This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Speaker James Farmer of CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) speaking on his recent experiences in Mississippi, the recent death of President Kennedy, the atmosphere of violence in the country, and the non-violence of the Civil Rights movement.
Host introduces Farmer. Farmer talks about events in Louisiana. Assassination of President Kennedy brought home the danger of the climate of violence. He recounts his experience running from a lynch mob of state troopers, interacting with African-Americans to promote non-violence. "Absolute imperative on more training and stress on non-violence." CORE training sessions to promote non-violence.
Impressed by President Johnson, even though he is a Southerner. He finds that converted Southerners are more impassioned against discrimination than Northerners. He may even be more effective than President Kennedy because he may be able to speak the language of other Southern politicians. Maintain activities and demonstration to maintain pressure for rights.
Where will CORE go after desegregation? How will the goals of desegregation be accomplished? "Negroes will remain the low man on the totem poles": last hired, first fired; starting at the bottom; educational discrimination for 300 years. Need for a massive program of remedial education and retraining in order to solve economic problems of minorities. Only the federal government can tackle the problem: $3 billion a year to reach 1 million youth and adults with remedial education for five years. Our whole economy suffers by lack of skills caused by discrimination. Doing so could add $17 billion to the GNP.
CORE is seeking support of other minorities to help them. March on Washington cut across racial and religious lines. "Withholding of patronage is probably the most effective tool we have in the Civil Rights Movement." We need Americans of all backgrounds.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 5721
Municipal archives id: T355
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
We meet today for our last working press luncheon before the holidays we will be able to spend for the next two when date Wednesdays and then resume this series on the third Wednesday from now we have with us for the second time James Farmer the national director of C O R E the Congress on Racial Equality who comes directly from the battle fronts of today's knows who is at the very heart of the crisis now affecting American society and in fact affecting America's relations with the whole world the crisis. Of racial justice since we saw him last at the time that we saw Mr Farmer six months ago he had been a veteran of a very close contact with the grim realities of the Struggle for Racial Equality he had past forty days in Mississippi jails and penitentiaries it's now a total of fifty days because since he saw us he was down and plucked them in Louisiana and past ten days in jail there in conditions that indeed were rather terrifying he left a plaque a man with Lynch talk in town and. Without ceremony writing inside a hearse. Thus fitting his own actions to perhaps some intentions. He reached no Wallendas and is still able to do his part in a struggle for a peaceful achievement of Racial Equality his other candy ideas he is a an opponent of of violence as the solution of America's racial troubles and he has often been a visitor in the White House explaining these points of view and receiving the cooperation of the president it's my pleasure to introduce Mr Farmer. Mr Chairman and friends and I am very pleased for the introduction indicating that I did have some experiences and pluck them in Louisiana. I would like to point out that in my judgment those experiences were rather significant significant in terms of the total perspective in America I think that the horrible events of the past few weeks especially the assassination of President Kennedy have brought home to a large number of American citizens the danger of the climate of violence which exists in our country it's a climate which has grown up persistently and consistently through the years it's a climate against which Negroes have been struggling for many many years I saw it in black a man on that fateful night on September first when I literally had to escape from a lynch mob that was screaming for my blood when all that I had done was to participate in a demonstration two weeks earlier and to speak at several mass meetings. The most extraordinary thing about this lynch mob was that it was not a lynch mob made up of hoodlums or vigilantes or persons from the hills it was a lynch mob made up of state troopers made up of law enforcement officers in uniform riding horseback like cowboys screaming for blood and some of them were heard to say to others by negroes who were hiding underneath the church when we find that man we're going to lynch him well this brought home to me the great danger of the climate of violence within our country I was astounded by the fact that the Negroes in Plaquemine responded so nonviolently indeed though as we were huddled together in a funeral home prior to my escape in a hearse one Negro pulled out a gun a pistol from his pocket and said if a trooper comes through that door he will be dead it was with great effort that I was able to rest the gun away from him and seek to persuade him that he might kill the trooper if he came through the door but he would thereby jeopardize the lives of hundreds if not thousands of negroes in the area because that would then be a bloodbath this is brought home to core and I trust to other organizations that are involved in the current civil rights revolution the absolute imperative of more training and stress on nonviolence I do not