Of Hungry Children, 1967

Of Hungry Children, 1967

By Raymond M. Wheeler, M.D.

Vol. 6, No. 6, 1984, p. 15

I am distressed and concerned that Senators Stennis and Eastland interpret my remarks this morning as libelous to the state of Mississippi.

I was born and reared and educated in the South. I love the region as much as they do. I reported what I saw because it is intolerable to me that this situation should exist in the region I love. I saw those children and their parents, and I told you what I saw and the message of despair and helplessness which they communicated to me.

For the past twenty years I have worked in the South, my birthplace and my home. During that time I have come to know in depth the white and the Negro–their problems, their sorrows, their joys.

Throughout these years, my heart has wept for the South as I have watched the southern black man and white man walk their separate ways distrusting each other, separated by false and ridiculous barriers–doomed to a way of life tragically less than they deserve–when by working together they could achieve a society finer and more successful than any which exists in this country today.

And through all of that dreadful pageant of ignorance and suspicion and mutual distrust, the most distressing figure of all has been the southern political leader who has exploited all of our human weaknesses for his own personal and selfish gain–refusing to grant us the dignity and the capability of responding to noble and courageous leadership–when all of us had nothing to lose but the misery and desolation which surrounds our lives.

The time has come when this must cease, for we are concerned with little children, whose one chance for a healthy and productive existence–into which they were born–is at stake.

I invite Senator Eastland and Senator Stennis to come with me into the vast farm lands of the Delta and I will show you the children of whom we have spoken. I will show you their bright eyes and innocent faces, their shriveled arms and swollen bellies, their sickness and pain and the fear and misery of their parents.

Their story must be believed–not only for their sakes–but for the sake of all America.

–From New South, Summer 1967

In July 1967 before hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment, and Poverty, a team of six physicians presented the results of a field trip into six Mississippi counties in which they surveyed the, health and living conditions of black children. Their report, published by the Southern Regional Council under the title HUNGRY CHILDREN, states in part: “In sum we saw children who are hungry and who are sick–children for whom hunger is a daily fact of life and sickness, in many forms, an inevitability. . . By the many thousands they live outside of every legal, medical and social advance our nation has made in this century. ” The report was filed by Dr. Joseph Brenner of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. Robert Coles of Harvard University Health Services; Dr. Alan Mermann of the Departmentof Pediatrics, Yale University; Dr. Milton J. E. Senn, Sterling Professor of Pediatrics, Yale University; Dr. Cyril Walwyn of Yazoo City, Mississippi; and Dr. Raymond M. Wheeler of Charlotte, N. C., chairman of the Executive Committee of the Southern Regional Council. Following the presentations of the physicians, Mississippi Senators James 0. Eastland and John Stennis challenged the doctors’ testimony as “a libel to the state of Mississippi. ” Dr. Wheeler then made the following reply.