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107 PART II Chapter 4 Rights In September 1956, two years before the formation of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch published “A Letter to the South: On Segregation” in One Man’s Opinion, the precursor to American Opinion. Speaking in the first person plural, Welch argued that “we had come to believe it to be inevitable, and desirable, that formal segregation would eventually be abandoned everywhere in the South,” leaving only “a voluntary and incomplete segregation in purely social activities, resulting from the rights of any man, white or colored, to have friends of his own choosing, and from the tendency of those with like interests and friends in common to associate together.” Welch knew that such a situation would not be to the liking of many of his readers, but it was, he thought, what “enlightened opinion” would eventually produce. Considerable improvements had already been made in the Jim Crow South, he said. Admittedly, the conditions of “our Negro population” were still “far-from-equal,” as the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution required, but “the gap between the positions of colored man and white man has been getting perceptibly narrower,” and were there “any satisfactory statistics on the subject,” they would surely show “the material standard of living of the average American Negro” to be higher than that of the “average Englishman.”1 The whole situation had been changed, though—and progress toward “voluntary desegregation” put back a generation—by the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.2 The “ordinary colored people of the South” should not be blamed for these developments, he said, because they were “easily . . . misled by clever agitators, as you would be if you were in their position.” In most cases, the native North Carolinian went on, wrapping his paternalism up with religious sentiment, “they know not what they do; and if there was ever a time and place when patience and charity and a huge reservoir of deep good will were needed, it is in the South today.” As far as Welch was concerned, the blame rested “squarely on the shoulders of the Communists.” The “rising racial bitterness” the Brown decision had produced was “the finest grist the Communists have yet been able to obtain for their American mill,” he contended. It was “exactly the same kind of raw material out of which they have 108   The World of the John Birch Society so successfully manufactured violent strife in one country after another.” And it was all part of their “larger and longer plans.”3 Welch took no real position as to “how far and how fast” those living in the South should legally attempt to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling on desegregation—“we have neither the knowledge nor the presumption out of which to offer any advice,” he said—but he was very worried about those who were advocating “direct resistance”: “Our friends in the South write us that they will not be forced; that nothing will force them to immediate desegregation, short of civil war. And what we are trying to tell you, what this whole letter is really about, is the very real danger of this extreme result; of a civil war that would engulf the South and spread through race riots and other Communisticfomented disorders into a chaotic terror over our whole nation.” Civil war was what the communists wanted, the future Founder made clear. After all, “Communist-initiated civil wars, whether in China or Vietnam or Spain or Yugoslavia, never start as full-fledged warfare.” Instead, “they always begin as localized clashes, over some such principle as ‘agrarian reform’ or ‘abolition of tyranny,’ that has no easily apparent connection with plans for Communist conquest.” And in the present instance, he believed, “the phrase is ‘civil rights.’”4 It wasn’t possible any longer to keep saying “it can’t happen here,” Welch argued. “It is happening here, right now. In Mississippi and South Carolina, and all over a fourth of our country the Communists have already entered— incipiently, insidiously, patiently, farsightedly, deceptively—onto the last stage, the physical-fighting stage, of their three-pronged strategy for making the U.S. a group of provinces ruled by Moscow.” And there was only “one thing” the communist plotters feared, and that was “the truth about their methods and their plans.”5 The rise of the civil rights movement and the increasing militancy and effectiveness of the “freedom struggle” in the aftermath of the...


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