A Question of Color

Mr. Sparks is a business executive, civic leader, and active church layman in Canton, Ohio.

A recent news item told how a child’s life depended on an opera­tion which the well-meaning par­ents refused to permit. Such in­stances are rare, involving only one or a few lives, yet they pro­voke widespread consternation at what appears to be dark ignor­ance.

Meanwhile, more serious social ills involving everyone in the na­tion are being improperly treated, of ten upon recommendation by those in positions of high respon­sibility and trust. I refer specif­ically to the Negro problem and the part played by various pro­fessional and lay church leaders. The aggravating treatment con­sists of governmental intervention beyond its proper police-power, administered to the sick patient in ever larger doses.

"Civil rights" or "human rights" often are implied to be superior to, or at least different from, "property rights." It must be acknowledged that property has no rights in and of itself; in­volved only is the human right to the use and control of one’s own property. The story of civilization seems to confirm that the para­mount requirement for life and liberty is the individual’s right to own property.

The founders of this country were keenly aware of the vital relationship between freedom and the private ownership of property. Thomas Paine wrote of the right to property which should be sa­cred and inviolate. Thomas Jeffer­son enumerated certain rights he deemed essential to man, includ­ing the right to own and manage property. John Adams said, "the moment the idea is admitted to society that property is not as sa­cred as the laws God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anar­chy and tyranny commence." Ear­lier, in 1768, Samuel Adams stated that "it is an essential, unalter­able right in nature…. that what a man has honestly acquired is ab­solutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent."

In his book, In Defense of Prop­erty (Chicago: Regnery, 1963), Gottfried Dietze, professor of po­litical science at Johns Hopkins University, describes the rise of man’s freedom in company with the "increase in the legitimiza­tion of property. The latter in­crease was closely connected with the elevation of individuals from the status of subjects to that of citizens…. Property rights, as ingredient parts of human free­dom, came to be considered nat­ural rights that could be claimed by the individuals against the government. The institution of private property thus truly re­flects the growth of civilization, a growth that is largely charac­terized by the expansion of free­dom."

Who Owns It?

What has all this to do with the Negro problem?

In their anxiety to bring about racial equality, some church groups are officially demanding national legislation that will forci­bly curtail certain rights of prop­erty owners. Of course, it is said that only those property owners who discriminate on the basis of race will lose these rights. This is like saying that a teenager is free to spend his allowance as he wishes as long as he does not spend it on milk shakes, records, or at the amusement parks!

Pete owns a car. Only those per­sons he invites may ride in his car. This is Pete’s right. If Jack wants to ride and Pete objects, Jack has no right in Pete’s car. If Jack enters and refuses to leave until he has a ride, Pete can call the police to remove the trespas­ser.

A third party well acquainted with the two, may think Pete is selfish; but a third-party apprais­al of motivating factors has no bearing on the fact that Pete owns the car and has the right to de­cide how and by whom it will be used—subject, of course, to traf­fic regulations. He can even let it sit permanently in his garage or park it in the back lawn, fill it with dirt, and have flowers grow out of it. Ridiculous? To me, yes! But I am not the owner. What if Jack is colored? Does this change Pete’s right to say who shall ride in his car?

Pete also owns a small restau­rant. He enjoys preparing spa­ghetti according to an old family recipe, and serves nothing but spaghetti a la Pete. Many poten­tial customers will stay away simply because he offers no other entree. But Pete is entirely within his rights, whether or not his decision seems economically sound.

Pete may limit his patronage in other ways. If he contracts to cater full time at a country club, only club members and their guests will be his customers. If he decides to close his restaurant during certain hours, customers may not then enter and eat. He may develop an exotic food serv­ice designed to attract a special clientele. A choice must be made in consideration of the customers he wishes to attract. If Pete is a sound businessman, many factors will have been weighed seriously before he sets the course of his venture. And this is understand­able, because he has invested his savings and his effort in the res­taurant. His objective is to attain a profitable return on his invest­ment. Failing this, he will not long continue in the business.

Scores of decisions confront Pete, many of which will be an­swered indirectly by his custom­ers. If his brother works for him and is discourteous to the customers, Pete may ask him to find another job. If the customers do not like the food, Pete will have to change chefs. If some custom­ers are boisterous, other custom­ers may be lost. A certain level of deportment must be maintained to encourage continuous patron­age from the customers he would serve.

