Dr. Hill is a physician in Atlanta, Georgia and an elder in Trinity Presbyterian Church where he gave this talk before a Sunday morning adult class which he teaches, in a series on “The Church Faces Racial Tension.”
I am a Southerner. I was bred in the South where my forefathers were slave-holders and Confederate soldiers. I was born and raised in Southern towns with their rigid racial patterns and their typical Southern prejudice. I was away from the South for a few years but I returned to live in the South by choice and intend to remain here for the rest of my life. I love the South and its people.
I like having two black arms in my kitchen and two black legs pushing my lawn mower to help take the drudgery out of living for myself and my family, and I like having them at a very minimum of cost to me.
I like choosing my own friends and associates and I like eating in pleasant places with well-bred people of my own race, class, and status.
I like to worship in a church which is composed of my friends and equals where I will be among my own group, racially, socially, and intellectually.
I like for my children to go to school with their own kind and with other children of their own racial, social, and intellectual level. I like for them to be shielded against poverty, ignorance, dirt, and disease.
I like to practice medicine among intelligent, cooperative people who understand what I am trying to do for them, who are friends as well as patients and who pay their bills.
I like to live in a neighborhood composed of people of my own group who have pleasant, well-kept homes and where there is no conflict or strife.
I do not want my daughter to marry a Negro.
I like the racial status quo. I am a Southerner.
But, I am also a Christian. As a Christian, I must believe that God created all men and that all men are equal in the sight of God. I must believe that all men are my brothers and are children of God and that I am my brother’s keeper. I must believe that Jesus meant what he said when he commanded me to love my neighbor as myself and when he commanded me to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I must believe that the church is God’s house and that it does not belong to me, to the congregation of Trinity Presbyterian Church or to the Southern Presbyterian Church. I must believe in the fellowship of all believers.
I am also a scientist and have devoted my life to the pursuit of objective truth. Therefore, I must know that while there are individual differences among people, there is no such thing as racial inferiority. I must know that within every group there are individuals with different potentialities and that I cannot arbitrarily classify anyone on the basis of his race or color. I must know that poverty and ignorance and isolation-call it segregation if you will-breed feelings of inferiority; frustration, resentment, and despair and that these feelings, in turn, lead to misery, to immorality, and to crime which, in turn, not only depress the people and the groups involved but the community as a whole and the whole country.
Therefore, as a Christian and as a scientist I am obligated to act on the basis of what I know and what I believe and not on the basis of what I like. I must live by conviction and by conscience rather than by preference and by prejudice.
I must, therefore, regard every man rich or poor, black or white as a child of God and as a person, not as some kind of subhuman being or animal or even as an inferior. I must try to see to it that every individual gets equal rights under the law and in politics. This applies particularly to the right of equal justice in the courts and to the right of the exercise of political privilege, that is the right to vote
I am obligated to pay a living wage to every man who works for me and to do my best to see that others do the same. I must accord to every man the right to rise to the limit of his abilities in any job or profession and I must make every attempt to see that no man is blocked because of his race or social status. If any individual of any race rises to a position equal to mine, then I must accord to him the same privileges that I have and welcome him as an equal.
I must see to it that everyone has an opportunity for an education as good as my own children have. If this means, as the social scientists, the courts and the Negroes themselves believe that that education must be the same education as my children have, then I must accept it and encourage it.
I must try to see to it that no man be humiliated and rejected because of his color. If this means that the Negro eats where I eat, sits next to me in the theater, or rides next to me in public transportation, then I am obliged to accept it.
I must see to it that every man has an opportunity for a decent home and decent surroundings and if this means that he will live in my neighborhood or in the house next to mine, then that is the way it must be.
If a Negro wants to worship in my church or join my church then I am obligated to see to it that he is not only accepted but welcomed into that church, even if it be Trinity Presbyterian Church. I must not be led by false pride to try to judge his motives for coming into that church.
I must try to overlook the selfish politicians who use the Negro for their own ends, the Communist agitators who delight in stirring up racial strife, the noisy, aggressive Negro who abuses his privileges and who makes life unpleasant for me, and even the Negroes who exploit their own race.
I must even overlook such irrelevant questions as which race is the further developed, which race pays the most taxes, etc., and remember the basic principles on which I am trying to act and in which I believe.
I must not only accept the efforts of the Negro to achieve his legitimate aspirations but I must try to help him achieve them and I believe that the church must do the same if it is a truly Christian church. I must do this, even though it goes against my deepest prejudices and even though it threatens my superior and isolated position in the community and even though it entails the risk of intermarriage.
Basically, the problem is not one of what I like but what I know to be right. I must not let my wishes determine my attitude toward my associates, my school, my church, or even my own family, but if I am true to the principles which I profess, then I must act according to those principles. This, I believe.
Source: Negro Digest for June 1962. The Negro Digest, later renamed Black World, was an African-American magazine founded in November 1942 by John H. Johnson. It was first published locally in Chicago, Illinois. The Negro Digest was similar to the Reader’s Digest but aimed to cover positive stories about the African-American community.