Federal Sixth Circuit Judge George Edwards Sr. deserves a medal for his courageous and principled comments on school desegregation earlier this month in Chicago.
Although it may not be the custom for judges to forthrightly discuss, in public, the social and human consequences of the legalities which they interpret, Edwards' speech certainly made us wish they could all be forced to periodically shed their cloaks of judicial "propriety" and somehow be made to understand that they cannot be mere legal technicians; especially in explosive areas like "busing," judges---and politicians like Gerald Ford---must grasp, in the way that Edwards obviously does, the very real and concrete effects their decisions have on people's lives and on the social process.
"It's not the school bus that is the problem," said Edwards, a former Detroit City Council President and Michigan Supreme Court Justice. "It's who is on the bus---and where the bus is going---that counts."
APARTHEID IN AMERICA
After carefully summarizing the relationship between American blacks and the law, from slavery to the present, Edwards pointed out that "busing" has a long history in American education and was never a source of contention, as long as it meant busing of whites to white schools. But when black students were sent to white schools in an attempt to compensate for the scandalously inferior educations available in their own ghetto schools, the ugly specter of racism raised its head once again---this time under the guise of "community control of schools"--- and Klansmen and right-wing demagogues became heroes for millions of terrified whites.
Judge Edwards, who is currently sitting in the Chicago school desegregation case, went to the heart of the matter when he emphasized that segregated schools are only one aspect of a racial crisis that is reaching emergency proportions in America.
"I see a strange and dangerous kind of apartheid developing," he said. "The pattern is being repeated in most of our biggest cities. The white population's move to the suburbs increasingly leaves the central cities to the blacks. If current trends continue, we may in a decade or so have a dozen or more central cities with 90 per cent or more of their residents black."
His voice cracking with emotion, Edwards pleaded, "How could we, if we wanted to, create a more dangerous condition than this the downtown district owned by whites and occupied by them by the thousands upon thousands in daytime hours---all the rest of the central city occupied by black residents--- the central city surrounded by a white suburban ring in a state dominated by whites.
"If you add a large white majority of policemen, firemen, and school teachers dealing with crime and fires and children in black neighborhoods, while black youth in the central city has the highest percentage of unemployment in America, such a picture presents a certainty of race conflict. Indeed, it may come to threaten a domestic conflict comparable to a second Civil War."
One has only to look around to see that Edwards is talking about his hometown, for whose future he justifiably is afraid, and which he no doubt feels unable to influence as he once did.
LOOKING THE OTHER WAY
In an unusually candid admission, coming from a federal judge, Edwards expressed his frustration at the limited power of the judiciary to avert such a calamity, and at other sectors of society for their refusal to confront the grim truth and act on it.
"In this country, as in no other in the world," he continued, "our courts are guardians of the conscience of the country as it is expressed in the Constitution. But the courts are called upon to pass judgment on what has happened, rather than to plan improvement or even to plan to avoid disaster.
"The most dangerous fact in America today is that concern about the problem of race in America is centered almost solely in the judicial branch of government. The executive and legislative branches are studiously looking the other way--and at times, it would appear, any other way."
Judge Edwards called for immediate increased state and federal funding to equalize education in black schools, for lower classroom sizes, and for public jobs for inner-city youth. He then went so far as to suggest that the Federal Housing Administration act upon recent court decisions affirming the feasibility of forced housing desegregation in the suburbs.
"Those who know the history of housing in the last 40 years," he pointed out, "know the role that the FHA played in developing the segregated suburbs and our present problem of increasing apartheid. The executive and legislative branches could employ the same agency to undo the damage it has done."
Such a suggestion, however unlikely it is that it will be implemented, will doubtless strike fear into the hardened hearts of white suburbanites, who--- whatever their professed stand on race and their perception of their own responsibility for the present crisis--- picked up and split precisely to avoid the prospect of making a common life with black people. Should they ever be forced to accept integration in their own racist preserves, there would surely be a battle that would make South Boston look like a pillow fight.
It is difficult to see, however, any other way to make whites confront the consequences of their actions in a meaningful scale. If integration could be thus accomplished, we could forget about the school buses, except where they were necessary to bring students of whatever color long distances to their schools. And most important, we might then avert what seems otherwise to be the inevitable--- virtual racial apartheid, culminating sooner or later in a nationwide explosion of black people who will no longer stand for a system that promises them a share of everything, but keeps finding ways to hold back on delivery.
We couldn't agree more with Judge Edwards when he said, "The very fate of America and the fate of democracy in the world may depend upon this nation's ability to quell the fires of race hatred."
Edwards ended his speech-- whose spirit we hope will be emulated, rather than criticized, by his judicial colleagues---by quoting from Romans 13:
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
"The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light."
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