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RILEY Vice-President and Director of Agencies Arkansas Lawyer and the American Dilemma \(Continued from Page has taken place in Arkansas since the Faubus incident of 1957,” Branton says. “There has been almost. a complete break in lines of communication between whites and Negroes.” He lists about 20 school districts in Arkansas that were coming up with voluntary plans in 1955 after the “deliberate speed” decision. “Now, n of h i n g. Faubus has changed all that.” Nine school districts, including Little Rock, are now at least tokenly desegregated, “but everybody else is waiting on the courts. If the school boards were to take action on their own, they would be labelled yankee integrationists, and that would be the end of that. “A good example of how things have changed,” says Branton, “is what happened to me in 1954 and what would happen today.” Under his glass-topped desk is a card with the simple lettering: Your Vote & Support Appreciated Wiley A. Branton Candidate for State Representative Jefferson CountyPosition 3 “I decided to run in 1954 to ‘get out the vote.’ All you need to do to get out the vote among both white and colored people is to have a colored person run for office. Another colored fellow here in town ran for city alderman. I ran for county-wide representative.” Branton had just graduated a couple of years earlier from the University of Arkansas law school as its third Negro graduate. \(There are no Negroes at the Fayetteville law school now, he says, and as far as Branton knows there are only 13 licensed Negro “In that 1954 campaign I went all over the county seeking votes and attended every rally with all the other candidates, sometimes going into communities where there were no colored people. And not once was I booed or treated unkindly. I was treated just like the other candidates . . . I was beaten two-to-one, but that’s a different matter. “Today, the story is tragically different. Faubus and Alford \(the Little Rock Faubusite Congressing Negroes. Bruce Bennett \(attorney general, unsuccessful candidate for governor in this sumtice of not shaking any Negro’s hand in public. Things have clammed up. The bridges have been torn down.” He recalls hoW Governor Sid McMath in the early fifties made an attempt to integrate Negroes into the regular Democratic Party. “Now it’s almost a stigma just to talk about -it.” He says the Negro has retreated into his own groups, such as the Arkansas Democratic Voters Association, and has increasigly lost contact with the rest of the Arkansas political cornmunity. Since there is no place for the Negro to gono one to whom he can turnhe turns to the few Negro professional leaders like Branton for help and leadership. Branton works a 16-hour day, listening more to just “problems” from how to keep from being cut off the welfare rolls to how .to get a jobthan in running a law practice. The Big Gap Branton sees little real effort being made to bridge the gap between the races right now. Even the churches have generally forsaken their attempts, he says. But he believes that “any time white and colored people can sit down and discuss anything together, that’s progress.” He is critical of the “white press” in the South for covering the Negro as only a crime figure or as an occasional music and sports stereotypeseldom attempting to cover the significant positive home town news of the Negro. “Most whites in the South have little concept of the competent Negro,” he says. He believes the Negro in Ar kansas suffers from the same apathy that holds back the Negro throughout the South. He relates that Negro college students in Little Rock have staged protest sit-ins, but there has been no movement elsewhere in the state. Brantbn has yet to be shown that, as the national press insists, the “young Negro is a new Negro.” He sees most of the sit-ins as spontanteous reactions among the young people, not as an indication of real leadershipot yet. Most of the really superior young Negroes Branton has seen since his own youth decide not to fight it out, but just leave the state. \(This is the pattern of many young whites in this embattled state as well, which lost 140,000 in population during the last decLos Angeles to practice law. Why did Branton stick it out? “Pine Bluff is my home,” he says. There is no overt Negro voting denial in Arkansas, Branton says. The real problems, as he sees them, lie in securing some level of decent communication between the races, getting more basic opportunity for . the . Negro, . and awakening him to his own political and social potentiality. Where a clear-cut “race issue” is raised, the Negro is usually united, Branton says, but otherwise not. By “race issue,” he means not only the issue as raised by white supremacists, but all those things that deal closely with the general aspirations of the colored communitythe positive appeal of better housing, parks, streets, and equal police protection. But few white politicians actively seek the Negro vote any more. For the time being it is Houston Schools will only make matters worse, disturb people all the more.” Both he and Mrs. White reiterated the “inevitability” of integration. Mrs. Dyer referred to the election in which Houston voters turned down integration and said, “The important thing to us board members is that the people came out and said `no’.” Mrs. Cullen said she didn’t think Houston schools would be physically ready for integration next month. Dr. Petersen said “We should have the courage to say ‘no’ ” to Connally’s orders. Both Dr. Kemmerer and Mrs. White said the board should “get at the root of the thing instead of chopping at its branches,” file a test case on the constitutionality of the state law, and not appeal. Leon Graham, assistant commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, said if Houston schools integrate this fall “we would have no alternative but to withhold the foundation program money.” Per