Holmes County, Miss. — The tin roof of Edith Friend's home does not leak. And she pays no rent. But there is no plumbing, or even an outdoor privy. The plasterboard walls are broken in places, and the linoleum flooring heavily worn.
Edith Friend is one of the South's thousands of black farmhands who still toil in the sun, live in shacks, and try to get by. Until a few years ago she earned only $5 a day. That was raised gradually to $10 a day. But she says she could not afford to complain.
"We didn't have no choice," she said, because the farmer who owned the shack "might've made us move."
On the other side of this county, in Durant, Robert Teague, a black businessman, leans back on a handsome sofa in his modern, brick ranch-style house and exclaims: "There's nothing but opportunity here [in the South]."
Teague returned to Durant, his hometown, from Los Angeles in 1976 and now is a psychiatric social worker in the county. He also sells real estate and rents a restaurant he purchased and renovated near his home. His wife is a teacher in the Durant public high school. He makes about $26,000 a year, he says, though he adds that he lost some money on business investments.
"Ignorance is pronounced" in his area, Teague says. Many people lack a basic education. Whites are basically "in control" here, he says. But the area has been "relatively successful" in attracting some new industries.
Edith Friend and Robert Teague represent frustration and hope for Southern blacks.
Twenty years after black and white "Freedom Riders" were beaten and arrested in a number of Southern cities for trying to establish the right of people of all colors to ride interstate buses through the South, one finds numerous examples today of both.
Last year, blacks rioted in four Southern cities. There have been no similar outburst in 1981.
Jimmy Carter, as he left office, spoke of "a tone in this nation that is not as committed to civil rights, to human rights, as I would like to see."
His successor, Ronald Reagan, now has endorsed extending the Voting Rights Act in essentially its current form, something black leaders have insisted is necessary to ensure fair voting opportunities for minorities.
From the streets to the White House, actions by blacks and in behalf of blacks are often difficult to assess. Where lack of riots may be counted as progress by some, others point out that the issues that may encourage such violence are still not resolved. And while President Reagan is strongly criticized by most black leaders for favoring cutbacks in programs for the poor, other blacks insist that government is not the key to greater self-sufficiency on the part of blacks.
"We've got to find a way to help ourselves," says Elton Jolly, executive director of Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC). Mr. Jolly, who has seen thousands of disadvantaged young blacks get job training in OIC offices across the country, says that black youths need help from black adults to develop positive attitudes and prepare for good jobs.
We've got mothers who don't care; we've got fathers who don't care; we've got ministers talking about milk and honey in heaven instead of ham and beans on earth," Jolly told an audience in Atlanta. "If you haven't helped a child, if you haven't helped a poor person -- a mother on welfare -- you haven't done anything," he said.
Leslie Range, a black official with the Mississippi Research & Development Center, says reliance on welfare and short-term government programs will never produce a solution to the plight of poor blacks. What will? Among other things , he says, what is needed is state help in attracting industry to poor areas.
Elected black officials, including Atlanta's Mayor Maynard Jackson, along with black civil rights leaders in the United States, are making angry statements about President Reagan's actions regarding minorities. Mayor Jackson recently lashed out at the President for backing "not only fiscal conservatism but social conservatism."
Some of the crosscurrents of thought on black progress come into focus through interviews with blacks and whites in the South. There are more blacks in this region than any other area of the nation.
Two seemingly countervailing views emerge:
1. That a broad shadow still lies over much of the nation's Sunbelt, covering several million blacks in the darkness of poverty, racism, and self-pity.
2. That the major progress of blacks in the 1960s -- in civil rights, housing , education, and employment -- has transformed the status of many blacks, bringing them into the mainstream of Southern life.
In official statements of Southern leaders of both races, one view or the other tends to prevail. But in informal discussions in rural Mississippi or downtown Atlanta, the views tend to overlap. And the theme that emerges is this: Much progress has been made, but much more is needed.
