Lerone Bennett, Jr., John Hope Franklin and Hoyt Fuller discuss the book "Distortions of Negro History"
BROADCAST: Jun. 3, 1965 | DURATION: 00:55:45
Discussing "Distortions of Negro History" and interviewing Lerone Bennett, Jr., John Hope Franklin and Hoyt Fuller.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Unknown The slave ships lie a mile below the town in Bonny river off the coast of Guinea. The wretched Negroes on being brought aboard ship are immediately fastened together. Two and two, by handcuffs on their wrists, and by irons riveted on their legs. They are frequently stowed so close as to admit of no other position than lying on their sides. Nor will the height between decks allow them to stand. On board some ships, the common sailors are allowed to have intercourse with such of the Black women whose consent they can procure. The officers are permitted to indulge their passions among them at pleasure. Whenever the sea is rough and the rain heavy, it becomes necessary to shut every conveyance by which air is admitted. The Negroes' rooms very soon grow intolerably hot and the confined air produces fevers and fluxes which carry off great numbers of them. One evening one of the Negroes forced his way through the network on the larboard side of the vessel, jumped overboard, and was devoured by the sharks. Circumstances of this kind are very frequent. Very few of the Negroes can bear the loss of their liberty and the hardships they endure.
Studs Terkel And thus, it is a a captain, or perhaps a doctor on a slave ship. In his log recounts an event that begins a a national, a colossal national shame. A saga tragic of a people who were brought here as things and the question to be raised- how far have we come in this matter of human beings in relation to one another in our country? Our three guests, very distinguished guests, professor Dr. John Hope Franklin, professor of American History, University of Chicago. Most distinguished authority on the subject. Who's been here and various countries of the world, lecturing writing. Hoyt Fuller, managing editor of the Negro Digest and Lerone Bennett Jr., who has been a guest on the program before. Senior editor of Ebony, and author of "Before the Mayflower," among several other books, too. We'll come to that. The question, Dr. Franklin, immediately arises in the minor news here is the captain's words. How far have we come really since the days of the slave ship when men were brought as things? This question of people as chattel. One- three hundred fifty years ago at least.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Well we haven't come far enough; one can say that without any hesitation. I think that there is still a basic inhumanity with regard to the question of the Negro in American life. There have been some refinements, some evasions of basic and fundamental principles, but when one looks at Alabama, or one when, when one looks at Mississippi, or when one looks at certain aspects of the conduct of peoples toward each other in Chicago, and in New York, and in Boston, what is impressed with the persistence of the of fundamental inhumanity in man's relationship with one another.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking Lerone, Lerone Bennett- you know the, the theme. This would be a free, freewheeling discussion dealing with myth, with history, with creativity, literature. In "Before the Mayflower," I know that you were quoting a number of times, you you you you quoted Dr. Franklin on his works in this matter of the beginnings, and remember you said something about an 1876's year, which Dr. Franklin is interested, it's one of the forthcoming books. 1876 is the centennial year of of of America. Declaration of Independence. Dr. Franklin, before the program mentions something about it, the first sit in occurred back then.
Lerone Bennett Yes, well, it was mentioned in connection with the year 1876. I think it's very interesting though and we were talking about a repetition earlier, that even earlier Frederick Douglass and many of the people involved in what I call the first America's first freedom movement, the abolitionist movement, many of the people involved in that movement used the sit-in technique. They use freedom songs. They went to jail and kept the jailers awake all night singing freedom songs at night. Many of the techniques we see now, in Selma, and in other places in America, many of these techniques were invented and used for the first time by by the abolitionists. And as Dr. Franklin has indicated, we've had sit-ins technique being used repeatedly throughout American history and attempts to to crack this basic and fundamental inhumanity at the very core of our national life.
Studs Terkel Hoyt-
Dr. John Hope Franklin I have a theory about this, in that one of the difficulties is that we got off to a bad start. I'm not thinking so much as about the the terrible tragedy of slavery as I am about the willingness on the part of the Founding Fathers to make a distinction between freedom, on the one hand for all human beings, and political independence on the other. It's at this point that we begin to hedge, and rationalize, and excuse, and explain. And we've had to do it from that point on. It would have been, it seems to me, much easier had we got started in our national life on a broad base. If we had said we really and truly believe in freedom, independence, political and human independence for everybody, and if we fought for that in 1876, then we wouldn't have these problems now.
