ERN Press Conference, James Farmer, Director of CORE
Nathan Hopkins instructor in research at the American University in Washington Washington DC and his guests this evening J. Arnold Feldman executive director of the American American Veterans Committee and member of the executive committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Rights. Tonight's program was recorded by the American University WAMU FM. This is the Educational Radio Network Tonight at 7:30 statements by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr and the Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy marking the termination of the nonviolent direct action campaign in Birmingham, Alabama Alabama. Hear the Birmingham story part one on riverside radio WRVR in New in New York. This is WRVR at 106.7 on your FM dial in New York in New York City. The correct daylight savings time seven o'clock The Educational Radio Network presents ERN
press conference new series of programs highlighting each week important national and international issues and the people who make the news. Here to introduce the guests and panel of journalists is the moderator of ERN press press conference assistant director of New York University's office of television radio radio Ralph Rourke. Good evening. The tense situation that now prevails in the South resulting in bloodshed and unnecessary suffering is of paramount importance to all of us. Not only is this a problem between our own peoples but also it represents - it presents in fact another problem. It is for our enemies a weapon to be used against democracy and the american way of life. To talk about this important subject we're pleased to welcome as our guest this evening Mr. James Farmer [Rourke] director of the Congress for Racial Equality. it's nice to have you with us Mr. Farmer. [Farmer] It's a pleasure to [Farmer] be here Mr. Rourke. [Rourke] Interviewing Mr. Farmer is a panel of leading journalists
in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and New York. I'm going to ask them to introduce themselves now. Speaking from WGBH in Boston [Geoffrey Godsell] Geoffrey Godsell of the Christian Science Monitor. [Rourke] From WUHY [Speaker 1] in Philadelphia. [Speaker 2] Thomas R. Dew, associate editor of the Evening Journal, Wilmington, Delaware [Rourke]in the studios of WAMU in Washington. [James Free] James Free the Washington correspondent of the Birmingham News and correspondent for the Newhouse newspapers. [Rourke] and here in New York with Mr. Farmer [Martin Arnold] Martin Arnold, New York Times. [Rourke] Gentlemen welcome to ERN Press Conference and now to the questions. To begin I'll call on each of you in turn. After everyone's had an opportunity to ask our guest one question, we invite you all to participate at will. And now for the first question [Speaker 1]let's call on Geoffrey Godsell at WGBH in Boston. [Speaker 2] Mr. Farmer my question is sort of multi barrelled. Would you give us your assessment of the present mood of the Negroes in this country? Much is said about the role of
moderates. But are Negroes increasingly disillusioned by what moderates or liberals both in the South and in the North have or have not done and is there a growing tendency to look upon liberals as people who are not helping [Speaker 1] but standing in the way of a complete solution of the problem? [Speaker 2] I think there's no question about that. The answer is very definitely yes. Negroes are disillusioned. They feel the progress has been far too slow and I think that most Americans of goodwill can agree with them when we realize that this year we're celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and there has been precious little change in the picture of segregation in the South and throughout the country for that matter. Negroes are disillusioned and they feel that the moderates have not been willing to move fast enough but instead have tended to stand in the way of more rapid progress. So more and more, Negroes of this country are relying upon themselves and their own tools for action in this regard. [Rourke] And next to Philadelphia and Thomas Dew
of the Wilmington Journal of WUHY [Dew] Mr. Farmer, I notice that one of the methods used by CORE in its campaign for racial equality is to boycott stores and other firms. Are you seeking a quota of employees in these and if so what is your justification for setting a quota of [Speaker 1] employees? [Speaker 2] No we are not seeking a quota but we are insisting that there be Negroes employed. We feel that it is no longer adequate for an employer to say that he doesn't discriminate because he implied he employs the best qualified person who happens to apply and that no Negroes have applied. Now we have got to insist that the employers go out of their way, make a deliberate and positive and aggressive effort to secure qualified Negroes and if there are no qualified Negroes for the particular jobs that they have offering, then they ought to see the
Negroes who want the training, want to develop the skills are admitted into their training programs. Now this is what we're insisting. We feel that even if official segregation, officially sanctioned discrimination were brought to an end tomorrow, the Negro would be at the bottom of the totem pole for a long time to come. We find that the gap between the average income for Negroes in this country and the average income for whites has not narrowed in the past fifteen years. It did narrow slightly during World War II, but this was because of temporary employment wartime industries. Since the war that gap has widened instead of narrowed. Now obviously the back wheels of a car will never catch up with the front wheels if they're going at the same speed and it's precisely for this reason that we're insisting that managers or employers find qualified Negroes. When we walk into a shop or an office or a factory we want to see Negroes working there.