believe that the climate of hate and violence which killed our president. Will die of its own accord I think that it has to be a deliberate effort on the part of American citizens we in core of doing our part we are conducting workshops and training institutes in nonviolence for our members and chapters all over the country three weeks ago we had a training session and a New York area conference for all of our core chapters in this area two weeks ago we had a similar training session for all of our New Jersey chapters and only last week a northeastern area conference where training was conducted in nonviolence seminar institutes and workshops are planned for the South the Midwest and the West Coast and this is our answer to the climate of violence we believe that the demonstrations will go on and must go on it is more important now that they go on than it has ever been before yet it is equally a part of our responsibility to see to it that training in nonviolence is conducted so that these demonstrations even under great provocations in the south and sometimes in the north can maintain their emphasis and spirit of nonviolence now we are impressed with the new president President Johnson and feel that we have nothing at all to fear from him despite the fact he is a Southerner as a matter of fact quite frequently one finds that when a Southerner becomes converted on the issue of civil rights he tends to be even more converted than the northerners because there's been so much passion and so much feeling on the race issue of throughout the south it has become a part of the southern subculture. But when a man is emancipated it is not at all unusual for that passion and that feeling then to be exerted on the other side and that I think is what has occurred in President Johnson I was impressed with my talk with him in the White House two or three weeks ago and had that time he indicated his firm intention of pressing for civil rights legislation for the most expeditious possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill I have every reason to believe that he not only sees this as a political necessity which of course it is but also sees it as a matter of his own conviction and feeling and short I believe that President Lyndon B. Johnson cares on the issue of civil rights I think also that he might be even more effective than President Kennedy and pressing for the passage and securing the passage of the bill through his experience in legislative maneuvering and due to the fact that he is a Southerner and may well be able to talk with Southern senators and congressman speak their language and persuade them as to the necessity of their moving in the right direction on the issue of civil rights I think the bill is all important it must be passed there's a need now for us to forget about the House and Senate traditions and get the bill out I say get it out I mean not only out of the committee out of the Rules Committee but I mean get it out of the house and out of the Senate and get it out into the body of the nation's laws. And when it is done we do not feel that the necessity for demonstrations and action will be ended we feel instead that the necessity will be just as great to see to it that we do not merely have a scrap of paper that we have instead a law that can be implemented and will be enforced the enforcement of the law will be extremely urgent it will be urgent because if it is not enforced then the frustration of Negroes throughout the country might be even deeper because they have placed such hope and such faith in the civil rights bill Corps intends then upon the passage of the bill in as strongly condition as possible to seek its in force went on implementation by testing its provisions in the south and in the north and urging that those who are entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing the law discharge that responsibility now we cannot wait for the action of Congressman Smith in the House Rules Committee and holding hearings and reporting the bill out Congressman Smith in the past has made it clear that his own views are in opposition to civil rights legislation there is no question about where he stands on it there is no question either that he will use whatever means he finds expedient to De Lay the passage of the bill as long as possible and seek to prevent its passage or seek to water it down or both. I therefore consider it most urgent that we press with great vigor the signing of the discharge petition the getting of signatures of Congressman on the discharge petition so that the bill can be discharged from the House Rules Committee even if Senator Smith does not fulfill his promise of having it reported out or holding hearings on it expeditiously it is necessary therefore for us to judge Congressman by their actions on placing their signatures on the discharge petition they will be judged in the next election by their actions on this bill at this stage they will be judged not by their words not by their promise to vote for the bill once it comes to the floor unless they take action now to see to it that it comes to the floor by signing the discharge petition in other words if they love us in the winter we will love them in the fall and the reverse is equally true. I would like to point out also that. In the course of the efforts to secure the passage of the bill our demonstrations and corps will go on they will continue I do not feel that we would be serving the president or the memory of the late president if we slow down our activities in demanding freedom and equality now on the contrary as I see it the president is in the position as a politician whatever his personal views may be and how strong they may be on this issue he is in the position of weighing