Raven, Jefferson and ODK Societies, tape 1
DATE: 20 February 1958
OCCASION: The Raven, Jefferson and Omicron Delta Kappa Societies, 8:30 p.m., Peabody Hall Auditorium
READING: "A Word to Virginians"
Play the full recording:
Moderator: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Jefferson Society, Omicron Delta Kappa, and the Raven Society, I welcome you tonight to what we consider a—a rare honor and a privilege. At this time, I would like to turn the meeting over to a gentleman who I don't believe could be any—could have been any more aptly chosen, a gentleman who is a member of the Jefferson Society and at one time served as her president, who is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa—Kappa, a member in longstanding of the Raven Society and a holder of the Raven Award, Dean of the Law School, Dean Ribble. [applause]
Dean F. D. G. Ribble: Ladies and gentlemen, I shall not introduce our distinguished speaker who happily has been a member of our community for a year and half. I would like to just say a word of thanks to the three ancient and honorable organizations which have planned this meeting for us. They're all very old. As we say in law, so old that memory—the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. The oldest, I believe, is the Jefferson Society. It started in 1825 and had as one of its first members Edgar Allan Poe, so you see their interest in men of letters is quite old. The other two have equally and greatly added to the life of this University, and the three of them are adding to their fame and to our debt of gratitude to them by presenting to us tonight a gentlemen who is a great American, a great southerner, and one whom we're very proud to have as a member of our university, Mr. William Faulkner. [applause]
William Faulkner: With Dean Ribble's permission, I would like to elaborate that a little more. With Professor Stovall's blessings, Mr. Gwynn and Mr. Blotner have agreed that my tenure as writer-in-residence here might be a little better if we kept it informal, serious but not too concentrated and continuous. That is, when I'm on the fifth floor of Cabell Hall, I'm writer-in-residence. When I'm not there, then I'm just a Mississippi citizen that likes and admires Virginia and Virginia people. I hope that—that now you will take me under those conditions, that I'm just a private citizen here that likes and admires Virginia, Virginia people, even when they may not like what I'm going to say. [audience laughter] That is, as far as the University is concerned, I am free home here, and as far as you're concerned, I am free game. Only do flush me first. Don't shoot me sitting. [audience laughter]
Mr. Chairman, members of the Jefferson Society, the Raven Society, ODK, and ladies and gentlemen, a hundred years ago Abraham Lincoln said, "This nation cannot endure half slave and half free." If he were alive today, he would amend it: "This nation cannot endure containing a minority as large as ten percent held second class in citizenship by the accident of physical appearance." As a lesser man might put it, this nor any country or community of people can no more get along in peace with ten percent of its population arbitrarily unassimilated than a town of five thousand people can get along in peace with five hundred unbridled horses loose in the streets, or, say, a community of five thousand cats with five hundred unassimilated dogs among them, or vice versa. [audience laughter] For peaceful coexistence, all must be one thing—either all first-class citizens or all second-class citizens, either all people or all horses, either all cats or all dogs.
Perhaps the Negro is not yet capable of more than second-class citizenship. His tragedy may be that so far he is competent for equality only in the ratio of his white blood. But even if that is so, the problem of the second-class citizens still remains. It would not solve the problem even if the Negro were himself content to remain only a second-class citizen, even though relieved of his first-class responsibilities by his classification. The fact would still remain that we are a nation established on the fact that we are only ninety percent unified in power. With only ninety percent of unanimity, we would face, and hope to survive in it, an inimical world unified against us, even if only in inimicality. We cannot be even ninety percent unified against that inimical world, which outnumbers us, because too much of even that ninety percent of power is spent and consumed by the physical problem of the ten percent of irresponsibles.
It is easy enough for the North to blame on us, the South, the fact this problem is still unsolved. If I were a northerner, that's what I would do, tell myself that one hundred years ago we—both of us, North and South—had put this to the test and had solved it. That it is not us, the North, but you, the South, who have refused to accept that verdict. Nor will it help us any to remind the North that by ratio of Negro to white in population, there's probably more of inequality and injustice there than with us.
Instead, we should accept that gambit. Let us say to the North, "All right, it is our problem, and we will solve it." For the sake of the argument, let us agree that as yet the Negro is incapable of equality for the reason that he could not hold and keep it, even if were forced on him with bayonets, that once the bayonets were removed, the first smart and ruthless man, black or white, who came along would take it away from him, because he, the Negro, is not yet capable of, or refuses to accept, the responsibilities of equality.
