Alan Paton’s first novel, Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), communicated the tragic dimensions of South Africa’s system of apartheid to a world audience. In 1954, Paton was asked by Collier’s magazine to observe and interview Americans about this country’s system of racial segregation. In the first of two articles, Paton reported on race relations in Washington, D.C. and in the Deep South around the time that the Supreme Court declared that segregated “ separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The following letters to the editor express a range of reactions to the Court’ s decision and to Paton’ s undisguised support for the ongoing “ war against segregation.”
Negro In America
Alan Paton’s article The Negro in America Today (Oct. 15th) is beautiful, heart-warming and hopeful. This objective analysis by a reporter who so obviously loves his fellow beings gives one a new perspective on an old and shameful situation. I am again assured that America is wonderful and that people are basically good.
— MRS. SHIRLEE S., Minneapolis, Minn.
. . . Collier’s deserves the highest commendation. If one is to be Christian and American, one must demand for everyone the same rights and privileges one expects for oneself. It’s as simple as that. Segregation violates the golden rule. It is contrary to the principle of fair play. Now that the Supreme Court has spoken with a unanimous voice against discrimination— this nefarious, un-American and un-Christian practice will disappear.
— PALMER V., Santa Monica, Cal.
. . . A truly Christian article . . .
— FRANCES G., Pemaquid, Me.
. . . A sensitive and penetrating appraisal. It is a privilege to read such an encouraging, if somewhat optimistic, analysis by such a distinguished gentleman, and to see ourselves in the eyes of one long familiar with the problems of a segregated society.
— JEAN R., Birmingham, Mich.
. . . Magnificent. I have never read another article in any magazine that describes so completely the advancements of a progressive race . . .
— JEREMIAH F., Parks Air Force Base, Cal.
. . . Alan Paton presented a good picture of what South Carolina is doing to improve her Negroes. This problem must be solved gradually— segregation cannot be removed overnight and be expected to work. South Carolina realizes her situation and is taking the best steps to accomplish even better racial understanding. Americans must be patient as progress is made.
— WILTON F., Anderson, S.C.
. . . For the first time in my thirty-three years, I’m glad I’m not going to live forever. I don’t want to be around to see the white race vanish and, in its place, a strange half-breed mixture emerge . . .
— ANNE M., Van Nuys, Cal.
. . . If non-segregation really were the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there would not be a single colored person living in the South. All would have left for “the promised land” of the North. Freedom will live in America only so long as local self-government, guaranteed us under the Constitution, is respected. No nine men can make laws to replace the will of the people. The white race will not be destroyed, but will live to carry the light of Christianity and of civilization . . .
— MARTHA P., Paris, Tenn.
. . . Hogwash. I defy you to show me any man in this world who does not have a greater sin on his soul than attempting to keep his race and that of the Negro pure.
— STEPHEN L., San Antonio, Tex.
. . . No government on earth can tell individuals whom they must associate with. There are distinct barriers of social custom even within the white race.
As for the churches' acceptance of Negroes, it has been coming a long time—anything else would be inconsistent with their spirit—but one is not necessarily intimate friends with all one’s fellow churchgoers. Left alone, the South would have worked out its “separate but equal” program to the betterment of both races. Now stiffened opposition from the white people will usher the Negro back— not forward.
— MRS. W. M. C., Grand Prairie, Tex.
. . . As a transplanted Southerner, I blush for shame at some of the quotations of the Southern people. If there are any second-class Americans it surely must be those narrow-minded whites. I am thankful that in the West my children can be taught the equality of all Americans and not that they are superior because they happen to be a different color than other people . . .
— JAYNE W., McGill, Nev.
. . . Alan Paton, shown with Lieutenant Melvin Scott (below), says: “It was unforgettable to see him saluted by white soldiers . . .”What Army was Paton visiting? In the U.S. Army, no man salutes another man, either white or Negro. It is the officer’s rank that is saluted, not the man himself.
— L. E. M., Bellefontaine, Ohio
. . . I’ve never watched a white soldier salute a Negro officer, but I’ve watched and heard white students cheer for a Negro member of our local high-school football team. And I’ve watched white girls dance with him, too. So I have also felt proud, as did Mr. Paton. May my fellow countrymen of the South soon learn to accept a person for his character, rather than the color of his skin.
— ELSIE S., Oakley, Idaho
Source: “Letters,” Collier’s, 26 November 1954, 18.