The Other America
( Originally Published 1952 )
'Not all groups of our population are free from the fears of violence. Not all groups are free to live and work where they please or to improve their conditions of life by their own efforts. Not all groups enjoy the full privileges of citizenship . .
WITHIN THE UNITED STATES THERE IS ANOTHER AMERICA, WHERE full equality for all before the law doeS not yet exist, where the average citizen earns only about half as much as his average compatriot and lives a worse and shorter life.
That other America covers eleven of the Union's forty-eight states—Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, the Carolinas and Florida. It stretches south into the Caribbean, to America's colony Puerto Rico; west into Texas and Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and beyond to Hawaii; north into the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. It has its enclaves in almost every large American city, on the pattern of the overcrowded, dismal Harlem quarter of New York.
To this other America belong 14 or 15 million Negro descendants of the plantation slaves from Africa who helped to lay the foundations of the country; the half-million remnant of native Red Indians, once the owners of most of the nation's land and still far from emancipated; mixed Mexicans, mainly in the Western states which once were theirs; the ever growing community of Puerto Ricans who eScaped from the slums of their unhappy homeland to the continent; citizens of Chinese and Japanese descent; uncounted numbers of people of mixed parentage, including those with but a few drops of 'colored' blood; probably about twenty million 'poor whites', sharecroppers in the South, slum neighbours of the 'non whites' all over the nation; and, most pathetic of all, hundreds of thousands of migrants who are again moving over the country as in the depression days of the 'Grapes of Wrath'.
The main but not the only characteristic of the other America is its discriminatory treatment of 'non whites' by a relatively few of their `white' compatriots who have on their side a number of outdated laws.
President Harry S. Truman
February 3, 1948.
`American anti-racial and anti-religious practices make a mockery of both the Constitution and the Charter of the United Nations.'
Dr Ralph J. Bunche
January 3o, 1950.
'Racial discrimination has no scientific foundation in biological fact', a UNESCO research committee of eight prominent scientists, including two Americans, confirmed in August 1950. Yet discrimination on racial grounds still pervades American life—and even death.
'Swing low, sweet chariot', goes the old Negro spiritual, 'coming for to carry me home.' And when it comes, it carries to strictly segregated cemeteries 67 per cent more infants of 'non white' than 'white' parents, pro rata of their total numbers; 69 per cent more 'non white' toddlers; 5o per cent more 'non white' children between five and fourteen; 151 per cent more 'non white' boys and girls in their teens and early twenties; x68 per cent more 'non white' men and women up to forty-four; and nearly twice as many at middle age. Only 'non whites' who survive to seventy are at last on a par before death with 'whites'. U.S. vital statistics show further that the tuberculosis death rate is nearly three times as high among 'non white' as 'white' males, four times as high among 'non white' as 'white' females. At the ages from 15 to 24, 'non white' tuberculosis mortality is 8 1/4 times as high as in the case of 'whites'; and mortality in childbirth of 'non white' mothers is three times that of 'white' mothers.
Even the new generations of 'non whites' born in the period since the second world war have a shorter life expectancy than 'white' babies, although science has not discovered the slightest biological difference between them. U.S. government calculations, on the basis of mortality facts, now predict for 'white male' babies an average life span of about 65 years, but for 'non whites' one of only 57 to 58 years; for 'white female' babies nearly 71 years, but for 'non whites' only 62 years.
These underprivileged, on an average, will lose seven to nine years of their lives, one-tenth to one-eighth of their normal span. This discrepancy between the prospects for 'whites' and 'non whites' in the United States is about the same as the difference between average life expectancies in relatively well-to-do France and poverty-ridden Japan.
Of all 'non white' families, 10.5 per cent have had to live on annual incomes of less than $500 in recent years, while only 3.8 per cent of all 'white' families were in this predicament. Another 18.3 per cent of all 'non white families, but only 5.2 per cent of all 'white' families, earned between $500 and $999 a year. Below the poverty line of family incomes under $2,000 a year live 62.3 per cent of all 'non whites' and 23.9 per cent of the 'whites', as shown by a census report of February 7, 1949.
One-half of all 'non whites' earn on an average only about $185 a year per capita. This is, according to 0fficial consumption statistics, as much as the 'average American' spends each year on clothing, toiletries and barber services.
It is an annual income only $11 higher than that of the average Mexican; two-thirds that of the average Spaniard; barely one-third that of the average citizen of France and Belgium, the recipients of American aid—to which the poor of the United States, including 'non whites', contribute heavily through direct and indirect taxes.*
Even the average per capita income of all citizens in the S0uthern states, 'whites' and 'non whites', rich and poor, in 1950, was only $959, while that in the rest of the Union was $1,500. At the one extreme, the Southern state of Mississippi had an average per capita income of $698; at the other extreme, that of Washington, D.C., was $1,986 and New York's $1,864. Yet the rich enjoy even larger shares in the total incomes of the underprivileged states than elsewhere.
