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Bunche with Gunnar Myrdal


Reviewing a copy of the Myrdal study,
An American Dilemma



"The southern black is a social, political and an economic untouchable suffering the ordeals of lower wages, poll taxes, a heavy burden on voting, a below average education, a one party system, crude demagoguery and corrupt state and local administrators."

-Ralph Bunche's notes for An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy

In 1937, Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish sociologist, was commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation to do a study of race in the United States. The groundbreaking study was later published as An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. Bunche contributed more than three thousand pages to the study based on field research conducted throughout the South.

Myrdal concluded that the contradiction between democratic ideals of equality and the reality of racism and segregation would inevitably put enough pressure on the conscience of white America to effect reform. Bunche, in contrast, was doubtful that white Americans harbored any guilt. The following illustrates their different perspectives. During a visit they made to a southern jail, Myrdal lunched with the warden while Bunche was forced to eat with the black chain gang. For Myrdal this was evidence of the "American dilemma" in that the warden had to have become aware of the injustice in his act. Bunche, however, doubted that the warden suffered from a guilty conscience.



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