This Day (Cruel Irony Edition)

Published:February 19, 2013 by Brendan Wolfe

Detail of the first page of "Southerners Will Like Integration" by Sarah Patton Boyle, Saturday Evening Post, February 19, 1955

On this day in 1955, the Saturday Evening Post published an article titled “Southerners Will Like Integration,” [pdf] by Sarah Patton Boyle, the wife of a faculty member at the University of Virginia. Boyle recounts how, five years before, when U.Va. accepted its first black student, Gregory Swanson, everyone expected trouble, but that trouble never came. In fact, she writes, Swanson “suffered, during his entire stay here, no unpleasantness related to his race.”

While one doubts that this was strictly true, it was true enough for Boyle, who tested the waters with pro-integration editorials in the Norfolk and Richmond papers. She did not get an angry response. Feeling emboldened, and convinced that southerners were open-minded as a whole just afraid to say so, she took her campaign to the Saturday Evening Post. From our entry on Boyle, here’s what happened next:

The purpose of the article had been to reassure other white southerners that segregation could be ended without animosity; yet the title, along with a photograph of Boyle standing next to two black male medical students, raised the specter of interracial sex in the minds of many white readers, and Boyle was soon deluged with hate mail and threatening phone calls. The social isolation she faced in Charlottesville at this time was dispiriting; local segregationists burned a cross in her yard and she became so depressed that, despite her previous idealism, she contemplated suicide.

IMAGE: Detail of the first page of Patton’s article