HEALING - FAR EAST AND DEEP SOUTH
'I was brought up to be property-poor,' Buchman said. 'People first; bricks and mortar later.' But the growth of Moral Re-Armament in America made larger provision inevitable. In 1952 Mrs John Henry Hammond offered her country home, Dellwood, in Mount Kisco outside New York, as a new centre - the equivalent in the East to the former residential club in Los Angeles, bought in 1948.
Mackinac Island continued to be the main meeting place for American assemblies but the available accommodation was still inadequate. From time to time Buchman would engage the whole of the Grand Hotel, and other buildings, on the island were rented, leased or bought, but the islanders lived from the tourist trade, and some claimed that their livelihood was threatened by MRA's expansion. To meet this Buchman began to think of building a permanent centre of his own and to plan its construction in the way most helpful economically to the island.
Buchman had many friends among the islanders. When their fortunes were at zero during the war through the ban on tourism, his conferences kept them going and brought the island good and needed publicity. He helped by providing work in the difficult times after the war, especially in the hard winters when, with the lake frozen and the snows deep, there was normally no work. He also concerned himself with the health service, and doctors from his team took over the year-round medical care of the island.
In the middle of the island there lived Indians descended from the original tribes of the area, alongside Americans of English, French and black extraction. Buchman befriended them especially. He would invite them to meals and, when he heard one or other of them was ill, would send one of his busy young men up into the woods with a hot meal for the sufferer. He was proud of his own association with the Indians as a blood brother of the Stoney tribe. Some of the Mackinac Island Indians, ashamed of their ancestry, called themselves French. Meeting some of them one day, he said, 'I hear you are French.'
'Yes,' they replied.
'That's very interesting,' said Buchman. 'I'm an Indian myself.'
Once when about to leave the island for Europe with a hundred people Buchman surprised Kenaston Twitchell, who was engaged with a thousand details of the departure, by asking him to drop everything and come with him. He had had the sudden thought to 'go to Gladys Hubbard's house'. Mrs Hubbard was a black woman who often helped with the cooking for the conferences. After several months in hospital she had just returned to her home at the centre of the island. They found she had been praying to see Buchman. She was carried out into the sun to greet him. 'I only wanted one thing,' she said, 'that you pray with me before you go.'
In 1954 land on the south-east corner of the island became available and was purchased by a group of business men who gave it to Moral Re-Armament. Buchman's dream of a properly designed centre began to take shape. Characteristically, the first building he erected was not a residence, nor even a conference hall, but a theatre. The foundations were blasted out of the rock, the construction done in the bitter winter, and the first play performed in it was The Vanishing Island before it left for Washington and Asia.
The response to the World Mission with The Vanishing Island brought still greater demands on Mackinac Island as a training centre. A complex of buildings was designed to harmonise with traditional island style and materials, and during the winter of 1955 large-scale construction was begun. Buchman was in Europe and was soon to leave for Australasia and Asia. Before he sailed from Genoa he received a letter from Gilbert Harris who was administering the financing of the building. Money had been coming in - a Canadian industrialist had sold his business and made a sum of money available - gifts of timber, building materials, promises of furnishings, but it was not enough. One hundred and fifteen paid islanders were hard at work, as well as forty-five volunteers from Moral Re-Armament, and the weekly wage bill was heavy. Harris urged a more cautious tempo in construction.
Buchman replied, 'I know how many difficulties there are in getting money for that stupendous work at Mackinac but God has many ready helpers. I assure you He has people who will make it possible. I greatly sympathize with you and feel at times the burden is too much for anyone; then the unexpected happens. It is by faith and prayer our money comes. ... I am grateful for your business caution but I want you to move with me and the people of America in the dimension of what needs to be done, not what we think we can do. I want you to help me always to live at the place where I rely not on what I have, but on what God gives. It is such freedom and it works.'1
At each stage in the building, accommodation was no sooner up than it was filled. When Buchman had met leaders of the Seinendan in Tokyo in 1956, he had invited them to his assemblies abroad. Early in the spring of 1957 Sontuku Ninomiya, the Director of the 4,300,000-strong youth organisation, told Buchman's friends in Tokyo that he had received an invitation to send 500 delegates to the International Youth Festival in Moscow that summer. His organisation, which was officially non-political, its aim being to promote the cultural life of Japan, had become an arena of ideological conflict, and the Communists on the National Executive had seized on the invitation as a chance to influence much of the movement's leadership. Ninomiya wanted to know whether Moral Re-Armament could make a counter-proposal. Soon a letter was on its way to Buchman suggesting that one hundred of the prefectural leaders be invited to Mackinac. Buchman immediately replied guaranteeing return travel and a month's stay although, at the time, he did not know where the money would come from.
