Exterminating Negroes; or, Situation Bears Watching

John Bellairs
March 5, 1969, The National Catholic Reporter

By Ochs Sulzberger Hays-Dryfoos V

I DO NOT SEE WHAT president Geryon hopes to gain from his widely criticized decision to exterminate the American Negro. As the tawny pall of smoke rises from the unsightly kilns that have replaced the equally unsightly South Side ghetto of Chicago, as the New Harlem Acid Filtration Center spreads its smoking tides over blue-black, bronze and coffee-colored carcasses, as the noyades of the California coast continue to draw crowds of morbid spectators, the moral leaders of our country do not cease to question the wisdom and intelligence of a man who would wipe out that many people at once.

Cardinal Harvey Keezer of Chicago, speaking from the pulpit of Holy Name cathedral, said that he was "disturbed" by the President's failure to allow UN or Red Cross inspection teams inside the many-acred premortuary camps that have thrown their gridiron shadows across so much of our troubled land.

Nevertheless, Cardinal Keezer condemned the attempt several hundred University of Chicago students made to blast a hole in the Stony Island avenue wall of Woodlawn Camp A.

"NOW THAT the incident is over and sentences have been passed out, I can break silence on this subject," said Cardinal Keezer, as he addressed an overflow crowd that included the president, Mayor Ashley and the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago - the last mentioned of whom concelebrated the mass with the cardinal in a revolutionary move that had the vestibule amutter after the service.

"While I understand the strong feelings of the students involved in this act," the cardinal went on, "I cannot condone the destruction of federal property. Lawlessness does no one a service and, as Judge Ford pointed out during the Spock trial some years ago, 'Rebellion against the law is in the nature of treason.'"

Episcopal Bishop Blantyre disagreed slightly with the cardinal during his half of the con-enunciated sermon.

"I feel," he said, "that the actions of the federal government may soon exceed morally tolerable limits. What of Negro Episcopal priests, ministers, and seminarians? Are their years of learning and sacred vocations to give them no respite, no sanctuary? I talked to a young black priest - yes, we call them priests on our side of the fence, too - a young black priest, I say, who was about to be translated to the camps. He said to me, 'Your Grace, is there anything you can do?'"

"I was unable to answer him. I hung my head in shame as we may all some day do, if we do not find an answer for this young man's question."

ELSEWHERE, the Pope declared a Year of Grief for the tormented masses, and his failure to receive the U.S. Ambassador in the customary audience room has led some observers to guess that the Pontiff may have meant to imply a criticism of U.S. policy. Further speculation was aroused when the Pope postponed his announcement of the Dormition of Pius XII to light a candle before the statue of Martin de Porres, a Negro saint.

On the other hand, Cardinal Mclnroth, visiting Rome only weeks after his third heart transplant, was favorably received when he presented a petition asking the Holy See to censure the U.S. government for quartering black prisoners in Catholic schools and churches throughout California.

In England Archbishop Hainault called U.S. Negro policy, "crude and tasteless," while Pravda dismissed it as "typical, to say the least." Back home, the Fellowship of Reconsideration, a group including among its members former President Agnew, Dean Acheson, Nathan Pusey, Roger Bough, Max Ascoli and General Westmoreland, has demanded a national policy debate on the Negro question.

AS A REPORTER, and without claiming any special ability to judge in these matters I must say that I have seldom seen the country in such an uproar. Is the swift eradication of a major social problem worth the additional pollution of the atmosphere, the ugly smokestacks, fences, pits and ovens, the expropriation of land that may never be returned to private ownership, and the loss of such great comedians as Godfrey Cambridge and Bill Cosby? I wonder. - (John Bellairs)


We asked our regular commentators – Bowen and Myers – to comment and each came back with thoughts on the same theme: on the surface it appears a rather heavy-handed political satire of the racial situation with strong Catholic undertones and slight mentions of Chicago-area landmarks. Myers isn’t clear why the Catholic element was introduced: "The Catholic hierarchy in the '60s was solidly in favor of civil rights legislation."

"The Roman numeral is doubtless a satirical reference to the Times dynasty, which has often been the subject of comment," suggests Bowen. "I think part of what John was trying to satirize or ridicule was the Times' manner of treating every subject, even the obviously outrageous, as the subject of sober and moderate discussion. My general impression is that he was trying to write something like Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal – but if so, his reach exceeded his grasp. This isn't his natural bent, and it comes across as horribly shrill."

After this, the rest of the names are fictitious - though Geryon was a triple-bodied, winged giant in Greek mythology and a character in Dante's Inferno that serves as the spirit that transports visitors around Hell. This may represent John's opinion of Richard Nixon, notes Bowen. For what it's worth, Max Keezer's is a famous second-hand clothing store in Cambridge.