It's 1925. Please give me a defense of segregation.

I’ve posted this in General Questions. It may raise some ire and have to be moved, but my question is the topic. What would an ardent, and educated, segregationist from the year 1925 tell you his reasons for keeping segregation legal?

The only thing that I’ve heard is the quote from Genesis where God confounded the tongues and separated people to different parts of the world. What part of that would support different water fountains and restrooms?

And note that I said “educated” or sincere if that is better. I don’t want to hear the ramblings of racist that didn’t know any better. I would like to know what a learned person of the south, an officeholder perhaps, would give as his defense to this practice that today seems ridiculous. Thanks in advance.

There is no such person who could espouse such an opinion and yet not be racist. You’re asking for the opinions of an imaginary person.

Who is this imaginary non-racist yet learned person who holds such an opinion? Sucha person is impossible. The answer, simnply, is that racism was rife. And your learned person was racist.

Very true, and thank you for the correction.

Let me rephrase. I’m not looking for the backwoods KKK member drinking beer and lynching someone. I am looking for someone at a University, or in public office, who is attempting to make an erudite argument.

I’ve moved this to Great Debates, as I don’t think it can be answered without difficulty in General Questions. Not that you did anything wrond starting it in GQ, jtgain. I think it’s a better fit in GD.

samclem Moderator, General Questions

<imaginary person>

Segregation is the way things have been since this country was founded. It is the way our society has been structured. A major change like desegregation would inevitably lead to social unrest, disturbances, and perhaps riots. Our entire social structure would unravel. We’re just not ready for such a step. The change would be very harmful.

</imaginary person>

This is one argument you’d get that somewhat veers from blind racism (although implicit in the argument is that Blacks, rather than Whites, would be the source of the violence, notwithstanding the historical record).

The other one would probably be a eugenics argument. In 1925, there was still a belief in the “perfectability” of the races by weeding out genetic inferiors (what ended up in Nazi Germany in fact got its legs in the US), and an anti-miscegenation/segregation argument would probably be based on a perverted misunderstanding of Darwinism (largely fueled, though, by blind racism).

Something I’ve occasionally heard within my own lifetime is that people are just happier “with their own kind”. Not sure how that could explain segregated drinking fountains, but someone might argue that both black and white people are happier and more comfortable going to schools, restaurants, swimming pools, etc., where everyone else will be “their own kind”.

Which is essentially another thinly veiled racist argument. What they mean is, "i feel more comfortable with my own race, because I fear things that are different.


The negro is is demonstrably more prone to social diseases than the white man. His personal habits are so primitive that he is invariably infested with all manner of nits, lice etc. He is segregated is necessary in order to preserve the purity of the white woman.



If you mean segregation as a law, of course there are many silly and sad stories. No system as perfect, but if you mean segregation as a means of organizing society, I can simply point out such a system is natural and occurs anywhere two peoples live together.

Englishmen choose to live in England generally, and they are happiest there. Frenchmen in France in the same way and for the same reasons. I suppose you are talking about segregation of our Negro community from Whites, but do no Jews, Italians and Poles in large cities prefer to live their lives with their own kind?

In 1895 Brooker T Washington, that great Negro mind, pointed out “The races can be as separate as the fingers of a hand” and still be part of a single national community.

I cannot defend the excesses of segregation, but I assure you that such a system preserves the unique cultures of communities and provides more happiness than blending would.


I watched the WWII documentary, ‘The War’, and in that there was a section on the black regiments that were ‘allowed’ to form and join the Army, play a role in the greater culture, etc, mostly because of the desperation of the effort. Anyway, it showed a clip from a period propaganda piece in which the segregated black government-approved barracks were viewed, and the announcer stressed how ‘sanitary’ they were (apparently contrary to popular conception). So. Supposedly black people were considered so ‘unsanitary’ that this point had to be stressed.

That’s all I got.

You really can’t have an argument that isn’t somehow based on the concept that black people are dangerous, unclean, uneducated, incompetent or inferior to white people and that they’d infect and annoy white people and harm civilization with these habits if desegregation occured.

Why not look at some of the arguments that the educated class are making against gay marriage for a good comparison to the kinds of arguments you are looking for for segregation. Most aren’t that good and would fall apart in a high school debate club. I honestly doubt there are many good arguments.

William F Buckley was an intellectual who died recently who defended segregation (he also defended Franco and fascism too).


“The central question that emerges … is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.”
“National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct. … It is more important for the community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.”

“The South confronts one grave moral challenge. It must not exploit the fact of Negro backwardness to preserve the Negro as a servile class. … Let the South never permit itself to do this. So long as it is merely asserting the right to impose superior mores for whatever period it takes to effect a genuine cultural equality between the races, and so long as it does so by humane and charitable means, the South is in step with civilization, as is the Congress that permits it to function.”

