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Comments on a minority. I think perhaps more than any other group with the possible exception of the American Indian the Negro has had a more dramatically changing and fluid position in American society beginning with being an absolute chattel the most degrading psychologically morally mentally spiritually position that any human being could occupy. Being treated as a horse or a cow or a piece of furniture. From that point the Negro has had this progressively changing position moving toward first class citizenship. The voice if I have missed all of my raise a successful New York City lawyer must marry as the author of a volume reviewing legislation affecting the negro in the various United States. He also wrote the book Proud shoes perhaps which represents the history of her own family and Americans. Ms Murray in the portions of the recorded interview which we hear today because of some aspects of the new growth deal of his own
situation in the United States and present people historical and worldwide push back toward negroes. This. Reaction of the Negro is one which is as flexible and as uncertain as the position he holds. Let a Negro who has the New York City experience leave here and travel south by the time he gets to Washington and moves south to Washington. He does not know what to expect. There are many different kinds of laws and many kinds of customs so that in one state it may be illegal for him to sit in any part of the bus in a local bus in another state. It may not be illegal because of these varying laws and varying customs. The negro wherever he is must be prepared for that emergency of
having to explain himself by reason of his color or to challenge his position by reason of his color. This may lead in the case of some individuals to a high sensitivity. Some people say it's always carrying a ship chip on your shoulder to other people it may mean a certain kind of aggressiveness. And I think that this whole pattern of the reaction of the Negro to the varying degrees of inequality was dramatically illustrated in a book called The mark of oppression. One of the interesting things is that Negroes like all other groups are really a collection of individuals and have individual reactions to the same situation. And so you may find some negroes attempting to avoid any kind of public situation that would lead to a crisis in racial relations. Others meeting it
head on with a certain amount of violence in their attitude. Others being cool and determined and aware of their rights and tenacious. By and large I would say that some of the negative consequences of these attitudes on the part of the larger community. Are that the self image which the Negro has is constantly something which he must overcome in himself. The continual. Pounding away from let us say segregationists people who are full of bigotry and prejudice
on the theme that the Negro is inferior that he has not yet developed to the point where he should as a matter of right receive all of the opportunities which other people do has meant that the Negro has constantly had to overcome this feeling of inferiority. Sometimes he himself is almost apt to believe it. This has created certain undesirable attitudes within the Negro community itself sometimes based upon color the belief that the more one approaches and physical aspects the Caucasian group the more favored one is or the more superior one is. And so there have been actually. Disadvantages within the negro group itself
based upon gradations of color. Now I don't think that this is anything more than a secondary reaction to the total community's judgment and evaluation of the Negro but nevertheless this has been one of the reactions and has I think created a great deal of disadvantage within the group itself. How do you feel about the aspiration to go negro. I think historically the Negro is the inheritor of the attitudes and the ideals of the people who first created the American republic. We are the one group in American society who could never take our citizenship for granted. We have been
engaged for the last hundred years or more in defining citizenship defining citizenship rights. We have had to constantly cling to and referred to the Constitution of the United States and the declaration of the of independence in order to convince other Americans of the moral and political rightness of our position. Therefore. I'm inclined to think that it is now our historical role to constantly point up. To other Americans the roots upon which our country. The routes out of which our American country has developed and has grown. I think that the aspirations and goal of Negroes are the same as any other self-conscious and thoughtful American. We
recognize that civilization is at a crossroads. We recognize that the world is divided into two almost warring camps the camp of the free nations who look to leadership from the western democracy and the camp of the so-called in slaved and satellite nations led by the Soviet Union. And we believe that the Negro is both the barometer and the acid test of American democracy. We think that America will survive only in so far as she resolves this problem of race and resolves it in the only way that it can be resolved. And that is that it's eliminated because all people are treated in accordance with individual merit. We believe that it is our civic duty our duty as citizens constantly to raise this issue with our fellow Americans
because the issue of race and the issue of civil rights today is much bigger than the group involved. It has to do with the very survival of our country. If it is to survive as a free and strong country the way in which it was founded one of my pet theories is that the Negro is in a contradictory position. Our aim our goal is complete integration in American life without different differentiation because of our color. In other words the right to be different. You say in order to achieve this against the organized opposition that has been in the country and against the apathy of other citizens who are American citizens who are not necessarily opposed and would not join any organized opposition to prevent
equality are sufficiently apathetic to allow civil rights to go by default. The this situation has caused Negroes to have to band together in a kind of self-conscious community and also to take advantage of their segregated status to forge a weapon of numbers and particularly of numbers and of agitation in order to reach full integration. This then is contradictory because on the one hand you are seeking a goal of full integration. On the other hand you must be exceedingly self-conscious and race conscious in order to further the cause toward the implementation of that goal. This then raises the question of what should be the role of individual negroes who have received the advantages of education and who have
been able to find positions or have achieved positions in integrated set ups in the community at large. Certainly those people by virtue of these advantages and these exposures to the mainstream of American life are equipped for leadership. I am not sure that I am prepared to say that every negro who achieves integration in some phase should be held to such a rigid standard. After all the whole purpose of our fight is that individuals fulfill themselves in the way in which their talents direct them. Now who is to say that a great singer should spend his or her energies in leading the fight for integration.
