A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen
Editors of THE MESSENGER
New York, N.Y.
My Dear Comrades:
During my absence from here while filling a series of speaking engagements a letter was received from you, as I am advised, and forwarded along with some other mail which duly reached me, but the letter from you seems to have gone astray in the mails. At least it did not come to me and I am unable to trace it, and this must be my apology for your not hearing from me. In your letter there was a request, as I am informed, for an article for THE MESSENGER, which I should have been glad to prepare and send if time had permitted the preparation of an article worthy of your columns. But at present, on account of many demands upon my time, there is little chance to do any writing, gladly as I would respond to your request for an article for THE MESSENGER. Although not yet entirely recovered, I have undertaken a rather strenuous speaking program, and in connection with this there are so many demands upon my time, and so many people to see at every point I visit, that there is barely time to meet the most pressing demands for attention.
I take pleasure in enclosing a brief contribution expressive of my sympathy and good will which you have always had in the splendid efforts you have been putting forth to awaken your race, and to set the feet of our Colored comrades and fellow workers in the path to emancipation.
All my active life I have been in especial sympathy with the Negro and with every intelligent effort put forth in his behalf. I know how he has been outraged in “free America” from the very hour he was stolen from his home, landed here like an animal, and sold into slavery from the auction block, and every time I meet a colored man face to face, even in prison, I blush with a sense of guilt that prompts me to apologize to him for the crime perpetrated upon his race by mine. Many years ago in traveling through the Southern States I urged and entreated labor unions to open their doors to the Negro and to admit him to fellowship upon equal terms with themselves, but in vain, and many an experience I had in that section to convince me of the deep-seated and implacable hatred and prejudice that prevailed against the Negro, and the impossibility of his securing justice in such a poisoned atmosphere and under such barbarous conditions. But more recently there has been some slight change for the better, due mainly to the pressure of economic conditions and to the growing conviction among Negroes that they themselves will have to take the initiative in whatever is undertaken to lift them out of their ignorance and slavery and out of the white man’s brutal domination.
Permit me to congratulate you upon the growing excellence of THE MESSENGER. You have a series of articles and a variety of matter in the current issue that is eminently to your credit and the credit of your race. You are kind enough to write of me in a very flattering way, and coming from no other source would such an estimate, all too generous, touch me more deeply or afford me greater satisfaction. You do me the honor to place me in nomination for president, and coming from my Negro comrades this is a recognition of special value to me, but I wish no nomination for any office and I aspire to no higher honor than to stand side by side with you in the daily struggle, fighting the battles of the workers, black and white and all other colors, for industrial freedom and a better day for all humanity.
You are doing a splendid work in the education of your race and in the quickening of the consciousness of their class interests, in common with the interests of all other workers, and I heartily wish you increasing success and the realization of your highest aims and your noblest aspirations.
Your loving comrade,
EUGENE V. DEBS
The Messenger, 5 (May, 1923): 714.
By Eugene V. Debs
It is more than gratifying to me in looking over the current MESSENGER to note the high excellence of its contents as a literary periodical and as a propaganda publication. It is edited with marked ability and it contains a variety of matter that would do credit to any magazine in the land.
All my life I have been especially interested in the problem of the Negro race, and I have always had full sympathy with every effort put forth to encourage our colored fellow-workers to join the Socialist movement and to make common cause with all other workers in the international struggle for the overthrow of capitalist despotism and the emancipation of all races from the oppressive and degrading yoke of wage slavery.
Due to the ignorance, prejudice, and unreasoning hatred of the white race in relation to the Negro, the latter has fared cruelly indeed and he has had but little encouragement from the “superior” race to improve his economic intellectual and moral condition, but on the contrary, almost everything has been done to discourage every tendency on the part of the Negro toward self-improvement and to keep him in abject servitude beneath the iron heel of his exploiting master.
But our black brother is beginning to awaken from his lethargy in spite of all the deadening influences that surround him; he has had his experience in the war and especially since the war, and he is coming to realize that his place is in the Socialist movement along with the white worker and the worker of every other race, creed and color, and THE MESSENGER is doing its full share to spread the light in dark places and to arouse the Negro masses to the necessity of taking their place and doing their part in the great struggle that is to emancipate the workers of all races and all nations from the insufferable curse of industrial slavery and social degradation.
May Day is now dawning and its spirit prompts me to hail THE MESSENGER as a herald of light and freedom.
On May Day the workers of the world celebrate the beginning of their international solidarity and register the high resolve to clasp hands all around the globe and to move forward in one solid phalanx toward the sunrise and the better day.
On that day we drink deeply at the fountain of proletarian inspiration; we know no nationality to the exclusion of any other, nor any creed, or any color, but we do know that we are all workers, that we are conscious of our interests and our power as a class, and we propose to develop and make use of that power in breaking our fetters and in rising from servitude to the mastery of the world.
The Messenger, 5 (May, 1923): 716.
The problem of the Negro worker are increasing, not diminishing. In and out of the labor movement, the element of race twists, contorts, and distorts the Negro workers’ relationships to white worker and employer alike. So distressingly menacing is the Negro-white-worker-equation today that it is becoming increasingly imperative that some comprehensive work of education and organization be instituted with a view to bringing about a greater measure of mutual understanding and cooperation where now exist bitterness, distrust, hatred and suspicion on the part of both races. While out of the unions, Negroes complain against the bars erected by certain unions against their joining. After they join the unions, they still complain about race prejudice within the unions. Still there is no machinery which can be set in motion either to get the Negroes in the unions that are out or to see that those who are in get justice both from the point of view of getting jobs in their trade and of being elected officials in their unions. If the Negro workers are to prepare themselves for the more serious business of workers’ control of industry, which the signs of the times indicate is gradually approaching, they must receive the rigid discipline of self-government which only the union activities afford. Thus to the end of creating and stimulating in the Negro worker a larger, more active and substantial interest in the principles, policies, and tactics of the Labor Movement in general; and of generating a greater concern in the Negro union member in the practical work and struggles of his union, an organization known as the United Negro Trades should be formed.
Especially is such a piece of machinery in the Labor Movement necessary during the tremendous exodus of Negro workers, north, east and west. Only a very few unions are doing anything to organize the Negro workers in their trades. Still the Negro workers are pouring into the various industries daily, weekly, and monthly by the hundreds and thousands. Without the work of such an organization, race riots are bound to flare up, especially when an industrial depression comes which creates a sullen army of white and black unemployed competing for the same jobs. Such an organization should conduct widespread propaganda among white and Negro workers, point out that the employers are robbing both without regard to race; that race prejudice is an injury to the worker and a benefit to the bosses. It should also issue pamphlets, booklets and manifestos on the vital relations between the black and white workers on local, national and international problems. It should encourage, advocate and foster the formation of independent Negro unions only when the white unions deny Negro workers a union card. In short, the United Negro Trades should be to the Negro worker what the United Hebrew Trades and the Italian Chamber of Labor are to the Jewish and Italian workers, respectively. It should seek the affiliation of Negro workers in all unions, and supply the necessary intelligent leadership for their guidance and protection, education and organization.
The Messenger, 5 (July, 1923): 757.
Negro Communists are a menace. They are a menace to the workers, themselves and the race. Why? Because they are disruptionists, seeking with irrational and romantic zeal to break down the morale, to confuse the aims and ideals of the New Negro Liberation Movement. So utterly senseless, unsound, unscientific, dangerous and ridiculous are their policies and tactics that we are driven to conclude that they are either lunatics or agents provocateurs, stool pigeons of the United States Department of Justice. Their preachments and antics about r-r-r-e-volution, the Third Internationale, the dictatorship of the proletariat, are so inane and childish that they would be amusing were they not so tragically disastrous to the aggressive, independent and rationally radical manhood efforts of the Negro. Just as spies have been planted amongst the white Communists, so spies will be, if they have not already been, planted among the Negro Communists, whose policy is to preach doctrins of extremism. This is calculated to attract the persecution of the Department of Justice to all Negro movements working for race and economic justice. On the grounds that they are petty bourgeois, Negro Communists seek to wreck all constructive, progressive, non-Communist programs. Thus the Negro Communists are a menace whether they are paid tools of W. J. Burns or are mere ignorant, credulous fanatics, believing that they are serving a holy cause. For Communism can be of no earthly benefit to either white or Negro workers in America. It is even being replaced in the interest of the Russian worker in obedience to the material exigencies of the situation by State Capitalism by Lenin and Trotsky, after recognizing its impracticability at the present stage of economic development of Russia. How foolish, then, is it to advocate Communism to the Negro workers before they have even grasped the fundamentals and necsssity of simple trade and industrial unionism! Nor are we impressed with the sincerity of the Negro Communists, for their statements have revealed that they are utterly devoid of any respect for fact, truth, or honesty.84
The Messenger, 5 (August, 1923): 784.
About the most contemptible piece of work Communists have been guilty of is their attempt to interfere with the Brotherhood of Pullman Porters. It is an old game which they have played with unions of white workers but their attempt to sow dissension among Negro workers at a crisis in the career of the union is criminal. Distribution of a circular at the meeting of the Porters last week denouncing the leaders who have spent years in building up the union is the work of fools.
Randolph, Crosswaith and other leaders of the Pullman Porters need no defense. Their devotion to the cause of the Porters is a record of years. It is the prospect of a group who looted the treasures of the Furriers and the Cloakmakers and almost wrecked these unions that gives us concern. The Communist grafters have waited for a crucial moment when the Porters have reached a crisis in their long efforts to establish themselves as a union in the railway service to inject themselves into the affairs of the union.
The document itself is stupid. It calls attention to the isolation of the railroad brotherhoods and their separatist policies and then goes on to denounce the “craft isolation” of the “present leadership of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.” This is a compound of malice and stupidity. If the brotherhoods are separatist in outlook how is it possible for the Porters to organize except as Porters? The only alternative would be for the Porters to wait till the brotherhoods consolidate and take in Porters and that would be to wait till the present generation of Porters and their grandchildren are dead.
Of course, the Communists want “a militant, class conscious leadership.” Yes, the kind that led the Furriers and Cloakworkers to ruin, the kind provided by the Communists themselves. When the Porters want to disband they will accept the leadership of these grafters and they will be sure that the wreckage will be as complete as the Pullman Company may wish.
The New Leader, June 16, 1928.
by Frank R. Crosswaith
In a recent issue of “The Masses” Michael Gold, its editor, in true Communist fashion stretched himself beyond his natural limits as a student of social forces when he made out a case for the Negro and Communism. Mr. Gold’s article was relayed in parts to the Negro press and many of our editors gave prominent space to it.
Like all known Communist propagandists in the United States, Mr. Gold was most attractive when recounting the many and varied evils attendant upon Negro life in America. Nor could he resist the temptation to indulge in the delightful Communist pastime of “truth betrayal” especially when discussing the Socialist Party. Editor Gold climbed to dizzy heights of ecstasy because a few Southern textile workers attended a convention in Paterson, N.J. at which was spoken “the language of social revolution.” The presence of these tall, raw-boned 100 per cent Americans whom Brother Gold claims five years ago were Ku Kluxers, at a convention seating Negro delegates so dazzled the editor’s eyes that he saw “Southern labor awakened” and vouchsafed the prophecy that “American capitalists would no longer be able to use Southern workers in the role of Cossacks as the Czar of Russia used to do.” Gastonia, N.C. had suddenly become “a modern Bunker Hill” and Communism “has at last struck its roots in American history.” “The Communist Party had succeeded where before Socialists had failed” according to Brother Gold. The historical continuity of the picture was somewhat broken when the editor failed to place on Bunker Hill, dead or alive, the celebrated Crispus Attucks, altho Negro Tolstoys, Gorkys and Walt Whitmans were there.85
Following this fine piece of fictional writing by Gold, the Negro press is now being treated to other fantastic stories about the rapid growth of Communism among Negroes; and apparently our press is relishing this Communist cooked porridge. According to these latest tales thousands of Negroes have made the remarkable discovery that Communism is the panacea for all our racial and social ills. Is it? We shall see.
Mine is not the desire to deny to Communists their right to propagandize the Negro masses even though it is a cardinal tenet of Communist creed to deny to all who differ from them the right to a differing opinion. Nor would I question the right of any worker to accept the Communist faith. On the contrary, I would like to see the Negro study the Communist movement and conduct, for that would be the safest guarantee that he would reject Communism and all that goes with it, as readily, if not more so, than white workers have done.
Communism represents the most erratic, undemocratic and impractical of all the movements of social protest extant in the world today. Communism is not radicalism, it is erracticism. Communism is based upon the shifting psychological notions of a comparatively few strong-willed social revolutionists, so-called, who succeeded in securing power at a time and in a land when any disciplined group possessing courage and organization could have seized power. Communism has brought into the arena of constructive social engineering much chaos and thereby greatly retarded our progress toward social and economic justice, and this is true in spite of the fact that the Russian experiment has made in a way an invaluable contribution as a negative index in the direction toward affecting fundamental changes in our social and economic life.
Communism lacks a realistic approach to the problems developing out of Capitalism. Insofar as the Communists have evidenced any constructive program of a broad social and economic nature it has been only on those occasions when the pressure of circumstances forced them to discard theoretical Communism for the realism of modern Socialism. Communism is a frank denial of many of the most cherished ideals for which practical idealists of every race have struggled. For the old dogma of the divine right of kings Communists would substitute the divine right of a dictator; only, so they say, their dictatorship would dictate in the interest of the proletariat whether or not the proletariat desires it.
Communists believe in “the theory of misery” which teaches that the deeper down you press men in the social and economic mire the sooner will they revolt. This theory stands today rejected alike by social scientists and students of any merit. The facts of life rather support the view that “social improvement breeds social discontent” and that “he who has least wants least.” Communists believe that democracy is a bourgeois institution which along with capitalism must be destroyed root and branch. On the other hand, more rational people hold that the ideals of genuine democracy have not yet been realized but that many of the instruments for the complete realization of democracy have already been developed and passed down to us by preceding generations who won them in the struggle against divinely ordained kings and others.
Communists believe that “truth,” “honor,” “morality,” are all bourgeois notions with which no proletariat should hobnob. Informed people, however, recognize that out of the welter of human experience certain codes governing conduct were evolved and that as we grow in mental stature and sense more and more our social responsibilities some acquired habits, customs and ideologies will go by the board because a newer environment has made them obsolete, while others will be kept because of their adaptability and merit.
Communists believe in the Gospel according to Marx and Lenin, while people less superstitious prefer to apply to the accumulated experiences of mankind and to the economic and social institutions born of these experiences, the light of newly discovered truths in order intelligently to attack the problems of the present and chart our course toward the future.
Because I believe that the Communist movement represents to the Negro in particular and the working class generally a menace, the subject will be continued in the next issue with the hope that readers will be able the more intelligently to separate the communist menace from the constructive, social, political and economic movements of our time. - The Editor.
Negro Labor News Service, March 15, 1930. A copy of the original release in the possession of the editors.
By Frank R. Crosswaith
The present campaign in Russia against the church is additional proof that there is neither tact nor restraint in Communisms attempt to bridge the chasm between Capitalism and Socialism. History shows that the church has been, and still is, used by the dominant classes to serve their economic interest. In Russia especially, the church stood for all the evils of Czarism, even as the church generally stood with the slave regime here in the United States.
Like all other human institutions the church grew out of the experiences, hopes and fears of man. Because of the very nature and origin of the church, it was bound, in time, to be utilized by the class in power for perpetuating class domination. Nevertheless, when Communists decide to uproot the church and impose their brand of religion as superior, they deliberately destroy religious freedom or liberty.
Instead of tyrannizing and destroying the church as the Communists have set out to do, we Socialists believe it far more desirable and reasonable to change the functions of the church—to use it as a rallying point from which to attack and destroy social and economic injustice, to preach against low living standards and to mobilize all moral and material power in the interest of upward change. We believe that such a course would be less irritating to those of our fellows in whose life the church holds an important place. The result would be both constructive and enduring. The problem of the church is one involving the difference between form and function. We therefore would change its function confident that in time the form would be forced to change in order to harmonize with the newer functions.
I am not a religionist in the orthodox sense of the word, but rather one whose hopes and aspirations are built on the stern realities of life, whose one mission is to attack and destroy all social and economic evils as a prerequisite to the establishment of a solid foundation upon which to build a higher spiritual and cultural life. I believe implicitly in my religion as the noblest that any man can profess and practice. This belief, however, does not give me the right to destroy the religion or church of my brother, especially since destruction is not a necessary step toward the achievement of my religious aims.
In the life of the Negro in the United States, the church wields a tremendous influence and is directly responsible for his obvious conservatism and contentment—a condition greatly to be deplored; yet this sad fact does not justify any effort to destroy the church, for the fault is not in the church per se but rather in the way the church is made to function.
Communists believe that violence is the ONLY method by which the transition from Capitalism to Socialism can be effected. They scoff at the idea of a gradual and peaceful change through the mediums of education and political democracy. For the Negro to accept such a course as the only way out of his present Gethsemane would be for him to invite extermination at the hand of a more or less hostile majority. The Negro as a minority group too long has been the victim of force—violence—so dares not trust his fate to these so-called Communists who pretend to have out-grown race-prejudice yet readily forget CLASS while they DO remember RACE. This fact was demonstrated to proof recently in a certain Virginia city where the Communists organized a mass meeting. An educated Negro, then a member of the Communist party worked day and night to insure the success of that meeting, only to find all Negroes directed to the gallery. He protested to his white comrades against such jim-crow practice, and was promptly charged with “putting race before class.” He was unceremoniously expelled from the party.86
Freedom of expression and assemblage are invaluable human rights that should brook no interference or abridgement. That FREEDOM is one of the cardinal principles upon which the Socialist party stands. We believe that progress of an enduring sort can be made ONLY in free movement and discussion. Whether in Russia or America, wherever human rights are questioned, THERE Socialists will be found leading in the fight for such rights. Communists, on the other hand give lip service to freedom of speech and assemblage, but actually DENY it to others when and wherever they have the power to do so. The Negro has a story to tell to the world. He has a great and just cause to plead at the bar of public opinion. For him then to join with those who would destroy freedom of speech and assemblage would be to cut himself from the only avenue through which to present his case and arouse the conscience of the civilized section of mankind in his behalf.
Lastly, Socialists believe in genuine democracy, both political and industrial. Especially do we strive to bring into our industrial life the principle that those who work should own and control the tools as well as the product of their labor; we subscribe whole-heartedly to the principle that those who are governed are entitled to have a voice in government. Socialism is democracy applied to industry. We would substitute cooperation for capitalistic domination; we would establish common ownership in all agencies and institutions of a social or industrial nature; we would operate industry for service to society instead of for private profit; we would bring within reach of every man, woman and child in the world the God given right to enjoy peace, plenty and freedom. The Application of Socialist principles to our industrial life will give to the Negro the opportunity to stand on the common vantage ground of culture, education and freedom with all others who would usefully serve society.
Negro Labor News Service, April 15, 1930. Copy of the original release in the possession of the editors.
By Frank R. Crosswaith
IT IS UNFORTUNATE that in considering a question of such vital importance as the selection of a President of the United States, Negroes should be influenced by the question of race. However, this is not of the Negroes’ choosing. It is a condition forced upon us by the attitude of those of our fellow citizens who will not permit us to think in terms of a man, a fellow American, but rather in terms of race.
THE NEGRO is a worker and like all other intelligent workers should select that candidate and support that party which truly reflects his class interest. It should require no lavish oratory to persuade the Negro and all other workers that government, when controlled by either Republicans or Democrats, functions in the interests of those who own property. It is enough to note the concern shown by the present Republican administration over the fate of banks, railroads and business generally, while the agonized wail of the workless millions goes unheeded. The conduct of the Republicans in this regard differs not one whit from that of the Democrats when they are in control of government. Both parties act upon the thesis that the rights of property transcend the rights of man.
IN FAIRNESS TO the facts of history, I am honor bound to state that once a real difference existed between these two political parties. Time has worn away that difference, however, and the last twenty years have seen both parties snugly nestled away in the arms of the owning class of the nation like two peas in a single pod. The Republican party, once friendly to the Negro, is adopting instead a “lily-white” policy. In the main this is due to the large investments made in the industries of the South by the Northern financiers, who finance and dominate the Republican party. The successful effort to “sterilize” the Republican party in the South marks both the economic and spiritual surrender of the party of Lincoln to Southern Bourbonism.
THE HISTORIC ATTITUDE of the Democratic party toward the Negro is too well known to merit recounting here. If Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes President of the United States he will owe his election largely to the support given him by the South. In the Chicago convention where he was nominated there were signs which read: “Georgia Is His Southern Home.” The Democrats will attempt to win Negro support by reminding us that Hoover, the Republican, jim-crowed our war mothers and widows making the pilgrimage to the graves of their dead in France. But they will not want Negroes to recall that Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, also jim-crowed the sons and husbands of these same women when they made the journey across the seas “to make the world safe for democracy.”
IN AN EFFORT to hide from the people the true economic and class nature of their parties Republican and Democratic politicians drag into the arena of discussion such relatively unimportant questions as normalcy, states rights and prohibition. On the real issues, namely, the continued legality of human exploitation, no difference distinguishes one party from the other.
LUCKILY FOR THE NEGRO, as for all workers, choice in the selection of the next President of the United States is not confined to the Republican Hoover and the Democrat Roosevelt. The Socialist party has chosen Norman Thomas to carry its standard of Industrial Democracy and social justice in the present campaign for the presidency. If the choice of the American people in the selection of a chief executive of the nation were to be made upon the basis of personal character, social vision and mental equipment, Norman Thomas would be overwhelmingly chosen next election day. But he would be the last man to consent to the obscuring of the real issues of the campaign by any reference to personal characteristics.
LIKE ALL OTHER men and women of intelligence and social vision, Norman Thomas is aware of the fact that the 1932 campaign is based on the class struggle, and that the question to be decided is whether the agencies of government are to remain in the hands of the capitalist, exploiting class, or whether government shall become an instrument truly responsive to the needs and hopes of all the people, and to which they may with confidence look for the protection and guarantee of their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
TO THOSE NEGROES who are interested in a better day for themselves and their children, I recommend that they write to the Socialist headquarters at 2005 Seventh Avenue, New York City, for a copy of the Socialist platform, and note the opportunity offered to those who will be free to strike a blow for their freedom.
UNLIKE the Democrats and Republicans, the Socialist campaign is not merely to elect this or that individual, but rather it is a crusade for the new day—that day which the sun of Socialism spreads its mantle of silvery rays across the face of our war-torn and poverty cursed world will witness a race of useful workers cooperatively working and planning for the happiness and freedom of all God’s children. In the words of a famous Negro poet:
The seeds of justice grow in unjust soil, and every struggle brings a deeper root -
Of freedom’s tree whereon the buds of gall Will bloom to precious fruit to feed us all.
Be not afraid dark toilers, For the tree grows tall.
THE HOPE of the Negro masses, like the hopes of all workers of hand and brain, is in building a strong workers’ party to carry out the ideals of men like Norman Thomas.
Negro Labor News Service, November 28, 1932. Copy of the original release in the possession of the editors.
by Frank R. Crosswaith
To all who are not blinded by ignorance and bound by the chains of tradition, it is quite obvious that time and the over-lapping financial interests of our economic masters have succeeded in wiping out every important difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. These two parties never were more like the traditional “Gold Dust Twins” than at present. Not even with respect to the elementary civil rights of the Negro, to say nothing of the rights of working people as such, do they now differ.
Under a Democratic administration Negro soldiers in war time were subjected to all manner of indignities and humiliations at home and abroad. Under a Republican administration the widows and mothers of these soldiers share the same fate as their departed dead.
The Repubocrat Twins
Whether it be the endorsement by Democrats of a high tariff wall by the South, whose agrarian interest once arrayed it against the tariff; or the attempt by Republicans to elevate Judge Parker to the Supreme Court bench and thus win over anti-Negro, anti-labor sentiment; the continued segregation of Negro civil service employees at Washington; or the brazen betrayal of the Negro masses by both parties, when in deference to the South they gladly lynched the Dyer anti-lynching bill—all the evidence points to the similarity of the two old parties.87
Both of them have entered into a dastardly conspiracy to keep the Negro helpless and hopeless, politically, socially, educationally and economically. Laws restricting suffrage in the Southern states and designed to deny to the Negro the most meager advantages of political democracy have been condoned by both parties. Through the use of “Property qualifications,” so-called “educational tests,” “grandfather clauses” and other subterfuges, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia continue to tax the Negro masses who inhabit these states without giving the Negro a voice in government. Lynching, legal and illegal, continues to haunt the Negro wherever he goes; while the tide of race prejudice rises and overflows into every county, city and state in the nation.88
A Bi-Party Shell Game
In November 1929, the Senate Lobby Investigating Committee made public a letter written to Vice President Curtis by Mr. James A. Arnold, manager of the Southern Tariff Association and a co-worker of Colonel Mann, leader of the lily white Republican forces of the South, in which “a plan” to blacken the Democratic party and whiten the Republican party was discussed. Negro Democrats were “to be elected in St. Louis, Chicago, New York and other Negro districts”. Thus, once more the unsuspecting Negro masses were to be hoodwinked.
How the Negro can escape the present evils that surround him and effectively aid in bringing about a change for the betterment of his life in America is a question which the limits of this article will not permit an adequate answer. This much is certain, however, that, if the political future of the Negro is to be any brighter and safer than his past and present, then the Negro must realize that politics is not merely “the science of government” but that it is essentially a reflection of economic and class interests. The Negro politician must drop his familiar role of decoy by which he leads the masses of Negroes blindly into the slaughter houses of the two old parties; also the Negro politician must subordinate his own selfish desires for self. and place to the interest of the Negro masses.
For the Negro Worker
For the Negro to shift his political allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic party is no indication of intelligence nor of political progress, neither can he excuse his conduct on the grounds that there is “no other party.” The Socialist party is one of the recognized major parties in the United States; its record with respect to the rights of the Negro is beyond reproach. From its birth the Socialist party has consistently stood on the side of the Negro, not in any condescending manner nor for selfish reasons, but because the Socialist party represents the interest of all workers, just as the Republican and Democratic parties represent the interest of those who live by exploiting the workers.
As a first step toward the eradication of the evils from which Negroes and all other workers now suffer, the Socialist party offers the following remedies:
1. A Federal anti-lynching bill.
2. A Federal anti-child labor law and educational laws. These laws will tend to reduce the illiteracy now prevalent in the South among whites and blacks and give to the children of both races there a better opportunity for education.
3. Admission of Negroes to juries and equal voting rights for all citizens.
4. The reduction of Southern representation in Congress until all citizens there are permitted to vote.
5. Unemployment insurance for all workers who are victims of involuntary idleness.
6. Enforcement of constitutional guarantees of economic, political and legal equality for the Negro.
To the extent that the Negro and all others who work, whether by hand or by brain, support the program of the Socialist party, to the same extent will their future be bright, and a nobler heritage left to succeeding generations.
Negro Labor News Service, August 30, 1932. Copy of the original release in the possession of the editors.