This invitation raised a storm in the Seinendan's Central Executive, but it was accepted at a special meeting by 85 votes to 65. So, while a handful went to Moscow, 104 set off for Mackinac, along with fifty other Japanese, thirty from the Philippines and twenty from Korea.
The Seinendan delegation were the bones and sinews of Japan. They had all shown leadership qualities, but their horizons had been limited to their farms, villages, towns and prefectures. Entwistle, when he arrived in Mackinac some two weeks after them, found them very insecure. 'They were surrounded by strange people, strange language and food, and a very different style of life,' he writes. 'They were also faced with a challenge to take a look at themselves in the light of absolute moral standards and in the perspective of a world struggle of ideas. . . Some plunged into arguments to blunt the moral challenges with which they were confronted. Some retreated into their own world; they left their watches on Tokyo time . . . and tried to eat and sleep according to their home time. . . A number were soon making decisions about their lives, facing such basic problems as stealing, marital infidelity, bribery and hatred, and were experimenting in straightening out what they had done wrong and how to live in the future.'2
Prime Minister Kishi was paying a visit to President Eisenhower at the same moment, and some of the senior Japanese like Niro Hoshijima and Senator Shidzue Kato, with a number of the Seinendan leaders, went from Mackinac to Washington to meet him on his arrival. He spent an hour with them before seeing Eisenhower, and they told him of Buchman's initiative. He regretted that he could not squeeze in a visit to Mackinac but proposed a talk with Buchman on the phone. The hour-long conversation between the two men next morning was amplified so that the thousand people at the assembly could hear. Kishi asked how the young Japanese were doing, to which Buchman replied, 'We are teaching them to go not to the right, nor to the left, but to go straight.' At one point, the Prime Minister said directly to the young Japanese, 'I hope you are fully understanding Moral Re-Armament and will get its spirit into your whole being and take it back to Japan.'3
'A few evenings later', relates Entwistle, 'the Japanese electrified the conference by mounting a production of songs, dances and skits. The performance was both a flowering of their personal changes and growing maturity and an interpretation of the best of their distinctive culture. It combined grace, beauty and a good deal of candid humour. Frank Buchman was so delighted with it all that he got to his feet about midnight and said they must give their presentation in the cities they were due to visit, leaving in a couple of days. To any other group the idea would have seemed madness, but somehow, with the aid of round-the-clock work, a stage crew was assembled, a portable stage set was made, halls were booked and invitations rushed out to friends in Detroit, Washington and New York.'4 The party of two hundred interviewed management and labour at Ford's and the leaders of the NAACP* convention in Detroit, were entertained in the House and Senate at Washington and given lunch by delegates to the United Nations in New York. They then returned to Mackinac, bringing with them the Japanese Ambassador to the UN. Soon after, half of the Seinendan delegates had to leave for home, while the others stayed for further training.
(* National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.)
Those who had remained decided to develop their skits into a play through which they could portray their new ideas on their return. One of them, a small-town business man with a farming background, named Yoshinori Yamamoto, came up with a story of family life, down-to-earth and moving because it was based on the real-life experiences of many of them. They called it Road to Tomorrow, and performed it in the following months in many parts of Japan.
Kishi decided to visit Japan's South-East Asian neighbours in that autumn of 1957, in the hope of revitalising economic relations with them. Before he left Tokyo he was visited by Senator Kato, who offered him the support of the Opposition if, before discussing trade relations in these countries, he would first express the sincere apologies of the Japanese people for the wrongs of the past. Senator Kato told Kishi about The Vanishing Island's visit to Manila. She described the indrawn hiss of breath when Hoshijima began to speak to a thousand Filipinos in the hated Japanese tongue, and the thunderous applause when his apology and the Government's promise of reparations, which he had been empowered to announce, had been translated.
Kishi heeded Mrs Kato's advice when he went to the Philippines, Korea, Burma and finally Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald5 wrote editorially, 'We cannot afford the luxury of living in the bitter past... Kishi handled a delicate mission with skilful tact. His ice-breaking tour . . . could hardly have been a pleasant experience. But no one could have gone further in making official amends for the sins of his country.'
