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September's Book
The Wall Between
by Anne Braden

Bill:
In 1954, Anne and Carl Braden bought a house in an all-white neighborhood in Louisville for a black couple. The Wall Between is Anne Braden's account of what resulted from that act of friendship. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I found it to be one of the most moving documents that I have ever read." Julian Bond says in the foreword, "We need to know Anne Braden's story perhaps even more now than when she wrote it." The Wall Between by Anne Braden -- bookclub@ket starts now.

Bill:
Well I want to say "Hi" once again to Wilma and Dava and Jonathan, and we want to say "Hi" to our new friend, Cate Fosl, who is here with us today for a special reason. Cate did her dissertation at Emory University as a graduate student on Anne Braden, and we think she can add a great deal to our discussion today. How did you first become familiar with Anne and this story?

Cate:
Well, it was the book, actually. It was The Wall Between. I had heard Anne speak at a rally once and had known of her. But I picked up this book, long out of print, at the African-American studies reading room of Howard University and was just so taken with it.

Bill:
You just stumbled upon it, I mean just in reading other materials? And ... but you have a Louisville connection, too. You had spent some time there during the summer.

Cate:
Yes, several generations of my family came from there, my mom and grandmother were from there, and two weeks ago this summer I spent there. So I was interested in Louisville history. I didn't know much about it.

Bill:
So you became a little bit more familiar with Anne Braden and, of course, the story that she wrote. Wilma, tell me a little bit about Anne and what you thought of the whole story that was written quite some time ago. If people are interested, we have information on the web site, but this was actually written in the middle '50s [and] published in what -- '58?

Wilma:
Well, it is an astounding story to have been published in 1958, and I am actually old enough to remember. I was 10 years old in 1954, so I remember this period of time very, very well, and it is an astounding book having been published in 1958 and to have been written at that time, too. So Anne Braden -- I admire her a great deal for the types of things she has done for civil rights in her time. And it's been a toll both personally and professionally on her; it has taken a toll on her family. But I suppose somebody has to do that to get movements ... you know, to be part of a movement. And so I found it a quite interesting book but also a very complicated book. There are so many issues here and so many sides to the issues that I think we have a great deal to talk about today.

Bill:
Extraordinary that she was born in the South, actually born in Louisville but moved to Alabama when she was a youngster, as a white woman and growing up there. And her formative years in the South were where, where she began to relate as a journalist, attended school there. But the real story begins when she moves to Louisville and marries Carl Braden. Is there anything we need to know about her before that time, Jonathan or Dava, that sort of helps us relate to her as the author of this story?

Jonathan:
Well, one thing that she reiterates in the book and that she turns to towards the end of the book, in her concluding remarks, is the fact that she grew up in a privileged upper-middle-class white family in Anniston, Alabama. And the parents were completely shocked by her radical views and particularly her radical deduction in the 1950s. And the submerged story here, I think, is the story about her relationship with her parents and relationship with her family background, and I think it's something when she is describing the actual events as they take place -- describing the purchase of the house and the bombing and the intimidation. She doesn't refer to it very much, but certainly subsequently it emerges like a repressed theme: the idea of what she has done to her children and what she has done to her parents and what she has done to their sense of her and so on. I mean it struck me as a most courageous book, and part of the courage is the way in which she has had to cope with the sense that she has hurt people close to her very deeply. But you know, she was so committed to her sense of what was right that she stuck to her guns, so to speak. So I think the background there is important. She really feels that she came from a very different social background than her husband, who came from a working-class Louisville background. [He was a] member of gangs and used to run with gangs, and in fact she says that this helped him during the period of intimidation -- when they were in their house being intimidated by white supremacists -- because she said he was used to the threat of physical violence.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
But she wasn't at all, and it's really a painful story from every angle.

