Integration: A human relations problem

In this classic Kappan article, the authors explore the current state of relations between Black and White Americans and make predictions about the future.


When we examine a problematic situation in human relations, it is all too easy to characterize the difficulties we face as unique ones. It may help us to understand our problems, however, if we view them as embodying perennial features of human relations present whenever men have lived together. In this way we may hope to achieve an ordered understanding of our situation, and to be guided by what has been learned in the past about the interrelated elements of human behavior.

One group of sociologists has viewed human relations as interrelated and changing complexes of activities, interactions and relationships, sentiments and values, and symbols.1 These concepts have been found fruitful in analyzing human relations situations in modern industry, in informal slum gangs, and in primitive tribes of fishermen; and we shall employ them in our analysis of contemporary race relations in the United States.


Elements of group behavior illustrated

The activities in which American whites and Negroes have engaged have helped to shape the course of relations between them. Their most characteristic joint activity has been the cultivation of plantation crops in the Old and New South. The development of a plantation economy in the South led whites to import Negroes as slaves; and the continuing importance of agriculture in the South has made this region the traditional arena of Negro-white relations. The rise of manufacturing has made the North an outlet for the South’s rural population surplus, both white and Negro, and has thus allowed the scene of a part of our race relations problem to shift to a northern setting in the years since 1865.

Interaction in joint activities

When people take part in joint activities, they interact with each other, and formalized or customary relationships grow up to define the forms of behavior expected of each person and group in dealing with other persons and groups. These social relationships with their mutually understood definitions of interactive behavior may be equalitarian in the rights they bestow and the obligations they impose on the interacting parties, or they may be relationships in which one party is superordinate and the other is subordinate. Equalitarian social relationships are most common in small informal groups of like individuals who are gathered for conviviality. The subordination of one group to another is likely to arise when large groups of people who are in some significant way “different” from each other interact in activities which require the allocation of power to some of the participants.

Activities which have brought whites and Negroes together have been mainly of this latter sort. The bringing of slaves to America, and the recent migrations of Negroes to Northern cities have been mass movements; the Negroes and whites thus thrown together have looked physically different from each other; and in respects which each group considered important, they have been thought to act like distinctive groups. The activities which have brought them together have required the allocation of authority: Negro slaves were put under the control of white masters and overseers; and Negro migrants to today’s cities take jobs under white employers and foremen. The narrower range of control implicit in contractual relationships like those of industrial employment, as compared with the all-embracing relationship of master to slave, helps to explain the weakening of traditional caste lines in industrial centers.

Racial etiquette understood

Since the groups have viewed each other as “different,” and since the members of each group have thus felt that all individuals in the other group are alike with respect to·this basic difference, the master-slave and employer-employee relationships have been carried over into virtually all situations where white meets Negro. The struggles of individual Negroes for land, for better jobs, for full citizenship, have been seen by whites as imperiling the whole system of white dominance over Negroes. Whites, who were on the scene first and held the political and economic cards, have put the Negro in his place and have kept him there by open force and economic power when necessary, but more often by enforcing a largely informal but thoroughly understood racial etiquette. Etiquette, a technique often employed in social relations to help people of different social rank to get along with each other with a minimum of embarrassment and overt friction, reaches its fullest development in the relations between distinctive and unequally privileged groups like the castes of India or, to a lesser extent, the whites and Negroes of America. An elaborate system of rigidly observed intergroup courtesies prevents the lurking power of the white group to discipline wayward members of the minority from rising to the surface, and allows the daily interaction between whites and Negroes to remain pleasant, if superficial.

The struggles of individual Negroes for land, for better jobs, for full citizenship, have been seen by whites as imperiling the whole system of white dominance over Negroes.

Against subordinate status

Any system of social relationships generates an accompanying set of sentiments and values. A subordinate group may come to believe, like the dominant group, that the prevailing relationships are best for all concerned. Its members may feel that it is wisest and most satisfying to accept an inferior social position and to make the most of the paternal benevolence of the dominant group and the accompanying lack of burdensome responsibility. Such an attitude is often imputed to Negroes by Southern white writers, but it is not likely that very many Negroes have been as thoroughly contented with their lot as these whites have made them out to be. Negro writers have been all but unanimous in declaring that every Negro chafes to some extent under his subordinate status, and that even Uncle Tom with his hat in his hand nourishes a secret complaint against the social order which tells him he is inferior to others. Negroes, like whites, are exposed to the American belief that one man is as good as another and that all should be given an equal chance to prove their worth. It is possible that many Negroes in isolated rural — those who appear most contented to the whites around them — have never systematically questioned the social order in which they live, but often feel fierce resentment against whites by whom they feel cheated or exploited and against whom they cannot strike back.

The prevailing sentiment among whites, North and South, is that Negroes and whites should stay apart “socially” although they may work together so long as the working relationships are well defined and the whites are in command. Whites are inclined to believe that Negroes are intellectually retarded, unclean in person, and inferior by nature in innumerable other respects. Above all, whites feel that there should be no uncontrolled contact between Negro men and white women. These white attitudes regarding “social equality” historically have arisen partly as a response to clashes of economic interests, and they may be called upon to mask the desire of whites for political or economic domination; but they are nonetheless very real attitudes and not merely rationalizations of ulterior motives. They are learned by nearly every American child through the same process by which he learns his language, his religion, and his social attitudes and prejudices. They are held by people who have nothing personally to gain from racial discrimination except the satisfaction that comes from seeing their cherished beliefs practiced.