So we, the white man, must take him in hand and teach him that responsibility. This will not be the first time nor the last time in the long record of man's history that moral principle has been identical with and even inextricable from practical common sense. Let us teach him that, in order to be free and equal, he must first be worthy of it, and then forever afterward work to hold and keep and defend it. He must learn to cease forever more thinking like a Negro and acting like a Negro. This will not be easy for him. His burden will be that, because of his race and color, it will not suffice for him to think and act like just any white man. He must think and act like the best among white men. Because where the white man, because of his race and color, can practice morality and rectitude just on Sunday and let the rest of the week go hang, the Negro can never let up nor deviate.
That is our job here in the South. It is possible that the white race and the Negro race can never really like and trust each other—this for the reason that the white man can never really know the Negro, because the white man has forced the Negro to be always a Negro rather than another human being in their dealings. And therefore the Negro cannot afford, does not dare, to be open with the white man and let the white man know what he, the Negro, thinks. But I do know that we in the South, having grown up and lived among Negroes for generations, are capable in individual cases, of liking and trusting individual Negroes, which the North can never do because the northerner only fears him.
So we alone can teach the Negro the responsibility of personal morality and rectitude, either by taking him into our white schools, or giving him white teachers in his own schools, until we have taught the teachers of his own race to teach and train him in these hard and unpleasant habits. Whether or not he ever learns his ABCs or what to do with common fractions won't matter. What he must learn are the hard things—self-restraint, honesty, dependability, purity, to act not even as well as just any white man, but to act as well as the best of white men. If we don't, we will spend the rest of our lives dodging among the five hundred unbridled horses. We will look forward each year to another Clinton or Little Rock, not only further and further to wreck what we have so far created of peaceful relations between the two races, but to be international monuments and milestones to our ridicule and shame.
And the place for this to begin is Virginia, the mother of all the rest of us [through] the South. Compared to you, my country—Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas—is still frontier, still wilderness. Yet even in our wilderness we look back to that mother stock as though it were not really so distant and so far removed. Even in our wilderness the old Virginia blood still runs, and the old Virginia names—Byrd and Lee and Carter—still endure. There is no family in our wilderness but has that old aunt or grandmother to tell the children as soon as they can hear and understand, "Your blood is Virginia blood, too. Your great-great-great-grandfather was born in Rockbridge or Fairfax or Prince George, Valley or Piedmont or Tidewater," right down to the nearest milestone, so that Virginia is a living place to that child long before he ever heard or cares about New York or, for that matter, America.
So let it begin in Virginia, toward whom the rest of us are already looking as the child looks toward the parent for a sign, a signal where to go and how to go. A hundred years ago the hot-heads of Mississippi and Georgia and South Carolina would not listen when the mother of us all tried to check our reckless and headlong course. We ignored you then, to all our grief. Yours more than any since you bore more of the battles. But this time we will hear you. Let this be the voice of that wilderness, speaking not just to Mother Virginia but to the best of her children—sons found and chosen worthy to be trained to the old pattern in the University established by Mr. Jefferson to be not just a dead monument to, but the enduring fountain of his principles of order within the human condition and the relationship of man with man—the messenger, the mouthpiece of all, saying to the mother of us all, "Show us the way and lead us in it." I believe we will follow you. [applause]
Dean F. D. G. Ribble: Mr. Faulkner is good enough to answer any questions that you care to raise. You don't have to take issue with the very fine sentiments just expressed.
Unidentified participant: Sir, you spoke of the Negro as a child, more or less, who had to be taught how to live like—like the best white man, [but do you think that] before that that the—well, the—[awful lot of this trouble that's been caused for colored people are by irresponsible white people]? Don't you think it would be a good idea to educate the white people to accept the Negro?