[Rourke] And for our next question we call on James Free of the Newhouse Newspapers Washington correspondent for the Birmingham News at WAMU in the nation's capital. [Free] Mr. Farmer as you know Birmingham have been very much in the news recently. [Farmer] Yes Mr. [inaudible]. [Free] Perhaps I've just missed it but i haven't noticed that CORE has been active in this particular situation and I just wondered if you would explain to us what part you have been playing or if you haven't been in there what are the reasons for that [inaudible] [Farmer] Well we have been involved in the situation in Birmingham and I'll try to detail the nature of our involvement. A month ago Dr. Martin Luther King requested that we send in some personnel to help them in organizing and coordinating the demonstrations there. We then sent in one of our task force members. One of our Freedom Task Force members was a volunteer working on subsistence basis, a man who happens to be an excellent organizer and for the past month he has been in Birmingham helping to organize the demonstrations and furthermore
trying to train the people participating in those demonstrations in nonviolent techniques. In addition to that one of CORE's field secretaries was arrested in the demonstrations in Birmingham. now I myself was in Birmingham about two weeks ago addressing a mass rally. This was at the time the massive demonstrations of young people took place. [Rourke] And now back to New York and Martin Arnold of the New York Times here at the ERN studios. [Arnold] Mr. Farmer, I have a two part question. Dr. King said this afternoon, on arriving in New York, that the backbone of segregation in Birmingham had been broken. Yet, in this morning's Times, we have a quote from a white businessman who took part in the negotiations between the white and Negro communities and saying that within sixty days at least one Negro in that city would become a salesman in one store. For my first part of my question is, isn't that a rather shallow victory for the Negroes in
Birmingham and the second part is do you think that sit-in demonstrations, the whole idea of passive resistance can really work in a city like Birmingham in the deep south? [Farmer] Well on the first part of your question, it is a very limited victory obviously. It's a token victory but a very important token. it's an opening of the door and segregation in Birmingham as throughout Alabama as well as in Mississippi has presented to the nation a solid phalanx unbroken. So it was very important to breach that wall of segregation in Birmingham even though they're only a few Negroes to be employed, even though there will be minimum desegregation in some of the department stores. But this is in my view a terribly important victory because it is an opening of the door and it shows segregationists and others in the Deep South that segregation is not inviolable and it can be changed. Now the second part of your question was what? [Arnold] Do you think that such nonviolent passive resistance can
really work in this [inaudible]? [Farmer] Oh yes, the sit ins and demonstrations. Well the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the sit in demonstrations and the mass marches in Birmingham have mobilized the Negro community, have spotlighted the issue for people all over the world to see, have aroused the consciences of Americans as nothing else since the Freedom rides back in nineteen sixty one so I think that they have served a very good purpose. We would not have breached the wall in Birmingham, breached the wall of segregation that is had it not been for the non violent sit-in demonstrations. [Speaker 2?] Mr. [Speaker 1?] Farmer [Rourke] Excuse me, this is Ralph Rourke in New York. Let me merely mentioned that at this point that everyone is going to have a chance certainly to follow up on their initial question and ask other questions. We're moving now into the open portion of the press conference. I would like merely to ask one question at this point in order to qualify for our audience what is the function of CORE and where is its headquarters sir?