By Ernest Rice McKinney
I do not intend to make any dogmatic exposition of this subject even though the title itself may carry that implication. I do however intend to point out very definitely what I believe to be at least one road over which the Negro must travel if he would arrive at a place of power along with other workers.
The Negro has always been a scab in the labor movement and a sore on its body. It seems that neither he nor the white worker has ever been able to think clearly through the problem to the reasons for this. The proper explanation, I believe, is found in the desire of American capitalism to have at hand a large and constant source of supply for the semi-skilled and unskilled tasks in the mills, mines and factories. I can illustrate this by relating a recent happening in Alabama according to the report of a white worker. This man said that in a certain machine industry which employed twenty-four skilled machinists, automatic machines were installed. These machinists had been paid fifty cents an hour. With the automatic machines however, the operation could be performed with semi-skilled workers. Four Negroes were hired at twenty-five cents an hour. The white machinists were called in and told that a few of them could be reemployed but that they would have to work for the same wage as the Negroes were getting, twenty-five cents an hour and not fifty as formerly. This white worker had seen the light and was ready to take the Negro into the labor movement, not as a Negro but as a worker.
This incident is significant. It symbolizes most effectively one of the reasons for the weakness of our labor movement. Also I mention in passing that the thousands of Negroes who came into the steel industry were a part of the means at the disposal of the steel companies for defeating this strike. It is one of the ironies of history that William Z. Foster, who is now linked up with a Negro in a political campaign and who was the leader of that strike, did not at that time believe that it was worthwhile to include the Negro worker in his organization efforts.
Of course the Negroes themselves, through their leaders have contributed to this evil situation. These leaders have been concerned with some vapory thing called the Negro’s “rights” and with job hunting for themselves. Their activities have been almost wholly political. There are two things that Negro leaders don’t seem to know; that no group has any rights if that group is not strong enough to take them. No dominant group voluntarily gives “rights” to a weak group. Secondly, Negro leaders seem reluctant to accept the fact that political power follows from and grows out of economic power. You almost never see a Negro leader take a strong and definite stand for the active participation of Negro workers in out and out workers’ movements.
There are reasons for this which I don’t have space here to go into in detail. One is the fact that the Negro has been conditioned into becoming a rank and stark conservative. We are not even liberal or progressive not to say anything about radical. It is no unusual thing to hear a Negro say: “If I am going to mix with white folks I want it to be rich white folks, not poor white trash.” To be sure this attitude is ridiculous but it is a reality and must be faced as such. He does not understand that he can only mix with the “rich white folks” as lackey, flunky, beggar or wage slave. As a rule his approach is that of a flunky or beggar. There is not much that we can get from our leaders that is enlightening at this point for the reason that the majority of them are in the roll of flunky and beggar.
White Workers Are Guilty
This means that we Negroes do not understand the economic scene and the industrial set-up. The tragedy is that white workers in this field have ignored us and left us to our ignorance, low wages, long hours, the worst and meanest jobs and a disproportionate amount of unemployment. The white worker helped the ruling class to segregate us, proscribe us and discriminate against us. And it is the white worker who lynches the Negro worker. It never dawned on the white toilers in the capitalist vineyard that the black wage slaves were part and parcel of them. I believe though that three years of unemployment will create a new outlook. When a black and white ex-worker approach a garbage can together for breakfast their actual equality in the eyes of the ruling class is thereby proclaimed.
There are Negro leaders who say that our road to freedom lies in the direction of the establishment of strong and powerful business institutions. I confess that I once flirted with this idea, which I now hold to be utterly defeatist from the standpoint of the Negro masses. These advisers have taken their cue from white capitalism. But evidently they are not observing the course of capitalism in this day and time. They have their eyes on the springtime of capitalism when it was possible for any little fellow to open a small business, work hard and watch it grow into a giant corporation employing thousands of workers. This is not true of business today. Corporations are born full-grown and mature. They begin to swell, expand and puff up. There must be capital enough to initiate this swelling and puffing at once.
The idea is that Negro plants, factories and businesses of all sorts could hire Negro workers and thereby raise the standard of living and create wealth within the group. These Negro business institutions would also compete with white companies not only for our own patronage but also for the patronage of the whites. Such successful competition would change the outlook of the whites toward the Negro and in time everything would be sweetness and light. For instance if Negro insurance companies become strong enough they can take $60,000,000 worth of business away from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. And then the Metropolitan will be glad to hire Negro agents (they don’t employ any now) in order to get some of that business back. And furthermore, insurance companies will not discriminate against Negroes (as they do now) in the types of policies which they are permitted to buy.
The main idea of course is to increase the supply of jobs for the Negro. He is refused many types of employment by the white employer and so it is argued that Negroes must establish their own businesses in order to provide for their own people. Hence the rosy picture of how much better off the Negro would be if he were a big business man, a “producer” and not merely a consumer. If we have Negro capitalists, these capitalists will employ hundreds and thousands of Negro workers. Retail stores and other shops will spring up. Banks will open and Negro credit will flow into Negro enterprises. This wealth will trickle down to the workers; they will have full dinner pails, a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage and a cutaway in every wardrobe.
There are many things wrong in this picture. The whole scheme is out of gear and unrealistic. My chief objection is that even if such a state of affairs could be brought to pass, the mass of Negroes would not be benefited. I challenge any Negro who advocates this scheme to submit any evidence or reasoning that can show that a Negro manufacturer, or banker or mine owner or utility magnate would act any differently toward employees than a white employer would act. I mean to say that Negro workers would get the same type of treatment from a Negro employer that they would get from a white employer. They would be exploited just as they are exploited now. They would work for low wages and would be subjected to the injunction, the yellow dog contract, the lockout and the rigors of industrial conflict just as are workers employed by white owners. This all, for the reason that Negro business would be capitalist business the same as white business. The men who owned Negro business would be capitalists and integral parts of the capitalist system. The evils which I have enumerated are inherent in the system. The object of the black business man would be to make profits just as it is the object of the white business man to make profits. Our business men would be forced to go along with the system, else there would be no profits and their businesses would collapse instantly.
I am saying that this would be true for the mass of Negro workers. They would get no more out of it than they get now from the white bosses. It is conceivable that they would get less. This is the important thing to stress; not whether Negro capitalism would help a few Negroes to get rich, as white capitalism aids only a few whites to acquire wealth but rather what would be the relation of Negro capitalism to the Negro workers as a whole. I have said and wish to reemphasize that no benefits would accrue to the Negro masses simply because the color of capitalism had been changed. This means that Negroes can no more afford to compromise with black capitalism than they can afford to compromise with white capitalism. This is the first and most important lesson that the Negro worker must learn.
Class Not Color
This means that the Negro worker must give up many foolish notions about race consciousness and race solidarity and begin to acquire a far more fundamental and basic class consciousness and class solidarity transcending the bounds of race. This proposal assumes of course the further proposal that the white worker do the same. Among the Negro masses there is urgent need for education at this point. It seems that we have not learned yet the fact that we are being exploited by Negro leaders who although almost entirely ignorant of the historical course of capitalism, of its theoretical assumptions and of its practical applications on the industrial and financial fields and of the many proposals for revision or complete overthrow of capitalism; yet are cunning and shrewd enough to know that they can and do profit by the system. Hence these leaders desire the continuance of capitalism and are zealous in opposing the entrance of the Negro masses into any organization which is not at least partially under the domination of themselves or their own white bosses and allies. All of this of course is a suggestion for the organization of Negroes into a mass movement that has for its ultimate aim the complete overthrow of Negro capitalism along with the overthrow of white capitalism.
This brings us to a great difficulty: How shall the Negro worker be organized? It is easy to reply, “Just as the white worker is organized.” But this reply means exactly nothing. It means nothing for the reason that such a reply is far too simple and probably ignores the realities of the American scene. And for the same reason it would be equally useless to consider any proposal to organize the Negro along entirely different lines from those of the white workers and always into separate unions.
Watch Your Step
I am ready to admit, without accepting any hard and fast rule, that there may be places and conditions which make it necessary to have separate organizations for Negroes and whites. I am convinced that identical methods cannot be used say, in Mississippi and Ohio. Conditions may vary from industry to industry that may make it necessary to return to conference and overhaul some of our theories. We must face the actualities of race prejudice and misunderstanding. We must take into consideration, to the extent that we are capable, all of the historical and psychological factors that enter into the problem. We must consider the stage of development—I should say the relative stage of development—of the Negro and white workers as well as the relative stage of development of the two groups in particular industries. And I take it that the problem will not present itself in the same way in organized industries as it does in those that are unorganized.
The first requisite is absolute honesty, a high degree of humility and a determination to experiment patiently, persistently and intelligently. Guess work, presuppositions and old line reactions to the race question will not fill the bill. Men on the job and facing the Negro-white problem daily are just as apt to make mistakes as so-called theorists who are not in daily contact with Negro workers. All of the vague theories do not come from college professors, car windows sociologista and female investigation enthusiasts. On the question of organizing the Negro worker there are apt to be just as many empty theorizers and get-no-where philosophers in the labor movement as one can find elsewhere. It has always amused me to listen to one of these fellows, who brags so much about practice and experience over against theory, begin to sputter theory pure and undefiled, when he gets to consideration of the Negro worker. The trouble with these fellows is that they do not understand the nature and function of theory, nor the fact that an alleged practical man may himself be a pure theorist. This is apt to be particularly true when this type of labor leader is dealing with the problem of the Negro worker.
CPLA Has a Program
To get back to the specific matter of organizing the Negro worker, I hold that no one can sit any one at any one place and say how it should be done all over the United States. This would be silly. It would be just as silly however to follow or advocate the method that has been followed by the A.F. of L. and other groups. The one best guide I believe, is the program and principles of the Conference for Progressive Labor Action. The principles laid here are basically and theoretically correct. This program will be readily accepted by the Negro workers if it is presented to them by white and Negro leaders who themselves have already absorbed these principles, and who have allowed these tenets to become operative in their own lives. This type of leader will be morally, intellectually and practically qualified to present CPLA to Negro workers just as he or she will be eminently qualified to present the program to other racial groups. This is the only type of worker that will develop the ability to adapt the program of CPLA on the field, to the Negro worker in relationship to the white worker and to the community, and at the same time hold to the basic philosophy, and push on to the goal of a workers’ commonwealth that will include all workers of every creed, race and color.
I have purposely refrained from any extended recommendations concerning technique for the reason that I do not and could not know what to recommend in a detailed way. This is a matter that should be developed in conferences and before the workers. Discussion, frank and honest and then application of the results of the discussions on the field should be the rule and I believe the only rule worth laying down.
It is perhaps needless to add that the Negro’s road to freedom, I believe, lies in the road set down by the Conference for Progressive Labor Action, just as I believe that this is the white worker’s road to freedom; the white and black worker indissolubly bound up together to achieve a workers’ republic managed by all the workers for all the workers.
Labor Age, 21 (September, 1932): 12–13, 29.
Socialist Party of America
549 Randolph St.
February, 1934 Harold Kelso, Editor $1.00 per year
The Sunday closest to Lincoln’s birthday, each year, has been set aside by the Federal Council of Churches as “Race Relations Sunday.” An inclosure with these notes gives the essential data prepared by the Council for speeches to be made on this day; it will be seen that this material covers the problems of Mexican and Oriental peoples in the United States, as well as the question of prejudice against and oppression of the Negro.
This topic is made especially timely by the recent wave of lynchings (of which some of the victims were whites), the Scottsboro case, the revelations by the Urban League and other organizations of the severity of the depression in its effect on Negroes, and the campaign of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations to remove some of the injustice to Negroes involved in recent N.R.A. codes.89
Economic Bases of Race Discrimination
Without denying the existence of ethical, sociological and political problems of race which to some extent can be corrected by education and legislation, Socialists nevertheless hold that the race question in the United States is fundamentally economic.
Peonage Peonage is a system of serfdom, the principle of which is, that if an employee owes his master he must continue to serve him until the debt is paid, the only escape being that if another employer is willing to come forward and assume the debt the employee is allowed to transfer his obligation to the new master.
The “emancipation” of Negroes disrupted agriculture and industry in southern states and made it necessary to reorganize the labor policies which had heretofore prevailed. The freed Negroes were without masters, but lumber must be cut, cotton must be picked and turpentine must be dipped. In short, profits must be made. Negroes must work or be made to work, besides, they must work cheaply.
Thus the “black code” and vagrancy laws of the South. These laws provide for the imprisonment of all Negroes who have no visible means of support. The result is that hordes of unemployed Negro workers are hustled off to jail or convict camp. Their fines are paid by the lumber, cotton and turpentine operators; they are assigned into their custody, put to work at starvation wages besides being compelled to trade at the company’s store, which prevents their ever getting out of debt. They are also compelled to sign certain labor contracts, the non-performance of which is proof presumptive of fraudulent intent at the time of signature, which state laws make a crime. The employer can arrest the worker on charges of receiving money under false pretenses, he is convicted and fined, and being penniless, he can go to jail, or accept payment of his fine by the same or another employer. The judge assigns the labor of the “convict” to the man who pays the fine until the worker can pay back the sum advanced out of his wages. The employer has acquired a serf under the legal authority of the state.
This is peonage. It is an economic system. It is maintained for profits.
The Crop-Lien System The crop-lien system is the method of mortgaging the planted and even unplanted crops of poor farmers. These workers need provisions until harvesting time; the white merchants supply them for a part of their crop, the share being so large as to keep a perpetual lien on the farmers’ production. The Negro farmer, being in debt, cannot leave his farm. To escape is to violate a contract, a crime which may result in the farmer being sent to a convict camp under the laws of “fraud.”
Tenant Farming Sometimes the crop-lien system is called “sharecropping,” in which case the farmer is a tenant who is provided with land and provisions by the landowner instead of local white merchants. Usually several sets of capitalists profit by such transactions, because the landowner frequently can make an extra profit by borrowing funds from banks or loan agencies, even though the interest rates charged are exorbitant.
The Negro Industrial Worker To escape the impossible conditions of the southern farm, Negroes have migrated to the cities. Out of every 1,000 Negro workers, approximately 400 belong to the most unskilled class of labor, 180 are domestic servants usually under conditions of long hours, hard work and low pay, 105 are semi-skilled laborers, 85 are skilled workers, 100 are tenant farmers, 90 are farmers working their own land usually under vasselage to merchants, 40 are in business and the professions. (Crisis, April, 1933)
Supplementing the natural desire of the Negroes to escape the unfavorable farm conditions under which they work, especially during the war-time boom and the period of Coolidge “prosperity,” was the desire of industry for an additional supply of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. The stoppage of immigration also contributed to this desire. In some cases, Negro workers were imported to take the places of white workers on strike.
Under favorable conditions the lot of the Negro worker in the city is none too good. In this depression time, he is frequently the first to be laid off because industries tend to keep their skilled rather than their unskilled workers as a nucleus for renewed operations. The Negro has likewise not been so well organized to protect his interests in the job as has the white worker. The competition for jobs makes white workers race-conscious when questions of discharging employees arise, and to the extent that sympathy enters into modern business, the employer may keep white rather than Negro labor in hard times.
In general, however, the hardships which the Negro has suffered from the depression are worse only in degree than those of the white population. Both are victims of the failure of the profit system to provide security.
The Myth of Negro Inferiority
The inferior economic and social status of the Negro race has made many of its members illiterate and has denied privileges of culture and technical training to the race as a whole. The tradition that the Negro is dirty, or lazy, or mentally inferior, or mechanically incompetent, just because he is a Negro, is unfortunately widespread. Deficiencies which are due to lack of advantages are presumed to be the result of racial defects.
To some extent this feeling is kept alive by the very competition for jobs which is fostered by capitalism. While it is perhaps an exaggeration, at least for the northern states, to charge capitalists with an attempt directly to foster race prejudice, certainly the attitudes indirectly fostered by the philosophy of “every man for himself and devil take the hindmost” tend to discriminate against the Negro, who is a convenient object of scorn because he can be so readily singled out.
The material in the “Data for Speakers” leaflet enclosed gives a good summary of Negro achievements which shows the injustice of the myth that the race is inherently inferior.
Some False Trails Booker T. Washington held that all Negro workers should learn a trade, save their money and go into business for themselves. But the idea of trying to become a capitalist and thus escape from the robbery and subjection that is the lot of Negro workers is like the advice to run away in the days of slavery. A few could escape and reach the northern states or Canada, and thus be relieved of the tyranny of white slave owners. But the whole Negro population of the South could not escape slavery in this way. The mass of them were doomed to be slaves until all are emancipated. The same is true today. The mass of Negro wage workers are doomed to be wage workers all their lives until all wage workers are made free.90
W. E. B. DuBois (Crisis, May, 1933) argues that expoitation of the Negroes comes just as much from the white proletariat as from the white capitalists, and therefore that the only hope for the race is its own organization to protect it from all classes of whites, also to protect it from the development of capitalistic exploitation from Negro capitalists. It is unfortunately true that race hatreds and prejudices are common among workers, but the answer does not lie in making the cleavage wider by organizing Negro workers on color lines. All of the usual arguments against “dual” unions apply here, and they are intensified by differences which capitalists can play upon to keep labor divided.
Marcus Garvey once offered the Negroes hope in a movement to return to Africa. Garveyism fortunately has collapsed as an organization, but as a dream it is still held by some Negroes. Aside from the tremendous difficulties in moving a population of over ten million into new homes which have not yet been built, it should be obvious that an all-Negro Africa built on the American cultural heritage which would be taken there would simply mean a capitalist Africa instead of a capitalist America, with black masters instead of white. If our analysis of capitalism is correct, the lot of Negroes under this plan—an impossible dream in the first place—would not be improved.
What the Whites Must Do The American Federation of Labor does lip-service to the idea of organizing Negro workers on the same basis as whites, but:
21 international and national labor unions exclude Negroes by constitutional provision
9 international and national labor unions admit Negroes but discriminate against them in some way
2 internationals admit Negro members but refuse them the right to use union employment agencies to get jobs
7 internationals admit Negroes freely but only to separate organizations
6 internationals only admit Negroes without restriction
The usual A.F. of L. procedure is to organize Negro workers separately in federal unions responsible not to internationals but direct to the A.F. of L. itself. Obviously this record of discrimination proves that if the Negro is to be organized as a worker in the economic field the whites themselves must change their minds and attitudes on the race question. To bring this about is an essential aim of Socialist education.
In many other ways those whites who see the economic implications of the race problem must be more awake to possibilities for cooperation with Negroes, organized and unorganized, for the common good of all workers. With many of us it is not prejudice but indifference or laziness which keeps us from working with groups from other races who have goals similar to our own.
What the Negro Must Do On the other hand, the Negro himself must learn that the solution of his problems demands that he think and act as a class-conscious as well as a race-conscious worker. The labor power of a Negro worker embodied in a bar of steel, a car of coal or the basement of a building is just as essential as the labor power of the white worker. The color line is not seen in the steel, the coal or the building.
To labor, a worker must get the consent of the owners of industry. However obtained, the present masters of industry have surrounded their holdings with laws, court decisions, police power and government in general. To make these institutions favorable to owners instead of workers, the capitalists contribute financially to two political parties, the Republican and the Democratic. To fool the workers into voting for a “change” is a definite part of the capitalist control of the workings of government.
To build a new economic system based on service rather than greed, a workers’ political party is needed. That is why the Socialists are organized, and that is why we appeal to Negroes to support us in our struggles to improve workers’ conditions by building a new social order.
Because an overwhelming proportion of Negroes are workers, any measure which will help workers will help Negroes in a special degree. Because an overwhelming proportion of Negroes are workers, they stand to lose more by being fooled into voting for capitalist parties than does the white race in general. Negroes must become politically conscious of the interests of the working class, must join as Socialists in their fight for the working class, if they are to win freedom from their present oppressors.
Notes For Speakers, mimeographed fly sheet for Socialist speakers. Copy of the original in possession of the editors.
Frank R. Crosswaith and Alfred Baker Lewis91
The Negro Problem
At the bottom the Negro question is a labor question and is part of the whole problem of justice for the underdog for those who labor and labor hard and long, yet get only a small part of what they produce in return.
At the very time when white masters, with the aid of lawyers and political parties that they controlled, were enacting laws to make Negro slavery legal and right, those same masters were also making laws to provide slavery for white workers. For nearly 200 years some white workers were slaves in America. They were brought by thousands to America as contract slaves. Sometimes they sold themselves to shipmasters for from 7 to 14 years’ service in order to pay for their passage. Other thousands were political offenders sold for long terms of service to American planters. Some were actually kidnaped in British ports and brought to America and sold for long terms of service. White workers in the early years of America were often sold for terms of service for comparatively minor breaches of the laws, as James O’Neal in his masterly study, “The Workers in American History” has pointed out.92
The servitude under which the Negro was compelled to labor was called chattel slavery and was generally for life. The servitude under which the white worker was compelled to labor was called indentured service and was generally for a long but definitely limited term of years. Otherwise the conditions of their slavery were usually the same. Frequently in the American colonies the laws for Negro slaves applied to these white slaves as well. Both could be parted from their families. Both could be whipped by the master. Both had to wear the cast off clothing of the master.
Mr. O’Neal has put the matter very clearly. He says in his pamphlet, “The Next Emancipations”;—
“The laws to catch runaways applies to whites as well as Negroes. This was even put into the Constitution of the United States. Read Article IV, Section 3. It remains where the “fathers” of the government put it. It reads: ‘No person held to SERVICE or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such SERVICE or labor, but shall be delivered upon claim of the party to whom such SERVICE or labor may be due.”
“The word ‘service’ was inserted in this clause to include white ‘indentured servants’ who escaped from their masters. The word ‘labor’ applied to the Negro. The word ‘persons’ included both. Therefore, whites as well as Negroes were regarded and treated as slaves. The only difference was that the ‘indentured servant’ was not a slave for life.
“ . . . The white workers who were not ‘indentured’ servants were wage workers. Yet their wages were generally fixed by law. For petty offenses they were sold into indentured service. Their terms could be increased for disobedience, for striking a brutal master, for trying to run away, or for some other reason. So that a man bound to serve three years or five years might serve ten years or twenty years or thirty years.”
The Negro Question is a Part of the Labor Question
It is becoming increasingly clear to all intelligent people that the color of one’s skin or the place where one was born is purely accidental as far as the individual is concerned. Although we have made great progress in science and invention, we have not yet been able to choose our parents or birthplace. Thus wholly without our consent or knowledge we were born, some of us born with a white skin, others with a black, yellow, brown, or red skin. All of us discover ourselves as having been born in a land which we did not select to honor by being born there. None of us were privileged to choose our parents and the religious beliefs most of us have accepted, were chosen for us. This being the case, no normal and intelligent person can find a justifiable basis upon which to be proud of factors over which they themselves had no control.
Aside from the accident of birth and a different birthplace, however, we note a far more vital fact; namely, that no matter where we were born or the color of our skin, or the religious creeds we profess, all of us are confronted with the urge and desire to live and promote our happiness. To do so we must have food, clothing and shelter. These things are essential to the life of all mankind regardless of race, creed, color, nationality or sex. Not only are they vitally necessary to all human existence, but in the search for them practically every other consideration is more or less subordinated. How to get a living, is the fundamental economic problem of all mankind.
The Class Struggle
When a worker gets a job he expects and gets at least some pay. He doesn’t get anywhere near enough but he gets something. Actually the worker sells his labor power to the employer because he can’t get a living any other way. The employer buys his labor power. The worker sells labor power, the employer buys it, and the price of labor power is the wage or salary paid.
When someone is trying to buy a Ford car or any other article, we all know that the interests of the buyer and the seller are not the same. The buyer wants to buy for a low price, and the seller wants to sell for a high price. Their interests are opposite. If a housewife buys a turkey on Thanksgiving, she is pleased if the price of turkeys is low and the fellow who sells turkeys is displeased. He wants the price to be high.
Exactly the same clash of interests exists when labor power is bought and sold. The owner of industry or of the plantation wants to buy labor power cheaply. The seller of labor power, that is, the worker, wants to sell for a high price, or in other words, he wants to get a wage or salary as high as possible. There is a direct clash of interests between the seller and buyer of labor power.
The Ford car or the dead turkey does not care whether its price is high or low. But the worker does care whether the price of his labor power is high or low. If he gets a high price, he can have a high standard of living. He can buy wholesome nourishing food and good clothes. He can live in a good home and give his children a good education. If the price of his labor power is low he has to send his children out to help earn a living for the family as soon as the law allows, instead of keeping them at school. He is poorly nourished, perhaps dangerously undernourished. He is clad in rags and he has to live in an unsanitary tenement, shack, or hovel. His whole standard of living is low if the price of his labor is low. That is why the clash of interests between the worker, who wants to sell labor power for a high wage, and the owner of industry, who wants to buy labor power cheaply, becomes a class struggle between the owning class and the working class.
The Owners of Industry Are Top Dog in the Class Struggle
In that class struggle the owners of industry have all the advantage. The capitalist class, which is the name the economists give to the owners of industry, is “top dog” in the class struggle. This is true firstly, because the capitalists own the workers’ jobs. They can fire the worker, but the workers cannot fire the owners. The capitalists’ lawyers and political henchmen have fixed that.
Secondly, the capitalist class is “top dog” in the class struggle because the workers have to sell their labor power in order to live. They must keep on selling their labor every week, otherwise they starve. The capitalists have to buy some labor power but they do not have to buy all the labor power that is offered for sale. They don’t have to buy the labor power of any particular worker. In fact, if they didn’t buy any labor power at all for a time, they would lose only a comparatively small part of their year’s profits; while the workers would be in a very serious predicament and face starvation.
This is clear if we put it in a personal way. If you do not get a job, you lose all your savings, then you practically starve. But if the boss doesn’t hire you, he only stands to lose a tiny part of his profits, and he probably will not lose anything at all, for there are plenty other workers he can get instead of you.
When you sell your labor power, you go with it. Again that is true whether you are a white or a Negro worker. You are forced to sell yourself piecemeal day by day, week by week, month by month, to the capitalist class who control the jobs and own the industries and plantations of the country. You must get a job in order to eat and support your family. That is your weakness and the master’s strength. Knowing your needs, the owners of industry are able to take advantage of the situation and buy your labor for very small wages compared to the value of what you produce.
Now, a worker might sell his labor power for several generations, if he lived that long, and he would never become rich. But a capitalist can buy labor power for a few years and become comfortably wealthy. The reason for this is that the workers by their labor add extra value to the raw materials, and when the finished product is sold the capitalist owner gets the extra values as his profit.
The workers get wages and salaries in payment for their labor power when they are lucky enough to get a job. But the wages and salaries total only a small part of the value of what they produce. The difference between the full value of what they produce and the wages or salaries they get goes to the capitalist as unearned income in the form of rent, interest, dividends, and profits taken from the product of the worker’s labor. By taking this surplus value or unearned income from the product of the labor of hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers in a given plant or factory, the owners of industry are able to become wealthy.
