This past summer the NAACP faced a challenge from several local chapters regarding its long-standing policy of school integration. Students in Rachael Murphey's POLI 65 class took up the debate as one with far-reaching effects for African Americans looking towards the year 2000. The choice: Integration or Black Nationalism. What follows are two opinions, in the form of letters to Kweisi Mfume, Executive Director of the NAACP.
The Case for Integration
Dear Mr. Mfume:
As we consider what journey to take for us to reach equality in America, one must look at the history, political thought and benefits of each paradigm. In other words, which of the two has brought us to where we are today? The thought of integration has clearly done that for us. Black men and women who have served pivotal roles in shaping the environment of Blacks today who have taken this position include: Anna Julia Cooper, WEB DuBois, A. Phillip Randolph, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and Dr. Martin Luther King. Each of these people has taught us the need to persevere despite the obstacles that interfere.
We must hold on to the idea of integration. The fight for complete freedom in America will take all people working together - both Black and White. One cannot do it without the assistance of the other. Integration is key if we are to reap the full benefits of our nation's promise. We can't give up on it now no matter how hard it may seem. The theme of integration must be used if the organization is to employ education, organization, agitation and publicity effectively in an effort to move society forcefully in unison. Then and only then can we as Blacks live out the dream.
The paradigm of integration is imperative for the advancement of Blacks in education. In order for Black America to be able to compete in the technological age of the twenty-first century, our children must remain in integrated schools. Why? If we look back just thirty or forty years ago we can recall the inferior public school systems that our children were in - remember separate but UNEQUAL? What did that produce? Or, better yet, what can we hold onto today as an end result of being separated? I am in no way saying that Black children need to be in White classrooms to learn, but that they need these settings in order to acquire a quality education.
We cannot give up on integration because its momentum towards equality has slowed down. It must be given new track to run on, enabling it to run faster than before. Furthermore, the perpetuation of segregated schools installs the, "symbols of South African-style apartheid, not a 20th century democracy," in the words of the Durham Herald Sun. The fight for integration must not stop along the boundary of race but crossover to the land of sex as well. Black women must be incorporated if we as a race are to succeed. No army can win a war with just half of its ammunition.
We should adhere to the cry of Anna Julia Cooper; if we do not, the Black community shall remain stagnant. Cooper realized the potential of women in the world of academia and society itself, contending that women were able to learn and perform just as well as men and so must the NAACP.
We have to take our conviction in teaching our young Black men and women to heart if Black America is to survive; however, we can no longer just survive, we must thrive like never before. The twenty-first century will encompass many new battles that our youth will encounter: minority-majority rule, the increasingly interdependent global political economy, eradication of civil rights legislation and programs, and many more. Our youth have to be given the best education possible. Integration must remain as Black America's number one objective.
In order to quench our thirst for equality in America, it is deemed necessary that Blacks take hold of the cup of integration. Throughout various time periods in American history, especially those surrounding Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement, Black communities blossomed due to the segregated economies. However, in order for us to move forward economically we need to embody an atmosphere where Blacks are able to move their money freely. In a country in which we only constitute 12% of the population, Blacks need to be able to permeate every marketplace available in order to attain a piece of the American pie. The time frames of segregated economies contributed much to Black communities, but when they died so did the Black dollar.
Living in a country where Whites serve as the majority of the population, Blacks need to derive markets that meet both the needs of Blacks and Whites if we are to advance economically. No, we shouldn't have to worry about whom we serve, for the products will bring the customers to anyone; however we must be conscious of everyone and what they can offer at the table of economic opportunity. The NAACP should not only see this within the U.S. social strata but also in the government itself.
As a resident of rural northeastern North Carolina, the presence of racism unfortunately still exists. The question comes to my mind daily as to which strategy to choose - integrationist or Black nationalist - in an effort to acquire the rights given to me under the U.S. Constitution. Which strategy is better? Which plan of action will drive Black and white together and not apart? Which paradigm will tear down the brick walls of racism and enable us to learn more about each other? Clearly the appropriate method to take would be that of integration. When considering anything dealing with social policy one should take into consideration what will bring the group together and not divide.