It may be that by virtue of his or her talent he can do more singing. Then he could if he were a leader protest or advancement organization. Les Murray how do you feel that Negroes view the current differentiation between the north and the South an attitude practiced toward the negro. The problem of race is nationwide. The South today in many ways is about where some parts of the no North were 100 years ago. For example in the 1840s and 1850s negroes were fighting through the court to be admitted to schools in Massachusetts and the first case that went up to the Supreme Court in which the separate but equal doctrine was enunciated by the
Supreme Court in the old case of Plessy versus Ferguson. That case rested in the Supreme Court cited in support of its decision and all decision of the Massachusetts court saying that it was perfectly lawful for a local school board to exclude a negro child. I only point this up to say that this problem by no standard is a Southern problem. It is a nationwide problem. In the south however you have a particular regional situation because of the large numbers of negroes who historically have lived in the south. And because of the slavery background and because of the. Legacy and the sense of the Civil War and all of the
attitudes which grew out of a defeated Confederacy. Now bringing that up to today. What happened roughly around the turn of the century was that because of the Supreme Court separate but equal decision. The southern states uniformly began to build a body of segregation statutes calculated to keep the Negro in a an inferior position in every phase of community life in education and hospitals on public hand transportation in blind deaf and dumb schools and prisons. Even in places of employment I think South Carolina had a statute making it illegal if you did not have separate washrooms at the same time the North began to move toward civil rights legislation and public accommodations statutes here. Recently the northern states have moved further.
A number of Northern states having an acted fair employment practices legislation fair housing practices legislation fair education. Laws some states have some northern states have strengthened their civil rights statutes. A number of Northern states have or certainly localities have interacted statutes setting up mayors commissions and various kinds of commissions on intergroup relations and on human rights in 1954 as a result of the Supreme Court decision in education. The hardcore segregation of state began to pass a body of legislation guaranteed to evade the Supreme Court decision from 1954 to the present time you have had various kinds of statutes. Perhaps the largest body of legislation has been directed against the NWC
P.. Attempts to prevent the end of it from carrying on activities within various states in the field of education you have had statutes. The purpose of which is to evade the Supreme Court decision on education statutes authorizing the governor to close down the schools. If Negroes are admitted. Statutes calling for the denial of state funds to any local school that admits local white school that admits negroes. This kind of legislation suggests a hardening of the attitude of the organized segregationist in the south in so far
as the reaction of Negroes is concerned. It appears that with the 1954 decision negroes in the south realize now at last the law is on our side and it has seemed that the initiative for leadership in challenging inequality has shifted from the northern industrial centers to the south where Negro leaders are emerging to challenge the segregation laws and to challenge practices of discrimination increasingly you find incidents of just needed leadership arising in a situation where a little guy won't take it anymore. This I think is significant. Negroes in the south.
Fighting for civil rights are a part of a worldwide convulsion. A worldwide turmoil of peoples in every continent who are demanding and insisting that they be treated as equals and not as inferiors Would you care to clarify just what you mean by being equals in this country we talk of equality of opportunity. This means that every person be given an opportunity to fulfill himself in accordance with his individual talents. I think probably the same is true in this worldwide revolution that I am speaking of although I'm not sure that it is articulated in the way in so far as the African colonials are concerned. They
want to be treated as equal equal partners among nations. This would be true of the Indian people of the people of Chinese Nori endl extraction. But the point that I'm trying to make is that people the world over want to be treated in accordance with their potentials and their capacities and not in accordance with the color of their skin. And this becomes significant because two thirds of the people of the world today are dark skinned people. And it just so happens either resonant a historical accident or deliberate. Show of power the an equal status of the peoples of the world. Roughly correspond with the color of their skins. The Constitution says
that no person shall be denied equal protection of the laws. And I am one of those people who believes in the right of the individual no matter what his economic social or racial classification may be. To participate equally in accordance with his own individual capacity must carry Would you care to come and legislative history. Segregation. Well the separate and separate unequal doctrine which we are saddled with today in which we overturned in large part with the education cases by the Supreme Court in 1954. Is only about a half century old in the history of legislation in our country. Before the 1896 that was the Plessy
vs. Ferguson decision which enunciated the separate but equal doctrine. There was no uniform segregation legislation in the south. There had been no need for it under slavery because the slaves occupied a certain category and the master class occupied another category. There was a great deal of intermingling of the races and public accommodations. And in public places. But following the civil war following the abortion of the Reconstruction era and the coming back into power of the white south. There began to be this gradual whittling away of the right which the Negroes or even of some of the opportunities which the negroes had achieved during the brief period of