The influence of “Democracy”

There is, at the same time, a competing sentiment among whites. As Gunnar Myrdal has made clear, the sentiment of fair play and equality of opportunity — everything summed up in the word “democracy” — is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness. White Americans believe in these things, and they are not entirely unaware of the inconsistency between the democratic creed and the denial of equality to Negroes. Furthermore, American whites believe in being friendly and polite in their dealings with people; and especially in the more favored strata of society, where leaders of action and opinion are found, they frown on violence and want sweet reasonableness to govern the approach to disagreements. These sentiments help to explain why there has been so much ready acceptance of the fact of school integration in places where it has occurred, and why the recent mob action at the University of Alabama appears to have been the work of a minority and drew strong criticism from most action and opinion leaders.

Myrdal has pointed out that the forms of racial discrimination are unequal in the importance attached to them by whites. The discrimination most important to whites, and the one which they will fight hardest to preserve, is the ban against intermarriage and sexual intercourse between Negro men and white women. Then, in descending order of importance, come the social etiquettes of segregation and Negro deference, separation in the use of schools and public facilities, political disfranchisement, discrimination in law courts and by the police, and least important, discrimination in the economic sphere. Myrdal adds that this rank order of importance is precisely the reverse of the order of importance attached to discriminations by Negroes. Negroes are most desirous of attaining equality in the economic, legal, and political spheres; but few of them have the slightest interest in hobnobbing with whites or in intermarriage.2

It may help us in understanding the current school situation to note that while many whites are willing to concede equal rights in the economic, political, and legal spheres, or at least to admit in principle their justifiability, few whites in the South have been emotionally or intellectually prepared for sudden integration of schools and public facilities. These latter forms of discrimination stand fairly high on the white man’s rank order of importance; and they have come under sudden and heavy attack before the Negro has won full integration in the lower-ranked areas of economics, law, and politics. However, it is a hopeful portent for the peaceful solution of our racial problems that the forms of discrimination most disliked by Negroes are the ones which whites are most willing to give up.

Symbols of etiquette

Certain aspects of the relationships which govern social interaction come to be viewed as symbols which dramatize the relationships and the sentiments and values associated with them. Symbols of this kind are rife in the field of race relations. The etiquette of race relations — the tipping of hats and the use of the term “Sir” by Negroes, the use of first names by whites in addressing Negroes, and so on — is significant not only as a regulative device which tells Negroes and whites what they must do in social interaction with each other, but also as a constellation of symbols which dramatizes the relations of the races and the belief system of white dominance. In communities where this racial etiquette is still practiced in its most developed form, members of both races are continually reminded of their disparate positions, and these positions must seem a part of the very bedrock of the natural order.

The purity of white womanhood is a symbolic weapon often used by whites who wish to preserve segregation. Whenever some new form of integration is proposed, the specter of intermarriage and racial amalgamation is easily evoked, and new types of interracial activity appear far more threatening to whites as symbols than they would seem of themselves.

Critical incidents and racial pioneers have a great symbolic impact on both Negroes and whites. Successful Negroes like Marian Anderson, Jackie Robinson, and Ralph Bunche fire the hopes of Negroes everywhere. In competitive interracial athletics, the entire conflict between the races may be enacted symbolically on the playing field. This is especially true in boxing, a sport in which the opponents actually try to injure each other. Not until fairly recently could Negro boxers easily obtain matches with white opponents. Jack Johnson, the best boxer of his time, found it difficult to secure a chance at the world heavyweight championship; and when he finally won the title, whites cast about in alarm for a “white hope” who could beat him. Negroes throughout the United States took pride in the achievements of Joe Louis, and there probably was more than pride in their enjoyment as he pulverized a series of white challengers.

Just as Negroes derive new hope from the accomplishments of their pioneers in race relations, a single breach in the color line may symbolize to whites the crumbling of the entire structure of race separation.

Attempts at moderation

Just as Negroes derive new hope from the accomplishments of their pioneers in race relations, a single breach in the color line may symbolize to whites the crumbling of the entire structure of race separation. Administrators at southern white universities to which Negroes have been admitted have recognized that symbolic incidents may intensify the resistance of whites to innovation. They have tried to spot potential “trouble” on the campus and to avoid any overt conflict which might get into the headlines. For example, in one university it was discovered that a Negro who was being admitted had an unsavory police record and a dishonorable discharge from the Army. Conferences with him and his advisers resulted in his early withdrawal. In another instance a Negro student was attracting unfavorable attention because of his emotional reactions and ill manners. His dean, realizing that the man needed psychiatric help and that his behavior might soon lead to an unfortunate incident, acted swiftly to get him to withdraw and to enter a hospital. University administrators have kept publicity about their new Negro students to a minimum, so that whites in the surrounding communities have·hardly been aware of their presence. In these ways, administrators have insured that conflict situations would be avoided and that early experiences with university integration would allay the anxieties of whites. Similarly the NAACP has tried to confine its support to studious and personable Negro applicants who would elicit favorable attitudes among whites.

