In 1948, apartheid became official policy in South Africa. Racial segregation and inequity in distribution of resources, with adverse impact on the African population on all aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political life—and always in favor of the white minority—was now formalized. It was the law of the land.
1948 was also when Emanuel Freedman became foreign news editor of the New York Times for 16 years, until 1964, when most African countries were formally decolonized. In Freedman, the apartheid regime and apologists for colonialism in Africa found a sympathetic ally, and they could always expect coverage in the New York Times that was inimical to Africa’s aspirations for self-determination.
‘Primitive men, such as Africans’
The New York Times‘ sympathetic coverage of the apartheid regime was similar to its coverage of other African countries still under European colonial domination. Consider Times reporter Albion Ross’s interview with Gabriel Teixeira, the governor-general of Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony, published on April 22, 1954, under the promising but deceptive headline, “Portugal Accepts African Equality.” The sub-headline was even more preposterous, considering the content of the article: “Mozambique Governor Sees No Reason to Bar Advance of Natives to Citizenship.”
The obvious question Ross could have posed in the interview was: If the Portuguese did in fact accept African equality, why were the Europeans the ones who were the rulers, and why was it that, in the more than 450 years of Portugal’s domination over the territory, starting in 1498, the Empire had not produced a single African university graduate or leader? Why would Africans in Mozambique, their own country, want Portuguese citizenship, when it was the Portuguese who had traveled thousands of miles there seeking fortunes?
Ross instead allowed the colonial administrator to disseminate Portuguese white supremacy propaganda using the New York Times as his platform. “Gabriel Teixeira, Governor-General of Portuguese Mozambique, sees nothing wrong with a future united Portugal in Europe and Africa in which Negroes would be a majority,” Albion Ross informed Times readers. “He does not believe there is any such thing as Negro nationalism.” Might it not have been informative to report on what these so-called Negroes in Mozambique thought about these plans Portugal had to uplift them? Ross and his editor were not interested in such stories.
Portugal’s colonial philosophy was incompatible with discrimination, Governor Teixeira assured Ross. Racial superiority was “nonsense” and did not exist, Teixeira claimed; however, rushing the development of “primitive men, such as Africans, would destroy them,” the governor told the Times reporter, a claim identical to one Wyona Dashwood had reported in a May 23, 1926, article in the Times. Christianity offered salvation to Africans, and Africans would eventually become civilized enough to be “full-fledged Portuguese,” the governor told Ross.
What makes Ross’s article invaluable is how his own biases are exposed by his failure to challenge any of the governor’s racist statements, or to inject into the article any countering views, opinion or information from any other source, least of all the Africans whose welfare the governor was toiling to improve.
“We do not believe in superior and inferior races,” the governor also told Ross. “The Black man in Africa is simply where the white man began thousands of years ago. You cannot rush that sort of thing,” the governor continued.
You must have a balance between a moral advance and a material advance. Too sudden contact of advanced material civilization with primitive peoples destroys primitive people.
“On the other hand, if the material advance falls behind the moral advance, you have hatred and disorder,” the governor told Ross. Then, even though Black people in Brazil were at the bottom of the racial hierarchy—as they remain today in the 21st century—Governor Teixeira added, “The problem is to keep a balance between the moral advance and the material advance. The end result which we seek is Brazil.”
Governor Teixeira also made no mention of, and Ross did not ask about the massacres of the “natives” by the Portuguese, when they conquered and plundered the territory—and, whenever there was an uprising—during their “civilizing” mission over the centuries. Teixeira claimed that the Africans in Mozambique did not have any aspirations that were at odds with the Portuguese vision for them. “A native vote is absurd,” Teixeira told Ross. “These people’s grandfathers were sometimes cannibals. How do they vote? What do they vote for?”
‘Guardian and ward’
In May 1957, the South African parliament approved a “native law amendment bill.” The law empowered the minister of native affairs, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, to ban Blacks from churches, clubs, hospitals, pools and other places, if he believed they would “cause a nuisance.”
In a New York Times article published on May 26, 1957, under the headline, “New Curbs Near in South Africa,” an apartheid regime official spoke to reporter Richard P. Hunt about the law’s intended purpose:
The sitting minister holds that these powers are needed to insure that the relations between Black and white here be those of guardian and ward, and consistent with the policy of rigid racial segregation.
The views or reactions of Africans were never sought or published in these news accounts.
