Desegregation and Southern Bigotry

Desegregation and Southern Bigotry

DESEGREGATION: RESISTANCE AND READINESS, by Melvin Tumin. Princeton University Press, 1958.

This book reports the results of an investigation conducted by Professor Melvin Tumin and his assistants into the attitudes of white people in Guilford County, North Carolina, toward the problem of desegregation. Tumin wanted to define which white elements in a Southern community would be “ready” for desegregation of the public schools and which would resist it to the bitter end. “Readiness,” as he uses the term, is not necessarily willingness.

Tumin and his Princeton graduate students examined the attitudes of 287 white men of Guilford County towards the Negro and desegregation. Guilford County contains both rural and urban dwellers: farmers and factory workers, men in the professions and in business. The interview posed two general kinds of questions. The first was designed to find out how the white man felt about the Negro; the second explored what he might do to act on his feelings. That is, the first part was concerned with the white man’s “image” of the Negro, his ideology and feelings. The second part involved social action.

Tumin found the white men to be more “segregationist” in their attitudes than in their public acts. A sizable majority of the citizens, for example, felt that the Negro was inferior to the white; but only about a fifth of these white men would take some form of action to prevent desegregation of the public schools. This twenty per cent became Tumin’s “hard core” of resistors. Their proposed action varied from trying to amend the Constitution, to withholding state funds from the schools, to using force.

Tumin found another twenty per cent to be “ready” for desegregation. Some of those who were ready, but by no means a majority, had worked for the enactment of the Supreme Court decision. For the most part, these people were among the better paid and better educated elements of society. They had been exposed to more of the “informative” mass media (newspapers, news magazines, radio and TV news commentators). The hard core, on the other hand, had little socio-economic status, fewer years of education and little or no exposure to the mass media. Religion, as measured by church attendance, played no determinate role either for or against desegregationist attitudes.