The Southern Gentlemen—Murray Kempton—New York Post—11/14/1955

The come-on flyers for the Southern Gentlemen’s organization of Louisiana are tricked out rather drearily with a stock drawing of an ante-bellum colonel, goateed and string-tied. Their living expression, as in most of the South, is thicker of blood and closer to the earth.

J. B. Easterly, Southern Gentleman No. 1, is a spike-haired, square-bifocalled, heavy-necked man of sixty-one, alternating explosions of laughter and indignation. His grandchildren call him “Pop-Pop” and he’s totally impossible to dislike.

The Southern Gentlemen are Louisiana’s militant symbol of the counter-attack against racial integration. As such, they maintain warm fraternal relations with a brotherhood of resistance ranging from the Citizens Councils of Mississippi to the Apartheid Bund of South Africa.

Its Mississippi and Capetown brothers are, of course, the government; in Baton Rouge at least, J. B. Easterly commands a ragged outpost in the shed next to his bungalow which serves both as home office of the Southern Gentlemen and his own modest, pre-fabricated concrete step business.

As tycoon and opinion-maker, J. B. Easterly is his own secretary, turning from time to time to assault the typewriter with his thick fingers and render his accounts. As opinion-maker, J. B. Easterly’s expression is somewhat inhibited by his two youngest grandchildren who toddle around the office step and have to be shooed out of hearing whenever he wants to advert to the prime subject of miscegenation.

“I’m a very illiterate man,” says J. B. Easterly. “My daddy went broke when I was in college. I was raised on a cotton and cane plantation; when I was a boy, I hardly knew what a white child was.

“We have no secrets here; all we want to do is maintain segregation by legal means. We’re definitely opposed to rough stuff. We believe the Negro race should advance. Look, boy, it’s an accident you’re a white man. We think the Negro should be proud to be a Negro and be just as good as God gave him the brainpower to be. If we got rough on them, we feel we’d be doing an injustice to 95 per cent of the race.

“But we’re definitely goin’ to apply economic pressure to white people who contribute to the white Communist NAACP. There’s a lot of ’em. They don’t come out openly—these rotten politicians slip ’em cash, no checks. We got them people down here. Look at this.”

He fished among his papers and came up with a leaflet headed “The White Sentinel—official organ of the National Citizens Protective Association” and pointed to a picture of shadows purporting to be the vice president of the Falstaff Brewing Co. presenting a $500 check to the NAACP.

“See that. We’re putting that all over East Baton Rouge. We’re not gonna buy their beer. Let the niggers buy it.”

The finger poked around and found another paper. It was the South African Observer, a magazine for realists, featuring the news that the message had reached the States and, for spiritual comfort on the lonely veldt, an article called “A Christian View of Segregation” by a Mississippi college president emeritus.

It costs 10 shillings a year. Realist Easterly asked his visitor how much that was in dollars so he could subscribe, and the visitor thought it might be $1.60.

“You know there’s a lot of science in this. They’ve found out that there’s a difference in the blood. There’s no one smarter than a little nigger kid. But, when they get to be sixteen, they just stop. You don’t see the AP, the UP and the NAACP printing that.

“That northern press is still fighting the Civil War. We forgot it down here. But our sentiment is gonna be all over the United States. There’s Citizens Councils in twenty-three states. I get letters from up there saying that, if we lose, the North is lost. A woman from Illinois told me”—he looked to see if his grandchildren were out of hearing—“that in her child’s school, the little nigger boys were always pulling up the little white girls’ dresses.”

W. L. Lawrence, secretary of the Southern Gentlemen, came into the office carrying membership applications decorated with the stars and bars. (This, like the Southern colonel, is stock for mimeograph stencils and turned out in some commercial art salt mine on our own West Side.) This was fortunate, because just after Lawrence, there came a recruit.

He was R. B. Davidson who said he had reached the shotgun stage. “We don’t want none of that,” said J. B. Easterly. R. B. Davidson wanted to know what we were gonna do about our parks and playgrounds now that the niggers were coming in. “Turn ’em over to the weeds and dogs,” said J. B. Easterly.

R. B. Davidson said he liked a nigger if he stayed a nigger.

“It’s all in the Bible. The Lord said of the children of Cain that he’d put a mark on ’em and all their children would be the servants of servants. We’re God’s servants and they’re our servants.”

“Sign this,” said J. B. Easterly. “It says you never were a Communist. You couldn’t be a Communist; you talk too much.

“And don’t forget our big parade. We’re going to drive up to L.S.U. and let ’em see how we feel about those nigger graduate students they have. We gonna roll this thing back. Put any sign you want on your car, so long as it’s not obscene or anything.”

The militant Mr. Davidson said that he didn’t know about no parades; he had to worry about civil service. “But, civil service or no civil service, I’m with you in the showdown.”

Secretary Lawrence said, no, he couldn’t say how many members he had. “That’s one of the strengths of our organization,” said J. B. Easterly, “we have ministers; we have school superintendents.”

There would be dangers in making membership public, Lawrence pointed out. “If a member was known, these agitating Negroes might do something to him.

“They do put economic pressure on our boys.” But the Southern Gentlemen exact no reprisals. “When a Negro signs a school petition, we just try to persuade him he’s wrong. Sometimes, we get his employer to talk to him just to encourage him to take his name off.”

Lawrence handed over a mimeographed letter. “I just got this up; do you think it will work?” It was a protest to Philco against a recent television play about a Negro married to a white woman. “I have a number of appliances in my home manufactured by your company.” The visitor said it had worked in Queens.

“The worst thing was,” said J. B. Easterly, “the girl was from New Orleans.” He was looking through the yellow pages for a cab. “I got a lot of right talking about niggers,” he said, “I can’t even read.” He found a number and called a cab, and struck his huge hand out to the invader. “I’m glad you came; this sort of thing is real educational.”

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