William Faulkner: Yes, I do. Of course, this could go into—to great length. I was simply stating the proposition in its simplest terms, as it seemed to me. I think that all that—that don't violently repudiate what I've said will agree that the white man is responsible for the Negro's condition, the fact that the Negro does act like a Negro and can live among us and be irresponsible, that the white man has got to be himself capable to teach the Negro to be more responsible than he is. Yes, I agree with you. But then, the Negro is not going to wait right now while the white man educates himself in order to educate the Negro. We've got to do both at the same time. The Negro is not going to wait any longer.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, in your talk you had an analogy comparing the Negro with—with unbridled horses. If you tried to break these unbridled horses, and you turned a lot of tame ones in, don't you think it's a possibility that you may wind up with just a big group of half-wild horses? [audience laughter]
William Faulkner: Well, of course, I used the—the horse as a—as a quick analogy to—to state a condition. What I meant by that was, the horse that—that can be trained and maybe has been trained—we'll assume that—that while that horse was a slave, then—then he was a—a docile, well-behaved horse. But then he was—the burden of slavery was lifted from him, and he was suddenly freed. That he is still capable of being a docile member of society, but the condition in which he was compelled to be a docile member is gone, and so we will have to establish a new condition in which he is—is docile not through pressure, but because he himself wants to be. He has got to be taught that it's best for me to—to pull my share in the traces if that's what we've got to do, than to run wild.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, don't you feel that if Virginia did integrate, that the people in Mississippi and Alabama and Arkansas and those places would sort of lose their respect for Virginians as Southerners and sort of classify them as sort of northerners? [audience laughter]
William Faulkner: No, sir, I—I do not. There's a—a noisy minority in Mississippi and Arkansas, and—and I rather think it's in Virginia too, that will go to any length before they will—will risk in any way improving the Negro's class condition, for economic reasons. That's—that's what's so in Mississippi, anyway. But there are people in Mississippi and in Alabama and in Georgia, in the middle of—of—of where the Ku Klux Klan and Citizens Councils are active, that do believe that whether they like it or not, there's a situation now which simply will not go on any longer, and our choice is either to do nothing and be run over and—and trampled, or take ourselves, try to take charge of these unbridled horses. And I think that if—if the people in Mississippi and Arkansas and Alabama could find that there were people in Virginia that would take the lead in this, they would follow for the reason that there is a respect, a—a feeling of veneration toward Virginia that exists, as I tried to explain, everywhere in the rest of the South. Whether it's—it's valid or not, I don't know, and from some of the things that I have seen Virginia do since I've been here, I may agree that it's not too valid, but I think that basically there is that feeling, and I believe that there is in Virginia the capacity to take the first step in solving—solving this problem, and if it is taken in Virginia, the people in Mississippi and Alabama will follow when they wouldn't follow Alabama nor Mississippi.
Dean F. D. G. Ribble: There's someone over here.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, on the subject of race relations, it seems to me that the continuum in the United States is one of polarity, that is, the only view tolerated is an—is the extreme view. If you agree with that premise of mine, would you say that there will be resurgence—a resurgence of a moderate view on this subject, and what is your conception of that view?
William Faulkner: I would say that the Negro doesn't want to mix with white people any more than white people want to mix with the Negro. The Negro simply wants the right himself to decide not to mix. I think that—that he doesn't want to—to go to white schools just because they're white schools. I think he wants to go to them because he's under the delusion that white schools are good schools. [audience laughter] I think from—from what I've seen of a lot of schools that no really industrious Negro would want to go to one. Now that's not true of all schools, but—but it's true of too many white schools. I think that what he wants is mainly the chance himself to decide to be segregated, and that if he had that, with schools so good that the people in the schools would be too busy passing the work to care what color who's sitting next to them was, there wouldn't be any trouble about integration in schools.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, would you consider one of the problems—[disregarding that you mentioned that the Negro was fighting for the chance to be able to segregate himself]—is it not true that that is what the white southerner is fighting to maintain? In other words, if the Negro is fighting for the right of association, aren't the southerners fighting for the equivalent right to disassociate? In other words, they don't feel like sacrificing their rights completely in order for the Negro to achieve the same rights. In other words, they don't feel that they are balanced. Do you think that is a valid cause for the southern white to be fighting so strenuously to preserve his equivalent right of disassociation?
William Faulkner: I would say it's valid assuming that the southerner's fear is valid. I think that his—his violent attitude toward integration is based in fear. It's—in Mississippi, it's mainly an economic fear, that he has trained the Negro to—to get along with—with inferior tools and bad stock and yet to make a living and send his children to school. The white man is afraid that if the Negro has better tools and better stock, the Negro will take the white man's economy away from him. I think he is afraid that if he gives the Negro a chance to choose to be segregated, the Negro may not choose it, that if he was just convinced that—that the Negro would want to keep his own churches and his own schools and not mix with white people, then the white man would give him that chance, but I doubt if—if some of the white people in the South can ever be brought to take that chance.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, I believe you inferred in the earlier part of your speech that a good deal of the prejudice is against the Negro because of his color, and if that be so, I wonder if you really think that integration is going to solve this prejudice?