Unearned Income For Owners
The fact that the people who get the largest incomes under our present capitalist system are not the people who work but rather the people who own for a living is plain from the government’s own statistics. We will not take the capitalist system today as an example to prove our point for everyone knows that the system is sick. So many people are out of work that one capitalist gets more out of industry today than all the 9 or ten million unemployed put together.
In order to be fair to the capitalist system, let us therefore, go back to the time before the depression when the system was supposed to be working well. The income tax figures of the Federal Government show that in 1929 there were 511 people in the United States who reported incomes of more than one million dollars. These 511 people had a bigger total income than all the wheat and cotton farmers in the United States received from the sale of their wheat and cotton in 1930. They received that big income from rent, interest, dividends, profit, and the proceeds from gambling on the stock exchange or in real estate, and not from doing some useful service in behalf of their fellow human beings.
Sometimes the members of the wealthy class worked for their money when they were young. More often they didn’t. They simply inherited their wealth so that they never had to work for a living. Sometimes the members of the capitalist class are decent people, philanthropic and charitable and interested in civic affairs. Often they are gamblers and wastrels whose luxurious living is a stench to the nostrils of their fellow beings. But, whether good or bad, they all get their unearned income nevertheless.
Some professors in our colleges and universities prostitute their intellect and learning by teaching their students that people get rich because of superior brains and ability. But such teachers are only hired liars. Suppose a rich man who was getting his income in the form of rent, interest, dividends and profits should die, as all of us must die eventually. His brains are dead too-no one can deny that. Yet, “his” income keeps on coming into his estate the same as before he and his brain died. It was not his brains but the brains and brawn of someone else who produced that income. The rich man simply took it because the capitalist class and the old line politicians whom they control have made the laws that way.
“You produce wealth and I will take it!” is what the master class in America—the capitalist owners of plantations, industries and banks—say to those who toil. And this is the essence of slavery.
Exploitation of Workers
Unearned income for the owners of industry means exploitation of the workers. You can only consume what someone else has labored to produce. So if the members of the capitalist class are getting enormous unearned incomes and living lavishly as they do, it necessarily means that the members of the working class are getting less than what they sweated to produce.
Suppose we regard the stream of goods and services that is constantly pouring forth from the mines, mills, farms and factories of our country as a great river of commodities flowing from the producers of raw materials through the manufacturers, then through the wholesalers and retailers, to the ultimate consumers. Most of us who are adults and are employed are putting something into that stream of goods and services. We are producing food or raw materials, or automobiles, or clothes or building homes, or furnishing the services of a store clerk, a doctor, a truck driver or a teacher, etc. We are taking something out of that stream of goods and services but we are also putting something in. That is fair and just.
But the owners of industry, the capitalist class, have put a dam out into the stream of goods and services, and are sluicing off part of its lifegiving flow of commodities into a private pool of their own. They are doing that while putting little or nothing back into the stream. That necessarily means that all those who are contributing some useful work or service to the stream of commodities are getting out of that stream less than the full value of what they put into it. Unearned income for the owning class means exploitation for the working class. It means poverty. It means war. It means for the workers, a level of life below the standards of decency and human comfort to which all God’s children are entitled. It means also that the rich grow richer while the poor grow poorer and lose their jobs.
In the process of exploitation of the working class by the master class under capitalism there is no real or essential difference between the position of the Negro worker and that of the white worker. Not a bit. A white boss will hire Negro or white scabs to prevent white or Negro workers from organizing to advance their wages or reduce their hours of labor. Negro or white landlords will raise the rent of Negro or white tenants in spite of race or color. It is therefore obvious that whatever difference of interest there is between members of the human race is primarily economic. By the same token we come to the conclusion that the economic interest of all workers is identical. It is one of the world’s great tragedies that while the members of the owning class have always placed their general economic and financial interest above and beyond race, color, creed, and national lines, the members of the working class on the other hand have permitted themselves to be divided far too often by these issues, thus weakening the working class and by the same token strengthening the owning class.
The capitalist master is a capitalist master, whether his skin is black or white. The wage worker is a wage worker, whether his skin is black or white. If the black worker toils for a white master he does not improve his lot by working for a black master. The white worker is not a free man because a white capitalist employs him and exploits him. He is robbed just the same as the Negro worker is robbed.
The great fact for both white and Negro workers to understand is that as wage workers they have common interests. WAGE LABOR, which is really wage slavery, unites them within the same class. Both sell their labor power for wages. Both must sell it to some capitalist owner of mills, factories, mines or plantations. Capitalist masters want to purchase it at a low price and workers want to sell it at a high price.
Unfortunately, the popular prejudice which so often exists today against the Negro has sometimes found its way into sections of the labor movement. However, it is well to recognize that the labor movement recruits its membership from among the people who make up the Nation’s population. These people have become accustomed to excluding the Negro from public places, to restricting him to slum residential neighborhoods, to lynching and other evil practices. Under the circumstances, therefore, we can well understand the occasional presence of racial prejudice and discrimination within the ranks of labor.
We must also recognize that the prejudice leveled against the Negro is based upon ignorance, cultivated and fostered by the owning and employing class in order to divide and weaken the ranks of the working class. To divide and rule is an old Roman practice. The American ruling class has improved upon that technique. While the Negro was a slave this prejudice against him was at first comparatively mild and less obvious. “Massa in de cold, cold ground” and other paens of loyalty and devotion to the white slaveholders testify to the fact that the master welcomed and cultivated every evidence of loyalty by the slave. The propaganda in those days was intended to divide the Negro slaves and the white indentured servants. In order to effect this division the white slaves were made to believe that if slavery was destroyed, the freed blacks would monopolize the available work and thus consign the white workers to idleness, poverty and privation.
Prejudice as a means of weakening labor has always been a handy tool. Once the New England aristocracy generated against Irish workers a prejudice so effective that many of the skilled trades and professions were closed to Irish workmen. Because they were mostly Catholics their churches and convents were burnt and in some cases they were even mobbed. This anti-Irish prejudice in New England was like the anti-Jewish prejudice which rich land barons of Russia developed among the ignorant Russian peasants under the Czar, and which Adolf Hitler today is promoting in Nazi Germany and in all the lands that he can seize. Such has always been the conduct of the scheming ruling class bent upon perpetuating its robbery and exploitation of the working class. Because the robbers are so few in numbers while the robbed working class is so numerous,—it is absolutely necessary for the robber owning class to divide the working class along lines that may be handy, so that the workers will waste their energies fighting among themselves instead of against their common class enemy, the exploiters.
We have seen that the so-called race question is at bottom a class or labor question. How then does prejudice, with its segregation, Jim Crowism and lynching get into the picture? We know it is there. But how did it get there and how can we get it out? As stated before, the owners of industry want to keep the workers divided so that they can exploit them more easily and without having the workers put up too much resistance.
Suppose a farmer with a team of mules wanted to overwork them. Of course the mules would certainly have sense enough to kick, when the farmer overworked and whipped them to make them pull the plow or wagon faster. If the farmer would only get a pair of mules that would start kicking at and fighting with each other instead of kicking at him when he whipped them and overworked them, he could escape any penalty for driving them mercilessly. He could overwork them without fear of a kick.
That is exactly the situation when the owning class exploits white and Negro workers, or Catholic and Protestant workers or Jewish and Gentile workers. The ruling class must find a way to keep the workers divided so that they won’t kick effectively to abolish or curtail the exploitation from which they suffer in common.
In other words, prejudice pays the bosses and harms the interests of the workers whatever their nationality, race, creed or color. As a result of prejudice different groups of workers will despise, or oppose, or fight each other instead of using their spare time and energy to oppose the exploitation of the working class as a whole by the employing class as a whole.
The workers might get together and form unions which would reduce the hours of labor and raise pay. They might organize and support a political party which would provide a really generous old age pension for everyone at a reasonable age limit, or would provide free college education for whites and Negroes alike, just as we have free high schools in most northern States. They might also provide for pay through a system of unemployment insurance to everyone unable to find work through no fault of his own. They might demand that the money for the adequate old age pensions and unemployment relief should be paid for by taxing profits, big incomes, inheritances, or the proceeds from stock exchange gambling. The workers might even abolish exploitation altogether by having the people of our country own and control the industries and natural resources of our land, if prejudice, and ignorance, which is the mother of prejudice, did not keep them divided. Then the members of the capitalist class would have to work for a living—and of course they think that would be terrible. So prejudice pays.
In the South the Ku Klux Klan is used to stir up hatred and prejudice between Negroes and whites and thus keep the workers divided. In the North where there are not so many Negroes, the Ku Klux Klan was used to stir up prejudice between Catholics and Protestants—to keep the workers divided. In many places where there were a good many Jews, the Ku Klux Klan was used to stir up hatred and ill will between Jews and Gentiles—to keep the workers divided.
Father Coughlin and a number of other demagogues have been busy spreading poisonous hatred between Jews and Gentiles. Since Hitler came to power a large number of purveyors of poison propaganda, notably a man named Pelley, head of an organization known as the Silver Shirts, have been busy putting out the sort of anti-Semitism which was and is the stock in trade of Hitler’s propaganda.93
Recently, the Ku Klux Klan has shown more clearly than ever the real power and purpose back of its dirty work by declaring opposition to the C.I.O. unions as one of its purposes along with the maintenance of White Protestant, and Negro supremacy.94
Undoubtedly the most dangerous of these sowers of race prejudice is Father Coughlin, whose Christian Front and Christian Mobilizers are extremely busy blaming all our economic troubles on the Jews. The part of the country which is worst off economically is the South, and there are hardly any Jews there; but that does not stop the noisy lies of these followers of Father Coughlin.
Whether they know it or not, they are doing work useful to the exploiting class, in sowing division and disunity among the workers and those who suffer from exploitation.
“Divide and rule” was the religion of the masters of the old Roman Empire, the most successful imperialist rulers that the world has ever known. It is the practice of the master class in America today, though they are usually too clever openly to proclaim it.
Mussolini, a dictator serving the interests of the Italian capitalists and keeping the Italian workers ground under the iron heel of Fascism, is trying to prevent working class complaints against himself and his dictatorship by stirring up the hatred of the Italian against the inoffensive blacks in Ethiopia. Hitler, a dictator serving the interests of the German capitalists and grinding the working class of Germany under the iron heal of oppression, rose to power by stirring up with base lies prejudices against Jews.
In Haverstraw, N.Y., recently, the Ku Klux Klan was used by Jewish manufacturers to terrorize Jewish garment workers who were forming a union to secure higher wages and decent conditions of work. Race prejudice is always a good investment for the master class.
In Peabody, Massachusetts, the center of the leather manufacturing industry of the East, the employing class deliberately put Greeks and Turks to work side by side in the big manufacturing plants there. They know that in the old country every time a Greek saw a Turk he used to shoot at him, except when the Turk got in his shot first. The manufacturers thought that in this way the workers would be kept divided and therefore unable to form a union to get higher pay in the leather manufacturing plants. But the Greek and Turkish workers overcame their traditional prejudice against each other when they understood that prejudice was keeping them both down. When they did so, they got together and formed a union and have gained higher pay and better conditions as a result.
White and Negro workers can do the same thing. They will do it when they understand how the poison brew of prejudice harms them both. Sensible trade unionists, progressives, and the American Labor Party are helping them towards that understanding, and this pamphlet is dedicated to that end.
We have seen that the Negro question is a part of the labor question and that the labor question grows out of the exploitation of the workers, whether they are white or black, whether they are Catholics, Protestants or Jews. Prejudice is in the picture because it makes it easier for the owning class to exploit the working class by keeping the workers divided and fighting among themselves.
Divided, they are prostrate before the power of the capitalist class. United they can get rid of exploitation and build a Cooperative Commonwealth of Labor for all who do useful work whatever their race, color, or creed.
Solving the Problem
How then can we tackle the question of getting rid of race prejudice and exploitation?
Not By Negro Racialism and Anti-Semitism
First of all, we must clearly understand that there is no hope in building a Negro nationalist movement based on anti-white prejudice, opposed to the anti-Negro prejudice of too many white people in America. The proper fight of Negroes is against prejudice in all its forms, and for that fight we can properly demand and are now more and more getting, aid from the decent and sensible members of the white group. The struggle to build Negro prejudice against whites, or some special section of the white race such as the Jews, is not a solution. It is by genuine interracial organizations, and not by Negro nationalism, that the solution of the Negro problem must be sought. For in the long run the majority of the people in the United States are white; and a line-up of Negro against white is not likely to advance the cause of justice for Negroes or other racial minority groups.
Ownership and Management of Industry
The true source of human exploitation lies in the private ownership of natural resources and industries by the wealthy few. These few own the necessities of life in order to make profit at the expense of the needs and labor of their fellows. Therefore, to get rid of exploitation of the workers and unearned incomes for the owners, we must replace private ownership and management of industry and of our God-given natural resources with public ownership and democratic management. Instead of having our banks, mines, mills, factories, railroads, electric light and power plants, chain stores and big plantations run for the interests of the owners, so that they can exploit the workers and take a large part of the product of their labor, we will have industry owned by the people through the government and run for the benefit of all the people.
No one who is a good patriotic American could object to that. When the majority of Americans, Negro and white workers and farmers, today speak of “My Country,” they utter a hope, not a fact. For the truth of the matter is that most of us who work do not own enough of “Our Country” to serve as a cemetery for a flea or a bed bug. “Our Country” will be ours when we own it and operate its industries and natural resources to meet the needs of all of us. Today, we do not even own our jobs. The boss can fire us any time he gets a cheaper worker or any time he can no longer make a big profit from our labor. The people who can truthfully speak of “My Country” are the Wall Street gang and the money trust, the cotton kings and railroad kings, the steel kings and automobile barons. It is their America, for it is they who own it, and by owning the country they also own the workers of the country.
When industry is owned by the people, it can and will be run for the good of the people. That means first of all that we will guarantee a job for everyone able and willing to work. We will even give the members of the capitalist class a chance to work, and that is something they do not do for us. We will produce things of good quality that people want and need. We will end the crazy situation that recently existed under capitalism where the government, through the A.A.A., paid farmers not to produce, while millions of school children and adults are undernourished and half-starved, while millions more are poorly clad and wretchedly housed in overcrowded, ill-ventilated, and unsanitary shacks and tenements.
In a cooperative commonwealth, people would be born into economic and industrial rights, just as today we are all supposed to have certain civil and political rights. Today, we are all supposed to have the right of trial by jury (if you do not get lynched) and the right to vote (if you can pay your poll tax and, if a Negro, you do not try to vote in the Democratic primaries in the South). When industry is run for the people instead of the people being exploited for the benefit of the owners of industry, as is now the case, we will all then be guaranteed the right to a job, the right to the full social value of what we produce, the right to a decent and adequate pension for the veterans of industry, and even the right to have our children given a college education.
The difference between industry privately owned and operated for the profit of the exploiting class and public ownership of industry producing goods for the genuine welfare of the people, can best be illustrated by the following example: Today the owners of industry put in new machinery whenever they can profitably do so. They call it labor-saving machinery, but they do not install it to save labor. They use it to save the wages they pay to the workers. For example, if the owners of industry can get a new machine that enables one man to do the work which four or five used to do, each man does not have to work less hard. Not a bit of it. The owners of industry discharge three or four of them and make the remaining men work just as hard as before. They do not “save labor” but they save themselves from having to pay out as much in wages as they used to pay.
Of course those who get laid off receive no wages and thus their purchasing power is reduced or even destroyed; they cannot buy. Because they cannot buy, we have what is called “over-production” and “hard times” and still more unemployment. Of course, the trouble isn’t over-production,” instead it is “under-consumption.” The workers do not get enough wages to enable them to buy back the full value of what they produced. Machinery today is actually a curse to the many millions of unemployed and the hungry, not because machinery is bad, but rather because the capitalist class use machinery for their own private advantage—to reduce labor costs and thus increase their profits.
Of course in a cooperative commonwealth industry will be run for the good of the people, and therefore, new machinery would mean that each man could produce much more goods and earn high wages. When the workers produce more and earn more, they can buy more and thus have a higher standard of living and avoid the curse of unemployment; or, the hours of labor could be reduced. Consequently, if more was produced in each hour everyone would work shorter hours without a reduction in pay. That, too, would avoid unemployment and at the same time increase leisure for education, for the appreciation of art and literature, the enjoyment of good music and for the development of a family life. In this way machinery would become a blessing to mankind. Machinery under such a system could be utilized to give every family an average income of $5,000 a year and more, as still more machinery was invented and put to work as the iron slaves of all the people.
As more machinery is introduced under public ownership of industry for the good of all, we could lay off the old people, the veterans of industry, on a pension of $200 or more a month. We would take the younger people off the streets and give them a good college education. And as still more machinery was invented we could give everybody two weeks’ holiday with pay, maybe a month or more. In other words, we could then make machines the slaves of mankind, instead of the working class being enslaved to machinery by the capitalist class who today own the machines and thereby control the workers’ jobs and lives.
The American Labor Party and the Negro
About 98 per cent of Negroes are industrial or agricultural workers. Therefore, any measures that will help the working class as a whole, will also benefit the entire Negro group. This is particularly true since Negro professional men are wholly and directly dependent on Negro workers and farmers, who are their clients, patients or pupils.
For instance, a more generous old age pension law as we advocate, will benefit all workers, but will especially benefit the Negro, because Negroes usually get lower wages than other workers; hence they are less able to save for old age. We also favor a more generous allowance under the unemployment insurance laws, and bringing domestic servants and farm laborers under these laws. Obviously, such changes will especially benefit Negroes. For, owing to the prejudice existing among many employers, Negro workers are the first to be fired and the last to be hired. With more generous and more inclusive unemployment insurance to cushion the deprivations of joblessness, the savage and relentless competition between white and Negro workers for the limited number of jobs available under capitalism would be softened. The antagonisms resulting from such competition would eventually die out. And the same general rule applies to the various other measures that the American Labor Party favors for the immediate benefit of workers and farmers. The Negro group will be benefited to a greater degree than other workers.
The leading members of the American Labor Party have been very active in helping workers, whether agricultural, industrial, or white collared to organize into genuine unions. In the day by day battles of labor for higher pay and shorter hours, against discrimination and all sorts of chiseling by employers, unions are the most effective weapons of the working class. Only by organizing can the workers protect themselves against unfair discharge, against lay-offs, against low wages and long hours of work. Unions are necessary in order that workers can get from the introduction of labor displacing devices the benefits of higher wages and shorter hours in accord with the increased output per worker which such devices make possible. Unions are also the beginnings of industrial democracy. They are a much needed curb on the absolute autocracy of the boss over the livelihood of his “hands,” as he contemptuously calls his workers when he is talking to other bosses. If you have a strong union you become a citizen of the industry instead of a subject of the boss.
In order to maintain their absolute industrial autocracy over the lives and livelihood of their workers and tenants, the capitalists and plantation owners try as far as they can to deny to the workers political democracy, and deprive them of their right to vote. In the South they especially deny to Negroes the right to vote in the Democratic primaries. Thus they effectively disfranchise us, for the Democrats have unquestioned control of the Southern States. They also disfranchise most of the poor white workers and farm hands by making them pay a poll tax before they can vote.
On the other hand, the workers while fighting for industrial democracy, practice political democracy within their own unions. Consequently, Negro members of the International Longshoremen’s Association, The United Mine Workers of America, The International Ladies Garment Workers Union and other unions in the South, as well as the North, enjoy the right to vote for union officials, as well as the right to participate in decisions affecting wages and work conditions. Thus, while Negro and poor white workers and farmers of the South have been disfranchised by the owning class through the Republican and Democratic politicians who serve the rich, the very same Negro and white workers and tenant farmers when organized enjoy truly democratic rights and privileges in their unions.
This policy, pursued by the American Labor Party, of equal rights for all whatever their race, creed, or color, is not founded merely on noble sentiment. It is founded also on sound common sense and upon the stern dictates of self interest, and is thus stronger on that account.
The job of winning concessions in wages and hours and preventing arbitrary discharge by the boss is a gigantic one. The employer, of course, starts with financial resources immeasurably superior to anything that the workers can possibly muster, either singly or together. Such resources enable him to comb the country for scabs, to offer temporarily high pay to such scabs, to influence public opinion, and to plant spies or agents provocateurs among the ranks of the workers, as is amply proved by the investigation of LaFollette’s senatorial committee on civil liberties. The worker on his part when he goes on strike, cannot afford to travel too far hunting another job to keep his family fed while the strike lasts, and if he did, he could only find a job at the present time if he were extremely lucky.
Even more important, the corporate or individual owner of industry has the right to hire and fire, the power to promote and demote. At present, this legal right to give and withhold employment means in actual practice the right to condemn a man and his family to the tender mercies of the public welfare relief. It constitutes a tremendously powerful economic club in the hands of the owners of industry which is not adequately balanced by any similar club in the hands of the workers, no matter how strongly and completely organized they may be.
Added to all this preponderance of economic power on the side of the employer in any wage contract between the owners of industry and unorganized workers, is the fact that in nearly every case where the workers are trying to establish a union in an industry and locality where unions have not been recognized and dealt with by the employer before, as is the case in many parts of the South, the state and local authorities are on the side of the employer in any economic conflict. The police and local public officials may, therefore, be counted on confidently to be vigorous in protecting the scabs, and lackadaisical in preserving the right to picket or in forcing upon recalcitrant employers the duty of bargaining collectively.
To overcome all this heaped-up economic and political power, the workers can only rely on the solidarity of labor. Unless this solidarity embraces all workers, whatever their race, national origin, or color, the chance of union victory in any labor struggle is slim indeed.
Sensible white and Negro trade unionists know this, and whatever their personal feelings may be, insist on equal rights for all national and racial groups within the union covering the working force of any industry.
So strong is the force of the argument that equal standing and just treatment for Negro and other racial groups in the union will strengthen the power of that union, that the A.F. of L. has repeatedly declared itself, through convention resolutions, against racial discrimination in unions, although it must be admitted that the A.F. of L. central body, in actual practice, has done nothing to discipline such unions as the machinists, who do openly draw the color line. Since the International Ladies Garment Workers has joined the A.F. of L., we can reasonably expect to see the forces in the A.F. of L. which are fighting race prejudice greatly strengthened, since the I.L.G.W.U. has an honorable and consistent record of opposing all forms of prejudice among its members.
The newer unions, such as those affiliated with the C.I.O., and the recent recruits which the C.I.O. unions have gained in industries such as steel and automobiles, have been particularly strong in their opposition to any racial discrimination among their membership. The C.I.O. in the steel industry, for example, was and is vigorous in opposing any tendency toward discrimination, so much so that Negroes in numerous instances furnish officials for the local unions in a larger proportion than they furnish members among the rank and file. The C.I.O. in meat packing, likewise, is free from race prejudice.
In the Birmingham district, despite the general Southern attitude toward the colored group, the unions formed in the mass production industries are relatively free from discrimination. This is so despite an active campaign by at least some of the employers’ representatives to prevent unionization by an appeal to race prejudice. As a result, Negro union members can vote as trade unionists on problems affecting their jobs and livelihood, when they are in practice effectively denied the right to vote as citizens for government offices. In striving together for a goal beneficial to both, Negro and white workers forget the prejudice which every institution in that section of the country has fostered and encouraged.
It should therefore appear clear, that in the long run, the best attack on the segregation which is the mother of prejudice is through organizations which seek for larger groups, including both whites and Negroes, economic advantage for the group as a whole. Unions are an excellent example of such organizations, especially the more vigorous and progressive unions such as those in the American Labor Party.
Unfortunately, race prejudice so permeates white America that hardly any important group is free from it. Unions are more nearly free of race prejudice than most groups composed chiefly of white people. But the color bar still exists in some unions. Members of the American Labor Party are active in trying to break it down.
We seek to make all workers and farmers understand that in this fight for True Freedom, which will end exploitation and secure justice for all who toil, prejudice is but the poison gas employed by their class enemies. Both the prejudice of the whites, and the suspicions of the Negroes, must be rooted from the hearts of all, so that the working class can more effectively fight for justice and freedom. As the workers learn to stand shoulder to shoulder in a genuine brotherhood of all who toil, they can make greater progress and insure the success of their joint efforts.
The Cooperative Commonwealth will be the liberator of labor and the hope of all mankind. Already it gives inspiration to millions of workers of all races in all lands. It has enabled these millions to understand that their interests are not bound up with the interests of the exploiters of labor, the greedy masters of our economic and industrial life. The American Labor Party and similar organizations are teaching the landless, jobless and moneyless millions of mankind to have confidence in the irresistible power of the educated working class, enlightened and united to make a better world and win for themselves and their children the right to life, liberty and happiness.
We call upon workers, Negro and white, skilled and unskilled, to unite in the battle against poverty, against war, against human exploitation, against race prejudice, against all that stands in the way of human brotherhood and a noble life. The struggle to win these goals is a glorious struggle and for the greatest prize beings can ever strive for in this world. In this struggle, the color line with all its prejudice and segregation, its discrimination and lynching must go. Racial and national hatreds must be wiped out. The workers must close up their ranks. They must no longer divide and dissipate their strength between two parties, owned by their masters. They must unite in a Party of their own, a Party of all who do useful work, regardless of race, creed or color—The American Labor Party.
Workers of the Negro race! Workers of all races! Ours is the choice. Shall we who feed the world, who clothe the world, who house the world, forever remain contented Pariahs, dispossessed and despoined in the very world we have built by our labors of brain and brawn through the centuries? Shall we forever remain content with poverty in the midst of plenty, while the hell of war and fascism smother our souls and break our bodies? Or shall we rise together, gird our loins, and fight for ourselves, for our class, for the right to live, to enjoy a life of peace, plenty and true freedom?
We must choose! Our fate rests in our own hands. JOIN your union! JOIN your Party—The American Labor Party—and together let us go forward from victory to victory until we conquer the world for labor and establish the cooperative commonwealth—the Brotherhood of all mankind wherein true freedom, freedom from poverty, unemployment, exploitation, race prejudice, and war will be the rightful heritage of all who render useful service to society.
Frank R. Crosswaith and Alfred B. Lewis, Negro and White Labor Unite for True Freedom (New York: Negro Labor News Service, 1935), pp. 14–15, 21, 25–27, 29–36, 44–47, 49–56, 57–58.
BEN FLETCHER AND THE INTERNATIONAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD95
13. I.W.W. MEANS “I WON’T WORK,” SHOUTS GEO. C. HALL AT BROOKLYN96
Riots Are the Results of the Lack of Law and Order Enforcement Explains the Eminent Surgeon
Brooklyn, N.Y. Feb. 2.—“The churches of Chicago did more to stop the co-called race riots there than the police and the State militia ever could have done,” declared Dr. George C. Hall, of that city, in an adress before the Brooklyn Urban League’s annual meeting at the First Presbyterian Church. Dr. Hall is one of the committee appointed by the Governor of Illinois to investigate the recent riots in Chicago. His talk was on “The Negro and the Community.”97
“The riots and the results of the riots arose from the neglect of law and order,” he said. “Because a few of us go wrong there is no reason for blaming the whole group. We know this Government and its Constitution stand for a square deal for all and that its principles are the best of any nation on the face of the globe. We have always shown our loyalty and our I.W.W. stands for ‘I Want Work’ and nothing else.”
