Difference between revisions of "Students Confront Race During Birmingham at San Francisco State College, 1963"

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Latest revision as of 19:40, 3 July 2020

"I was there..."

By Stephen Vincent

This piece was originally part of Stephen Vincent’s master thesis at San Francisco State College called “Poems and Essays: Through the Red Light” published in 1965. The original title of this essay was “Without the President: Some Days in May, 1963 (A Journal).” Over several days in early May, 1963, black and white students met together and separately on campus and discussed in particular the plight of the African American population, during the period in which the police chief of Birmingham, Alabama, the infamous Bull Connor, was unleashing a reign of terror on the city’s black population. President Kennedy remained studiously detached during these days, which pushed Vincent forward, trying to find new ways of relating across the historical chasm between black and white. (ed., 2013)

Mass-street-protest-against-the-Alabama-bombing-in-which-four-children-were-killed Sept-18-1963 AAK-0874.jpg

Mass protest against bombing in Alabama that killed four children, Sept. 18, 1963, at 7th and Mission post office in San Francisco.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/22955886" width="640" height="472" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen" allowfullscreen></iframe>

San Francisco Marches for Birmingham Alabama, 1963 from Paul Richards.

May 3, 1963

(i)

It is midnight. And though it is quiet in what San Francisco calls the Fillmore ghetto, my mind is quite taken with erratic and rampant thought. The activity of the Negro demonstrators in Birmingham has increased to a wondrous, if not terrible degree. On my desk I have a copy of today’s New York Times. On the front page there is a photograph of a Birmingham policeman siccing a dog on a defenseless young Negro. The cop has the dog’s leash in one hand, and the boy’s wrist in the other. The dog is pulled up on its hind legs and is lunging with an open mouth towards the boy’s one free hand. The headline caption reads, “Three Negroes bitten.”

The paper is full of pictures and descriptions of such brutality. Police dogs, fire hoses, clubs, everything, including an armored truck converted into a tank that is being used to stifle a seemingly unstoppable number of demonstrators. This almost biblical flood of Negroes has apparently left the whites with two alternatives: either the humiliation of surrender to the just demands for negotiation or a sadistic war of oppression on a mass of innocent and unarmed people. The whites have obviously taken the latter approach. The public officials seem to be incapable of even pronouncing the word “negotiation.” The Police Chief, Bull Connor, is in full reign of what amounts to a reign of terror.

Students parading against segregation May 18 1963 AAK-0871.jpg

San Francisco State College students parade through the Fillmore District with banners denouncing segregation, May 18, 1963.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

At this moment my feelings alternate between frustration, anger and guilt. Bull Connor has publicly proclaimed that he acts in the interest and priority of white people. No one of any public significance or power has either openly questioned or sought to act against the Police Chief’s point of view. (The Office of the President informs us that Mr. Kennedy is keeping “an attentive eye on the situation.”) In a way, I know, until I in some way work to oppose Connor’s position, my color now makes me both responsible and guilty for his atrocious actions. Any present abstention from supporting the Negro point of view is a commitment to Bull Connor.

My first impulse is to want to participate in the demonstration. In an imaginary moment I see myself in a Birmingham march. Dogs attack me. Police club me and crush my teeth. It is as if both participation and such punishment will make me pure, cleansed of my guilt.

Right or wrong, I immediately withdraw from this image. There is something too simple, too easy about being humbled with a club. An act against Bull Connor, or what he represents, also means that I will assume a new relationship with the Negro. And I sense that this new relationship, whatever it may be, is not going to be as easy as putting cream into coffee. I have a feeling that things are going to operate on a much more complex level.

(ii)

A cat has just jumped over the fence. The barbed wire, which is supposed to prohibit such adventures, shakes and jingles. Across the yard I can see the light still on in Mrs. Jones’ place. I wonder if she is reading James Baldwin’s, Go Tell It On The Mountain. I lent it to her when I visited earlier this evening.

She invited me into her reading room and served me a shot of bourbon. We talked about the Birmingham situation. “After sixty-two years on this continent,” she said, “it’s really nothing new or unexpected. I was right there when they did it in Atlanta in 1906, and after the war in Detroit in 1918.” I cannot share her stoicism. It is almost impossible to listen and extricate myself form her use of the word, “they.” How can I consider myself separate from the white people to whom she refers? What have I done to oppose the continuance of such actions? Nothing. Nothing but talk. Again, abstention is commitment.

Another cat has just jumped over the fence.