The Washington Evening Star commented, 'Premier Kishi is now back in Tokyo after having completed one of the most unusual missions ever undertaken by a statesman of his rank. Over the past three weeks he has visited no fewer than nine nations that Japan occupied or threatened with conquest. . . and in each of these lands he has publicly apologized for his country's actions during the war.'6
On Kishi's return to Tokyo he told the press, 'I have been impressed by the effectiveness of Moral Re-Armament in creating unity between peoples who have been divided. I have myself experienced the power of honest apology in healing the hurts of the past. This idea is most needed at this critical time in our history.'7
Among other issues Kishi also reopened the question of relations with Korea, along lines first suggested at a Moral Re-Armament conference at Baguio in the Philippines in March 1957, and emphasised by Senator Kato in the Foreign Affairs Committee on 30 April. After a second conference in Baguio, during which the Seinendan's play Road to Tomorrow was shown in Manila with much the same effect as The Vanishing Island, Kishi decided to give a reception in his official residence on 12 April 1958 to acknowledge the part Moral Re-Armament had played in helping Japan to regain the respect of other nations. On 10 April one of his brothers died, so he was unable to attend, but he asked the Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Takizo Matsumoto, to speak for him. Matsumoto reviewed the successive steps:
1. In the late 1940s the first Japanese allowed to travel overseas were welcomed at Moral Re-Armament conferences in the United States.
2. The historic 'Mission to the West' in 1950 - the visit to Caux, Europe and the United States - re-established contact with Europeans and enabled Diet Members to address the United States Congress.
3. The good offices of Buchman and his colleagues provided the only means for Japanese delegates to the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 to meet Asian, American and European delegates personally.
4. The inclusion of Japanese in the World Mission in 1955 was the first occasion for them to visit other Asian countries.
5. Kensuke Horinouchi, as Ambassador to Taiwan, had prevented a serious rupture with the Nationalist Chinese Government, the one close diplomatic ally Japan had in Asia at that time.
6. The two MRA conferences in Baguio gave Japanese opportunities to establish wide contacts with their former Asian enemies and led directly to the diplomatic breakthroughs in negotiations with both the Korean and the Philippine governments.
Summing up this record Matsumoto stated, 'I speak in the name of the Government, and especially of the Foreign Office, when I say that at each critical turn we have been aided by the services of Moral Re-Armament.'8
Matsumoto also spoke for himself. During the reception he drew Entwistle aside and said that he had decided to run his election campaign for the Diet on MRA principles: he had gone through his speeches and eliminated the bitter references to opposition candidates.
The policies initiated by Kishi were carried to fruition by his successor, Takeo Fukuda, whom he had in the meantime brought to Caux.
In 1958 President Garcia of the Philippines paid an official visit to Japan. His host in the Diet was Niro Hoshijima, and the President stated, 'The bitterness of former years is being washed away by compassion and forgiveness.'9
Another of Buchman's long-cherished aims - to make some contribution to better race relations in the United States - began to become both possible and more urgent during that summer of 1957. He had, as he had told Griffith in Australia the year before, previously refused invitations to intervene in the Southern states because he lacked the people and the means to make such intervention effective. The initiative finally began in an unusual way.
While the Seinendan delegation was at Mackinac, two actresses arrived there independently in the course of a single week. One was Muriel Smith, the mezzo-soprano who had created the role of Carmen Jones on Broadway, and in London sang Carmen at Covent Garden and played for five consecutive years at the Drury Lane Theatre, first in South Pacific andthen in The King and I. The other was Ann Buckles, a rising young star from Broadway who had been appearing in Mr Thing and Pajama Game. Muriel Smith met the young Japanese, and was particularly moved by the honesty of one of them who had faced the implications of terrible things he had done during the war. Peter Howard took Ann Buckles to see Buchman. She was on the point of separating from her husband, but had told nobody. 'I talked all the time, trying to impress him,' she recalls. 'Buchman just gave me a long, quiet look and said one sentence: "Divorce is old-fashioned." This startled me. I was trying to pretend the divorce didn't matter, but I felt all wrong inside. He saw it. He said nothing else. He just looked.' Soon after he sent me flowers, and later asked me to tea. I talked for forty-five minutes. At the end, he said, "If I have any guidance about it all I'll tell you; if I don't it won't bother me." I realised that he was a man who was true with words and that I could trust him.'