pressures the pressures of those who are opposed to strong civil rights legislation will be intense upon him we have to maintain our pressure and I see no more effective way of maintaining that pressure than maintaining our activities and demonstrations Yes indeed even in the streets and pressing for the rights which are constitutionally guaranteed us now at this stage after the March on Washington we in core are considering where we go after desegregation and are considering how we achieve the immediate goals of desegregation it seems quite clear to us that even if we succeed in wiping out racial segregation and discrimination in the foreseeable future that our problems will not then be solved even if we eliminate discrimination in jobs negroes will remain the low man on the economic totem pole in our country. And this is due to a number of things it's due to the fact that they have been the last hired and the first fired it's due to the fact that since they have come into employment and given industries more recently than other persons they are starting at the bottom and not at the middle or at the top it's due to the fact that there has been three hundred years of discrimination in education two hundred years of slavery and one hundred years of post slavery segregation and in adequate inferior education it therefore becomes quite clear to us that now we need a massive program of remedial education as well as retraining in order to solve the economic problems which the negro minority confronts in this country many of our young people who have been educated as it were and the inferior segregated ghettoized schools of the South and the North have been crippled have been damaged some indeed in the worst of the rural southern schools have very scant reading skills or skills in arithmetic or skills and writing it becomes difficult then to train them for jobs in automated industries with automation increasing without remedial education seeking to repair the damage the damage has been so great and so overwhelming that it's a task which cannot be tackled by civil rights organizations themselves or by voluntary groups it's a task which can only be tackled effectively by the federal government our examination of the problem indicate that it would cost approximately three billion dollars a year to reach approximately one million. U. for children youth and adults with remedial education or a five year period that would mean five million people could be reached in five years at a cost to this country of fifteen billion dollars But now when one considers the fact that our whole economy suffers by the lack of skills and education because of discrimination that's a small price to pay as a matter of fact at the end of the five years that amount of money will be added to the Gross National Income several times the President's Council on Economic Advisors two or three years ago conducted a study and concluded that if the present skills of negroes in this country were utilized job wise approximately thirteen billion dollars a year would be added to the gross national product and if the skills and training and education of the Negro minority were brought up to the average level of others in the population then seventeen billion dollars a year could be added to the gross national product this is a year in other words by repairing the damage through a massive program of remedial education elementary schools high schools and then adults we could add several times the amount of money that it costs to the gross national product I discussed this plan with President Johnson. When I visited with him and he expressed great interest in it as an old school teacher and as a former head of the United all youth administration under Roosevelt and we have high hopes that such a program will indeed be launched by the federal government I note with pleasure that at least one bill calling for remedial education has recently been introduced and to the Senate of the United States now as we see it in a period of revolution as we are in now in the civil rights arena we have to work on all fronts not only the demonstrations in the streets but also repairing the damage of past years of discrimination through a remedial education preparing people to take their place and automated industries through a retraining program such as has been suggested by Whitney Young of the National Urban League we see also that in order to complete this revolution though we must have allies there was a time when many persons involved in the civil rights revolution felt that the fight could be won by Negroes alone that obviously is not true core at its last full moon dressed meeting of the National Action Council voted to enlarge its program and its base by seeking contact communication and association with other minority groups in our country which face similar problems of discrimination as a Puerto Rican in New York as Mexicans on the west coast and as American Indians and many other areas chapters are now actively seeking the support of those groups not only to solve our problems but so that we might help them solve their lives by using the core technique of nonviolent direct action we need allies also among the general population in the country white Americans. The most impressive thing about the March on Washington to me and I had to miss the march itself because as the chairman indicated I was otherwise occupied at that time in jail in black I'm in Louisiana but one of the most impressive things about it was that it cut across racial and religious lines there were Jews Catholics Protestants White Negro that has become the emphasis and a large section of the civil rights movement now we are seeking those allies we have urging them to make up their minds and get