reconstruction and then the states began to pass laws requiring separation. One of these statutes not in the field of education but in the field of Transportation came up from Louisiana to the Supreme Court for interpretation that was the Plessy v. Ferguson case and in 1896 by a decision of 8 to 1. The Supreme Court said that so long as you have equal facilities the fact that they are separate facilities is not unconstitutional and is not inequality within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. This was specifically applicable to transportation. This was applicable to transportation this was the case upon which it came to the Supreme Court. However the case upon which this one of the cases upon which the Supreme Court relied in announcing this
doctrine was a case coming from Massachusetts an eight hundred forty nine which had already been repudiated and rejected by the people of Massachusetts because their Supreme Court had said in about eight hundred forty nine that it was all right to exclude a negro child from the common school. And the legislature the next session passed a law which made this decision null and void. But here was this all statute hanging there on the books and the Supreme Court reached back a half century and took this all Massachusetts decision. Did I say statute. I meant to say the sole decision. The Supreme Court reached back and took this Massachusetts decision to bolster its position of separate but equal. Now I think it's very significant to note that that decision was an 8 to 1 decision the lone justice who dissented was Associate Justice John him Harlan whose grandson now sits on the Supreme Court. And this justice
wrote a magnificent dissenting opinion. Prophesied that the the violence done to the rights of human beings that day by the Supreme Court in announcing this separate but equal doctrine would cause anguish and pain for generations to come. Every lawyer from that time on who has attempted to find a legal basis for overturning the separate but equal doctrine has gone to that dissenting opinion of Justice our Associate Justice John Harlan and this again illustrates what a stubborn individual who has a point of view can do if he believes that his point of view is right. The. Rest Mary how do you feel that the nation has benefited from the presence of the Negro on this continent.
I think the nation has benefited in many ways but I think two ways stand out as dramatically significant the presence of the Negro in this country has provided the United States with a test tube for democracy. The political theory of democracy is one of the most difficult to carry out in practice because it rests upon the assent of free people and rests upon the discipline of the individual to accord every other individual in the society the same rights which he has now. The peculiar contradictory background of the negro as a slave in a country that was founded upon the principle that all men are created free and equal
has set up a constant contradiction within this young raw American democracy. The gap between its principles and its practices and having selected the most difficult of political theories upon which to found our country. We have within our own citizenship. Every color and kind in a sense of mankind throughout the world. The largest single minority group being the negro therefore the Negro has acted as a barometer of democracy a measuring rod How effective. Are we as a democratic country. How near are we to achieving this goal of democracy which we believe is the best possible political
organization in the world. The preoccupation of the negro with the implementation of democracy has kept Americans sensitive to the founding principles and sensitive to the goal which we hope to achieve in the long run. And the second great contribution of the Negro which I think is partially comprehended by many Americans is the spiritual quality which has grown out of this experience of oppression and slavery. That is the ability to patiently work toward first class
citizenship without continuous violent rebellion. The self-restraint and the discipline which negroes by and large have shown throughout this long long struggle for human dignity. And I think that every country if it is great. Must have great spiritual roots. I don't mean sectarian roots but great spiritual roots and I think negroes have been forced to develop this spiritual quality and I think America is the richer for it. Thank you Miss Mary. You have been listening to comments on a minority presenting today Ms. Polly Murray attorney and author Mr. Murray's comments were taken from a longer interview recorded in her New York City office by our producer E-W Richter in connection with the production of the last citizen a series of program produced under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center. We're inviting you to join us again next week when our guest will be the
retired judge Jay Waite he's wearing. He was United States district judge for the Eastern District of South Carolina. Judge Waring will discuss certain aspects of the legal background of the Supreme Court School decision of 1954 and his own behavior on the bench and civil rights cases. Comments on the minority is produced and recorded by radio station WBA. A Purdue University. This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
Comment on a minority
Pauli Murray
Producing Organization
Purdue University
WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features Pauli Murray, an activist, lawyer, and author. Murray discusses discrimination against African Americans in the United States.
Series Description
This series explores minority issues in the United States in the mid-20th century.
Broadcast Date
Social Issues
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Guest: Murray, Pauli, 1910-1985
Interviewer: Thompson, Ben
Producer: Richter, E.W.
Producing Organization: Purdue University
Producing Organization: WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 60-51-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:43
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Chicago: “Comment on a minority; Pauli Murray,” 1960-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2023,
MLA: “Comment on a minority; Pauli Murray.” 1960-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2023. <>.
APA: Comment on a minority; Pauli Murray. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from