Fog of War: The Second World War and the Civil Rights Movement

By Kevin M. Kruse; Stephen Tuck | Go to book overview

8
The Sexual Politics of Race
in World War II America

Jane Dailey

In the late summer of 1938, Mark Ethridge—an outspoken foe of lynching, a progressive journalist, and a leading “Southern white man of good will”— remarked in a speech before the Fourth Southwide Conference on Education and Race Relations that “I have nowhere mentioned the abolition of segregation or so-called ‘social equality,’ because I have nowhere found these steps to be among the Negro’s aspirations. Upon the whole, he is as proud of his race as we are of ours…. But even if these were his aspirations, I should consider him foolhardy if he pressed them, because, as friendly as I am, I would consider them against his own interests and against the general welfare and peace.” Quoting an Interracial Commission pamphlet, Ethridge explained that “what the Negro wants” was a reorientation of the horizontal race line along a vertical axis, “so that he may have on his side the rights and privileges to which he is entitled, just as the white man on his side enjoys the rights and privileges of American civilization.”1

Ethridge’s words, especially his warning to African Americans who were not asking for social equality to continue to refrain from asking for it, were the words of a man who felt the ground moving beneath his feet. Since the riotous summer of 1919, when significant numbers of white Americans arose to stamp out any hope of equality on the part of black veterans of the Great War, reform-minded whites like Mark Ethridge had worked shoulder to shoulder with African Americans in regional organizations dedicated to improving social and political conditions in the South. The membership of organizations such as the Committee for Interracial Cooperation (CIC), the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations, and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching overlapped, as did many of their goals and ideological commitments. All of these groups functioned within the confines of the Jim Crow system throughout the 1930s, and all without exception subscribed publicly to what might be termed the central myth of progressive Southern race politics: that black Southerners, although unhappy with many of the more grievously discriminatory aspects of racial

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