involved we are saying to them there can be no neutrals no neutrals in a struggle such as this and that they therefore have to choose sides or must choose sides out of deference to the future and the destiny of their nation we are urging those people to help us in our struggle in terms of patronage withholding and selective buying currently core chapters are seeking to end discrimination in employment in retail stores in their cities throughout the country and some one hundred and thirty five cities where there are core chapters presently existing if they do not succeed in eliminating what discrimination they find on a local level once their reports are in we will then compile the employment records of Cheney and variety chain retail stores and we will then be calling upon Americans white and black all who agree that this problem needs to be solved to withhold their Patrick practice selective buy to boycott those concerns which maintain a practice of discrimination in employment we believe that the withholding of patronage is probably the most effective tool that we have in the civil rights movement. All of this sums up to our conviction that to win the revolution and we believe it can be won we need all Americans who are of good will whatever their race their color their station in life that was a great religious leader more than two thousand years ago put it in these words and I think they're quite appropriate he said if I am not for myself who will be for me if I am for myself alone what am I And if not now when. Thank you Mr Farmer you'll be want to come to the mike. As I asked my question Mr Farmer would like to say one of the most distinguished messages that they are parts rather of the March on Washington was from you reading from the plaque in one jail and my question with regard to the discharge petition on the civil rights bill. Are you able to tell us how many congressmen have signed it up to date and especially how the congressman from this area are doing what I can certainly And so the first part of your question is really we have now one hundred sixty six sixty six signatories out of a total necessary of two hundred eighteen now there are a number of other congressmen who have not yet signed the discharge petition who say that once we reach one hundred eighty then they will sign in other words they want the bandwagon to get rolled he wanted to get snowballing before they commit themselves well it seems to me that we're going to have to pressure the use now as to whether the individual all of the individual congressman from the New York area have yet signed the petition I am not in a position to state their arguments. Well what's the problem of the radio. Well. Do what you choose. I sincerely believe and I believe many of the people here do about the money to be raised for the remedial education should be done by the government but my question is Has any thought been. Given to raising these funds privately through an nonprofit organization off from the foundations and any way I know of no thought that has been given to this so we do feel that if the federal government cannot contribute as much funds or as a necessary to do the total job that then we ought to try to get contributions from industry industrial groups have as much of a stake in this as anybody else and it is also possible that it could be a contributory plan involving the states yet I would insist that if it is so in a contributory in that manner that we see to it that there is no segregation or discrimination in the use of the funds or in the remedial education classes I believe that the federal government has a responsibility in this aside from the question of where the money comes from or where it can come from it is a responsibility of the federal government and a responsibility that cannot be fulfilled by the states. Reading the newspapers and watching the television read news reports over the last few years the average white citizen would get the idea that the entire Negro community across the country has militant and up in arms about. Civil rights and I think the biggest shock some of us get as I have. Periodically getting my associations mostly in business and to some extent social with Negroes in several cities from coast to coast actually is the parable lack of any vital interest or burning interest in this particular issue and I recognize that some of it might be due to. A vestige of reluctance to talk civil rights to to a white man perhaps all or sometimes our relations especially when drinking sessions we've gotten very frank and friendly and I detect that it is my impression more and more that the negroes themselves are among the most dilatory in supporting or the supporting civil rights on their own behalf. I think this might have been said I can readily A few years ago but I don't think it can now I think that the interest and the depth of feeling the civil rights issue has cut across the whole Negro community this is obviously more true in the south and it is in the north because the pressures on the negro communities are much greater than here as and black women was practically one hundred percent support behind the I give it and Black Woman Louisiana in the north we won't get that large a percentage but get the overwhelming majority of the Negroes in northern cities feel deeply on this issue well attend mass meetings Well in many cases join marches would go to Washington are asking for another march on Washington indeed I think you put your finger on it when you indicated the possibility of a residual reluctance on the part of Negroes to speak frankly to white persons there has been an old tradition in race relations in this country that negro said to white people what they thought might be. Well I wanted to