Monday, May 9, 1963

(i)

Morning. The news. Birmingham is still terribly tense and violent. More police dogs, fire hoses, hundreds of demonstrators (children and adults) stashed into jail. The Federal Government, the President in particular, has still failed to take a public position. The Associated Press reports that he is “concerned.” Is he also spineless? Bull Connor, at least, is not afraid of commitment.

The President’s reluctance to act frightens me. He had created the personal image of a liberal, a firm supporter of civil rights. And now he fails; he has copped out. The responsibility comes back to me. I feel compelled to speak, to act.

(ii)

This afternoon was worth a string of dull ones at San Francisco State College. When I arrived at noon, maybe twenty or thirty Negro students were holding what seemed to be a spontaneous demonstration in front of the dining commons. The atmosphere was quite tense. Many of them carried placards which expressed both support for the Negro in Birmingham and, perhaps most significantly, expressions of self pride: “I AM NEGRO—I AM PROUD.” Crowds of people, white and black, tightly collected around the bench that served as the speakers' platform. A tall Negro, Arthur Sheridan, acted as chairman and called on different Negroes to speak.

I felt both attracted and compelled to listen. I imagine that I wanted to find some possibility, some way to redeem or prove myself, to assert my convictions. To the contrary, however, the scene was more like a trial.

There were a variety of views expressed. Hardly any of the speakers dwelled on the particulars of Birmingham. Most of the individuals were more vitally concerned with their own fate in what now seemed to be a questionable future in a “white man’s” America. Though they had different opinions, what unified them all was Birmingham. The situation in that city was made into a vivid metaphor for the present condition of every Negro in relation to the white community. For these speakers, the failure of the Federal Government to defy Bull Connor and to support the Birmingham Negro has become a terrifying proof of the white liberal’s penchant for betrayal. When he is most desperately needed, he fails to arrive. Birmingham has torn the masque off any liberal illusions they might have held about the white man. In a way, these Negroes had become judges, and we, the white people in the audience, stood both accused and condemned.

It was both a beautiful and difficult scene to witness. On the one hand, the Negroes seemed to experience an almost startling realization of independence from the control of the white community. Voices frequently quivered and hands nervously clasped. Birmingham had put them into an exile, and they were beginning to make the most of it. In one way, the removal of the liberal masque had relieved these students from having to put up with the continual deceptions of trying to become a carbon copy of the now dubious requirements of the white middle class. In another way, the tone of relief was combined with fear. Their sudden exile had created a host of unknowns. The question seemed to rest on whether or not to attack and change the white power structure or to attempt to make a life out of separation. The beauty of the scene, however, was the feeling that historically frozen wheels had begun to move. These Negroes were not the traditional Uncle Toms, the Stoics, or the Invisible Men. No, they were publicly and independently alive.

Marchers protesting against Birmingham bomb victims Sept 18 1963 AAK-0875.jpg

Marchers protesting against Alabama bomb victims, Sept. 18, 1963.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Yet, on the other hand, the scene was also a difficult trial. What is painful to realize is the fact that most of them wanted nothing to do with us. It is not easy to understand that this act of independence is dependent on their liberation from my own liberal views. It is a humiliating thing to look at a placard that says, “I AM NEGRO—I AM PROUD,” and realize that this need for pride is based on a white deprivation, a white cowardice. We were now too late to be judged anything but guilty. The ugly facts of Birmingham, no matter where we are, have nailed us into a position that is blatantly impossible to defend. The Negro speakers finally had the effect of shoving me from a kind of liberal innocence into a contemptible state of impotence.

What ironically provided a small hope, out of a situation of despair, were those whites in the audience who chose to try and defend the reluctance of the present Establishment. The most important of them was the boy who felt worthy enough to speak from the bench. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and looked very grim. For three or four minutes of what seemed like a hell of a long time, he related a life history of personal qualms with the Negro race. “I have even worked with Negroes who felt they were superior to me,” he said, and gave details that I will not repeat on account of their pettiness. His last remark, however, was the one that really cracked the plate. “As far as I’m concerned,” he announced, “the Negroes are going to have to earn their rights.”

For a moment there was an embarrassed sense of quiet. A few Negroes repressed snickers of disgust and a few whites moaned. “How did you earn your rights?” I exploded. Immediately it caught fire with a few white people around me. “How did you earn your rights,” we chanted, while others jeered.

Crowd Rallies for Birmingham Bombing Protests -- Post Office Building Sept 18 1963 Bancroft FID35.jpg

Crowd protests Birmingham bombings at 7th Street post office, Sept. 18, 1963.