This does not mean that Pete lacks love for his brother or that he bears a personal grudge against the displaced chef. Neith­er does he dislike customers—potential or otherwise. He will of­fer his service to any customer helping him achieve his goal and withhold service from those who frustrate his aims.

Use Determined by Owner

The racial issue can be inserted anywhere in the sequence of policy questions to be decided by Pete or any other owner. Under some cir­cumstances some owners will use color as the determining factor for their actions. Other owners in similar circumstances will choose other courses of action. Some may reach their decisions without re­gard to color at all.

This description of a restau­rant owner’s policy decisions is not intended to excuse him for foolish or immoral choices. The point is that no third party is capable of dictating a course of action, since the third party has no chips in the pot—no ownership responsibility. The owner is solely responsible—and whether he is right or wrong—only he should decide.

If I think an owner is acting immorally because he decides to serve only non-Negro customers, I may try to persuade him to re­vamp his policy, perhaps with­holding my patronage if he re­fuses. I can do this without in­vading his right to use his prop­erty as he sees fit—to make his own decision, whether wise or foolish. He has a right to drink himself into a continuing stupor as long as he does not physically harm another; to waste his wak­ing hours reading cheap novels to the detriment of his business; to take a three-month vacation in Europe every year, if he spends his own savings, even though the manager appointed in his absence drives away customers in droves; to serve only red-headed people, if he wants to so limit his customers; to ignore, to insult, to serve poorly.

Each person has a right to make his own decisions about that which he owns, even though he may choose unwisely, immorally, and uneconomically. He may be­come rich or poor as a result of his decisions; but they are his to make, and his alone.

Church vs. Government

The purpose of the church is to help individuals make good, moral choices, to explain why it is better to choose good rather than evil. But it is not the church’s function to deprive the individual of his God-given right to choose!

It is understandable why church leaders should be unhappy about persons who base decisions largely on race or color; this is a real challenge to the powers of per­suasion of the leaders. However, theirs is the greater injustice to mankind if they then turn their persuasive powers upon legis­lators to enforce their will among men.

The proper purpose of a govern­ment is to protect the lives, the liberty, and the properties of all persons within its geographic boundaries. Each person should have such protection without re­gard to his occupation, wealth, popularity, race, religion, educa­tion, intelligence, age, or other peaceful mark of distinction. This is the meaning of equality before the law. An allied meaning in the spiritual area holds that each hu­man soul is equally valued as im­portant to God. It is erroneous to interpret this to mean that all souls are equal in consciousness and quality.

It is a fact not needing proof that men are created unequal. They differ physically, mentally, and spiritually. Yet, all are sub­ject to the same natural laws of the universe. Whether white or black, rich or poor, old or young, a person who ignores the law of gravitation faces disaster at the bottom of a thousand-foot fall.

This is the manner in which God’s laws apply. No one is privileged by God to kill or steal.

Man-made laws should only im­plement God’s laws within a framework of government acting as policeman and soldier to pro­tect life and property against do­mestic or foreign aggressors. Gov­ernment acts improperly when it goes beyond such implementation. Mankind underwent millennia of evolutionary change before it caught even a glimpse of this great truth. Only in recent cen­turies has mankind attempted so­cietal arrangements based on the limitation of government. The re­sults have been so rewarding—both materially and morally—that no one can successfully argue against the policy.

Areas of Governmental Intervention

If we will now examine the areas of greatest friction over the Negro problem, we find they are areas of government intervention. The infectious, rather than heal­ing, agent is a government which neither confines its activities to police and military functions nor looks upon all citizens as equal be­fore its laws. This government taxes black and white persons to build school facilities to be used often in disregard of equality be­fore the law. But the basic ques­tion is: Where did the government get the power to educate?

Surely, the police and military functions do not include the crea­tive function of education. But the government schools have been among the most serious trouble spots in the racial issue. In the first place, government exceeds its limited police function when it assumes the role of educator. Then, it aggravates the error by failing to offer its educational services equally to all citizens.

The same error occurs when a city gives a municipal franchise (monopoly privilege) for the bus service within the city, whereupon the bus company then discrimi­nates by skin color as to who shall ride where. In the first place, gov­ernment’s purpose is to protect the lives and properties of its cit­izens—not provide bus transpor­tation. Having made that error, it then fails to offer equal service to all citizens.