‘Helping the savages to better themselves’
Letters exchanged between the Times‘ reporter Leonard Ingalls and Freedman reveal that even when a reporter on the ground conveyed the need to include the perspectives of Africans in the newspaper’s coverage, the foreign news editor was dismissive and preferred the racist narrative about Africa. In one letter to Freedman from South Africa, dated June 14, 1956, Ingalls informed his editor that the whites were oblivious to the changes, including decolonization, occurring elsewhere in Africa.
“You asked me before I left New York to give you, after I had been here awhile, my impression,” Ingalls wrote:
Perhaps the most obvious and fundamental fact to strike the newcomer is that the Negro, by sheer weight of numbers, will take control of Sub-Saharan Africa within the next generation or two.
Ingalls, who considered himself a keen observer, was of course wrong on his predicted timeline for formal decolonization in the rest of Africa, which started in Ghana the following year. He was correct on South Africa.
However, the main point of Ingalls’ letter was that the Times needed to take the views of Africans more seriously, a suggestion ignored by Freedman. Ingalls wrote:
As you know, white South Africans call themselves and all other white persons Europeans. Sometimes, in trying to defend their white supremacy policies, they will argue that South Africa has been their home for 300 years and that they must fight—and they mean that literally—to preserve white civilization in South Africa because they have no place to go.
Ingalls’ letter went on to say:
I was talking with an African friend about this argument recently and his observation was: “They call themselves Europeans, let them go to Europe!” Usually when the question of political, social, economic or educational opportunities for Africans is raised with white persons south of the Sahara, they reply: “You don’t expect us to give them to savages, do you?”
Then, Ingalls, revealing his paternalism and racism, added:
That is fair enough, in a sense. There is a big “but” attached, though, and that [is] there doesn’t seem to be very much enthusiasm for getting on with the job of helping the savages to better themselves.
Ingalls pointed out in his letter that whites in South Africa seemed not to have learned anything from the so-called Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, where Africans were fighting against whites who had ousted the Kikuyu people and robbed them of their fertile ancestral farmlands. “I have talked to quite a few literate, intelligent Africans,” Ingalls continued:
My recollection is that they have said they do not want to force the white man out of Africa. What they do want is the help of the white man in improving the lot of their people. They do not think they are getting that help.
Even a senior US administration official believed Africans could not manage affairs of state and needed to be governed by whites, Ingalls revealed in the same letter to Freedman:
A few weeks ago George V. Allen, a United States assistant secretary of State, spent 19 days touring Africa south of the Sahara. I was told that he gave it as his private opinion that the solution to the African dilemma was more white immigration. I wonder where all the white people are going to come from, and what they are going to do when they get here.
‘Breechcloth, animal skin or birthday suit?’
Ingalls’ letters suggest that he took his reporting assignment in Africa much more seriously than his foreign news editor; Freedman himself preferred Africans depicted as “savages” and buffoons.
“We read that in Black Africa, where the principle of the wheel was scarcely known a generation or two ago, there is now a great demand for bicycles,” Freedman wrote in a letter to Ingalls in South Africa dated July 25, 1956, recommending an idea for a story:
A trend is underway toward two-bicycle families. Is there a light economic air-mail feature in the increasing mobility of the aborigines? Where do they buy their bikes? What do they cost? How long does it take a man to earn enough money to buy one? Is his status advanced? Does he have roads or bicycle tracks, or does he ride through the bush? What is the usual biking costume—robe, breechcloth, animal skin or birthday suit? How is the bicycle business? Are dealers getting rich? Are there bicycle garages in the bush? What social effects is the bicycle having?
A publicist was evidently more influential in guiding Freedman’s coverage of South Africa than his own correspondents, one of Freedman’s letters in the New York Times‘ archival records reveals. “Albert Fick, who as you know, now enjoys desk space in our wire room, sent me a note suggesting a feature that you might find interesting,” Freedman wrote, in a letter dated September 12, 1957, to a Times correspondent, Richard P. Hunt, referring to the publicist. “It does sound like a good project for a time when you have a chance to take it on.”
Fick’s letter to Freedman, pitching the story about savages encountering the modern world, had read in part:
I have long been fascinated by raw Black men being flown from the bush, where some of them have probably never used or maybe seen a wheel, straight into Johannesburg for work in the mines. The Transvaal Chamber of Mines would probably give Hunt a ride on one of their airlift planes, with these rookies. A good human story, from the middle ages into the 20th century, by air.
This was a South African regime propagandist’s dream come true. Fick, working with an obliging editor like Freedman, steered the New York Times, perhaps the world’s most influential newspaper, toward stories that caricatured or demonized Africans, instead of focusing on the monstrosities of the apartheid system and the toll it was taking on Africans.
Featured image: New York Times coverage of Africa (1/31/60).
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Milton Allimadi.