A potent debate on the moral status of America’s Negro families foamed last month behind the placidly staged exterior of a planning session for the White House Conference on Civil Rights. In choosing the 250 participants, White House staffers encouraged blandness by avoiding militant Negroes and those living in the depths of city ghettos. Most solution-seekers chanted, “more federal aid,” led by Honorary Chairman A. Philip Randolph, who urged a $100 billion “freedom budget.”
Discussion topics were also old stuff: jobs, voting, welfare, housing, justice, community action, and education. But a forum on Negro family problems was novel and would not have been scheduled a year ago.
This new element was largely the work of voluble, graying Daniel P. Moynihan, now a “resident scholar” at Wesleyan University, who lost the Democratic primary for New York City Council president this summer. His 30-minute closed-door debate with a young Negro sociologist, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, was the high point of drama at the two-day meeting.
In January, when Payton, an American Baptist, took charge of the Office of Church and Race of the Protestant Council of the City of New York, Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor, was putting the finishing touches on his study of Negro family problems. His pessimistic findings reportedly shocked President Johnson into calling for the conference during a Howard University graduation speech in June.
The “Moynihan report” was handed the President on a confidential basis, but soon became Washington’s most-read and most-talked-about secret report in years.
The President said the conference should go beyond basic civil and legal rights to tear down “the walls which bound the condition of man by the color of his skin.”
Moynihan’s report contends one of these walls is the “highly unstable” family structure of lower-class Negroes which “in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.” It drew depressing pictures of divorce, separation, illegitimacy, delinquency, welfare dependency, drug addiction, and related crises in education and employment. And it said things have gotten worse—not better—during a decade of civil rights triumphs.
Moynihan. who has a liberal civil rights record, said his only aim was to portray social problems accurately so people would be moved to do something. He suggested broad federal programs to bolster the “stability and resources” of Negro families.
But there is some question whether Moynihan’s figures are worth heeding. A few weeks before the November meeting, Payton unleased a 22-page rejoinder to Moynihan. and the Protestant Council called its own preconference conference to lobby for Payton’s point of view.
Payton questioned Moynihan’s “assumptions, limited data and interests.” For example, he said charts on illegitimacy fail to consider the patchwork system of reporting, the much higher abortion rate among white women, unequal access to contraceptives, and differential adoption rates. He said family problems may be more a matter of center-city living than of race. To Payton, illegitimate children and fatherless homes are “themselves mere symptoms of other more basic problems” in housing, schools, and jobs.
Payton drew quiet support from Dr. Hylan Lewis, Howard University sociologist, who set the agenda for the family discussion and produced the basic resource paper. This disagreed with Moynihan’s findings. A new Doubleday book analyzing current census data, This U.S.A., similarly contends that Negro family life is not a one-sided saga of deterioration.
Moynihan—who started it all—was the forgotten man at the conference. But near the end, he asked for the floor in the family discussion, where his ideas had been brewing away unmentioned since the start, to answer Payton. All the conferees had read Moynihan: few knew what Payton had written. The two debated face to face for more than thirty minutes.
Afterwards, Moynihan charged that Payton hadn’t read his report and that the criticisms were “pathetic.” “For the Protestant Council to criticize my report is incredible.… The data on the family is impeccable,” He said his purpose was to show what “we as Christians should do.”
Payton, however, said he had indeed read the report. He believes the protest by him and others will succeed in reorienting the main White House Conference next spring. Others were more blunt than Payton. One woman called Moynihan “completely incompetent.”
A week after the session. Moynihan defended his views in a Washington Post essay, and drew significant backing from sociologist C. Eric Lincoln in a discussion of the “absent father” crisis in the New York Times Magazine.
Monsignor John C. Knott, director of the Family Life Bureau of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, said another family issue, birth control, was discussed for only a few minutes. Many consider federal programs on contraception—opposed by NCWC—a key solution for problems of impoverished Negroes.
