By Nigel Kennedy
THIS has been one long hot summer that America and indeed, the world — won't forget. Stokely. Carmichael and Adam Clayton Powell with their "Black Power" cries of violence have literally set the U.S. ablaze.
Long after the shops. factories and cars have stopped burning in Detroit. Newark and most States west to San Francisco. the tires of smouldering hatred between the "niggers" and the "whiteys" will glow.
From President Johnson down to minor civil rights leaders there is a painful air of disillusionment about the progress of the whole Civil Rights movement.
"Where have we gone wrong?" they're asking themselves. "In the last five years we've made the biggest push ever on de-segregation legislation. fair housing, employment. education and aid to the black have-nots.
"All we've got for our efforts is hatred, defiance, mob-law. looting and murder."
President Johnson, to his chagrin, is discovering that decades of injustice and exploitation of the negro cannot be washed away overnight.
And where does Dr. Martin Luther King—the high priest of non-violence—stand, now that his whole philosophy seems smashed to ruins? Shaken, naturally, but not completely daunted.
Together with Civil Rights leaders like Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, Jnr., he issued a statement calling for an end to the riots. "Nothing," he said, "could justify the present destruction of the Negro community and its people."
Last of the snipers
As his statement was issued National Guardsmen and police were flushing out the last of the snipers and bringing to a close one of the worst race riots in American history.
Since the riots started last April more than 70 people (mostly negroes) have been killed. A further 1,000 have been injured and over £200 million worth of damage has been caused.
And what of the Churches. Has their non-violence philosophy failed, too? Like Martin Luther King they harbour thinly disguised pessimism, but as yet, no outright despair. In theory the "Beatitudes" must prevail over the fire and sword of the Old Testament. they argue.
The Churches like the Government, are being attacked for
doing "too little, too late." Plaintive cries of "we did our best" are emerging in reply.
In Detroit, where federal troops rolled out in tanks to quell the killings and rampage, Fr. James Sheehan, the executive secretary of Archbishop Drearden's "Committee for Human Relations" (the euphemistic term for Civil Rights) said: "When the rioting first broke out on the Sunday I decided there was nothing I could do. THESE PEOPLE WEREN'T LISTENING TO ANYBODY."
Instead of staying outdoors and risking being shot by snipers and looters (or the trigger-itchy police) Fr. Sheehan set about organising an inter-faith meeting to plan long-term help.
His move, which on the surface seems to justify the negroes' taunt that "whiteys are all talk and no action" was nothing original.
The Churches' record in race relations in Detroit has, by white American standards, been a good one. The Churches backed better race relations as long ago as 1943.
In 1965 they struck out in a combined programme to use their economic power to back integrated employment opportunities.
Last year clergy not only protested against urbal renewal regulations, but offered their services to help solve a teachershortage in public schools. they made big efforts to secure or give aid to low-rent housing. And under Archbishop Drearden, there was an adventurous programme in the rehabilitation of jail parolees, The executive director of the Detroit Council of Churches, Dr. G. Merrill, is perplexed by the race explosion. "So much good work has been done in our city, but apparently we failed to reach a relatively small, but volatile group," he explained.
"We're convinced that more than half a million negroes behaved themselves as good citizens, but we were powerless against the lawless element in their midst."
Perhaps negro politician John Conyers put it more succinctly: "We tried to call the looters off, but there was nobody we could talk to. Everyone who was worth talking to was at home obeying the law." A Presbyterian pastor volunteered to go into the riot area on a "peace patrol" as he termed it, but his church colleagues sadly shook their heads. It was too late.
Rather ironically, as it seems now, the week the Detroit riots were at their height, the first national "Black Power" Conference was meeting in Newark to step up the "black revolution."
One report from behind the closed-doors conference said Churches and Christianity came under violent attack from some of the delegates. Chairman, Dr. Nathan Wright. Jr., an Episcopal minister, however, denied this.
"Nine out of the 10 delegates were Christians," he declared. He did concede that some negroes had some "hostility" to Christianity.
Dr. Wright's claim that the conference had demonstrated "negro unity" received a nasty knock when during his press conference in Cathedral House —headquarters of Newark's Episcopal Diocese — negroes barged in. overturned television cameras and ordered white reporters out.
Dr. Wright shrugged off the incident by claiming the intruders were not delegates to the conference. He said the conference was "positive and creative."
Two of the motions said to have been passed called for the establishment of all black universities—"just as Notre Dame is Catholic"—and for the end of birth control programmes designed to "exterminate negroes."
But that week Newark wasn't listening. It was too intent on assessing its losses—upwards of £10 million—and burying its dead-24 negroes and two whites. By the time the 900 "Black Power" delegates returned to their cities to spread their gospel of "justice by any means" Newark had discovered that life there would never be the same again.
Where once there was trust, now there is suspicion and hate. Negroes are already organising themselves politically so that in a few years they can have a negro mayor.
The "black spots" in slum housing and education are being looked at again. But the planners see a bleak picture ahead, not only for Newark, but for the nation as a whole.
Where middle-class negro doctors and lawyers can afford suburbia, the problems of integration are less intense. In Milwaukee. for instance, a survey in a street with 14 negro and 33 white families, revealed race relations were good.
On being interviewed both black and white said there had been no problems. Said one of the whites: "When I decided to move into a partially integrated area several years ago, my family was apprehensive. They recalled the violence in the Watts area of Chicago.
"We moved in at a time when the people next door were pleading with residents not to sell to negroes. The arrival of my family had a somewhat stabilising effect. As the months rolled on, apprehension vanished. My daughters know no prejudice and mingle freely with coloured children at home and at school. My wife is happy."
But home in the suburbs and home in a twilight area of the city are worlds apart. America's 22 million negroes constitute only 11 per cent of the U.S.
population but make up something like 20 per cent of the inner cities.
Between 1950 and 1966 some 5,200,000 migrated from the rural south. Today Washington, as President Johnson is so acutely aware, has more negroes than whites. Newark is 55 per cent negro, Baltimore 41 per cent, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Chicago — each more than 30 per cent.
Because negroes lag behind in education, they have to be content with the poorly paid unskilled or semi-skilled jobs in the big cities. And join an inevitable cycle that leads to a "black ghetto."
The middle-class "whiteys" start the cycle by moving to new developments in the suburbs. Negroes cannot afford these urban areas of green lawns and two-car garages, and take over the older dwellings vacated by the whites who have emigrated to commuter-land.
Against this continuing process the slum-clearance programmes appear to be futile.
But, in the long, long term —which is the view Church leaders generally take—there is hope for the negro. Just as the Irish immigrant was placed at a disadvantage when he started to compete with the white American Protestant, but managed to bridge the gap, the negro can do the same—say the gradualists and supporters of non-violence.
But is there time? "Yes," say the Doves, "so long as we provide employment training for the negro, bigger family allowances, bigger unemployment benefits and more schools and colleges."
But as negro Quaker, 57-yearold Barrington Dunbar commented after the ."Black Power" conference in Newark: "Quakers are still a middle class, white power structure— the same as most Christian bodies—and are resented by the masses of negroes.
"The Christian church has been largely ineffective and rendered only lip service to brotherhood," he alleged.
"There is the handwriting on the wall that should be plain to white Americans, and make them feel shameful. They used the slaves to help build this country, and having, freed them, denied them the dignity of free men."
Is there a salutary warning in this for Britain?—I read last week about the black child in Staffordshire who spent his days trying to rub off the black.