Alan Paton visits the changing American South
This is the second installment of a chapter from Alan Paton's work in progress, the second volume of his autobiography, to be published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. It continues his account of visiting the United States from South Africa three decades ago, before the civil rights gains of later years. THROUGH the thoughtfulness of Waties and Elizabeth Waring, I was to be guest of Dr. A. T. Cornwell and his wife, Ruby, in Charleston. He was a dentist, and because of his title of ``doctor'' he was excluded from the Southern battle of Negroes to be called Mr. and Mrs. His wife however waged it unceasingly, and would not buy in a shop which withheld her title, or where they would not allow colored women to try on shoes or dresses. She was one of those who brought the preparations for the local repertory show of ``Porgy and Bess'' to an untimely end, because she discovered that there was to be segregated seating. Yet she was of a gentle rather than an aggressive nature, a person of the same kind as William Ragin of Clarendon County. As soon as I arrived, Mrs. Cornwell wanted to know what I would like to see or do. I said, visit the Navy base and the shipyard. Accordingly we set out for the shipyard, her friend Mrs. Hoffman driving, me in the middle, and Mrs. Corn-well on the other side. Mrs. Cornwell later recorded in a letter: ``He was quite sensitive to the amount of attention we were receiving -- more so than I was, I think.'' Unfortunately I had no instrument available to measure our various sensitivities. I was fully aware that all three existed. All three of us had grown up in a color bar society, and all three of us were doing something we had not done before. We may well have been doing something that had not been done in Charleston before.
Mrs. Hoffman stopped her car some distance from the gates of the dockyard, which were guarded by a young white Marine. Why did we stop? We stopped in order to discuss the right procedures to adopt. Cars were streaming in and out of the dockyard, but ours was the only one in which was said: ``That's the part I don't like, talking to the police. Mr. Paton, you had better talk to the police.'' So I told the young white Marine that I was from South Africa and wanted to visit the shipyard with my friends. If he lifted an eyebrow, it was not discernible. He said he would communicate with the police.
So we sat waiting in the car, but inside the gates. I had steeled myself to accept a rebuff, but my two friends were anxious that there should be no rebuffs and anxious -- though they did not tell me so -- lest their country might disappoint or hurt them and me. But their country did neither. It sent out a policeman, who happened to be white, and he sat in front with Mrs. Hoffman, Mrs. Cornwell and I behind. But of the problems of integration in the shipyard he knew nothing. I told him about my assignment with Collier's magazine, and asked if we could see the public information officer. He took us to another telephone, and soon I was talking to Lt. Comdr. Marvin F. Studebaker, who said he would show us around himself.
Mrs. Cornwell and her friend suggested that they would stay in the car, so that I could have the tour to myself. I told the commander this, and that my two friends were colored ladies. He would have none of it. He went over to the car, shook hands and introduced himself, put us all in his own vehicle, and took us around the shipyard. He told us the story of the cafeteria, which was ordered to be desegregated and lost most of its white patrons, who then went to the desegregated snack bars, and took their food away. They did not mind buying food together, but they objected to eating it together.
There were thousands of workers in the dockyard, both white and Negro, working together on equal terms. Our visit aroused lively interest amongst the workers, who showed surprise and even amusement. But we were safe under the shelter of the Commander's wings, who -- to change the metaphor -- bestrode this world like a colossus. We parted from him with gratitude and affection. As we drove away, my South African eyes could hardly miss another sight. A Negro Marine was now in charge of the gates.
On to Atlanta, the city of ``Gone With the Wind,'' to stay with President Benjamin Elijah Mays, president of More-house College, and his wife, Sadie, the best cook in the American South. Bennie I knew well, having spent two sessions with him in Geneva under the chair-manship of Dean Liston Pope, head of the Yale Divinity School, where three of us served on a World Council of Churches committee that was preparing an agenda on ``Church and Race'' for the 1955 meeting of the Council at Evanston, Ill. While I was in Atlanta I was going to see yet another state governor, Herman Talmadge of Georgia. He had never become a judge of the United States Supreme Court, nor a secretary of state, but he was forceful and self-assured. Before I went to see him at the Capitol, I stood and contemplated the Georgia seal and its proud motto, ``Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.'' I could not help thinking of my own country of South Africa, which also has a splendid coat of arms, and a splendid motto, ``Eendragt Maakt Magt,'' which means ``Unity makes Strength.''
Governor Talmadge was not a man for conventionality. He had just had a tooth out, and during our interview spurted out jets of blood with expert aim into a spittoon. He had a loud voice and determined manner. He told me that desegregation would not be accepted by the South, and if it were enforced it could lead to war between the States. Georgia would make any sacrifice to resist it, even to the extent of giving up its public schools. She would have private and segregated schools where parents could choose the kind of school they wanted. He stressed that this freedom of choice would be exercised by Negro as well as white.
I asked him if the life of segregation was not drawing to a close. ``No, sir,'' he said, ``not in the South.''
Governor Talmadge offered no intellectual defense of segregation. He did not talk to me about the black fish and the white fish. Segregation was the Southern way of life, and there never would be any other -- not while he was alive.
While I was in Atlanta the governor flew to New York, and one of his fellow passengers was Dr. Rufus Clement, the Negro president of Atlanta University. The two men knew each other, and had actually once sat on the same platform, but the governor did not greet the university president on either of these occasions. Dr. Clement was therefore not a little surprised to see the governor that afternoon on television, telling the nation that the South was making its own way in race relations, and that Atlanta had even elected a Negro, Dr. Rufus Clement, to the City Board of Education.
Alan Paton The third and final installment appears tomorrow.