John Dollard in 1930s Indianola

I with Yankee eye did cast my vision down
The tarnished streets of shining Southerntown.
I in calm reply did mind my manners here
As I spied truth beneath a white veneer.
I saw signs whereby the folks kept folks in place—
In class through caste by past beliefs of race.
I exposed a lie disguised in symbols fair:
black child denied adulthood by white “care.”
I have found out why—until the symbols sway,
White father to black brother—caste will stay.


Langston Hughes: “Harlem.” Of Hope and Dreams.

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

—Langston Hughes, “Harlem”

A Passage. Of Diversity.

It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a ’gator. A familiar strangeness. You keep seeing your sister in the ’gator and the ’gator in your sister and you’d rather not.

—Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

A Passage. Of the “Negro Criminal” after Emancipation.

From 1903:

Moreover, the political status of the Negro in the South is closely connected with the question of Negro crime. There can be no doubt that crime among Negroes has sensibly increased in the last thirty years, and that there has appeared in the slums of great cities a distinct criminal class among the blacks. In explaining this unfortunate development, we must note two things: (1) that the inevitable result of Emancipation was to increase crime and criminals, and (2) that the police system of the South was primarily designed to control slaves. As to the first point, we must not forget that under a strict slave system there can scarcely be such a thing as crime. But when these variously constituted human particles are suddenly thrown broadcast on the sea of life, some swim, some sink, and some hang suspended, to be forced up or down by the chance currents of a busy hurrying world. So great an economic and social revolution as swept the South in ’63 meant a weeding out among the Negroes of the incompetent and vicious, the beginning of a differentiation of social grades. Now a rising group of people are not lifted bodily from the ground like an inert solid mass, but rather stretch upward like a living plant with its roots still clinging in the mould. The appearance, therefore, of the Negro criminal was a phenomenon to be awaited; and while it causes anxiety, it should not occasion surprise.

Here again the hope for the future depended peculiarly on careful and delicate dealing with these criminals. Their offences at first were those of laziness, carelessness, and impulse, rather than of malignity or ungoverned viciousness. Such misdemeanors needed discriminating treatment, firm but reformatory, with no hint of injustice, and full proof of guilt. For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination. For, as I have said, the police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes, not simply of criminals; and when the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of reënslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man’s conviction on almost any charge. Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims.

When, now, the real Negro criminal appeared, and instead of petty stealing and vagrancy we began to have highway robbery, burglary, murder, and rape, there was a curious effect on both sides the color-line: the Negroes refused to believe the evidence of white witnesses or the fairness of white juries, so that the greatest deterrent to crime, the public opinion of one’s own social caste, was lost, and the criminal was looked upon as crucified rather than hanged. On the other hand, the whites, used to being careless as to the guilt or innocence of accused Negroes, were swept in moments of passion beyond law, reason, and decency. Such a situation is bound to increase crime, and has increased it. To natural viciousness and vagrancy are being daily added motives of revolt and revenge which stir up all the latent savagery of both races and make peaceful attention to economic development often impossible.

—Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

An Indictment. Of “Public” Schools.

Do you think the enemy is the police department, with its bland apologies for deleterious policies and heinous deeds? You must have forgotten about the so-called public school, which is—with no apologies—the preferred agency for generating inequality and oppressing the masses. Its great and beautiful banner of “standards-based education” is a euphemism for the sharpest knife that culls the flock. For every police officer unjustifiably shooting a citizen, a public school relegates droves of boys and girls to the streets, to the criminal justice system, to the long death of an unexamined life.

Paired Passages. Of Holding Things in Common.

Circa 350 B.C.:

In the deviant constitutions, in the same way that what is just is of small extent, so too is the friendship; and it is least in the worst, since in a tyranny there is little or no friendship. For in those situations in which there is nothing shared by the ruler and the ruled, there is no friendship, since there is no justice either, as in a craftsman in relation to a tool or in a soul in relation to a body or in a master in relation to a slave; while all these things are helped by those who use them, there is no friendship toward things without souls, nor anything just. And neither is there toward a horse or a cow, nor toward a slave as a slave. For there is nothing in common, since the slave is an ensouled tool, as a tool is a soulless slave. Insofar, then, as he is a slave, there is no friendship toward him, though there is insofar as he is a human being, for there seems to be something just for every human being toward all those who are capable of sharing in law and contractual agreement, and so there is friendship too, to the extent he is a human being. So friendships and justice are of small extent in tyrannies, but in democracies they are of greater extent, since many things are common to people who are equal.

—Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book VIII, Chapter 12/1161 a30-b10
(Translated by Joe Sachs)

Circa 1900 A.D.:

It is hardly necessary for me to add very much in regard to the social contact between the races. Nothing has come to replace that finer sympathy and love between some masters and house servants which the radical and more uncompromising drawing of the color- line in recent years has caused almost completely to disappear. In a world where it means so much to take a man by the hand and sit beside him, to look frankly into his eyes and feel his heart beating with red blood; in a world where a social cigar or a cup of tea together means more than legislative halls and magazine articles and speeches,—one can imagine the consequences of the almost utter absence of such social amenities between estranged races, whose separation extends even to parks and streetcars.

—W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Chapter IX

A Poem. Of Race Relations.

To a student, within the Veil

Bittersweèt chocolàte child bruise
Mỳ purple, gushing, loving veins.
Past skin and muscle deep
Seek with all your heart my heart;
In finding search it; grip its folds
With brown and cream-palmed hands;
Thén, rip, open it broad!
Loose living liquid love.
And Ì’ll bleed an openhèarted certitude:

That ás your skin is dark like mine,
Which red dye streaming darkens,
Só my blood, stronger than death,
Is nó different from yours.