The other America, on principle, pays lower wages for the same work than the rest of the nation. 'Southern male occupational groups were paid about 84 per cent of corresponding job earnings in the Northeast... ', stated the Monthly Labor Review of the U.S. Department of Labor in April 1948. 'In all periods, a substantial proportion of Southern skilled groups earned less than 80 per cent of the rates for similar workers in the northern region.' Yet living costs are by no means lower in the South. The Department's model budget for a city worker's family, at that time, required between $3,004 and $3,276 in the Southern cities of New Orleans and Mobile, against $3,010 in Kansas City and $3,251 in Los Angeles. Moreover, 'non whites' usually earn less than 'whites' in the same jobs, at the same place.
Even the Negro veterans who fought in the second world war earn less than their 'white' comrades in civilian jobs. The earnings of the Negro veteran are typically 3o per cent below those of the white veteran', the C.I.O. Economic Outlook reported in August 1947, and `he finds it more difficult to get work'.
`Non whites' are always the last to find jobs in a boom and the first to lose them in a recession. 'Many Negroes lack jobs in days of "full employment",' wr0te the Wall Street Journal on September 9, '948; 'in San Francisco . . . about a third of the coloured population are out 0f w0rk [while] the general average of unemployment is 9 t0 10 per cent'. In the nation as a whole, in 1948, 'non white' unemployment was officially reported as 6z per cent higher, pro rata,. than 'white' unemployment.
The relative position of the farmers in the other America is even worse. Facts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that average living standards on the farms of Southern states like Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama are barely one-fourth to one-fifth as high as those of New jersey, Iowa and California, and only one-third of th0se on farms over the nation as a whole.
This is a typical case 0f Southern farm life:* 'Leroy Canton, age 5o, is a sharecropper in southern Arkansas. He and his wife and their son and daughter, ages 6 and $, are 0ne of 35 tenants on a large plantati0n owned by the Cassan0va Corp. . . . Their 1949 income was $680.5o (including $233.00 earned by Mr Canton as tractor driver for the plantation operator, various amounts from 0dd jobs, and $80.00 profit from the family's share in their cotton crop). The Canton family raised 13 bales of cotton last year. 6 1/2 bales for the plantation operator's share. The plantation operator gins and sells the entire crop, the sharecropper having n0 v0ice in the handling of his share. When the crop has been sold the operator gives the family a statement of their debts. The sharecropper is required t0 pay for seeds, fertilizer, poison for insects, and tractor cultivation 0ut of his share of the crop [but has] no idea of the cost of any of the items since they are never listed. . . . After the operator made his deductions f0r their expenses the family cleared $8o from the sale of 6 1/2 bales of cotton (market value ab0ut $1,000). The family is also dependent upon the operator for any other cash income they receive, since he controls where and when they can work.... Last year the operator paid his tenants $2 a day for chopping; however, laborers brought from outside cities and communities were paid $4 to $7. . — All children large enough, and all w0men, labor from sunup to sundown every day, except half-days Saturdays and Sundays. The doctor whom the plantati0n operator engaged will not tell the family what he charged for his treatments. The operat0r will charge the d0ctor's bill to the family's crop account and collect in the fall. . . . No member of the family has a winter coat, and n0 clothing has been given t0 them. . .
The technological revolution on the cotton farms makes life more and more hazardous for families like the Cantons. 'A big question in the South concerns the fate of sharecroppers and tenant farmers who will soon be displaced by mechanical inventions for cotton farming', the New York Herald Tribune wrote on November 18, 1946. 'The mechanical picker replaces as many as seventy-five hand w0rkers. .. . Five million landworkers will g0 on relief within the next five years. . . . They will have to m0ve from the plantation homes they now occupy. . .
This is one of the reasons why the pathetic stream of migrant farm workers has begun to swell again in post-war years. 'The only practical difference between 2,500,000 migrant farm w0rkers in the U.S. today and the unhappy villeins who toiled out their miserable existence in feudal England is that the 1947-model serf does not wear an iron collar rivetted around his neck, inscribed with the name of the owner', wrote Harold L. Ickes, f0rmer Secretary of the Interior, in the New York Post of November 4, 1947.
