Twenty-six years ago, with the publication of An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, Swedish Social Scientist Gunnar Myrdal forced America's face to a mirror. The image, drawn with the most exhaustive research ever done into the lives of blacks in the U.S., was of shocking racism. It was tempered only by Myrdal's declaration of faith in a nation he admiredthat Americans were fundamentally decent and moral, and would overcome racism by working toward their ideals.
Myrdal, now 71 but as active a scholar as ever, last week completed a brief series of college lectures in Georgiahis first visit to the South since his classic work appeared. He has watched the racial problem unfold from afar, he says, and does not pretend that "after ten days in Georgia I have got to the bottom of the South." But in an interview with TIME Correspondent Karsten Prager, Myrdal recorded his impressions of what was not a nostalgic return:
THE South, as I knew it then, was a hell of a place. One cannot be nostalgic about that South, although that does not mean I did not meet good people then. Things are improving; things are changing much more rapidly than can be seen by the outsider who reads the newspapers. When '54 came [the Supreme Court decision on school desegregation], I knew that change would not come overnight. I foresaw the struggle you have had, but if anything, the development has gone faster than I anticipated, and it will continue. You forget to see how much you actually have changed by law.
The South, as I see it, is sometimes bad but sometimes better than the Yankee North. If Young [Andrew Young, a black who lost a congressional race in Atlanta] had been elected, there would have been many besides those who voted for him who would have been proud. "Look here," they would have said, "look what the South has done." I believe that many white Southerners who do not like school desegregation would probably take me to a desegregated school and be proud of it. There's this thing of the fait accompli: once accepted, it seems to me, it is often accepted with pride. That is one of the reasons why the outsider cannot appreciate what has really happened. I spent one day with my wife doing something that I could not have gotten from the literature: seeing the poverty program in action in a big city. What I saw was tremendously important. I visited a legal-aid agencyan implementation of one of the proposals I made 26 years agoand I met an enthusiastic young lawyer there. His only trouble was that the program was too small.
This high-level university, the University of Georgia, for instancein many ways an old-fashioned university is desegregated, and in a sense more desegregated than universities in the North. There are no statistics kept here on black students, and separatism is certainly not visibly the case.