"I don't think we've reached the promised land," points out John Lewis, former associate director of ACTION, a federal antipoverty agency. But for a black born in the South and now working in Atlanta, Lewis says, much progress has been made. Hundreds of thousands of blacks have been registered to vote in the South since the mid-1960s; several thousand more have been elected to public office; and blacks now hold many jobs considered "unthinkable" for them to hold 20 years ago, he explains.
"In spite of all the poverty and discrimination in the South, this is still the place of greater hope -- there's a greater degree of optimism," Lewis adds.
But perceptions differ. In a national Gallup pool in 1980, 44 percent of the blacks (and 75 percent of the whites) said they thought the quality of life had "gotten better" during the past 10 years. Twenty-nine percent of the blacks said life had "stayed the same"; 25 percent said life had "gotten worse."
Court-ordered school desegregation, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and other judicial and legislative actions that were to have signified the end of the era of racial discrimination in the US remain empty promises for many blacks in the Deep South and elsewhere.
Unemployment among blacks is persistently much higher than among whites; blacks earn less; housing among Southern blacks is much more often inferior than among whites; Southern blacks have a life expectancy six years shorter than Southern whites; educational programs for blacks continue to lag behind those of whites.
Vestiges of racial injustice in the South can be found in rural communities as well as in the cities -- in the cotton country of Mississippi as well as in Atlanta neighborhoods. Allegations of police brutality and charges that courts are biased against blacks helped spark last year's riots in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, Fla., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
In 1970, some 42 percent of the South's blacks had family incomes below the federal poverty level; in 1975, nearly 39 percent were below the poverty line, according to the US Census Bureau. Southern black poverty is half rural, half urban.
There are four times as many black elected officials in the US today as there were in 1969. But still less than 1 percent of the nation's elected officials are black (though about 11 percent of the nation is black), and the rate at which they are being elected is slowing, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Joint Center for Political Studies. The continued use of at-large electoral systems and the frequent failure of black candidates to win white support are among key reasons for the decline, says Milton Morris of the center.
Steve Suitts, a white who heads an Atlanta-based civil rights, antipoverty organization, the Southern Regional Council (SRC), says of black anger today: "The standards by which people judge their expectations are not historic standards." Many whites look at government efforts to ensure the civil rights of blacks over the years and ask: "Isn't that enough?" says Suitts. But he adds that blacks look at the same efforts and ask: "Is this only as far as we go?"
Suitts suggests funneling more federal funds into local community organizations in a transition period leading to greater self-sufficiency of the poor.
To move beyond what some see as a lack of progress or a slowing of it, some Southern blacks see a need for coalition politics among poor blacks, whites, and Hispanics to:
* Boycott products manufactured by companies seen as discriminating against blacks. The recent agreement signed by the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola company and Jesse Jackson's Chicago-based People United to Save Humanity on the company's activities regarding blacks followed PUSH's encouragement to blacks to stop buying Coca-Cola.
* Launch more class-action lawsuits in small towns and rural areas to fight alleged discrimination in housing and jobs.
* Encourage greater minority participation in unions.
Two themes running through suggestions by Southern blacks and whites on how to further bolster the status of blacks are: (1) the need for stronger enforcement of existing federal antidiscrimination legislation; (2) the need for greater self-help efforts by blacks.
President Reagan's assistant attorney general for civil rights, William Bradford Reynolds, says the administration will not let up in its efforts to enforce civil rights laws. But President Reagan's recent move to ease federal affirmative-action regulations on hiring means the President is "turning his back on 27 years of progress in civil rights," charges Atlanta's Mayor Jackson.
Administration officials, however, say the reduced regulations will encourage more voluntary compliance and that hiring guidelines are to be left unchanged.
Regardless of which approach finally works best on this particular issue, three broad issues are basic to the welfare of blacks: racism, employment, and housing.
Racism: There is no way to quantify to what extend racism exists. Many whites and blacks say it persists; others deny it. With few exceptions (such as Ku Klux Klan activity), the blatant manifestations of racism are a thing of the past. It is the more subtle discrimination that concerns many Southern leaders.
