A.M. “Mac” Secrest gained national attention with these October 2, 1962 editorials on desegregation and issues at Ole Miss
Mississippi: Who’s Responsible?
The carnival atmosphere at the campus of Ole Miss over the weekend was entirely out of place when one considers the gravity of the crisis created by Gov. Ross Barnett.
This was not a football game. There was no occasion for cheerleaders, shouting crowds, and the waving of confederate flags. One wonders where on earth students of the University have been the last ten years. One cannot help but question the caliber of education offered students who don’t know any better than this.
But if their elders don’t show good judgment, one should not expect too much of the young people who look to them for guidance. What of the law enforcement officers in Mississippi, who took an oath to uphold the laws of the United States as well as those of Mississippi? Would they not have been held personally responsible for their actions, if they had followed their governor rather than their president?
What about the legislators who pass laws that obviously are unconstitutional and who make inflammatory statements calculated to make things worse? What of the teachers, clergy, editors, and other civic leaders who bear responsibility for guiding the public?
What of the voters, who elected Ross Barnett on a platform of civil disobedience? They elected him with their eyes wide open, for no one can deny that Barnett did exactly what he always vowed he would.
There are a few encouraging signs of moderation and good sense, however, University officials and the registrar agreed to register James Meredith under a direct court order. A spokesman for the University faculty has said he doesn’t know of a single professor who would refuse to teach Meredith. A member of the student government has said that no one in the student body would harm Meredith when and if he is admitted. The editor of the student paper at the University of Alabama has said rioting student brought disgrace and dishonor to Ole Miss.
Two campus ministers publicly deplored the governor’s stand and insisted that all the students and teachers want is to keep the university open and get on with their work. The Southern Association of Colleges and Universities, which accredit southern schools, has threatened to withdraw recognition of Ole Miss unless political interferences with the school stops by Nov. 1.
Gov. Vandiver of Georgia has said that the people of Mississippi must accept court orders if they wish to remain part of the Union. He predicted that the state would suffer such harm if it persists in its present course that it might never recover. It is clear from the Governor’s Conference now in session in Florida that the South is no longer solid on these questions and that Barnett enjoys little support from his fellow governors from Dixie.
These are words of courage and common sense and offset the deplorable spectacle of other highly-placed or influential people either remaining silent out of excessive timidity or else supporting outrageous and extreme response to federal action
A Foolish Fear
Although the racial aspects of the dispute have been lost sight of in the clash between state and federal power, there can be no doubt that the Negro remains at the root of the crisis.
Gov. Ross Barnett said as much when, in announcing he was invoking the Doctrine of Interposition, he declared: “No white race that has been forced to accept amalgamation has ever survived.”
One cannot conceive of the governor’s taking an equally hard stand against the federal government has some other aspect of its power been involved. No, it is the Negro and he alone, after all the rationalizations have been advanced, who is the reason for the resistance.
Gov. Barnett’s epitaph for the white race sounds sort of silly when one realizes that one lone Negro student is seeking admittance to a university of some 6,000 white students. Nor is there any evidence that other Negroes are soon to follow.
The white race seems to be in a pretty healthy condition in such southern states as North Carolina and Virginia, where state colleges have been admitting Negroes for over ten years. Of course race mixing, intermarriage, and amalgamation are NOT at stake, no matter what Gov. Barnett claims.
Sovereignty Issue A Bogus One
The problem of integration has been overshadowed by the constitutional questions raised by Gov. Ross Barnett’s flouting of a court order and his refusal to permit the registration of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. The fact that Barnett finally bowed to superior force Sunday night does not change his views on the matter, nor will the violence and death that followed alter the legal issues at stake.
Both state and federal officials are agreed on that. The United States position is that federal law is paramount to state law. On matters pertaining to the Constitution, the federal courts have the authority to make final decisions and the right to expect that the executive branch of the government will see to it that they are enforced.
In matters of civil rights, the United States government holds that every citizen is entitled to the individual liberties guaranteed him by the Bill of Rights and that the 14th Amendment made the first nine amendments to the Constitution binding upon the states as well as upon the federal government. The 14th amendment guarantees, among other things, that each citizen is to be given equal protection of the laws.