Thus we see that social behavior is a blend of activities, interactions and relationships, sentiments and values, and symbols, and that all of these interrelated elements have played a part in shaping the current racial situation in the United States. In the following section of this paper we shall consider some additional ways in which a focus on these elements may be helpful in understanding the trends in race relations and perhaps in dealing with them. Then the paper will conclude by tracing in broad outline the course of white-Negro relations in the United States, and sizing up the current situation and future prospects of school integration.


Further considerations in intergroup behavior

The plantation system profoundly influenced the relations between whites and Negroes, but some contemporary trends in the activities engaged in by the two groups may alter the historic pattern of their relationships. The technological requirements of modem industry sometimes make segregation within the plant inconvenient or even costly. An example observed by Charles S. Johnson is found in tobacco manufacturing:

Tobacco was at first a virtual Negro monopoly, before the use of machinery and, later, a racial stratification along occupational lines arose. . . . But a modem industry changes too rapidly, and is too complex for a caste system. Progressive change of method has created new tasks and displaced old ones. The exigencies of change have placed a tremendous strain upon the traditional distances which separate the white and Negro workers. Physical segregation can in most instances be only symbolic and can hold effectively only so long as the workers insist upon racial segregation for social reasons.3

The breakdown of caste barriers by industrialization has taken place more extensively in India, when workers of many castes have been employed in the same factories. The demands of factory production do not permit workers to observe the elaborate caste etiquette of traditional India, and in the factories this etiquette has been largely dispensed with. In particular, workers are willing to take advantage of the meals provided by plant kitchens, even though this requires them to ignore caste laws and rituals pertaining to food preparation, serving, and consumption. In the same way, Jewish orthodoxy and Jewish-Gentile separateness are breached in our own country in situations where Kosher requirements are not practicable.

Many industrial labor unions have abandoned racial discrimination within their ranks and have been active in combating it. This policy is due in part to the liberal ideology of union leaders; but it is also the result of economic necessity. Mass unions must treat Negroes and whites equally, else Negroes can become strikebreakers and low-wage competitors with white workers.

Perpetuations of distrust

We have mentioned earlier that the perceived differences between whites and Negroes, and the superordinate-subordinate nature of their relations, have been factors in the perpetuation of mutual mistrust. A hopeful sign in their relations is the growing frequency with which they take part in joint activities, as equals. If they are increasingly thrown together in such joint activities members of each group may cease to view the others as queer and different; and friendly sentiments may sometimes arise. Robin Williams observes that contact between representatives of different groups is most productive of friendliness between them if they interact “as functional equals, on a common task jointly accepted as worthwhile.’’5 Opinion polls during World War II for example, disclosed that white soldiers who had experienced combat in racially mixed units were much more likely to favor integration than were those who had not served in such units.6 While Negroes and whites may interact less frequently nowadays than they did under the plantation system, their interactions today are more likely than before to be of the equalitarian sort described by Williams. The factory situations described above and, once integration has been instituted, the situation in the public schools are of this kind.

George Homans has summarized the findings of a wide range of sociological studies with regard to the interrelation of activities, interactions and sentiments when people come together as equals in joint tasks. What he says is relevant:7

If the frequency of interaction between two or more persons increases, the degree of their liking for one another will increase, and vice versa.

. . . persons who feel sentiments of liking for one another will express those sentiments in activities over and above the activities (required of them), and these activities may further strengthen the sentiments of liking.

The more frequently persons interact with one another, the more alike in some respects both their activities and sentiments tend to become.

. . . persons who interact with one another frequently are more like one another in their activities than they are like other persons with whom they interact less frequently. . . . It is only when people interact as social equals and when their jobs are not sharply differentiated that (this) hypothesis comes fully into its own.

Jazz musicians, a racially diverse group, provide an illustration of these principles. They interact frequently and intensely, each band working as a team and going on long road trips together. Sentiments of liking arise, and the musicians are apt to stay up all night “jamming” for their own pleasure after their paid work is done. Through this frequent interaction they form common sentiments and participate in shared activities. These activities and sentiments become a badge of the profession, consciously used to set professionals off from musical “squares” and the laity. Thus this group evolves a common argot and a common view of life, and extremely intense friendships develop among them. This process is facilitated by the fact that the work of all musicians is quite similar even though they play different instruments, and by the equalitarian nature of the work in which even the leader, in a true jazz band, is no more than the first among equals. These men believe deeply in the worthwhileness of their joint task, so that a man’s musical ability is virtually the sole criterion by which his fellows evaluate him; it matters not whether he is white or black. Jazz musicians are probably the least race-conscious group in our society. Their bands became racially integrated as soon as the public appeared likely to tolerate this integration; and long before this time, musicians of both colors came together for after-hour jam sessions. White musicians play under Negro leaders, and Negro musicians play under white leaders.

Limits of legal success

While race relations among the general public are unlikely to become as idyllic as those among jazzmen, tendencies toward the same processes in attenuated form may be expected as school attendance and work become increasingly interracial. In the southern schools, Negroes and whites will not, in the near future, attend social functions together, however amicable their relations may become in strictly academic matters. They will, however, be thrown together as equals in the classroom, and perhaps on extracurricular activity committees and on athletic teams. Athletics are already integrated in the public schools of formerly segregated border areas like the District of Columbia, although this step will not come easily or soon in the Deep South.