W.E.B. DuBois optimizes this notion to some degree. One of his greatest accomplishments was the founding of the NAACP, an organization that put Blacks and whites together to solve the ills of racism and other injustices suffered by Blacks in America. DuBois noticed that in order to correct the wrongs that Blacks experienced on a continual basis in America he would have to include those who held the reins of the power structures in the county. To accomplish these objectives in a world where the majority rules, one must place the majority into the equation of justice and equality for Black America. No exclusionary principles can be used. This is certainly the case of the NAACP and its objective of integration.
The social advancement of Black America cannot only rely upon civil rights organizations but the political infrastructures of the country. As we shift to the next millennium, the political institutions of America will be important in our quest for the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed by our nation's constitution. In order for us to attain those rights it is important that our people be able to vote. When one considers what the next century holds it looks quite dim - the Voting Rights Act will be considered for renewal by Congress. If we are not voting now, whether it be our own faults or outside forces, will Congress extend the legislation? We can only hope that they will or we can take direct action and make sure it is put back. Day by day the representation of minorities is being taken or better yet not considered serious; just look at the gerrymandering quarrels in the past. When will this end? Instead of losing hope and throwing the efforts made by the paradigm of integration into the abyss of despair we should not forget Fannie Lou Hamer, who raises a question that we sometimes fail to bring up ourselves. If this were America we would have all of our rights given to us by the Constitution, but we don't. What do we do about it? Simply stick our heads in the sand and pretend that it doesn't exist? No. Or do we simply put our words into action? That seems more logical. Our people must be included within the democratic process of our country. Anything that would separate or keep us from participating in this matter would be detrimental to Black America. Hamer confronted this dilemma head on and pointed out the importance of Blacks voting in predominantly White voting institutions. She continuously fought for the basic rights of Blacks - the right to vote. Hamer noticed that Black plus White votes equals change in American society. Two heads are better than one.
Exploring the lines of gender dynamics, participatory democracy and the complexity of leadership are things that may or may not be considered within the Black liberation movement. However, to break the old mold of male-dominated movements one must consider the impact of Ella Baker. Baker touches all three subjects in a professional manner and makes us question the path taken by so many prominent civil rights leaers and social activists. What is the role of women in progressive movements? What is the best way to get people involved in anything that pertains to major change? What is the most efficient way to lead? Baker touches upon all of these entities. These are issues that are to be addressed in order for Black America to move at a faster pace in gaining justice in America. Most certainly standing past the limelight of the far left, Baker advocates that women and children be involved in the fight for their rights as well.
In order to win the war the conundrum of sexism has to be obliterated. Chains like these hold back the efforts of intelligent women who have so much to offer American society as a whole. Baker not only addresses issues of sexism, but the need for all Americans to become actively involved in their communities and not to rely upon one person. Her most radical approach was participatory democracy, which involves men and women, Black and White, rich and poor, calling for direct action from the bottom up as opposed to the top down. These ideas, if incorporated are very dangerous and will certainly unthread the American quilt of hypocrisy. Dethroning the hierarchical system of power would enable the community to take hold of the situation at hand and through delegation resolve the problem much faster. By decentering the movement off the shoulders of one person it is able to remain much longer.
Pushing the button of integration through non-violent protest, Dr. King challenges the White patriarchy - now is the time for us to decide whether or not integration shall be the journey we will embark upon.
Now is the time for Blacks to acquire their rights so long denied. Now is the time to take deliberate action until we wake-up realizing the American dream. Now is the time - we can wait no longer.
Integration is the key if Blacks are to receive full citizenry. King put it best through the words of Lincoln when he said that this nation has to be unified on all fronts. A country can only be as strong as its weakest citizen. What one man does affects the other. The picture painted of Black nationalism is seen with just a tint of violence and division. This cannot be the case if we as Americans are to unite hand in hand. Integration is the far better way to achieve our end of full rights - economically, socially, and politically in America.