Studs Terkel 1776-
Dr. John Hope Franklin In 1776. We wouldn't have these problems now. But, instead of that, we made the distinction. We fought for political independence, and at the very same time, made significant steps for the preservation of the institution of slavery. Now how you can reconcile that to the Declaration of Independence, you see, is something I am unable to do. And no American has been able to do it from that day to this.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Well the point is that, that's, that's, that's just what I'm talking about. When you start out like this, you can't turn back, or it's difficult to turn back. We haven't found out how yet. So, we have to, we have to continue this ambivalence, you see. This pulling and giving, and giving and pulling, and we just haven't worked it out
Lerone Bennett And yet, to continue that, from, from the beginning, of course, we made this, we made a fundamental compromise and we have made repeated compromises throughout our history. The Missouri Compromise, the compromise, the bargain of 1877, which is another national compromise. And we have contended repeatedly throughout our history to compromise at crucial junctures. Now again, we face a choice, and I'm afraid that again we're going to try to compromise and because what the kids in the South are doing, they they are forcing a confrontation between the funda- between America and America. Between two two different concepts of America. And it seems to me that at some point, if this country is going to survive, we're going to have to make a decision between two Americas which have existed in this country for- since our beginning.
Studs Terkel It occurs to me, this word- when this word compromise, which is a euphemism for rationalization, too. You mentioned the year 1877. It's fascinating. The year after, as though the second century of America begins. There was a compromise. Perhaps I know- we know too little of the subtext of American history. The reconstruction period. That something happened to put an end to it, rather quite prematurely. The compromise of 1877. Dr. Franklin-
Dr. John Hope Franklin Well, what happened in 1877 was merely a recognition of the breakdown of the federal government's role in reconstruction. What I think ought to remember here is that the federal government had not done very much anyway. It enacted some laws in 1867 which did disenfranchise some whites and enfranchise some Negroes. But there was very little follow through. We talk about withdrawal of federal troops, the moment the government were estab- first let's- there are two things to remember. First, that when the war was over in 1865, and the federal government had the opportunity to establish very far reaching broad gauged policies with regard to the South, it did not- nothing of the kind. And they withdrew virtually all of the troops from the South in 1865. Then the reign of terror, then the Black Codes, then all of the other things which, which the South did when the former Confederates were in- back in power as they were within a matter of months, weeks, after the war was over. And as a result of this, of course, the government was literally pushed into doing something and it passed the new legislation which disfranchised a considerable number of Southerners and which enfranchised some, some Negroes. But the point further is, that as this happened, the federal government once more withdrew its troops, you see. And and the general policy of withdraw, disengagement, was the policy which the United States government followed all during the reconstruction period. Now things did get so bad in some places that President Grant sent some more troops back, you see. Various places. And this is what we think of when we speak of the withdrawal of troops in 1877. There weren't many down there, you see, to be withdrawn. So, it becomes more symbolic than anything else. But, but the thing that it symbolizes is the culmination of the disengagement of the, of the federal government in the South and the and the finishing of the task as it were, of turning its back on the problem. Which had been, which had never really been faced or certainly had not been solved.
Hoyt Fuller No-
Studs Terkel I'm going to say while the troops were there, this question, I'm sure, fascinates me, fascin- everyone. But while the troops, federal troops, were there, was there not during the reconstruction period, a beginning? At least on the part of the young whites of the South, of an acceptance? And would that not have been, this is conjecture, of course, but had they not been prematurely withdrawn, would there not have been a more democratic aspect to our country to the South
Lerone Bennett Well, I- there is evidence, of course, that in several places, especially in among the lower income, among the lower poor whites as their called, they believe that the new order would be permanent. And believing that it would be permanent, they accepted it. There's a tendency on the part of people, all kinds of people, to accept a fait de accompli, to acceptance a revolution backed by overwhelming force. Had this, had the federal government maintain a posture in the South, had it articulated and organized a complete and positive program of reconstruction, which would have had to involve several other things, I'm sure and that our whole problem would have been fantastically different today. I think the Negro revolution today, the problems in Selma, the problems in all the Black Belt counties in the South, are a direct result of our failure to, to emancipate the Negro in 1865, and out of the failure failure of the federal government to bring forth some kind of program for the reconciliation of of American and for reconciliation of Negro and white Americans.
Dr. John Hope Franklin The point the point to remember too is that there were large numbers of whites in the south who did not support the Confederacy during the Civil War. Who who favored the Union, who supported the idea of the Union, and these were the people who were enfranchised, who were never disfranchised, as a matter of fact. And who participated in the reconstruction government, you see. When the government turned its back on reconstruction, it not only deserted the Negro, it deserted these southerners. These white southerners, who at least were were groping and grappling with the problem, and who perhaps might have come up with a more satisfactory solution than that which did occur. But when the government deserted the reconstruction program, it left the white sout- white loyal southerner, and if one might use the term the more liberal of the whites southerners, really at the mercy of the the powerful lawless groups that had coalesced with the former ruling class to overturn reconstruction and to launch what we call the bourbon governments in the south.
