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"WHOSE CIVIL RIGHTS"

by George Frazier


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LET THE NEGRO NOT PRESUME on the patience of those who plead his case. Let him understand that other people have rights, too. Let him never again be guilty of such gracelessness as he was in his moment of truth. After all, it was his party in Washington on Wednesday and, as host, he had an obligation to show some concern for the comfort of his guests. It is one thing for him to ask us to espouse the cause of civil rights, but another for him to add to our ordeal by expecting us to put up with the pretentiousness of fraudulent folk singing. That is rubbing it in, really. That is taking advantage of our good nature.

Since when has a man's conviction that the colored should be granted their rights with our blessing obligated him to serve as a captive audience for such as Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and what's her name? Does not that seem to be expecting a bit too much of even the most democratic disposition? Did I ever dream the day would dawn when I would be unable to take issue with every attitude of a Southern segregationist like Russell Long? What's going on here, anyway?

YET, WATCHING AND LISTENING to Senator Long on television late Wednesday night, I found myself nodding approval of one of his observations -- his insistence that no one should ever be required to associate with what is anathema. But only a few minutes earlier, on this NBC distillation of the March on Washington, one had been forced (for if one had run away, he would have risked missing something significant) to sit there and submit to the sight and sound of a deliberately wraithlike singer named Joan Baez.

But if she seemed ridiculous, the ones called, somewhat sacrilegiously, Peter, Paul and whatever it is were even worse, a circumstance that is at least partly explained by the fact that Miss Baez doesn't have a beard -- that and also the fact that when she was on, the sound was not so strong.

Nor was it merely their tubercular tone (for Miss Baez seems to be wasting away too) that made the trio so sickening. Rather it was the silly sentiment to which they gave voice -- the words of something called "Blowin' In The Wind", which was written or something by somebody named Bob Dylan. It was absolutely insufferable, and even more than that if you had ever happened to see what this Dylan looks like, if you had seen him, say, on one of his album covers.

THOUGH I AM ALL for such civil rights as integrate white and colored, I am not yet convinced that white should be expected to put up with white -- or rather with every other white. Fair is fair, but should anyone be made to go to school with such as, say, this Dylan? And would you want your sister to marry him? Yet, in Washington on Wednesday, this appeared to be part of what the Negro was asking us to approve. Our colored brethren were actually implying that we are expected to give house room to fraudulent folk singers.

Yet perhaps that was not what they had in mind at all, for it must me noted that they gave us, along with Joan Baez and that trio, Mahalia Jackson, a mahogany-hued woman whose gospel singing is never not nearer my God to Thee.

And she was, as is her wont, unforgettable -- which, when you think about it, makes you wonder if there was a method in the madness -- if by making us suffer through Miss Baez and those latter-day saints and then granting the grace of Miss Jackson, old Phil Randolph and courtly Roy Wilkins were making it manifest how much pleasanter it is to be with the colored.

IF TELEVISION TOLD US TRUE, there was much in Washington on Wednesday to which we could subscribe without reservation. The congregation of some 200,000 was orderly beyond reproach, the Birchers held their tongues, and a great deal of the oratory was eloquent, leaving us with lines that will linger a while.

"We cannot defend freedom in Berlin and deny it in Birmingham," for example, which was an observation of Walter Reuther's that should haunt us until we implement it with our actions. Or "the coalition of consciences," which was ancient Phil Randolph's term for what was taking place that day. Or Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream for the destiny of his children, the sting in his voice not softened by its charm as he said, "I have a dream that they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

The whole day was devout with such simple truth. What a day it was for phrasemaking! And when it was over, we knew that the long day's journey had been, not into night, but into light, for now, at inexorably long last, even the most militant white supremacist had been made aware that not all Negroes are field hands, there is more honor than evil in our black brethren.

AND, FROM THE PERFECT POLITENESS of all the impassioned pleading, it had been made apparent that the Negro was not trying to take over, that he was merely requesting rights that are inalienable. But sometimes things get out of hand. That is what is dire about hypocrisy -- the danger of its becoming too damn democratic. If only, in asking us to be of good will, the Negro had not presumed upon our patience. The colored man is my brother and I shall judge him not by the color of his skin. But I'll be damned if I shall ever enlarge my vision of fellowship enough for it to include persons like Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and what's-her-name.

Boston Herald, August 30, 1963


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