capita money would not be affected, he said. Houston would be the first Texas school district to test the constitutionality of the state segregation laws, passed in 1957. The school district would be forced to test them to get the money. Reynolds told the board it could be argued the laws have no bearing on the Houston district since it was under a federal court before the laws went into effect. Houston’s member of the state board of education, attorney Jack Binion, says a testing of the constitutionality of the laws is the board’s only recourse. Binion said what worries him most is that this year’s seniors in high school might lose their state accreditation and not have enough credits to enter college. THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 2 August 19, 1960 more a kiss of death than a boost, Branton observes. Mistaken Identity Branton has a very light complexion, and is sometimes taken for a “white man.” He was a member of the State Bar Associationwith no questions askedfrom 1952 to 1954. In 1954 they sent back his check with no reply. He has made no attempt to gain membership again. “This sort of thing just happens and you never know whybut it’s not hard to guess,” Branton says without humor. While he was a member of the Bar Association, he tried to attend as many of the meetings as possible. Once, while seated at a Bar banquet in Little Rock, the lawyer sitting next to him turned to the olive-complexioned Branton and said, “You know, I hear there’s a nigger with us tonight, but I can’t spot him for the life of me . . . It -would be just my luck to have to sit next to him.” Branton replied, “Oh, is that so?” After the session was over, he identified himself to his companion. To his surprise, they have been cordial “legal friends” ever since. “This is a funny reaction,” says Branton, “but such incidents make me feel just a little bit ‘superior. Men make such fools of themselves to avoid being human.” Today, however, he wishes it were possible for most white lawyers to accept him as a working colleague. The Little Rock case has brought Branton the usual NAACP notoriety in the state, but never has any attempt been made by state political demagogues to smear him. “After all, I’m a home town Arkansas boy. They sure can’t say I’m a foreigner coming in to agitate,” he says. care or guardianship.” What were the conditions in the shack? “It was in an unsanitary condition, there was an outdoor toilet, no screens, the place was swarming with flies, only one bedroom what I would ‘refer to as a shack, a very modest tenant shack,” Judge Chandler replied. What about the Negro child living there? He had heard, he said, that there was “a small colored child there,” and ‘alluded with irritation to what he said had ‘been, in the protracted controversy and publicity, “such a vigorous effort to inject the race question when there was none.” In Rusk and Panola counties within the last year, he said, he had taken 12 to 15 dependent and neglected children into custody, some of them Negroes. “The colored question had nothing to do with it,” he said. “You take one child that is brought up under such hardship conditions,” he said, “he has built up an immunity to conditions of that kind, while that child raised in wholesome, sanitary conditions would not withstand the hardship conditions,” Judge Chandler explained. He has, of course, faced trouble from some quarters. A cross was’ burned in his family’s burial plot in Pine Bluff during the Central High School affair in the fall of 1957. He has received hundreds of threatening and insulting telephone calls. Mail of all complexions from all over the globe has poured into his office. He keeps the letters sorted into three files: Hate, Friendly, and Curious Little Encouragement Branton hopes that what he considers justice will be done in Little Rock. He points to the fact that not a single one of the original Negro school children plaintiffs has been admitted there. “It’s sad that children have to be made legal subjects to gainequal educational opportunity anyway.” He keeps looking for encouraging signs of a better climate for the Negro in Arkansas. But he was particularly disappointed by the July primary, where Governor Faubus swept to victory. He reflects on the statistical roadblock implied in the returns of the governor’s race: Faubus carried a majority of Little Rock’s Pulaski County and 47% of Little Rock proper. “I was thinking there might be a runoff, but I guess it was just my wishful thinking. “What really hurts, though,” confides Branton, “was Congressman Alford winning re-election in Little Rock’s districtand carry GLittle Rock at that. I thought ybe that after the closed schools and everything the people of Little Rock had awakened to the whole situation … but maybe not.” One look at Wiley A. Branton’s firm jaw, wrinkled brow, and quick smile, and the whole story is told: This is no game for faint hearts. “I’m not concerned with that no one has filed a complaint,” he said. “The mother admitted she had no idea of the living conditions where the child was and did not inspect them while she was here,” the judge continued. Senator Lyndon Johnson had been reported concerned about the publicity from the case. Had he called the judge? “I understand that he called someone locally, but I did not hear from Senator Johnson, Governor DanWilson, which I appreciated, because it would have been improper,” Judge Chandler told the Observer. “It was not a race issue.” Would he be equally concerned, Judge Chandler was asked, with a Negro child under the same conditions if a complaint was filed with him? “I most assuredly would,” he replied. “I don’t see any difference. The law looks after children without respect to race. They \(Nethe same, equal concern of the ‘court in protecting their welfare. It’s not a question of race or color but a question of their human welfare,” he said. Home to California
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