“The Negro went to France and made the same sacrifices for democracy as did the white boys, and I believe he has paid the price for admission to the big show.”
“I want my people to have confidence in the American people and the American people to have confidence in us. We have adapted ourselves to the conditions in which we have been compelled to live, and want people of America to learn more of the ideals and thoughts of the American Negro. It would be a terrible thing if some morning one twelfth of the population of this country should run amuck. We must understand and help each other.”
Alexander L. Jackson, educational secretary for the league and a graduate of Harvard, talked on the “Spirit of the Urban League Movement.” He declared the problem of today was the ignorance of one group of the other and that by improving the condition of the Negro the condition of the community as a whole would be improved. He declared the time has come when the colored people should come into their own, not as colored people, but as American citizens; also that if the two groups began to learn more of each other in early life the matter would be greatly simplified.
Robert J. Elzy, executive secretary of the league, read a report on the year’s work and said he was satisfied there had been a great improvement over the year 1918. One of the main activities was the housing situation. The conditions in the poorer sections were very bad and unfit places to bring up children were numerous.
The Birmingham Reporter, February 7, 1920.
In the city of the Quakers, the Southern bugaboo—the contact of Negro and white peoples, has been routed by the plain, unvarnished workers. In the Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union, No. 8, there are 3,500 men, three-fifths of whom are Negroes. During the war there were more than six thousand men in the organization.
Despite the affiliation of Local 8 with the I.W.W., no attempt was made during the war to destroy the organization, doubtless due, so it is rumored among the men, to the recognition by the boss stevedores of the fact that the union had the power to tie up the port of Philadelphia.
Another signal achievement to which the men point with great pride is that no mishaps, as explosions of any kind, occurred in their port—one of the largest and most important ports in the country, during the war, from which munitions and various materials of war were shipped to the Allies. Yet, malicious propagandists have sought to stigmatize these men as “anarchists” and “bomb throwers.”
Again, the organization has been the lever with which the men have raised their wages from 25 cents to 80 cents and $1.20 per hour. They have also established union conditions on the job. They have overthrown monarchy in the transport industry of Philadelphia, and set up a certain form of industrial democracy, in that the boss stevedores and the delegates of the union confer to adjust differences that arise between the longshoremen and the shipping interests. This is quite a long way from the day when the boss stevedores hired and fired, and reduced wages without let-up or hindrance. Then chaos reigned on the water front. The longshoremen had no power because they had no organization.
One effective way to break down the color bar in unions is to increase the number of Negro trade unionists so that their votes and influence will count more and more heavily in the central labor unions, the state federations of labor, and the American Federation of Labor, and in the C.I.O. and its subordinate parts as well. Accordingly, unionists in the American Labor Party, both white and Negro, have substantially aided every effort of the Negro workers to organize. The present head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Mr. A. Philip Randolph, is a member of the American Labor Party. Mr. Frank R. Crosswaith, one of the authors of this pamphlet, and now a General Organizer of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, was one of the first organizers of the Pullman Porters Union and, at present, is Chairman of the Negro Labor Committee. As far back as 1925 he organized the Negro motion picture operators in Harlem and led a successful fight against the color bar that existed in the Motion Picture Machine Operators Union. He was likewise the moving spirit in setting up the Harlem Labor Center—“Labor’s home in Harlem.” This headquarters for the trade union life of Harlem was made possible only through the cooperation of progressive trade unionists, both white and colored, in New York City.
The International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, whose members in New York take a leading part in the American Labor Party, has been very active from its very beginning in organizing the Negro workers in its field. In that union Negroes enjoy absolute equality with their white fellow members. This is also true of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. The United Mine Workers of America, one of the most powerful unions in the United States, has many thousands of Negro members. Negro and white longshoremen of the Gulf ports have participated in a strike shoulder to shoulder on the docks, conducted by the International Longshoremen’s Association, which is a comparatively conservative labor organization, has contributed a stirring example of interracial solidarity to the history of race relationships in America.
Bogalusa, La., was the headquarters of the Great Southern Lumber Company, whose sawmill is one of the largest in the world. In 1919 the company tried to use unorganized Negro workers to defeat white workers who had formed a union. Here is the story of what happened:
“The forces of labor, however, began to organize the Negroes in the employ of the company, which held political as well as capitalistic control in the community. The company then began to have Negroes arrested on charges of vagrancy, taking them before the city court and having them fined and turned over to the company to work out the fines under the guard of a gunman. In the troubles that came to a head on November 22, three white men were shot and killed, one of them being the District President of the American Federation of Labor, who was helping to give protection to a colored organizer.”98
This is a glorious example of the common understanding and solitarity between white and Negro workers against their common enemy which Negro and white trade unionists must develop and extend. If each of us would pledge to do the utmost to expand that understanding and solidarity between the workers of both races through the North and the South and into every nook and cranny of the land, the day of labor’s liberation would be hastened. Such class brotherhood will eventually root out prejudice from our social life, and finally weld the members of both groups in a solid, steel-like army fighting for justice for all who toil.
Probably the most significant and successful attempt that is being made anywhere today to get effective common action for a common cause between white and Negro workers is the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union. Despite the evil seeds of prejudice and suspicion which for two centuries the plantation owners and their agents had sowed among the equally oppressed farm hands of both races, a union was built in which both races cooperated on terms of absolute equality for their common advancement.99
Because of the courage, hard work and solidarity of its members, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union has been able to make substantial gains in Arkansas and Southeastern Missouri, where it was most strongly organized. For the first time in Dixie, white and colored farm laborers, who constitute some of the lowest paid and most cruelly exploited workers in the entire United States struck together to elevate their common low level of life on the cotton plantations there.
“We have no distinctions in this union”—another vouchsafed, “Everybody draws the same wage, even to the waterboy.”
At this time, our interesting confab with the different workers standing around in the hall, was abruptly cut short by a sharp rap of a gavel reenforced by a husky voice, calling for order. Men were seen, in different parts of the hall scamping for seats. As we turned and looked to the front of the hall, we observed two workers, one black and one white, seated upon a platform. We inquired of their functions, and were informed that the colored worker was the chairman and the white worker the secretary.
The chairman was direct and positive and yet not intolerant. The meeting proceeded smoothly, interrupted here and there with some incoherent remarks, giving evidence that John Barleycorn was not dead. This was taken good-naturedly, however, as the worker, in question, was known as a good union man.
The most interesting phase of this meeting was the report of a committee on a movement to segregate the Negroes into a separate union. Strange, to say, this move came from alleged intelligent Negroes outside of the union, who have heretofore cried down the white union workers on the ground that they excluded Negroes from their unions.
It is interesting to note, in this connection, that the white workers were as violent as the Negroes in condemning this idea of segregation. All over the hall murmurs were heard, “I’ll be damned if I’ll stand for anybody to break up this organization,” “It’s the bosses trying to divide us,” “We’ve been together this long and we will be together on.”
Finally a motion was passed to adopt a program of action of propaganda and publicity to counteract this nefarious propaganda to wreck the organization upon the rocks of race prejudice.
Here was the race problem being worked out by black and white workers. They have built up a powerful organization—an organization which has been the foundation of a good living for the men. Many a man told us that he had been able to maintain his children in high school on the wages Local 8 had secured for him, and at the thought of anyone attacking the organization, his eyes flashed—a hissing fire of hate—regarding such an attack as an attack upon his life and the lives of his wife and children.
Colored workers told us, too, that they remember when a colored man could not walk along the waterfront, so high was the feeling running between the races. But, now all races work on the water-front. Negro families live all through that section. It is a matter of common occurrence for Negroes and white workers to combine against a white or a black scab.
And the organization, Local 8 of the Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union did it all! The white and black workers were then pulling together. Why should they now pull apart? What they have done, they can do, and even more, if only the workers of races realize that their power lies in solidarity—which is achieved through industrial organization.
The Messenger, 3 (July, 1921): 214-15.
The meeting was called to order at 8:30 p.m. sharp. Immediately the gavel sounded, a hall of six or seven hundred eager-eyed workers doffed their hats and sat up erect—a picture of attention, interest and enthusiasm. It was the beginning of an innovation among workers.
It was a conscious and deliberate effort of the Marine Transport Workers to conduct a systematic forum for self-education.
Rumors had been floating in the air about the rise of a dual union. It had been reported that agents of the I.L.A. were operating along the waterfront, seeking to sow the seeds of discord and dissension among the rank and file of the organization. Alleged Negro leaders masquerading in the guise of race loyalty, had been preaching the nefarious and dangerous doctrine of race segregation to the Negro members of Local 8. Negroes were made all sorts of fictitious and fraudulent promises about their receiving sick and death benefits. To these sugar-coated, empty and unsubstantial pledges, the militant, class-conscious and intelligent Negro workers turned a deaf ear. They meted out to the self-styled and self-appointed I.L.A. saviors of the Negro workers, curses instead of blessings.
It was to reenforce and fortify the brains of Local 8 that this forum was organized. Only those men of the organization were deceived by the notorious misrepresentation of the paid agents of the bosses who were “strong in the back and weak in the head.” But always alert, active and conscious of its class interests, Local 8 proceeded to formulate plans to break down the insidious, anti-labor solidarity propaganda of the I.L.A.
The subject of the lecture of the first meeting was “The Relation of Organized Labor to Race Riots.”
The speaker attempted to show that inasmuch as labor fights race riots just as it fights the wars between nations, only labor could stop race riots. He pointed out that just as the bosses of the workers profit from national wars, so the bosses of the workers profit from race wars; that it was to the interest of the capitalists to keep the workers divided upon race lines so that they could rob them more easily and successfully. He stated that: “If the white and black working days are kept fighting over the bone of race prejudice, the artful, hypocritical yellow capitalist dog will steal up and grab the meat of profit. It was explained how race riots served the interests of the employers of labor, by keeping the workers divided, at daggers points. He indicated how the I.L.A. was serving the interests of the Stevedores and Shipping Interests by preaching a race-riot doctrine of segregation.
Brief, pointed and enthusiastic questions and discussions followed the lecture.
There was an evident passion to talk among the fellow workers. The forum afforded them an ideal opportunity to vent their grievances against the I.L.A. and the entire tribe of anti-labor forces in the country.
Although the verbs and nouns seldom lay down in harmony and peace, the clear economic thinking of the fellow workers was marvelous and evident to any one.
Each speaker deplored and condemned the Tulsa race riot in Oklahoma. With a sound working-class instinct they laid the cause of the Tulsa massacres at the door of the labor-hating, profiteering, conscienceless Ku Klux Klan, predatory business interests of the South.
Here, too, was a living example of the ability of white and black people to work, live and conduct their common affairs side by side. There were black and white men and black and white women in this meeting. No rapes, no lynchings, no race riots occurred! Isn’t it wonderful! Let the Southern press together with its northern, eastern and western journalistic kith and kin, bent upon their base, corrupt, wicked and hateful mission of poisoning the wells of public opinion with the virulent spleen of race prejudice, take note!
The second forum meeting discussed the interesting subject of “Labor Preparedness for the Next War.” “Industrial Unionism, the Only Hope of the Workers” provided an enthusiastic and lively discussion. John Barleycorn wormed his way into the stomach of one fellow and upset his head, thereby necessitating a discussion of the “Relation of Liquor to the Labor Movement.” Searching and discerning questions on the economics of the Prohibition Movement were hurled at the speaker. “Was the abolition of the liquor industry which increased unemployment to the interest of the workers?” was asked. The speaker answered that, “there was no more reason for advocating the sale of liquor, a recognized poison, on the ground that it afforded employment to workers than there was to advocate war, or the building of houses of prostitution on the grounds that such would afford employment to the workers.”
This meeting was followed by a lecture on the “Open Shop Campaign—the Remedy: Trades or Industrial Unionism.”
The Forum meets every Friday evening in Philadelphia.
Here the workers are trying to democratize knowledge, for they, too, are learning that knowledge is power and that if the capitalists control all the knowledge, they will also control the world.
The Messenger, 3 (August, 1921): 234.
Labor, the world over, is faced with the task of rescuing humanity from the wreck of capitalism. In England, France, Italy, Germany, and America, the laboring element are the chief victims of the impasse, preciptated in industry, by the present masters of the world.
The industries, built up by labor and operated for the production of social necessities, are now idle. As a result of the inability of the high priests of capitalism to carry on production without interruption, unemployment, want and misery blight the lives of millions of willing workers in every land where the system of private ownership in the social tools of production, obtains.
For the work of taking over the business of running the world, the toilers need to prepare. In every country, and in every industry, the workers are confronted with the task of preparing themselves. This is the most immediate phase of their work. To this task, be it said to the credit of the Industrial Workers of the World, Research Bureaus have been established. Their purpose is to investigate the processes of industries, such as mining, manufacturing, feeding, shipping, railroading, banking, farming, etc.—with a view to placing, at the convenience of labor, a body of scientific knowledge essential to an efficient control, operation and management of the world’s work.
The plan of scientific-knowledge-research-bureaus is a direct and necessary outgrowth of the industrial union form of organization. In an industrial democracy, the industry will naturally form the unit of society, and, hence, a knowledge of its organization, processes, and technique of management becomes, at once, the primary prerequisite to those in whose charge the industrial mechanism will fall. In anticipation of the trend of the industrial life of the world, labor unions, in all of the various countries are turning their attention to problems of industrial control, operation, and management. In England, the recognition by the workers of the need for greater knowledge of the machinery of production and exchange is manifest in their development of the “shop stewards’ movement.” In Germany, Italy and France similar movements are in process of development.
As a result of this new urge for knowledge, workers’ colleges, papers and magazines, forums and churches, have grown up. They are mobilizing an army of educators to conduct their educational efforts. The class struggle has, at last, driven the proletariat to see that education, organization and agitation must go hand in hand, and that not until the workers have achieved a workingclass solidarity based upon scientific knowledge, will they seriously struggle for emancipation. This, of course, does not mean that each worker must be a political economist, but it does mean that the workers must understand the nature of the class organization of society; they must realize what a menace to the interests of the workers, divisions upon race, religion, color, sex, nationality and trade, constitute. Needless to say, that economic understanding must come both from the struggle between labor and capital, and the conscious educational efforts of organized labor. For a long time labor has received its training, in toto, from the school of industrial war, and such was the logical and inevitable thing to happen; for the material conditions of strife and conflict alone could effectively convince the workers of the necessity of their employing the same weapons of offense and defense that are employed by the employing class. A capitalist press, school, forum, church, stage and screen can only be counteracted by a labor press, school, forum, church, stage and screen. As capitalists are organized upon the basis of the industry and the several industries are integrated, and centralized into One Big Union of Capital, so labor must organize upon the basis of the industry and integrate and centralize its industrial units into One Big Union. This logic, of course, applies to questions of race, color, religion, trade, sex and nationality. The masters of the economic life of the country, or the world for that matter, are organized without regard to race, color, religion, sex or nationality. They fan and enkindle the sinister flames of religious, race, color and nationality prejudice in order that the poor, gullible, credulous, well-meaning but misguided “Henry Dubbs”—the slaves, will fly at each others’ throats, for while they, the workers, fight among themselves, the Bosses rob them all.
To offset the separation tendency among the workers, the Marine Transport Workers of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, have entered the vanguard of American labor. When the spirit of race prejudice between the black and white workers, on the waterfront in Philadelphia first manifested itself, Local 8 proceeded to conduct an educational campaign in leaflets and forum lectures. This forum was attended largely by both black and white workers. The lecture course covered a wide range of subjects, touching upon national and international topics. The questions and discussions from the floor were pointed, well put and intelligent. Chiefly the economic aspect of the topics discussed, was stressed by the workers.
The leaflets which were issued by the organization dealt with some subject vital to the interests of the workers. Local 8 is working out the methods in its special industry which will equip the toilers for the task of workers control and management. No finer spirit of brotherhood can be found anywhere than exists in the organization. Upon entering the hall, during meetings, one is met with the fact of a Negro chairman and a white secretary sitting side by side conducting the meeting. From the floor, white and colored workers rise, make themselves heard, make motions, argue questions pro and con, have their differences and settle them, despite the Imperial Wizard Colonel William Joseph Simmons’ and Marcus Garvey’s “Race First” bogey. At picnics, the workers also mingle, fraternize, dance, eat and play together. Nor do the Negro workers dance, eat and play only among themselves; but both white and black men, white and black women, and white and black children eat, play and dance together just as they work and hold their meetings together.
Local 8 is setting the example which labor groups throughout the country must emulate if the Ku Klux Klan which is behind Tulsas, is to be destroyed, and if the Open Shop campaign is to fail.
The MESSENGER and its editors have been trying to spread this “Brotherhood” propaganda among the white and black workers, wherever and whenever possible. Glad to say, the Marine Transport Workers is one of the few labor organizations which has given whole-hearted support, moral and financial.
When the workers, in America, are able to build local 8’s in every section of the country, the 100 per centers, the Open Shoppers, the combined manufacturers and capitalists of America, will not dare to institute an assault upon labor in the guise of the “American Plan.”100
The Messenger 3 (October, 1921): 262-63.
On July 16, 1916, I left the office in Philadelphia and went to work as a longshoreman and worked most of the time on ammunition and powder, general cargo for Murphy, Cook & Co., and sometimes on lumber, to which I can get many members to testify. There have been no explosions on the docks of Philadelphia or on any ships out of that port and all the ammunition was loaded by members of the I.W.W. and there were no guards on the docks. The head foreman, called “Billboro,” can testify to my work as a longshoreman. Besides there are many members who can testify to my position in regard to Germany and the war.
As I stated before Honorable Judge K. M. Landis before sentence was passed, I know of no conspiracy and if there had been a conspiracy against the government then explosions and obstructions would have taken place. But there were none. We had lots of members on the Panama Line, which is under government control, and there was no trouble. Besides the members liked to work on those boats and no time was lost on any trips. The Bulletins testify to this, I think. The Bulletins were published in “Solidarity,” I think, and “Solidarity” was introduced as evidence.
I was arrested on September 29, 1917, about 8 o’clock in the morning at home, having just returned from work for Murphy, Cook & Co., at Wilmington, Delaware. The federal officers were at the house Friday night, about half an hour after I had left, and were asking for me. I read in the paper the following morning that Doree was arrested and that others were looked for. I got off at West Philadelphia station, where I always get off going home, and was told that I was wanted. I then started to wash and get breakfast when U.S. Deputy Marshal McDevitt came in and told me to come with him. Had no one come when I finished my breakfast then I would have gone to the Federal Building myself.
After being released on bonds I went to work again on the waterfront and worked two days when we were told we had to go to Chicago to appear there. When we got there we were told that we were not wanted, that it was a mistake.
In the evidence on the General Executive Board, presented by the prosecution, I am on the list for prospective secretary-treasurer of the I.W.W., and it looks as if I were convicted on this account, and will state that I have never known of it as I was not notified by Wm. D. Haywood at any time. I have never been consulted in this respect. It was a complete surprise to me.101
Now I will state that the federal officers took several copies of “The Deadly Parallel” from the store room at Philadelphia. When these leaflets were received I never sent any away as I did not agree with the comparison made with the A.F. of L., but believed that there should have been a comparison made, from the standpoint of principle, to the German Social Democrats on the Sub-Socialist Congress. The declaration of the I.W.W. was made before the A.F. of L. declaration and not in comparison with the A.F. of L. declaration.
There were no pamphlets of Gustave Herve’s in Philadelphia. We never had any there and would not handle them. The records should show that there never were any.
Now, in regard to strikes, I have stated before Honorable Judge K. M. Landis that there were none to oppose the government that I know of and would not take part in any. There were small strikes, however, along the coast. When I came to the East in December, 1916, there were strikes almost continually on boats in the different ports for more wages, some asking for a 25 per cent bonus, some 50 per cent, 75 per cent and others 100 per cent of wages paid. The members of the International Seamen’s Union were talking of striking in the spring for a raise in wages. The increase in the cost of living made a raise necessary. The shipping companies, refusing to recognize a union, made a chronic condition that union men were fired when non-union men could be secured. This brought on strikes, one after another, all winter of 1916 and 1917. In order to stop this I had written to Norfolk and other places that a $10.00 flat raise would be better than continually one crew after another asking for different bonuses, and would be more lasting in the long run, besides it would be best for an organization of labor.
On about April 10th or 20th, 1917, I wired to the different ports to ask for $110.00 flat increase on all ships, as members in Boston were already on strike for a $10.00 raise and they got it. This was practically settled. Then on May 1 the International Seamen’s Union asked for a $15.00 raise, $60.00 a month, and we then asked for $60.00 a month also. This second raise was forced by the International Seamen’s Union of the A.F. of L. and was for better conditions and not to oppose any government.
During the latter part of August, 1917, I was called to Boston by the members of Boston to try and help settle a strike there. I was in Boston four days and appeared before a state official at the Capitol Building, and no settlement could be effected. I left the next day and went to work again in Philadelphia on the waterfront. James Phillips may know the names and can testify to this. This strike was not to oppose any government. There were no other strikes to my knowledge during war time and absolutely none in opposition to the war program.
There is one other matter. I heard a telegram read by Honorable Judge K. M. Landis, dated August 4, 1917, to someone in Arizona, stating that the lumber workers and agricultural workers were on a general strike and that the M.T.W. reports action. This is as big a surprise to me as the news that I was on the list for secretary-treasurer in case Haywood should be arrested. I was not in the office in Philadelphia from July 16, 1917, except to visit there three or four times, and do not know of any strike which should have taken place nor of anyone taking any steps to call a strike. I know that I would not have approved of such a strike.
This is about all I can think of now. In conclusion I wish to state that I have been found guilty and given a sentence as follows:
Six years and a fine of $5,000 on the first count;
Ten years and a fine of $5,000 on the second count;
Two years and a fine of $5,000 on the third count;
All the above sentences to run concurrently, making it a twenty-year sentence in the Federal Prison at Leavenworth, Kansas, and a $20,000 fine.
I feel that I am absolutely innocent of obstructing the federal government and the state government in the prosecution of the war program, military or otherwise.
If I have to serve, in view of the foregoing, twenty years in prison for obstructing or even having in mind to obstruct the government, then I can go to the penitentiary with a clear conscience of being “Not Guilty” and being innocent of the charges I was convicted on.
Walter T. Nef.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
HAYWOOD, et al.
The Messenger, 3 (November, 1921): 282-83.
Local 8 of the Marine Transport Workers of Philadelphia, affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, call to the workers of all races, creeds, color and nationality to Unite.
If we would maintain our standard of living, and prepare for the final emancipation of the workers, we must organize our labor power upon an industrial basis.
We are the only organization in America which has a uniform wage for engineers, holemen, truckers, riggers, and water boys.
Of our three thousand and five hundred members, over two thousand are Negroes.
In this period of industrial depression and black reaction, only solidarity can save the workers.
Let workers of all races, creed, color and nationality, organize to liberate the class-war and political prisoners. Let us organize to build up a new Brotherhood for mankind where there is no race, class, craft, religious or nationality distinctions.
Workers: Organize, Agitate, Educate, Emancipate!
MARINE TRANSPORT WORKERS INDUSTRIAL UNION, NO. 8
Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.)
121 Catherine Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
The Messenger, 4 (February, 1922): 360.
On the water front in Philadelphia and Portland, an intense and desperate contest is being waged by the I.W.W.’s to preserve a decent standard of living and to save their organizations from the savage and brutal assaults of the hypocritical and frightened Stevedores, the powerful steamship interests. In these struggles, be it said to the credit and honor of the I.W.W., the Negroes and whites are fighting shoulder to shoulder for more milk for their babies and to keep the wolf from their door, as well as to defend their organization which has been the very prop of their lives.
One great asset to the strikers is that they are industrially organized. Even the waterboy is taken into the organization for they have learned that it is impossible for labor to win while one part is scabbing on the other part, when a fight is on.
The MESSENGER bids you to hold out and hold on.
The Messenger, 4 (December, 1922): 538.
By Ben Fletcher
The most prominent Negro Labor Leader in America
The Philadelphia Longshoremen Become an Independent Union
During the month of May, 1913, the Longshoremen of Philadelphia went on strike and re-entered the Labor Movement after an absence of 15 years. A few days after their strike began against those intolerable conditions and low wages always imposed upon the unorganized workers, representatives of both the Marine Transport Workers’ Union of the I.W.W. and the International Longshoremen’s Union of the A.F.L. got before them and presented their various arguments favoring the Philadelphia Longshoremen’s affiliation. At a mass meeting they made their choice, deciding to organize into the I.W.W. and by May 20th had become an integral part of that organization.
After nine years’ identification with the I.W.W. they have been forced to sever their connections with that organization in order to prevent the annihilation of their local autonomy by that unreasonable and inefficient Centralism that has grown upon the I.W.W. since 1916. Since that year innumerable assaults have been made by both the Central Administration of the Marine Transport Workers and the Central Administration of the I.W.W. upon their right to determine the local administration of the Union’s affairs. Unacquainted in a practical way with the problems arising from a job-controlling organization, numbering 3,000 members; “Foot Loose Wobblies” from the I.W.W. Western jurisdiction, by abusing the I.W.W. Universal Transfer System, sought to (and sometimes succeeded) acquire a determining voice and vote on any question relating to Local job or Financial matters.
Repeatedly the I.W.W. General Administration has attempted to force the Philadelphia Marine Transport Workers’ Union to remit to the Marine Transport Workers’ Central office, weekly, all net income balances above $100 and to confine all expenditures to those “permitted.” Needless to state the organization consistently refused to do so. Last Fall the “Foot Loose Wobblies” succeeded in stampeding the Union into an insane attempt to wrest from the U.S. Shipping Board and Private Steamship and Stevedoring Interests the 44-hour week single handed. Immediately upon the collapse of the strike a representative of the I.W.W.’s General Administration appeared before a regular business meeting of the Philadelphia Longshoremen and delivered the following ultimatum: “You must strictly comply with the Constitution of the I.W.W. and remit all funds except a $100, or so from now on to the Central Office, or by the authority vested in the General Executive Board your charter will be annulled and your funds seized.”
Pursuant to a motion under new business, steps were taken immediately to safeguard all property and funds of the Union. Last month (April) the organization of the Longshoremen in Philadelphia became a duly chartered Independent Union, known as the Philadelphia Longshoremen’s Union. As heretofore it will embrace in One Union any and all workers engaged in the Marine Transport Industry.
The history of the Philadelphia Longshoremen’s connection with the I.W.W. is one of unswerving loyalty to its fundamental principles. Some have died while hundreds of others have been jailed as its standard bearers in order to vindicate its cause. At no time during this connection was it necessary to appeal for outside aid to meet the expense incurred in defending its jailed militants. Into the coffers of the I.W.W. the Philadelphia Longshoremen dumped $50,000 in per capita tax alone during their affiliation, organization assessments, relief, defense and miscellaneous contributions in proportion.
