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The New Yorker
Candid, absorbing, charming, unpretentiously profound.
When first published in 1962, Sarah Patton Boyle's narrative of personal growth and change was highly praised and quickly sold more than sixty thousand copies, though few of them in the South. In it we witness Boyle's journey from sedate Virginia housewife to civil rights activist via an often naive, but ultimately courageous path.
Catalyst for Boyle's conversion was African American attorney Gregory Swanson's successful suit for admission to the University of Virginia Law School in 1950. Boyle wrote Swanson a friendly note of welcome—and prided herself on addressing him as "Mr." Her awkward efforts to help led her to T. J. Sellers, editor of Charlottesville's black newspaper, The Tribune, and to what they came to call "The T. J. Sellers Course for Backward Southern Whites." It was the beginning of a remarkable friendship which is traced in their correspondence, selections from which are published here for the firt time.
Although she could not have imagined it when she wrote that note to Gregory Swanson, by 1962 Sarah Patton Boyle had become the most outspoken white integrationist in Virginia. In addition to writing, speaking, and organizing for the NAACP and other groups, she gained national attention when an article she had originally titled "We're Readier Than We Think" appeared in the Saturday Evening Post under the inflammatory title "Southerners Will Like Integration." A wave of hostile reactions from across the country included crosses burned on her lawn.
This reprinting of The Desegregated Heart, long out of print, adds significantly to the new work that attempts to unravel massive resistance. For all who seek to understand the civil rights movement in this country, it recaptures the contribution of not one but two people who proved themselves part of the very backbone of a new racially progressive South that is still in the making.
University of Virginia Press
Candid, absorbing, charming, unpretentiously profound.
A most interesting and revealing book, honest, compassionate.... It is beautiful in its candor and deeply moving; a book all people, not just southerners, could read with pleasure. Once read, they will return to it.
University of Virginia Press
I was born into a society which in most places outside the South is smilingly and in quotes referred to as the "Southern aristocracy." Within the South, however, the quotes are almost everywhere absent and the smile, if present, is one of tender, sometimes reverent pride. We believe that our aristocracy is second to none in its inbred knowledge of gracious living, its high purpose in human relations, and its awareness of the true values which lend worth, lovability, and dignity to man. On such an assumption was I reared.
I was taught that my father was a great man. In one larger and one smaller sense I think he was. The larger is summarized in the first sentence of a resolution adopted by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, October 1940, following the announcement of his retirement: "Robert Williams Patton, Doctor of Divinity; son of Virginia, citizen of the world; priest of God, servant of man."
Besides this, in his own small world of the Church he certainly was one of the tall figures of his day. The resolution listed an array of achievements in the national Church. More important to this story is the fact that he instilled in me a conviction that the only thing which really matters in anyone's life is a consistent choice of right over wrong.
It seemed natural to me that he was a great man, for I was assured by my mother and grandmother that all our ancestors were great. In slightly lowered tones they said that our family was the best in Virginia. I knew this meant itwasthe best in the world.
I suspect I wasn't alone among young Southerners in receiving this low-voiced instruction. When junior members of First Families of Virginia got together, there was often a look of conscious kindness on all faces as each dutifully praised the families of the others and carefully ignored his own.
I was told that I was descended from governors, generals, presidents, kings. Instead of fairy stories I was told how my great-great-great-grandfather rode into battle brandishing his sword and shouting, "General Hugh Mercer never surrenders!" Also, how my great-grandfather was called by Daniel Webster "the greatest legal mind of his time" and later became governor of Virginia. (Actually, he was acting governor for I forget how many months.) I was told how one of my grandfathers, a colonel under Stonewall Jackson, "led the Stonewall Brigade" in some famous charge in which his brother—who was the grandfather of George S. (Old Blood-and-Guts) Patton—was killed. I was told how my other grandfather, Franklin Stringfellow, who was General Stuart's aide and his and General Lee's personal scout, had in his possession letters from Stuart, Lee, and Jefferson Davis showing that they thought him the most valuable scout in the South.
This grandfather lived until I was seven. He told me exciting tales of being captured repeatedly and condemned to be shot at sunrise (although he firmly referred to himself as a "scout," never as a spy). He escaped miraculously so often that he was convinced that he was being spared for a Purpose. So he became a minister after The War. (When I was growing up "The War" always meant the Civil War.)
