How Serious Is Our Race Problem? An Unsparing, Fair-Minded Survey by an American Negro

NO DAY OF TRIUMPH. By J. Saunders Redding. Harper & Brothers. $3.00
MEN of many persuasions have set out to discover America. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a Negro has taken to the road in an effort to understand his people, to integrate for his race and himself a set of values not corrupted by cynicism or invalidated by toadyism and fear. Mr. Redding’s job, specifically, is to try 1o discover the place of the Negro in American society, in his own distinctively Negro society, and in his own mind.
This sounds like an impossible and visionary task. It is. Yet the book that has come out of Mr. Redding’s American voyage is an angry and honest and compassionate book; a better book than the University of North Carolina and the Rockefeller Foundation, who subsidized it, had any right to expect; perhaps the sanest and most eloquent study of the Negro American that has appeared.
Being the record of a quest, No Day of Triumph concerns itself both with the actual lives of Negroes in America and with the problem of what those lives and their implications mean. The episodes and the portraits which make up the bulk of the book are of great variety — some poignant, some plain funny, some hopeless, some filled with a cold anger. The Negro is not whitewashed: he is dissected.

Neither segregation nor limitation

One revelation that emerges to surprise those of us who seldom meet Negroes on any intimate terms is the revelation of the Negro’s own color line. The deadly effect of segregation and domination; the existence, among middle-class Negroes especially, of a hard stratification on the basis of skin color; the way in which lightness has come to be a mark of beauty, even of virtue — these are not pretty things for either white or black man to contemplate.
Neither is the ineffectualness of segregated Negro education, drawing the color line, and practicing arrogant paternalism. Neither is the toadying of Negro teachers and leaders, the constant inclination to betray the black man for a chance to rise in the white man’s world. Neither is the cynicism that blights Negro intelligence, nor the white benevolence that removes Negro intellectuals and artists from equal competition with whites. Neither is the dissimulation that for many Negroes has become almost a way of life. Searching for solid values for himself and his race, Mr. Redding found little besides the cheap imitation of white mores, the stolidity that masks fear, the arrogance of leaders intent on their own aggrandizement, and the widespread cynicism that has come from impotence and the memory of generations of betrayal and bad faith.
A quest should end in discovery. According to some lights it should end in a program and a blueprint. There is no blueprint in this book, and even the discovery may seem abstract and unimportant to eager reformers. But I suspect that the discovery here is an important discovery, all the same, and one which contains all the emotional potentials of attitude that may ultimately ease the race problem from both sides.
There is no answer to the race problem here, and actually nothing but a hope that there will ever be an answer. There is no triumph at the end of this journey. But there is an affirmation — an affirmation stated in such personal terms that it leaves us with the impression of having read a spiritual autobiography rather than a report on Negro life. A sensitive and intelligent man, Mr. Redding had his own problem to solve; he himself had to get out from the “middle-class, Negro, American” mind-set in which he had had no peace. What he discovered was a certain few “intangibles in the scale of human values . . . integrity of spirit, love of freedom, courage, patience, hope,” and these he found to be the mutual property of white and black.
He found the Negro as man, not as colored man. As Mr. Redding puts it, “to know and understand and love the Negro is not enough. One must know and understand and love the white man as well.” Perhaps that conclusion removes us from the realm of earth where the race problem still sits solid and venomous. Some will probably think so. But it is without question the honest emotional and intellectual conviction of a sane and well-informed man, and it is a conviction that far too few whites and (more tragically) far too few Negroes have been able to affirm. The ultimate solution of the race problem in the United States will most certainly have to come out of that spirit.
WALLACE STEGNER