Under these relatively equalitarian conditions, with Negro and white children interacting daily in common activities instead of being split into separate social worlds, some change in interracial sentiments is bound to occur. Whites will continue to believe in “no social equality,” but they will become more willing to treat Negroes as equals at least in limited and well defined situations. Negroes will not have achieved full integration into American life, and their resentment of their status may actually increase as they find that gaining admission to unsegregated schools is only a small part of the battle; but they will learn to be less uneasy about assuming equality in interaction with white people, and they may even learn to forget, during brief periods of common endeavor, that some people are Negroes and others are not.

“Worthwhileness of the task”

That school integration will not lead to interracial relations as intimate as those among jazz musicians is understandable in view of the “worthwhileness of the task” as seen by the participants. Public school pupils are by no means deeply committed to their school work; they are apt to look on it as one of life’s misfortunes. Their after-school activities and their within school clique life remains more important to them than the academic tasks which, in integrated schools, they will share with members of the other race. Therefore these interracial activities will not absorb their attention sufficiently to make them forget the racial sentiments they have formed in other situations. In the same way, white pupils from opposite sides of the tracks are more committed to their out-of-school activities and social ties than to their academic work; and in milltown schools, to name an example, business-class children continue to look down on the mill workers’ children with whom they attend classes.

This is why athletics, the great democratizer in the public schools, may be the most effective avenue for the true integration of Negroes into school life. A friend of the writers has described what happened in his New Jersey high school. Negroes were almost wholly excluded from extracurricular interaction with whites until a star Negro halfback led the football team to a state championship one year. This boy was the hero of the school, and became the first Negro elected to a class office. The following year another Negro football player was elected to an office. In this way the ice was broken. In succeeding years many Negroes were elected to offices including that of class president, and not all of them were athletes. This case illustrates how activities and the values associated with them can become symbols which affect sentiments and interactions.

The foregoing discussion has assumed that integration will have occurred; it has said nothing about the ways in which integration will be put into effect. The concluding section of this paper will consider the process of formal integration of the schools at some length. For the present we shall observe merely that as soon as integration takes place anywhere, this fact acquires symbolic importance in other localities. Once Maryland and West Virginia have fully integrated their schools, Virginia and North Carolina will find it harder to stem the tide, because Negroes in these states will redouble their antisegregation efforts and whites will become less sure of their strength. When the whites of the Upper South finally succumb, their capitulation will deal a further blow to white resistance in the Deep South. The immediate effect of this may be to encourage extremist actions, but the final effect will be to weaken the ability of responsible leaders to maintain a disciplined resistance movement.


Past Negro-White relations

The course of Negro-white relations in this country has been a series of uneasy accommodations broken by periods of transition. Each accommodation has been a settling down to modes of interaction which have allowed life to move along a commonly understood path. In each time of transition, previously dormant interracial conflicts have forced a turbulent casting about for new adjustments which would enable life to resume its placid flow. The direction of this series of accommodations has been from the complete racial inequality of slavery to the full equality which may emerge in the distant future. Slavery and the “separate-but-equal” doctrine which is now under attack have represented temporary accommodations. Our present stage is one of transition toward some new accommodation whose exact nature cannot be foreseen.

Slavery as an accommodation

When the first slaves were brought to the New World, their legal status was unclear but socially they were not regarded in the same way as were white indentured servants. From the start, racial prejudice among the whites set the pattern of relations between whites and Negroes. Before the end of the seventeenth century, inherited lifetime slavery and the social relationships of caste had crystallized in Maryland and Virginia; and these patterns were repeated throughout the slaveholding states.

Slavery may be thought of as an accommodation, since its very existence presupposes some sort of modus vivendi. There may have been subtle friction underneath the surface, and violence occasionally erupted; but there nevertheless were mutual adjustment, good will, and a high degree of cooperation.

Transition during the Reconstruction Period

With the Civil War and emancipation, this slavery accommodation was shattered. There was open hostility on both sides. The carpetbag governments with their enforcement of a new equality became, to the whites of the South, hated symbols of defeat and social ruin. Unable at first to fight openly, whites carried on guerrilla warfare through the Ku-Klux Klan and a dozen similar organizations. Negro reactions ranged from the effects of some to establish, with Northern assistance, a new set of relationships in which they had full citizenship and economic opportunity, to the continued loyalty of others who stayed on the plantations of their old masters. Probably most Negroes were alternately hopeful and confused, wanting equality but not having been trained to practice it effectively. Almost all whites, on the other hand, were united in their determination to reestablish white supremacy.

After the Southern Democratic Party overthrew the Reconstruction governments, whites set about to restore, as nearly as they could, the old relationships. Constitutions and legal codes were revised to remove obnoxious provisions and to separate the races in schools and in public facilities-a technique for the subordination of the Negro. Gradually the Negro was shorn of almost every vestige of political participation. What could not be done by law was done by social pressure and custom. Negroes, however, continued to resist subordination — or at least to offend in small ways the white sentiment that Negroes should “stay in their place” — and lynching came to the front as a tactic in the struggle against equality. Whites realized that when Negroes in a locality grew obstreperous, the lynching of a Negro-any Negro if the actual culprit could not be found or identified could serve as a potent symbol of white superordination and instill in all Negroes an understanding of the way matters stood.