Photo: Bancroft Library

Crowd protesting Birmingham bombing on 7th looking towards Mission, 1963 FID40.jpg

Same protest, viewed south along 7th toward Mission, Sept. 18, 1963.

Photo: Bancroft Library

Arthur Sheridan, perhaps to the good fortune of the now pale boy, handled him quite gracefully. In what seemed to be an unconsciously paternalistic gesture, he reached his arm up behind the boy. “Now, now,” he tried to calm us, “I can’t blame this fellow; I can understand his point of view.” Whether he was serious or not, his whole tone and gesture just about patronized the kid into ashes. A minute later, when the audience’s eyes were away from the bench, the boy looked up at Sheridan, meekly smiled, shook his hand, as if he was scared to death, and then walked away from the crowd.

The only possible beauty or hope to be derived from this incident is that it suggested the first and possibly the only turn away from both the failure of a liberal innocence and the now guilt of impotence. “The Negroes must earn their rights.” Perhaps before today, and in any other circumstances, I would have met the boy’s ridiculous statement with indifference or silent contempt. However, today, in front of what are now our Negro judges, I felt compelled to act. “How did you earn your rights?” In a way, it was a public act of murder. (The boy could have been Bull Connor himself.) Our reaction both embarrassed and destroyed his position.

The Negroes, in their present position of power, had ironically turned and forced us back upon ourselves. The real significance of the scene, I think, was that it enabled me and the other whites to make a public act of commitment. It was a definite move away from a part-time liberalism, or the liberalism of the present Birmingham betrayal. Instead of indifference, we had met the boy head on. As “good” whites we had perhaps made the first step in beginning to prove ourselves.

What I find paradoxical to this new act is that I think I received my strength to act from the “exiled” Negroes. On the one hand, it is difficult to accept their rejection and desire for separation. However, on the other hand, I feel it was this separation, perhaps the moral justness of this separation, that somehow compelled me to act. And yet after, when I looked at the black faces about me, I could feel and see that we were still worlds apart.

(iii)

At one point in the demonstration, a Negro, dressed carefully in a suit and tie, stood up on the bench. He seemed to ignore Sheridan. “I didn’t want this to become a debate,” he said. “If you have any more questions,” he addressed the white people," turn to your black neighbor. He will explain.” The young man stepped off the bench into the crowd.

For a moment there was quiet. I did not turn to the Negro beside me, nor did I see any other whites do the same. “I am a little more liberal than my colleagues,” Sheridan said, with a hand gesture, restoring the situation to a public event, or what I think was a drama. White people again began, somewhat foolishly to try to defend either themselves or the Kennedy Administration. And again and again, they were met by rebuff from the Negroes, the whites or both.

It is interesting to speculate on what would have happened if I, and the other white people, had responded to the demand of the Negro. “Turn to your black neighbor. He will explain.” I know I was afraid to face either the black girl or the black boy that I could see from the corners of my eyes.

In one way such a confrontation could have meant an easy resolution to the tensions that now divided us, a kind of impossible return to innocence. It might have been just coffee and cream. In another way, however, an honest confrontation with my “black neighbor” could have been very difficult. His honesty might have worked only to deepen my present sense of separation, and guilt. To me it is dubious if this situation would produce some kind of reconciliation, or at least a real dialogue of equals. In any case, even Sheridan, who restored the scene to a public drama, was unwilling to take that risk.

In effect, whatever is taking place at San Francisco State seems fated to take place on a public level of action. It is as though we have a ritual to perform. The rules and form seem to be unknown. Actions, such as what happened today, however, seem to spring spontaneously out of some preconceived order.

(iv)

I had one relaxed, even amusing hour in The Gallery Lounge this afternoon. Wright Morris read from his new work, A Cause For Wonder.

(v)

The cats are quiet tonight. The light is off in Mrs. Jones’ window.


Tuesday, May 10, 1963

(i)

Morning. Violence continues. The President has still made no statement. The New York Times continues to report that it is keeping “an attentive eye on the situation.” According to James Reston, the President and his colleagues are madly placing telephone calls to the industrialists, businessmen, and lawyers of the economically powerful concerns in the City of Birmingham. Their message is to persuade these men to compel the public officials to take a more moderate stand, at least settle for preliminary negotiations.