He married a beautiful Dresden-china girl, four feet eleven inches tall, who singlehandedly prevented the escape of a jail full of Yankees, simply by standing guard at the hole they made in the prison wall and refusing to let them crawl out until help came. This she did with pure moral force (plus sex appeal, no doubt), having no weapon of any kind.
She and my grandfather were married under the lovely crystal chandelier in the dining room of the Carlisle House in Alexandria, Virginia, where she had been raised, and where, later, my mother was born. This house became one of the showplaces of Virginia, and having its grandeur and glamorous past reviewed for me by a professional guide, after hearing my mother and grandmother tell stories about their life there, was one of the romantically satisfying experiences of my childhood.
All this emphasis on background inevitably bred in me a loathsome sense of social superiority. But it also gave me a feeling of roots reaching far back—and far forward—into history. I was taught to think of myself as a part of the very backbone of Virginia, which was the backbone of the South, which was the backbone of the nation, which was the backbone of the world. In the years ahead, when Southern editorial pages not infrequently demanded that I leave the South, I was grateful for the indoctrination that my roots were strong and deep.
Being a sensible girl, I received with a grain of salt the information that our family was the best in Virginia. I said to myself, "That's probably an exaggeration. Probably it's only one of the two or three best."
But this—shall we call it "social security"?—was partially redeemed by the fact that real values were entangled in it. Being "the best" carried with it heavy obligations: You owed a great debt to everybody else. If you had "the background to set a standard, you must do it," I was taught. "You must be more courteous, gracious, courageous, honorable, and dependable than others or you forfeit the right to be on top."
The entwinement of snobbery and high principle served to support both. The noblesse oblige made it possible to maintain snobbery with a fairly clear conscience, while the ego-satisfaction of snobbery lent a kind of animal good spirits to the grueling task of keeping aloft the standard you were directed to carry.
Incidentally, in the South of my childhood, the phrase "to be on top" didn't have the financial implications it often has today. One's inheritance was entirely of intangible assets. Those "on top" were supposed to have inherited culture, character, principles, possibly—though not necessarily —intelligence, and almost certainly debts.
In fact, most Southerners of my parents' era were raised to feel that it wasn't respectable to be rich. We felt that all patriotic Southerners had lost everything in defense of the South, and sufficient time hadn't elapsed for respectable rebuilding of financial security in a war-impoverished region. If you had money you were assumed to be one of three things: a person who had failed (or whose family had failed) to give everything to the cause of freedom when the South was desperate; or a person who had somehow turned the general desperation of your region to your own profit since The War; or else—Heaven forgive you!—you were a Yankee.
With the memory of large past riches, the Southerner who was "on top" felt only contempt for those who couldn't share his honorable poverty. "The best people" wore poverty with lighthearted pride. Like the hero of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, who rejoiced in the wound that proved him not a coward, we found gladness in our evidence that we had lost everything for the South.
"The Southern Cause" was of course presented to me stripped of all ignobility. We had "fought The War to preserve our freedom from Yankee oppression, to defend our honor against Yankee insult, and to preserve a noble, gracious and warmhearted way of life unprecedented in history."
My family had an additional source of pride in poverty. As field secretary for the national Church my father received a salary which, while modest, was larger than usual for clergymen of his day; and while we still would have been poor enough for respectability, we would have been moderately comfortable but for two things. First, at my grandfather's death my father had voluntarily assumed debts which he wasn't legally required to assume. And, second, having failed to persuade the Church to vote him sufficient funds to carry out one of the important projects for which he was responsible, he had borrowed on his insurance and mortgaged his property to the hilt in order to do the job right.
He spent his entire life discharging these debts. But when my mother reminded my sister and me that it was because of this that we couldn't do or have the things we longed for, the lilt of pride and satisfaction in her voice made us not mind sacrifices. Her tone said that, since we were the kind of people who always put first things first, we had to do without these lesser material items. So great was the family emphasis on the unquestionable rightness of these choices that, even with many girlhood desires thwarted, I can't recall ever wishing that my father had chosen other than he did.
We were spared, I hope, the worst features of personal pride in this moral achievement by stretching it to include the whole region and assuming that this was the kind of thing that Southerners naturally did. But our regional pride was horrifying.
Of course I was by no means unusual in believing that among all the nations of the world the South shone forth. I recall a popular song which said, "They made it twice as nice as paradise, and they called it Dixieland." We believed that, fervently and deeply. This dogma was the true religion of many of us, whether or not we called ourselves Christians. The South and what we thought of her, her ideals and her people, were more precious to us than anything we learned in church.