Gov. Barnett even disputes the right of the Supreme court to judicial review, something that was clearly established almost from the beginning of the republic. In precedent after precedent, the courts have clearly established that there are implied powers not specifically stated in the Constitution which give Federal Courts, the Congress and the President a great many powers.
Nowhere in the Constitution will one find any mention of the National Labor Regulation Board, yet few people will argue with the right of such executive body to arbitrate labor disputes or with the right of the courts and the President to enforce the rulings of this body.
The question of state sovereignty was settled 110 years ago. The states are not sovereign. This is a misnomer. States rights, something quite different from sovereignty, do not include the right to disobey federal law as interpreted by the courts or to deprive any citizen of rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution.
Reactions Of Three Top Men In South Carolina
W.D. Workman, The Charleston News and Courier’s handpicked candidate for the Senate, last Friday planted himself firmly in Gov. Ross Barnett’s corner.
“I glory in his spunk and wish him every success,” Mr. Workman told his audience in Manning. He added that he was a South Carolinian first, a Southerner second, and a Republican third. No mention at all was made of his being an American. Somehow we doubt that the conservative voters of South Carolina are going to support a man who will not allow his claim to American citizenship to win, place or show.
It becomes increasingly and painfully clear that were Mr. Workman to go to Washington he would become identified with such men as Rep. Dale Alford and Sen. John Tower, who are of little intellectual or moral stature in the Congress.
They are not really representative of their own states, of course, but are isolated symptoms of a political maladjustment that occasionally afflicts democracy. The election of Mr. Workman would be interpreted, and rightly so, as evidence that South Carolina was moving away from the main streets of American political life. In the process the state would lose an influential voice at the national level.
Sen. Johnston, chided by The News and Courier for his discreet silence at the time that the President of the United States himself had not yet spoken out on the current crisis, and put on the defensive by Mr. Workman’s efforts to make some political capital out of the situation, said over the weekend that any use of troops by the President would be unconstitutional. This, of course, is inaccurate, as there are many precedents for the use of federal force during an emergency, extending all the way back to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.
The reaction of Johnston and Workman, however, to the Mississippi crisis underlines the difference between them. Both are segregationists, but Sen. Johnston at least relies on legal and constitutional arguments and would presumably, always keep his opposition to integration within the bounds of law and order, whereas Mr. Workman supports those who openly defy court orders and resort to force. There is no evidence to suggest that Sen. Johnston admires former Gen. Edwin A. Walker, but Mr. Workman appears to think the Walker typifies sound Americanism. Anyone with such poor judgment had better stay home.
Meanwhile, back at Spartanburg, Gov.-Nominate Donald S. Russell issued a statement that gives South Carolinians no cause whatever to feel reassured. Perhaps alarmed by COPE last week and scared to death by News and Courier’s reaction to it, Mr. Russell spoke admit tingly of Gov. Barnett’s “courage and resolution” and called his action in bringing down a full force of federal power upon Mississippi “invaluable to us in the South”.
Mr. Russell, who certainly ought to know better, supported a statement by Sen. Marion L. Gressette that “South Carolinians ought to rally to the support of Mississippi”. We wonder, if in the light of the later developments, Mr. Russell changed his mind. If he persists in this sort of myopic thinking, he will be well on his way, when governor, to losing accreditation for our state college and universities. Unless he exercises his authority and prestige as governor to lead this state away from extremism, he will one day be forced to padlock college doors.
Last week we expressed hope that Gov.-Nominate Russell would be the sort of man to lead his state along the path of moderation and reason. Now we are not so sure. Recalling Mr. Russell’s weakness in the Dean Travelstead case when he was president of the University of South Carolina, we needn’t be surprised.
Outcome on Delta Affects Us
Three people in South Carolina who want to see this state maintain its system of higher public education and keep the doors open at Clemson College, the University of South Carolina, and the Medical College of South Carolina will be glad that Gov. Barnett bowed to the United States and hope that he will ultimately be repudiated by the people of Mississippi themselves.