The whole position of the K Administration is morally disgusting. Why, especially in the ugly face of such blatant injustice, is the President incapable of taking a public stance? As long as he is afraid to at least make a moral response to the conflict, Bull Connor will continue to rule as the reality of the white conscience. Until the President publicly condemns the police chief, I and every other white person is forced into the terrible position of identification with the forces of Negro oppression.

(ii)

Midnight. Same place. Things at school were different today. Events took on a more highly organized form of ritual. At noon about fifty Negro students, carrying signs of both protest and pride, began a march. They walked through the Administration Building, The Gallery Lounge and the different dining halls. In the Commons they formed a circle around the tables. A white girl sitting next to me at a table asked a Negro girl passing by, “Why don’t you go downtown and do this; we know what you mean.”

“Yah, you know,” the colored girl sneered and walked on. The white girl pounded the palm of her hand against her forehead in disturbed exasperation.

After a perhaps forced applause of recognition, the circle divided and they walked out the front door onto the lawn to a place not far from the speakers' platform. It was at this point that I sort of joined the group as it formed another circle. This time, however, instead of facing towards the large body of white observers in front of the Commons, the group turned in.

Gregory Baines, the leader of the march, stepped to the center and spoke in a soft, almost pleading voice. “We’ve got to start walking sometime,” he said. “Believe in me, yourself, and everyone around you. Let people see what’s happening.” When he paused, tears trickled down the side of his cheek. “I just can’t think of the words,” he concluded. The circle, after a moment of quiet, broke up.

There were about ten white people who had fully participated in this demonstration. There were conflicting rumors before the event began. Some people said the Negroes wanted no white participation. Others said they welcomed it.

On the one hand, I wanted to participate to both protest Birmingham and to express my support for civil rights. Absence from the demonstration gave me the ironical guilt of supporting the conservative point of view. On the other hand, however, I am convinced that this kind of demonstration has something to do with the Negroes’ own sense of liberation. It is a realization that has to take place apart, or divorced from a white involvement. I imagine the question is how to get on the bandwagon without wrecking it.

(iii)

This afternoon, the man with the words arrived.

After my two o’clock class I walked towards the Commons for a cup of coffee that I never bought. In front of that building there was a thick circle of people around a small group of Negro students. What had apparently begun as a private conversation had turned into a public event, a kind of theatrical performance.

A short young man named Wilton Smith was in the center of the circle. He sat carefully balanced on one knee and the sole of the other foot. From this almost athletic position he was using his friends and his opponents to project his views onto the audience. “Never have I seen anything more beautiful,” he was saying, “than those black students who walked out onto the lawn today. Wallace Stevens, William Merwin or any other ‘diddely-ass’ poet could not have described the circle they formed, and how, when they made that circle, they did not turn out, but turned in.” He curved one hand into a circle out of which he managed to somehow magically convey the illusion of what he termed “the essence of blackness.”

His manner immediately both attracted and offended me. I thought it was phony to try to push those poets into some backdrop of decadence (especially when one of them is a favorite). However, I was impressed by Wilton Smith’s own poetic power of voice and description that was somehow able to encircle a seemingly privileged and spiritual space occupied only by blacks.

“Don’t you think love and our sense of humanity can solve this problem?” A white boy seemed to plead.

“I don’t see where your love and humanity have gotten my people any jobs.” Wilton did not even look up at the boy. He rested on both knees. “The Jews love us, the white liberals love us.” With a smile on his face, and a slight giggle, he looked at the Negroes around him. “Everybody loves us.”

It was from these perhaps two different points of departure that for the next two hours I listened to Wilton Smith who spoke from the middle of a circle that was frequently changing, but always large.

It is impossible to render everything that happened. Perhaps the experience is still too close to me for me to suffer through it once more. In short, the scene was a heightened and professionally articulate affirmation of what I felt yesterday. It was both trial and battle.

Wilton, in effect, I believe, performed both a creative and a destructive act. On the one hand, he had an audience of white people who were undoubtedly drawn to listen out of the guilt created by the events in Birmingham. The President’s failure to act had put us at the peak of desire to change our relationship with the Negro (as well as to affirm our love for Ray Charles, jazz—anything and everything Negro). And yet, when white commitment seemed so possible, when I’m sure many of us could even paint ourselves black, Wilton performed the act of throwing us all off the ladder. There was going to be no cream in his coffee; we partook of a kind of death that he did not want.

It was his ostensible point of view that Negro and white relationships are historically and presently futile. To a pedantic degree (that is, page number and publisher) he is armed with facts to disprove the white man’s desire for Negro freedom or integration. (This can involve quoting the real views of such “liberals” as Thomas Jefferson.) But on the more domestic level he is an expert at giving vignette descriptions of the failure of integration.

