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November 14, 1953
Guest post by Maddy Dunbar, undergraduate student at University of Richmond.
On November 14, 1953, The Norfolk Journal and Guide published an editorial titled “Strange Contradictions On Subject Of Race Relations,” which responded to a piece in the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram about the work of the North Carolina NAACP. The Telegram published an editorial criticizing the NAACP for its attempts to create social equality for black citizens. This editorial aimed to point out some of the “strange contradictions” in the Telegram’s piece saying that it “argue[d] against the very things it said that it approved.” For example, the Telegram claimed to be in favor of the NAACP working to end discrimination for black Americans while also opposing the NAACP’s work on abolishing segregation in the South. The Telegram editorial seems to argue that ending segregation is not integral to ending discrimination against black citizens. The writer argues that discrimination based on race is wrong, but segregation is not a form of discrimination. The Telegram piece argues that separate but equal is the correct legal way to handle race relations in the South.
The words of the Telegram seem to echo the sentiments of the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson. During this case, the defendant Homer Plessy argued that discrimination against black people in public spaces, like buses, trains, or restaurants, violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1896, Plessy argued that the segregation of black and white people in public spaces led to black citizens being marked as legally inferior. The Supreme Court famously ruled that access to integrated public spaces was not guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and stated that segregation was legal because the separate public accommodations were equal. The court argued, “The assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority… is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”147 The editorial in the Telegram follows this same logic arguing that segregation is not a form of discrimination because black Americans can function as a separate social, political, and economic faction without interacting with white Americans.
The Norfolk Journal and Guide editorial goes on to discuss the links between social and economic equality, emphasizing how the Telegram’s criticisms of the NAACP demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding how integration is necessary for both economic and social equality. The Norfolk Journal and Guide editorial argues that segregation, and the ideology of separate but equal, relies on the idea that that black Americans are able to succeed in their economy completely isolated from white Americans. The editorial states, “Southern Negros cannot use all their labor among themselves. They must market 75 percent of it, or they will not prosper.” The editorial also addresses how many black Southerners were legally prohibited, in states like South Carolina, from working in certain industries like textiles. The Telegram piece does not support the Federal Employment Practices Commission’s “civil rights program.” The FEPC “sought to only open wider fields of employment” for Americans who were disadvantaged by race. The Telegram addresses how one of the goals of the FEPC is to integrate labor unions so that black workers can enter industries like textiles, tobacco, and other higher paying manufacturing jobs. All in all, it appears that the Telegram editorial argued in favor of ending discrimination but was against almost all the North Carolina NAACP’s strategies for creating a more politically, socially, and economically equitable space for black Americans.
This editorial, published about six months prior to the Brown v. Board of Education decision which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, highlights the multiple different ways in which black Southerners were fighting segregation. While many in the South, and the country at large, thought that separate but equal was a solution to racial inequality, the Norfolk Journal and Guide editorial illustrates the ways in which separate but equal perpetuates discrimination and prevented black Southerners from surviving and thriving in the South. By making the comparison between economic equality and social equality the Journal and Guide succinctly demonstrates why integration was a necessary part of the civil rights movement.