The Moynihan report signaled a subtle new phase of the civil rights struggle. The legal basis now exists for civil equality, though it has not been achieved. Negro leaders, many of whom consider demonstrations generally passé, know the next stages will be more difficult. The failure of America to dissolve Negroes into the mainstream of its life has a thousand persistent causes, ranging from fear of interracial marriage or loss of jobs to such pedestrian barriers as Negro speech patterns.
Conference Co-Chairman Morris B. Abram, president of the American Jewish Committee, lamented that the planning session glossed over the basic questions of what causes prejudice and how it can be fought.
The Moynihan report dared say aloud what had been whispered. Though it was condemned by some as providing racist fuel, Professor Lee Rainwater of Washington University said, “Ten years ago, if you cited figures about poor performance of Negro students, you were accused of being a racist. Now those same statistics are being used as an argument to do something about the the school system.”
Dr. Robert W. Spike, director of the National Council of Churches’ Commission on Religion and Race since its inception three years ago, resigned to initiate what he calls a “free-wheeling” professorship on the ministry at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Canada’s recently re-elected Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson won the Family of Man Award of the Protestant Council of the City of New York.
Samuel Hepburn, Midwest leader of the Salvation Army, was appointed national commander.
Dr. George Thomas Peters will be the new chairman of the United Presbyterians’ Division of Evangelism.
Boston University’s president, Dr. Harold C. Case, plans to retire July 1, 1967.
Atlanta’s Emory College has hired its first full-time Negro professor, sociologist Daniel C. Thompson, who holds a B.D. from Gammon Theological Seminary.
The Rev. D. A. Loveday is new president of Canada’s Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches.
Bishop Hans Jaenicke told the East Berlin Synod of the Evangelical Union Church that his country’s anti-West propaganda instills fear in its people, hampers reconciliation efforts, and “is simply not in harmony with the facts.”
DR. C. OSCAR JOHNSON, 79, St. Louis pastor for twenty-seven years, first man to win high office in both the Southern and the Northern (now American) Baptist Conventions, and former president of the Baptist World Alliance; of leukemia, in Oakland, California.
LEON MACON, 57, editor of the Alabama Baptist; in Birmingham, after a series of strokes.
HENRY COLEMAN CROWELL, 68, retired Moody Bible Institute executive credited with developing its radio evangelism; in Evanston, Illinois.
A commission for uniting Latin American Protestants formed under a plan similar to one that failed in 1961. The first members will be church councils in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Uruguay, and other organizations related to the World Council of Churches. Missionary News Service predicts that the union’s membership invitations to independent missions will split evangelicals, who now cooperate in numerous countries.
The Christian Council of Rhodesia, which includes Anglicans and several Protestant groups, has repudiated Rhodesia’s declaration of independence and vowed loyalty to Britain’s Queen.
New Zealand’s Presbyterian Church has approved a statement of faith drawn up by five Protestant groups as a key ecumenical step.
The government of Barbados, a West Indies island, wants to stop paying salaries of Anglican church clergymen and continue using Anglican schools without payment. The church, which opposes the plan, would retain its official status.
In Cameroun, a military tribunal sentenced four men to death for the August murder of two Swiss missionaries. One defendant was Thaddee Nya Nana, a deputy in the National Assembly.
One of the South’s top private academies, Atlanta’s Westminster Schools, has eliminated race as a factor in admitting students. It is an independent Christian institution with Presbyterian roots.
Florida Southern College (Methodist) will get at least $7 million from the estate of the late Mrs. T. G. Buckner, a longtime trustee. It is believed to be the biggest single gift ever to a Florida college.
Governor Dan K. Moore of North Carolina praised that state’s Baptist Convention for condemning the Ku Klux Klan.
School officials in Port Leyden, New York, fearful of the Supreme Court ban on religious exercises, rejected a yearbook advertisement that quoted Psalm 23. It was placed by a contractor disgusted with ads for taverns in the annual.
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