February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
You never quite know where you are going to find them. The men who can interpret the American dream in terms of the people who have to live with it, and who can take fire from what they have glimpsed and go out and work and fight to make the reality come a little closer to the substance of the dream- they wear no uniform and they are not typed, they can appear without warning in the most unlikely places, and when they go into action things are likely to happen.
An excellent case in point is provided in Adventures of a Slum Fighter , written by Charles F. Palmer.
Mr. Palmer was, and is, a prosperous real-estate broker in Atlanta. In 1934 he was perfectly typical of his craft; a solid, substantial, no-nonsense businessman, as little given to impractical daydreams as the next man, doing the day-to-day job and occasionally casting a wary eye in the direction of the strange New Deal goings-on in Washington.
Then he became interested in slum clearance. It dawned on him not only that slums are bad but that something can be done about them—that by a combination of government action and private enterprise, it is possible to replace slums with decent housing in a way that will leave everybody better off. Without warning he found himself a man with a cause, and he went forth to fight for it.
Adventures of a Slum Fighter , by Charles F. Palmer. Tupper and Love. 272 pp. $4.
He had his troubles. Sheer inertia was one; the ponderous unraveling of government red tape was another (he found the sainted Harold Ickes, incorruptibility and all, a man under whom things did not happen fast); simple troglodyte opposition to reform was still another. (Georgia’s Governor Eugene Talmadge proclaimed: “Slums are good for people: Makes ‘em stronger!”) But he kept at it, making a pest of himself in Atlanta, in Washington and in other places, and after many years and a paralyzing amount of effort he came to see his fight crowned with a substantial measure of success.
It took courage, perseverance and dedication—qualities which perhaps are embodied in ordinary folk more often than the pessimist is prepared to admit. Mr. Palmer traveled all over Europe, investigated slumclearance projects all the way from Britain and Italy to Russia and Germany, made his own moving picture to illustrate the possibilities, battled his way to the White House itself, and had the pleasure of seeing a good many blocks of unspeakable rabbit warrens replaced by modern dwellings in which Americans could live with some measure of decency. The fight is by no means over, and it will not be over for a long time, but a good deal has been done and much more will yet be done.
All of which makes an immensely encouraging book. Now as always there are people in America who go out to set wrong things right just because they believe that in America right ought to triumph over wrong. They have their troubles, they wear themselves out without getting thanked very much, and they never quite reach the goal. But they help make America a better place while they are at it.