“The blood,” he said, “who hits on white girls inevitably ends up with a scroungy-haired, frigid neurotic. And did you ever see how they get next to any of us? And the black girl, watch how she straightens her hips when she goes walking with that white boy. On top of that, she knows she can’t marry him.” After the pause, he laughed. “And now, they’re all frigid.”

Yet, other than working to dispel the liberal myth of integration, Wilton’s performance, I believe, was a creative act, creative in the sense that he was striving to both affirm and establish the area he had encircled for blacks only. This involved everything from creating an awareness of the history of the Afro-American, as well as trying to suggest a spiritual and linguistic impression of what might be called a black mystique. What was important to this act, though the particulars might be questioned, is the assumption that a Negro can stand by himself, free from the bonds or the grips of the white man. In any case, Wilton’s performance seemed to be a living embodiment of this assumption.

My reactions to this performance have gone through at least two stages since this afternoon. The first was negative:

At first I was especially impressed by Wilton’s capacity as an actor and a poet. I was taken with the spontaneity and wit of his response. Without any preconceived plan he seemed to be able to jump from idea to idea, and from image to image. (Or, as they say, he blew and he blew and he blew.) The language seemed capable of taking any pose, either straight or satirical. Colloquial Negro street talk could suddenly switch to a complicated classical prose, and then just as quickly into a caricatured sociological jargon.

However, as a white member of the audience, it was not an easy experience. Both his tone and sense of authority, for lack of a better word, are irksome. The tone of language seems purposefully intended to both intimidate and alienate. When he speaks with an almost patent command of black vernacular, the tone becomes excruciating. He has formalized the idiom so that it is both public and private at the same time. It is made so a white audience can both understand and simultaneously be attacked. For example, I am sure that the sensibilities of even the most liberal white girls were offended to hear about “the bloods hitting on frigid ‘fay chicks’.” In a way, the tone becomes a malicious attack that works to divide the speaker from the audience.

I immediately resented his sense of authority. I was antagonized by the absolute character of his judgments. It’s not fair, I thought, to eliminate the possibility of a healthy interracial relationship. But finally it was not so much the quality of his judgment, but his position of authority that disturbed me.

As did the speakers yesterday, Wilton presented himself as a black exile within American society. It is a position that gives him an immense amount of leverage. In short, it gives him the power to take critical potshots at any aspect of American society without having to bear the responsibility of his judgments. For example, he can satirize American capitalism into the ground, “They can’t survive unless they have a war every ten years.” Instead of concern, his attitude is one of humor or pity, combined with a sense of innocent disengagement.

What was devastating, however, was that his position made it impossible to challenge or agree with his judgments. We, the white members of the audience, were the mere “other of (his) self-constellation.” We were the guilty oppressors who were trying to violate, to destroy his existence. Any rapport with us would be a denial of his personal freedom. History, in his terms, has shown that communication with the white man has only led to a mutually destructive neurosis. The effect of Wilton’s authority was first to reinforce instead of liberate the audience’s sense of guilt. But, as yesterday, there were a number of whites who tried to deny this guilt as well as refuse Wilton’s freedom. At one point in the performance, a large white boy addressed Wilton from the outer edge of this circle. “Can I say something,” he said. He looked as though he was about to explode.

“I guess,” Wilton answered. “It’s Land Grant grass, isn’t it?” He snickered and looked down at the lawn.

“I want first to say,” the boy shook a gun-like finger at Wilton, “I think you’ll go a long way, baby, if you just be careful.” Wilton appeared unmoved by this questionable tribute to his intelligence and eclectic knowledge. “But, baby, when I hear you talking you know what I see, I see prison camps, concentration camps, ovens and more ovens.” At this point his syntax broke down into nothing but inarticulate emotion. Wilton’s composure did not change. In fact, he kept looking at the Land Grant grass while voices in the audience sort of perked up. Some yelled yes, some no. I think most of us were painfully astonished. It was sort of a senseless thing to say in view of all the Negroes being stashed into Birmingham jails. Wilton finally looked up and chuckled, “Maybe he’s trying to hit on me.” In short, by sexualizing the young man's attack on his position, Wilton had further amplified the traditional role of the white man as a sexual exploiter of the Negro.

At five-thirty, Wilton invited all black people to a rally at Fillmore and Post next Saturday morning at ten-thirty. He stood up and looked around the audience. “Where are you,” he laughed. Out of about seventy-five people there were maybe ten Negroes in the audience.

