DECEMBER 10, 1964
The Bi-Racial Problem in the United States
AN ADDRESS BY
Mr. Cody Fowler,
FORMER PRESIDENT AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Lt. Col. Robert H. Hilborn
I rise to introduce our guest of honour with even greater diffidence than is my wont flanked as I am by this distinguished coterie whose selection would appear to have been based upon an outstanding reputation for eloquence as well as for eminence in a particular field. Better qualified, as any one of them is than I, professionally and rhetorically, to introduce our eminent guest, this, sir, is the Empire Club of Canada where, as our very name indicates, tradition, if indeed it ever passes, dies hard. I have the honour of its Presidency and, however falteringly, introduce you I must.
To a degree my task is made lighter as our guest of honour's fame has come before him into Canada. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Salada Foods Limited.
Mr. Fowler is a man of great stature within the legal profession. He heads one of the leading law firms in the Southern United States and is the South's leading Admiralty lawyer. As you will know, Sir, your profession in Canada employs British nomenclature to designate, perhaps less exactly than in Britain, the roles its members play. While the functions may not be clear, the terms of barrister, solicitor, et cetera are familiar to Canadian laymen but I gather that this is not necessarily so in your country. I recall that some years ago a group of Rotarians from my home town in Ontario were crossing the border at Niagara Falls to attend a district convention at Lockport in Upper New York State. In the party was one, who in addition to his own law practice, handled the Town of Preston's legal work. When Charlie's turn came with the American immigration official, in reply to the question of his occupation he said, "Solicitor." The official, startled, looked at Charlie and shook his head, "Well," he said, "I must say you're damn frank about it."
Speaking frankly, we in Canada understand, appreciate and honour one who has worthily upheld the duties of the titular head of over 180,000 American lawyers and who, subsequently, presided over the Inter-American Bar Association. One whose interest in and dedication to the principle of the brotherhood of man found him on the international scene representing the United States together with Commonwealth representatives at Australia's 50th Jubilee Celebration and domestically, in the forefront of the civil rights problem-municipally as Chairman of the Tampa Bi-Racial Committee; at the state level, when appointed by Governor Leroy Collins as Chairman of Florida's Bi-Racial Committee and federally, as an appointee of the late President Kennedy to the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
We, in Canada, have come to expect that when red hot prejudices are suddenly plunged into the cool element of reason, they will go off with a hiss. So we lay claim to having some basis for understanding the serious problems that the mixing of races, colours and creeds can create. We are looking forward to building upon this understanding by learning from one who has grappled with the problems with such conspicuous diligence and success.
Mr. Fowler has suggested, and we have been quick to agree to a question period following his remarks.
It is my privilege and high honour to present Mr. Cody Fowler, Attorney at Law of Tampa, Florida who will speak to us on the Bi-Racial situation in the United States.
I'm sure glad I'm in the right club. I'd hate to find myself in the wrong club after being told what a fine club it was and being recommended so highly to me. Talking about the various names by which members of the legal profession are called, in the United States we have been called practically everything. You don't have to be called a barrister to try a lawsuit in my country. I know the Queen's Counsel will appreciate what I mean by that.
I'm proud, of course, as any American would be, to speak to this distinguished club, this distinguished audience, but it gives me no pleasure to speak about and discuss the bi-racial problem in the United States, which I feel is the most serious internal problem we have had in our country since the Civil War, which we often refer to as the "War between the States."
I am a Southerner, but nevertheless, I am a realist. I am trying to give my opinions to the minimum extent here and only speak facts, and by speaking facts I don't mean to imply
I approve of what has been done and what is being done by either the whites or the negroes. I am quite sure the things I have to say would not please the extremists of either group.
The bi-racial problem is different in different parts of the United States. You can't generalize to any great extent. I am going to try and discuss the situation with you as briefly as I can. In the limited time you have here I can only really hit the high spots. The further I go into it the more difficult it seems, and it seems to me the harder the ultimate solution will be. But when you know a little about the legal profession, there is always some young lawyer right out of law school that knows the right answer.
