“If this town is a microcosm of what can happen in the big cities across the nation,” the Rev. Larry Potts said, “then pity this poor country of ours.” Larry Potts loves Cairo, Illinois. And ask people in the city of approximately 10,000 what they think of Larry Potts and it becomes clear that Cairo loves the American Baptist minister.
That is, one segment of Cairo does. To the rest, he symbolizes what they’re literally up in arms about. The United Front says people like him are keeping Negroes and whites apart in Cairo, and keeping Negroes and the poorest of the poor whites from breaking through the equality barrier.
With only a cursory look at the years of racial strife in this moribund, economically depressed city, one would suspect there might be something to the United Front’s allegations. Newspaper accounts of what’s been going on in Cairo lead to only one conclusion: Potts and the rest of the town’s 60 per cent white population are wrong.
That’s on the surface. A different story—though not clear in all particulars—emerges When one digs beneath the surface. The whites, while far from pristine purity in their attitudes on race, are not so black as the public has become accustomed to hearing. And the blacks, who have some just complaints, may have been led astray by zealous “outsiders.”
Potts killed a man last year, and it has been hard for him to live it down. Disorders had been going on for some time when it happened. One day when his wife came home she found an elderly Negro waiting inside, club in hand, according to Potts. When Potts came on the scene he thought his young wife had been killed, and he grabbed the club and beat the man to death. ...1
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