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Louis E. Lomax, "The Negro Revolt Against 'The Negro Leaders.'" Harper's
June 1, 1960

As the deep South is slowly learning, it faces a race of Negro individuals—any of whom, acting out of deep religious faith, may at any moment choose the most available evidence of segregation and stage a protest. And when he does the entire Negro community will close ranks about him.

If Negro leadership organizations accept this verdict of change gracefully they can find a continuing usefulness as a reservoir of trained personnel to aid the local Negro in pressure techniques and legal battles. Indeed, within four weeks after the lunch-counter demonstrations began, just such a pattern was established. I have investigated the mechanics of the demonstrations in twenty-six cities and in each instance I found that the students and their local supporters moved first on their own; CORE came in by invitation and provided classes in techniques of non-violence; and the NAACP provided lawyers and bondsmen for those who were arrested. If Negro leadership organizations don't accept this state of affairs, they will be replaced, as they were in Montgomery...

Negro leadership organizations know what the revolt means and are about reconciled to being servants rather than catalysts—at least I think so. I cannot say the same for the Negro leadership class as a whole. My month-long investigation unearthed a good deal of foot-dragging by moneyed Negroes in high places. They are not too pleased to see young Negro students sit down at the conference table with Southern white city officials. Some Negro college presidents are set to execute strange maneuvers. I would not be surprised, for example, if some of the student demonstrators who are studying under grants from foundations suddenly find their scholarships have been canceled on recommendation from their college presidents... for "poor scholarship." But nobody noticed their scholarship until they sat down at a previously all-white lunch counter.

The student demonstrators have no illusions. They know the segregationists are not their only enemies. But the students told me they are not prejudiced—they are willing to stand up to their enemies, Negro and white alike.

Copyright © The Estate of Louis E. Lomax.  Selected from the Library of America anthology.  See  Reporting  Civil  Rights:  American Journalism 1941-1963.