Pearl S. Buck turned 80 years old in 1972. Throughout her extraordinary life, author and philanthropist Pearl S. Buck supported numerous causes. One of Buck’s earliest battles to advance civil rights in the 1930s and 1940s was among her most significant conflicts.
In Hilltown, Bucks County, the Nobel Prize-winning author relocated in 1935. By that time, Buck had frequently denounced “race prejudice” in public. The Federal Bureau of Investigation would eventually keep tabs on Buck’s publications and speeches.
Before she left for China in 1934, Buck penned a powerful article for Opportunity, the National Urban League’s publication, criticizing American politicians who were opposing anti-lynching legislation. The majority of Buck’s articles on racial equality from the 1930s were published in Black-owned publications like the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Age. The mainstream media, which depicted Buck as an international celebrity or as a curiosity as a well-known female author in America, gave these attempts little attention.
When Buck started challenging the federal government’s discriminating policy at military subcontractors and its overall policy of military segregation in late 1941, her reputation in the media shifted. At the Doylestown Inn on October 19, 1941, Buck addressed a gathering of Soroptimist Clubs in the area.
She specifically addressed a white audience when she made comments on the need to abolish segregation. 200 people listened as she said, “I realize it’s a touchy problem, but I feel it’s important.” According to Buck, she wrote to 12 well-known White leaders and journalists and pleaded with them to do more to combat racial prejudice. She gave two answers. journalist Raymond Gram Swing declined, but Dorothy Thompson, a well-known radio journalist, went with Buck to meet with Black leaders. The other 10 people said little to nothing at all.
A month later, in one of her most pivotal professional moments, Buck faced The New York Times. On November 12, 1941, the Times editorial page argued that a recent stabbing in Harlem was not a racial issue but rather an economic one that needed to be addressed with more Black employment possibilities and increased policing. Buck’s 2,300-word reply sparked a public discussion that lasted until December.
“Race prejudice and race prejudice alone is the root of the plight of people in greater and lesser Harlems all over our country,” she said, according to the Times. Buck added that discrimination against Black workers in the defense sector needed to halt. Buck’s letter was read into the Congressional Record one week after the Pearl Harbor assault by Senator Arthur Capper of Kansas during hearings on discrimination in the defense industry. Most crucially, the New York Times frequently provided Buck with a forum to write op-eds about racial equality for a global audience during the war.
The FBI was also interested in Buck’s writings. Reviewers from the agency deemed Buck’s affiliation with the American Civil Liberties Union, which fought segregation and the government’s incarceration of Japanese-American people, to be a “Communist front” and attacked her views about military segregation as “sabotage”. The FBI came to the conclusion that Buck was not a Communist in 1946, but that “all of her activities tend to indicate that she considers herself a champion for the colored races, and she has vigorously campaigned for racial equality.”
Pearl Buck’s position as a civil rights activist altered by the late 1940s for a number of reasons. Buck and Richard Walsh concentrated on their brand-new adoption agency, Welcome House, which aimed to assist children of mixed races. And Buck made the decision to publicly write about her daughter Carol, who has intellectual disabilities, in order to raise awareness for this population.
Despite this, the Washington, D.C. school system forbade Buck from speaking at a public school that was segregatedin the early part of 1951 because she had not received “clearance” from the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Perkasie News-Herald was informed by Buck that her opposition to school segregation in Washington was the underlying reason behind the restriction. After Buck announced her planned address for Black students at Cardozo High School, the NAACP, local ministers, Howard University, the Washington Post, and numerous other media around the country swiftly denounced the prohibition.
By that point, Buck’s significance to the civil rights movement was well known. Later in the 1950s, a young clergyman sent Buck a copy of his book about the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was personally dedicated. Pearl Buck Thank you for your sincere kindness and prodigious humanitarian care. Regards, Martin Luther King Jr. King later served as a director on the Welcome House board.
Today, Pearl Buck is renowned for both her work as a bestselling author and her contributions to Welcome House. However, Pearl Buck’s fight for equal rights is a significant example from which we may all draw. At the height of her international fame, she spoke out against injustice.