Basically he is saying white people are naturally smarter and more responsible than black people and white people shouldn’t use their innate superiority to exploit black people, but they should keep them from voting or having any power since they’d just screw everything up. And Buckley is considered one of the greatest intellectuals of modern conservatism.
The only semi-valid argument that some black leaders were endorsing was that desegregation would backfire and make the races hate each other even more, and that it was best to either remain segregated or slowly integrate (rather than do it quickly).

Malcolm X (up until near his death) supported segregation. And WEB Dubois felt it was better to slowly change attitudes on segregation.

Well, good luck finding a defense of segregation that isn’t remotely racist. But it is true that most people tend to prefer the company of people they perceive as being like themselves in important ways. What counts as an “important way” can vary from person to person (many today would consider political and religious beliefs, social class, and education level far more important than race), but there’s no denying that people very often choose to socially segregate themselves from those who they perceive as being “different”.

Science has shown us that mankind is divided into distinct races, and further that the biological difference between these races are such that, while racial mixing is biologically possible, the result of such an admixture is that of deterioration and that these unhappy individuals who are the result of such a union lack the vitality and physical and mental qualities of either of the parent stock. The result is pure deterioration. Only by the careful separation of the races can the White race be preserved and America maintain its superiority.

here’s the rub. I don’t think anyone, particularly white people everywhere of that time thought to challenge segregation on a legal or moral basis. I wonder if even the most ardent anti-slavery advocate regarded blacks as having possessed, or capable to possess the finer qualities attributed to whites.

We have segregation today and no one really challenges it. Fat chance to build a 1400 square foot home amongst 6000 square foot mansions. We have neighbourhoods of people with comparable incomes. Everone knows the rich bitch area where you might be able to drive by, but feel out of place by getting out of your 1993 Ford Escort.

You won’t find this segregation within aboriginal communities.

And what about these native reservations?

Segregation is still alive and well.

Okay, let’s try this.

Why do we have seperate restroom facilities for men and women? After all, logically we should just combine them into a single facility for use by both genders. But realistically, men and women are more comfortable having seperate facilities for their own gender.

Racially segregated facilities followed the same logic. They’re not actually necessary but whites and blacks are more comfrotable having seperate facilities for their own race.

The problem is there is an assumption that the reason you have seperate facilities is because the blacks are ugly, scary or smell bad, and need to be kept away. A white person going into a black bathroom will not get the same response as a black person going into a white bathroom the same way a white man sleeping with a black woman wasn’t considered the same as a black man with a white woman. There was an assumption that black people degraded and devalued white culture when mingling in white only areas, but the reverse was not true of whites in black areas.

Restrooms are segregated by gender due to privacy issues. They are segregated by race because one race considers the other race beneath them and doesn’t want to mingle.

Anyone can come up with reasons why segregation is wrong. The OP was asking for theoretical attempts to defend segregation.

I did read a letter from an Arkansas Senator (Fullbright or McClellen I forget which) to Eisenhower during the Central High Crisis here in Little Rock. The Senator argued in favor of segregation on account of this being the custom in the south that promoted peace and harmony between the races. That argument strikes me as disingenuous as blacks in Arkansas certainly weren’t feeling a lot of that peace and harmony during the 1950s though it was certainly better than it was in the 1920s.

The OP specified 1925. There were certainly legal and moral challenges to segregation by 1925, and even well before that. This History of Jim Crow website traces the history of segregation inside and outside the South, and if you look you can see that in some places at least, states not only adopted segregation laws, they also repealed segregation laws, or adopted laws outlawing segregation–and in some cases well before the 20th Century civil rights movement. Illinois, to pick one example, passed a law against black people moving to the state in 1853–but then, beginning in 1865, proceeded to pass a series of laws against school segregation and segregation in public accomodations. Of course, there were also later attempts in Illinois to get around some of these laws by using racially-restrictive housing covenants and the like. During the much-reviled and little-understood period of Reconstruction, Louisiana passed laws outlawing school segregation (1868), segregation of public accomodations and common carriers (1869 and 1873), and had race-neutral marriage laws (1870); South Carolina banned school segregation (1868), banned segregation of public accomodations (1869), and banned segregation of public carriers (1869)–before Jim Crow came crashing back down. (In Illinois, the progressive laws must surely have had the support of whites in order to pass. In places like South Carolina, the Reconstruction Era laws against segregation may have passed with the support of only the majority; i.e., of blacks.)

We can’t just blindly impose the moral standards of 2009 on all persons back into the mists of history, but neither can we blithely assume that everyone born before us were helpless moral savages who can’t possibly have been expected to know better.