We thought our beliefs about her could be reached by pure reason. We would gravely point out that Virginia was settled originally by "the best class of people—younger sons of the nobility, mostly—from England and Scotland." Some of these had drifted south—never north!—with a majority staying in Virginia. This was the reason Virginia was the Mother of Presidents and why most of the nation's greatest statesmen came from the South.
Then, too, an abundance of slaves had granted Southern people leisure to accumulate culture, charm, and human understanding.
The gentle climate may have contributed something. Perhaps it was the grim weather nearly as much as heredity which made Yankees so brash and tense, so chilly-hearted and suspicious of their fellow man.
Yet the facts of breeding mustn't be minimized, we pointed out. If you could breed horses, dogs, and other animals for certain specific characteristics of disposition and body, it was silly to say that these same hereditary laws didn't apply to people. The best people in Virginia tended to meet—and therefore marry—only each other. As a result a wonderful, special breed of people had come into being, as different from other people as greyhounds are different from other dogs.
Thus we smugly reasoned. Yet placed like a jewel in this poor setting of twisted genetic and historical facts, of snobbery and exclusiveness, was something of great value. This was our vision of what our special greyhound breed of man was. For he was not a superman who ruled by power, bending others to his own advantage. He was one whose glory was an inner glory, one who placed culture above prosperity, fairness above profit, generosity above possessions, hospitality above comfort, courtesy above triumph, courage above safety, kindness above personal welfare, honor above Success.
We, a defeated nation, stood before the world without power, wealth, success, or real hope of ever regaining any of these, and yet we were able to stand tall and straight within ourselves because we believed we had those things which are good without adornment—those things without which power, wealth, and success are empty victories.
I attributed kind thoughts and high motives to everyone and assumed that they attributed them to me. I expected gentleness, justice, courage, and honor from all. These were the basic nature of man, I believed, and—so believing—was much at home in my world. No one was a stranger to me. I fell naturally into conversation with any person who was near enough to talk to—on street corners, on streetcars, in stores, on trains. I belonged to a great universal fellowship of golden hearts which even included Yankees.
But of all that was wonderful, I was sure Virginians had the largest measure. I did more than love Virginia. I adored her. I felt high pride in her and in the lofty principles for which she had always stood. She was my country. I thought of her as quite apart from all other states.
I recall laughing tenderly over the story of a soldier during World War II, who, when asked if he was an American, replied, "No, I'm a Virginian." His state pride seemed both charming and appropriate. In fact admirable. Virginia stood for the highest aims and ideals in our nation. Therefore, he showed his personal identification with the best.
|Part 1||The Southern Never-Never Land|
|Chapter 1||Intangible Assets||3|
|Chapter 2||The Rising Wall||10|
|Chapter 3||The Southern Code||21|
|Chapter 4||Product of the Code||29|
|Chapter 5||The Tidal Wave||43|
|Chapter 6||Everybody Else Is Prejudiced||53|
|Chapter 7||Noncommital Answers||61|
|Chapter 8||We Want a Negro||70|
|Chapter 9||Library Liberals||78|
|Chapter 10||I Nearly Die Aborning||86|
|Chapter 11||Hurt Until You Give||93|
|Chapter 12||Not a White Lady Slumming||102|
|Chapter 13||Convex and Concave||110|
|Chapter 14||Once to Every Man and Nation||117|
|Chapter 15||The Semantic Barrier||126|
|Chapter 16||No Ears to Hear||132|
|Chapter 17||Mirrors and Candles||143|
|Chapter 18||Facts and Figures of Good Will||154|
|Chapter 19||Jeffersonian Americans||167|
|Part 2||Bloodless Destruction|
|Chapter 1||"I Will Not Run"||179|
|Chapter 2||The Public Education Hearing||189|
|Chapter 3||The Power of Positive Thinking||197|
|Chapter 4||The Middle of the Pyramid||206|
|Chapter 5||"Set Not Your Faith in Princes or in Any Child of Man."||214|
|Chapter 6||The Wall||226|
|Chapter 10||No Hiding Place||255|
|Chapter 11||The Power of Evil||262|
|Chapter 12||The Kiss of Death||270|
|Chapter 13||Whitewashed Tombs||279|
|Chapter 14||Discredited Currency||289|
|Part 3||Thou Shalt Love|
|Chapter 7||Children--of God||357|