Now you have heard the reasons why the NAACP should continue its climb up the mountain of oppression until it is able to reach the pinnacle of freedom and the new shifts it may be able to take. We cannot turn our backs on this paradigm. Yes it did work and yes it can work again. We cannot give up - these men and women didn't. A decision must be made today, not tomorrow, next month or next year. Integration is here to stay, the doctrine of Black nationalism has been sent back to its original sender - the apathetic, the racist, the unpatriotic.
The Case for Nationalism
Dear Mr. Mfume,
Here at UNC, I work with a program of the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center called Communiversity. It allows college students to help Black children with their homework, and we teach them African American history on Saturdays. A thirteen year-old boy approached me one day and asked, "Johnny, why can't I be White?" I have provided you with this anecdote because we need more pride and prosperity within the Black community. Would this young man have approached me if Black nationalism held firm footing in America?
First of all, Black nationalism will provide our community with the means to compete socially, educationally, politically and economically in this brutal American game which we've trailed since alleged emancipation one hundred thirty-two years ago. Blacks must first build an efficient, powerful economic base.
Finance is the center of American life, and we cannot survive without it. The Black community lacks the economic resources necessary to shake and threaten the existing powers that be. The average gross income per Black business was $52,000 in 1995. However, the average for all U.S. firms was $193,000 in that same year.
Improved finances represent the penultimate need for African Americans. Once we have established successful Black businesses to stimulate support for the masses, we may build Black schools, political platforms and BLACK PRIDE!
It breaks my heart to see children who are ashamed of their color. Children are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. They understand that we've been lethargic and have not taken our share of wealth and the rhetorical American dream. Our children realize that provisions for their welfare have been marginal. Money to finance the college education of Black youth is even less evident.
Mr. Mfume, I urge you along with the NAACP to proclaim Black nationalism. I beseech you to challenge every complacent young man and woman to empower him or herself via the wealth of knowledge and hope. Let us have faith that our community will not crumble.
Furthermore, let us work diligently toward higher ground in order that our faith will not be debased. I challenge you to hold workshops for Black men. Push each of us to become better, more efficient husbands, sons, fathers and protectors of our race.
Journey into inner-city USA and tell Black women how beautiful they are. Yes, they've endured much suffering because of our evils, but the sun will soon replace those cloudy days.
Mr. Mfume, a new day has dawned upon Black America, and we must not allow dusk to come without changing our plight. Once inner city USA has hope, I tell you that ears have not heard nor eyes bore witness to the gross potential of Black America.
Exalt every child. Tell her that she will become a physician, businesswoman, that she will head political platforms, that she is God's most perfect creation. If we do this, the next generation of African Americans will prosper as the Carnegies and Pullmans of old. In essence, once barriers have been broken and affluent paradigms have been put into flight, Blacks will no longer be synonymous with crime and poverty. If you truly advocate the advancement of colored people, then Black nationalism must abound!
Finally, integration has its place, but Black America must become self-sufficient first. There is nothing immoral or unethical concerning Black nationalism. Whites have White nationalism. Oh yes! They send their children to private schools to evade the "corrupt Black kids" within the public school system.
I attended the McCallie School in Chattanooga, TN. There were only thirty-two Black students who attended this institution between my sophomore and senior years. Only those African Americans who were deemed worthy could attend the school.
Let us not forget that many Black neighborhoods thrived during segregation. The Black business district of Midway was born during Reconstruction. It flourished as Blacks acquired land along Franklin, Rosemary and Church Streets in Chapel Hill. However, once integration came, many African Americans began to foresake their own communities and businesses. Today, the Midway community suffers because Black success is not necessarily congruent with integration.
Mr. Mfume, I tell you that Blacks were not ready for integration then, and it is not the most efficient means for racial advancement now. Most inner cities have witnessed demises since segregation: South Central Avenue in Los Angeles, CA; Beale Street in Memphis, TN; 18th and Vine Streets in Kansas City, MO; the Hayti section of Durham, NC; and Greenwood Street in Tulsa, OK. Black nationalism uplifted the African American during the Jim Crow era, and it is the answer for racial advancement in 1997.
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