[Farmer] Alright. The function of CORE is eventually to put itself out of business. In other words to create an open society to eliminate segregation and racial discrimination in all countries so that there will be no more need for organizations such as the Congress of Racial Equality. Our headquarters, our national headquarters is in New York City. We have regional offices all over the country including the south. We have field secretaries who work throughout the country. [Rourke] And its financial support is by donation? [Farmer] Its financial support is by donations, voluntary contributions from all sixty thousand members white and Negro throughout the country, north and south. Well that provides, certainly sir, a sufficient background for our audience and now the press conference is open. [Godsell] Mr. Farmer, this is Geoffrey Godsell in Boston. Mr. Arnold's question was about the agreement reached in Birmingham. Do you think the agreement will be properly implemented and do you think that Negroes are thinking in terms of a time limit for implementation of that
after which there might be more trouble if it isn't carried out? [Farmer] Well I understand that there was a time schedule in the agreement, There is to be a certain amount of desegregation and an end to discrimination in employment in certain areas within ninety days. This is a time schedule. Presumably if the agreement is not lived up to by the merchants and others on that side then a continuation of demonstrations will be considered. Now my own view is that the agreement will be lived up to. I think it will be. I think it must be lived up to. [Dew] Mr. Farmer, Tom Dew in Philadelphia. [Farmer] Yes, Mr. Dew. [Dew] There are areas in the south, are there not, where racial equality more or less has been brought about without strife? Would you care to comment on these and how this fair treatment was brought about? [Farmer] yes certainly segregation has been eliminated in certain areas in some southern cities without the sort of demonstrations which we are observing in
Birmingham but not without struggle and effort on the part of the Negroes I might indicate. Let me try to document what I'm saying. In Atlanta there was desegregation, at least token desegregation of the schools, without mobs and without violence.This was in large part because the businessmen of the city realized that what happened in Little Rock could happen there. They realized that industries, national industries do not go in to communities in the south where there are racial uprisings and conflict situations they sought to avoid. It was avoided in Memphis also. But we did not get those successes without a continuing amassing of pressure on the part of the Negroes. There was always the possibility that if negotiations have not worked out successfully then there would have to be demonstrations. I might add that CORE's policy nationally is to negotiate first before we
demonstrate and only if the negotiations break down or are unfruitful do we go in to the nonviolent direct action demonstrations. [Arnold] Mr. Farmer, Martin Arnold in New York. Last month you delivered a rather strong attack on President Kennedy's civil rights program or lack of same. Recently other groups have attacked him for not implicating his housing order quick enough and he's been also criticized in Birmingham situation for not moving fast enough. I wonder if you could tell us how you think the President could have handled Birmingham better than was handled? [Farmer] Well I think first of all the President and the campaign back in 1960 criticized his predecessor for not using the moral influence of his office, not speaking out boldly on this issue. Well it is our very strong feeling that this administration has not sufficiently used the moral pressure of his office, has not spoken out boldly. I think too the President could move in with his
negotiators, with Mr. Burke Marshall of the Department of Justice, and seek to set up biracial committees before conflict situations are created rather than waiting until the conflict situations arise. I think in addition the administration could have moved in in Birmingham on the grounds that there was not equal protection under the law. Quite obviously the police of Birmingham, as in many deep southern cities are very frankly partisans. They considered a part of their job to maintain and support and defend the system of segregation. Now if they are partisans in that way it is absolutely impossible for them to provide equal protection under the law to Negroes who are partisans on the other side. We feel then that the administration or the federal government has not only a right but a responsibility to step in and to enforce the Constitution in that regard. [Speaker 1] Are there no Negro police in southern cities? [Farmer] In some southern
cities there are token a number of Negro policemen. Now very frequently usually indeed, these Negro policemen are confined to the Negro sections of the city and do not have the authority to arrest white persons. [Dew] Mr. Farmer, Tom Dew in Philadelphia again. [Farmer] Yes, Mr. Dew. [Dew] I'd like to get away from the South for a while. What is CORE doing in the north say from Washington DC northward? [Farmer] Well we are working just as hard in the north is we are in the south. We feel that the problem of segregation is not a sectional one but is a national problem. Indeed I feel that segregation in housing in northern cities has increased rather than decreased in the past ten years we find more of pattern of ghettoes in northern cities than we had ten years ago. We find also a tendency on the part of white citizens to move out of the urban centers as non whites move in. They move out to the suburbs and this creates the anomalous
situation of a black core of our cities ringed with a white noose of lily white suburbs. CORE is attacking this problem. we are having sit-ins in the housing area in Brooklyn. We've had them in Boston also. We've had dwell-ins in Los Angeles and San Francisco. We have had Operations Window Shop where Negro families are urged to go to real estate offices and ask to see the houses that they offering all over the city we had such demonstrations in Michigan and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We are working also on the problem of employment, negotiating with companies which employ a large number of persons. If unable to change their discrimination through negotiation, then we launch boycotts. Patronage withholding with picket lines, urging other people not to patronize these places as long as they practice discrimination in employment. We've found these techniques to be enormously effective in the north as well as in the South. [Free] It's Free in
