Another Difficult Phone Call to Make

lr9.jpg Once again, I really thought this book was going to be a snap compared to my book about unsolved murders. I’m working on a small passage about a letter to the editor of Life Magazine that Rhine wrote in 1957, right after pictures of the Little Rock Nine appeared in the magazine. (The Governor had brought in the National Guard to block de-segregation, and prevent nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.)

Rhine wrote a moving letter, and most people responded positively, but one person in Georgia wrote to say that the word “nigger” wasn’t so bad, and scoffed at what he called Rhine’s “emotional tizzy,” and said, “… there’s a good chance, actors that children are, they maybe [sic] enjoying their roles … As a psychologist, Dr. Rhine should be interested in the white children, particularly girls, with a deep seated (and justly so as Mississippi and other cases prove) fear of integrated rape, forced a bayonetpoint to closely associate with negro boys. Are not their souls scarred?”

Was he referring to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was murdered in 1955 because he whistled at a white woman?

I looked the person up, and sure enough, he’s still living in Georgia. I want to call him, to ask him to comment on this letter. Perhaps he might welcome the chance to take these words back, but I might get an equally ugly response, 49 years later. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

But I should call him, right?

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

5 thoughts on “Another Difficult Phone Call to Make

  1. Do it, Stacy. It will be interesting to see if and how his opinions may have changed. Certainly society has changed since then. Hell, even Strom Thurmond came around eventually. You may give him a chance to clear his conscience.

    On the other hand, he may still be a bigot. But you won’t know unless you talk to him.

  2. I wouldn’t be able to psyche myself up for that phonecall. I can’t get myself to deal with people who think like that. I remember a section of John Steinbeck’s book, Travels with Charley, about his witnessing some of the bigots screaming at the kids during those protests and it was too ugly to contemplate.

  3. I’m starting to chicken out, I must admit. Someone suggested writing him a letter instead, so I think that’s what I’ll do. I’m too scared to call. What if he’s even worse? I’m so discouraged by all the hate in our country right now. It’s like not enough for the whole world to hate us, we have to hate each other.

  4. I can understand your not wanting to give someone like this an opportunity to rant. I believe in free speech, but it seems like we hear a great deal of talk voicing extreme points of view these days.

  5. Coincdentally, there was a piece about the 60’s Freedom Riders in the Times, yesterday I think. I have to go back and read it. One of the scientists I’m writing about, one of his sons grew up to be one of the Freedom Riders.

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