Lillian Smith and Martin Luther King, Jr.

You know what? You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as Negroes. . . .You are put in the position of supporting the oppressor. Because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you’re so poor you can’t send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.

You went to Harvard — and yet you fall for the lies Mr. Rich White told Mr. Poor White long ago, to keep him satisfied with poverty and sharecropping, and all the rest of it. How can you? Don’t you know why all that was said? Don’t you know it was to keep poor whites from demanding their rights as Americans? Do you need me to tell you that is Mr. Rich White handed them a drug instead of bread? A tranquilizer for their hungry souls to feed on — and now it has driven some of them mad.

I, myself, being a Deep South white, reared in a religious home and the Methodist church realize the deep ties of common songs, common prayer, common symbols that bind our two races together on a religio-mystical level, even as another brutally mythic idea, the concept of White Supremacy, tears our two people apart.

I know now that the bitterness, the cruel sensual lips, the quick tears in hard eyes, the sashaying buttocks of brown girls, the thin childish voices of white women, had a great deal to do with the high interest rate at the bank and low wages in the mills and gullied fields and lynchings and Ku Klux Klan and segregation and sacred womanhood and revivals, and Prohibition.

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Matthew Teutsch

Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.