Both women were fascinated by the creative atmosphere at Mackinac - the writing, music, theatre - and above all by the idea that their talents could be used constructively. They stayed and stayed, in spite of long-distance calls from their agents. Buchman saw in them what at first they would not see in themselves, a dramatisation of the answer to America's racial problems. Muriel Smith, a black American, had been brought up in Harlem and she and her mother had known real deprivation. Mrs Smith often talked of the red-letter day when she could finally afford to buy her daughter a pair of stockings. Ann Buckles was a striking blonde at the beginning of her career and came from the Southern state of Tennessee. As the weeks went on they began to sort out the many factors which divided them and to become friends.
Alan Thornhill and Cece Broadhurst decided to write a musical for them. It was based on the life story of Mary McLeod Bethune, the daughter of slaves who, starting with only one dollar in her purse, translated her determination that her people should have the chance of a good education into the first American college founded by a black, and finally became a special adviser to President Roosevelt. Meeting Moral Re-Armament some years earlier she had said to Buchman, 'To be a part of this great uniting force is the crowning experience of my life.' So they called the play The Crowning Experience.
Another long-term drama ran concurrently, in the lives of the two actresses. Once, when some recording with a symphony orchestra was being done for the subsequent film, they were sharing a hotel room. 'Muriel had this glorious voice,' says Ann Buckles. 'When she sang the orchestra lit up, but when I sang they looked glum, perhaps because American musical comedy was new to them. Then I would go back to the hotel, and have to listen to Muriel humming and singing all night long. One night I finally screamed, "Shut up!" I was shocked at what I had done. Muriel just said, "Would you have told me to shut up sooner if I'd been white?" She had put her finger on my patronizing attitude. That was the end of conversation that night. Next morning Frank sent for us, and we were petrified because we had been yelling. He said, "We have a South African judge and a black African leader returning to South Africa to get Freedom through the Board of Censors. Will you come to lunch and tell us how you found unity?" Muriel and I retired shamefaced and began to be honest.'
When The Crowning Experience opened in Atlanta, Georgia, in January 1958 11,000 people saw it during the first weekend. After the first night the local radio announced, as though astonished, 'There were no incidents in the Civic Auditorium.' During the first performances plain-clothes police had formed part of the audience, but they soon realised that their presence was unnecessary and stopped coming. Then the play moved from the Civic Auditorium to the Tower Theater, where the manager provided equal seating for white and black, something which had never happened before in Atlanta. 'I came in trepidation and left in exaltation,' he said after the first performance. The wife of a white minister commented, 'For years we have been listening to the tick of a bomb waiting for it to explode in our city. Now we are listening to the tick of the Holy Spirit. You have come at the right time.'10
The play ran for five months in Atlanta. A leading black lawyer, Colonel A. T. Walden, remarked, 'After the visit of The Crowning Experience, Atlanta will never be the same again.'11 It is a fact that integration was calmly and wisely achieved there in the next years, and John Kennedy, after he became President, sent for Walden to hear the story behind it.
When The Crowning Experience had a seven-week run in Washington that summer it drew 80,000 people, more than any play in the 123-year history of the National Theater. In September Drew Pearson's syndicated newspaper column described its effect in Atlanta, and added, 'Behind what happened in Georgia is an even more amazing story of how dedicated people from all walks of life are organizing to find a solution to a problem that our political leaders have been unable to resolve - the explosive challenge of Little Rock.'12
The explosion of violence in Little Rock, Arkansas, over the integration of black and white children in the schools, had made world news in the autumn of 1957, and it was one of the events which had stimulated the writing and production of The Crowning Experience. Buchman, who had had a group of black and white Africans with him in America at the time, urged them to take the film Freedom to Little Rock. They showed it first to the leaders of the white community, then to the Federal troops who had been despatched there, to the school authorities and to the leaders of the black integration committees. Among the latter was Mrs L. C. Bates, then President of the Arkansas NAACP. She had risked her life taking to a white school each morning the group of black children over whose presence there the riots had broken out. After seeing Freedom, Mrs Bates came with a party of both races from Little Rock to Mackinac. She there decided to visit the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, who, unknown to her, had also seen Freedom. The resulting interview was described by a CBS radio news commentator, summing up the principal events of 1959, as 'possibly the most significant news event of the year which marks the end of a hundred years' civil war in the United States of America'.13
The story behind this event was told by the black weekly, the Pittsburgh Courier14 under the banner headline, 'Bates Stresses Role MRA Played in "Miracle" of Little Rock'. The paper quotes Mrs Bates's husband, L. C. Bates, as saying, 'This week Mrs Bates, a strong foe of Governor Faubus, met the Governor for more than two hours. It was her experience with MRA that gave her the courage to ask for this appointment. It was probably something of Moral Re-Armament in him which made him accept. It is hard to evaluate now, but it may be a turning point. If we instil MRA into the people of Little Rock, it will turn the city from chaos into happiness.'
