Will Adams, Jr.: Race in the Monthly News
Our parents were born and raised in Alabama, Dad in 1892, mom in 1900. Doubtless both absorbed prevailing attitudes on race as they grew up. However, I have to give them credit for the non-racist attitudes that both expressed as Bert and I grew up in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
Dad’s antipathy toward racism originated with his study of the Greek New Testament. His life work was devoted to trying to get those who professed Christianity to understand what the Bible required of Christians. He concluded, among other things, that a Christian cannot be a racist, a view not always appreciated or agreed to by many professed Christians.
I’ve always been grateful not only for this guidance by our parents, but also for the fact that for twelve years I attended Radnor schools, a fully integrated system. From kindergarten through 11th grade I had fellow students who were white, black, Italian, American Indian, a few orientals, and others. I didn’t know that just 14 miles away, the City of Brotherly Love had ordinances requiring the races to attend separate schools. And when we moved to Kansas City, Kansas in summer 1946, and I began my senior year at Wyandotte High School, I did not at first realized that there were no blacks among my nearly 2,000 fellow students.
It was November before that fact was starkly brought to my attention. The Kansas City (Missouri) Philharmonic was to give a concert in the big Wyandotte auditorium. Wyandotte students took our seats, and students from other high schools began to enter and sit in their assigned areas. Suddenly many students began craning their necks toward the rear, and booing. I turned around to see what the commotion was about, and saw the black students from Sumner High School coming in and taking their seats—in the very rear, of course. I was appalled, and later in the day said so to some of my friends. Instantly an argument over race broke out, with two guys arguing racist views and another guy and me objecting.
One of the first group eventually said, “I think God intended the races to be separate. He put the blacks in Africa, the whites in Europe, and the yellows in Asia.” My friend quickly asked, “Then what are you doing here? This is the red man’s continent.”
It is inevitable, of course, that no matter how intently one may oppose racism, some inconsistent values may seep into one’s consciousness. While references to race in the Monthly News, published September 1942 through January 1946, were never racist, there were occasional inadvertent instances of racial stereotypes.
The first mention of race occurred in the issue of October 1943, page 4. Under the heading “EDITORIAL – Manpower,” W. W. Adams argued that it was wasteful not to use workers of color in war industries. The editorial is worth quoting in its entirety.
It is easy to see why there is a shortage of workers. Eight million men in service, producing nothing.
Everything they eat, wear, or fight with comes from the toil of others. Meanwhile, the nation as a
whole bends every energy to produce materials to be destroyed in destroying the armies and
equipment of the rest of the world. Of course there are not men enough, nor resources enough. In the
effort to speed up industry, we have exhausted our manpower. The call now is for our women. In
Philadelphia they are using hundreds of women on trains and street cars. We raise two questions.
One, why not use colored men? Like it or not, this issue must be faced. The four freedoms.
Freedom for whom? Will democracy work? Is America open to all regardless of race or religion?
Two, federal employees! Eliminate one half of government control of American life and put one
million of these men into productive work. Yes, there are ways we can help the manpower problem.
We should remember that at this time, many industries simply did not hire blacks, nor were they welcome in most of the military (with certain exceptions). The labor shortage was a pragmatic basis for arguing for integration, but the writer also raised the ultimate questions of the implications for democracy. At the same time, he reflected concern over the growth of government. And finally, he used the word “colored” referring to African Americans.
The second reference to race in the Monthly News occurs in the next issue, November 1943. It was in the comic strip, “Mr. McDaffy,” by my aunt, Nell Walton. The first panel shows Mrs. McDaffy talking to what is obviously her black maid. She says, “Nora, when you serve the guests tonight, don’t wear any jewelry.” Nora answers, “I don’t own nothin’ valuable, ma’am, but thanks for the warning.”
This is an amusing exchange, and except for the employer-employee relationship, there are no racist overtones. Of course, the maid could have been white, and the maid’s language is stereotyped.
It was nearly two years later, June 1945, before a story involved a depiction of a black man. The heading on page 3 read: “STORY – Counting Eggs.” The author was “Baker,” a name which means nothing to me now.
