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February 13, 1967 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 1967-02-13
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Uncle Tom in a Button-Down Collar

History of the Chicago Urban
League, by Arvarh E. Strickland.
University of Illinois Press. $7.50.
To the more militant strains of
the civil rights movement, the Ur-
ban Leagte headquarters is "a veri-
tible 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' where
middle class Negroes, misguided so-
cial workers, and do-nothing white
liberals busily eat out of the hands
of white power, and, in return for
the privilege, make concessions left
and right, leaving Mr. Charlie with
a good conscience and the Negro
population with a few token bene-

sis of what the League actually does
is necessary if we are to evaluate its
role in the civil rights struggle to-
day. Strickland provides us with
such an analysis.
In -Strickland's view, the Urban
League tried in the past to alleviate
the problems facing the Negro com-
munity through social work and aid
to particular individuals. Conse-
quently, the League proved ineffec-
tive in dealing with widespread so-
cial and economic problems. But in
the 1960's, because Negroes have
developed higher aspirations and an

been of use to other organizations
that can organize active protest.
This is what happened in the Willis
school controversy of 1961-1962.
The League's findings on the con-
ditions in white and Negro schools
gave groups such as T.W.O. clear
objective facts around which their
campaign was built.
The League can use its personal
contacts and associational influence
both in negotiations with city and
business officials as well as in aid-
ing needed legislation. The League
was influential in the passage of the
Illinois Fair Employment Bill and
took part in the negotiations with

character, the League neither tries
to organize the majority of the Ne-
gro population nor to force the rec-
ognition of the problems on white
moderates as SNCC does. Before
passing judgment it must be real-
ized that the functions the League
performs demand such methods.
Often the League cannot take a
public, activist stand on issues for
fear of- alienating its prime source
of income and influence, the white
moderate community. If it is to do
its work, it needs to calm and reas-
sure moderate sentiment. Only such
tactics can accomplish the political
and legal aims of the League; the
League cannot expect to threaten
the power structure and still work
within and under its graces. Mili-
tant organizations by their very na-
tures cannot act with the diplomacy
needed to nlay both sides. Likewise
the fact that the League is tightly
organized with a small, permanent
staff enables it to function with a
unity of purpose foreign to the
loosely-structured mass movements
of radical groups.
The Urban League has a definite
place in the movement; it can act as
a mediator between the establish-
ment and the more militant organi-
zations. In addition, the League can
effect certain legislative and judi-
cial decisions that pressure from ac-
tivist groups cannot even initiate.
There is a place in the psycholo-
gy of the civil rights movement for
a moderate position as well as black
power. The Urban League gives the
white liberal something to do. By
the nature of its program, SNCC,
unlike the Urban League, would nei-
ther want nor need alliances with
powerful business concerns. Howev-
er, if such assistance can further
the interest of the movement, then
it should be used. Only a moderate
organization can gain the confi-
dence of the establishment and put
that confidence into effective ac-
tion. Therefore, the Urban League
has a unique position in the civil
rights struggle, and new develop-
ments in leadership and technique
seem to suggest that it will fulfill
the potential of its role.
Strickland presents a detailed re-
view of the League's history in
terms of its functions and methods
of operation. His account is purely
chronological, and discussion of
theoretical problems and issues
arises only as a digression from the
dry analysis of the facts. But if the
book is not a clarification of the
problems that beset the League and
other such organizations, it is a
well-researched, objective work on
what the Urban League has done.
As such, it clarifies the problems of
a moderate organization which must
achieve reforms while working
within the establishment.
Lulan O nger
Miss Oinger is a third-ear student
majoring in psychology at Lake Forest
College.

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Paul Bunyan Behind Prison Bars

The Riot, by Frank Elli. Coward-
McCann. $4.95.
To a reading public that likes its
literature either hot or in cold
blood, Frank Elli's modest escape
thriller promises little. His prison
riot is more a con style carnival-
in-the carnal than a bloody rampage
of vandalism. No one gets killed or
maimed in the two days of confused
jubilation, and with touching irony
Elli shows that his inmates really do
not know what to do with their
brief freedom. But neither does the
author. Like a benny hangover, a
headachy boredom follows the un-
certain anticipation of big kids in a
candy store. The riot progresses to
the expected conclusion, as Elli can
rescue neither his fellow cons nor
his readers from the stale taste of a
stale plot.
But Elli writes with directness
and precision, like a TV cameraman
astride a dolly behind his main
character, he photographs a clear -
if transparent - outline of action.
His mania for detail does not hinder
swift plot movement; he skillfully
makes us unaware of his art with
words. To his credit, the two ac-
t i o n -p a c k e d days are tautly
stretched into 255 pages of lively
description holding our attention
throughout. In the pandemonium of
seventeen hundred rioting inmates,
Elli does not flounder, although this
handy manipulation of interlocking
details is an attribute of Elli's prom-
ising style rather than a tour de
force of ingenious plotmaking.
Beginnings are ordinarily diffi-
cult. Elli uses a common stylistic
device to introduce his riot: "On the
surface it was a lazy Monday morn-