hear and I'm afraid that that old tradition is not yet dead sometimes they might fear that they would offend you or that they would break the personal relationship which has been developed or they would create unhappy conversation and thus they were restrain themselves and speaking frankly on the issue. Is code or registering the Negroes in the south and how's it doing yes our voter registration drive in the south is constantly being expanded we are now working in thirteen counties in South Carolina and a part of Florida working in Mississippi in conjunction with several other civil rights organizations and in Louisiana we are working in twelve parishes including Parish where pocket one is located we succeeded just a couple of months ago and getting the first Negroes registered in West Feliciano Parish Louisiana that have been registered since the Reconstruction days this drive is progressing well but arduously the problems in Louisiana are unique in that according to the state laws there are an individual must judge his age must report his age on the application form accurately by years months and do use now that's very difficult you know it's tricky do you start with the date of your birth or is it the day after that that you start with and is the current day counted or is that excluded is very easy to miss it by one day or two days and in the past what has happened is that some individuals reportedly representing the White Citizens Council have gone to the registrar's office the books have been turned over to them and thus thousands of Negroes have been purged from the registration lists for having misjudged their age by one day or so now obviously many white persons have similarly misjudged their age yet they have not been struck from the registration lists as a matter of fact an investigation conducted by the United States Civil Service Civil Rights Commission. Indicated that some of the very individuals who purge the negro's names from the list would have been purged themselves if they had applied to themselves the same yardstick that they applied to the Negroes it also indicated that some of the school principals in those towns would have been purged now in Mississippi we run into different problems the problems there are still problems of intimidation and economic reprisals intimidation involves violence and threats of violence for people who register to go back a moment to Louisiana again last summer when we tried to get some individuals registered in West Feliciano parish they were arrested for breach of the peace for seeking to register on another occasion one young man a young white coworker took several Negroes down to the registration place to seek to register them and they registrars wife took off her shoe and beat him over the head then called the police who arrested him for disturbing the peace now these are the difficult as that we are running up against yet negroes are being registered and conclusion let me indicate one of the most hopeful signs along these lines was what happened in Mississippi and the last gubernatorial election Well I'm not concerned about the candidates who are running officially I am more interested now in the candidate who has been officially running Dr Aaron Henry who happened to been president of the state conference of branches of the N A C P He ran in a mock election for governor and eighty two thousand negroes who are not now registered in Mississippi. Cast votes for his mock gubernatorial candidate for governor which indicates first of all the great feeling that exists on the part of large numbers of negroes in Mississippi to travel great distances to cast a vote which they know will not be counted to indicate the interest in voting it also is the beginning I think of real mass organization in the backwoods of the rural areas of the deep southern states on the question of voter registration. Mr Farmer there been demonstrations throughout the city in recent months and I guess years over the de facto segregation of the city schools more recently in the last few days or many demonstrations at the Board of Education in Brooklyn and today's papers Reverend Milton glamorous and his call for the ouster of Superintendent of Schools gross and call them a liar a man whose word can be trusted he also asked if asked for the ouster of the entire board of education and as for quicker integration of the schools now Corps has been in the forefront of some of these and demonstrations and I'm learning what your stand is on some of these questions. I might say that just as Reverend glamazon called for the ouster of Mr Gross So the court chapter in Brooklyn has called for his ouster and called for the replacement of the entire board of education this is the action of one of our core chapters and such action is autonomously taken as the chapter has a right to take the National Organization of core has taken no position on whether Mr Gross should remain in office whether he should be removed from office or should resign we have not taken a position on that because we will want to consult with our local chapters in the whole New York area before taking an official stand. All right I liked it just a question a direct question us playing that one of the troubles in the past is that there has been a lack of Frakt frankness on the negro side in stating two white friends what are the frank opinions I'd like to ask this question. Do you feel that the the fundamental problem is the attitude of the white Southerner or of all Americans and do you see what percentage of the white American population do you feel is beginning to approach a top tolerable and acceptable attitude what percentage still insists on unjust well on deprivation of negro rights. That's a good question a take a long