Notwithstanding, the I.W.W. was not able in that period of time with that amount of finance at their disposal to organize one supporting job control port. The Philadelphia Longshoremen are of the opinion that they and they alone can rebuild their organization, just as it was they and they alone who did the trick in the past. They are confident that the organizing of the waterfront workers strictly upon the basis of and in conformity with their class interests will eventually overcome all the slander, baseless charges and race baiting now being propagated with avidity by those who were once loudest in their praise and boast of our power and righteousness.
The Messenger, 5 (June, 1923): 740-41.
By Ben Fletcher
In these United States of America, the history of the Organized Labor Movement’s attitude and disposition toward the Negro Section of the world of Industry is replete with gross indifference and, excepting a few of its component parts, is a record of complete surrender before the color line. Directed, manipulated, and controlled by those bent on harmonizing the diametrically opposed interests of Labor and Capital, it is for the most part not only a “bulwark against” Industry of, by and for Labor, but in an overwhelming majority of instances is no less a bulwark against the economic, political and social betterment of Negro Labor.
The International Association of Machinists as well as several other International bodies of the A.F.L. along with the Railroad Brotherhoods, either by constitutional decree or general policy, forbid the enrollment of Negro members, while others if forced by his increasing presence in their jurisdictions, organize him into separate unions. There are but a few exceptions that are not covered by these two policies and attitudes. It is needless to state that the employing class are the beneficiaries of these policies of Negro Labor exclusion and segregation. It is a fact indisputable that Negro Labor’s foothold nearly everywhere in organized labor’s domains, has been secured by scabbing them into defeat or into terms that provided for Negro Labor inclusion in their ranks. What a sad commentary upon Organized Labor’s shortsightedness and profound stupidity. In these United States of America less than 4 per cent of Negro Labor is organized. Fully 16 per cent of the Working Class in this country are Negroes. No genuine attempt by Organized Labor to wrest any worthwhile and lasting concessions from the Employing Class can succeed as long as Organized Labor for the most part is indifferent and in opposition to the fate of Negro Labor. As long as these facts are the facts, the Negro Section of the World of Industry can be safely counted upon by the Employing Class as a successful wedge to prevent any notable organized labor triumph. The millions of dollars which they have and continue to furnish Negro Institutions will continue to yield a magnificent interest in the shape of Negro Labor loyalty to the Employing Class.
Organized Labor can bring about a different situation. One that will speed the dawn of Industrial Freedom. First, by erasing their Race exclusion clauses. Secondly, by enrolling ALL workers in their Industrial or Craft jurisdictions, in the same union or unions, and where custom or the statutes prohibit in some Southern states, so educate their membership and develop the power and influence of their various unions as to force the repeal of these prohibition statutes and customs. Thirdly, by aiding and abetting his entrance into their various craft jurisdictions, unless he comes, of course, as a strike breaker. Fourth, by joining him in his fight in the South to secure political enfranchisement. Fifth, by inducting into the service of organized labor, Negro Labor Organizers and other officials in proportion to his numbers and ability.
The Organized Labor Movement has not begun to become a contender for its place in the Sun, until every man, woman and child in Industry is eligible to be identified with its Cause, regardless of Race, color or creed. The secret of Employing Class rule and Industry’s control, is the division and lack of cohesion existing in the ranks of Labor. None can dispute the fact that Organized Labor’s Attitude of indifference and often outspoken opposition to Negro Labor, contributes a vast amount to this division and lack of cohesion.
Organized Labor Banks, Political Parties, Educational Institutions, cooperatives, nor any other of its efforts to get somewhere near the goal of economic emancipation from the thraldom of the rich, will avail naught, as long as the color line lies across their pathway to their goal and before which they are doomed to halt and surrender. Until organized labor, generally casts aside the bars of race exclusion, and enrolls Negro Labor within its ranks on a basis of complete sincere fraternity, no general effort of steel, railroad, packing house, building trades workers or any workers for that matter, to advance from the yoke of Industrial slavery can succeed. Just as certain as day follows night, the Negro will continue to contribute readily and generously toward the elements that will make for their defeat. Personally, the writer would not have it otherwise unless organized labor, majorly speaking, right about faces on its Negro Labor attitude and policy!
Signs are not wanting that men and women of vision in the ranks of organized labor, of both the radical and conservative wing, are alive to the necessity of a reformation of organized labor’s attitude on the Negro, and are attempting to bring their various organizations in line with such organizations as the United Mine Workers of America, Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the Industrial Workers of the World. Negro Labor has a part to play also in changing this present day attitude of organized labor. It should organize a nation-wide movement to encourage, promote and protect its employment and general welfare. Divided into central districts and branches thereof, it would be able to not only thereby force complete and unequivocable recognition and fraternal cooperation from organized labor, but at the same time render yeoman service in procuring the increased employment of tens of thousands of fully capable Negro workers in such positions as now are closed to them because of the lack of sufficient organized Negro Labor pressure in the right direction and with the right instrumentality of intelligent vision.
This organization would by virtue of its being comprised of Negro Labor of all Industries and crafts be able to safeguard its every advance and prevent any successful attack against same. Collective dealing with the Employing Class, is the only way by which Labor can procure any concessions from them of effect and meaning. It is the only way in which to establish industrial stability and uniformity in its administration and finally Industrial freedom. This holds good for Negro as well as white labor. There are fully 4,000,000 Negro men, women and children, eligible to participate in such a Negro Labor Federation.
The beginning of such an organization a generation ago, the attitude of organized labor to the Negro would be just the reverse today. Organized Labor for the most part be it radical or conservative, thinks and acts, in the terms of White Race. Like the preachers, politicians, who when preaching about the “immortality of the soul” or orating about the “glorious land of the free” have in mind and so explain, white folks. So with organized labor generally. To a large extent Negro Labor is responsible for this reprehensible exclusion, because of its failure to generate a force which when necessary could have rendered low the dragon head of Race prejudice, whenever and wherever it raised its head. It is not too late, however, to begin to rectify and to reap the benefits of united effort. Only by unifying our forces in such a way as to force organized labor to realize that we can do lasting good or lasting evil, will they, with the assistance of those men and women already in their ranks fighting to change their erroneous way, understand and “come over into Macedonia and help us.”
The Messenger, 5 (July, 1923): 759-60.
In New York City a negro upholsterer named Jones lately signed an application to join the union when the firm for which he worked decided to have a closed shop. Jones had worked at his trade for 14 years. Local 70 of the Upholsterers’ Union, securing contractural relations with the firm, refused to admit Jones to membership because of his color. He was discharged.
The I.W.W. does not organize workers like that. Workers of all races and colors, religions and other differences are alike robbed at the point of production by the employers, and the I.W.W. organizes workers without distinctions. By its very anti-union act of denying the negro membership, then forcing him out of a job, that so-called union, and kindred organizations, sow a wind of hatred and envy periodically reaped in a whirlwind of black scabbing.
Workers of all races have a common interest and a common foe. They are all oppressed by the same capitalist class, and their advancement to higher material and cultural levels toward eventual freedom from wage slavery is a process demanding working class solidarity. The boss does not care what color a worker is so long as he can squeeze profits from his hide whether it be white, black, brown or yellow. As he is indiscriminate in the business of robbing victims it is logical that the robbed raise no divisions among themselves in the job of opposition.
Industrial Solidarity, November 13, 1929.
The editor is in receipt of a letter from E. S. Marlin, an A.F. of L. officer, who said he stopped at a New York City street meeting intending to listen for just a few minutes. It was an I.W.W. meeting, addressed by Fellow Worker Benjamin J. Fletcher. “I stayed for an hour until he finished,” wrote Marlin.
“I have heard all the big shots of the labor movement over a period of 25 years,” he went on, “from coast to coast and it is no exaggeration when I state that this colored man, Ben Fletcher, is the only one I ever heard who cut right through to the bone of capitalist pretentions to being an everlasting ruling class, with a concrete constructive working class union argument.”
This correspondent said he learned more about the A.F. of L. from Fletcher’s talk than he had ever known and predicted a great future for our organization if only we have more of the type of speakers that Ben Fletcher is.
Industrial Solidarity, August 11, 1931.
OTTO HALL AND THE TRADE UNION EDUCATIONAL LEAGUE102
T.U.E.L. Negro Department Issues Special Appeal to Send Delegates to Cleveland
As a special drive to bring to the attention of the Negro workers the call of the Trade Union Educational League to send delegates to a National Trade Union Unity Convention, in Cleveland, June 1–2, the Negro Department of the T.U.E.L. has issued a special statement to Negro workers. The statement has been endorsed by the American Negro Labor Congress and is to accompany the regular call addressed to all workers when distributed widespread in those districts where there are many Negroes in the industries. The call to the Negro workers is as follows:
FELLOW WORKERS: The National Committee of the Trade Union Educational League has called for the election of delegates to constitute the Trade Union Unity Congress, to meet in the City of Cleveland, Ohio, at 10 a.m. on June 1, 1929, and to conclude on June 2. This call is of special interest to Negro workers.
With the partial check of immigration which came about during the last war, and which has continued since, bringing about the migration of Negro workers to northern industrial centers and with the growth of industry in the south, the demand for Negro workers in the large industries has increased.
The introduction of more machinery in the factories would, under a better system, shorten the hours of labor, but under the present capitalist system it is used by the employers to reduce the number of workers, increase the amount of work and lengthen the hours for those left on the job.
Since the great majority of Negro workers are unskilled and unorganized, they suffer more intensely than any other group from the effects of rationalism.
They suffer from double oppression, being oppressed as Negroes and as workers.
They are the last to be hired and are always the first to be fired. In every shop, mill, or factory they are given the worst jobs.
Negro workers are always the lowest paid workers in all industries. The worst and lowest paid jobs are considered “Negro jobs” and the better jobs are for the whites.
The Negro worker, no matter how capable, is seldom allowed to step into what is considered by the employers as a white man’s job.
In the industrial centers to which these workers migrate, they are forced to live in the worst houses in the worst districts and pay the highest rents in spite of the low wages that they receive.
Because of the small earnings of the men the wives and children are forced to work in sweat shops and in the fields under the most miserable conditions.
The women are the prey of the lust of the white bosses and overseers. The children have little opportunity to attend schools because of being forced to work at an early age. In the South they are forced to attend Jim Crow schools unusually far away from where they live.
The Negro worker has always been used by the bosses to reduce the cost of labor.
The white bosses, therefore, consider the Negro a valuable source of cheap labor. We could go on endlessly talking about our miserable conditions. What we must do now is to find a way to better these conditions. That is the purpose of this call.
We must organize together with the fighting unions of white workers who are willing to fight together with us to better the conditions of the working class as a whole.
Since we are a minority group we cannot make this fight alone, nor can the white worker better his own conditions without fighting together with us against the whole system of oppression.
We all know about the American Federation of Labor and its policy towards the Negro worker. In spite of its general constitution and declaration, that it does not discriminate against the Negro, its affiliated bodies do, and during its 40 years or more of existence it has never made a serious effort to organize the Negro workers. It is only interested in the Negro worker insofar as he can be prevented from scabbing on his white fellow worker, but has never prevented the White Unions from scabbing on the Negro workers. While there are a few A.F. of L. unions which, under pressure, have admitted some Negro workers, the general policy is to organize Jim Crow Unions for them in order to tie their hands and keep them on the lowest economic level of all the workers.
This organization has been betraying both white and black workers for years. Typical of its attitude toward the Negro workers who are a part of the great mass of unskilled workers was its betrayal last year of the proposed strike of the Pullman Porters. Even its so-called recognition today of the Pullman Porters’ Brotherhood is a classical example of its treachery. The methods of these fakers in issuing charters to each local of the Brotherhood instead of a national charter to the Brotherhood as a whole is simply designed to weaken and destroy the organization and prevent its development into a fighting union. Negro workers throughout the United States will never forget the traitorous role of this Jim Crow, Ku Klux Klan organization.
The Trade Union Educational League and those who support it are the only organizations that have carried on a fight for the organization of all workers regardless of race, nationality or color. Its policy in the various unions has been to carry on a consistent fight for the admittance of Negroes and the breaking up of the exclusion policy of these fakers for many years. The T.U.E.L. which is the American Section of the Red International of Labor Unions is still carrying on the fight against the traitorous leadership of the A.F. of L. for the organization of Negro workers into all its affiliated unions that bar them and to force them to admit them on equal basis with the white workers. It has also fostered new unions as the Needle Trades who recently carried on a successful strike against the bosses, Textile, and new Miners Union. They are almost the only unions in existence which ‘practic’ absolute equality for all workers regardless of race, and has Negro as well as white workers on all leading committees.
As examples of the fact that these unions practice what they preach, we have Wm. Boyce, a Negro miner, vice-president of the New Miners Union, Henry Rosemond, who was one of the first workers beaten up by the police during the recent Needle trade strike in New York City, and who is a member of the General Executive Board of the Needle Trades Industrial Union. Virginia Allen, a colored woman needle worker, is also a member of this Executive Board.103
The Trade Union Unity Convention is called for the purpose of uniting all groups of organized and unorganized workers into a solid united fighting front against the bosses.
This Convention, which is of particular interest for Negro workers, will deal with all problems affecting the unorganized Negro and white workers.
It will fight against capitalist wars, which draft the Negro workers as tools and cannon fodder to help conquer the workers of other races and nationalities and then deny these workers rights as citizens after their return. It will fight for the organization of the oppressed Negro women workers and will carry on a strenuous fight against child labor.
It will fight for social insurance, which will benefit the workers who are injured by the speed-up system, and who are forced to retire from work at an early age because of disability.
It will advance the platform of International Trade Union Unity. It will organize the workers, black and white, on an industrial basis instead of the narrow craft basis of the A.F. of L.
It will fight for the admittance of all Negro seamen and dock workers, etc., into the various unions that discriminate against them or failing in this, it will organize new unions of white and Negro workers in these industries.
It will create one common trade union center for all class struggle organizations.
All groups of organized and unorganized Negro workers must get together and elect delegates to send to this convention.
This is our opportunity to fight against race discrimination and better our conditions as a whole.
NEGRO WORKERS! SEND YOUR DELEGATES TO THE COMING CLEVELAND CONVENTION!
Our Emancipation Is in Our Own Hands!
Let’s Quit Whining and Start Fighting!
We Must Prepare to Fight for Ourselves!
Equal Pay for Equal Work!
Shorter Work Day!
Against Jim Crow Schools!
Against White Terrorism in the South!
Strengthen Our Fight Against Child Labor!
Take Our Women Out of the Fields and Sweat Shops!
Fight Against the Race Discrimination Policy of the A.F. of L. Leadership!
Carry on Active Fight Against Lynching of Negro Workers and Farmers!
(Signed) OTTO HALL.
Director Negro Dept., Trade Union Educational League.
Endorsed by American Negro Labor Congress.
Daily Worker, April 6, 1920.
The news from the 24th convention of the American Federation of Labor that the secretary of the Texas State Federation of Labor, in greeting the delegation, insisted that the immigration of Mexican workers into the country should be stopped, is typical of the stupid policy of race discrimination permeating the unions of the American Federation of Labor. Evidently the Texas labor unions do not think of organizing these workers and fighting together with them against the employers.
The most disgraceful indifference, however, is that toward the organization of the Negro workers. The great bulk of the 12,000,000 Negroes in the United States are workers. They need organization even more than do their white fellow workers. Do they get it? Not from Gompers.
Yet, as an “inferior race” the employers organize them against the white workers. By first paying them atrociously low wages for the hardest and most menial work, they make them in their unorganized state, a possible reservoir of strikebreaking labor.
The cast system in American labor must be broken. We have heard too much of workers scorning each other as “Hunkies,” “Wops” and “Jews.” The whole system is an aid direct and unmistakable to the interests of the employers in dividing the workers the better to exploit them. It inspires prejudice among the workers which require much time and teaching in order to counteract and lay the fraternal basis of class solidarity in the unions.
The continued migration of Negroes to the cities of the north only accents the problem. The case with them is the same as with the Mexicans in the Southwest. The policy of stupid and shortsighted selfishness, of craft privileges and organized monopoly prevails at the expense of both blacks and whites. Necessity, stern and inevitable, demands its complete eradication.
The T.U.E.L. has endorsed a resolution that will be offered at the A.F. of L. convention which is intended to set that body on record one way or the other as to its stand on racial discrimination. The resolution calls upon the A.F. of L. to declare itself unalterably opposed to any discrimination in any form whatsoever against workers because of race or color, and in favor of equality of such workers.
The resolution not only asserts these principles, but instructs the executive council of the A.F. of L. to start an immediate campaign to organize Negro wage workers and demands that these workers shall be organized in the same unions as the whites in order that the stupid prejudices now existing thru past misteaching shall be wiped out by fraternal contact as brothers in toil and struggle against common exploiters.
With the increasing pressure upon the workers by the capitalist class, and the danger of great wage struggles, the persistence of racial discrimination is a knife labor is turning against its own vitals. If the A.F. of L. convention does not act favorably upon this resolution, it will have proved itself recreant to its own members and indifferent to the interest of the working class.
Daily Worker, November 19, 1924.
“There will be many Negro delegates at the Trade Union Unity Conference in Cleveland,” said Otto Hall, director of the Negro Department of the Trade Union Educational League, yesterday in an interview with the Daily Worker.
Hall is just starting on an extended tour of all industrial centers where Negroes form a large percentage of the workers to assist in the spreading of the T.U.E.L. call for the convention and to direct attention of the workers to the special problems of the Negroes.
Smash Race Prejudice
“The great textile strikes in North and South Carolina now going on have convinced the white workers there that their Negro fellow workers are as good fighters as anybody,” said Hall. “The Negroes and white workers now serve on the same strike committees, meet in the same place for union meetings, and in general treat each other like workers, without regard to race, and this to the South, where race prejudices have been kept alive by the bosses to the best of their ability,” Hall pointed out. “From the textile region now on strike there will be Negro delegates elected by white and Negro workers together,” he continued.
To Mine Strike Area
Hall stated that his tour would take him to such automobile centers as Flint and Detroit, Mich., the mining regions like West Virginia and Birmingham, Ala., where Negroes also work in the steel industry, the packing houses of Chicago, etc.
In the Scotts Run mine fields of West Virginia, a similar situation exists as that at Gastonia, N.C., for white and Negro workers are striking shoulder to shoulder under their own militant leadership, against the employers.
Daily Worker, April 8, 1929.
Fight Against Inequality
By Wm. Z. Foster104
One of the most important features of the Trade Union Educational League convention to be held in Cleveland on June 1st and 2nd will be the large delegation of Negro workers present. To organize the Negro proletarians, to draw them into the main stream of new revolutionary industrial union movement will be a major objective of the T.U.E.L. convention.
Of all the shameful treason to the working class committed by the misleaders who stand at the old trade unions, none has been more disastrous than their systematic betrayal of the Negro workers. It has long been the policy of the employers to draw a line between white and black workers, to set one group against the other in order to better exploit them, to cultivate the worst forms of race prejudice among the whites. They have deliberately and systematically discriminated against the Negroes, giving them the worst work, the lowest wages, and subjecting them to the most brutal repression.
A.F.L. Won’t Organize
Were the A.F. of L. leaders imbued with even a semblance of real working class spirit they would take it upon themselves as a first and basic task to defeat the plans of the employers by organizing the Negroes and by mobilizing the whole labor movement behind their elementary demands. But they refuse utterly to do this. On the contrary, true to their role as agents of the bourgeoisie in the ranks of the workers, they fall in line with the program of the employers and join hands with them to oppress the Negroes. They cultivate race chauvinism among the whites, they prohibit Negroes from joining the unions, they cooperate with the employers to keep the Negroes at the poorest paid jobs. All this constitutes one of the most shameful pages in American labor history.
But the T.U.E.L. convention represents the revolutionary forces that will stop this historic treachery. The convention will be made up of a body of workers of both sexes and all nationalities, of Negroes who understand and dare to strike a blow in behalf of themselves and their class, and of whites eliminating all white chauvinism from their ranks, recognize the Negro workers as class brothers and who will fight with and for them all the way to the end for complete social emancipation. The T.U.E.L. convention will have more significance to Negro workers than any other trade union gathering ever held in this country.
Negroes constantly take on more importance as a force in industry and as a potential factor in the trade union movement. During the past dozen years hundreds of thousands of them have poured into the mills and factories. For the most part they are going into the key and basic industries, coal, railroads, steel, meat packing, etc., exactly those industries that play the most decisive role in the class struggle. In a recent number of the R.I.L.U. bulletin occurs the following statement quoting Carroll Binder regarding Negroes in the industries of Chicago in 1929:
“Thirty per cent of the labor force in the Chicago packing industry is colored; the Corn Products Company, which employed only one Negro eight years ago, today employs 350, or twenty per cent of its working force. Beavers Products—65 per cent. The American Hide and Leather Co. was the first tannery to use Negro workers; now all the tanneries use large numbers of them. The foundries and laundries are heavy employers of Negroes. Eleven per cent of the employees of the Pullman Car shops are Negroes. Negro women compose forty per cent of the workers in the lamp shade industry. About twenty per cent of the 14,000 postal workers of Chicago are Negroes,” etc., etc.
The great importance to industry and the class struggle of this constantly increasing body of Negro workers cannot be too much stressed. It is the special task of the T.U.E.L. to organize them as part of its general work of organizing the unorganized. This can only be done in the face of studied opposition of the A.F. of L. leaders working hand in glove with the employers.
But in order that the necessary progress shall be registered by the T.U.E.L. convention in the organization of the Negro workers real work must be done by the left forces between now and the convention. Special committees must be established in the various important industrial centers to prosecute this particular task. These committees, together with the general organizing forces of the T.U.E.L. must establish contacts with the Negroes in all the important industrial plants and draw them into all the shop committees, T.U.E.L. groups, and other organizations formed as a basis for the convention. In every delegation from every industry where Negroes are employed, there must be a heavy percentage of these workers included. There especially must be a large delegation of Negro workers from the coal and iron mines, the steel mills, fertilizer works, railroads, the cotton and tobacco plantations, and other industries of the South. The real mass character of the T.U.E.L. convention will be measured pretty much by the number of representative Negro workers present.
The Negro workers are good fighters. This they have proved in innumerable strikes in the coal, steel, packing, building and other industries, despite systematic betrayal by white trade union leaders and the presence of an all, too prevalent race chauvinism among the masses of white workers. They are a tremendous source of potential revolutionary strength and vigor. They have a double oppression as workers and as Negroes, to fill them with fighting spirit and resentment against capitalism. It has been one of the most serious errors of the left wing to underestimate and to neglect the development of this great proletarian fighting force.
Let the T.U.E.L. convention therefore be a great mobilization center for the Negro workers. There must be present Negroes from all the important plants and localities. Such a delegation, upon which the success of the convention depends can and will be assembled. The T.U.E.L. convention will be a revolutionary signal and inspiration to the masses of Negro workers, exploited and oppressed in the mills, mines and factories of American imperialism.
Daily Worker, May 16, 1929.
On the occasion of William Green’s arrival in New York to speak before the Pullman porters whose strike he together with the rest of the A.F. of L. Executive Council betrayed, the Department of Negro Work of the Trade Union Educational League issued a statement which follows in part:
William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, will address you this Sunday afternoon, upon the invitation of your leaders.
Will William Green tell you why the Brotherhood’s strike was betrayed at the instigation of the American Federation of Labor? Will he tell you why he and the others of the reactionary clique which controls the A.F. of L. were so reluctant in recognizing the Brotherhood and the right of the Negro employees of the millionaire Pullman Company to organize for a living wage? Or why, after they reluctantly recognized this right of yours, they proceeded to issue local charters to your various locals instead of an international charter for your organization as a whole? What was their purpose in thus seeking to prevent your unity of action? Why did they prevent and betray your strike at a time when even your national organizer admitted that the chances of success were excellent? Why did they insist on giving the Pullman Company warning of your intention and time to organize strike-breaking measures.
The Negro workers are rightly suspicious of the A.F. of L. Our memory may be short, as our oppressors believe, but we well remember how the A.F. of L. betrayed the strike of the Negro laundry workers of New York City, going the length of calling off this strike and recalling their charter when these terribly exploited workers tried to abolish some of the heartbreaking misery existing in the laundry industry. It was the A.F. of L. leadership that consigned these Negro workers back to the hellish exploitation of the pitiless laundry bosses from which they sought to escape by organization. Yes, the Negro workers have cause to remember the treacherous role of the A.F. of L. bureaucracy!
Fellow workers of the Brotherhood! Join the fight against the rotten treacherous A.F. of L. leadership!
Join the struggle for the removal of the color bar in all working class organizations, for the abolition of race hatred, and racial separation, for the abolition of lynching and white ruling class terrorism which will only be abolished by a united working class.
Join the new trade union center. Send delegates to the trade union unity convention in Cleveland, August 31.
Department of Negro Work
Trade Union Educational League
Otto Hall, Director
Daily Worker, June 29, 1929.
By Otto Hall
(General Field Organizer of the Workers’ [Communist] Party)
While traveling through industrial centers in the United States, one is impressed with the general solidarity in appearance of the so-called “Black Belts” in the various cities. Go to any city that has a large Negro population and it is not difficult to find the Negro section. It is only necessary to take the nearest street car, ride out to the oldest and most dilapidated section of the city where streets are oldest, lined on either side by tumbledown shacks or old fashioned flats (usually condemned), and one finds himself in what is sometimes politely called the “colored neighborhood.”
These neighborhoods usually border on, or are directly in what was formerly known as the “Red light districts.” Although these districts are according to law, supposed now to be non-existent, prostitutes, white and black, “ply their trade” in these neighborhoods, and bootleg joints and cabarets are “wide open.” Young Negro children growing up in this environment, “learn the ropes” at a very early age. Almost every night, groups of idle rich and other parasites, themselves responsible for the miserable conditions obtaining in these ghettos, drive up in fine limousines (usually parking them in the next block) flaunting their wealth squeezed from the toil of these same people in their faces, in order to corrupt Negro women, whom they consider their legitimate prey. The object of these excursions of the rich in the Negro districts, is to indulge in what is known as “changing their luck.”
The so-called “better class” of Negroes, comprising professional men and women, such as lawyers, doctors, dentists, politicians and wealthier Negroes, live in somewhat better houses, usually at the edges of these districts, in flats or houses that were formerly occupied by middle class whites in the 90’s or earlier, for which they pay high prices. Some of these Negroes, in order to escape being segregated in black belts, buy houses in so-called “white” neighborhoods, which is resented by the “exclusive” whites, and brings about clashes which have sometimes resulted in race riots.
The worst parts of these districts are usually occupied by the newly arrived Negro workers from the South, who are forced to live in these congested districts, paying enormously high rents for small dingy flats. Usually the family is forced to live in one room and to rent out the other rooms to lodgers. Most of these workers earn on an average less than $20 a week, and pay rents averaging $70 a month or more for 4 or 5 room flats with almost no modern conveniences. In order to make this rent they are often forced to run what is known as “buffet flats,” places where they sell moonshine and rent “transient” rooms. These houses are allowed by the landlords to rot away and are hardly ever kept in repair.