Let's take a brief look at the negroes' justification. They have been told by the last five Presidents, and the current President of the United States, and by, I believe, the man who ran against him, what their rights were. They have seen it in the papers and on television. They have been told by Congress what their rights were, but they just haven't got them, which has caused them to be very unhappy, and has brought about some of the feelings that they have been mistreated, and there is a lot of justification to it. I don't want you to labour under the delusion that the negroes have been given everything they are entitled to. I have discussed with a number of negro leaders the question of what the negroes really want today, and I have listed the goals the intelligent, educated negroes feel they are entitled to: equality of opportunity, in government, labour, and so forth; equal pay for equal work; equal protection of the laws; equality of suffrage; equal recognition of the dignity of the human being; abolition of public segregation; equal educational opportunities. By the way you will be interested to know the equal recognition of the dignity of the human race and of the negro race is emphasized in one thing. I will mention this one thing that really burns them up, in public places where they see the signs, white ladies and negro women. They feel you have designated them as inferior, and you can appreciate it as you go into the situation. I was impressed on that particular point by a very prominent gentleman down home who had a little girl. He was one of our rich negroes who came into our department store called Moss Brothers. He was a good customer, and while he was in the store his little girl took a drink out of the fountain where the white people are supposed to drink, and he said to his little girl, 'Didn't you see the sign?" and she said, "but Daddy I didn't want colored water, I wanted white water." The negro leaders know there is some definite improvement along those lines, and there is, of necessity, going to be still further improvements. However, there are other negro leaders, who, in order to help hold that grasp and leadership, and to please most of the negroes, keep talking about freedom now. A newspaper reporter once asked a negro lady at a meeting, "What do you mean by freedom now?" and she said, "can't you understand, we want freedom now." The rank and file don't know what freedom means or what their real objections are.
It took the south a long time to realize all negroes north and south are for integration, they are all for it, there is no exception to that rule. There have been demonstrations in the north and south, mostly in the north, except for a few exceptions, Birmingham was one of them. The negroes up north feel they have considerably more rights than they have down south. There are several reasons for that. One, is the feeling between whites and negroes, and the other is the fact up north the laws have not been enforced in connection with the negroes. They have been, more or less, under the protection of the political people who want their votes, and they have not had the same discipline in connection with it, which, they have had in the south.
There are at least four kinds of negro leaders. There is the dedicated and intelligent negro leader; there is the intelligent negro leader who is seeking self-aggrandizement; there is the uneducated, dedicated negro leader and there is the uneducated, ignorant leader who is trying to seek selfadvancement, and it is with some of this latter group that we run into a great deal of the problems.
Let me tell you about the deep south. By the way, this will run i9to three areas. First, is the deep south, which is made up of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and parts of Georgia, and maybe South Carolina. You wonder why the feeling is stronger in the deep south. I will give you the facts, not opinions or conclusions. In the deep south there is still the family stories that have been brought down by the grandmothers and great grandmothers, of the carpetbag days when all the officers, the law enforcement officers and judges and so forth were negroes, and they were held in. those positions by ex-slaves in blue uniforms representing the Federal Government. You can imagine what that involved. This brought on the Klu Klux Klan, which is not the Klu Klux Klan of today. It was a situation that developed because there was no other way for the white person to protect himself. I am speaking now of the masses of the negroes, not the intelligent; well-dressed, cultured negroes you might know. The whites make no distinction between the classes of negroes, they are either negroes or they are not, and they want to put them all in one class. The negro masses as you know are uneducated and uncultured, the rank and file. In many counties in the deep south they are the majority of the negroes. There is a great fear that if they do get the ballot, that's why there is so much trouble in that regard, they will take over the county and all the elected officers will be negroes, and all the law enforcement officers will be negroes: The white people who live there fear that situation very much. They also feel that the question of integration means a breakdown of the ties between the whites and negroes and will bring about ultimate marriage between the races. You hear it said, "Do you want our people to become racial mongrels, a race of mulatoes?" They also feel if the negroes take over their county the value of their properties and businesses will be worth nothing. They can't live under the rule of the negroes. That's why there is this trouble you read so much about in the papers, in the deep south. They say, and I believe I speak with some authority on it, that some 2,000 negroes and whites are going into the deep south, Mississippi, in particular, to work this summer, to get negro registration and the other things. In the meanwhile the local people are preparing for it. The feeling is very strong and there could be trouble ahead which could be worse than last summer.
