The Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Negro

The Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Negro

The Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Negro

The Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Negro

Excerpt

IN FEBRUARY, 1832, a distinguished young Frenchman sailed for home after an extensive nine-month tour of the United States. Though he was no longer as sure as he had once been that democracy would prove suitable for his native land, he returned to France with a genuine appreciation of the way it worked in the land he had visited. The prospects for the new nation, he concluded, were bright. He saw only one dark cloud on the horizon. "The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union,"Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory." The two races, European and Negro, he pointed out, "are attached to each other without intermingling; and they are alike unable entirely to separate or to combine." Today, 132 years and a civil war later, the United States still has not found a satisfactory way to integrate its Negro population into the general society, although it has tried almost every conceivable approach.

The counterpoint between American democracy and the Negro can be illustrated by reconstructing the major episodes in our history of race relations and delineating the major themes that underlay this history. The friendly and informed foreigner who first studied our racial problem, Gunnar Myrdal, saw it as a dilemma resulting from the lack of consistency between the basic democratic ideals that Americans profess and the undemocratic way in which they have dealt with the Negro minority. Myrdal's suggestive formulation is the start-

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