America’s Town Hall Meeting – Should We Ignore Racial Differences? – November 16, 1939 – NBC Blue Network – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Issues of Race in America in 1939. In many ways different and in some ways the same as it was during this broadcast of America’s Town Meeting on November 16, 1939. In 1939 there were lynchings, separate bathrooms, separate drinking fountains, separate restaurants, separate hotels and waiting rooms, separate schools, the back of the bus.
And even though many of these vestiges of a country divided by race were eliminated – it took decades to do so and acts of Congress to enact, taking place over a period of decades; not weeks, months or even years.
And the subject of race is still with us – maybe not as overt as it was in 1939, but the core of racism in America is still very much there; subtle and coded.
This episode of America’s Town Hall Meeting sets up the issue of racial differences in debate form. One side saying there are none and the other saying the differences can’t be helped. Dr. Ernest A. Hooten, Professor of Anthropology at Harvard and Dr.M.F. Ashley Montague, Professor of Anatomy at Hanaman Medical College, Philadelphia are the debaters.
Hooton began teaching at Harvard in 1913 and was professor from 1930 to 1954. Many of a generation of professional American physical anthropologists were his students, and his influence was exceptional. His first major study, The Ancient Inhabitants of the Canary Islands (1925), classified prehistoric Guanche skeletons and craniums and reconstructed a history of the islands’ population. Out of his 1930 study of the skeletons of the extinct Pecos (New Mexico) pueblo, he developed a scheme of racial types that he believed constituted the Indian stock as a whole, suggesting components such as “Mediterranean” and “Negroid.”
During the 1930s he surveyed the American criminal population to attempt to determine whether criminal behavior might be linked to physical or racial factors. His two major works in this area are The American Criminal (1939) and Crime and the Man (1939), both of which provoked considerable controversy.
Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu (1905 – 1999) — born Israel Ehrenberg — was a British-American anthropologist who popularized the study of topics such as race and gender and their relation to politics and development. In 1931, he emigrated to the United States. At this time, he wrote a letter introducing himself to Harvard anthropologist Earnest Hooton, claiming to having been “educated at Cambridge, Oxford, London, Florence, and Columbia” and having earned M.A. and PhD degrees. In reality, Montagu had not graduated from Cambridge or Oxford and did not yet have a PhD. He taught anatomy to dental students in the United States, and received his doctorate in 1936, when he produced a dissertation at Columbia University, Coming into being among the Australian Aborigines: A study of the procreative beliefs of the native tribes of Australia which was supervised by cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict. He became a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, working there from 1949 until 1955.
During the 1940s, Montagu published a series of works questioning the validity of race as a biological concept, including the UNESCO “Statement on Race”, and his very well known Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of Race. He was particularly opposed to the work of Carleton S. Coon, and the term “race”. In 1952, together with William Vogt, he gave the first Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, inaugurating the series.
Here is that episode of America’s Town Meeting, as it was broadcast on November 16, 1939 by the NBC Blue Network.
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