Studs Terkel Of course, quite clearly, we're talking all- I think it's quite clear that we're talking about 1965, as well as 1876. The implications obviously are there. This question, well Hoyt, that Dr. Franklin and Lerone Bennett raised. I noticed the phrase Dr. Franklin will not use. He is [unintelligible] in the phrase double-cross, but I can use it. This that that the white then- this other white whose instincts are egalitarian, humanitarian of the South. He was taken too, as well as the Negro. Isn't that the tragedy here? It's double-edged, is it not?
Hoyt Fuller Yes. I was wondering as Dr. Franklin and Lerone Bennett were talking, if either of them had read this new book by Ginsburg and as a co-author, whose name I can't think, called "The Troublesome Presence."
Hoyt Fuller You're reading it now- which got so much attention in in the press, as as this kind of book does. And it seems to me that it's, it's really harmful. So many of the books that deal with American history relative to the Negro are. They are saying, in essence, in this book, that the federal government, it seems to me that this is what they're saying, that the federal government has done in the past all that it could to ensure the equality of the Negro, but that their efforts failed. And then they go on for several hundred pages in this book and it seems to me that the several hundred pages are wasted because this basic premise is is erroneous. And you just illustrated it in what you said. The federal government did not do all it could to ensure equality for Negroes. At no point has it ever done it.
Lerone Bennett I I have spoken, and talked to and Franklin has and spoken also about some of the myths of American history, and I I think one of the persistent and enduring myths of American history is this myth of good emancipation, and the myth, the bad reconstruction. And this method asserts essentially that we gave Negroes their freedom, and that they they wasted it. They threw it away in a righteous carnival of corruption and ignorance. And this myth as you, you can find it in our popular media. I'm finding a lot of scholarly books. And as a result of this idea-
Lerone Bennett As a result of this idea, people are not prepared mentally to deal with the problems of the day because they have not been given a proper foundation for an understanding of what happened after slavery and during the reconstruction period.
Dr. John Hope Franklin [Unintelligible] of the thesis that you that you described. And which, of course, is so common as Lerone had suggested in other places. It is, it is essentially from my point of view a a defeatist position of view anyway. Not only is it erroneous, it is in the term, in terms of being, its being historically inaccurate, but it, but it suggests that, that since these, these great remedies have been exhausted, that is the federal route is a bit exhausted, that there's nothing to be done. As a matter of fact, as Lerone suggested, the federal government has has, through the years, done not only not enough, but very, very little. I was reading just the just this last summer I was doing some research in the National Archives and I was reading in the Justice Department files for well, you would think it would have been a hundred or so years ago, but it was for the 1930s. The New Deal period. I don't know if you remember the 1930s are a period of unusual violence in the South. Great, great violations of human dignity and the destruction of human life.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Yes. Lynching and that sort of thing. I remember, I was a student at Fisk University at the time when a posse of white Southerners came to the edge of the campus and took a boy out who had committed the offense serious offence of striking a Negro- a white child with his bicycle and happened to hit him. They took him out and lynched him. It was a lot of this. The Justice Department files are literally filled with letters, protests, resolutions, from hundreds and hundreds of Negro organizations and Negro individuals as just people pleading with the government to do something. And the government did not do so much as lift a hand. As a matter of fact, there was a form letter which was which was attached to each one of these letters that came in. A form letter from Attorney General calling attention to the fact that the jurisdiction of the government of the United States did not extend to such matters and suggesting that they get in touch with the local authorities. Those the people of course whom the Negroes were running from-
Dr. John Hope Franklin In the absence of concern, the absence of intervention, the, the refusal to participate, the refusal to guarantee the rights set forth so clearly in things like the 14th and 15th amendments- This has been the story. Not merely of of 1870 and 71, but it's been the story of the 1930s and 40s and too much so in the 50s and 60s-
Dr. John Hope Franklin But, if you go back and look at that law it's very elaborate and rather extensive. The point is that it hasn't been used since 1870. This is the tragedy. You're right in the sense that they have not even gone to the trouble of seeing whether or not the laws are adequate. Therefore, they have to go back to 1870. But, I think that this is a significant difference that the government is, you can say what you want to do about Katzenbach or the others, but they aren't sitting in Washington sending out form letters saying that this is not our concern, you see. And and it seems to me that, in this sense, there is some there is some difference-
