Norman Thomas: The Great Dissenter

By Raymond F. Gregory | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 21. CONFRONTING RACISM, THE VIETNAM WAR, AND INJUSTICE

During the final two decades of Thomas’ life, disarmament and nuclear testing were issues of overriding importance for him. Still, he felt deeply about racism, the Vietnam War, and continuing acts of injustice. It is his involvement with these issues that we now turn.

Thomas’ passion for justice compelled him to oppose racism and support the appeals uttered by those subjected to acts of racism. At a time when parts of the South were violently resisting the integration of the public schools following the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education1 he wrote an open letter to President Eisenhower, beseeching him to employ the full powers of the presidency in support of the African-American struggle for civil rights. He viewed the crisis over school integration as a national moral issue requiring strong presidential leadership.

His concern for equality for African-Americans dated from his youth when his mother related to him how her childhood friends had ostracized her because her father taught African-Americans at Biddle College in Charlotte, North Carolina. Throughout his life, whenever Thomas witnessed racial discrimination, he was quick to oppose it. In 1921, as editor of The World Tomorrow, he ordered his staff to move to new quarters when the owners of the Manhattan building in which their offices were located demanded a lease forbidding the employment of African-Americans. He wrote at the time that the magazine’s staff would have refused such a demand on principle alone,

1 347 U.S. 483 (1954) and 349 U.S. 294 (1955).

-249-

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