Similar examples of overex­tended government include hos­pitals, city parks, city swimming pools, city golf courses—the list is long. When government is urged or allowed by citizens to make the first mistake, a plentiful crop of secondary mistakes is to be ex­pected.

Let private, competing bus com­panies provide transportation according to rules and policies each chooses. Then each person may decide for himself which service to use, if any. Government’s only interference would be as a po­liceman to protect the right of each bus company to establish its own rules. The speed of desegre­gation in such a free market situ­ation would astound many pro­ponents of force.

In 1948, the Cleveland Indians employed a Negro outfielder, Lar­ry Doby. Since they were in the thick of the pennant race, I as­sume Doby was the best person they could hire to play centerfield. The team management could have elected to use a next-best player in this position, using color as the reason; but they did not. With Doby, they tied for the pennant and then won the play-off game. Surely, a second-best centerfielder would have meant the difference between victory and second place in such a close race, and the cham­pionship would have gone to an­other team. In that case, the Cleveland Indians and the city of Cleveland would not have reaped the economic benefits of a World Series played there. No one com­pelled the management to employ a Negro; no law required it. An evolving understanding among free men, and sound economics, brought this progress in race re­lations.

Instead of Voluntary Action, "Let’s Pass a Law"

Is this the remedy now advo­cated by various church groups? No! They propose, instead, to pass a law, to substitute a federal po­liceman for the God-given right of each man to decide for himself about the use of his property. No one is to be allowed an error in his choice of fellow-worker, neighbor, schoolmate, customer—if the choice involves race. He is free to err in some respects, but not if the judgment involves a mem­ber of another race.

These church leaders have be­come so engrossed with racial equality that they overlook the kind of equality allied inseparably with freedom—equality before the law. When equality is so special­ized as to preclude equality be­fore the law, freedom is eroded dangerously. It would be the gravest tragedy to destroy by legislation the freedom of an in­dividual to make his own deci­sions concerning the peaceful use of his own property. Many advo­cates of legislative reform con­tend that gradual integration through freedom of choice has had its chance for one hundred years and has failed; therefore, it is time to use the force of law. Whether or not freedom has failed—and there is much evidence that it has not—this same excuse has been used by totalitarian rulers since the dawn of history. Mere persons will not make wise or moral choices, each ruler asserts; therefore, the beneficent ruler must do this for them. The pa­rade of pharaohs, kings, caesars, emperors, czars, kaisers, and dic­tators all had this in common: each justified his burdensome acts of authority against his subjects on the questionable premise that only he could reach right deci­sions. His subjects, according to him, left to their own whims and fancies, would only produce chaos. Diocletian would not permit the citizens of the Roman Empire to establish their own prices in the market place, and his laws con­tributed substantially to the down­fall of the empire. Bismarck doubted that people would save for their later years, but his so­cial system failed. Hitler’s for­mula for German prosperity and people into years of heartbreak and anguish.

Those today who believe that the force of government should replace freedom of choice in re­gard to race and color are danger­ously toying with totalitarian methods.

The same freedom that affords men the opportunity to become rich also permits them to remain poor; to lead their lives at the highest moral level, or to live im­morally and uselessly. Freedom to decide is the prime condition for the continued evolution of man­kind. Other issues are, at best, of only secondary importance.

Spiritual and moral leaders should recognize that freedom to choose must remain inviolate—even though some persons then may choose to be immoral or un­christian. Let us pray that the zeal to remove evil does not over­whelm the God-given right of world renown forced the German each man to choose for himself.



Ideas on Liberty


While we assert our own liberty and our Christian rights, let us be consistent and uniform, and not attempt to encroach on the rights of others…. For nothing is more incongruous than for an advocate of liberty to tyrannize over his neighbors.

From a sermon celebrating repeal of The Stamp Act, by JONATHAN MAYHEW, 1766


Related Articles


{{relArticle.author}} - {{relArticle.pub_date | date : 'MMMM dd, yyyy'}} {{relArticle.author}} - {{relArticle.pub_date | date : 'MMMM dd, yyyy'}}
{{article.Topic.Topic}} {{article.Topic.Topic}}