Dr. John Hope Franklin It's
Dr. John Hope Franklin It is, it is inconceivable for example, that the government of the United States today could could maintain an aloofness and an indifference such as that which had maintained 20 odd years ago.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Well there are hundreds of reasons if we want to get into that. But, but, you see, if you look at the long, long pull here and when you see as we have seen and as we've been talking about, Negroes protesting, protesting, protesting, for the last hundred years there is nothing that is being said now by Negroes that wasn't said about as eloquently by the newly emancipated slaves in the summer of 1865. They were protesting against precisely the same things that they're protesting against today. But, there there been new ingredients added. One has been, like it or not, and satisfied with it or not, the involvement of the government of the United States. We- you don't have to be- you don't have to say it's enough involvement, I think it's not enough involvement. I would say that. I'd be the first to say that. But, one of the main differences that is that- there are others, too. There are others too. But, but Negroes are so experienced to this with a hundred years of doing the same thing over and over again. Picketing, boycotting, they were doing that many, many years ago. Sitting in, they were doing that many, many years ago. But, there are new ingredients now. One of them is is this, this which is of course the result of the international situation. Enormous pressure brought to bear by the by the Negroes' political power. It's it's to take nothing away from the senator, the senior senator of New York City, from, from the state of New York. It's not to take nothing away from him, to say that there is, in New York, a tremendous political power wielded by Negroes. Which might have something to do with his, not only his interest, but his anxiety in the area of civil rights.
Studs Terkel So, this element of power, can we touch upon this? Articulateness and power- is obviously key. Earlier, Hoyt, Hoyt Fuller asked a question, but why? And it comes to the matter of myth. This- the myth by which we still live. You mentioned earlier, Dr. Franklin, Hoyt, the Black Codes. We know we were continuously told, not less and less, I think, Americans believe it, I trust, that legislation, you know. And the enforcement of legislation cannot change. You know, this cliche cannot change the hearts of men. Yet they were indeed changed by the Black Codes, weren't they? When Jim Crow laws became part of the order of the day. That was done by legislation, was it not?
Dr. John Hope Franklin Oh yes, segregation was done by legislation and therefore, it obviously it could be undone by legislation. It's amazing what law can do when it's on your side. I think we've- I don't think many people who understand and know history, or many people with some capacity for observing, would say that, as William Graham Sumner said many years ago, state ways cannot change folk ways. This was in line with the the social Darwinism, the notion that, that the natural order of things was whatever unfolded, whatever developed. We know now what kinds of reform can be affected with the use of use ofpolitical power, wtih the use of legislation, et cetera. And, and of course, well it's very desirable to change the hearts of men. You don't have- no one has any constitutional rights to change the hearts of men. But one does have constitutional and legal rights to be protected from the from the savagery of men whose hearts are characterized-
Dr. John Hope Franklin That's
Hoyt Fuller Yes, and I was reading a book recently called "Black Champion," about the life of Jack Johnson which was a very interesting book. Have either of you read it? But, one of the more interesting incidents in the book, to me, was an experience that Jack Johnson had in Mexico. Well, Jack Johnson, of course, broke the social taboos by marrying a series of white women. But, he'd gone down to Mexico and there was this memo that the State Department had sent to, to American agents in Mexico City, saying "Watch this negro." I presume that they used the word Negro because he's down there propagating these social ideas of miscegenation and he's very dangerous. And keep your eye on him. And in fact, this is what the memo said-
Dr. John Hope Franklin Of course, don't forget either that our own government was very anxious to see to it that in World War I, and I suppose too in World War II, that Negroes did not associate with, with, with Europeans on a base of equality, and sent out a lot of instructions to the French in this in this regard. So, it was, as you say, it was actively-
Hoyt Fuller Well, in World War II too, the policy of the the war- the Department of War, and the army, and, and the Navy, I'm sure, that of putting white Southern officers over Negro units, you see. And, of course, at that time, the unwritten law was, perhaps what was written, I don't know, that no Negro officers would command white troops and no Negro officers would be higher in the same unit than white officers. And and the policy was to put white Southern commanding officers over Negro troops because, of course, they knew how to handle them.