Washington, Mr. Farmer. You said that you believed in the process of negotiating first. In that regard since they just had a recent election in Birmingham where Bull Connor has been defeated and repudiated and he has been the main stumbling block to communications there between the whites and the Negroes and President Kennedy just this afternoon, in talking to a group of Alabama editors, agreed with his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy that he thought in general that the demonstrations and the activities of Birmingham the pressure for them was ill-timed and presumably in another on Thursday Alabama's Supreme Court has a hearing to determine whether or not the man who defeated Bull Connor is to be the official mayor as the people of the city has voted him to be. In that regard don't you think that perhaps there was not an opportunity [inaudible] negotiation in Birmingham before the demonstration? [Farmer] Well of course I understand there had been negotiations. I understand that Dr. King
had talked with some of the store owners several months ago and had received verbal agreement that that would be some desegregation in the stores. But it was his feeling, and I have no reason at all to doubt it, that they had not lived up to their agreement at that time. But we do believe that they'll live up to their agreement now. Now I disagree with the President and the Attorney General on the question of timing. When is the time to fight against injustice? My answer to that is very simple. Now. Actually yesterday rather than today. The Negroes have come to the point where they are just fed up with Jim Crow, not willing to put up with it any longer. This isn't the American tradition and this is as a result of their reading of the American faith [inaudible] the American dream so they're demanding their rights. Is it really fair for us to ask them to wait longer? They've waited a hundred years now. [Speaker 1] On that connection, the Supreme Court of the United States has had a case they heard last November 5th. It involves the segregation of these lunch counters, not only in Birmingham but in a number of other Southern cities. Now are you going to picket the Supreme Court
to get a decision out of them? [Farmer] No, we don't plan to picket the Supreme Court because I don't think picketing would be at all effective with regard to the Supreme Court. This is not the way that one gets action from the Supreme Court. But we feel that picketing is the way one gets action from places of business. [Godsell] Mr. Farmer, this is Geoffrey Godsell in Boston again. I'd like to return to the role of liberals and moderates. Many newspaper editorials have asked or pleaded with the moderates to intervene and secure compromise solutions. Would you prefer liberals and moderates not to get involved at this stage? [Farmer] No, I think the liberals and the moderates have a very important role to play. I wish they would play that role though. The tragedy of the liberals and moderates especially in the south has been that they have been silent. They have been the silent people intimidated by a minority of rabid segregationists. It was Lillian Smith, a Southern white writer who put it in these words: in the past
southern whites used to be afraid of southern Negroes now southern whites are afraid of southern whites. So we want the moderates and the liberals in the south to speak up. We want them to express their views. We want them to be heard. And if Birmingham serves no other purpose than to stimulate the moderates to express their views and to take a stand and serve a moderating function then I think Birmingham would've been successful. [Arnold] I take it This is Martin Arnold of the Times again, I take it you do believe there are a substantial number of moderates in the south? [Farmer] There is no question about it. In no major southern city would you find a complete absence of moderate sentiments. The fact is that these persons or intimidated and frightened. [Dew] Mr. Farmer, Tom Dew in Philadelphia again. Do you see any other similarities historically speaking between the lot of the Negro today and the lot of the Irish in the last century and then the Poles and other immigrant groups? [Farmer] Yes certainly. Those groups were newcomers into the cities of
America at the time and they faced a great deal of discrimination. But eventually they were able to merge with the total society. They were more or less assimilated. This is not possible with the Negroes because of his high visibility, his high social visibility. Not only is he a newcomer, not only is he a member of a minority but he's also black and he can be seen. Thus his problems are compounded much more serious then that of the Irish and other minorities of the past. [Speaker ?] Mr. Farmer, in connection with that, would you say that all whites have to get out of their thinking the identification of inferiority with the color black? [Farmer] Oh I think they must indeed. You know many Negroes unfortunately have been brainwashed in this regard and have come to believe that their black color is a sort of a disfigurement but now what we're finding in this new self identity, the new image [inaudible] self image of the
Negroes is that the color black is receiving some of its dignity back. Negroes are not ashamed of their color. In fact they're becoming proud of it. This I consider to be an advance and I think that it promises well for the future. [Free] Mr. Farmer, Free in Washington again. Charles Bartlett and other newspaper writers and also Father Foley of Mobile, Alabama, who's the chairman of the advisory committee of the Civil Rights Commission there in Alabama, have [inaudible] stated that the timing in Birmingham was dictated in part by competition for leadership among the organizations, Negro organizations, civil rights organizations and also competition for funds. Would you comment on that sir? [Farmer] Well I disagree with that completely. I think that this idea of competition for leadership and competition for funds is largely a figment of the imagination of some commentators. Actually there is a great deal of cooperation, indeed, coordination among the various