Dava:
Well, I think she draws benefit from her background, because a whole lot of this book is a call to action for people of her time to take a stand. And she spends a lot of time discussing how she believes being brought up in a very racist atmosphere does one of two things to a person. It either leads them to realize the evil that is going on around them and to do something about it, or it just totally envelops the person. She really makes it clear that you cannot escape how you are raised and where you are raised. So I think the atmosphere in which she was raised is really a starting point for her story -- you know the story of her life.

Bill:
But I think, too, as a lot of white people raised not necessarily just in the South, but all across the United States and world for that matter ... She didn't really have this -- it was certainly maybe an inherent racism. But she was raised to be fair and sensitive to minorities to a degree, but she didn't really realize until she met that first African-American woman when she traveled to New York during her college years ...

Wilma:
In the theater, yes. But I don't feel that she was raised to really respect African Americans, or Negroes, as they called them at the time, except in the sense that if they stayed in their place you could be pleasant to them. That's one of the most disturbing things about the story; and Anne certainly brings it up, but she doesn't dwell on it. The fact that people here almost excuse the Wades because, "after all they are black, and after all they couldn't mastermind this themselves -- you know, buy a house -- so the Bradens must have masterminded it and therefore are responsible." So the interesting thing about that is that they made the Bradens totally responsible. And it's an insult, really, to the Wades. I mean it worked out best, of course, in their favor, but it's an insult to them that they were not taken seriously. And I think that was Anne's background. I mean, I think certainly as long as black people stayed in their place at that time, sure, in fact, people were pleasant to them, you know. But her background was, I think, racist.

Cate:
You know how she said, like, "Andrew's world and ours," and they were very starkly separate worlds that blacks and whites lived in in the South in those years. And so she was crossing, you know, such a forbidden boundary by jumping in to civil rights activism in any fashion as a white Southerner.

Bill:
Now the Wades approached them -- they had been acquaintances, and the Wades approached them, and I think it was Andrew who asked Anne's husband, Carl, to actually purchase this home in Louisville, in the Shively area, and then deed the home to Andrew and Charlotte Wade. Then, of course, that's when the problems began.

Wilma:
And at that time, of course, black people were not living in white neighborhoods, and she makes a very big distinction about the real estate agents, quote, breaking a block -- you know, to move a black family in -- and so it was an astounding thing to try to do. One part of the book that I questioned: She said that neither she nor Carl, neither the Bradens nor the Wades, understood what they were doing. They just, you know, the Wades just wanted a house. Well, that is very hard to believe, because at that time, you know it's not just a matter of wanting a house. They had to know. They couldn't be that naïve.

Jonathan:
Yeah, I feel really, reading this, there are moments when you really feel that, you know, she was very naïve.

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Jonathan:
I mean I have enormous respect for her courage and her beliefs ...

Wilma:
Yes.

Jonathan:
... but I do think that if it's true that she was into this and she wasn't expecting it, I mean she was very naïve.

[Everyone talks.]

Jonathan:
It's a book written by a young person in that sense.

Cate:
Yes.

Jonathan:
She was 30, but it's almost as if she was 20, you know -- there was a naïveté. I mean ... you know, maybe I'm wrong, but I really felt that there was a kind of amiable naïveté. Now the people who were cynical (including the Louisville Courier-Journal) about Carl Braden called him a zealot. I think that's a very derogatory term, really, but clearly they were idealists. And I think it shows the connection between idealism and a certain amount of optimism bordering on naïveté which perhaps is always there with idealists.

Dava:
From the way she describes her train of thought, you can understand why she was so naïve, because she spends a bit of the book talking how about up until this period in her life, she was raised in a privileged atmosphere, and she really felt that the law was on her side -- you know, authority was set up to help her, not to hurt her in any way -- because she talks about when she was young policemen would help little girls cross the street and you know things like that. If there were any trouble, they are always there on the spot to help the white people is what is implied. And so you can understand how she ... if you get so insulated by this thought, you can understand how she would think there is no way. And you know, I don't know ...