In most of these cities, the Negro is discriminated against in the better class of restaurants, theatres and other public places. The forms of this discrimination are regulated by local conditions in different centers. In Pittsburgh they display quite openly, in the white restaurants, signs reading “We do not cater to Negroes,” while in some cities, other methods are used. For example, in Detroit, a prospective Negro patron is offered a meal in the kitchen. In Cleveland at one of the many “Thompson one-arm ptomaine foundries,” the writer stood at the serving counter for a full half hour and when he asked the “counter boy” when would he serve him, this dumb, misguided, $14-a-week capitalist-minded slave told him that if he didn’t have time to wait till he got around to him, he could go elsewhere.
There are usually no good hotels in these cities where Negroes can find accommodations. The so-called “Negro Hotels” are usually tumble-down places without even ordinary conveniences and charge double what a white hotel of a similar class would charge. If a Negro wants to find lodgings or to eat, he must go to the “Negro section” which is usually an out-of-the-way place, far away from the center. This inconvenience is also experienced by the Negro worker who works in places located in the downtown or outlying districts. If, for instance, a Negro working in some of the downtown places wants to eat lunch, he is compelled to either bring his lunch with him to work, or go to some restaurant in the Negro district which is usually too far away for his convenience.
More and more Negroes are being drawn into the industries, particularly since the war, and the subsequent process of rationalization has brought about the increasing mechanization of these industries enabling the industrialists to use less skilled labor and increase their forces of semi-skilled or unskilled workers. This process is bringing about the rapid proletarianization of the Negro masses. These Negroes are usually unorganized and are given the worst and most dangerous jobs and paid the lowest wages.
Every means possible is used to keep the workers of different nationalities and races divided. Among the various nationalities, religious differences are sharpened, and between the Negro and white workers the question of color is emphasized. One of the many methods used is to make a difference in the wages of the Negro and white workers. On some jobs we find that the white worker is given a little more money for the same work. This gives the white worker a feeling of superiority over the Negro and causes him to look upon his fellow-worker with contempt. In many factories they have separate locker-rooms, dressing rooms and rest rooms for Negro workers.
Organizations comprised of Negro petty-bourgeois intellectuals, politicians, backed by these white capitalist “philanthropist” factory owners, organize so-called “welfare associations” which are used by the capitalists to further this antagonism, using these Negro welfare clubs, etc., as a sop to the Negro workers.
Some Negro intellectual tool is given a paid job by the corporation as the head of the organization in the particular factory. These organizations attempt to prevent the Negro worker from fighting against “Jim Crow” conditions in the plants and to prevent him from organizing with the white workers.
Usually some Negro stool-pigeon is used to organize a Jim Crow company union and in order to put these unions over, the plea used among the Negro workers is, “We must have our own organization.” These conditions are prevalent in almost all industrial centers where Negro workers are employed.
Growing Class Consciousness
We, ourselves, have noticed the sharpening of class lines within the Negro race, but the important thing for us is, that the Negro workers themselves are beginning to recognize this difference. The Negro worker is beginning to recognize himself as a class and is fact losing confidence in the middle-class intellectuals and big Negro politicians, who were formerly accepted by the Negro masses as their leaders. The Negro workers are beginning to see through the fake pretenses of “race loyalty” that these so-called leaders have used to betray them to the white ruling class.
At a meeting with a group of Negro workers, several questions were put to them by the writer, concerning their attitude toward these Negro politicians business men and professionals. The answer given and opinions expressed by these workers were very clear and sharp on this matter. One worker expressed himself in the following manner, concerning Negro professionals, viz:
“These so-called ‘Big Negroes,’ doctors, lawyers, don’t care anything about us workers, all they are concerned about is to get themselves a swell home and a car. When they get a little money, they can’t see us ‘for the dust’ when they meet us on the street.”
Another worker expressed himself on Negro bourgeois politicians of the republican, democratic and socialist parties in a similar emphatic manner:
“I have lived in this town for more than 20 years and have seen these Negro capitalist politicians come and go. We’ve had Negro republican and democratic aldermen in our ward and sent several to the state legislature. But what’s the use? Look at the condition of our streets; they haven’t been repaired since they were first paved. The garbage stays in the alleys until it rots—you can smell it now—and they do nothing about it. They don’t make any kind of fight against race discrimination. The only thing they are concerned with is the graft they get from the ‘up-stairs crap games,’ ‘buffet flats’ and ‘blind pigs.’ They come around on election days to tell you how much they are going to do for their race and when they get in office you need a high-powered telescope in order to see them.”
Another worker gave us the “lowdown” on preachers. He said that all these preachers work for is to get anough money to buy some old abandoned white church and bleed his congregation for the rest of their lives to get it paid for. Another said that Negro landlords were even worse than white ones and that he never would work any more for a Negro boss. They think that you ought to be ready to work for less pay and longer hours for them just because they are colored.
In the following articles, I will tell about my organization experiences among the Negroes, their response to our meetings, etc. Among the many points I will touch on, are the effects of our election campaign on the Negro masses, their attitude toward trade unions, religion and their reaction to our Communist program and general lessons of the tour.
Daily Worker, March 1, 1929.
I was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 16, 1891. There were three of us. I was the oldest. There is a sister Eppa in between, and a brother, the youngest, who is known as Harry Haywood. Our parents were Haywood and Harriet Hall. My father was born in Martin, Tennessee; brought as a boy to Des Moines, Iowa; grew up there; and came to Omaha as a young man. There he went to work for the Cudahy Packing Co. as a porter and nightwatchman. A short time after, he met and married my mother, Harriet.
Her name was Harriet Thorpe Harvey, a young widow who was born in Howard County, Missouri; grew up in Moberly, Missouri; later went to St. Joseph, Missouri and then came to Omaha.
Neither of my parents had more than four or five years of “schooling” as it was called in those days. Father had to go to work at an early age and our mother was one of a large family of girls. It was customary among Afro-American families that some of the children would make sacrifices so that two or three of them could get some education and perhaps one or two could be sent away to some college.
My father was an avid reader and had accumulated a home library of more than three hundred books. He had many of the English classics of that period —complete works of Shakespeare, Bulwer-Lytton, Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, Mark Twain, Longfellow’s poems, the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, the Fourty-four Lectures of Robert Ingersoll, and many others including the large family Bible.
I remember when I was very small, before I started to school that my father used to conduct after supper, on his night off, what was known as a family circle. He would read to us aloud from some of his books and the daily paper. I used to listen wishing that I could read and was determined to learn how. It was from these circles that we acquired our reading habits.
In 1913, the family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where my father’s two younger brothers were living. I never joined the Socialist Party, but did vote for Thomas Van Lear, who became the first Socialist mayor of that city. I voted for him because he had an Afro-American campaign manager, Colonel John Dickerson whom I knew and respected. He was a fluent speaker and told us that if you elect this man there will be colored men in the City Hall and they won’t be porters. Van Lear was elected mayor of that city in 1945.
During the summer evenings, I used to go down to the “skid row” at the foot of Hennepin Avenue, where the I.W.W., better known as the “Wobblies” used to hold large open-air meetings. There I met Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Ben Fletcher, a well-known Afro-American I.W.W. leader, Joe Hillstrom, better known as Joe Hill. I soon joined them and got my “red” card.105 I made one harvest with a group of them, and when we got to that farm in North Dakota, the farmer did not want to hire me because of my color, they told him that they would not tolerate any discrimination of any worker because of his color or nationality and if he did not hire me, he would not harvest his crop. I was hired. I found out that they carried out their program of no discrimination not only in words but in action. I do not know how many Afro-Americans were in the organization but learned that there were quite a few members all the way to the Pacific Coast.
When I got back to Minneapolis I found that my family had moved to Chicago. I went there and later joined the army and was in France 14 months. I got back to Chicago in the spring of 1919, just a few months before the riots broke out.
We were all disgusted and very angry at the conditions we found at home, lynching and burning in the South, and even some places in the North. Many veterans were on the streets in those days discussing the situation and there were crowded street meetings. Among the speakers who impressed me most in those times was a young Afro-American chemist Bob Hardeon, and John Owens and his brother Gordon, Bill and Elizabeth Doty. Bob talked about Lenin and the Russian Revolution and quoted from a translation of some of Lenin’s writings by a man named Louis B. Fraina. Bob was a very dramatic speaker and could make his points clearly and simply and always drew a large crowd. I began to do a lot of reading. I read the Messenger magazine which was edited by Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph. Even the Chicago Defender was militant in those days. It carried on its front page the caption: “If you must go down take 8 or 10 whites with you.” When they got news of a black man killing some white man in self-defense this news was played up on its front page. And there was an even more militant Afro-American newspaper called the Chicago Whip. Shortly after I got back from France I joined the Garvey movement, better known as the U.N.I.A., and became a captain in the Black Legion. At this time I considered myself a left wing Garveyite. I was sympathetic to Garvey’s appeal for a “Free Africa” but did not believe in the migration of Black Americans to Africa. I believed that we could help in the fight for a free Africa, by fighting for our rights here. I was also beginning to become disgusted with some of the things going on in the Garvey movement. Some elements were making a racket out of the organization. These elements were composed of lawyers without briefs and preachers without pulpits and other charlatans. Earlier at one of the street meetings Bill Doty gave me a copy of the Crusader Magazine published by Cyril Briggs and invited me to join the African Blood Brotherhood. This was before the riots started.106
In that year, 1919, many so-called riots broke out in cities all over the country, North and South. This period has been referred to by some historians as “bloody 1919” and “the red summer” of that year. Twenty-six so-called race riots broke out. There was a new dimension in these riots. They were not all one-way massacres. Some were in fact wars. Afro-Americans fought back and some whites as well as colored were killed.
In Chicago, the spark that started the war there was the stoning to death of a young colored boy who was swimming at a beach in Lake Michigan. There was a so-called line dividing that part of the lake for colored and white. This boy was supposed to have been swimming on the wrong side of the line. In Chicago 15 whites and 25 Afro-Americans were killed. Besides these there were 11 policemen killed, 10 white and one Afro-American. These were not counted among the riot casualties. If one counts these among the casualties, it would be about even Steven among the riot dead. I will say that with this the Afro-American people of Chicago did not feel that they were defeated in the riots. This so-called riot differed in many ways from some of the recent riots. The black people did not tear up the black ghetto but checked any attempted invasion by whites. They formed a Hindenburg line and dared any white mobsters to cross it. It was bordered on the West by Wentworth Ave., on the East by Cottage Grove, on the South by 63rd St. and on the North by 22nd St. I was one of a group of veterans known as Guardians of that line.
The Afro-American press in Chicago, namely the Chicago Defender, edited by Robert S. Abbot, some weeks before the riot had been carrying on a campaign urging the black people to fight back and defend themselves against their white oppressors. This paper had a wide circulation in many sections of the South. Often it was brought to those people by Pullman porters and waiters running down there. It carried a caption in bold letters, “If you must go down, take eight or ten crackers with you.”107
When the riot began, the government forced Abbot to change that caption. Another militant paper was the Chicago Whip edited by Joe Bibb. It had mostly a local circulation and carried on a successful boycott campaign forcing the white merchants on the South side to hire Afro-Americans in their stores. I believe this was after the riots and was the first boycott effort of black people in any section of the country.
After the riot I went to work as a dining car waiter for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul that ran from Chicago to Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. I became active in the African Blood Brotherhood and after one of my trips to the Coast, Gordon Owens took me to a Party meeting on the Northwest side. There I met Jack Johnstone who, I learned, had led a group of Afro-American and white packinghouse workers through the stockyards district during the riot urging black and white solidarity. I joined the Party which was underground at the time, which to me was very romantic. After I came back from one of my trips I attended a bazaar given by some of the language federations for the Russian famine relief. I made a small contribution and promised to see what I could do to help the people of the Soviet Union who were suffering from the famine. There were some Afro-American sympathizers in Chicago who were a little better off than most of us, and who had helped us on numerous occasions. One of these was Roy Tibbs, who wielded quite an influence among some people there, and he raised some money which was sent to the relief headquarters. On my next trip to the Coast I contacted some peple out there and found out that they had already started to raise money for famine relief. Bob Hardin also spoke at some benefits for Russian relief and helped to raise money.
At one of the meetings I was elected as a delegate to the Brideman Convention, but I had to make my run to the Coast. Had I realized the significance of that convention I would have laid off my trip and attended.
In 1922 the Party came out from underground and the former language federations formed language branches and united with other Communist groups and formed the Workers (Communist) Party. And on the South Side, the English branch was formed. The nuclei of this branch were members of the African Blood Brotherhood. Many Afro-Americans were recruited in this branch and so it grew. We participated in community activities and at one time our branch had more than 75 members. Nearly all of them were Afro-Americans. At that time there was a continued factional fight in the rest of the Party and both factions sent representatives into our branch to try to influence the membership to support a given faction. The Ruthenberg faction sent Bob Minor as their representative and the Foster faction sent Bill Dunne. They carried the factional squabble into our branch, each accusing the other of being prejudiced against Afro-Americans. At some of our meetings Minor and Dunne quarreled and almost engaged in fist fights. In a short time our membership dropped from over 75 to about 25 or 30, most of those remaining being the original members of the African Blood Brotherhood. We felt that we were being used as a factional football, but we stuck it out. I was more influenced by the Ruthenberg group, and most of us were sympathetic to that group but were not hard-boiled factionalists. We ran into many instances of prejudice among some members of the Party, some of them flagrant. Each faction accused the other in these incidents. We had faith in Lenin and the Russian comrades and had heard that they sharply criticized some of our leading comrades who had gone over there, for insufficient work among the black people in this country and felt that if we could get over there, we could straighten out the situation in our Party. When we heard that they wanted a group of Afro-American students to go over there to school, we were glad and knew that the Russian comrades would help us straighten out the situation in our Party and were patient. They had asked originally for 10 Afro-American students; we were able to get 5 together. They were Oliver Golden and his wife, the one colored woman in the group and who died over there; Harold Bailey, known as Harold Williams, from Jamaica; Awoona Bahkole, an African from the Gold Coast, and myself. When we found out we were actually going, I got together with some of our comrades in our branch and we prepared a sort of dossier listing many actions of discrimination we encountered in the Party as the main cause of the loss of some of the Afro-American comrades in our branch. We had a long list and we made several typewritten copies, some of which I carried over there. I was put in charge of the group. We arrived in Moscow in 1925, in the spring, and were sent to the Eastern University, better known as the Communist University of the Toilers of the East, named for Stalin. We were the original “five.” Later on in that same year, in mid-winter, Maude White, a comrade from Ohio, was sent there. To my surprise, my brother Haywood, better known as Harry Haywood, came there also. Later on, Roy Mahoney, an active Afro-American comrade from East Liverpool, Ohio, and another colored girl from Chicago, whose name I can’t remember, whom I had seen at some of our street meetings, came. The next year, William Patterson arrived. We learned that he, a lawyer, had been involved in the fight for Sacco and Vanzetti, a case which had been the “cause celebre” in almost every part of America and Europe.108
When we five got to Moscow we were sent immediately to the Eastern University and found quarters there. This University was sponsored by and named for Comrade Stalin. We had hardly been there a week when he sent for us. We were taken to the Kremlin in a car sent by Stalin. Karl Radek, who knew enough English, served as an interpreter and was present at the interview. We drank tea and talked informally for several hours. Stalin said that since the Negro people represented the most oppressed section of the working class, therefore the American Party should have more of them than whites. Why weren’t there more in the American Party. I said that prejudice and discrimination within the Party were largely responsible for the shortage of Afro-American members. I told him about the South Side English Branch which had been formed in 1922 and with about 75 “Negro” members, most of whom had drifted away because of the patronizing attitude of some of the white members. Comrade Stalin then said the whole approach of the American comrades is wrong. You are a national minority with some of the characteristics of a nation. He asked us to prepare a memorandum on the “Negro question” and promised to provide us with relevant publications and books.
After we five students had been at school for a year we were transferred to the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). As such, we participated in the Party struggle against Trotskyism. The struggle was against the theory of “permanent revolution” projected by the group led by Trotsky and the idea of building “socialism in one country” by the majority of the Party, led by Comrade Stalin. Our school was located in the Party District known as the Krasny Preshminsky which was one of the largest working-class districts in Moscow. In this struggle, we attended many meetings and heard speeches and there were speeches by representatives of both groups and there was full discussion at these meetings at the school and the district meetings.
Our district voted overwhelmingly in favor of the majority group headed by Comrade Stalin. We were delegates to the Seventh Plenum which made the final decisions. This was an important part of our studies at our school. I considered it a great honor to become a member of the world’s greatest revolutionary party. One of the great moments was to attend this plenum where Trotsky and his cohorts were decisively defeated by the majority of the delegates. Trotsky was a brilliant orator. He did not trust an interpreter and translated himself into German, French, and English, bitterly attacking Comrade Stalin. He said that Comrade Lenin had referred to Comrade Stalin as rude. Comrade Stalin answered by saying, “Yes, I am rude but Comrade Lenin also said I was honest and trustworthy.” Comrade Stalin impressed me as being calm through these proceedings letting him talk without interruption, sitting back smoking his pipe and listening to this tirade. Trotsky also attacked Pepper, referring to him as the international muddler of two continents. We learned that the building of socialism in one country was the idea originated by Comrade Lenin and that he had quarrled with Trotsky and others on the theory of “permanent revolution” and referred to that idea as adventurism. His slogan was “electrication.”
Early in 1928, a sub-committee on “the Negro question” was formed in the Anglo-American Department of the Comintern to prepare a resolution and other material. In August the Congress itself, a 32-member “Negro Commission was formed to make the final recommendation. This commission included seven Americans—five Afro-Americans: James Ford, Harry Haywood, Oliver Golden, Harold Williams and myself. The two white Americans were Lovestone and Bitelman. Among the others were: Nasanov, representing the Young Communist International, Bunting of South Africa, Andrew Rothstein of England. The chairman was Comrade Kuusinen, Finnish Comintern official, and others.
It was into this commission that we brought the case history of chauvinist acts in the Party that had been prepared before we left Chicago. Sen Katayama, a Japanese comrade, who while in exile in America, graduated from Howard University during the early part of the present century and was a member of the Communist International, said that while he considered the American Negroes as a subject nation, citing the riots of 1919 in positive terms, he also declared the Negro people to be “the best potential revolutionary factor in the American Communist Movement.”
James Ford and I were the only Afro-American delegates that spoke at the Congress sessions. Haywood did not speak at these sessions but worked with Nasanov in the commission. Comrade Ford and I both spoke twice.
The first time Ford spoke he said “that the few Negro comrades we have left in the Party have been making a fight for years against the Party’s underestimation of Negro work” For this, many were persecuted and driven out of the Party. Now we bring it before a Comintern Congress. He concluded with the prediction that the next revolutionary wave will come from the “Negro” workers and the exploited workers and peasants of the countries in which “Negro” workers live. A couple of days later I spoke and said: “When Negroes join the Party they remain ‘Negroes’ within the Party. This is understandable. The chauvinism in the Party has made this so. There is more chauvinism in the American Party, in both factions, than in any other Party in the Comintern. This chauvinism led to a neglect of Negro work equally by both factions because it kept them from seeing the potentially revolutionary possibilities of the Negro toilers as the most exploited element in America.” (This is from Inpre-corr VIII August 8, 1928, p. 1812. I am identified as Jones).
Ford spoke the following day: “There is considerable discussion going on in the Negro Commission regarding the slogan for a republic of the Negro people of America. I am against it because a Negro nationalist movement would have the effect of arresting the revolutionary class movement of the Negro masses and further widening. . . . ”
I spoke a day later. I noted “the existence of sharp class distinctions within the Negro community which tend to prevent a development of any national characteristics as such.” The historical development of the American Negro has tended to create in him the desire to be considered a part of the American nation. “I feel most of all that the discussion which had suddenly begun to occupy the Negro Commission was somewhat Utopian. There is no objection in our Party to the principle of a Soviet Republic for Negroes, but what measures are we going to take to alleviate their present condition in America? I feel that the Party’s task is still to organize people on the basis of their everyday needs, for the revolution.”
Interview with Otto Hall by Philip S. Foner, New York, October 15, 1967. Transcription in possession of the editors.
THE AMERICAN NEGRO LABOR CONGRESS AND THE NATIONAL NEGRO CONGRESS109
President Green of A.F. of L. Exposes “Congress” to be Held In Chicago
The so-called “American Negro Labor Congress” called to meet in Chicago on October 25 is an incubation of the Communists and intended to lure the colored wage earners into an un-American movement, declares William Green of the American Federation of Labor. He says that Communism in America is “comparable to the boll weevil in the Southern cotton fields. Both are importations and equally dangerous.
President Green has issued a warning to Negro workers in which he says:
“During the past few days I have received a number of letters and telegrams asking if the American Federation of Labor approves of the American Negro Congress called by the Workers’ (Communist) Party.
“The American Federation of Labor has not and will not approve of such a congress. It will not be held to benefit the Negro but to instill into the lives of the members of that race the most pernicious doctrine—race hatred.
“The Negro will be led to believe that the dark races of the world are in rebellion against the whites, and that all they need to do is to form an American Negro Labor Congress and all social, political, and economic discriminations will be wiped out.
“Originators of the Congress have headquarters in Chicago. They conduct a number of Communist organizations with interlocking directories that work under the direction of Moscow.
“I wish to warn all Negro members of trade unions that they are being led into a trap that will eventually be their undoing.”
Labor, August 15, 1925.
That an American Negro Labor Congress is important, valuable and necessary goes without saying. It can achieve much if properly conceived and executed. But it must be truly and genuinely American. By this we don’t mean that its entire membership should be confined to American Negroes or naturalized American Negroes. Not at all. By American we mean that its conception and formulation, its policies and tactics, and especially its control must be American. It must receive the moral and financial backing of American labor, white and black. To succeed it cannot be unrelated or antagonistic to the true representative of American labor the American Federation of Labor, however much its structure and policies may need criticism and reform. Certainly it ought to be obvious to anyone that no labor movement, despite its being labeled American can do any constructive work by way of bettering the conditions of either the Negro or white workers, whose seat of control is outside the country. The reason for this is simply that a labor policy conceived in Russia, Africa or France cannot, because of hard and fast nationalistic psychologies, meet and solve the problems of the American workers. First, because the French or English workers don’t understand the labor problems of America. They don’t understand the psychology of the American workers, a product of their social, economic and political background. For these reasons the American Negro Labor Congress will fail. In the first place it is not American. It is only nominally led by an American Negro Lovett Fort-Whiteman, a very splendid young man, well-meaning but misguided; competent in the writing of imaginative literature but too emotional for the conception, formulation and execution of broad, complex social, economic and political policies. The source of its influence and control, its backing, is the Communists of Russia, whose objective is the disruption of the labor movements of the countries of Europe and America. All of the criticisms by the Communists, however, of the American Labor movement are not altogether unsound, but their tactics are foolish, silly, dangerous and calculated to provoke unnecessary persecution to the cause of the movement here and elsewhere. This has been the colossal blunder of Soviet Russia. Lenin saw it but he couldn’t correct it. Now the aims of the American Negro Labor Congress are commendable, save that there are too many of them. We don’t oppose it because it is too radical. Its program is merely liberal, so camouflaged as to give the Communists a foothold among Negroes. Think of the impractical and ridiculous spectacle of the policies for the guidance of Negro workers in America being dictated in Soviet Russia by persons and groups who know nothing about Negroes. And even granted that the policies were sound, they could never be executed because of the fact that they could not reach the American Negro workers. It ought to be generally known by those who would organize the Negro workers that wherever the Negro workers are in the unions, and there are thousands of them unionized, they are in unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. But the Communists have been doing their darndest to wreck this organization. Naturally the A.F. of L. is sincerely fighting the Communists. And for the unorganized Negroes to be organized in a movement which is trying to destroy the A.F. of L. which embraces all of the organized Negroes, is to start an intra-racial labor war. It would simply pit the American Negro in an organization under foreign control against the American Negro in a labor movement under American control. The American Negro workers would be the victims of such folly. Nor do we intend to convey the idea that we have any illusions about the shortcomings of things American. We recognize the limitations of the American Labor movement. We are out to correct them. We also think that we know more about labor conditions in America as well as the methods best calculated to deal with them than does the Third International of Soviet Russia, just as we feel that the Russian workers are better prepared to solve their problems than are the American or English workers. Even if there were American Negroes in Russia, they would not be prepared to control an organization for the leadership of Negroes in America.
The Messenger, 7 (August, 1925): 304-05.
One Protests Mr. Green’s Warning Against Chicago Meeting
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
New York Times, August 13, 1925.
Data Sought by Urban League on His Place in Industry
New York Times, August 19, 1925.
Mr. Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, has issued a broadside against the American Negro Labor Congress, pointing out that it is unrepresentative of American Labor. Mr. Whiteman, the head of the American Negro Labor Congress, replied that Mr. Green could criticize the Congress with poor grace, because of the fact that the A.F. of L. has been recreant to its duty in organizing Negro workers. Now, Green is right. The American Negro Labor Congress is certainly not representative of the American Negro worker because its seat of control is in Moscow. At the same time the A.F. of L. has been inexcusably indifferent to the entreaties of the Negro workers. It was quite natural that the Negro press should react as it did to Mr. Green’s statement. It regards the attack of the President of the A.F. of L. as unjustified, thinking strictly of the failure of the various internationals, affiliated with the A.F. of L. to let down the bars to Negro labor. The issue, however, is much deeper. And, unfortunately, the Negro press does not understand it. It involves the right of American labor to control and determine its own affairs, as against the rule or ruin policy of the Communists who look to Zinoviev, head of the Third International as their generalissimo. It is this senseless policy of the Communists to control or disrupt the American labor movement which has won for them the bitter and unrelenting opposition of Mr. Green’s organization as well as all of the organized labor movements in England and the European continent. The fact that the Communists start with the questionable premise that we are living in a revolutionary period, and that the tactics adopted should be calculated to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat and the soviet form of government, reveals their ignorance of the American state. Needless to say that this formula has no rational relation with the existing labor conditions in America. Naturally the organized labor movement which though conservative, has won the highest labor standards of any workers in the world, combats this philosophy whether proclaimed among white or black workers. But it ought to be clear to the students of labor problems in the United States that the Negro workers’ interests are inextricably tied up with the interests of the white workers in America. What injures one will injure the other. The high wage standard and the eight-hour day of bricklayers, plasterers, painters, paperhangers, carpenters and mechanics of all kinds, are also enjoyed by Negro artisans. Most of the Negroes in the building industry in the South, West, East and North are organized by the A.F. of L. To break up the A.F. of L., then, the object of the Communists who control the American Negro Labor Congress, is to break down the present strong collective bargaining power of the Negro workers in the Federation and also out of it. It must be recognized in this connection that the unorganized workers’ conditions in America are improved by virtue of the existence of five million men and women organized in the A.F. of L. Practically all of the Negro workers who are in any unions at all in the United States are in those affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. But the work of organizing the Negro workers should certainly not abate. Too few are organized. The same thing is true of the white workers. But the solution of this problem does not consist in introducing Russian socio-economic labor methods into the American labor situation. Nor does this imply that the American workers may not profit from the great experiment which, perhaps, may have been inevitable in Russia during those war days. It does not follow, however, that the Russian workers’ methodology, however good for them, is also the only solution to the American labor problems. A thorough grasp of these varying psychological socio-economic political backgrounds of the workers in different lands is absolutely essential to the formulation of a sound constructive labor policy for the American workers in general and the Negro workers in Particular.