The separate-but-equal accommodation

Soon the white man had his way. The Negro was put firmly in his place, where he was destined to stay for several decades. This accommodation was recognized and observed by both sides, whether or not they were equally pleased with it. The separate-but-equal doctrine, which of course did not really mean equal, was accepted by Booker T. Washington in 1895 in his famous statement, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”8 The doctrine received legal blessing from the Supreme Court in 1896 in its Plessy v. Ferguson decision upholding segregation on public carriers. After this decision, Southern whites were free to segregate the races in virtually any situation; and they took liberal advantage of this opportunity. Lynchings gradually declined from their high-water mark of the eighties and nineties. The new accommodation was relatively easy for the South because the economic activities of the region continued to center in one-crop agriculture, as they had throughout the South’s history. The whites had kept control of the land with the overthrow of the Reconstruction governments, and they simply made sharecroppers and farm laborers of their former slaves. Negroes were nowhere powerful enough to offer effective resistance to their subordination; and such white reformism as existed was more concerned with antitrust legislation, feminism, assimilation of immigrants, and prohibition than with the plight of the Negro.


The current transition

Despite the efforts of the NAACP from its inception in 1909, no serious inroads were made on the system of racial segregation until the midthirties. At about that time the attack on segregation through litigation began to gather force, and it has now risen to a crescendo which shows no signs of abating. In 1935 the University of Maryland was ordered by the courts to admit a Negro to its law school in the absence of comparable facilities in its state-supported Negro institution, and in 1938 the University of Missouri would probably have admitted a Negro if he had followed up on the advantage given him by the Supreme Court in the case of Gaines v. Canada. In 1940, the University of West Virginia, seeing the direction of the legal current, began to admit Negro students. During World War II, President Roosevelt’s FEPC Executive Order set a pattern that was copied shortly after the War in several Northern and Western states. The Truman administration and many members of Congress aroused national controversy with their civil rights programs. Pressures on state and city legislators were successful in making nondiscrimination a requirement in many public housing programs. The Armed Services began to integrate their troops.


First successes in higher education

After the War the NAACP returned to the legal attack with vigor and with a strong determination to push toward a show-down battle on the constitutionality of segregation per se. Once the principle had been established that facilities must be equal in fact or else they could not remain separate, the road was opened for a concerted drive for the admission of Negroes to state-supported institutions of higher education. Few Southern states pretended to provide full-scale graduate and professional education for Negroes, and not even their undergraduate programs could be regarded as equal to those furnished for white students. Indeed, in 1948 only one state-supported Negro institution — North Carolina College — was accredited by the Association of American Universities, whereas every white state university was accredited. In state after state, Negroes were admitted by court order to previously all-white universities.

Meanwhile, Negroes began to pepper away at the public schools, using the same arguments as those which were succeeding on the university level. When the courts threatened to grant Negro petitioners access to white schools in a few areas, the whites in these localities grew alarmed. When the school board in a certain county in one of the Southeastern states was ordered to equalize library facilities in its Negro high school promptly, or else admit Negroes to the white high school, the board hastily sent a man to see what bargains he could pick up in secondhand books in the capital city. He managed to buy enough inexpensive old editions to equalize the number of books per student in the two libraries; but the court was not convinced by this stratagem, because some one brought to its attention that many of the newly purchased volumes were in French and German, languages with which the local Negro pupils had little familiarity. The county staved off integration for the time by securing another fresh batch of books, in English.

In its unanimous May 17, 1954 decision, the Supreme Court removed the last constitutional underpinning from the system of racially separate schools. This decision affirmed that even though Negro and white facilities may appear equal in every respect, the very act of segregating Negroes constitutes discrimination, because it brands them as inferior to whites. This view should not startle anyone, although Southern whites now stoutly deny that any such stigmatization is intended when schools are made separate.

The background of transition

Why is it that a sudden wave of Negro protest and litigation has disturbed the segregated accommodation which faced hardly a ripple of articulate opposition for so many years? A number of potentially disruptive factors seems to have been building up strength for a long time, though it was not until the past 20 years that their full effect was felt. Predominant among these have been the new economic activities in which Negroes increasingly have participated. Not only has the migration of Negroes to Northern and Southern cities and employment in industry thrown them into new interactive relationships with whites, away from the informal controls of their behavior which operate in small towns and the countryside; their improved economic status has enabled them to partake of a mass culture which they share with whites, through radio, television, commercial amusements, and the ability of their children to complete more years of school before having to help earn a living; and this mass culture has reduced whatever differences there may actually have been in outlook between whites and Negroes, and heightened the desire of Negroes for full participation in American life. Life in the North, with its lack of legally enforced segregation except in housing, has given many Negroes a taste of partial integration and whetted the appetites of their leaders for more.

The overthrow of the white primary by the Supreme Court in 1944 (Smith v. Allwright) has allowed growing political participation by Negroes in many areas of the South; and increased education and intellectual sophistication have made Negroes more aware of the possibilities of political and legal action to remove their disabilities. This greater awareness, coupled with rising incomes, has led to growing financial support of protest agencies, while an increasing pool of educated Negroes has supplied talented leaders for the integration movement. The newly articulate movement has enlisted the aid of sympathetic whites who might never have been interested enough to do anything if their attention had not been called continually to the racial problem. The growing Negro vote has helped to produce in white politicians a new solicitude for the Negro.

