union to the United States. We pointed out that these acts were by a small bigoted minority. Pointed out the great growth of organizations working against bigotry. Pointed out the appointment of the president's committee on civil rights headed by Charles E. Wilson of GE Corporation whose members are of different races. They returned to the United States and did the final broadcast in Washington D.C. where they discussed "what can we do to strengthen democracy?" Edith Sampson who represented National Council of Negro Women was a member of their group. After all the courtesy they received in thirteen capitals around the world, they faced discrimination right here at home and were told that they couldn't dine together as long as Ms. Sampson was in their party. This incident was used in a broadcast of Moscow Radio. "What hope have you dark-skinned people of Asia and Africa of receiving justice when things like this can happen in the United States towards its own citizens?"
Our ethical and moral standards have not grown but shrunken. One of the most important of these has been along the color line. Treat and label people who are dark-skinned as inferior. If we continue to do that, bloody revolt will break out around the world. Stop being hypocritical so far as the color line is concerned. Just as Booker Washington spoke here about the moral implications of the race problem here in the United States. I speak to you not just about the race problem at home but all over the face of the earth. Must be solved immediately or there will not only be no peace but no security for any persons, of any color of skin. Quoting a young Negro speaker: "Your ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Mine came here on a slave ship. But we are all in the same boat now." Until we solve the color question at home, we are going to be held up as hypocrites. Obliterate discrimination because of race, creed or color to ensure a more secure, a better way of life, and set an example that a truly free society can exist forever.
After an intermission, Dr. White takes questions from the audience. How can the race problem be solved without solving the economic problem? Must be solved together. Why can't you see that Asia is usurping the power of Europe? And that it's a historical fight for superiority of one race over the other? White: I don't conceive it because I don't agree. Why do not the educated colored people of the North raise the money to pay the poll tax for their Southern brothers who are unable to? White: Not the solution. Need to abolish the poll tax. If the first line of duty for every American is at home, I don't see why you had to go around the world to find problems when we should take care of things in our own backyard. With the filibuster coming up on the civil rights program, we need active organization. White replies: We need to know what the problens of all the people in the aworld are. Are religious bodies making all genuine efforts to make their congregations realize the universal brotherhood of man? Tells a story about a colored man who tried to join a white church.
The Church has lagged on this issue of race. There have been signs of an awakening in recent years. Gives a couple of examples. Do you believe that (skin color chemical) will solve the race question? Did not say it would abolish race problems. Accidental scientific discovery that may have profound sociological implications. Is this a government of all checks and no balance? Talks about cloture. Wary compromise. Are dark-skinned people rallying support to Russians because they outlawed Jim Crow-ism? Isn't discrimination a product of the human mind? How can this problem be solved? It's more than psychological; it's also economic, part of tradition, fear and neuroses. Education. Legislation is an educational process. Colonialism and exploitation. What is India doing about the caste system? Why do you stress the practical aspects of this question? Shouldn't we abolish racial discrimination not because Russia makes propaganda from it but because it is a cancer poisoning the wellspring of our spirit? Do you think that system of government has something to do with it? I'd like a socialist government if it realy believed in the pure socialist priniciples, not one that practices colonialism while ti talks about socialism. Why is it that such a small fraction of audience at Cooper Union is colored? Perhaps more might be done to get in touch with Negro organizations. Need to show Negros that they are welcome.
For more on Walter White and this broadcast please see: http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/neh-preservation-project/2013/jan/21/walter-white/
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 8608
Municipal archives id: LT1346