Cate:
I think in Birmingham it would have been more expected, but one historian of Louisville race relations has called the culture of that city "polite racism." So for it to break through so virulently ... I mean there was some naïveté involved, perhaps, but ...

Bill:
Well, I think Andrew, though, did give some reasons to the Bradens that were either believable or not why he wanted them to buy the house. He had tried to purchase a home -- he had tried to find a home in a black neighborhood and couldn't find one that suited him -- so I'm not sure that it was so naïve on their part. I'm sure that they probably suspected that something was wrong.

Wilma:
I still think it was naïve. The, I mean ... and I respect, certainly, I mean without question, the Wades wanting a house, you know, whatever house they wanted -- which happened to be they wanted a stone ranch-style house a little bit out from the city. Which I certainly respect that, but they had to expect, and I believe Anne does point this out, that Charlotte Wade was not naïve about it. She knew there would be trouble. And even after all the trouble came and Anne said something to her about, "I didn't know it was going to be this bad," Charlotte said, "Oh, surely you must have known that."

Bill:
Well, that was what I was going to ask. Did the Wades even suspect? I think they were a little bit naïve, too. Isn't there one part that Andrew says, "Oh, you know we will have some problems"?

[Everyone talks.]

Jonathan:
He thought we may have a week or two of problems, or ... but he had recently come out of the army. The U.S. Army is a good melting pot, and ...

Wilma:
And they would have lived maybe integrated.

Jonathan:
The hope was that that kind of interracial harmony that you get in the military would somehow begin to be imitated in social life outside of the military. But it was not to be at that time.

Wilma:
It's interesting that the story -- and the first part is so fascinating -- and it leaves ... once it leaves some of the race problems, some of the racial issues, at the time when Anne and Carl are indicted, actually, for sedition. They are accused of being Communists, and again I do remember, certainly the 1950s, and this is a wonderful antidote to anybody who thinks Father Knows Best and the Nelson family had anything to do with the '50s. But certainly there was an extreme scare of Communism at that time. And so as much as there was racial segregation, there was an extreme scare of Communism, and it's interesting that the entire book and her outlook in the entire trial, of course, all at once became the idea that the Bradens were Communist and had masterminded this plot to undermine the United States government. So it's interesting that the book takes off from there, and I think she becomes more personally involved in it. She's not as objective once the trial starts, because it starts happening to her now. I don't think she means to do that at all. That would be almost unreal not to get very emotionally involved.

Jonathan:
It's a funny mixture of a book, because on the one hand [it's] these historical accounts of what happened at this time, but it's also very much personal memoir. And sometimes, you know, you get attempts to recount what happened in the courtroom much as a journalist might give an account of it, and yet at other times it's very much visceral response of somebody deeply involved. She feels she has been victimized by a repressive and unjust regime. So its tone varies, I think, in that regard.

Wilma:
It does.

Jonathan:
From very personal to attempting to be generalistic. But it is, as you said, a remarkable portrait of a period in our history.

Bill:
You know, the whole story is certainly painful for her, and a triumph in ways, too, in that she -- they -- were braving new territory, so to speak. Let me ask you this. Do you think the initial purchase of the house, the problems there at the house, the final dynamiting of the house, was as tough internally on Carl and Anne and the family as the sedition, the court trial, the accusations by the prosecutors, all of that?

Wilma:
No, because it wasn't their house that was bombed. I mean, even though they were very much caring, certainly, about Charlotte and Andrew, after all, Charlotte and Andrew were the people living in that house; it was their house. And even though Anne felt a threat, she certainly ... their house was never bothered. I mean, they were actually never shot at or a cross was not burned in their yard, so I think it becomes much more personal and emotional once they get to the trial and it's very specific.

Cate:
And their family was still intact, too, I mean her children ...

Wilma:
Yes.

Cate:
... had to be taken to their grandparents' houses. There were threats of lynchings; there were, you know, there was the threat hanging over them of these long prison terms. Her whole life seemed to be in ruins after that -- by the time, you know, after they were indicted for sedition. So it became, you know, it drove that point home to them; I agree.