And, perhaps, this is the key to my positive response.

(iv)

Since this performance, approximately three hours ago, I’ve made at least three white enemies and no Negro friends.

On the bus home, a blonde girl with blue eyes sat next to me. “Isn’t it horrible what's happening to the Negroes in Birmingham,” she said. I nodded my head. “I just wish they weren’t such a dirty people.”

“They look washed to me.” I suggested she look at the Negroes on the bus.

“I don’t mean that,” she said. “I mean they’re so sexually oriented.”

“Are you frigid or something?” I said. She quickly changed seats, as if I was the plague.

Near home I met one of the white boys who had been in the noon march. “Why weren’t you in the parade this morning?” he asked.

“Why were you in the parade?” I asked.

“For the masses,” he said. “The revolution is right around the corner; this is just the beginning. With the support of the Negro we’ve got it made. There’s going to be another parade tomorrow. Why don’t you stand in?”

“You’re full of crap,” I said. “Take your color blind opportunism elsewhere.”

Mother called from Richmond this evening. She said she had just been nominated to a new city commission for the “culturally deprived.”

“What are you going to do? Deprive the depraved?”

“It’s to raise their cultural horizons, dear,” she said “We’re going to try and establish reading and writing programs and see that they get taken to cultural events, such as concerts.”

“Has anybody mentioned Ray Charles,” I asked, “or Leadbelly, or Coltrane, or anybody?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Do you really want the Negro to imitate you in every way?” I asked. “If you are going to provide them with what you presently called culture, how are you going to teach a black person how to segregate?”

“If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it,” she said.

We soon hung up.

(v)

The trick of the performance has begun to play. In short, Wilton deprived and then enraged. As an actor he deprived me and the white audience of any trace of human nature. In the eyes of Wilton we were without sensibility, intelligence, or comedy. We were only guilty and despicably incapable of action. Such an accusation could only, I think, enrage. However, because in this case the accuser is innocent, rage can only go in the other direction—against the accused. Redemption is only achieved through the transformation of the actor’s opposition (the “other,” or that in me and in the white audience that makes his position possible).

In a way, Wilton has both forced and empowered the white audience with the responsibility of changing the ethics and myths of the Establishment. On the one hand, he dramatically forced us to relinquish our possession of him or any other Negro. And, on the other hand, he rubbed our liberal noses into a ground of guilt (with a little humor so things didn’t get too nasty). He left us with two alternatives: to act to transform ourselves, or be dead (metaphysically).

It is a position in which I feel both obligated and free. In my present sense of rage, I feel compelled to transform those conditions that allowed Wilton Smith to perform on the lawn in the way that he did today. I feel compelled to eliminate the conditions that make it possible for him, or any other Negro, to assume the position of an exile within this country, and to have the devil-joy job of pricking my guilty conscience. It was a performance that now compels me to want to fight for a society in which the Negro and I can hold a position of responsibility and power.

However, it is an obligation that also gives me a certain freedom. At least I feel liberated from that coffee and cream vision of America. That is, on a most simple level, I feel free from the compulsive problem of decorum with my “Negro friends,” (free from the enslavement of saying, “I like jazz,” ad infinitum.) And, in acting to transform the presently closed society into an open one, I sense that not only I, but every black and white person involved will be liberated from the sexual and economic nightmare that, as Wilton illustrated, must take place in just about every inner-racial relationship.

And, at the same time, I sense a certain freedom to become whatever might be my real self. The energies of the imagination that have for so long gone into controlling the Negro can start to work to deliver me from my own personal experience.

And finally, it will perhaps only be after this getting off one another’s back—that is, black and white each standing on his own feet, that we will have something honest to say to one another.

(vi)

The evening radio says the President has become “very concerned.” What will happen when he restores at least the image of a moral order? What if he again becomes responsible, at least enough to say the proper platitudes? At this moment, San Francisco State has become a kind of reality for me. My judgments are based on what is happening here. What will happen if the President again assumes control, if he restores at least the illusion of order? Will the effect of Wilton’s performance be diminished? I wonder if I will give up my new sense of responsibility or commitment if the President, or even the NAACP for that matter, is able to restore a myth of business as usual? Certainly, in view of the struggle ahead, that is the struggle to change both the economic and mythological assumptions of this country, such a myth might be an easy way out.

(vii)

Over to Mrs. Jones for some bourbon and TV.



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