Remember too, that after all it was a fact that when civil rights were passed that you were entitled to a trial by jury and not just before a Judge, and before anybody can be punished for any harm done to anybody, if you have to be tried before a local jury it's going to be very difficult to get a conviction unless there is very convincing evidence of fact. So you have the unpleasant situation where the law will keep us more on our side and the advancement of the negro will not be great. The real situation is this, I'll boil it down. In order for the negroes to really get anywhere you have to improve their economic condition, and in order to improve their economic condition they have to have opportunities to better themselves. They must take advantage of these opportunities and must have the ability to hold a better job and they must be given the opportunities to hold a better job if they are qualified, that is the real situation. The negro found when the Civil Rights Act was passed in the south they could go to all these places they couldn't go before, but they found they didn't have the money to go to the local theatre. Civil rights is something that has given them the okay but as far as helping their economic condition it didn't. Then there is the rest of the south where for two or three years before the Civil Rights Act was passed they could go to the restaurants and to the hotels. A great majority could go to the parks, playgrounds and theatre. They could do none of that in the deep south before the Civil Rights was passed and there has been only token compliance since that time.
The feeling in the south towards the negroes and in the north is very different. It may be hard for you to realize that. It is said with some justification that the Southerner does not like the negro race, but they like the individual negro, but in the north, they like the negro race, but not the individual negro. In the north they are not as sympathetic to the negro, they don't have the feeling of friendship and sympathy for the negro as they do in the south, they don't have the same relationship at all.
I want to mention quickly the situation in the north. Hundreds of thousands of negroes went up north, where living was a Utopia, thinking they would go to New York and some of the other northern cities, New York is the worst example, maybe Chicago, expecting to improve their situation. But when they got up north they found they were a lot better off in the south. When they got up north they were crowded into places such as Harlem. I was told, I'm not quoting this as a fact, this is what I was told that 30,000 negroes live in apartment houses with leaks in the roof, with rats, with poor sanitation conditions, things you can't imagine. Harlem is an area of broken homes. More than half of the children under 18 years of age living at home where there is only one parent or some grandparents. Here, as in the deep south, the schools that are practically all negro are very poor. A negro who graduates from high school may have the equivalent of an eighth grade education, and graduates of the average negro college may have a high school education. It's an unhappy situation. The children are going there because they have no place to go and dropouts are tremendous as compared to the rest of the country. In that area the great majority of the people only have menial jobs, it is the poorest paid group of people in the country. There is no hope and they are frustrated because of a tremendously difficult situation. The squalid living conditions are unbelievable. Whole families are living in one room. They take turns in the bathroom and kitchen with other families. No one person is allowed more than five hours sleep in bed. You can imagine the situation on a hot summer night in New York city. In one area they call East Harlem there are 185,000 people crowded together in one square mile. East Harlem has a population roughly as large as Des Moines. Iowa, which area is 100 times as large as that of East Harlem. New York is talking about improving the housing situation. It will cost millions and millions of dollars to do it, and with these people only qualified to do menial work and the machine age coming in, and the jobs becoming less and less, I can't tell you the answer. The whites have got to realize in the United States, both in the north and south that the negroes are entitled to opportunities. They have to be given a chance to work and a chance to live under conditions where they will be happy. The housing situation in the south has not been developed, and there have been riots in the north where negro families have moved into a white neighbourhood, and there are going to be riots in the south when the negroes move into white neighbourhoods. The negroes on the other hand must realize they are a minority and they can only better themselves by the goodwill and help of the whites. The negro leaders to a great extent have been asking-let's get something from the whites and are not offering any help to the negroes themselves. This is a problem that will be with us for a long time and I don't know what will come about.
If Canada ever gets to discussing whether they should take over the United States there will be a lot of us who will be glad to have you do it. I want you to remember the bi-racial problem is only one of our problems. Our President has promised to abolish all poverty but he hasn't told us how to do it.
Thank you very much.
Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Mr. J. H. Corrigan, Q.c.