Lerone Bennett I think the problems even, even if possibly even more basic than that. It would go back at least to the the passage of the reconstruction legislation which was inadequate, but it was passed. And it's astounding today to realize the Supreme Court gutted this legislation- was largely responsible, I think, I think you could say this, is largely responsible for limiting the effectiveness of the federal government and implementing the fourteenth and fifteenth amendment. And again, a certain way, in Plessy versus Ferguson, the Supreme Court which is today, which just changed considerably, but the Supreme Court in Plessy versus Ferguson, placed a stamp of approval on separate but equal facilities. And I think even more astounding is the fact this idea of the separate police powers of the state as opposed fed- local government states' rights as opposed to the power- the federal government to to step in and to protect the rights of United States citizens everywhere and anywhere. And this was certainly a policy of the Supreme Court. Certainly, down to the New Deal period that began to change in the New Deal period and certainly in the 40s. And since this time, it's been moving in the direction of human rights.
Studs Terkel And I can help but I think of a fascinating point made by Russell Barrett, who is a teacher at Ole Miss. When the adviser of James Meredith in his recent book, "Integration Ole Miss," points out that Governor White, who was a predecessor of Ross Barnett, was quite surprised when the excellent Supreme Court decision came to by the phrase with all deliberate speed, because he expected a date set, and all deliberate speed was the- all, of course, all that was needed for me meaning never. So, here, even with the excellent Supreme Court decision, there was this, this vague phrase that provided the avenue for resistance
Dr. John Hope Franklin Yes, I was going to say in connection with the new role of the government- I wasn't speaking earlier to just of the executive, certainly not the of legislature- legislative branch if at all. But, more so, the court. If if any agency in the nineteenth century, I think, was was the most responsible for restricting the rights of any group, it was a United States Supreme Court. In Dred Scott decision which declared that Negro was not and could not be a citizen, then all of the decisions just in the reconstruction period, which struck down much of the 1870-1871 legislation that was- it was designed to try to protect Negroes in exercising their political rights. And then, of course, in their own suggested in the Plessy case, and then in the Williams case in 1889, when this county in Georgia had- following up the separate but equal doctrine of 1896. In 1899, one county in Georgia had a high school for white children and no high school for Negroes, and the Supreme Court upheld that. you see, that's how far it had gone. I think we sometimes overlook
Dr. John Hope Franklin Overlook the doctrine in what I call the Williams case, which was which is really gone much beyond in its in its support of inequality. The Plessy case. This is the court that has been so far ahead of the other branches of government in recent years.
Lerone Bennett I think it's interesting, too. And perhaps you'd like to add something to this. During this period and, and again unfortunately white and Negro children are not taught this sufficiently, I think in our schools. John Marshall Harlan, I believe, in a series of brilliant and eloquent sense- a white Southerner. Stood almost alone in opposition to the court, especially in the post-reconstruction-
Lerone Bennett In a series of eloquent dissents. He said the court would rue the day, you know. And that said essentially what this court is saying now, and I think it's unfortunate from the standpoint of understanding what has happening today and understanding ourselves, that Negro and especially white children are not sufficiently informed about this element of of the United States Supreme Court policy and especially about the eloquent posture of this white Southerner, who oppose the courts drift in the late, latter part of the nineteenth century.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Yes, as a matter of fact I- it's it's very interesting that in much the same way that the court finally came to adopt the dissents of Brandeis and Holmes, it has really adopted the dissents of Mr. Justice Harlan, for, I think it, as you said, the decisions in the in the civil rights cases, I mean the dissent- the dissenting opinions of Harlan and the civil rights case, rights cases in 1883, and his dissent in the Plessy case in 1896, really set forth the spirit that you find in the in Brown against Topeka of 1954, and of the other decisions that the Supreme Court has handed down with regard to saving use in recent years.