`The specter 0f human misery again is stalking the "Grapes of Wrath" country . . . a grim foretaste of what is likely t0 come next year and in the years after, with rapid farm mechanization, crop cutbacks and softening industrial, urban employment', reported the New York Times 0n March 17, 1950. 'Despite a state law forbidding child labor, an increasing number of boys and girls under 14 years of age—children of migratory farm hands—are at work in the fields of New York State', the paper wrote on September 4, 1950. 'More migrant children work each year . . . half 0f them under 8 years. . . . Many were born while their parents were on the road. . .
It is not surprising, then, that there is among the under privileged 1° million families of the other America 'frequent reference to the war years as "good times", in the sense of being economically rewarding', and that the social workers who reported this fact to Congress in the armament boom summer of x951, added the significant remark: `Today's defense mobilization seems to be bringing us again into such a peri0d.'
Never bombed and rec0rd-rich, the United States lacks 1 z 0r 12 million new homes for its 40 milli0n families, nearly as many homes as the war destroyed in Europe. The luxury penthouses and the pretty suburban homes, the c0sy little city apartments of film, magazine and advertising lore are certainly part of the United States; and many-dwellings are go0d, spacious and comfortable or at least adequate; but the slums are still characteristic of the other America.
'In one room twelve by twelve feet, ten people live and sleep, with no sanitary facilities except a water faucet in the backyard. . . In a four-room house sixteen to twenty-five people live with n0 sanitary facilities. . . . S0mewhere between 10 and 15 million Americans are living in such slums. . . . Slums are growing like cancers, generally ringing the central business districts of our cities and more or less rapidly spreading outward with their truly terrible blight. . . . It is a national disgrace. . . There is serious danger of an epidemic in this area within a few bl0cks of the Capitol.' These were not the words of rebel-rousing radicals but of c0nservative Senators who, in April 1949, had a look at a typical slum in the very shadow of the Capitol dome of Washington and reported their findings t0 Congress.
One-fifth of the area of American cities is blighted, 'creating tremendous health and social problems for 2 million people', the ex-mayor of Memphis, Tenessee, told the United States Conference of May0rs. 'The ill-housed one-f0urth of one city's population produced more than half of the tuberculosis cases each year and sent nearly 40 per cent of its mentally ill to state institutions', the New York Times quoted the Surgeon General on November 27, 1949.
At least 39 per cent of city housing in the United States is 'below standard for minimum health and safety regulations', stated the National Housing Agency. 'M0re than i6 per cent is without running water. ... More than two-thirds has no inside private toilet. . . . Almost two-thirds has dangerous or inadequate heating. — . Almost half has inadequate daylight or ventilation.'
Housing conditi0ns are no better in rural areas: 4 out of the 6 1/2 million farm families were ill-housed, the National Committee on Housing reported in 1946, and about 2 million farm families lived in dwellings 'beyond repair'. Nearly three-quarters of all farm families, according to 1948 data, had no bathtub or shower. Over one-half even lacked kitchen sinks.
But early in 1949 the barely half-sufficient post-war building rate began to fall, and 'for the first time since depression days, the specter of rows of unsold new homes in key cities over the country has risen to plague builders, despite continuing housing shortage, the New York Times reported on February 24. For the cost of new homes is out of reach 0f the majority of those who need them most. Post-war building has provided homes mainly for the relatively well-off. Only one out of every five new homes was built for rental. Of theSe, merely one-fifth were 0ffered at rents of less than $600 per year, which few of the families with annual inc0mes of less than $3,000 can pay. Such families, however, make up about one-half of the American population, and they are of course the worst housed.
How much higher, relatively, rentals are for the poor, especially for `non whites', than for the middle classes, was shown by a census report of September 24, 1948 about incomes and housing in Washington D.C. Middle class families with annual inc0mes of $7,500 and over, who usually live in good districts in roomy, well-maintained quarters with modern comforts, paid a median rent of $876 a year. But those with annual incomes 0f $1,000 to $1,999, the slum population which impressed some Senators as potential breeders of epidemics, paid a median rent of $468 for slum quarters which n0 figure and no words can put into comparison with those of their betters. Three times more Negroes and other 'non whites' than 'whites' were officially reported to be without private bath or flush t0ilet. The proportion of 'non whites' living in overcrowded places was 'roughly four times as high as that for whites', stated a June 1948 report of the official Housing and Home Finance Agency; and the proportion of substandard homes inhabited by 'non whites' was almost six times as high as in the case of 'whites'.
The American G0vernment reported to the United Nations 0n September 3, 1950 that 'significant advances' had been made in the United States in promoting human rights, eliminating discrimination due to race, creed or colour, and generally in protecting the basic freedoms of American citizens.
This statement ignored another one made the same day by the Rt. Rev. Bishop D. Ward Nichols: 'Last week we heard President Truman announce to the w0rld that the United Nations and United States were fighting for the rights 0f free men everywhere. At the same time he permits by both words and deed racial segregation in the armed forces. . . . I say it is treason. . .