ing in the State Penitentiary." Of
course, something is brewing, and it
ain't just illegal greenpotato beer.
By the second inch of print, Elli's
empathy is clear: "Cully Briston, a
tall, muscular man in his late twen-
ties, stood alone on the shopline
walk." We can relax; we can identi-
fy. We need not stretch our imagi-
nations below the surface: Elli will
offer us a shallow pot of common-
place , psychological responses for
the terrible mystery of self which,
in other recent novels, wears on our
nerves so. He will whitewash and
blackeye his characters so we need
no Sherlock lens to spy out hidden
fingerprints. And he will give us
Our Man: Cully Briston, with the
unmistakable twin bluebirds tat-
tooed on his manly chest; Cully-
Briston, fountain of respect and
manhood, convicted for "one lousy
beer-joint robbery," which isn't
really so bad; Cully, who gruffly
vows he is no Boy Scout, but after
all can't help feeling nausea at
baby-rapers, queens, screws, snitch
kites, and wardens-quite right.
And quite real is Elli's second iro-
ny-that Cully in the end is ridi-
culed by those who formerly re-
spected him: just because he saved
a warden's life, and for sound rea-
sons too. And ain't that life? Cully
never learns.
Although Elli may be angling for
prison reform, he maintains the
public's conception of hardened
criminals by overworking his all-
stock cast of characters. There are
notably "Rick, the Reformatory
transfer" and Surefoot, the shiv-
happy Indian made into a psychot-
ic murderer by prison beatings and
tear gassings. While reproducing in

fiction the TV type of criminal, Elli
turns around to ridicule the very
public he satisfies. Concerned citi-
zens crowd into the lobby and line
the prison walls, pushing and
stretching with the notorious public
thirst for violence. The radio an-
nouncer, herald of public opinion,
ominously broadcasts the emergen-
cies of "seventeen hundred rioting
inmates" (who are only breaking
into contraband benny supplies,
brewing raisinjack, and stealing
eggs to remember what they taste
like) and treats the demands of
"hardened criminals" with an in-
sensitivity of a more insidious type.
The final doublecross of prison offi-
cials is a telling contast to Cully's
trust and promise keeping; yet for
an American public that readily (if
briefly) sympathizes with victims of
police brutality, Elli's revelation of
this truth through journalistic fic-
tion is hardly an important excuse
for his book.
Tough-guy talk is ripped off page
after page with almost laughable
consistency. This is appropriate for
a tough-guy novel, but there is so
much of it here that the book might
be seen as a dictionary for eager
delinquent readers - and nothing
more. For more sheltered readers.
Elli delicately explains his terms
(such as why the queens sashay with
limp wrists) with a quasi-PTA
sense of decency. The near-vio-
lence, the subtle crudities, the
bland swearing are all displayed
as if to remind us these are pris-
oners, but to shock us only a little.
There are moments of sympathet-
ic emotion. Cully forgives an old
enemy and invites him to share in
February, 1967 * M ID0W E S T

the stashed raisinja
big brother to Sk
wife-killer who i
blamed if his wife v
Before troopers me
the wrecked prison
lv soliloquizes in to
Never had ho
world '-
had se, 'bi
way d f 'ine.
ing Ii ,',throe
fourteen-carat chat
it was always the
back and regrettin
story of his life.
After this, the
Grossman, who had
tage, recovers fr(
heart attacks to mi
into Isolation, wh
first turned loose.
channel, the novel
came in with a nic
things even if noth
tween. Frank Elli's
of the ways and v
has utilized a tighti
hard-hitting style
dog-earned plot wil
that literary magic
the commonvlace
the justifiable. A,
thrillers, little is lef
atrophied imagina
wonder just what tl
you will, a pragmat
those of us with we
bles. Elli has given
place next to all ti
teries. And for that
of the nation can be
Mr. Kristen is a fo
majoring in political
lish at Valparaiso Uni
LI T E R A R Y R E

fits." Radical activists level the
same criticism at the League as
they do at white liberals: "We hear
all you say, but we see nothing you
do.",
The radicals are right when they
s,+. "We see nothing you do," for
the League functions inconspicuous-
ly outside the public view and by
means of individual rather 'than
mass influence. The executive di-
rector of the Chicago League, Ed-
win C. Berry. describes the process
this way: "something else (is) going
on ouietly behind the facade of ar-
ticulation and public demonstra-
tion." Thus, a careful inside analy-

organized movement with new lead-
ership as well as drawing a more
sympathetic response from the
white population, Strickland feels
the League can abandon the limita-
tions of its traditional approach and
deal with larger social problems,
working with and for like-minded
groups. For example, one of the
League's traditional functions has
been sociological and economic re-
search on Negro life. But such re-
search is useless unless it clarifies
specific problems. In the past, the
League has been unable to use the
results of its investigations effec-
tively, but recently the material has

Mayor Daley this summer.
Strickland's analysis asserts, how-
ever, that the criticism of the
League is correct in that the
League achieves the above goals
t h r o u g h compromising "uncle-
tomish" methods depending on
white sentiment. The question is
whether these methods are neces-
sary for the League to perform its
functions, and whether these meth-
ods can co-exist in the movement
with the black power pressure. The
League does depend on moderate
white business support in fund rais-
ing and gains much of its influence
from this affilation. Non-activist in

10 * MIDWEST LITERARY

R E V I E W " February, 1967

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