Bill:
I thought there were some interesting other characters -- real characters -- in the story that she writes about. For example, if we are pronouncing the name correctly, Bown, the white truck driver who elected to stay in the house and then had to explain a couple of times why and that sort of thing. But there were others, too, including the prosecutor, Scott Hamilton.

[Everyone agrees.]

Bill:
Anybody else that comes to mind, that sort of comes out in the way that she in her narrative and the way that she reports and writes about this?

Jonathan:
It was certainly a large cast of people. Certainly Scott Hamilton became the villain of the piece, didn't he? I mean during the period of the courtroom, he's the one who seems to me who -- maybe he didn't initiate, but he really constructed the case against them on the grounds that they were Communists and on the grounds that they were trying to incite race hatred in Louisville. I mean the whole "Red scare" aspect of it seemed to be coming from him -- is that right?

Bill:
Yeah. That was his main argument

Cate: And John Hitt, the newspaperman.

[Everyone agrees.]

Cate:
As a historian, I just couldn't resist bringing a few artifacts. [Unfolds old newspaper article] I got this actually from Andrew Wade.

Bill:
Oh, did you really?

Cate:
Yeah. This was the neighborhood newspaper that became so inflamed. The fear is so badly ... You see these big banner headlines: "Communist Plot Suspected in Wade Case." And this is before the indictments ever came down.

Jonathan:
What is this "Hamilton Probed Bradens"?

Cate:
Wade's political beliefs.

Wilma:
And did Andrew Wade ... He has kept this all these years and loaned it to you or gave it to you?

Cate:
He loaned it to me at first, and he recently told me I was free to keep it or to donate it to an archival facility, which I believe I will do.

Wilma:
What is his attitude now concerning all of this?

Cate:
Well, you know, I think Anne points to this in the epilogue. Whereas she and Carl did ultimately triumph over those sedition charges -- and actually she has triumphed over this horrible pariah status just because she has outlived it; they are in Louisville and her good work has been recognized as such -- but you know Andrew and Charlotte Wade didn't come out so well, because they never did gain the right to live in that house, and they, you know, it was a very, very bitter ending for them. He did stay active in civil rights causes throughout the 1960s, but I think he just, you know, his view today has been very much like the less said about it the better.

Bill:
His spirit is really shattered today, is it not?

Cate:
Certainly with regard to that. I interviewed him for this research, and I wouldn't call him a shattered man by any means -- I mean, he was a wonderful human being -- but he really ... it's a sore spot for him, certainly, still today.

Jonathan:
We ought to remember that he went on to found and run a successful company, didn't he?

Bill:
After some struggle, though. I mean, it took, I mean financially and every other aspect he really struggled for some time. I think finally they did get on their feet with the Wade Electrical Company ...

Cate:
Uh huh.

Bill:
... and did all right there, but ...

Wilma:
It was interesting also, and Anne brought it out in her book, that Andrew at one point also doubted the Bradens. And that would be typical too, because he had been, I think, he had been with the lawyer so long or maybe the police -- I have forgotten which one it was -- and so hounded him about the Bradens and what had been their motives for buying the house for him and surely it wasn't just his idea and so on, and he even began to doubt the Wades. So it was a very difficult and very, very complicated time.

Bill:
Did you not think that it was a particularly poignant part of the epilogue when she had not spoken to Charlotte Wade for some years and still had some questions about that relationship that occurred some, well, almost 50 years ago, 45 years ago -- and went back and sought Charlotte out and spoke to her about this, and the impression that Anne had been given by Charlotte, or that she thought that she had been given by Charlotte some years ago, was not correct? And they sort of, even after this long a time, set some things straight with their own thoughts and feelings.

