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The Wall Between, Anne Braden, 2nd edition, 1999, The University of Tennessee Press. Foreword by Julian Bond, with a new epilogue.

Joan R. Harris taught sociology at Howard University, the University of Pennsylvania, California State Univerity at Los Angeles, and UMass Boston.

The Wall Between, a 1958 nonfiction finalist for the National Book Award, is a compelling s story about good people--a white couple, Anne and Carl Braden, who purchased a house for a black couple, Charlotte and Andrew Wade, in an all-white district of Louisville, Kentucky. This purchase and transfer of deed was an uncomplicated act of friendship. The unpleasant consequences of this simple act read like a mystery story-- one can hardly put the book down waiting to see what will happen next.

Joan R. Harris On May 10, 1954, the Bradens bought a ranch-style house in a new, all-white neighborhood of Louisville, Rone Court. This event occurred in an unusual period of American history. One week later, the US Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education invalidating the principle of "separate but equal." Although Senator Joseph McCarthy had been censured, his brutal campaign of witch-hunting and red-baiting was still very much in evidence. One year later (1955) Rosa Parks sat down in the white section of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Bradens were active in a range of human rights and integration organizations where they met and became friends with the Wades. The decision to buy the house for the Wades was not difficult. Anne Braden writes: "The decision...was simple and natural as breathing, for any other answer [other than yes] would have been unthinkable. I went back to my chores...little knowing that Carl and I had just made one of the major decisions of our lives." At this time, Anne was at home raising the children and Carl was working as a copy editor for the Louisville Courier-Journal, one of the South's leading liberal newspapers.

Neighbors quickly objected to the Bradens' purchase for the Wades and soon the objections became violent. The house was bombed, Charlotte Wade moved to her parents' home, and Anne Braden sat watch at night with a gun because of telephone threats, violent actions, and threats to the house and its residents. The Wades received the usual offers from whites to buy the house to get them out. Andrew Wade's family business lost customers. The list of anti-black efforts piled up while only a few people, white or black, supported the Wades and Bradens. Many "liberal" whites maintained silence out of fear.

In late August 1954, the local prosecutor announced his intention to ask a grand jury to investigate the bombing of the Wade house. Anne and Carl Braden were called as witnesses and indicted along with four others for sedition. There was a second grand jury also involved in this case which indicted two of the four, and the Bradens more specifically, for sedition. As a result of this indictment, Carl Braden stood trial. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, imposing a $5000 fine and a sentence of 15 years in prison. On appeal, all criminal charges against those indicted were dropped in November, 1956, based on a US Supreme Court decision which ruled state sedition laws illegal.

This period of legal battles over two years was probably the most draining for all persons involved in this simple act of friendship. The Wades were considered "dupes" of the Bradens who must have bought the house to cause trouble in the community--a communist plot to overthrow the government. We smile now, but such charges were deadly earnest in their time. After his release, Carl rejoined Anne in their life-long efforts to bring about integration and racial justice. Carl Braden died in 1975, and Anne has continued the activism as well as teaching and lecturing.

The Wall Between should be read by all of us, particularly those who have forgotten the times or those too young to remember its paranoia and exceptional evil. This book, with its first-person account, vivid court scenes, and incredibly rich detail, brings all of it back.

Even more valuable are Braden's efforts to understand the "whys" of these actions. On numerous occasions Anne reflects on her own life growing up in the South and how she might easily have developed the same attitudes and reactions to the situation that she, Carl, and the Wades had to endure. She helps us understand behavior that is so out of line with much of our current thinking. If we attempt to think as the Bradens' and Wades' 1950s opponents did, we may be able to help change their attitude and behavior so they can participate in a much better world.

The Wall Between is a wonderful reminder that people like Anne Braden continue to work in human relations with such determination. We should all heed her concluding thoughts: "As long as people of color can be written off as expendable, and therefore acceptable victims of the most extreme inequalities none of the basic injustices in our society will be addressed, they will only get worse,... I believe that in this society--shot through with injustice as it is--this 'other America' is the only place where one can live a fulfilling life."

* * *

...we discussed once--before anything happened--the possibility of approaching Rone and breaking the news to him quietly.

It was on that Thursday, May 13, 1954, the day that Rone ultimately found out from Andrew--and the trouble started. Andrew had stopped by the house early in the afternoon on his way to Rone Court.

"I've been thinking," he said, "about how we ought to go about letting Rone know. Maybe I should go and talk to him and tell him I'm buying the house and try to get him on my side."

"That might be a good idea," I commented. "He may not object at all. If you want us to, Carl and I could go with you, and we'll all talk to him."

Andrew sat a moment, thinking it over. Finally he spoke again.

"No, you know I just talked myself out of that idea," he said. "If I go to Rone, I'm apologizing for moving into that neighborhood. And I'm not going to apologize to anyone for doing what is only my natural right. I'm not asking Rone or anyone else in the neighborhood to be my special friend--I haven't bought the neighborhood, all I've bought is one house. If they want to be my friends, my welcome mat is out to them, but I'm not going to try to force my friendship on them. And I will not apologize for moving into my own house."

"Whatever you want to do," I said, and Carl nodded his agreement.

Andrew gathered some papers he had brought with him and walked out of our house on his way to Rone Court and the beginning of three years of hell. I watched him as he went down our front walk--his head held high, walking into the face of a hostile white world.

I thought often, as events unfolded, of his pride and his dignity in that moment. Somewhere there is a solution to the problem in human relations that beset our region and our nation. But no solution will long survive the tests of life or the challenges of the future if it writes off that pride or ignores that dignity.

--Anne Braden,
from The Wall Between


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