Reflections on Segregation, Desegregation, Power and Morals

William T. Fontaine


This book is dedicated to many people: To Nettie, the aunt whose labor made possible much of my education; to my wife Belle for her patience, secretarial help and many valuable suggestions; to the many students, white and black, over the years — Viola Johnson, Garnet Conant, Archie Lang, Herman Cohen, Bill Richter, David Goldblatt, to mention a few — with whom it was my wonderful fortune to share thoughts and experiences along life’s way; to Professors Sidney Hook, John A. Davis, James Ross, Monroe and Elizabeth Beardsley, and to Marvin Farber for his counsel, constant encouragement and indomitable humanity; and finally, to those friends who so faithfully assisted me with the proofs during a siege of illness: Martha Montgomery, James Garrott, Elmore Kennedy, Robert Loving and James Baker.


The summer of 1966 had been excessively “long” and “hot,” a time of radical reversal of position by some of the major contestants in the conflict over segregation and desegregation. The followers of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC—“Snick”) now apologize for the days when they were “freedom high”; they disclaim any immediate interest in civil rights or desegregation, and, together with the members of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), have launched a vigorous new program known as “black power.” It is also true that an impressive number of white sympathizers have left the civil rights movement and joined the “backlash” of segregationists.

When a group which has suffered so greatly, and has fought segregation by race so persistently, suddenly comes forward with a contrary program of “black power,” its action raises the suspicion that they never understood segregation and desegregation and are just as confused now. Similarly, those who have withdrawn support and joined the backlash cannot be aware of the consequences of entrusting their governments to racial extremists. On both sides there is need for a clarification of issues and a statement of position. This is the necessary beginning for formulating programs of action to resolve conflicts.

This book attempts the philosophic task of providing such a clarification and pointing the way toward a new program of action.

Chapter I presents the changing forms which the aspirations of Negroes have taken since the end of Reconstruction. Although the subject is treated generally, its relevance to the current controversy of “black power” is obvious. Of especial importance in this respect will be W. E. B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, the literature of the Negro Renaissance of the twenties, Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The purpose is to present a portrait of the various segments of the Negro mentality or ethos, and to relate all to the dominant wish for freedom and equality. It is hoped that this will provide the reader with a view of Negroes both historically and from within.

Leaders of the revolt have not yet come up with a method by which the many problems of segregation and desegregation may be elucidated systematically and completely. In Chapter II a beginning is made. It is assumed that all the problems of segregation by race are comprehended under the five forms of separation to which it, as a way of life, can be reduced. Once this is understood, then the magnitude and complexity of desegregation also become evident. The moral commitment to desegregation is no easy task. It requires all of the following: (a) repudiation of the idea that an all-powerful “essence” called “racial endowment” determines the potentialities and accomplishments of the individual; (b) elimination of separation by spatial distance, and acceptance of a sentiment of justice that includes all men, regardless of color; (c) denial of the principle of preemption in economic life, politics and education; (d) concentration upon complete development of every individual, instead of deliberate retardation designed to retain leadership of caste; (e) refusal to believe that current accounts of the role of Negroes in history are complete beyond all possibility of significant revision; (f) freedom of association in interpersonal relations and rejection of racial taboos on sex and marriage; (g) in communication, adoption of gestures and forms of address indicating acknowledgment of the intrinsic dignity of a human being. The “anatomization” of segregation by a race is a nasty business. There are passages in which I fear that the philosophic “gadfly” has become a scorpion.

Chapter III, “White Americans for Desegregation,” is a happier task. Here one finds influences of some of those who have helped to build and extend the tradition of an open society in the United States, persons such as the philosophers Josiah Royce and John Dewey; the brothers Spingam; Will Alexander, the Southern minister; President Harry S Truman, and the wonderful freedom fighters, Harvey and Joan.

Chapter IV is a descent once more into the sordid. It states the case of those who contend that commitment to desegregation by most white Americans has been weak because it has come about as a by-product of conflicts between members of the dominant group. Although an overstatement, the position must be taken into account in order to formulate a program of action.

Chapter V singles out the important problem of de facto segregation in housing, and illustrates how philanthropy, conceived as “moral power” plus massive economic power, will help solve it. The account must not be considered a blueprint, but rather as notes pointing the way. Since this approach is in many ways contrary to “black power,” the final chapter begins with an extensive critique of this position.

SOURCE: Fontaine, William T. Reflections on Segregation, Desegregation, Power and Morals. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishing Company, 1967. xii, 162 pp. Dedication, [v]; Preface, vii-ix.

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