William Faulkner: I myself think that—that integration as they mean it now will—will never occur, that the Negro doesn't want it either. I would say, though, in—in five hundred years he will have vanished, and I imagine then anyone that wants to join the D.A.R. will have to prove that—that she's got somewhere a strain of Negro blood, that they'll be descendants [audience laughter] of [...], [applause] but as—I think as the NAACP preaches it, and as the White Citizens Councils preach against it, it—it won't occur because the Negro himself, as a race, doesn't want to mix with white people. He don't like white people that well. But I do think that all the laws in the world are not going to make the two races mix if—if they don't want to, just as all the laws in the world won't keep them apart if they do want to.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Virginia, and I think several other Southern states, have laws which say that in case schools are mixed with colored and white, these schools will be closed. Do you think that when these schools are closed, the communities will finally come about to deciding that it's better to integrate and educate, or just do away with education?
William Faulkner: I think they will come around to integrate for the reason that we have—have made our schools in this country to a sort of a national system of babysitters, and by the time these children [audience laughter] have been at home underfoot the parents are going to be willing for them to go to school no matter who else is there. [audience laughter]
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, what specific program would you advocate to implement this education of the Negro race?
William Faulkner: I would say first to raise the standard of all the schools to the best. I would let everyone that can pass the board go to that school. He might have one chance to fail. If he fails, he goes to a trade school. If he fails there, he goes to the Army. [audience laughter, applause, and conversation] I mean by that that education should be a privilege. It shouldn't be a duty that I'm made to do by law whether I want to or not. That is, the law can make me go to school, but they can't make me do anything there I don't want to. It should be a privilege. People should be willing to—to walk four or five miles to get to school.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Do you agree with the administration's proposal for federal aid to the schools?
William Faulkner: Yes, if—if the standards of the schools were improved. I think that—that more money ain't going to improve the schools, that the schools themselves are going to have to begin to improve themselves. They're going to have to get rid of a lot of people that don't have any business in school. They've got to give teachers better pay and give the teacher some pride in his job and some security that nobody will—will fire him. But, yes, it—federal aid will—will have to go to the schools because I think the—the communities can't or—or won't.
William Faulkner: I'm sorry—
Unidentified participant: And at what age do you advocate this entrance examination for students—elementary school or high school?
William Faulkner: That should—I should think the entrance examination would come only to give the failure a second chance, that he can go to school as he does now. The first time he fails, he goes to a trade school, but he will have the right to swot up and take an entrance examination to get back into the grade that he—he lost. I think that at college it should be a board, yes. That no matter what credits he brings from his school he should pass a board examination to get into college, yes.
William Faulkner: Yes.
Unidentified participant: Sir, do you think that the federal government will allow the Negro to make this choice that you're talking about?
William Faulkner: The federal government, I imagine, will do whatever the—the most folks hollering the loudest at it insist on. [audience laughter]
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: It seems like the various groups up North which are pushing integration so hard now will—should the South try to adopt this voluntary segregation—leave the—both the white and black alone then to make that choice, or do you think it's sort of wrapped up in—in power politics from the large northern cities, that we are going to continue to be the whipping boy, for better or worse?
William Faulkner: I think that most of the—the noisy vociferous people in the North don't really know what they're talking about. If they would come down here and look at it, they would know a good deal more than they do now. And I think that they are going to learn, because there are more and more Negroes moving to the North. In my county there were 6,000 people moved out since the last sentence—census. There were—something like 4,800 of them were—were Negroes. I was through the country last winter bird-shooting. I would see houses empty, house after house. One family on my place gone to Chicago. How long they'll stay, I don't know. I imagine they'll be back in a year, but they've— [audience laughter] And I think when more and more of these people begin to crowd in among the white folks in the North, a lot of them that talk so loud now will begin to change their tune.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Sir, if the Negroes are the wild horses which you imply they are, how are they to pass the entrance exams? It seems to me they'll all end up in the Army, and we'll be right back right where we started from. [audience laughter]
William Faulkner: Well, sir, that was an unfortunate simile, but I—I used something [audience laughter] that we were all familiar with to express quickly a condition in which ten percent of the population were—were not allowed to—to be members of the population, except under sufferance. That's all I meant. I didn't mean that they were horses at all. We could reverse it and say that a—a community of fifty thousand horses with five hundred loose men moving around in it, if you like. [audience laughter] I simply meant that we have got to—to—to find some—some mutual ground to meet on, not socially so much as economically, and—and, of course, that—that implies education, culture. That is, the Negro can be equal without having to—to come in and sleep with you.
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, it seems that the need by the early first colonies, the need for an agrarian society to have labor, gave birth to this great problem, and it also seems that the continual effort and attempt to maintain the society even after 1865 has prolonged and added to the problem. Do you think, and this is my question, that the advent of industry in the South, the industrialization of the South, and the possible eventual destruction of the remaining—of the agrarian—agrarian society will have any effect upon this problem?
[end of recording]