Studs Terkel Now I'm thinking before we touch on this, this depressing treadmill aspect of history of the Negro in America, and the rationalization, and the myths, Dr. Franklin mentioning earlier about history. History books don't tell us this. Is something happening? In fact, there is a subtext, you spoke of young white child who are unaware say Harlem's dissents and all. The history of the Negro in America is not really not textbooks really, is it? Or is it now- is there a beginning, now I'm wondering because this matter of our own education being so benighted.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Well I don't want to get too deeply involved in this, because I I myself am am very much interested in it. I think one of the great tragedies of of this whole problem is the, is the absence of information and the lack of training and education that our young people are getting about their own history. When I say we our young people, I mean the young people of America. I'm not talking about any, any particular race. And one of the terrible things is the extent to which the people who write the books, and people who publish the books, are subjected to intimidation, imagined or real, by various elements of our population. So, that what they do is to produce books that they hope will be adopted by textbook commissions and state boards of education and county boards of education. They don't really care what's in them. So that, I'll give you, I'll give you an example. There are very few high school or junior high school textbooks in American History today that use the term Civil War. Now, this is because the publishers insist that if the term Civil War is used, some Southern school board will not buy five hundred or a thousand or whatever number of copies they might otherwise buy, you see. So, they all call it The War Between the States or some other kind of euphemism. That itself represents a lack of courage and lack of willingness to face up to the problems- that's merely symbolic. Another example, I was examining this textbook not long ago, which had no less than two pictures of Robert E. Lee, beautiful portrait of him and another on his horse. And no picture of a Union general. Not one picture of a Union, Union general. Not even a picture of Grant or Sherman. This also would please a certain public.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Oh, of course not. That's out of the question- was the idea being that that whereas a Northern school board doesn't really care, one way or the other, a Southern school board does care. A Southern school board is aggressive in its insistence that its, that its rights, and its- the history of the South be recognized. So that, so that we have books that really, in a sense, have catered to a Southern reading public. This is, you know, I would, I would say that this is kind of- this a part you speak of-ba- double-cross. But I would describe another thing here. This is a part, this is as much a part of a kind of bargain. The kind of understanding, as the matter of the withdrawal of troops in 1877. In other words, that the intellectual victory has been won to a considerable extent by the South as it has, as it's won other victories after the Civil War. So that the the children of this country are are being cheated.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Double-crossed, yes. Because of this kind of enormous influence which is wielded by by certain Southerners. Let me, let me, at this moment, take some of the blame off the South. Much of this blame ought to be placed up and down Madison and Park Avenues in New York. For frequently, the publishers don't know what they're talking about, and I doubt seriously that they are many school boards in the south today, that would rankle at the term Civil War. But as long as the Northern house believes that that it will object, it wouldn't dare offend. So that the the business of of coddling a section is carried on in New York. And much, I suppose you know also, that some New York publishers have different editions of the same book. One for the North and one for the South. They they are very advanced now in some instances so that the little readers, they interracial groups. You know, Dick and Jane and whatever they are. They might be Negro and white if it's going to be used in some Northern community. But the same edition of that book, if it's used, if it's being planned for a Southern community, has all-white children playing and no Negroes at all.
Lerone Bennett It's also addition, an additional problem, I think where we ought to place some blame. Many, many teachers, many experts in their field, are totally ignorant of the work of Dr. Franklin, of Dubois, Carter Woodson-
Lerone Bennett And they have no idea that that Negroes would appear in certain places. That to leave aside the the policy angle of the Civil War. But, to give an example, I talked to an expert, a person who had been working in this period for about 30 years- a white expert on the Civil War on and the Revolutionary War period on a photographic angle. And I asked for some pictures on George Washington crossing the Delaware of the Boston Massacre and this kind of thing. And this expert told me, well I have examined these pictures every day for 30 years, I can tell you absolutely there are no Negroes on those pictures. I told her- and that I thought she was mistaken, or did she leave her phone and go back and look at them. The Negro is right in the middle of the picture. You can't miss him. Especially George Washington crossing the Delaware and at Boston Massacre. So, she left the phone, and she went back she looked at the picture, and she came back and she said you know Mr. Bennett, I've been looking at those pictures for 30 years, every day, and there are Negroes on those pictures. I didn't see them.
Lerone Bennett A trained, a trained incapacity, you know. A trained blindness. Which is, which is prevalent among many experts, and many teachers, who don't expect to find Negroes in a Civil War in uniform. They would expect to find them as slaves, but somehow, we've overlooked the fact that Negroes participated in this war as soldiers and played a very heroic role in it. They don't expect to find Negroes participating in the American Revolutionary War. And so, therefore, they pass on our completed distorted picture of the period to their children, Negroes
Dr. John Hope Franklin James Baldwin calls this a phantom in the eyes of the Republic. They just don't, they just don't see it- just don't see them. I was- there was a book published and widely read several years ago in which the author said that the Negro was the only group in the history of the world that had had its freedom handed to him without any efforts on its own on his own part. Not only does this ignore the hundred and eighty-six thousand Negroes that fought in uniform in the Civil War, but it ignores all the Negroes who fought against slavery from the time they were put on this ship-
Studs Terkel This condition blindness, a myth again- myth and. This condition blindness by educators, of course. I think, who is deprived by this? As you say, the children of America. Everybody is. But then we hear so much of schizophrenia, you know, this schizophrenic world around Schizophrenic Society. Here is the most clear-cut case of schizophrenia yet, stemming, you speak of Woodrow Wilson, and indeed Jefferson himself, I believe, on this matter, you see. So, Hoyt-
Hoyt Fuller It's an attitude that pervades all expression, literature in particular. Negro, Negro writers have this problem of of having their work categorized automatically and dismissed. And the reader, I think, Ralph Ellison used the phrase and explaining it that white readers wrap their skin around them when they come to work by and about Negroes, and of course, they withdraw from it, you see. It's very easy to dismiss it, to dismiss its message, and to pretend that it's something that it's not. We categorize Negro literature as protest literature. And in this sense, protest is used pejoratively. And, of course, if its protest and we don't need to consider it as serious literature and, of course, it's dismissed this way.