Residential areas and integration

Such then is the current state of affairs. Negroes are demanding integration, the courts are on their side, but most Southern whites continue to resist. The pattern of residential location of both races will play a role in the speed and ease with which integration takes place. As was to be expected, Border States and certain scattered areas in adjacent states have been the quickest to begin compliance with the high court decree. States in the intermediate zone, including roughly Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and large portions of Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, have avoided compliance with the order but have not lost their heads over the matter or threatened drastic action. They will probably follow the Border areas into desegregation after their series of legal subterfuges have been exhausted. The Deep South zone of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will fight hard to preserve segregation, and will be the last region to allow any effective degree of it. Indeed, the only. violent incident in connection with integration of almost 150 public and private higher institutions has been the recent one at the University of Alabama, and the only previous near-incident took place at Louisiana State University. Extralegal economic reprisals against Negroes who push for integration have already begun under the auspices of white Citizens’ Councils in Mississippi; and some brutality may follow where economic sanctions do not work. The “stages” of transition which we shall outline presently will occur at different times and at varying speeds in these different regions of the South.

Local pressures and desegregation

The heavy concentration of Negroes in some parts of the South augments the reluctance of whites in these areas to integrate the schools. In the Delta section of Mississippi, for instance, white schools would be fairly inundated with Negro pupils in the event of large-scale integration. In the District of Columbia, however, Negroes make up over half the school population; yet integration has been completed there with only one minor delaying action, a “strike” by pupils who probably were motivated more by an excuse to play hookey than by deep-seated racial antipathy. Many white District residents are recent immigrants from sections where anti-Negro sentiment is relatively undeveloped; and furthermore, the government of the District is in the hands of the federal government, which is comparatively immune to pressures from local citizens.

Residential distribution within localities will be a key factor in the integration movement. throughout the country provide a clue, the intact in many cities, where it will be the basis of continued school segregation not officially determined by race. The areas of mixed racial occupancy contain for the most part the lower socioeconomic classes of both races, who cannot take refuge in private schools and are the most prone to physical violence in disputes. If the reactions of whites to residential invasion of their neighborhoods by Negroes in cities throughout the country provides a clue, the invasion of white schools may bring trouble.

In rural areas, the races are residentially interspersed so that gerrymandering of school districts will not be possible. However, rural Negroes are the least likely of any Negroes to push hard for immediate integration, since they remain economically dependent upon whites and socially deferent to them. Perhaps by the time rural school segregation becomes the focus of attack, successful urban integration will provide evidence to whites that school integration does not lead to a breakdown of all caste barriers. In this case rural whites may not resist so vigorously as they would if integration were forced on them today.

Social class and integration

Class differentials in sentiments, values, and interactive relationships will affect the course of integration. The white upper classes are upset over the notion of racial integration, but they can if need be send their children to private schools. In private they might smile indulgently on violence, but their class values are opposed to the indignity of rioting and they would seldom take active part in it.

The white middle classes are frightened, the more so because private schools are a luxury they can ill afford. Many of them have experienced little close or enduring contact with Negroes. They do not understand what motivates the Negro to seek integration, and they picture the integration movement as the product of agitation by outside radicals among a previously docile mass of contented Negroes. They are indecisive about what to do, but have faith that “something” will be done by way of legal evasion of the Court decree. From them comes support for improbable schemes like interposition and segregation on the basis of “health and morals.” Many of them also are in a position to enforce economic sanctions against insurgent Negroes.

The white lower classes have not thought the matter out systematically, but they have little concern with the legal niceties of the Negro’s constitutional rights. These people have the least opportunity to escape. They cannot use private schools, and many of them live in interracial neighborhoods. They have often felt hostile to the Negro as a real or imagined economic competitor, and have found him a convenient scapegoat for the frustrations arising from their own precarious position in society.

To the Negro upper and middle classes, equality is an almost sacred value and the schools are a symbol of the struggle for it. There is, however, some anxiety among them since many of them depend for their business and professional livelihoods on segregated institutions and on a segregated Negro clientele.

The Negro lower classes are accustomed to a subordinate position in economic and social relationships with whites. They have comparatively little enthusiasm for education and are not well prepared to compete with whites in intellectual endeavor. Very likely these people are highly indifferent to the whole issue of integration; what they would like most is a chance for economic betterment. Nevertheless, lower-class Negroes are a potential source for retaliation in kind if Negroes are attacked by whites. At the University of Alabama this February, local Negroes may have wondered why Miss Lucy was so determined to study in a white university; but two of them physically attacked a white student, thus symbolizing as best they could their support of Miss Lucy in the interracial conflict.

The picture we have drawn is of course oversimplified. Varied sentiments can be found among all strata of both racial groups, and within each race there are those who do not agree with the majority. Whites who favor integration are found mainly in the younger generation of the middle class. Their pro-integration sentiments have been formed through education, contacts with people who are racially unprejudiced, and liberal religious teachings taken seriously. A number of lower-class Negroes, still psychologically as well as economically dependent on whites, do not favor integration. These deviants in each race are disliked increasingly by the majority in this time of transition and conflict. Earlier they might have been considered merely eccentric; but now, more and more, they are looked upon as traitors to their groups’ causes. Sentiments are polarizing.


Stages in the transition period

For convenience, the events to be expected in the process of school integration may be broken into three stages of transition. The timing of different patterns will vary between and within regions; what has occurred already in two short years in some Border areas may not happen for 25 years in the Deep South; but roughly the same order of events probably will be observed everywhere.

