This linked-up anthology of New York Timesfootnote1 news reports and magazine articles was published in the United States in 1964. It has, of course, already ‘dated’; but while the present edition makes no effort to offset this, Anthony Lewis supplies a new foreword, the point of which seems to be that Britons should buy and read this book now that the discovery of race prejudice in Britain has made it timely. The introduction is also notable for the truly startling conclusion that the murders of Mrs Viola Liuzza and the Rev. James Reeb ‘inspired action against the ancient pattern of racial violence in the South’, viz. that ‘a Congressional committee investigated the Ku Klux Klan, exposing many of its violent activities’. Fine words for innocent Englishmen, unsullied by the information that the committee in question was the violently anti-libertarian, witch-hunting House Committee on unAmerican activities which has in the past done much in an effort to destroy civil rights activities, and whose investigation of the Klan may well form the alibi for further such attacks on integration movements. Injury to Klan members is likely to be small, since in any case most of them now find it more convenient to join other similar organizations.
But neither Lewis nor his original book is to be rejected out of hand. The American staff reporter (as opposed to the American syndicated columnist) is, on domestic issues, a far more reliable source than is generally recognized. He is blinkered on matters that call for understanding beyond the basic structure of his ideological frame of reference; his more perceptive work is often ‘spiked’ (Mr Lewis handsomely draws our attention to one such instance); he cannot run too far afoul of editor’s and publisher’s prejudices; and, in the so-called ‘news magazines’, his work will generally be mangled beyond recognition and systematically drained of any value it may have. But he has industry, and a strong hatred for dishonesty, injustice, and political hypocrisy of the more obvious kinds. He takes pride in his toughness and therefore is often at bottom very much of a sentimentalist.
The stories reprinted in this volume do their work well in conveying the character of some of the more significant and appalling events of the decade in 1954–64. Lewis, to his credit, has read widely to provide the needed links. The drawback is, of course, a certain lack of understanding of the background to events before they became news and available evidence has changed accordingly. Lewis wags an admonitory finger at the Negro protesters in Cambridge, Maryland, in July 1963, whom he claims ‘marked an early corruption of the protest movement’. His discussion of it, and the supporting news story, take no account of the pattern of white violence on the Eastern Shore, where Cambridge is, nor of the devious racialism of that area’s loyal son, Maryland Governor Tawes. Violence exploded and the Negro leadership’s lack of moderation is at fault. Full stop. On to the next chapter. If I had not had the fortune to have worked on the Eastern Shore myself in the battle against segregation, I might have been tempted to swallow the persuasively-presented argument. As it is, I have to record that Eastern Shore Negroes in the neighbouring Chestertown first adopted a militant posture when a number of them stood between civil rights workers and a pursuing mob of drunken white thugs. The Negroes in question were apparently ready to respond on this occasion with violence. In fact they were not called on to do so. The mob cringed before them. As a pacifist, I don’t like violence. As a veteran of Chestertown, I don’t hold in high regard the assumption that its outbreak in Cambridge must be laid at the door of the Negro leadership.
Elsewhere Lewis is more perceptive. He has given a grim account of the legal delays and paraphernalia with which the Negroes have had to battle; of the savagely high bails and trumped-up arrests, the judicial breaches of law and the police efforts to understudy the Gestapo. As his story ends in 1964, and is in any case presented in fragmentary form, he rather fails to draw the logical conclusion, which appears clearer to readers of Sally Belfrage’s Freedom Summer, a narrative by a victim of the law’s delay and abuse, one of whose co-workers was Stokely Carmichael. Indeed, Lewis’s shortcomings are of value to us, being those of American public commentators generally (and, notably, of Professor Daniel Bell, whose highbrow ‘too-far-too-fast’ admonitions in these pages to Negro leaders lacking in concensusmindedness go far to explain Negro impatience and irritation with white liberals). Lewis pleads touchingly for the Negro to ‘go on following the course that has brought him so far in what seems to others so short a time—the course of reason and restraint’. But his own very honest pages make it quite clear just how short a distance the Negroes have indeed been ‘brought’ in 100 years.
My personal beliefs probably lie more with King than with Carmichael. But neither Lewis (I assume) nor the New York Times nor the racist mobs and law officials nor President Johnson share a belief in pacifism. Why, then, is this to be made medicine for the Negro and for him alone? Apart from any other consideration, the degree to which the ideal of violence for one’s presumed rights in Vietnam and elsewhere is deluged upon the American public to saturation point, makes it virtually inevitable that Negroes should consider the application of sauce for the gander. Again, much rude comment is made against