Wilma:
What about the news media? You know that's an interesting aspect of it, too. What is the responsibility of the news media? I think a great many people think of newspapers and television -- all the media -- as being very liberal. And yet when it came to the Courier-Journal and the way they depicted ... In fact, that was the one place I marked, if I can remember. This is the way the Courier-Journal picked up that story [reads]:

"Efforts of a white couple to place a Negro family in a home they could not have bought themselves brought violence yesterday that barely missed killing or wounding several persons."

And this idea that the white couple, you know, instigated all of it ... and then also they go on and on -- there is an editorial the next day in the Courier-Journal. It starts out, "The relations between white and Negroes in America is a long, tortured story," etc. But it says, "The latest episode in Louisville is the case of the Negro couple who moved into a white neighborhood on Roan Court near Shively." Then the editorial goes on to again blame the Bradens for pushing things too fast -- you know, this kind of patronizing attitude: "Everything is fine here as long as we move slowly." That, of course, comes from a white press, but it's very interesting that they are not as liberal, and even in the epilogue Anne talks about how the press during the '60s augmented some things that weren't really happening. I have forgotten exactly what the details were, but she even talked about the press not being liberal at that time. So it really depends on what side -- where you are -- as to how you think the press is covering a story. So I thought the newspaper episode ...

Bill:
Carl, of course, had worked for the paper and I think ...

Wilma:
Yes.

Cate:
For them still until this happened.

Bill:
Yes, yes. And then lost his job. Was fired by them. But I'm like you, Wilma, in that as a Kentuckian and growing up reading the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times ... And really -- again, whether it's true or not -- but a lot of people have always thought the Courier-Journal sort of falls to the liberal, at least on the editorial pages, certainly, on their editorial pages, but this was very surprising to go back and find that they had a very ... "conservative" may not be the correct term ... But in the political correctness that we use today of putting corporations and people in boxes, they were certainly, in places, not the sort of press that you would think that would take up for a movement like thi as they probably did, maybe, when we began to read the paper more as teenagers and [were] growing up and becoming more familiar with that sort of thing. So that was a surprise and something that I think that Anne's book brings out quite well.

The epilogue, I thought, was an interesting technique. Now I want to remind everybody, of course, if they read the book, they will find that this occurred -- again, we said at the first of the program -- 1958, but she went back in, what, 1999, and ... Tell me a little bit about that, because I think that's an interesting sort of technique that you don't always find, and she reports some new things.

Cate:
Well, the book was out of print for 40-plus years, and the University of Tennessee Press decided to bring it out again, and she opted to leave everything the same but to add, you know, kind of updating people on what had happened since then. And just on her own personal odyssey as an anti-racist activist, because that is the direction her life has continued in. So I thought it really helped to make the whole, you know, to give it a larger frame. I know some other people ...

Bill:
Disagree with that.

[Everyone laughs.]

Dava:
Well, I agree with that, and then I thought it made her whole plight more heroic, because as I read this book, I was thinking to myself, "Well, not only is everybody in Louisville against her; none of her friends will associate with her anymore." She talked about how even Andrew Wade started doubting her, and she talked about ... the big thing with her was when she would talk to Charlotte Wade. It became more evident [that] this wall -- which is what she metaphorically uses to talk about the separation, you know, the whole mental separation between blacks and whites -- how it was still there and how in spite of her best efforts to be friends and champions for the Wades, she couldn't get past that and couldn't reach over the wall to Charlotte. So you know, just to see her reflections on it and see that really, you know, she is not embittered; she just kept on fighting. It made her, you know, a larger figure all the more for me. That is what I liked about it.

Wilma:
The only thing I question in the epilogue -- and this would be very difficult not to do this, and maybe it was just the attitude I had when I was reading it -- she went back and I thought that was very interesting talking about all the people who ...

Narrator:
Remember to check out ket.org and learn more about this book and other bookclub selections, plus enjoy author interviews and discussion boards. You can join the club any time. The address is ket.org.

Wilma:
... you know, that didn't live good lives. But the other thing ...

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