Main ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialist Review, Summer 1959


Constance F. Weissman

A Home For the Wades


From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.3, Summer 1959, p.93.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Wall Between
by Anne Braden
Monthly Review Press, New York, 1958. 306 pp. $5.

Anne Braden comes from the upper stratum of white Southern society. Her family background is that of the “old virtues” – not, however, the decadent gentility described by Tennessee Williams and the younger Southern writers. Her book The Wall Between is an autobiography of a young woman’s evolution from the safe background of a good position in white society to that of a fighter for Negro equality. It describes in forthright fashion the agonizing events which followed the Bradens’ purchase of a house for Anthony and Charlotte Wade, a middle-class Negro couple.

The story is fascinating and reads like a novel. In fact, The Wall Between although about a very controversial subject, is such good reading that it was a leading contender for the 1959 National Book Award. The tension builds up gradually, as it did in reality, from the time the Bradens bought the house in an almost matter-of-fact way.

They had no idea that Louisville, Kentucky, would go mad with hysteria and hatred against them. The white citizens of the city were infuriated by the implication that Louisville Negroes were not perfectly content with segregation. So when the prosecution centered the case around the issue of Communism (for example, in the closing argument quoting Benjamin Gitlow that “the Negro problem was founded in Moscow itself”) even the local civil libertarians breathed a sigh of relief: The honor of their community was saved, there was no Negro problem; there was only a Communist plot.

Anne Braden went to prison, had a miscarriage, lived in constant fear for the safety of her two young children. Her husband, Carl, was given a fifteen-year sentence of which he served forty-one days in solitary confinement. He was in prison for seven months before the appeal bond could be raised. Only once did Anne Braden waver in this ordeal that would have given a weaker person a nervous breakdown.

A unique feature of this book is that the author takes up all the charges and criticisms levelled against her and her husband for buying the house for their Negro friends. Calmly she gives the pros and cons, carefully analyzing the motivations behind them and candidly admitting to those which have any merit. For instance, she says she may be “neurotic” on the Negro struggle, that her heroic fight beyond the call of duty may be “compulsive.” But she makes very clear that the problem itself is a neurotic one in the South, a sore festering in the soul of every white Southerner. When the covering is ripped off, it provokes a vicious reaction. The author listened to her opponents with interest; she describes very fairly their point of view. This patient analysis of the motivation of her opponents is based on her conviction that in order to fight effectively, you have to understand your adversary.

Even those few liberals who deplored the violations of civil liberties in the Braden case did not think that the Wades had a right to buy a house in a white development. The author admits that the purchase of the house for the Wades provoked violence. But she points out that violence has always existed for Negroes in the South. It is only with the protest of the Negroes themselves in recent years that national and international publicity has illuminated the degradation and horror surrounding the daily lives of colored United States citizens in what one Southern Negro leader recently described as “that social jungle called Dixie.”

An encouraging aspect of the Braden case was the help received from Southern white lawyers. It was by no means easy for a lawyer in Louisville in 1954 to come to the Braden’s defense. One of them later wrote: “The wonderful thing about the Braden case is that the abuse of civil liberties occurred to people ... vocal enough to fight back.” But it was also wonderful that a local lawyer would withstand community pressure and take such a case.

The Wall Between is dispassionate in tone and modest to the point of being self-critical. It is the best case history of a witch-hunt persecution and trial of the McCarthyite era yet written. In spite of the luridness of the events which it depicts, every statement is fully substantiated with background detail and citations from the press and court records. It is also the best book on the subject of integration written since the Supreme Court decision. The only aspect that is not gone into is the economic base of segregation. But in telling so honestly and bravely of the fight within herself to overcome her own conditioning as a privileged white Southerner, the author illuminates even this aspect indirectly.

Top of page

Main ISR Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on: 2 May 2009