Dr. John Hope Franklin Yes, I could give you a very concrete personal example of this. I wrote a book a number of years ago called "The Militant South." It was an effort to try to explain the, the psychological, cultural, and historical factors which caused itself to develop a kind of belligerence stance of deliciosity. And and I think there, I think there are, in the experiences of the South, these adequate explanations for these attitudes. Well, the Harvard University Press was reading the book and considering it for publication and they sent it to a very distinguished white Southern historian, who read it with interest. And he- his principal comment on on the manuscript was that if Harvard University was interested in a view of the South by a Negro, then this was a view of the South by a Negro. [laughing] And I said to the director Harvard University Press, well I'm afraid this isn't what you got. I'm afraid I wasn't looking at the South as a Negro. I was, I was looking at it as a as a historian trying to discover some of these things that caused the South to tick the way it ticks. And and if you if looking for that, then you if you're looking for a Negro's view of the South, then you don't have it. But Harvard University Press was not looking for that until they published the book. But this is another example of it. I was- I happened to have not been talking about Negroes in the book, I was talking about white Southerners, so that I become immediately an outsider, you see. Who who who can only look at this as an outsider, as a Negro, and therefore it's somehow lacking in validity.
Studs Terkel Interesting is we're talking, how this blindness penetrates every stratum of our society, it seems. You talkin' now, it's a matter of education, that matter of Historian, a matter of Madison Avenue, Park Avenue publishers of books. You spoke of the aggressive insistence of the Southern school boards and obviously, by implication, there is a capitulation by the North. In short, the Confederacy did win the war between the states
Lerone Bennett Intellectually anyway. I'd like to add, just add one example of what Hoyt was talking about. I don't think we realize the extent to which we do this kind of thing. For example, Broadway. A Broadway, Broadway critics. Literate critics all across the country received James Baldwin's play, "Blues for Mister Charlie," as a protest play. And yet, these same critics, literate men presumably, pronounced Arthur Miller's protest play, "Incident at Vichy," and it's a protest play, that's a profound and meaningful statement on the troubles of our times, you see. Arthur Miller wrights a profound document, James Baldwin writes a
Lerone Bennett It's the business of of feeling accused, you know? Inherent in in in the Negroes writing honestly about the American experience. There's this business, the overtone of accusation, you see. Because, the White community is guilty of degrading Black citizens. And and if a Negro writes honestly about these experiences, there is that element of accusation there. And of course, they react to this.
Studs Terkel And I'm thinking as to who is being cheated? Well of course, the Negro is, going back to the history books. You know, this guilt, not only is it degrading of the Negro, but of himself quite obviously, because I'm thinking the cheating that goes on- if the child, the student, does not know of Frederick Douglass, does not know W.E.B. Du Bois, he's deprived of an eloquence that is so much part to enrich enriching the American scene. So, he's cheated. There's a there's a, an all around gyp. Quite obviously.
John Hope Franklin Of course, the great tragedy is not only not only, not does he not know about Du Bois, and Douglass, and all of the others, Negroes who played some important part in American History, but he gets the impression, the erroneous and profoundly tragic impression, that that he and his kind are the only people who have been important in American life. And having and being cultivated and trained with that point of view, he will carry on into adulthood of this same attitude and we will have the problem we created all over again. I have said this, that if we solve the problem, all the problems related to Civil Rights tomorrow, that is Negroes get all jobs we're entitled to if they voted as they pleased, if they lived where they pleased, and we still use the same books, teach our children, we would be recreating in our schools the sort of imbalance and injustice that has characterized our civilization up to this point. In other words, certainly a very important ingredient in the Civil Rights Revolution, or whatever you want to call it, is an intellectual reorientation, which must come in our schools and all of our, all of our intellectual lives.
