Wall State Journal article of June 11, 1999

Scott McConnell: THE CONFORMIST

© 1999 New York Press. All rights reserved.

Separately Unequal (June 30, 1999)

How near are Americans to losing their liberties? Maybe itís a question only for the black helicopter set, or those overly attached to their guns or solicitous about the kind of Christian sects Janet Reno doesnít care for. Surely regular folks have little to worry about.

Only tolerant Republicans and Democrats are near the levers of power, and the powerful opinion-makers would defend to the death your right to say or believe something they disagreed with. Wouldnít they?

Except this veneer of tolerance is now wearing a little thin. Earlier this month The Wall Street Journal ran on its front page an extraordinary storyóextraordinary in what it revealed about how ready contemporary liberals are to limit freedoms previous generations took for granted. The subject was Wickliffe Preston Draper, a "New York millionaire" who sent cash to a Mississippi pro-segregation outfit in the early 1960s. Draper comes across as an eccentric, a big-game-hunting bachelor who became interested in eugenics in the 1930s and established a fund to encourage Air Corps pilots to have more children, an impulse Theodore Roosevelt would have understood.

Though Nazism would soon render this turn of mind unfashionable in the Western democracies, Mr. Draperís interest didnít flag. Instead it took a racialist slant, and to make a long story short, the civil rights era was an unhappy time for him.

The Journal article focused on gifts of "nearly $215,000" that Draper transferred to the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission in 1963. This quasi-official body was set up by Mississippi state House politicians to lobby against the civil rights bills then gaining steam in Congress. It also worked to undermine violent and criminal opposition to the civil rights movement. But here was the Journalís peg for this interesting but not especially newsworthy story: Draperís bank, Morgan Guaranty, actually performed the fiscal transfers their client asked them to.

Thus much of the piece consists of a back and forth about whether or not Morgan Guaranty acted immorally in carrying out client instructions. The episode "highlight[s] the ethical issues that confront an institution like Morgan GuarantyÖwhen it is drawn, even unwittingly, into a clientís support for repugnant causes." Thomas Donaldson, a professor in "business ethics" at the Wharton School, opines that bankers should have the words "Know thy client" tattooed on their chests, adding that when a customerís actions "offend vital, deeply held values of the institution, you have to say no." On the other side, Morgan spokesman Joe Evangelisti says, "We canít tell our customers how to spend their money."

There you have it. The Journal reports, readers decide: Does a U.S. citizen have a right to send his own money to a legal American organization, or is it a bankís "moral" duty to block the transfer on grounds of political correctness?

The question is breathtaking. Whatever assessment of the civil rights movement historians ultimately reach (which may well be more nuanced 100 years from now than it is today), in 1963 the question of whether the federal government had the authority to require integration in private accommodations was far from settled. Segregation in the South, which had not been challenged by FDR or Truman or more than half-heartedly by Eisenhower, was on the way out and would likely have expired from sheer absurdity within a generation. But it wasnít going easily. Most white Southerners still supported it in some form. Nationally prominent conservatives like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley opposed the federal civil rights juggernaut in the name of limiting the power of government. In Congress, enthusiasts for the civil rights bills generally came from lily-white northern districts, with no experience of racial divisions. Balanced accounts of the struggle to push the bills through (like Robert Mannís The Walls of Jericho) rightly paint their main Southern opponents as moral and principled men. To put them beyond the pale of decency, as the Journal so cavalierly does, is a bit scary.

Of course the impulse to impose restraints on those whose actions we donít like may lurk in all of us. As I was talking through this column, a close friend told me she wouldnít mind if banks froze the assets of the producers who make huge fortunes from the dissemination of gangster rap, violent movies and video games. I couldnít agree, though they are surely a more ignoble bunch than the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. Perhaps thatís an ethical issue for the Journalís editors to ponder next: Should major banks continue to accept business from Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, etc.? But donít hold your breath waiting for that one.

McConnell, Scott. "Separately unequal." Wall Street Journal. 30 Jun. 1999.

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