June 23, 2015

1958. A Listener Responds to Downs' Criticism of the South and Segregation

Letter From a Listener
"With Georgia Gov. George Busbee (left) looking on, U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge campaigns forcefully in Augusta in 1980. He would win the Democratic Primary, but lose to Republican Mack Mattingly in one of Georgia's most shocking political upsets" (source)

Bill Downs received this letter from Edith Dickey Moses of Bluffton, South Carolina in February 1958. It is a response to a radio piece about politics in Georgia. The typos and punctuation are left intact, though some paragraphs are split up for readability.

Downs forwarded this letter to either Edward R. Murrow or Edward P. Morgan at CBS:

Ed - Here's that letter. Suggest you look through it just for fun - Bill Downs

Dear Mr. Downs:

This is no brief for the Talmadges, but I commend you for not portraying Herman as an illiterate "wool hat". Eugene Talmadge garnered thousands of votes because his northern critics invariably pictured him as a Tobacco Roader who could not speak the King's English. Actually he was Phi Beta Kappa and had an inordinate amount of charm when he chose to use it. And after all - it is Ellis Arnell's ambiguous New Constitution which is responsible for the mess.

It is the sheerest rot for anyone, including Arnell, to say that Facists have taken over Georgia. If I remember, Maine once had three governors for a hundred and forty days. The blunt truth is that Arnell missed a golden opportunity to do great service to his state. He became enamored of the limelight and Ellis Arnell. If he had stayed at home and kept his trap shut and tended to his knitting he could have instituted all sorts of reforms but I know dozens of anti-Talmadge Georgians who simply got fed up to the teeth with Arnell.

His first fatal mistake was to nominate Wallace who was and is thoroughly detested in Georgia as he was and is in my home state of Indiana. (Arnell misread the public pulse. He thought the extreme left-wing was a growing concern.)

His next mistake was to go up North to make speeches - return home - and say "I did not say that" or "I was misquoted". His next was to vilify his own state and its people to outsiders. That is a poor way to win friends and influence elections. His next was when he permitted Fortson and other Arnell henchmen to try to break his own Constitution's bend on a second term. Arnell said he had nothing to do with it - which, of course, was assured. He could have stopped it within ten minutes.

His last mistake was to accept that New Orleans invitation from the Southern Conference of Human Welfare. It is such an obvious Communistic front aggregation that Arnell publicly stated he would accept the tribute although he was not in sympathy with its objectives. This actually happened - and I haven't had a scrap of respect for Arnell since that moment!

The blunt truth is that Northerners are not qualified to pose as authorities on the South. I can say my piece because I am a Northerner. My grandfather gave his life for the Union. I haven't a single inherited prejudice. But I have lived down here for twenty years and I know that one must live down here in order to know what it is all about.

I also know that Northerners are the grossest of hypocrites on this racial issue. Here is a sample: They caterwauled about voting in the South where, incidentally, no one was murdered. And negroes did vote in many states. And they barely mentioned the fact that Marcantonio thugs slaughtered a Republican worker in cold blood. To date the criminals are still running lose. But had that happened in the South and had the victim been a negro you would all have raised merry hell. And you know it. Apparently it's no crime to murder a Republican!

I have always wondered how northerners can have the unmitigated gall to vilify the South considering the glass houses in which they live. Northern negro ghettos do not spring up over night. They grow because when negroes begin to encroach on white territory the whites fold their tents, call a moving van, and quietly steal away. They do it because they do not want negro neighbors. They do not want their children to go predominately negro schools. (In this village we live check by jowl.) And in the north no one screams "Fascist" at these northern segregationists. Really, Mr. Downs - don't you think you should clean house up north before you start in with a broom down here?

Herman Talmadge was right when he mentioned the problem that exists in counties where negroes outnumber white. I live in such  county. I presume 60% of negroes are illiterate in this county. (That is disgraceful. It is a situation that is being remedied but that doesn't help the present situation. I should say that 80% of negroes of voting age in this country are at least semi-illiterate.) I am assuming these negroes put up their own candidates - an all negro ticket - and elect all of them. Which they have a perfect right to do. Which they undoubtedly would do.

You, I presume, live in New York. How am I going to transpose our situation to New York - with its majority of semi-illiterate negroes, who have swept all their candidates into office. This would be the picture: New York's representatives in Albany and Washington would be negroes. Your Mayor would be a negro. So would all city employees. Your police would be all negroes. Your public health system and your school system would be negro-manned. Indeed, all civic functions would be in the hands of the negroes. You would have, in short, negro "supremacy" and there would be nothing you could do about it. How would you like it? The answer is: You would not. Period. Yet that is what you expect southern whites to endure in counties where the majority is black.

No southerner defends white supremacy on other than the grounds of expediency. He admits that, morally, it hasn't a leg to stand on. He merely knows that where such conditions exist it is a question of white or black supremacy. Being white - he is sufficiently human to prefer white. And again - so would you.

I do not pretend to know the answer. It is a terrible situation. But I do know, Mr. Downs, it is the easiest thing in the world to recommend medicine one does not have to take himself. That is what you are doing. That is what every northern critic is doing. And, frankly, it makes me gag.

It has only one amusing facet. You all throw Lincoln in our teeth. I expect that from Winchell for he hasn't a sound education as a background. But I do not expect you, Mr. Downs, to intone: "And Lincoln's birthday was just three days ago." Lincoln was a real "segregationist". He has said everything Bilbo and Rankin have said but he wasn't so vulgar about it. And if you doubt this I refer you to these speeches:
June 26, 1857 at Springfield

Aug. 21, 1858 at Ottowa, Ill.
And his words to a negro delegation in Washington - August 14, 1862. Here are some excerpts: "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races - I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of the negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."

Or: "I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the races----as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference. I am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position."

Read these speeches - especially his blunt words to the negro delegation. You will never make a mother Lincoln faux pas - if you do. I was taught in Indiana that the Emancipation Act was purely a war measure - to deprive the South of manpower and labor - and thus hasten the end of the war. Certainly Lincoln hated slavery. It was thoroughly immoral. But he was definitely a white supremacy man. Check up on it!


Edith Dickey Moses