Commentary Magazine

A Measure of Freedom: An Anti-Defamation League Report, by Arnold Forster

Progress Report
A Measure of Freedom: An Anti-Defamation League Report.
by Arnold Forster.
Doubleday. 241 pp. $2.50.


A Measure of Freedom, the second commercially published report on anti-Semitism and civil rights compiled by the staff of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, was prepared by Arnold Forster, the League’s civil rights director. Whereas its predecessor, How Secure These Rights? was primarily a review and evaluation of the events of 1948, the present book is more of a miscellany of data and exhortation on group relations. About a third of it deals with the Ku Klux Klan, such “petty hate merchants” as G.L.K. Smith and Merwin K. Hart, organized “hate groups,” and anti-Semitic “incidents” in 1949. The remainder of the book contains one chapter which presents Elmo Roper’s analysis of ten years of public opinion polls on anti-Semitism, two chapters on discrimination in higher education and prejudice among college students, another on discrimination in athletics, and, finally, a review of federal and state legislation and court decisions on civil rights in 1949.

The ADL finds that although the Klan “is still a serious menace to democracy and to the security of millions of Americans,” it retains more ritual than power and in 1949 it “did not evoke stark terror and mass subservience.” Mr. Forster, uncertain as to how seriously the Klan ought to be taken, at times stresses its potential danger or present weakness, or simply pokes fun at its leaders. All this is well documented, even tediously so, including descriptions of the various factions and their squabbles. The longest chapter of the book discusses such professional anti-Semites as Smith and Hart, Joseph P. Kamp and Upton Close. Their propaganda, finances, and travels are given in detail and all of them are described as racketeers who attract a “neurotic group of anti-democratic followers” and are “ever weakening the democratic fabric.”

These chapters on professional and organized anti-Semitism indicate that its strength declined in 1949. No serious attempt, however, is made to determine just what kind of actual or potential danger this form of anti-Semitism represents, or how it may be combatted, or what has caused its decline. We are told that this book seeks to awaken Americans to the evils of prejudice and to arouse the nation against those who “fatten” upon them. Is the recent decline in the influence of these individuals and groups the result of previous exposures similar to this one? If they are declining, why the call to arms at this moment? Mr. Forster rightfully feels that professional anti-Semitism ought to be monitored, but one doubts the wisdom of devoting a third of a general book like this one to such detailed reports.

It is the author’s merit, however, that he has devoted two chapters to discrimination and prejudice against Jews in higher education, the most (some might say the only) serious civil rights disability from which Jews suffer in this country. (These chapters, however, deal mainly with bias in the colleges, whereas the more deadly bias operates in the medical, dental, and engineering schools.)



During the last two months of 1949 the ADL interviewed presidents, deans, and admissions officers of liberal arts colleges, medical, dental, and law schools to find out four things: (1) whether they practice racial or religious discrimination, and if so, why; (2) the effects of the report of the President’s Commission on Higher Education upon admissions practices; (3) their opinion of fair educational practice laws; (4) their recommendations for the elimination of discrimination. Later the same questions were sent to many other institutions in written form.

“Almost without exception,” says Mr. Forster, “each college and professional school which responded [79 out of the 140 that had promised to cooperate on the questionnaire] reported that it has no quota system and uses no racial or religious criteria for the admission of students. (Southern institutions, of course, admitted that race was a criterion.)” The educators were in virtual unanimity, too, on the three other questions: they denied that the report of the President’s Commission has had any effect on them; they opposed the idea of fair educational practice laws; they espoused voluntary methods to eliminate the discrimination which might prevail in other institutions. It is quite possible that all 79 schools do not discriminate, but, as the author points out, this is certainly not the situation throughout the country if we consider the many reliable studies which have revealed serious limitations of educational opportunity based upon considerations of color, religion, or national ancestry. The ADL obtained application forms from 518 liberal arts colleges and found that 92 per cent contained at least one question the answer to which might indicate an applicant’s color, religion, or national ancestry, and that the, average number of such questions on each form was four or five. These figures are slightly higher than those obtained in a similar survey of 450 forms in 1948.

The second of the two chapters on education presents the results of a 1949 Roper poll of a thousand college freshmen and a thousand seniors to determine their attitudes towards minority groups. College students, the survey shows, are significantly less prejudiced against Jews than is the general adult population. But it is apparently not the college education itself that makes the difference, because college seniors reveal about the same degree of prejudice as college freshmen.



In an attempt to measure the growth or decline of anti-Semitism as reported in the public opinion polls, the ADL asked the Roper organization to analyze the results of these polls in the last decade. Although there is a large body of data on this subject, relatively few reliable comparisons can be made because of changes in the wording of questions over the years. The authors include a summary of an unpublished, discontinued survey of polls prepared by the American Jewish Committee. This and other evidence suggest that a small and constant proportion of Americans show a dangerous degree of hostility towards Jews. A Measure of Freedom states, with respect to the problem of anti-Semitism among Americans, that the ADL will in the future sponsor some studies of trends in anti-Semitic attitudes and the effect upon them of the programs of the group-relations agencies. However, such studies will be of greater value if they would utilize more precise and penetrating methods than the simple polls that are often employed.

The final chapter of A Measure of Freedom is a review of the legal aspects of civil rights in 1949 and briefly discusses the failure to enact a single federal law in this area, the segregation issues put before the Supreme Court, state legislation, housing, public accommodations, poll tax and voting, lynching, and the ending of segregation in several state militias.

The present report is explicitly intended to show only the “negative side” of certain areas of civil rights in an effort to expose the “weaknesses in our democratic fabric.” Yet despite this disclaimer, A Measure of Freedom does try, unsystematically and almost at random, to report the favorable side as well and at least briefly to go over the entire civil rights situation in 1949. One can only wish that the author had provided us, along with the dramatic data aimed at startling the public conscience, with a more fully adequate review of the year, and a more thoroughgoing analytical treatment of the present status of anti-Semitism or group relations in general.



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