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September 24, 1958, Vol. III, No. 48
Sense of Dignity Outraged
By Michael Harrington
The cherished dogma that renting to Negroes will panic whites and send property values plunging down received a sharp blow from Villagers last week.
Whitney North Seymour, Jr., local Republican candidate for the Assembly, broke the story that Edmond Martin, Village realtor, had placed a sign in his office saying that he would not show apartments to Negroes because of his opposition to the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs law. Within three days 30 of Mr. Martin’s tenants signed a statement of fundamental opposition to his stand.
“It has been called to our attention,” the statement said, “that Edmond Martin has placed a sign in his office saying that he will not show apartments to Negroes because of his objections to the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs law.
“As tenants of Edmond Martin, we wish to state that we are opposed to such flouting of the law and to the principle of placing supposed property rights over human rights. Our sense of dignity is not injured by living in the same building with our fellow-men of whatever race, creed, or color, for we welcome that. On the contrary, our sense of dignity is outraged by being forced to live in discriminatory housing.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the tenant response was its wide support. In the short period that the statement was circulating, some 38 tenants were asked to sign. Only eight turned it down, and of those, only one said that it was because he was actually against Negroes moving in (the others were against signing on principle, or else indifferent).
If this percentage would hold up with the tenants who could not be reached, it would mean an overwhelming majority of those who rent from Mr. Martin would repudiate his sign.
In signing the statement, the tenants did not simply come out in protest against the realtor’s action. They also put themselves on record as being positively in favor of inter-racial housing.
As it stands in New York, most Negroes and whites are literally forced into racial ghettoes, and there is no real choice for those who believe in an inter-racial community as a positive value. Mr. Martin gave his tenants a chance to stand up for the proposition that integrated housing is something they are actively for, that their “sense of dignity is outraged by being forced to live in discriminatory housing.”
[Michael Harrington, a Voice contributor and free-lance writer for Commonweal, Dissent, and the Chicago Review, occupies an apartment in one of Mr. Martin’s buildings.]
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]