It also ignored the authoritative view that 'American anti-racial and anti-religious practices make a mockery of both the Constitution and the Charter of the United Nations', expressed on January 30, 1950, by Dr Ralph J. Bunche, the prominent Negro who had resigned from the U.S. State Department after a most exceptional career, because he and his family could no longer stand the degradation of life in segregated Washington, and joined the United Nations staff. Soon after, Dr Bunche 'denounced the city of Washington as "the nation's greatest shame" because of its discriminatory attitude toward the Negro population . . . and that it had not yet admitted Abraham Lincoln's "moral dictum that the Negro is a man".'
Finally, the Government statement ignored that the very basis of racial segregation and discrimination in the other America—the law of various Southern states—remains unchanged. In Georgia, for example, it is still a punishable offence to have restaurants, barber shops, street cars, lavatories, etc., serve both 'white' and 'colored' persons and to bury 'colored' dead in cemeteries where 'white' people are buried. 'Whites', under the law, are 'only persons of the White or Caucasian race, who have no ascertainable traces of either Negro, African, West Indian, Mongolian, Japanese or Chinese blood in their veins'.
As though the North had never won the Civil War against the slave-holding South, as though the Constitution of the United States had never been amended to give equal rights to the Negroes, one Congress after another fails to pass the long overdue laws required to submit the recalcitrant minorities that govern the Southern states to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Congress after Congress fails even to make the South recognize the authority of the Federal 'Fair Employment Practices Commission', charged with the limited task of setting an end to discrimination in the labour field.
The other America has not changed fundamentally, although here and there it has experienced some improvement; although all but a relatively small yet extremely powerful minority of Americans are honestly in favour of doing away with discrimination; and although large numbers of liberal-minded people of all strata have been fighting for the completion of the old task of emancipation.
`Sharp criticism of both houses of Congress for failure to take action to eliminate "those patterns of discrimination and segregation which deny to many Americans that equality of opportunity and right which is the essence of our democratic system", was made in a joint report by the American Jewish Congress and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People'. (New York Times of March 26, 1951.) They blamed both political parties for failing to enact any major civil rights measure.
Headlines like these still appear in the daily papers: 'Negro, Flogged, Shot by Whites, Dies in Florida'; 'Sheriff Reveals Negro Beatings in Mississippi'; 'Racial Bars Held Rigid In Churches'; 'Burial As Veteran Held Up For Negro—Clearance Policy Bars Soldier Who Fell In Korea From Phoenix Cemetery'; 'Emancipation Far Off For [American] Indians'.
A Chicago suburb, in July 1951, was shaken by three days of mob violence when, in the words of the New York Times, 'a Chicago Negro, a bus driver, . . . World War II veteran and graduate of Fisk University . . . moved from the ghetto of this city's Black Belt to a suburban community'. A 'white' mathematics professor at Pennsylvania State College who became active in the fight against the exclusion of Negroes from a new housing project in New York, was dismissed from his position, according to the New York Times of April 19, 1950. He was told by the assistant of the college president 'that his action in permitting a Negro family to live as guests in his New York apartment was "extreme, illegal and immoral, and damaging to the public relations of the college".'
When the U.S. Government, in the summer of 1951, decided to mint special 50-cent pieces in honour of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, to be sold as memorials to those distinguished Negro scientists and benefactors of Southern agriculture, 'that the Government did so to forge another weapon for ideological warfare'. For, as the New York Times approvingly reported in an editorial on September 3, 195 r, the profit from the sale of the memorial coins at $1 each was to be used 'to combat Communism among Negroes' rather than to improve their living conditions.
Economically, as morally, the other America is still the forgotten frontier of the United States, her own 'backward region'—as desperately in need of development and capital investment, of technical, educational and health assistance, of land reform, democratic advancement and social progress as many an underdeveloped territory in the outside world.
It offers the greatest and most natural outlet for the surpluses of goods, machinery and capital that threaten the American economic order with depression and force it into the illusory escape of armaments and foreign markets.
'If the States in the lower half with reference to income per capita were lifted to the average for the country as a whole . . . the effect in terms of creating a new market would be far greater than our whole foreign trade', Professor K. Norton of Columbia University already told the U.S. Senate's Temporary National Economic Committee on April 24, 1940. And the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization, in its 1949 Report on International Investment and Financial Facilities, which summarized the most urgent and immediate development needs of the world's 'backward' regions, significantly included $8,500 million that should be obtained for the 'North American Cotton Belt', in the underprivileged South of the United States.
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