Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

nancyhuntting.net

Pauli Murray (1910-1985)
Civil Rights activist
& lawyer

Aesthetic Realism Seminar

Contempt, Respect, & Individuality
by Nancy Huntting

Part III. Individuality and Relation

[  From Part I:  Eli Siegel explained what individuality really is--and I believe that every person’s personal happiness and our collective future depends on this great, true explanation being known. He writes in his essay titled “There Is Individualism”:

“Individualism is the whole world rightly in ourselves, and welcome there. It is reality working with a sweet lack of interference, through us….It is the self thriving on what it has to do with, making beautiful what it has to do with.” ]
Early in her autobiography Pauli Murray quotes a "study" published the year of her birth, 1910, in a Columbia University text, titled "Social and Mental Traits of the Negro," that is sickening to read: "The Negro...has few ideals...little conception of the meaning of virtue, truth, honor, manhood, integrity." This is blatant, vicious contempt--which Eli Siegel explained is the cause of all racism.  He defined contempt as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else." It is, he wrote, "the vile, cruel,unfeeling presence in the nature of man."  He showed that contempt caused slavery. And slavery was one of the most horrible assertions of false individuality -- of one human being's supposed superiority over others -- that has ever been.  Though slavery was abolished, the same unfeeling, vicious contempt continued in segregation and continues now. Yet contempt can change, when people really see what it is, and that it does not strengthen them -- it weakens them to have it. 

      In 1922 when Pauli Murray was 12, Eli Siegel was living and working in the city where she was born, Baltimore.  He was 20 years old when he wrote "The Equality of Man" which was published in the Modern Quarterly--I think these are some of the greatest sentences ever written, and are instrumental in ending racism:

"And I say it is wrong, to say that any one's mind is inferior, until it has been completely seen that it has been given all the nourishment, care and training that it needs or could get...men have not had an equal chance to be as actively powerful as they might be.  And if they had been given an equal chance to use all the powers they had at birth, they would be equal."
This has never been said before with the clarity and conviction Mr. Siegel had, and one of the reasons is that people have felt if everyone is truly equal, their very basis for individuality is threatened.  In Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel proved gloriously how false this is.  Segregation was supposedly "separate but equal," but in fact was an ugly attempt to separate many people from their right to the wealth and goodness of the world.

      In 1937 Miss Murray was a graduate of Hunter College living in New York City and among the thousands of jobless.  In a chapter titled "Saved by the WPA" she tells of getting a job with the WPA Worker's Education Project, through which she learned she had a relation to many other people she hadn't known she had:

"I had never thought of white people as victims of oppression, but now I heard...white workers tell...of being evicted, starved out, beaten, and jailed when they tried to organize a union... The study of economic oppression led me to realize that Negroes were not alone...Seeing the relationship between my personal cause and the universal cause of freedom released me from a sense of isolation...and gave me an unequivocal understanding that equality of treatment was my birthright and not something to be earned."
     "For a Negro to act on this conviction," she continues, "was considered almost suicidal in many parts of the South."  However, from the time in 1938 when she applied to her state university, North Carolina, for graduate study in law, knowing no black person had ever been accepted, she decided to fight segregation. Pauli Murray was to receive a letter that read "members of your race are not admitted." And when President Roosevelt visited North Carolina University that year and "hailed it as a great liberal institution of learning," she writes, "I sat down immediately and poured out my indignation":
"12,000,000 of your citizens have to endure insults, injustices, and such degradation of the spirit that you would believe impossible...Have you raised your voice loud enough against the burning of our people?  Why has our government refused to pass anti-lynching legislation? "
      Though she was cautioned by persons close to her not to be so intense and outspoken, something was happening inside Pauli Murray and it was a turning point in her life--a decision that she as one individual needed to fight for justice for all people; a fight she had to believe could succeed in this world: 
 "I had sullenly endured [the] indignities [of segregation, she wrote] when I could not avoid them.  Yet every submission was accompanied by a nagging shame which no amount of personal achievement in other areas could overcome.  When I finally ...took a concrete step to battle for social justice, the accumulated shame began to dissolve in a new sense of self-respect.  For me, the real victory...was the liberation of my mind from years of enslavement."
     Miss Murray was Class of 1944 at Howard University Law School, it's president and the only woman.  That year she proposed "a radical approach" in a Civil Rights class: that the "separate but equal" legal doctrine on which segregation was based, which had existed since the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court Decision, could be knocked down in its entirety.  Her proposal met with astonishment and disfavor from her professor and other students--it was "too visionary," and "likely to precipitate an unfavorable decision of the Supreme Court."  But her final paper that year proposed a frontal attack on the segregation doctrine.

      Ten years later this "radical" 1944 Howard Law School paper, and her later book comprehensively researching and citing racial laws, were of vital use to the lawyers preparing for Brown v. Board of Education, the historic 1954 case in which the segregation "doctrine" was stuck down.  Thurgood Marshall, then NAACP lawyer, said her book States Laws on Race and Color was their "bible" in the final stages of the legal attack.  She asserted in her paper of 1944 the effect of "separate but equal"--"is to place the Negro in an inferior social and legal position" and "to do violence to the personality of the individual affected."  And in the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote these moving words:

 "To separate [children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."
In "There Is Individualism" I was so affected as I read these beautiful sentences of Eli Siegel, central to the truth of both Miss Murray's statement and Earl Warren's:
"The critical question here is: Is relation something outside the self only; or is it as much a part of self as blood, bones, skin, personal memories?...The self is a wanting-to-have-to-do- with thing; and denying, corrupting, diluting its wanting-to-have-to-do-with is like stopping, interfering with, meddling with the growth of an infant."
      As segregation hurt the minds and hearts of so many men, women, and children, insulted and denied their possibilities, so today, whenever we have contempt -- for a mother, a classmate, a co-worker, people of another background or race -- we are denying and corrupting our very own relation to the world as well as theirs, insulting our own possibilities as individuals. 

      Understandably, Pauli Murray had doubts and bitterness as time went on.  She was deeply troubled in the early 1980s, as indicated by the title of her auobiography, Song in a Weary Throat --that though important legal advancements had been made, there was still as there is now widespread racism in America. And so I believe she was cheering with many others when on August 16, 2002, the city of Baltimore and state of Maryland celebrated "Eli Siegel Day" for his "great contributions to humanity," by proclamation of Mayor Martin O'Malley and Governor Parris Glendening! 

       The knowledge exists to end racism and prejudice everywhere, and for every human being in the world to be able to have their full power as individuals, through the study of Aesthetic Realism, so beautifully, courageously come to by Eli Siegel--and it must be known now!

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