civil rights groups. You can see it in Birmingham, you can see it on the Freedom Rides, you can see on CORE'S campaigns such as the Freedom Highway's campaign in the southeast where the NAACP and CORE are working hand in hand. I don't think that that played any role at all in the decision to begin demonstrations in Birmingham. Dr. King doesn't have to worry about his prestige and his image nor does he have to be concerned about his role as a leader. That is well established and I think it's here to stay. [Speaker ?] Again back to the question of moderates Mr. Farmer, moderates and Negroes [inaudible] I'm referring to. James Baldwin, the writer, has said that after World War II, there was a turning point in Negroes' relation to America. 'A certain hope died', he wrote, 'a certain respect for white Americans faded. One began to pity them or to hate them'. A number of surveys I've read in newspapers and magazines have indicated they while Negro students say they are followers of Dr. King and certainly have followed him, they're very strongly
attracted to Malcolm X, leader of the Black Muslims. I wonder if you could comment on this? Do you see any danger in this? Do you believe in what Mr. Baldwin has written? [Farmer] Well I believe Mr. Baldwin is essentially right. In World War II, there was a great deal of bitterness on the part of Negroes, precisely because they were told that they were fighting a war against the master race theory of Nazism. It was inevitable that a lot of these young men and their friends and relatives back home would begin to ask what about the master race theory back home in Alabama or Mississippi. They're doing it. Now as to their attraction to Malcolm X, I think that many many Negroes are indeed impressed with the militancy of Malcolm X. They are impressed with his demand that Negroes be proud of themselves and their history and their contribution to the world. but I do not think that this means that Negroes are about to become Muslims or about to become followers of Malcolm X. [Speaker ?] This feeling though, do you think this will help organizations like CORE or
work against them? [Farmer] Well CORE is a militant nonviolent organization. I think it helps us a great deal. We provide an alternative. Had it not been for nonviolent organizations such as CORE and such as Dr. King's group, I think there's no question about it that there would have been a bloodbath throughout the south and probably in many urban centers in the north. We're providing an alternative. We're providing them a way out. If we fail then I imagine the Muslims will succeed and if we succeed the Muslims will fail. [Speaker ?] Mr. Farmer, do you see any significance in the fact that some non-Muslims, some non-Muslim Negroes, are now prepared in a limited number of cases to share platforms with Muslims? I think that's happened in Los Angeles. [Farmer] Oh, that's happened all over the country. I think that the Muslims represent a viable tendency in the Negro community. While most of us who are integrationists, certainly all of us in CORE are integrationists, disagree strongly
with the Muslims' goals which are separationist and we disagree with their methods, which do not reject violence, yet we feel that we can talk to them and I think it is important to keep a dialogue in the Negro community as in the entire American community. If the Muslims are isolated and people no longer talk with them or discuss with them or have the clash of views with them, then I think that the muslims will be forced into extremes. [Dew] Mr. Farmer, Tom Dew again. Suppose you achieve your goal and actually put CORE out of business through your activities. What would your picture be of the average American community in that case? With regards especially to employment and housing, schools and so forth? [Farmer] Yes. Oh I think that in that case we would find that there is no segregation, no forced segregation in schools or in housing. This does not mean that there'll no longer be a Harlem. many people will choose to live in Harlem. But it should be by choice. they may not want to
live in glorious gardens out in the suburbs, but they should have a choice. Some will live there, the majority probably will stay in Harlem. So we're confronted with a problem then of making Harlem a better place in which to live and this is true of the dozens of Harlems throughout the country. I think that the picture will not be the disappearance of the Negro at all. It will mere mean that the Negro is a part of American society rather than alienated from it. He is integrated because he comes knowing what he is and knowing that he has something to contribute. [Speaker ?] Well then, Mr. Farmer, CORE may well become another chamber of commerce. [Farmer] That is a possibility in the future. [Rourke] Thank you sir. I'm sorry to say that's all the time we have. I'd like to thank our guest, Mr. James Farmer director of the Congress for Racial Equality. It was a pleasure having you with us this evening Mr. Farmer. [Farmer] Thank you. It was a pleasure being here. [Rourke] Our thanks to the members of the panel: Mr. James Free, Washington correspondent for the Birmingham News and the Newhouse Newspapers; Mr. Geoffrey Godsell, Christian Science Monitor; Mr. Thomas Dew
Wilmington Journal and Mr. Martin Arnold of the New York Times. A week from tonight on ERN Press Conference our guest will be the honorable Roger Hilsman Jr., Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs. Stay tuned now for a program produced by an ERN reporter on the scene in Birmingham entitled Happy Day in Birmingham. Good night. This program was produced for the ERN by Marcia Kramer. this is the Educational Radio Network
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- A discussion on racial issues.
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Moderator: Roark, Ralph
Panelist: [Gonsul], Jeffrey
Panelist: Dew, Thomas R.
Panelist: Free, James
Panelist: Arnold, Martin
Panelist: Farmer, James, 1920-1999
Producing Organization: WRVR (Radio station: New York, N.Y.)
Publisher: WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
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- APA: ERN Press Conference, James Farmer, Director of CORE. Boston, MA: The Riverside Church , American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-528-tm71v5ct9b