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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Red, White, and Black

By Irving Hellerman, '37

The Magpie, June 1937, v. 21, n. 2, p. 72.

Among the more ugly aspects of American civilization is the continuous racial struggle, still evident today. The self satisfied man in the street glances at the "Negroes Lynched in Georgia," or "Indians Starving on Reservation" headlines dismisses it with a shrug; model murders are much more interesting. A red, white and blue flag unfurls daily over a realm containing the red man, the white, and black, who, through no faults of their own form a conglomeration of races which was never meant to exist in close quarters. Facing reality, however, the question, 'What can be done to avert this struggle'? stares boldly at us. Precedent to help us are there none; no nation has ever experienced a negroid or Indian problem as great as ours. Authorities offer no solution; any three different books for example, on the plight of the Southern black will undoubtedly present three different points of view. Mere logic consequently cannot be used, and a reply to the above must of necessity depend entirely on one's point of view.

Various authors have seen the racial panorama of America in especially clear angles. Edna Ferber in "Cimarron," for example, dramatically shows us the early rounds of the bitter battle among the three dominant American peoples. Wisely enough, she offers no solution to untangle the maze, but instead gives us a clear cut view of the issues. The Indian is pictured as being supremely happy while living a savage life, "but the instant civilization corrodes him, he softens up and takes to bad habits. Deprived of his land and fenced off on a reservation, he faces life indifferently. If, perchance, he does acquire wealth, he is made only more unhappy by his habit of unmerciful splurging." The white man's character is not given attention in this novel, as multitudinous volumes cover the subject principle for the negro. In contrast, negro life is seen with more encouragement than the red man's, for the former is more willing to give up his old habits and become absorbed in the modern world than the latter. All three, however, face a complex economic age and should join forces in some way for mutual betterment.

This viewpoint, as you can see, is a bird's eye one, but "Long Lance" by Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance of the Blackfeet Tribe handles the question in the light of personal experience. Born a member of one of the last tribes encountered by the white man, Long Lance lived an average life in an Indian environment. His generation was rapidly becoming accustomed to the modern scheme of things so he followed mastering the English language. Because of his special aptitudes, he was given a presidential appointment to West Point—the first Indian ever accorded that honor, but declined it. He rose still higher in prominence, winning medals in the World War, becoming a famous reporter and being made Chief of his tribe. As he views Indian life, he bemoans the passing of the Plains, but fatalistically decides that all red men should allow themselves to be absorbed into their foreign surroundings, just as he did.

Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, in his "Up from Slavery" advocates the same principle for the negro. Born a Virginia slave, Washington educated himself in spite of all privations, until he was freed. Then began his noteworthy work at the Institute. Tuskegee embodies the principle that the black race should forget their supposed inferiority and work so well in whatever positions they attain, that they earn the only utmost respect and confidence of their neighbors. Washington, himself, lived up to this ideal and won such fame as an orator and educator that he became the first negro ever to dine with a president. He died an honored man, an excellent example of his own theory.

Thus, in brief review, we see that for racial happiness in America, it is necessary for each people to understand the other's problems and then to cooperatively pull hard toward a goal of success. The white man, it seems, should bear the burden most, for his is the superiority of numbers and his ability to aid the others.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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