The Messenger, 7 (September, 1925): 324-25.
American Negro Labor Congress Head Says Reds Do Not Control Movement
CHICAGO, ILL., Oct. 1—Refuting the statement that Reds were seeking control of the American Negro Labor Congress which is scheduled to meet here during the week of Oct. 25, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, college -trained race communist, is perfecting his organization with labor leaders from all parts of the country.
William Z. Foster, Robert Minor and other well-known communists have been invited to address the meeting.
Union of white and Negro workers will be the surest way to end lynching, race riots, race discrimination and other abuses from which the Negroes suffer, the literature of the Labor Congress proclaims.
“We are against Jim Crowism, black beltism, miscegenation laws and other discriminations,” says an appeal for support. “We demand full social, political and economic equality, a united front of Negro and white workers and farmers and a labor party uniting all working class forces.”
Pittsburgh Courier, October 3, 1925.
CHICAGO, Oct. 29 (AP).—Full social equality for negroes was asked in resolutions adopted today by the American Negro Labor Congress. Federal and police officials listened to the proceedings of the congress, which has been by the American Federation of Labor as a Communistic organization. Most of the forty negro delegates say they represent unorganized workers.
New York Times, October 30, 1925.
CHICAGO, Ill., Oct. 29.—How to get the Negro into trade unions and how to make the trade unions accord equality to him was the topic at the American Negro Labor Congress which began a week’s session Monday morning in the Metropolitan Community Center, 3118 Giles avenue. About 75 delegates from labor and farmer organizations are here for the meeting, according to Lovett Fort Whiteman, communist leader, who has charge of the congress.
“The aim of the congress is to mobilize and to co-ordinate into a fighting machine the most enlightened and militant and class-conscious workers of the race in the struggle of the race for the abolition of lynching, Jim Crowism, industrial discrimination, political disfranchisement and segregation of the race,” Fort Whiteman declared. In an attack on President William Green, of the American Federation of Labor, who warned trade unionists to stay away from the communist congress, Fort-Whiteman said:
“No Jim Crow Unions”
“We want no Jim Crow unions. We demand that the American Federation of Labor tear down the barriers that segregate us from the white workers and keep us out of white unions. We colored workers will, through this congress, correct mistakes of our white brothers who have been foolishly misled by the wrong kind of leaders.
“The natural enemies of the Negro are the boss, the landlord and the capitalist.”
Island Radical Expected
Among those scheduled to address the congress are H. V. Phillips, Otto Huiswood, of New York; William Scarville, of Pittsburgh, Rothschild Francis, radical editor of the Virgin Islands, is expected to arrive.
About 500 attended the opening meeting of the congress held Sunday night in Pythian Hall, 207 East 35th street, at which addresses were made by Fort Whiteman, E. N. Taylor, a Chicago attorney, and several others. A number of white communist leaders were also in attendance at the meeting.
Pittsburgh Courier, October 31, 1925.
Three negro legislators came within one vote of preventing the passage of an anti-injunction bill through the Illinois legislature. Asked why they insisted on voting against the measure, they replied that it was backed by union labor, which refuses to allow colored men in unions or to work beside them.
In still another way anti-negroism has arisen to plague trade unionists. The call has gone out throughout the South and northern industrial centers for an American Negro Congress under communist auspices. So concerned have American Federation of Labor officials become over this congress that an official warning directs trade unionists to stay away from the Chicago meeting. Labor officials have also been galvanized into action in meeting the communist charges by intensifying their organizing work among the colored.
Locomotive Engineers Journal, 59 (October, 1925): 745-46.
In the game of Rouge Et Noir, if the red wins, the black loses, and our observant writers of the press believe the same thing will happen in the red game to bolshevize our colored workers—the blacks will lose if the reds win. But they all expect the reds to lose, to the distinct advantage of the blacks. The very attempt, however, may stir up trouble. Nothing but mischief, maintains the Providence News and other American dailies, can come of the recent attempt at Chicago to convert the American negro workingman to Bolshevism. The occasion was the American Negro Labor Congress, the first of its kind to be held, and behind the conference, says a new item in the Chicago Tribune, is a plot of Red Russia to spread Communism among the colored people of the entire world.
Among the speakers at the Chicago meeting, says the Charlotte Observer, “was William Z. Foster, the foremost Communist in this country.” William Montgomery Brown, deposed Protestant Episcopal Bishop, also was one of the speakers in favor of organizing negroes along racial lines. The organizer of the Congress however, was a negro—Lovett Fort-Whiteman, who, according to Lester A. Walton, a negro correspondent of the New York World, is known as the ‘reddest Red of his race.’” In 1924 Chicago Communists sent Fort-Whiteman to Russia, we are told, and at the present moment, asserts Owen L. Scott in a Consolidated Press dispatch from Chicago, “seven American negro young men and three young women are in Russia taking a three-year course of training for the Russian diplomatic service. That is tantamount to training for entrance to the Communist propaganda organizations.”
For several months, says Mr. Walton in one of his Chicago dispatches to The World, “paid Communist workers have been in the field making a determined effort to enroll American negro workers under the Communist banner.” And at the recent conference “no attempt was made to hide the fact that it was financed and directed from Moscow, and that the aim was to stir up race hatred and disorder in the United States,” declares the Chicago Tribune.
The American Negro Labor Congress, says an Associated Press dispatch from Washington, as shown in its descriptive literature, was organized “with an eye even beyond the negroes of America. The ambitious program, as set forth would have the Congress take the leadership in an attempt to ‘rally the negro races of the world for a struggle against imperialism.’” However, points out Mr. Walton, “the naming of white Communist workers on various committees is proof that the movement is not to be engineered and carried on by negroes alone.” According to this negro authority, “white Communists have set about with carefully laid plans and ample funds to convince negro workers that their economic, social, and political emancipation is only to be had by affiliating with them.” In an interview with him, Fort-Whiteman, central figure of the conference, says:
“We are standing in a very crucial period of history. We see the beginning of a series of wars in Morocco and throughout the colonial world.
“The negro is essentially a worker-proletariat as we would call it, suffering all the abuses of the working class in general, but in addition to that racial abuses, racial discrimination, political disfranchisement and other racial oppression.
“The saving of the negro race in this country lies with the working class. To them great changes are coming. We are extending our hands to the white workers—to the workers of the world—to unite in a common cause against the common enemy.
“We understand this and know that it is to the interest of the ruling class to keep up this spirit of dominance. Changes must come to this situation, and we, the Negro Labor Congress, are going to bring about the change, regardless of the cost.”
That Chicago Communists are behind the movement to bring the negro worker into the Soviet fold is indicated in the “greetings” to the Negro Labor Congress by the Trade Union Educational League of which William Z. Foster is the head, and editorials in The Daily Worker, a Chicago Communist organ. Says The Worker:
“As Communists we hail the Negro Labor Congress as the beginning of a movement with far-reaching implications. Not merely can it be the means of starting to mobilize the negro workers for a struggle against the degrading restrictions imposed upon them as a race, but as American workers, speaking the common language of the country, they can become a power in the labor movement. Furthermore, by being brought into the struggle against imperialsm in the United States, they will receive training that will enable them to play an effective part in the world mobilization of the oppressed colonial peoples against capitalism.”
To the Philadelphia Record, however, the idea that the American negro can be “bolshevized” is “ridiculously childish.” “The agents of Communism are engaged in a vain undertaking,” thinks a Southern paper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “The Chicago pow-wow, with all its orations and resolutions, will have no influence upon the negro of this country,” agrees the Philadelphia Bulletin. “The American negro will not be deceived by Moscow’s pernicious propaganda,” declares the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph, and the Minneapolis Journal assures us that “there is no reason for any one to lose sleep over the present situation.” In this paper’s opinion:
“The negro is naturally an enthusiast for any cause he embraces. But no amount of clever talking is going to make revolutionists out of millions of negroes who own their homes, drive their own motor-cars, manage their own stores, hotels, insurance companies, theaters and other enterprises, conduct their own colleges, and, more important still, have sizable deposits in their own banks.
“The average negro of today is not the gullible, somewhat illiterate and usually indigent citizen of forty years ago. By his own industry and common sense he has won the respect and confidence of his white countrymen. In any Communist revolution, in any general attack on private property, the American negro has proportionately as much to lose as the American white man. And he knows it.”
“This is not the first time that we have been invited to shiver over the possibility of American negroes turned traitor to their Government,” we are reminded by the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. “Back in the war days it was suggested that the negroes might be corrupted by German agents, but it turned out that there was less pro-Germanism among American negroes than among any other element of the population. Attempts to Sovietize the negro will end in the same complete fizzle.” Continues this Virginia daily:
“Those who are attached to the payrolls of organizations dedicated to the business of maintaining watch over the integrity of our American institutions, never run out of scare material. If it is not an anti-royalist Count that threatens to undermine our Government, it is his wife. If it is not our unassimilated aliens it is our thoroughly assimilated negroes. Anything is grist for the mill of the scare-manufacturers. Their business is to keep the American people sufficiently nervous over the stability of their government to make them shell out a sufficient sum every year to pay the salaries of the professional frightmongers.
“Recently the business of causing the patriots to shake in their shoes has suffered a slump. It is no longer possible to get a national kick out of the menace of radical labor unions. But the scare-pedlers never run out of material. If they can’t find a thing for the national to be scared about, they invent something. Strictly in this category of fabricated frights is the sweat that the security-leaguers and 101-percenters have worked up over the alleged plan of Soviet Russia to bolshevize America’s negroes.
“The antics of our security-leaguers over Soviet-negro complots merely serve to detract attention from the real source of danger—ourselves.
“The way to make the negro a better and safer element of our population is not to organize fights upon imaginary alien seducers, but to conduct an intelligent offensive against the real domestic menaces that embitter the negro’s life and impel him to occasional acts of rebellion. One of these menaces is the unspeakable lynching practise. Others are execrable housing conditions, under-education, and grossly unfair discrimination in the matter of parks and playgrounds.
“In these menaces lie the only real danger that the American negro may become radical. If he becomes a radical, it will America’s fault—not Russia’s.”
Literary Digest, 87 (November 21, 1925): 13–14.
Negro Labor and Communism
When President Green of the American Federation of Labor impatiently issued his warnings to Negroes against the exhortations of the Chicago Labor Congress, he gave official recognition to a movement which, by its nature, could scarcely have survived long, and to an alleged Communist menace that had not disturbed more than a handful of Negroes, and fewer Negro workers. Altho Mr. Lovett Fort-Whiteman with an astute sense for news channels had circulated widely the objectives of the Congress, its grip (whether to the glory or shame of the Negro working man’s psychology) was no more secure than that of many such astral enthusiasms which yearly die aborning. It was too much of a panacea, a relief too simple and immediate to tempt the full faith of Negro workers. There were no new or unfamiliar grievances, or anything that had not in one form or another at some time stirred Negroes to protest. They would, for example, fight racial prejudice, Jim Crowism, unequal pay for black and white workers, lynching, discriminations in labor unions, and bring about a united working class. Surely there is nothing subversive in this. They would rally the Negro races of the world against imperialism,—a pardonable even if futile hope. But in the documentation of their grievances, there appeared something that looked dangerously like a real case against a great many of the labor organizations of the country. And so it happened that when out of a heavy and persistent silence came the tremulous voice of organized labor, at least two suspicions became current: (1) that an important motive back of the warning might be found in that same attitude of self-interest which had already been resented in the unions; and (2) that the prompt and unbridled credulity of the press was a tacit recognition of the fact that the harassed Negro workers were fit subjects for most any brand of propaganda, so long as it promised relief. It cannot be denied that there has been agreement among the Negroes will all of the grievances as expressed by the Negro Labor Congress, but an equal indifference to the ultimate measures of relief proposed.
Communism either as a political or economic program, is no more adequately comprehended by Negro than by white workers. If there has been any sentiment toward the group it has been one of sympathy rather than fealty, pity rather than homage. For here was a group, whatever its beliefs, which, like themselves, was not an especially favored class in America. It has seemed peculiar that they should be urged to keep away from a working group that asked merely to call them “brother” by another group which in so many instances spurned that opportunity.
The issues, prematurely born, have been unfair both to Negro labor and to the labor unions. The workers who have sought a structure for collective action, have asked to share the fate of American workers in their own organizations. And the refusals, the quibbling about jurisdiction, separate locals, apprenticeship sentiment of the workers, strike breaking, alleged lower standards, and incapacity, practiced by many of the existing unions thru a long, dreary period, have been notorious. But on the other hand, the American Federation of Labor under President Green, has shown more concern than has been its wont, and some of the unions, notably the Longshoremen, Hod Carriers and United Mine Workers, have developed cooperation to a point quite beyond any question of insincerity. Meanwhile, the Negro workers continue their age-old double struggle to break the vicious circle of employer and union, which keeps them out of jobs, on the one hand because they are not members of the union, and keeps them out of the union because they do not have the jobs.
Opportunity, 3 (December, 1925): 1.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa., Feb. 16.—At an interracial banquet held in Philadelphia last Friday evening, under the auspices of the local council, American Negro Labor Congress, A. Warreno, executive secretary, emphasized the danger of racial hatreds and conflicts during periods of industrial depression such as America is experiencing at the present time. In order to avert such a calamity Warreno suggested that interracial cooperation should be encouraged and broadened in all the large industrial centers of America, particularly among white and Negro workers. “Unemployment is widespread,” said Warreno, “and conditions are going to become worse.” Secretary Warreno pointed out that the Philadelphia Council, American Negro Labor Congress, is promoting good will and harmony between the races by holding interracial banquets and conferences where the races have an opportunity of making intimate contacts with each other. Such functions, the speaker said, encourage frank and sincere discussions of interracial problems and misunderstanding.
A short survey of the Council’s work last year was given by Thomas L. Dabney, who also stressed the importance of interracial cooperation.
“We hear a great deal these days about freedom and democracy,” said Dabney. “We are familiar with the struggle of the Negro for the first emancipation. . . . Today white and black workers are engaged in another struggle for the new emancipation.”
The old idea that there is a chasm between the races which will always prevent real cooperation and association between them was denied by Dabney, who said that these barriers are largely superficial. The speaker accused certain business interests and cheap politicians for propagating these false ideas of race relations. “The American Negro Labor Congress,” the speaker continued, “is convinced that white and Negro workers can live in harmony and peace once they understand that they have common economic problems.”
Several other persons, white and Negro, interested in interracial cooperation spoke at the banquet among whom were A. J. Carey, K. M. Whitton, John Anderson and James Price, labor leaders, and Dr. George Chalmers Richmond, prominent liberal minister. A. J. Carey, speaking directly to the workers present said, “There is no reason why we should not unite as one in the struggle of the workers of all races to make a decent living.”111
Stating that the labor question is international, K. M. Whitten urged united effort of the workers in all lands in order to advance the cause of the working class. James Price of the I.W.W. gave a vivid picture of the present struggle of the Colorado miners under I.W.W. leadership to achieve a decent standard of living. According to Mr. Price the 500 Negro miners involved in the Colorado strike are joining their white fellow workers in this struggle. A collection taken after Price’s address was turned over to him to aid the fight of the striking miners. The local Council, American Negro Labor Congress, is also sending all money above expenses from the banquet to aid the miners strike.
Pittsburgh Courier, February 18, 1928.
After three days of serious discussions on the economic, social and political situation of the Negro people of the United States, the first National Negro Congress, held in Chicago, came to an end on December 16th.
The Credentials Committee reported the attendance of 900 officially elected delegates, representing three million people, one-quarter of the total Negro population of the U.S.A.
The Congress adopted a number of important resolutions on lynch law, against fascism, against the attitude of the Congress of the American Federation of Labor on the question of Negro membership in the Trade Unions. Further, a resolution demanding equal rights for women and for young workers and for the increase of relief for unemployed young workers. Of special importance is the adoption of the resolution which was presented by the Negro Pullman Porters Union to the Congress of the American Federation of Labor, but rejected by the reactionary leaders of that organization. In this resolution, the common practice of exclusion of Negro workers from the trade unions is condemned and it is proposed to organize Negro workers’ committees to draw in the unorganized workers. A start will be made with the organization of the laundry and domestic workers.
The attacks against the Congress by the reactionary Hearst press (newspapers with open Fascist leanings) created a great feeling of disgust among the delegates, who demonstratively tore up Hearst newspapers in the Congress hall.
The Congress decided to remain a permanent organization and elected a national committee of 75 members and 15 regional committees.
A. Philip Randolph, leader of the Pullman Porters Union was elected President, John Davis, Secretary and Marion Cuthbert, Treasurer.
Finally, the Congress organized a medical relief committee for Abyssinia. The next congress will be held in 1937 in Philadelphia.
In the next issue of “The Negro Worker,” we hope to publish the resolutions adopted and more detailed information concerning the Congress.
The Negro Worker, 6 (March, 1936): 19.
By Lester B. Granger
It is a paradoxical fact that the National Negro Congress held in Chicago last February provided a powerful impetus toward national racial unity, while at the same time it has stirred up more bitter controversy than any gathering of Negroes since the days of Marcus Garvey’s “provisional presidential incumbency.”
It was not the first time in recent years that a truly national meeting had been attempted. The Equal Rights Congress at Washington during war days, the Negro Labor Congress of 1925, and the more recent “Sanhedrin” were all attempts to produce a racial gathering from all parts of the country to take counsel on racial problems. Because of previous failures the National Negro Congress was opposed by many sincere persons who felt that this latest ambitious attempt was foredoomed likewise to failure.112
Not all opposition came from those who feared its failure, for there were many individuals who saw in the possible success of this movement a future crippling of national organizations already serving the economic and social welfare of Negroes. Still others suspected undue radical influence in the Congress leadership, while in the same breath suspicions were openly voiced that it was a gigantic anti-New Deal effort financed by the Republican Party or the Liberty League.
Now that the Congress has been held and is over, some of these criticisms are lost, while others have been magnified and intensified. A prelate of the Negro church participated until the closing moments of the final session, then stamped out in high dudgeon, denouncing the entire Congress as atheistic. A Republican national committeeman protested throughout the Congress that it had been sold out to the Democratic Party, and later went back to Washington branding the meeting as Communistic. Various Walter Winchells and Lippmans of the Negro press failed to attend, but deplored the entire proceeding as “Pitifully futile” or as “a remarkable waste of time and money.” Meanwhile the Congress delegates went back to five hundred and fifty-one organizations to report on what actually took place in Chicago. Increased racial unity will grow out of the public’s reception of these reports, even though that unity grows amid acrimonious dispute.113
It is unfortunate that practically all criticism has been aimed at an assumed malign influence in the Congress leadership, or at presumed secret ambitions on the part of its promoters. Almost no critics have analyzed the actual program of the Congress, or enumerated its many virtues, or specifically pointed out its weaknesses—of which there were many. This article is an attempt, not to answer the critics of the Congress, but to interpret its real significance and to point out its possible usefulness to the people in whose service it was called—five million wage earners and heads of Negro families.
To understand the meeting iteslf, one must know its background. The Congress grew out of a conference on the “Economic Condition Among Negroes” held at Washington, D.C., in May 1935, under the combined sponsorship of the Joint Committee on National Recovery and Howard University’s Department of Political Economy. That conference produced disturbing evidence showing that depression and “recovery” trends are forcing Negroes into an even lower economic and social position than they now occupy. Immediate action was indicated as imperatively needed to combat these trends, but it was also recognized that such action must be preceded by a wide education of Negroes in the techniques of group action.
A small meeting after the Conference made plans for calling a national congress to initiate this education and to plan action. Here was the birth of the National Negro Congress, under the organizing genius of John P. Davis, a meeting to include all types of Negro organizations and to devise a platform which would unite them on a program of fundamental issues involving their economic, social and civil security. It was to be a Congress which would cut across political lines and philosophies; it was to be a realistic gathering dealing with bread-and-butter problems; it was to be an interracial meeting giving whites as well as Negroes a chance to help attack a problem which is the problem of all America.
With this background, it was to be expected that the Congress would produce a strange assortment of delegates and a varied conglomeration of political and economic philosophies. Negroes in every walk of life were there—ministers, labor leaders, business men—mechanics, farmers, musicians—housewives, missionaries, social workers. Many whites were present—trade unionists, church leaders, and lookers-on drawn by curiosity. There were representatives of New Deal departments and agencies; old line Republican wheel horses and ambitious young Democrats exchanged arguments; Communists held heated altercations with proponents of the Forty-Ninth State Movement, and Garveyites signed the registration books immediately after Baha’ists.
The Congress produced an amazing attendance past even the most optimistic expectations of its promoters. In the middle of the worst winter in fifty years, the delegates traveled through sub-zero weather by train, bus and auto, paying their own way or financed by poverty-stricken club treasuries. Nevertheless, 800 delegates proffered credentials from 5551 organizations in 28 states, including California, Florida and Massachusetts. On the opening night five thousand men and women jammed the drill hall and balconies of the Eighth Regiment Armory, filled the standing space, and remained from eight in the evening until past midnight. They came back next day at nine and left at midnight. On the closing day they sat from early afternoon until nearly midnight, scarcely leaving their chairs, intent on the report of committees and the final speeches.
Here, it seems to this writer, is the inner significance of the Congress—a significance which has been missed by its critics. Such a gathering, such enthusiasm, such sustained interest are indicative of a deep-rooted and nationwide dissatisfaction of Negroes that rapidly mounts into a flaming resentment. It is idle to attempt its dismissal as “a Communist gathering.” All the Communists in America and Russia could not have inveigled the great majority of those delegates into that trip last winter unless something far deeper than inspired propaganda were driving them. As a matter of fact, delegates were plentiful from the very states where radical parties are weakest.
The Congress was significant, moreover, of the growing importance of labor leadership and of the power of the labor movement. Delegates were present from 80 trade unions, as opposed to only 18 professional and educational groups. The trade union section was the most largely attended and hotly discussed—so much so that it starved the attendance at other important sections. A powerful youth group was present, articulate and aggressive. The church militant was represented on platform and discussion floor, expounding the new social gospel of justice for the underdog.
Criticism of the mechanical operation of the Congress can be most easily justified, for here was evident the committee’s lack of promotional funds and the haste of its last-minute preparations. Difficulties were further increased by the armory’s inadequate convention facilities and the unstable attitudes of its officials, to say nothing of the mutual suspicion with which rival and dissenting groups regarded each other. Then there was the unpardonably stupid threat of local authorities to close the armory on the opening night because of the discovery of Communist delegates. On the other hand, criticism was freely made that the speakers who were scheduled did not sufficiently represent the different points of view among the delegates.
The true test of the Congress, however, lay in the quality of the resolutions adopted and its plans for making these resolutions effective. The resolutions were uniformly of a high order. To be sure, those on the Church were for the most part full of vague generalities, with the exception of an insistence upon an economic and social as well as a spiritual gospel. Likewise those on Negro business fell into grievous errors of contradiction with resolutions on labor. It is manifestly inconsistent to urge that “all Negroes consider it their inescapable duty to support Negro business by their patronage,” without first exacting a pledge that business men will in turn support labor by paying adequate wages, encouraging union organization and following the spirit of other resolutions passed.
Still, these inconsistencies were surprisingly few in view of the intense speed with which the resolutions committee worked during its few hours of existence. Thoroughly sound positions were taken by the Congress for the most part. There can be no quarrel with resolutions that condemn lynching, exploitation of sharecroppers, civil and social discrimination, and the vicious blatancies of the Hearst press. Few will protest endorsement of racial equality in trade unions, organization of Negro workers into unions and cooperatives, and support of the Urban League and the N.A.A.C.P.
Plans for continuance of the Congress seem at this writing completely sound. The local sponsoring committees that sent delegates to Chicago are to be continued as follow-up groups. It is to be their task to sell to the Negro public the fundamental correctness of the resolutions passed at Chicago, and to encourage organizations to incorporate these resolutions into their programs. Sectional chairmen are appointed; labor, youth, and church committees are to be formed; a National Council of seventy-five members will meet in June to follow up the work that remains to be done after Chicago. There is nothing in the program that implies supplanting or curtailment of any existing organization that fights the Negro’s battles; rather is the race urged to support these organizations all the more effectively.
Two dangers exist in the future that must be prepared for in the present. One is the tendency of praiseworthy enthusiasm to grow tired or go off on a new tangent. There is the possibility that in many instances the original sponsoring committees may lose their earlier zeal and local racketeers take over the Congress idea, to the detriment of its program. This has often happened, for instance, in “Don’t Spend Your Money Where You Can’t Work” campaigns. The National Council must be prepared to discover such deviations from policy and to break up rackets promptly.
The other danger lies within the Congress itself—the natural desire of any organization to perpetuate itself. To do its job properly the Congress must extend over at least a few years and must grow in size and influence. Yet, the older it grows and the larger it becomes, the more it will be exposed to the danger of political control and corrupt bureaucracy—evils which are totally absent today. Definite commitments should be made at once, that the Congress will deal not with political parties but with economic and civil issues, just as was the case at Chicago. Definite goals should be set, capable of achievement within two or three years, and it should be agreed now that when these are arrived at, the Congress will close up shop and disband. By taking these or similar precautions the National Negro Congress, which is already a noteworthy gathering in our racial history, has the opportunity of completing a really constructive job and cementing its place in the brilliant annals of racial progress.
Opportunity, 14 (May, 1936): 151-53.
By Herbert Newton
Frederick Douglass, that fearless organizer of the anti-slavery forces in pre-Civil War days, in the U.S.A., would have leaped with you had he lived to attend the National Negro Congress held in Chicago February 14–16.
Over 900 delegates attended the Congress. They came from all over the country and from all walks of life. The report of the Credentials Committee based on the first day of delegates’ arrival showed an incomplete total of 763 delegates. Of this number 214 came from various civic organizations, 8 from trade unions; 76 from churches of various religious organizations, 70 from fraternities, 44 from various political organizations and 5 from newspapers. These delegates were sent by 551 organizations and directly represented 3,322,093 people or one quarter of the Negro population in the U.S. To a certain extent the Congress assumed an international character as shown by the presence of representatives from Ethiopia, South Africa and the Chinese Soviets.
Background of Congress
The Congress took place on a background of capitalist crisis in which the Negro worker was reduced to a below existence wage, unemployment relief was either cut or altogether denied; the Negro women became more fiercely exploited; the Negro youth lost all possibility of any tolerable future; the Negro farmer became immersed ever deeper in debt and misery; and Negro small traders, etc., went smash, with far reaching results, economically and politically.
