Leaders & Controversies

Transcript: Source4

Parts of a report on race relations in the US from Mr Greenhill in the British Embassy in Washington, 6 August 1963
(Catalogue ref: FO 371/168485)

Source 4a

Confidential and Guard

August 6, 1963

Despatch No.116

My Lord,

As the police dogs and fire hoses were turned against the Negro ministers, women and children demonstrating in Birmingham, Alabama, early in May, something seemed to snap among the nation’s 20 million Negroes. Angry demonstrations flared up all over the country in unprecedented numbers and over 150 places have reportedly had protest actions of some kind since May. Disquieting reports of the explosive mood of the Negroes, particularly in the Northern city slums, began to reach the Administration. The Attorney General met privately with some of the Negro Young Turks and came away much disturbed at the passionate and seemingly reckless intensity of their feelings. Then on June 11th with the nation tense and looking on, Governor Wallace of Alabama symbolized the fruitless but unrepentant prejudice of the Southern segregationists by a vain charade aimed at blocking the admission of two Negro students at the University of Alabama. The President judged that the moment had come for personal intervention, not just in support of Federal Court decisions, but with the broader aim of leading the country from racial strife. After addressing the nation on television he submitted new legislative proposals for Congress.

Source 4b

4. Direct action has won its way because it has caught the mood of the rising generation of Negroes and because it has won initial successes. From the early desegregation of travel facilities following the "Freedom Rides", to the hundreds of restaurants, hotels and public facilities desegregated in the wake of the Birmingham demonstrations, more of the most obnoxious walls of segregation have come tumbling down than in all the years since Reconstruction. The movement has given expression to the militancy of young Negroes who saw Africans gaining full independence while they, with superior qualifications and achievements, were subject to the daily insult of "white only" signs. The doctrine of Christian non-violence, as adapted from Gandhi by churchmen such as Dr. Martin Luther King, has offered them a powerful, sophisticated and satisfying weapon. As they kneel in prayer, sing hymns on the way to jail, or submit passively to the blows and abuse of white hooligans and police, the demonstrators at once disarm their oppressors and add to the ugliness and guilt of those who brutalize them. For themselves they gain the inspiration and satisfaction of superior Christian behaviour in face of enemies who profess to call themselves Christians and claim that the Negro race is inferior. Further stature has been added to the movement by its leaders who have generally emerged under the glare of publicity as men of character and ability. Their Southern enemies have charged that they are under communist influence. The Administration have stated publicly that they have no evidence of this. While some Communists and Communist sympathizers undoubtedly take part in the demonstrations, the direct action movement certainly does not lean on the Communist movement.

Source 4c

5. I said above that the non-violent movement has been successful. Yet its successes, though dramatic in relation to the past, and of great symbolic importance, have so far only scratched the surface of the real problem. For all the hundreds of restaurants desegregated, hundreds more remain barred to Negroes. Despite voter registration drives undertaken at great personal risk, the Southern Negro remains largely disenfranchised. In darkest Mississippi only 6.1% of voting age Negroes are registered and can vote (if they dare).

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