Stage I. This is the stage of shock, confusion, and impulsive proposals for resisting or delaying the end of segregation. It was initiated by the Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954. The breathing spell allowed by the fact that the Court’s implementation decrees were not issued until a year later was supposed to give the South a chance to “cool off,” but it also had the effect of allowing the political and emotional opposition to desegregation to become vocal and organized. The reaction in many Border-state areas has been one of mild shock only: “Integration isn’t so bad. Let’s get on with it.” In the middle tier of Southern states the typical reaction of white people is: “Let’s sit steady and hold the line in every legal way we can. We may have to give in eventually, but at least we can buy a little time.” In the Deep South the dominant white reaction is: ‘We will never submit to integration. We will resist by all legal means, but if necessary we will resort to force,”

During this stage Negroes marked time more or less until the implementation decrees were issued, after which they have begun further litigation to force compliance with the decrees and to extend the principle of nonsegregation to other aspects of life. Whites have been casting about for “legal” devices with which to circumvent the mandates of the Court. The Gray Plan in Virginia to abolish the public schools and to subsidize quasi-private education is one such attempt, and South Carolina with its proposal to turn the schools over to private educational agencies and Georgia with its plan to subsidize the individual pupil have come up with similar schemes. The North Carolina plan to return practically all authority to the local school districts so that integration·will proceed at a snail’s pace through district-by-district litigation is another approach. So is Louisiana’s ill-starred attempt to keep segregated schools through the police power of the state to act in the interests of “health, morals, and welfare,” the first of these plans to have been thrown out by the courts.

The proposals of the various states will eventually all meet with fates similar to that of the Louisiana scheme. They are fundamentally unrealistic, almost magical attempts to ward off a threat. The idea of “interposition,” for example, is an effort to exhume the long-since repudiated doctrine of nullification by pretending that giving it a new name has altered its basic character. Such incantations show how human groups in distress find it more comforting to do something, to do anything, than to submit passively to a threatening situation.9 However, these plans will be of value to the white defense forces in delaying the actual integration of the schools; and this delay may be, in the long run, a good thing all around since it will allow time for all parties concerned to grow accustomed to the idea of integration before they are actually faced with it in the flesh.

Stage II. This is the stage of conflict, and in extreme situations it may be characterized by chaotic and violent reactions. The Border states have for the most part passed through this stage with only sporadic overt conflicts and have settled down to the next stage, but the middle and Deep South states are waging a bitter campaign of resistance to integration.

Litigation and legislative maneuvers may themselves be forms of conflict, but, as we have pointed out already, they are likely to have only temporary success in staving off desegregation. It is a well known fact that lawyers and legislators are aware of the futility of most of the statutory and procedural resistance tactics, but they wish to buy whatever time they can and to establish a political record for last-ditch ‘1egal” stands. The masses, however, have less sophistication in the American constitutional system and in the “rules of the game” which legal experts and politicians usually accept, even though reluctantly; therefore they are in for bitter surprises when they learn that their faith in new legislation, interposition, and the like, was without foundation.

The failure of legislative and judicial efforts to block public school integration, along with realization that more and more schools are actually being integrated and that the threat may become reality “in our town,” sets the stage for the use of extra-legal methods of resistance. Since the Supreme Court decision in 1954, upwards of seventy-five white resistance organizations have sprung up. They have many members from the upper strata of white society, and most of them disclaim any intention of using violence, but their rank and file members will not long refrain. Thus a large part of the South is now entering the stage in which violence and quasiviolent pressures may well come to assume serious proportions. There have already been some tragic incidents, and the general patterns of pressure and intimidation which will characterize this stage are emerging already.

For example, in addition to several killings of Negroes who were symbols of the Negro’s fight for integration, there have been threats of violence against whites who hold pro-integration views; and there was the riotous episode at the University of Alabama. Somewhat less violent, but perhaps more effective and insidious as a mass resistance weapon, is the pattern of economic pressures which has begun to emerge. Landlords can control their tenants, and it will be hard to find a Negro tenant in the Black Belt who says openly that he wants his children to go to school with white pupils. Wholesalers and supply houses can harass Negro business men, public officials and other groups can harass Negro professional men, and school boards can threaten Negro teachers with loss of contracts if integration ever comes. The activities of the Mississippi White Citizens’ Councils during 1955-56 already have provided a preview of what is likely to become common in other states. Pressures of this kind against Negroes will probably be most effective in the smaller communities, where the dependence of Negroes upon whites has a more personal quality than in the cities and can assume subtler and more varied forms. In cities, Negroes are themselves able to offer organized resistance to white attack, as was demonstrated in their recent Montgomery, Alabama boycott of city busses in protest against segregated seating.

Economic sanctions will be the work of white community leaders. The lower strata of whites, with the tacit blessing of these leaders, will at times resort to violence and threats of violence. When this happens, Negroes may well retaliate, and the prolongation of violent interaction will delay peaceful accommodation.

There are some reasons to hope, however, that violence will not be very widespread or persistent. This is not 1875. On neither side are feelings quite as aroused as they were in the post-Civil War era; and a sizable segment of Negro and white leadership places a high value on cool-headed solutions to problems, realizing that violent tactics bring much ultimate harm to everyone. Furthermore, the growing industrial an comm cial activities of the South require social stability for their success, and their leaders know it. These business leaders are powerful men, and their encouragement of moderation will carry weight.