The story told of “Old Mose,” described as an “honest old negro” who had “the habit of chatting familiarly with his customers, hence he often makes mistakes in counting . . .” The language that Mose uses is again stereotypical. He gets all mixed up when he intersperses the count of eggs with the conversation, and gives Mrs. Burton far fewer eggs than she pays for. Both have confused the count. At the end Mrs. Burton tells her husband that they may have to fire Matilda, presumably their maid and probably black. Mrs. Burton thinks Matilda is stealing eggs, because there are so far fewer remaining than she bought (or thinks she bought).
The third anniversary edition in September 1945 had an entire page of comics. Besides the usual Mr. McDaffy and Private Smith, Nell Walton drew a nine panel comic titled “Jose and Mose.” It illustrated a joke. A couple of robbers wearing masks go into a cemetery. One of them carries a sack over his shoulder, and the other refers to the contents as nuts. There’s a hole in the sack, and the second robber sees two nuts fall out. They sit down in the cemetery and start dividing them up—“You take this one, I’ll take that one.” Meanwhile two African American guys come along outside the cemetery and hear the conversation. One of them says, “It’s de Lawd an’ de debbil dividin’ up de souls in de graveyard.” The robbers finish, then one says, “Now we’ll go get the two [nuts] outside the gate.” Of course, Jose and Mose think it’s the Lord and the devil coming after them, so they hightail it out of there.
Here again there is no malice, yet the stereotypical depictions would certainly be objectionable today. Indeed, even with the language corrected, the story still implies lower mental capacity on the part of the black passers-by.
The next issue, October 1945, contains the last relevant references. World War II has ended, and the nation faces the problems of bringing most soldiers home and finding them jobs. A cartoon and an editorial refer to nationality rather than race, but both deal with ethnicity.
The cartoon shows a chubby, cigar smoking “Boss” sitting behind a desk. A “Returned Vet” stands in front of the desk with his back to the viewer. The boss is asking, “What nationality are you?” The cartoon was reprinted (with permission) from the American Observer, a national publication on current affairs for high school students.
The editorial was entitled, “Murdered at Home,” by W. W. Adams. It included an account of a conversation he had with a returned veteran, to whom he probably gave a ride while on his way to or from Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia.
After telling of a policeman who, after serving and facing danger for many years, was murdered at home, he recounted the ride.
Less than a week ago I gave a newly discharged soldier a ride on the first leg of the long journey
to his home in Texas. He talked freely, and it was interesting, disturbing talk.
He had been a soldier for thirty-four months. He had fought in North Africa, Italy and Germany.
His comrades in battle, many of whom had dropped at his side, represented several racial groups
and all religious groups. They had talked, trained, lived, laughed, fought and hoped together. After
the end of the war in Europe, he had come to know and respect several other national groups. He
had come from cities and countries where all, employers and employees, had lost everything. All
faced hunger, possible starvation.
During the three months between docking in New York and his discharge, he had observed much.
Strikes on every hand. Radios and papers headlining clashes between owners and workers, neither
satisfied with his plenty. Competing churches on opposite sides of the street did not seem as logical
Then, to top it all, he had talked personally with a fellow soldier, an Italian, who had been released
six months earlier. After donning civilian clothes, this Italian had been embarrassed on more than one
occasion, as when, applying for work, he was asked, “What nationality are you?”
He was bothered, puzzled, and hurt. He had given much, offered all, for high ideals; only to have
them murdered—at home.
To sum up: Despite an anti-racist mindset, racial stereotypes crept into our work on the Monthly News. Nevertheless the writings, particularly editorials by Bert and my father, anticipated the basis for later attacks on racism: First, we need everyone’s help to win the war; then after the war was won, it is only just not to discriminate against those who had sacrificed so much for the victory. Beyond that, our claims of freedom and democracy demand a nondiscriminatory society.
RACE IN THE MONTHLY NEWS
October 1943 p 4: W. W. Adams, Manpower. “Why not use colored men? Like it or not, this issue must be faced. The four freedoms! Freedom for whom? Will democracy work? Is America open to all regardless of race or religion?”
November 1943 p 5: Mr. McDaffy. Negro maid, but no put down.
June 1945 p 3: Baker, Counting Eggs. Negro jargon
September 1945 p 10: Nell Walton, Jose and Mose. Stereotypes blacks.
October 1945 p 2: Cartoon, nationality.
October 1945 p 2: WWA, Murdered—at Home. Veteran seeking job asked nationality.