In “Race and Racism” (Views, November) Tom Landess states that a seismic shift occurred in race relations with Strom Thurmond leading the Dixiecrats out of the Democratic National Convention in 1948.  Now, in 1948, blacks were paying taxes (federal, state, and local).  They saw that money used by politicians to foster second-rate education, housing, and healthcare opportunities.

In thinking about 1948, the question of fairness has to apply.  It’s one thing to think of African-Americans as not of the human race, but it’s quite another to use their tax money to enrich the government’s coffers.

I’m also aware of the argument that paying taxes is always a compromise on how they will be used.  But this would be comparable to paying taxes for a war you disapprove of (take your pick—Vietnam, Iraq) and then sending only blacks to fight it.

—Ted Lederer
Kankakee, IL

Dr. Landess Replies:

I certainly agree that blacks paid taxes during the era of Jim Crow and that their schools and other public facilities were unfairly inferior to those of the whites.  I could name other indignities they suffered under legalized segregation, and indeed I have done so elsewhere.  However, here I mentioned the 1948 Democratic convention as a moment when charges of racism began to play a high-profile role in American politics.  I believe the debate stirred up there eventually, though circuitously, led to the civil-rights movement and the abolition of Jim Crow laws.

These events occurred over 50 years ago.  Several important indicators suggest that race relations in the South are more amicable today than in other regions and that the Northeast poses the greatest threat to racial harmony in America.  Yet when the question of racism arises, people always want to talk about the way things were in Mississippi in 1950.