Lerone Bennett To add to that, it also gives, as you said. Our books give white children a sense of exclusive identification with this land and with this country. But in addition to that, it has a fantastic impact, I think, on the minds of Negro children. We're taught to them marginal to this this project. Our books saying, in fact, that you had nothing to do with this. We created this without you. You're marginal to our entire project. And I wouldn't be at all surprised, I've said that I think that a great many of our problems with with disturbed Negro youth stem from from tragic deficiencies in our educational system. Not only in the textbooks, but also, I think in in the minds as as- of some of the teachers who approach Negro children with this attitude, because they are not aware of the crucial role Negroes have played in American, and distinguished roles Negroes played in American history. And from the books, and from their minds they pass on, consciously or unconsciously, to Negro children this idea that you are completely marginal to this project. You must, you must read about what other people have created here and that you must toe the mark some idiotic idea which is psychologically shattering to children.
Dr. John Hope Franklin I was just saying I wonder if you have, if you're familiar with a book published in 1891, by a Negro school teacher in North Carolina named E.A. Johnson. It's called "School History of the American Negro." And after teaching for 11 years, he said, out of the U.S. History textbooks, this is in 1891- he said he was so appalled and so disturbed by the fact that everything that was mentioned in the textbooks had to do with whites, and he wondered what this was doing to these Negro children who were being told, in so many words, that they mus- they were spectators. They had no role, no part or anything. And he was writing this book in 1891 to try to make amends, to try to establish some kind of balance. And I quoted that the other day in a talk that I made, and without giving the date, and as people sat back, and I was certain they felt that it was something terribly current. I then said that no it's not 1965, this was written in 1891. But it could've been written-
Hoyt Fuller Well, I had an experience in in high school. I went- of course the high school or I went to is about 98, or 99 percent Negro now, but at the time there were fewer than 10 percent of the students were Negroes. And we had this history teacher, a woman who was renowned in the educational system for being such a wonderful history teacher, but she hated Negroes. And especially lively ones, and I was a lively one. And I, in this history class, I was the only Negro in the class, and when we got to the pi- we had Mussy. We used Mussy as a textbook. And and when we got to the Civil War era in the book, she would make all these statements, you know. About Negroes having contributed nothing to American History, and being given their freedom, and all that sort of thing, and there I sat in the middle of the class. The only Negro there, and there's a woman standing up there making these grand statements. It's terrible.
Studs Terkel Thinking of this, as Hoyt is recounting this experience, truth can be multiplied a million-fold. Well, as you say, the he becomes the [German]. To borrow a phrase from a friendly country, and the other kid becomes the [German]. And so, we have it. His lack of- he's deprived of a sense of personal worth, whereas the white kid his sense of personal worth is distorted. And thus, both are the losers. I'm thinking as we're talking, the hour has gone. This is incredible. I hope we can have a sequel to this, because obviously with Dr. John Hope Franklin, Lerone Bennett Jr., and Hoyt Fuller, the three men deeply involved with America, history ourselves. Myth, truth, reality. We live in 1965. We've been living, our guests just generally talking about the history of America. 1776. Dr. Franklin's book, hope will soon be forthcoming. A certain year the Centennial- the 1876. Lerone Bennett's books available, "Before the Mayflower," "The Negro mood," in "What Manner of Man." Hoyt Fuller's book will soon be forthcoming. Dr. Franklin has several books, and I- may I suggest that I know a great many parents are listening, you want- we speak of the fullfil child. We want to fulfil a child, well this is one way. I would say big step number one. And earlier, the discussion just to- not summarizes, a matter of interpretation of law. Somehow a law can be interpreted in many ways, and we trust that our federal government won't interpret it in a way that is meaningful to human beings, as well as to words and things. Oh I should mention, too, that perhaps since you mentioned intellectual orientation that Rockford College recently had a very marvelous week, didn't it? Creativity of the league in which all three of you took part-
Dr. John Hope Franklin Yes, I don't know when I've seen anything more exciting than the festival on the creativity of the Negro, which was held in Rockford College over a period of several days in early March. And I, I do believe that it represents a kind of involvement on the part of faculty and students, which is in the direction that we have been suggesting that America might move to recognize creativity, wherever it is. And in this instance, the creativity, the creativity of the Negro. I think Rockford College is to be saluted and congratulated for its effort.
Studs Terkel So, that's a step number one, at least for colleges and universities to open the eyes of sleeping puppy dogs, you know? And thus, perhaps the puppy dogs of America, all indeed, can have open eyes and no more blindness. We trust a great deal of work ahead, but the challenge is there, quite obviously. And thanks to Dr. John Hope Franklin, Lerone Bennett, and Hoyt Fuller. Three articulate men who are trying to open our eyes. Thank you very much.