For if he should finally prevail in Mississippi, his only alternative would be to close the state university, assuming that Negro Applicant James Meredith holds firm in his determination to attend school there. A victory by radicals in Mississippi would strengthen the hand of the dwindling number of extremists in South Carolina. If they should gain the upper hand here, then we could expect the same sort of agony that the people of Mississippi are now enduring.
The state university system would be abandoned, higher education would suffer, and the economic opportunity of South Carolina now so bright, would grow dim indeed. If, however, moderation triumphs in Mississippi, which it well may, given a boost by a firm show of federal strength, then there will be little or no trouble in South Carolina when the time comes that one of our state institutions is ordered to admit a Negro student. Who knows, we might even be smart enough to anticipate a court order and do it voluntarily.
If we follow the example of Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, and North Carolina, rather than Mississippi and Alabama, in the matter of admitting qualified Negro students to our colleges, universities and graduate schools, our future will be much more secure.
If most people credit Gov. Ross Barnett with sincerity in his defense of state sovereignty, and most people do, however misguided they may believe him to be, why can’t the same credit be extended to James Meredith, Negro applicant at Ole Miss?
Some people say Meredith isn’t interested in getting an education there, and is a poor choice for the role. Others claim he’s being paid off by the NAACP. Maybe he is, but those who know him describe the slight, 29-year-old air force veteran as a “man with a mission”.
It takes exactly such a person to achieve what Meredith is after. Usually such people are quite sincere. That objective is far more important to them than any financial reward. Perhaps Meredith feels that he is fighting for a cause larger than himself, for the opportunity of future generations.
It was this same sort of fervor that prompted Negro grandmothers to walk to work for months in Birmingham rather than ride on segregated buses, the same sort of dedication that prompts Negro college students to run the risks inherent in sit-ins and freedom rides. No, one cannot dismiss the Negro urge for equality of opportunity as simply a desire to make a fast buck.
Most people define good race relations as simply the absence of conflict. But the younger generations of Negroes don’t see it that way. They understand that such a definition simply perpetuates the status quo. They view this as peace at any price, with Negroes meeting most of the costs. With most of the country behind their aspirations for a larger stake in American democracy, there is no chance that the new generation of Negro leaders will accept the old definition of good race relations.
They view good healthy race relations as an open and free exchange of opinion whereby differences are expressed and then worked out. The interaction of ideas and the compromise and changes which arise out of them spell real progress to them.
It is not easy to find a candidate for potential martyrdom such as James Meredith. South Carolina probably has one in Charleston’s Harvey Bernard Gantt, who has applied for admission to Clemson College.
Gantt said last week that when he enters Clemson he expects to find many white friends on the campus, adding that several students there had already been to see him and assured him of that. Whether or not you agree with Meredith and Gantt, you have to admire their courage and dedication.
The Yellow Press
In an editorial entitled “Law and Tyranny,” The Charleston News and Courier says the supremacy of federal over state law is not a closed case. In attacking what it considers the “tyranny” of the federal government, the editorial speaks of the “brute force” brought to bear against a sovereign state.
The editor argues that only marital law and bayonets will enforce court orders and quotes Churchill’s pledge to the British during World War II to fight on the beaches and in the fields.
“Armed subjugation of the South would be a long and thankless assignment,” the News and Courier warns. “We hope the lessons of history can be learned… . without bloodshed.”
The editor ends his editorial on “Law and Tyranny” with this paragraph: “The only antidote for tyranny is revolution. This country was founded in revolution by men who believed that liberty from time to time had to be nourished with blood of patriots.”
Now we ask you, is that the sort of journalistic leadership that South Carolina needs or deserves? It is precisely this sort of editorial agitation that is largely responsible for the situation in Mississippi today. Had the newspapers of that state fulfilled the obligations imposed upon them by the American Constitution, through its guarantee of a free press, to offer positive leadership over the last eight years, the people would not have been so easily misled by demagogues.
A neurotic compulsion to embrace lost causes seems to afflict the News and Courier. We don’t know whether this is symptomatic of a mental condition or just plain dumb. Deliberate worngheadedness is not so irritating as stupidity. It does seem that people would ultimately benefit from experiences. There is wisdom in assessing situations correctly and knowing when to stop tilting at windmills. There is virtue in yielding to superior power and adapting oneself to reality, even if it isn’t to our liking.