In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I’m sharing a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal from my father David Aubren Harris in support of Truman’s civil rights initiatives. Although he was a life-long Mississippi resident, he was a a radio engineer on a B17 during WWII, and after returning, became a seminary student at Emory University. I’m also sharing a hateful, racist and vicious letter he received in response.
On August 6, 1946, Martin Luther King, a student at Morehouse College, wrote a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, the City’s largest newspaper. Ten days earlier, Macio Snipes, the only black person to vote in his district in Taylor County, Georgia district was shot to death by four white men the day after he voted, which was followed one day later by twenty white men stopping and shooting two black couples in their car, near Monroe, Georgia. No one ever stood trial for the crimes. The Constitution’s editorial position was that it opposed any “legislation that would make instances of mob violence a matter for Federal authorities.”
Without directly mentioning the previous month’s killings, King’s letter stated, “We want and are entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens: The right to earn a living at work for which we are fitted by training and ability; equal opportunities in education, health, recreation, and similar public services; the right to vote; equality before the law; some of the same courtesy and good manners that we ourselves bring to all human relations. I often find when decent treatment for the Negro is urged, a certain class of people hurry to raise the scarecrow of social mingling and intermarriage. These questions have nothing to do with the case. And most people who kick up this kind of dust know that it is simple dust to obscure the real question of rights and opportunities.” King’s parents later said that they were unaware of his developing greatness until he wrote the “Kick up Dust” letter, which received numerous favorable comments.
On February 2, 1948, President Truman gave a speech to a joint session of Congress asking for support for a civil rights package that included federal protection against lynching, protection of the right to vote, and a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. Truman’s proposals met strong opposition in Congress. Although the speech splintered the Democratic Party, Truman won the 1948 presidential election. Unsuccessful in getting significant civil rights legislation enacted during his administration, Truman used his executive powers to prohibit discrimination in federal employment and ended segregation in the military.
Reader says Both Sides of Issue in ‘Rights’ Case Should Be Heard
Letter to the Editor of the Journal, Feb. 10, 1948) from David Aubren Harris
“It has been a surprise to me that in the liberal and usually fair Atlanta Journal there has been nothing but criticism of Mr. Truman’s stand on civil rights. Both sides of this issue should be heard. Could it not be that some of the measures which the President has advocated would be a blessing to the South and not a curse?
“There are about as many Negroes in the South as there are whites. What do they have to say on this issue? Would the passage of such legislation hurt them as much as it would the whites? Is it possible that such legislation would bring a few minor hardships on the white people of the South, but at the same time would mean liberation and a measure of economic security for the Negro?
“Any person who says that the Negroes are not suffering from our present system has not made a tour of the slum -areas of Atlanta, or else he has done so with his eyes closed. “True Southerners” need have no fear. Perhaps the civil rights issues will never be reported out of committee, or, if they are, they will die on the floor of the Senate with filibustering senators screaming “politics,” Yankee meddling,” “Southern enslavement,” etc. . . .
“Take a lesson from the wrestler. If he wishes to hold his opponent down, he must stay down on the canvas with him. We can hold the Negro in the ditch only by staying in the ditch with him. The mud’s pretty bad down here; let’s come up for air” –(I’m from Mississippi)
David A. Harris, Emory University”
In the next column of the Letters to the Editor page was a letter with the opposite sentiments:
Our Way of Life in South Is At Stake, Reader Says
“Editor, The Journal (Feb. 10, 1948):
What are we? Democrats or sheep, to be led like sheep to the polls and made to vote for things detrimental to our Southern traditions, even so, by the leader of the great Democratic party? Our way of life in the South is at stake and our traditions will be trampled under foot by the haters of the South, and everything we hold sacred. Are we going to lie down and take it?
“The next thing we can look for—the Supreme court ordering our hotels, and even our homes to take in people we don’t desire, whether they be black, white, brown or yellow. That will be stepping on the individual Southerner’s rights, as well as state rights, and if that isn’t so I don’t’ know what could be— to be made to associate with people you don’t want to.
“You—you Democrats, out there in Georgia, and the whole Southland. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to the polls in November and vote for the people who want to cram those things down our throat? . . .HENRY LATSHAW. Atlanta.”
A few days later, my father received the following letter by mail, which I scanned and copied below after correcting its egregious spelling:
“45 Broad Street, Southwest, Atlanta, Georgia. February 10, 1948
“In reading your letter in todays Journal, I am very much disappointed. There seems to be absolutely nothing to you but a little more foul wind than brains. The more you say the less you say, that makes sense. You said that the negroes should be heard. If you are just half as intelligent as you profess to be, you would know that the negro has been heard all along, in fact every since old Abe, and his bunch of criminals freed them back in the civil war days. Is it possible that you feel so bright and still you have never read after the educated negroes, such as Walter White, W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, S.I. Hayakawa, Earl Conrad, The Editor of The Chicago Defender, The Editor of the Afro-American, Baltimore, Md., The Editor of The Amsterdam Herald, The Editor of Pittsburgh Courier, The Editor of Atlanta World and many many other negro publications. If you can hear the smartest negro leaders of the country spout off their hatred for the white races, and then you still feel as you do, then there can be but one conclusion reached, and that is you yourself must be a member of the negro race. I am pretty well satisfied that you are not a pupil of The Emory University, you don’t seem anything like a man of that intelligence. It is possible that you are a sweeper at the University, or maybe a flunky in the Hospital. If you had stated that you were a native Georgian, I would have guessed that you had escaped from Sate Hospital at Milledgeville, or from Alabama, I would have placed you as a former patient of Alabama State Hospital, at Tuscaloosa, but since you say you are from Mississippi, I almost know that you are right out of the State Hospital, at Jackson, Miss. Your letter has a strong moronic flavor. In case you would like to be enlightened the negroes side of the question, may I suggest that you visit The News Stand, Walton Street, just a few feet off Peachtree Street. Ask the foreigners in charge to pull out some of the weekly negro papers they sell and stock up on them.
Yours for consideration, Molly Ann Speakout”