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 it�s 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 doesn�t 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. Wouldn�t 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 story�extraordinary 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. Draper�s interest
didn�t flag. Instead it took a racialist slant, and to make a
long story short, the civil rights era was an unhappy time for
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 Journal�s peg for this interesting but not especially
newsworthy story: Draper�s 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 Guaranty�when
it is drawn, even unwittingly, into a client�s 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
customer�s actions "offend vital, deeply held values of the institution,
you have to say no." On the other side, Morgan spokesman Joe Evangelisti
says, "We can�t 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 bank�s "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 wasn�t 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 Mann�s 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 don�t like may lurk in all of us. As I
was talking through this column, a close friend told me she wouldn�t
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 couldn�t agree, though they are surely a more
ignoble bunch than the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.
Perhaps that�s an ethical issue for the Journal�s editors to ponder
next: Should major banks continue to accept business from Time
Warner, News Corp., Disney, etc.? But don�t hold your breath waiting
for that one.
McConnell, Scott. "Separately unequal." Wall Street Journal. 30 Jun. 1999.