time to answer it and I'll just try to suggest some answers first of all I do not think it is a southern problem with which we confront it I think it's a national problem I do not believe that prejudice racial prejudice and I'll country is a sectional disease I think it is a national disease and it has different symptoms and different manifestations according to sections but it is quite difficult to conceive of people whether white or black living segregated lives in the segregated sections of the city going to segregated schools whether they sure are a or de facto segregated schools working very often in segregated jobs. Having segregated friendships not developing prejudices that are in keeping with that pattern of segregation such prejudices do exist among both whites and negroes and they are the most evil fruit of the segregation tree if that prejudice will not be completely overcome until we have succeeded in wiping out segregation we can make some stand some stabs at it along the way and I think those we are doing but the first and most important thing it seems to me is for the majority in the country the white majority to recognize the existence of racial prejudice and try to do something about it try to eliminated unless an individual faces his own prejudices then that individual does not equipped himself to eliminate those prejudices we all have all kinds of prejudices we must remember I'm prejudiced I'm prejudiced against women drivers I think there are a menace to civilization and the sooner removed from the highways the better we'll be but you see I know that's a prejudice I know it's nothing but a prejudice every day I see women who are far better drivers and I am but does that destroy my prejudice no I then separate her from the group of women drivers and say why she is an exception Well these racial prejudices are emotional things and very difficult to get at but Americans now must get at them this incidentally Mr Chairman has been one of the objectives of some of our demonstrations in the north since last beginning of last summer. What we have sought to do is to make Northern Americans aware of the fact that the problem is not confined to Birmingham Albany or Mississippi that it exists all over the country there were many who loved what we were doing as long as it was in Mississippi or Alabama but they did not like it in New York or elsewhere one of the purposes of the demonstrations they are for was to bring this home to them that the problems exist here and that their reactions to those problems differ when the situation is brought close to home we believe that this is the first step toward solving the problem to face it I think we have time for two or three more questions we have a rule to try to close at two o'clock I see already four hands will take all of them so do you want to welcome you guys. How do you account for the low the relatively low registration and in Harlem of the present for registration Well I think it's very simple first of all the Negroes interest in securing his rights now I mean manifest itself in different ways and does not necessarily manifest itself in registering to vote and particularly in the north sometimes it manifests itself in demonstrations or in attending meetings of organizations and listening to speakers the tradition of voting among Negroes is a quite new one and has not really become a tradition yet we must remember that Negroes in the south have not had the right to vote as far as the laws were concerned. Until zero fifteen twenty years ago when the Supreme Court outlawed the white primaries. A large percentage of the Negro population in the north has come comparatively recently from the south where there was no tradition of registering to vote there was no understanding that voting is an important part of the responsibility of citizenship and can aid and wiping out the inequities that do exist and even after the Supreme Court's outlawing of the white primaries in the south if there were two candidates running and negroes could vote those two candidates were vying against each other to see which one could be more extremist on the segregation issue so that it became a matter of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and here again voting and registration had no important meaning now in the past we've been conducting an education drive and along with the registration drive in the south such a drive has not yet gained momentum in the north I expect that it will prior to the next presidential election. I wouldn't attempt to equate your need for psychological readjustment of women drivers with the need for psychological readjustment of negroes in the white world but I do think that there is a fundamental problem they faced and I'm wondering if in your great program of reeducation and reorientation of the Negro population to not only be prepared for the day when you do get the segregation but also be prepared for the great need for psychological desegregation and which will equip the average Negro to face up to the responsibilities that the segregation and new responsibilities of desegregation is going to bring and I wonder if you've given some thought to that. Yes of course and that's a very good point we feel that that problem the problem of psychological adjustment to desegregation cannot fully be solved until we have achieved desegregation because one doesn't learn to adjust to a social situation and really has some opportunity to live in that social situation Yes that's right I think that we must work on both and this is precisely what we are doing in the educational program of core. Life. Is really like. First of all when you speak about this for media education programs to farm isn't a possibility that this massive program mig