What an amazing undertaking the interracial seagoing cowboy crew of July 4, 1946, was, at a time when Jim Crow laws ruled across the southern United States.
It came about when applications of many Negro fellows were refused by UNRRA or they were shunted into an all-Negro crew. After successive protests from men both white and Negro and southern, UNNRA said if a southern organization, preferably a religious one, would recruit one interracial crew and that if they had good experiences, they would not segregate successive crews.
The Fellowship accepted responsibility and recruited 34 men from 21 different southern schools, six nationalities, and with the three major faiths represented. One Negro and one white skilled veterinarian worked with the crew. One Negro and one white minister went along to conduct the religious and educational program planned by the Fellowship for the trip.
The practice of segregation stopped immediately in UNRRA.¹
So states an undated report of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen regarding use of a $1200 grant from the Hazen Foundation for this and other projects during 1946.
In September 1945, when Martin Luther King, Jr., was a student at Morehouse College, his mentor, Morehouse President Benjamin E. Mays, was applying for the FSC’s Hazen Foundation grant. In the application, Dr. Mays wrote:
One of the three things the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen is interested in doing is to extend the area of Christian Fellowship across racial lines.
. . . . There should be exchange of students in Negro and white colleges and visits from Negro colleges to white colleges and vica [sic] versa. Negro and white college students living in the same city or state of the south are further apart than are the students of Europe and Asia. They know practically nothing about each other. This gap should be bridged and a program can be worked out to this end.²
The Fellowship seagoing cowboy crew was a part of that program, as was a series of interracial work camps held in the South.
Rev. William G. Klein, Director of the Rural Project of Union Church in Berea, Kentucky, coordinated the recreation and group activities for the cowboy crew. In a letter reporting to FSC’s Secretary, Nelle Morton, following the trip, he wrote:
Personally the whole experience just from the inter-racial and inter-cultural viewpoints alone was a most valuable experience. Our ship crew was also inter-racial (CIO-BNMU) so that we found a most congenial atmosphere for complete fellowship, and then I think that the work experience together was one of the most if not the most valuable means of achieving a unity of spirit and purpose. The discussions, somewhat curtailed because of the rough weather on the way back, would not have had the value they had, if we had not had the previous work experience together….Luther Neal, a Methodist minister-student from Augusta, Georgia…felt that this fellowship trip removed almost entirely a consciousness of race, and because of this he deprecated tendencies among Minority groups, including his own, to retaliate against discrimination with a reverse kind of ‘Jim Crow’ and exclusiveness. The group, in sympathy with this viewpoint, were highly in favor of mixed faculties at Negro as well as at non-Negro institutions.³
Reflecting on this interracial crew experience of 1946 and the current racial and cultural tensions in our country makes me wish for more interracial, intercultural, and interfaith opportunities like this livestock trip for our citizens, young and old alike, where people can work side by side to lessen the gap that continues to divide us.
All photos are from the scrapbook of Ben Kaneda, the “token” Oriental on the trip, as he says, recruited from the only northern college represented, Temple University in Philadelphia. Through the help of a Quaker, he enrolled at Temple straight out of a Japanese-American internment camp where he and his family were forced to sit out the war in rural Arkansas.
1,2,3 — All quotes are from materials found at the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Collection #03479: Fellowship of Southern Churchmen Records, 1937-1986.