Past Voices – Remarks by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (1894-1984), President, Morehouse College, at 42nd Annual Convention of the NAACP, Atlanta, Ga. June 27, 1951

benjamin MaysDr. Benjamin E. Mays, theologian, philosopher, educator, civil rights activist, and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King discusses: “The Emerging New South in the Area of Human Relations.”

The New South of the 1950s

“One cannot generalize about the south any more than one can generalize about the north. What a Negro can say and do in one section of the south, and get away with it, he would probably be run out of the town and possibly killed or even lynched, if said and done in another section of the south.”

“A new south is emerging in politics. It is almost an accepted fact in most areas of the south that the Negro is not only going to vote but that he is entitled to the vote. Even in those sections where the whites intimidate Negroes and keep them from registering and voting, they know that this intimidation is short-lived and that Negroes are bound to vote and that day is just around the corner.”

A new south is emerging in transportation. In inter-state coach travel, certainly from the north into the south, one does not have to accept segregation in travel. Day by day, Negroes ride unsegregated from New York City to points in Virginia, the Carolina’s, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana.”

“Although we have a long, long way to go, the Negro is receiving more justice in southern courts. And yet it is still almost impossible to get justice in the courts if a Negro versus a white person.”

The Leadership of the White South

If the south has had fifty or seventy –five years to equalize educational opportunities for Negro and white citizens and has not done so, that alone is proof that the white south did not intend to obey its own law. But the great effort that is now being made to improve conditions in the segregated economy is proof that a new south is emerging in the mind of the white south; even though it emanates from the fear that Negroes will enter white schools.”

Who is Responsible for The New South in Human Relations?

I wish I could say that the politicians and statesmen of the south looked at their respective State Constitutions and examined their Federal Constitutions and seeing that our practices in Negro-white relations did not measure up, set about themselves, voluntarily to make things in the south new.”

I wish I could believe that this emerging new south resulted primarily from the churches. I wish I could say that the churches said to the south. Look! Our practices in human relations do not conform to the Gospel we expound.”

“But the relative speed with which the south has moved in Negro-white relations has resulted from other causes. Among these are: The Negro himself…., our legitimate fear of Communism…, and the leadership of the NAACP…..”

Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois

“It was not true as Mr. Washington thought that if the Negro proved himself worthy, citizenship rights would be willingly given; nor as Mr. Du Bois once believed that, if the Negro proved that he was intellectual equal of the white man, the walls of segregation would come tumbling down. If Mr. Du Bois and Mr. Washington had been theologians they would have known better.”

How Determined is the South to end segregation and discrimination?

“I believe the number of white persons in the south that is willing and determined to eradicate segregation by law and custom, all across the board, is microscopic.”

“There are many, for the reasons stated above, who are willing to work for an unattainable goal: equality in segregation.”

“I do not believe the white south will give up segregation without a struggle.”

Hope for the Future

The few of us who are determined to make America and the south the greatest citadel of democracy on earth and who believe that a Christian Democracy is best for us and for all people, better for us than Fascism or Nazism or Communism, will continue the fight: convinced that time, the universe, and even God fight on our side.”

Source: From the files of Mr. Earl Ernest Guile Sr. (1905-1980), President of the NAACP, Florence, SC

Read the entire speech here.