"We're racists, and the blacks are more racist than we are and get more so every day," says a white Mississippi businessman. The Southeastern Office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples cities its "concern that the endemic racism that pervades the thinking and behavior of too many blacks and whites be exposed and rooted out."
A retired, white teacher interviewed in his rural home near Eufaula, Ala., considers himself a segregationist -- preferring to live apart from blacks. He supports the idea of separate schools for blacks and whites. But he insists he is not a racist, because he enjoys working with blacks. Many blacks, however, miss the distinction. They would call him a racist.
Some patterns of separate social activities may have little to do with racism. But when they involve public officials, the patterns are sometimes interpreted that way. In 1979, two-thirds of the Southern federal judges belonged to segregated, private clubs, according to an SRC study. Last year the federal courts advised against such membership.
Fourteen-year-old Sherman Manning, a black active in his church in Atlanta, says some black students "give up" after their teachers call them "dumb" and students laugh at them. Lack of respect is often at the base of such incidents and at the base of racial feelings, he suggests. "Black and white people both need to come together as one," he says. The key to better race relations is to "have respect for people and do what the Bible says," young Manning adds.
Employment: In the South, where high-technology jobs have been increasing rapidly, lack of training is holding back many blacks from being hired for such jobs, says William J. Wilson, a black professor of urban sociology at the University of Chicago. The lack of training programs may in itself be a reflection of racial bias, he adds.
But, Professor Wilson continues, "even if you eliminate all racism and discrimination tomorrow, the condition of the black poor would not improve significantly." What is needed in Southern and other cities with large concentrations of poor blacks are major new tax breaks to industries to encourage them to locate in the inner cities, he adds. President Reagan has proposed such incentives in his concept of inner-city "enterprise zones."
Also needed, Professor Wilson suggests, are more cooperatives, an end to compulsory overtime (that holds down additional employment), and meaningful publc-service jobs to help rebuild cities.
A study by the SRC found that in eight city or county governments in several Southern states where blacks were 30 to 50 percent of the population, only 1 in 27 top-level administrators was black.
While the SRC contends racial discrimination was a major factor in these local governments' hiring policies, others would suggest that a lack of trained blacks was the issue. And there are some, like C.H. Blanton Jr., Durant's white major, who said in an interview: "A lot of them [blacks] don't want to study and just don't have the sense to do it."
Housing: Nearly one-third of all homes in the 11-state region of the old Confederacy lacked some (or all) plumbing in 1970, according to the US Census Bureau. By comparison, only 7 percent of whites' homes had this deprivation. These are the latest figures. Many of the blacks who rioted in Chattanooga in July of 1980 came from one of the large public housing projects there. (The riots followed acquittal by an all-white jury of three self-avowed members of the Ku Klux Klan on charges of attempted murder of four black women).
Minnie Peeples, head of the tenants organization for public housing at the time of the riots, said conditions were very bad in many of the buildings: floor tiles missing; broken windows; faulty heating; raw sewage running down the walls of some units.
"All we're asking is that we be treated fairly," she says. A public housing official in Chattanooga says the people are treated fairly but that federal funds for maintenance are short.
Some 50,000 people live in public housing in Atlanta. A similar lack of repair funds has officials and many of the residents complaining. A modern swimming pool at Perry Homes, an Atlanta housing project, has been out of order for much of the time since it was built in 1977 -- frustrating youth in the project.
Tenants are sometimes at fault, an official of the Atlanta Public Housing Authority points out. Some fail to pay their share of the subsidized rent, or fail to report increases in their incomes (which would increase their rents), or destroy property, this officials says. "Are we strick enough on the rules?" he asks.
These and other issues affect all people, not just black. And though they seem to be wrapped up in questions of legislation, government regulations, and funding, some leaders see a more basic point, one involving all Americans.
Robert L. Green, dean of the College of Urban Development at Michigan State University and a member of the board of directors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change, told an Atlanta audience last year he sees respect for persons of all races as the underlying factor behind human progress. And he added that love in one's own home is the starting point for treating nonfamily members with respect, especially those of another color.