President John F. Kennedy performed a public service last week when he reminded
his press conference audience that 150 Southern cities have started the integration
process in their schools. This fact has been overlooked by many Americans who
have been discouraged at the slow progress of the campaign for equality.
The Negro still is far from his goal. In fact, he is probably a decade away
from full acceptance as a legal equal and perhaps 50 years from the point where
he will not be conspicuous at private clubs, in political councils and in labor
Why try to deceive ourselves about the speed of integration? It was not until
1960 a Roman Catholic could be elected President of the United States. Many
private clubs still are closed to Americans of the Hebrew faith. How many years
passed before a Greenfield man of Polish ancestry could win appointment to a
sergeancy in the local police department?
Segregation is not based on color alone. Massachusetts has communities where
no "foreigner" from Southern or Eastern Europe is socially or politically
acceptable. It has wards- and even cities- where a Yankee has as much chance
of election as a snowball's survival in Hades. And the same is true of many
other states north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Chicago is a patchwork of racial and nationality neighborhoods. So is New York
City- and Detroit- and Los Angeles. They have their Chinatown, their Little
Italys, their Yorkvilles, their Black Belts and their Hamtramcks All are based
on colors, Old World languages, customs and a feeling for association and protection
Changing times are breaking down the barriers, however. No longer can an Irish
or French ward boss "deliver" an overwhelming majority vote. No longer
can an Italian padrone bargain with construction firms for unskilled labor or
with political leaders for support at the polls.The yeast of change has been
working with increasing strength for the past 30 years: both cities and suburbs
today reflect the striving for equality and betterment in the hearts of all
men- whatever their skin pigmentation.
Racial integration has been the most pronounced form of this social, economic
and political evil. Therefore, it is only realistic to expect its correction
will take the longest time and be accompanied by the most violence. Like the
others, the process of change includes pressure, argument, civil turmoil and
Progress is apparent- even though it is painfully slow and opposed with almost
incredible fanaticism. This fact, stressed by President Kennedy last week, proves
the effectiveness of united effort short of violence. Those who have followed
the history of other minorities know the pace will quicken now the breakthrough
has been established.