Along with their efforts to abolish segregation m the schools Negroes will devote some of their energy to waging similar attacks against segregation m common carriers, hotels and restaurants, parks, and other public gathering places. With so many precedents established in the school integration program, the legal battles in these other areas probably will be won more quickly. Negroes will begin gradually to make use of these unsegregated facilities, especially in the upper parts of the South.

These legal struggles won, Negroes will realize that the end of legal segregation has not gamed them equality. They will still be discriminated against in finding jobs and in obtaining public housing, and they will remain residentially segregated in blighted sections of most cities. Their hopes will have been stirred by the symbol of victory on the legal front and they will seek more actively the end of these remaining discriminations. They will use the ballot to gain representation in legislatures and administrative agencies, and to insure that a full share of tax revenue is spent on improving the physical facilities of the areas where they live. They will fight through litigation, and perhaps through organized economic pressures, against restnct1ve housing covenants. They will curry sympathy among whites by appealing to sentiments of fair play, democracy, and Christianity. At the same time some Negroes will respond .in kind to threats of violence, perhaps establishing secret societies like those of the whites during Reconstruction.

The Constitution, the courts, and time itself are against the segregationists.

The Constitution, the courts, and time itself are against the segregationists. Integration gradually conquers, violent resistance subsides and there is a gradual and uneven transition to another stage.

Stage III. This is the stage of accommodation, of routinizing the interactive arrangements that have emerged and forming new sentiments so as to learn to live with them. Some friction will linger, but integration by and large will be taken in stride. The main features of the new accommodation will probably resemble the following:

1) Many schools will be racially mixed, but residential segregation and gerrymandered school districts will keep a lot of them all-Negro or all-white. A substantial minority of whites will leave the public school system for all-white private schools.

2) New patterns of interaction and status relationships will arise, with whites and Negroes interacting as equals in school affairs but avoiding one another or else maintaining the old superordinate-subordinate relationships in other realms, especially those of intimate social life. Interaction as equals will take place more and more in industry, but less extensively there than in the schools.

3) Desegregated interaction will increase in restaurants, common carriers, parks, and other public places. Whites will redefine these activities so that they appear more impersonal and less threatening to the core of belief in “no social equality” than before. The meaning of “social equality,” to whites, will be increasingly confined to clique and family interaction precisely as it has been in the North for many years.

4) In an effort to elicit friendly sentiments among whites, Negro leaders will wage a campaign among Negroes to encourage good manners, cultured speech, personal hygiene, and studious habits.

5) Negroes will have achieved a large measure of integration. However, their growing demand for full equality may outstrip their achievement of it, and they will continue their efforts toward integration on a widened scale. 1n situations where whites and Negroes interact for the first time as equals, Negroes may have a harder time than whites in learning to feel comfortable about the new relationships. But whatever uneasiness there may be among both groups gradually will subside.

6) It is too early to predict with any exactness what tactics the Negroes will employ in striving for economic equality, or the degree to which they will attain it in the near future. This fight for economic equality will not be won in a day, but it is not likely to arouse the powerful emotional resistance among whites which threats to “social” separation have evoked. Economic activities rank last on the white man’s rank order of discrimination. As labor unions open their ranks to Negroes so as to solidify all workers for common action, and as employers seek to assemble the most efficient working forces they can find, white-Negro economic competition will slowly come to take place on an individual rather than a group basis. To the extent that this happens, the Negro will have what he wants most.



  1. These elements of behavior have been analyzed in George C. Homans, The Human Group. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1950; and in William Foote Whyte, Pattern for Industrial Peace. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1951.
  2. Gunnar Myrdal, with the assistance of Richard Sterner and Arnold Rose, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1944, Vol. I, pp. 60-61.
  3. Charles S. Johnson, “Race Relations and Social Change,” in Edgar T. Thompson ( ed.), Race Relations and the Race Problem. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1939, p. 295.
  4. Ibid., pp. 295-296; Theodore Caplow, The Sociology of Work. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955, p. 196.
  5. Robin M. Williams, The Reduction of Intergroup Tensions. New York: Social Science Research Council Bulletin No. 57, 1947, p. 69.
  6. Samuel A. Stouffer, Edward A. Suchman, Leland C. DeVinney, Shirley A. Star, and Robin M. Williams, Jr., The American Soldier: Vol. I, Adiustment During Army Life. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1949, pp. 589-595. See especially p. 592.
  7. The quotations are from Homans, op. cit., pp. 112, 118, 120, 135, 136. He did not have race relations in mind, but the principles apply to any field of human relations.
  8. Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery. New York: A. L. Burt Co., 1901, pp. 223-224.
  9. On magical reactions to dangerous situations, see B. Malinowski, Magic, Science. and Religion. New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954, pp. 17-148; A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, “Taboo/’ chapter vii in Structure and Function in Primitive Society. London: Cohen and West, 1952, pp. 133-52; and George C. Homans, “Anxiety and Ritual,” American Anthropologist, Vol. XLIII (1941), pp. 164-72. A summary of this topic is found in Homans, The Human Group, pp. 321-30.

Citation: Johnson, G.B. & Simpson, R.L. (1956, May). Integration: A human relations problem. The Phi Delta Kappan, 37 (8), 321-333.

GUY B. JOHNSON was professor of sociology and anthropology, University of North Carolina.
RICHARD L. SIMPSON is research assistant, Institute for Research in Social Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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