'Court Order Canít Make the Races Mix'
Zora Neale Hurston
to the Editor, Orlando Sentinel, August, 1955
about Zora Neale Hurston's politics for LRC in February of 2002
and later for The American Conservative, I have gotten a
great deal of correspondence asking where her political writings
were available.†Several articles are available in her book Folklore,
Memoirs, and Other Writings; and she discusses politics a
bit in Zora
Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters.†Unfortunately, little of
her political writings have been published on the Web, so in honor
of the 50th anniversary of the Brown Decision, we reprint her famous
letter to the editor denouncing the decision.
I promised God and some other responsible characters, including
a bench of bishops that I was not going to part my lips concerning
the U.S. Supreme Court decision on ending segregation in public
schools of the South. But since a lot of time has passed and no
one seems to touch on what to me appears to be the most important
point in the hassle, I break my silence just this once. Consider
me as just thinking out loud.
whole matter revolves around the self-respect of my people. How
much satisfaction can I get from a court order for somebody to associate
with me who does not wish me near them? The American Indian has
never been spoken of as a minority and chiefly because there is
no whine in the Indian. Certainly he fought, and valiantly for his
lands, and rightfully so, but it is inconceivable of an Indian to
seek forcible association with anyone. His well known pride and
self-respect would save him from that. I take the Indian position.
Now a great clamor will arise in certain quarters that I seek to
deny the Negro children of the South their rights, and therefore
I am one of those "handkerchief-head niggers" who bow
low before the white man and sell out my own people out of cowardice.
However an analytical glance will show that that is not the case.
there are not adequate Negro schools in Florida, and there is some
residual, some inherent and unchangeable quality in white schools,
impossible to duplicate anywhere else, then I am the first to insist
that Negro Children of Florida be allowed to share this boon. But
if there are adequate Negro schools and prepared instructors and
instruction, then there is nothing different except the presence
of white people.
this reason, I regard the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court as insulting
rather than honoring my race. Since the days of the never-to-be-sufficiently-deplored
Reconstruction, there has been current the belief that there is
no greater delight to Negroes than the physical association with
whites. The doctrine of the white mare. Those familiar with the
habits of mules are aware that any mule, if not restrained, will
automatically follow a white mare. Dishonest mule-traders made money
out of this knowledge in the old days.
a white mare along a country road and slyly open the gate and the
mules in the lot would run out and follow this mare. This ruling
being conceived and brought forth in a sly political medium with
eyes on í56, and brought forth in same spirit and for the same purpose,
it is clear that they have taken the old notion to heart and acted
upon it. It is cunning opening of the barnyard gate with the white
mare ambling past. We are expected to hasten pell-mell after her.
is most astonishing that this should be tried just when the nation
is exerting itself to shake off the evils of Communist penetration.
It is to be recalled that Moscow, being made aware of this folk
belief, made it the main plank in their campaign to win the American
Negro from the 1920s on. It was the come-on stuff. Join the party
and get yourself a white wife or husband. To supply the expected
demand, the party had scraped up this-and-that off of park benches
and skid rows were held to be just panting to get hold of one of
these objects. Seeing how flat that program fell, it is astonishing
that it would be so soon revived. Politics does indeed make strange
the South had better beware in another direction. While it is being
frantic over the segregation ruling, it better keep its eyes open
for more important things. One instance of Govt by fiat has been
rammed down its throat. It is possible that the end of segregation
is not here and never meant to be here at present, but the attention
of the South directed on what was calculated to keep us busy while
more ominous things were brought to pass. The stubborn South and
the Midwest kept this nation from being dragged farther to the left
than it was during the New Deal.
what if it is contemplated to do away with the two party system
and arrive at Govt by administrative decree? No questions allowed
and no information given out from the administrative dept. We could
get more rulings on the same subject and more far-reaching any day.
It pays to weight every saving and action, however trivial as indicating
the ruling on segregation, the unsuspecting nation might have witnessed
a trial-balloon. A relatively safe one, since it is sectional and
on a matter not likely to arouse other sections of the nation to
support of the South. If it goes off fairly well, a precedent has
been established. Govt by fiat can replace the constitution. You
donít have to credit me with too much intelligence and penetration,
just so you watch carefully and think.
personally, I am not delighted. I am not persuaded and elevated
by the white mare technique. Negro schools in the sate are in very
good shape and on the improve. We are fortunate in having Dr. D.E.
Williams as head and driving force of Negro instruction. Dr. Williams
is relentless in his drive to improve both physical equipment and
teacher-quality. He has accomplished wonders in the 20 years past
and it is to be expected that he will double that in the future.
is well known that I have no sympathy nor respect for the "Tragedy
of color" school of thought among us, whose fountain-head is
the pressure group concerned in this court ruling. I can see no
tragedy in being too dark to be invited to a white school social
affair. The Supreme Court would have pleased me more if they had
concerned themselves about enforcing the compulsory education provisions
for Negroes in the South as is done for white children. The next
10 years would be spent in appointing truant officers and looking
after conditions in the home from which the children come. Use to
the limit what we already have.
my sentiments and I am sticking by them. Growth from within. Ethical
and cultural desegregation. It is a contradiction in terms to scream
race pride and equality while at the same time spurning Negro teachers
and self-association. That old white mare business can go racking
down the road for all I care.