HEARTS AND MINDS: The Anatomy of Racism from Roosevelt to Reagan by Harry S. Ashmore
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HEARTS AND MINDS: The Anatomy of Racism from Roosevelt to Reagan

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Anyone seeking a historical perspective on the problem of justice and equality for American blacks can do no better than to read Harry Ashmore. Those who know Ashmore as a stalwart white Southern liberal will want to read him at least through the defeat of segregation at Little Rock, when he left the Arkansas Gazette for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Ashmore begins with the South he was born into, in Greenville, S.C., in 1917: the choice, growing up, ""between pride and shame"" (""and most chose pride""); the need, even among moderate politicians, to maintain ""a status quo they recognized as bearing little relationship to the myth that sustained it, or to the needs of the citizens who suffered under it."" He reviews the development of the polarizing, immobilizing myths (cruel slaveholder and Cavalier; Sambo, Uncle Tom, Bad Black) to arrive at economic stagnation and Jim Crow . . . and, in the 1930s, a revival of paternalistic concern for black rights, short of social equality. The Southern Conference for Human Welfare is founded, in 1938, by ""authentic shakers and movers""--only to be tarred with ""a race-mix image."" Black WW II service brings a demand for parity, frightening to Southern whites; but mass black migration northward reduces potential black voting power. (The problem in toto moves northward--to produce, in Ashmore's analysis, the present urban ""underclass."") Southern liberals of position are vulnerable: Ashmore writes feelingly of Virginius Dabney, editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (and, wryly, of the few papers he could look to for a job). True mavericks, however, slip between the cracks: W. J. Cash, with his indictment of The Mind of the South; Harry Golden, with his ""gentle ridicule""; even Lillian Smith, with Strange Fruit. (On these three, Ashmore is marvelous.) With the South loosening up and a new black leadership stirring, the focus shifts to the direct assault on segregation--by a ""remarkable"" corps of Southern-bred, Northern-educated black lawyers, mobilized by Howard University law school dean Charles Houston and the NAACP. (Of Thurgood Marshall, in particular, Ashmore writes with great warmth and zest.) The balance is not quite history: Ashmore compiled a crucial report on biracial education, just before the Brown decision; he unequivocally blames Eisenhower's non-leadership for the South's ""massive resistance""; he passed through the crucible of Little Rock, when only the school board and the Arkansas Gazette stood against Faubus. . . but a ""latent opposition"" was always there. And he knew the principals of the ensuing civil fights battles, which he trenchantly chronicles--regretting chiefly the ""grim singleness of purpose"" of the young Sixties black radicals. Ashmore identifies himself unapologetically as a ""meliorist."" He speaks repeatedly of what was conceivable ""in that time and place."" But there is not a wavering line in the book: this is experience deepened by reading and thinking--and powered by conviction.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1982
Publisher: McGraw-Hill