In the September 20, 1962, issue, the Village Voice offered its Press of Freedom column — “a department open to contributions from our readers” — to Robert Brookins Gore, a self-described pacifist “involved in the racial struggle.”
In the piece, titled “Black on Black,” Gore was clear that he was unexpectedly swayed by the way Malcolm X “stated the problems which Negroes have confronted for so many years. The biggest difficulty about listening to him — especially for a Negro — is that he wraps the problem up so neatly that one is almost carried on into his faulty conclusions by the wealth of emotions he evokes.”
The guest author also references one of Jules Feiffer’s cartoons, which skewers the middling politics of those who don’t have a point of view.
Below we offer Feiffer’s wit, some excerpts from Gore’s piece, and the entire article as it appeared in 1962, along with photos of the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy and a bit of surrealist whimsy from the cartoonist JAF.
I left Community Church some months ago with mixed feelings. The occasion was a so-called debate between Malcolm X. and Bayard Rustin, and the topic was “Separation and Integration.” Being a pacifist, a Negro, and one who has been involved in the racial struggle lately, I expected to be with Mr. Rustin all the way and against Mr. X. completely. My mixed feelings were the result of the discovery that I was applauding more for Malcolm X. than I was for Bayard Rustin.
During the debate — actually it was more a statement of position on both their parts — it seemed to me as though Bayard Rustin were taking the position of the “radical middle.”… I know, of course, that this is not the case with Mr. Rustin, but it seemed so as I listened. There is no question in my mind but that he presented the saner attitude, yet the amazing thing was how eloquently Malcolm X. stated the problems which Negroes have confronted for so many years. The biggest difficulty about listening to him — especially for a Negro — is that he wraps the problem up so neatly that one is almost carried on into his faulty conclusions by the wealth of emotions he evokes.
I must confess that it did my heart a world of good to sit back and listen to Mr. X. list the sins of the white man toward the black man in America. He does it well. I daresay that if I were not already convinced of the efficacy of looking on humans as humans rather than as black, white, or any of the shades in between, I might have joined the Black Muslims forthwith.
For too many years, black Americans have not been able to look at white Americans as the same kind of humans, for the most part, and have been placed in a situation where they must make the white man feel comfortable. If they don’t — especially in the South — it can be a matter of life and death.…
The point at which I depart from Malcolm X. and the Black Muslims is the very point at which I wish they were strongest. They seem to want to set up a black superiority to replace a white superiority. Both are equally bad. Bayard Rustin stated the case as I see it very well when he said that the question which faces the black man is not what he can do to add to their (the whites’) doom, but what can be done to help in their redemption. He went on to substantiate my own thoughts further by saying that “whether white men like it or not, we need to force them into being their best.”…
As Bayard Rustin pointed out, “the movement needs white allies.” I agree. However, the movement will not rely on these allies fully — though it will welcome their assistance with open arms — but will have a broad base among Negroes of many philosophical and social disciplines.
The white man, inimical or otherwise, had better cultivate an understanding of this because, willy or nilly, there is going to be change.
—From “Black on Black,” by Robert Brookins Gore