Six years later the London Observer reported, 'Governor Faubus now seems to be leading a movement to bring about integration in his State ... Whatever the motivations, the results are remarkable. In school integration, better jobs for Negroes and the desegregation of restaurants and hotels, Arkansas has made more progress than any other state, according to the Governor's old adversary, Mrs L. C. Bates, field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Arkansas.'15
Buchman, because of age and increasing ill-health, was not always able to participate in these adventures, but no one doubted who was behind the initiatives. In 1958 the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, at their convention in Detroit, awarded him a permanent trophy as 'the greatest humanitarian of them all'.
The Seinendan delegation and those who accompanied them from Korea and the Philippines were only a fraction of those who came to Mackinac Island in the summer of 1957. Further delegations arrived during the five-month assembly from Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, India, Cambodia and Taiwan. Two special planes arrived from Europe, in addition to other parties from Italy and Germany, the latter including fifty-five students. Fifty-three arrived from Iceland in mid-August, and towards the end Buchman lunched with an influential group of Sudanese, brought by Ahmed el Mahdi, the grandson of the Mahdi, then studying at Oxford.* Another visitor was Charles Assalé, the leader of one of the parties striving for independence in the Cameroons. 'I have eaten the bread of bitterness all my life,' he told Buchman. On his return he became reconciled to Ahmadu Ahidjo, his keenest rival, and together they were able, three years later, to achieve a peaceful agreement with France. Ahidjo subsequently became President, and appointed Assalé Prime Minister. A number of these groups wrote plays to be performed at home, while a party of MPs and others from Ghana and Nigeria took theirs, The Next Phase, to Washington. In addition, individuals and groups were coming from all over America and Canada.
(* He later held a number of cabinet posts in several governments.)
All this would have been impossible if the new centre had not been built, and the building continued during the next years. Finally, during the filming of The Crowning Experience, much of which was done on the island, a Canadian movie director, impressed by the expertise and dedication of some of the young people doing the technical work, suggested to Buchman that he build a studio to make films rather than remain dependent on commercial studios. Buchman responded with characteristic enthusiasm. 'Next year it will be producing one MRA film each week to reach the millions,' he wrote in a letter.16 The studio was built during the winter of 1959-60, in sub-zero temperatures, by two hundred or more MRA volunteers. Two planeloads of Buchman's Hollywood friends - actresses and actors, directors and technicians, led by the veteran Western actor Joel McCrea and his family - came up the next summer to inspect the building. They were all greatly impressed by the quality of the building and by its facilities, but raised major doubts as to its location. How could it be adequately employed on an island which was isolated by frozen lakes and bitter winds from early winter until late spring?
Buchman, now eighty, and never at his best at grasping the practicalities of technical operations, had let his vision outrun his common sense. There had been doubters among his colleagues, but he would not listen to them. He preferred to listen to the enthusiasts whose views matched his own. The studio was used occasionally in the following years, but never on any scale to justify the costs of its creation in money and manpower.
1 Buchman to Gilbert Harris, 15 December, 1955.
2 Entwistle, Japan's Decisive Decade, pp. 160-61.
3 ibid., p. 161.
4 ibid., pp. 161-2.
5 Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 1957.
6 Washington Evening Star, 18 December 1957.
7 Entwistle, Japan's Decisive Decade, p. 173.
8 ibid., p. 176.
9 ibid., p. 175.
10 Austin and Konstam, pp. 217-18.
11 ibid., p. 218.
12 Detroit Free Press, 21 September 1958. (Note: 'Drew Pearson is on a brief vacation. Today's column is written by an assistant, Tom McNamara.')
13 31 December I959.
14 Pittsburgh Courier, 2 January 1960.
15 Observer, London, 23 January 1966.
16 Buchman to Ahmed el Mahdi, 29 December 1959.