Any gathering that sincerely attempted to meet these conditions was bound to be widely supported. All the more so because many and varied struggles had taught the Negro masses many valuable lessons. The numerous unemployment demonstrations, the Saint Louis Nut Pickers Strike, the Chicago Sopkins Needle Trade strike, the Amsterdam News Strike, the strikes of Birmingham steel workers and coal miners, mostly Negroes, have taught large masses what organized struggle means. Add to this, the growing sentiment for the amalgamation of craft unions along industrial lines and its organization of the Negro on the basis of equality; the movement against war and fascism, with its defense of Ethiopia; the increasing support for a genuine Farmer-Labor Party; and the liberation movement of the Negroes. Consider also the moral effect of the Scottsboro victory which forced the South for the first time, to include Negroes on its jury rolls, the Herndon victory which thwarted the murderous plans of the Southern Bourbons and inspired every toiler to emulate the courageous deeds of that young fearless fighter.
These conditions gave rise to tremendous mass support for the Congress. It is not surprising therefore, that astute vote-seeking politicians attempting to enhance their political prestige, would give verbal endorsement of the Congress. Thus we see “support” to the Congress appearing in some strange quarters. Greetings to the Congress came from the Government of two states. Minnesota and Pennsylvania, from the Mayor and City Council of St. Louis and even Edward Kelly, the conservative Mayor of Reactionary Chicago issued a proclamation declaring a Negro week in observance of the Congress and wired greetings from his Florida resort. One California state representative, three Pennsylvania state representatives were regular delegates. And U.S. Senator Borah, opponent of the Anti-lynching Bill, made a desperate though unsuccessful attempt to get the floor. All this goes to prove nothing more or less than wide-spread popularity and support to the Congress.
The liberal magazine “Nation” failing to understand the Negro question as a National question and therefore wishing to reduce the whole complexity of problems involved to the single schematic outlook of economisms, complains:
“This (amalgamation of craft unions into industrial Unions—H.N.) might well have been the theme of the entire Congress. Instead it was one note among many ranging from whole-hearted endorsement of Negro churches to support of trade unionism—just as its delegates range from high church dignitaries to plain workers.”
But this, again only goes to prove that the Congress was a Congress of the Negro People.
A three day discussion in which utmost democracy prevailed, gave an accurate picture of the conditions, struggles and determination of the American Negro. Sharecroppers and tenant farmers from Alabama, longshoremen from the West Coast, coal miners from Kentucky and Pennsylvania steel workers from Georgia and Illinois, together with professionals, intellectuals churchmen and small traders worked out a programme for swinging into action the whole Negro peoples with their white brothers around the following seven basic demands:
1. The right of Negroes to jobs at decent living wages and for the right to join all trade unions. For the right to equal wages and equal labor conditions with other workers, for the organization of Negro workers with their fellow white workers into democratically controlled trade unions.
2. Relief and security for every needy Negro family; and, for genuine social and unemployment insurance without discrimination.
3. Aid to the Negro farm population, to ease the burden of debts, and taxation; for the right of farmers, tenants and sharecroppers to organize and bargain collectively.
4. A fight against lynching, mob violence and police brutality; for enactment of a federal anti-lynching law; for the right to vote, serve on juries and enjoy complete civil liberty.
5. The right of Negro youth to equal opportunity in education and in the economic life of the community.
6. For complete equality for Negro women; for their right, along with all women, to equal pay for equal work; for their right to a suitable environment for themselves and their children—an environment which demands adequate housing, good schools, and recreational facilities; for their right to organize as consumers.
7. To oppose war and fascism, the attempted subjugation of Negro people in Ethiopia, the oppression of colonial nations throughout the world, for the independence of Ethiopia.
Snatched by mass pressure from twenty years living hell on a Georgia chain-gang, Angelo Herndon, prototype of the New Negro leadership, was greeted with thunderous applause when he called for support of himself and the nine Scottsboro boys, as symbols of the Negro struggle against semifeudal oppression. That the Congress understood that it is not alone in this struggle and that it realizes that white workers, too, find themselves victimized by the ruling class, was shown in the greetings and pledge of support of Tom Mooney.
Not confining itself to the problem of workers and poor farmers alone, the Congress also tackled the problem of the plight of Negro artisans, professionals, and small businessmen, and worked out a programme for improving the status of these groups. Even the churchmen met in separate commission and tackled their problems.
The Congress applauded the proposal for the formation of a Farmer Labor Party. No more fitting person could have been chosen for placing this proposal than W. Ford, formerly secretary of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro workers. For Ford and Douglass are the only Negroes ever to run as vice presidential candidates in any national election. It was Douglass who in 1872 ran on a platform which called for the “formation of an entirely new party whose principles shall meet the vital issues of the hour . . . (and on) . . . a platform so broad as to include every human right.”
The deeply felt sympathy for Ethiopia was shown by the ejection from the Congress of Colonel Hubert Julian, traitor to Ethiopia and by the big applause given Max Yergan, and by the settling up of a committee to furnish supplies to the black nation.
Max Yergan, 15 years a Y.M.C.A. Secretary in Africa, exposed fascism as an outgrowth of imperialism and called for an intelligent and organized resistance of all forces in defense of Ethiopia against Italian fascism. He explained that “the capitalist trusts divide up the spoils and repartition the world among themselves.” He further stated that this phase of imperialism has manifested itself in every part of the African Continent. Showing the effects of imperialism he stated that while profits since 1932 have increased 100% and dividends 72%, wages of 200,000 Africans working in the gold mines around Johannesburg and the Transvaal have not had a single increase in the past 30 years. “The lesson of history” he said, is that those who hold power never yield it voluntarily, the only alternative, and Africa’s greatest need, is organization along industrial lines.”
Significantly the Congress was held on the 119th Anniversary of Douglass’ birthday. Significantly also, the gavel that called the opening session to order, was hewed out of the hull of the last African ship that ever carried a shipment of slaves to America.
Trade Unions Vital Force
The trade union representation to the Congress, while small in comparison to the representation from civic organizations was its most vital force. Of tremendous significance, for example, in view of the Congress’ anti-imperialist war stand, is the solidarity of the Italian Local 270 of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and in voting full support and in sending delegates.
Equally important is the election of A. Philip Randolph as the Congress leader. Randolph, formerly a water boy on a road gang, and now President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has successfully led his national Negro Union in a victorious 10 year battle against the Pullman company, a battle as glorious as any that grace the pages of the history of the American trade union movement. Though too ill to attend the Congress, he was unanimously chosen president.
John P. Davis, fiery young Negro intellectual, was elected Executive Secretary as Randolph’s assistant. Davis is proof of the rapidly growing cleavage in Negro leadership. One section—the Uncle Tom type—is represented by such men as Kelly Miller, Du Bois, and Perry Howard; the other—the progressive type—by such men as Charles Wesley Burton, Lester Granger, and Rev. Archibald J. Carey, Jr., Davis belongs to the latter. None can say whether these progressives will go the entire distance in the liberation struggle. But now, working in close contact with tried and experienced working class leaders such as James Ford, A. W. Berry, and Harry Haywood, they make considerable contributions to the immediate struggles of the Negro people.115
It was Davis, for example, who was most effective in having a motion passed to endorse Randolph’s American Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.) resolution which is aimed at smashing trade union color bars. It was Davis, again who raised his voice for the proposals successfully passed, to launch a nation-wide drive in cooperation with the A.F. of L. for the organization of Negro workers into trade unions and to start by the organization of the most exploited strata—laundry and domestic workers—as the dramatic focal point for the organization of all Negro labor.
The Congress divided the country into 15 regions, each to have its own officers working under the direction of a national committee of 75. Local activities are to be directed by the former local sponsoring committees which now take on the permanent character of local federated councils.
As might be expected the bourgeoisie understood the importance of this Congress and took steps to sabotage it. The U.S. government sent its official stool pigeon and labor spy in the person of Lieutenant Lawrence Oxley of the Department of Labor. And we have the word of the Editor of the AFRO-AMERICAN that “some of the biggest political organizations in the country sent henchmen to Chicago for the . . . purpose of capturing the machinery.” That this can’t be far wrong is proved by the lament of the three bishops who withdrew from the Congress; by the threat to close the hall if Earl Browder, Communist leader spoke, by the raising of the “red scare;” by Dr. Du Bois’ counter-programme with PITTSBURGH COURIER; and by the wailings of Kelly Miller and Perry Howard, the latter the Mississippi Republican committee-man and latest adherent to the Hearst-inspired “Liberty” League, a fascist outfit.116
But their howlings will have as little effect now as it did at the Congress. The Negro people of the U.S. having met in convention, having worked out a programme of action and having set up an apparatus for carrying out that programme, will not be deterred.
Not only that, but this energy and determination, according to the unanimous will of the Congress, is to express itself in the very near future, in participation in an international Negro Congress, one that will unite the Negro peoples of the world on the basis of the defense of their local and international economic and political interests.
SMASH DISCRIMINATION EVERYWHERE! ORGANIZE AGAINST PEONAGE, LYNCHING AND TERROR! CARRY ON THE FIGHTING TRADITIONS OF DOUGLASS! JOIN AND BUILD TRADE UNIONS AS THE FIGHTING WEAPONS OF THE WORKERS! FIGHT FOR MILITANT UNITED FRONT, TRADE UNION ORGANIZATION ALONG INDUSTRIAL LINES! FREEDOM FOR THE NEGRO PEOPLES! FORWARD TO THE INTERNATIONAL NEGRO CONGRESS!
The Negro Worker, 6 (May-June, 1936): 22–25, 27.
THE COMMUNIST PARTY, THE TRADE UNION UNITY LEAGUE,117 AND THE BLACK WORKER
Not me alone . . .
I know now . . .
But all the world oppressed
White and black,
Must put their hands with mine
To shake the pillars of these Temples
Wherein the false gods dwell
And worn out altars stand
Too well defended.
The Negro Worker, 4 (July, 1934): 32.
The development of the textile mill strike wave in the Carolinas brings reported evidences of the growing solidarity of labor in the South. This unity must be strengthened in every possible way.
The railroad workers locked the switches, thus preventing the shipment of material out of the struck Manville-Jenckes plant, the metal workers sent fraternal delegates to the strikers’ meetings, while other local labor bodies are also taking action. Here is an example for northern labor. Many of the forces in the Carolina strikes are fresh recruits in the industrial war that is now raging. They have not been inoculated with the virus of craft union paralysis. The corruption that is characteristic of the trade union in the North has not reached them. Solidarity is to them a living reality, giving a wide basis for the spreading of the strike struggle and pushing it forward to victory.
This solidarity has smashed the myths that well-nigh seemingly unsurmountable barriers exist between the native Southern workers and foreign-born workers on the one hand, and the Southern native whites and the Negro workers on the other.
The leadership of the National Textile Workers’ Union, especially in the strike against the Manville-Jenckes Co. at Gastonia, brings to the Southerners the pleasing realization that the workers of the north, consisting in large part of foreign-born are with them. They greet this unity enthusiastically.
Similarly, there has been no indication of prejudice toward the Negro workers, who have taken their places side by side with the white workers in the new local unions that are being established.
The only danger here is that during the continuance of the struggle, the exploiters, through the many avenues open to them, may succeed in fomenting the prejudice that does not now exist. The employers’ agents are already spreading carefully prepared literature on a large scale with this sole object in view. The extent to which these cunning methods succeed, depends entirely on the workers themselves. Workers, native and foreign-born, Negro and white must continue to present a solid wall of resistance to the great capitalist interests that will easily make worse their conditions, intensifying even more the brutal exploitation that now exists, if labor allows itself to be divided along the lines of race and nationality. The class war knows only the working class and the capitalist class.
Daily Worker, April 6, 1920.
A Fraternity of Negro Peoples
2299 Seventh Avenue
New York, N.Y., U.S.A.
June 18, 1923
Dear Sirs and Brothers;
The bosses have been quick to recognize the opportunities which the Negro Exodus from the South offers for the cutting of wages and strengthening of the “Open Shop” movement. They are doing everything to stimulate the Migration and thus make up for the loss of cheap labor caused by the immigration restriction law. And the Negro workers of the South, existing in a veritable hell of peonage, starvation wages and mob law, are feverishly availing themselves of the opportunity to leave that terror-ridden section. In the six months prior to May 1, 1923, over 100,000 came North. And with the advent of summer the movement has increased considerably.
Organized workers of the North! These unorganized workers pouring North must be reached with the message of Unions! Otherwise the fruits of your labors, the victories won by the unions for their members and for the entire Labor Movement will be threatened with destruction and nullification. These unorganized Negro workers, ignorant of industrial questions and blind to the necessity of workers’ organizations to protect workers’ interests, cannot be expected to act intelligently in their own best interests unless YOU, THE ADVANCED WORKERS, come to our aid and help us in the educational work we have been carrying on through the Crusader News Service (the greatest single force in the Negro world today, reaching nearly a million readers weekly); study classes; forums; lectures; etc.; as well as the actual organization work being done by us in the industrial districts.
We ask you to contribute generously to this fight to prevent the use of Negro workers as tools and scabs against Organized Labor—black and white. The enclosed folders tell of our activities. In the past these were supported by our own membership, but faced now with such tremendous tasks we must seek financial aid of white Labor to whom we say “This is your fight, help us wage it!”
THE AFRICAN BLOOD BROTHERHOOD,
Cyril V. Briggs
International Fur Workers Union Archives.
We declare the interests of the white workers and the Negro workers to be the same, and call for unity and harmony between them. Large industrial employers often stir up friction between the workers of the two races for the sake of dividing the workers along a convenient line, and thus keeping the workers of both races in weakness and subjection.
We call upon the labor unions to let down all remaining bars to membership in their organizations by colored people and all discriminations and distinctions of color within them. We are not blind to the fact that the American labor movement is in a bad condition today, is getting weaker in some instances, and altogether has organized only a small fraction of the working class. The Negro is a large part of the working class of this country, and we declare that the labor unions owe their present weakness in a large part to their neglect of the Negro worker. Hundreds of thousands of Negroes are flooding into the field of industrial labor. We demand of the American Federation of Labor, of the Railroad Brotherhoods and other independent unions, that these Negroes be welcomed into all unions on a basis of equality, and point out that it is for the sake of the white worker as well as the black worker. We demand:
1. That the American Federation of Labor (and all other bodies of organized labor) make an intensive drive in the immediate future to organize Negro workers wherever found, on a basis of equality in the same unions with the whites.
2. That all such labor organizations be fraternally addressed by this body, with the request that such labor bodies shall immediately conduct among their members an official propaganda against discrimination of color and against racial snobbishness in the labor unions and in favor of enrolling all Negro workers into the unions. Further, that such campaign be carried on in collaboration with representatives of the Negro Sanhedrin.
3. That all Negro papers be requested to carry on an intensive propaganda among the race for the joining of labor unions on the basis of equality.
4. In view of the fact that the Negro in industry is as yet an unskilled laborer as a rule, and as the industrial form of union and the breaking down of craft aristocracy in the unions are in the interest of the Negro as an unskilled worker, we therefore favor the transformation of all craft unions into industrial unions. However, we are opposed to dual unionism, as well as “Jim Crow” unionism, and favor the Negro joining everywhere the main body of labor organization.
Daily Worker, February 15, 1924.
Taking Advantage of the New Moves Among Colored Workers Here to Stir Unrest
Not Much Progress Yet
Ten Young Negroes Are Sent to Moscow Under Soviet ‘Scholarships’ to Study Bolshevism
‘Nuclei’ Sought In Unions
Labor Federation and Older Leaders of the Race Seek Antidotes In Real Labor Unions
New York Times, January 17, 1926.
By Rachel Weinstein
NEW YORK—The question of the Negro as a strikebreaker had become an imminent one. The ranks of the paper box makers were unbroken save for a stray boy or girl who wandered from the line, wavered, but surely came back. Our colored sisters and brothers, however, presented a greater problem.
A solution was sought and, as we thought, found. A committee, composed of two colored girls and two white ones, of which I was one, was selected to visit Harlem and, thru the medium of churches, theaters, dance halls and cabarets, convey the message that was of vital significance in the fight we are waging.
Our success was negative. The churches and similar places of worship were all difficult of access. We were sent away with promises and assurances of further interest in our subjects, etc., but we were not permitted to make our appeals there and then. One church, indeed, accepted us and even went so far as to read the message to the congregation.
However, so far as I was concerned, the days’ experiences were of totally different significance. For the first time in my life I came in actual contact with the Negro people. I talked, walked and laughed with them, and was delighted with them. I seemed to have been reawakened. The people were alive, moving, breathing, not dark shadows on the horizon of my life. We visited one home with a view to obtaining a speaker for an evening performance at a theater. I talked with the lady of the house for a few all-too-short minutes and went away a slave to her charms, her vivid personality. I succumbed completely. Her color, her race, everything was forgotten in the pleasure of her conversation, her presence.
The barrier that formerly loomed so large in my eyes has dwindled away to nothing. It no longer exists.
Harlem is a vast, comparatively unexplored area. The boys and girls, ostracized for no other reason but that of difference in color, are unorganized, untaught in the matter of workers’ solidarity. Employed by unscrupulous manufacturers to break the ranks of their white sisters and brothers, they are fed on poisonous propaganda which eats their minds and hearts and antagonizes them to the point of slashing blindly, at the smallest provocation, at those who attempt to stop them on their way out of the shops simply to talk to them. These, our sisters and brothers, are the innocent victims of a social system so unspeakably vile, so contemptible, that one stands amazed at the realization of its existence.
Sowing to Wind
A party of friends, far superior intellectually to many white people were once forced to leave a well-known restaurant because of their color. “These tables are all reserved,” was the reply they met with on requesting accommodations. Similar incidents occurring daily, hourly in the lives of these people, tend toward uniting them still more strongly in their hatred for the color, which took it upon itself to lord it over them and which so cruelly manifests the difference which they presume exists.
Is it any wonder that those lower in the social order and of lesser intelligence are only too eager to take advantage of a strike to come back at us? Is it to be wondered at that our strike is a tool for revenge eagerly sought and unhesitatingly reeked upon those of our boys and girls unfortunate enough to be the victims?
Our organization, far from recognizing color barriers, accepts into its ranks everyone, regardless of race or creed. Our colored boxmakers are as active as the white, as tireless in their efforts to finish this bitter struggle victoriously. Our union plans to organize all boxmakers, regardless of color or creed.
Daily Worker, October 30, 1926.
By Richard B. Moore
Importance of Negro Masses for the Labor Movement and the Revolutionary Struggle in America
Negroes number over 12 million. There are one-tenth of the total population and one-seventh of the workers. They are the most exploited section of the proletarian masses of this country being doubly oppressed both as workers and as a subject race. Potentially, therefore, they are the most revolutionary proletarian elements and constitute a fertile field for Communist propaganda and organization. Moreover, the development of American imperialism draws the Negro masses ever more into the forefront of the class struggle. Specific factors which operate to make the Negro workers an organized and integral factor of the labor movement and the revolutionary struggle are:
In 1890 the percentage of Negroes living in rural districts was 80.6, that in cities 19.4; in 1920, 66 and 34. From 1900 to 1929 Negro city population increased more than a million and a half while the Negro population of rural areas increased less than 72,000 or about 1 per cent. The greater part of this movement occurred from 1910 to 1920 during which decade the Negro city population, making a total increase of more than 2,100,000 for the 25-year period—a growth of over 100 per cent. From 1900 to 1920 the Southern cities increased by 886,173 while the Northern and Western cities increased by 671, 292. On a percentage basis, however, the gain in the North was 105 per cent as against 65 per cent in the South. More than 3-1/2 million or over one-third of the Negro population lived in cities by 1920. In 1920 there were six cities, 3 Southern and 3 Northern cities which had a population of over 100,000 Negroes. These are Baltimore, 108,382, New Orleans, 100,930; and Washington, D.C., 109,966; and New York, 152,467; Philadelphia, 134,229; Chicago, 109,458. As we shall see next the Negro population of these northern cities have increased considerably since 1920.
2. The migration from the South to the Northern industrial centers. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 900,000 Negroes came north during the two recent great mass migrations of 1916 to 1919 and 1921 to 1923. The first of these movements was due primarily to the demand for labor during the world war, the latter to the labor demand due to restricted immigration. The contributory causes were severe economic exploitation in the South, insecurity of life due to lynchings and mob violence, insecurity of property caused by high mortgage and interest rates, crop failures due to boll weevil and floods, unemployment, Jim Crow laws, poor school facilities, oppression in the courts, disfranchisement, and the terrible conditions in Negro segregated districts. These Negro workers went into industry for the most part into steel, mining, automobile, needle and other industries. In the mining industry, the report of the U.S. coal commissioner shows that 42,489 Negroes were employed out of a total of 525,152 workers. These figures suffice to show the growing industrialization of the Negro workers and their importance for the labor movement. It should be noted that the great steel strike of 1919 was broken by the capitalists because it was possible for them to draw upon the Negro masses whom they consider as strike-breaking reserves to break this strike, in one of the most basic industries. In the mining strike, thousands of Negroes were likewise imported. They were not told that they would be employed or that a strike was on. In the needle workers’ strikes and in the paper-box makers’ strike this same tactic has been used by the bosses. More and more it is their practice to utilize Negro workers against white workers and to pit white workers against Negro workers to undermine the standards of both and to maintain the exploitation and degradation of the entire working class. The role of the Negro masses in the revolution which abolished chattel slavery should demonstrate the importance of the Negro masses for the proletarian revolution of America. It is impossible to conceive of a successful social revolution without the Negro masses, who played the decisive role in the civil war of 1865 and who will again play a very important role in the coming social revolution.
3. The industrialization of the South. The South is being rapidly transformed from an agricultural into an industrial section. Steel, mining, textile, and other manufacturing industries are being rapidly developed owing to the absence of restrictive labor laws and a cheap and docile supply of white and black workers. Negro workers are being drawn in large numbers into the heavy industries.
4. Limitation of immigration. The decline in immigration will be seen from the following figures reported by the Bureau of Immigration: in 1910 a million and 41,570 immigrants entered the United States. This number fluctuated slightly until 1914 when 1,218,480 came. In the next year only 326,700 were admitted, the number falling as low as 110,618 in 1918, and increasing slightly to 373,511 in 1923. A greater demand for Negro workers in industry is the result.
Daily Worker, June 7, 1929.
Full Equality of Negro, White Workers Shown in Conference; Capitalist Reporters Raged
Whole Program, Conference Shows Readiness of Southern Workers for Stiffer Struggle
William Z. Foster, general secretary of the Trade Union Unity League, interviewed in New York after his return from the Trade Union Unity Southern Convention in Charlotte last Sunday, and the Southern Conference of Textile Workers, also in Charlotte Saturday, reports the two meetings of delegates representing the tens of thousands of workers, were huge successes, and certain to initiate the greatest organization drive ever seen in the South, accompanied by a struggle particularly in the textile industry against conditions that are unbearable and are growing worse.
Particularly important, in the conference of over 300 delegates sent from locals of the National Textile Workers’ Union, and from all mill committees and organization groups in the unorganized mills, was the close unity and recognition of class equality among Negro and white workers.
Negroes, Whites Together
“Negro workers sat down before the hall was full in the Charlotte meetings,” said Foster, “and immediately the white delegates already in the meeting went over and fraternized with them. Not only that, but the Negro delegates rose and spoke from the platform to the accompaniment of much applause from the white delegates, on the necessity of social equality of races among workers, and of a united struggle against the common enemy, the employer.
“The Southern press representatives surrounded me in throngs, and cross-examined me on our theories about the Negroes. They advanced all the stale old arguments about “natural inferiority of colored races,” the “evils and inefficiency of racial mixtures,” and asked me with horror, “Do you believe in the amalgamation of races?”
Solidarity of All Workers
I pointed out to them that the races amalgamate, whether they like it or not; that as soon as the barriers to communication and isolation of the races are broken down, there is a mixture of races. I proved by examples from their own midst, that despite the old prejudice against “squaw men,” every man now, and there are many in the South, who can prove he has a little Indian blood in him, proceeds to boast about it. I told them we were for solidarity and social equality of all workers.
“The capitalist reporters were so mad they almost choked.
“The terror against the N.T.W. is accompanied by a barrage of propaganda against racial equality, and against ‘Reds.’ But this is the talk of the capitalists, the employers. The delegates to these conventions proved by their actions that they are not afraid of either of these things, not anything like as prejudiced against them as the Southern bosses would like them to be, would like the world to think they are.”
Main Facts Established
The main facts brought out at the Charlotte conferences, said Foster, were:
1. That the N.T.W. and the T.U.U.L. had thereby established a number of the very best connections with thousands of mill workers and workers in other industries.
2. The good representation showed that the N.T.W. - T.U.U.L. drive in the South has real volume to it, and marks a huge advance over the situation considered very favorable then, prevailing at the recent Bessemer City conference.
3. The discussion showed that the conditions in the textile industry were not only simply horrible, but are rapidly growing worse, with new wage cuts, more speed-up, more terror, and worse living standards.
4. The delegates showed that the Southern workers’ opposition to the A.F.L. and the United Textile Workers is very bitter. They do not for a moment forget the treacheries practiced on them by the U.T.W. misleaders in the last strike, and they are beginning to hear of the betrayals of labor in Elizabethton and Marion, Ware Shoals, and other scenes of U.T.W. activity.
6. The southern workers pin great hopes on the new militant unions. The hysterical shouts of the bosses about “race equality,” and “dangerous Reds,” don’t turn them away.
6. The Negro workers played a strong role at the conventions—something never seen before in the South.
7. There was an atmosphere of readiness for struggle against the bosses. A whole concrete program was laid out for building mill committees, and local unions of the N.T.W., also local general leagues and local industrial leagues of the T.U.U.L. in all important industrial centers, and personnel was canvassed, and assigned to specific tasks to bring about this organization.
8. The defense of our imprisoned fellow workers now on trial in the Gastonia case, and the struggle against bosses’ terrorism, against fascism, permeated the whole of both conventions.
Program of Action
In addition to adopting a long program of action, and declaration of principles (previously summarized in the Daily Worker) the Southern Textile Workers’ Conference adopted resolutions on organization, on the unionization of Negro workers, on the rationalization and speed-up practiced by the bosses in all industries, and the approaching war danger.
Referring particularly to the murder of Ella May, the Marion Massacre and the black-hundred activities of the Gastonia mill bosses, the resolution on organization says:
“The textile bosses’ offensive against the textile workers has reached a new stage. In the past the mill barons have held our wages down and our hours up through the eviction, the blacklist and the power of the press. But today, when the stretch-out is on the increase and we are producing one hundred to two hundred per cent more production than several years ago, the bosses are attempting to stop our organization of the industry with gunmen, the police, the electric chair, the militia and their black hundreds.”119
It goes on to point out that this terror does not stop the workers from organizing, and refers to the united front of the bosses, the press and their flunkies, Senator Simmons and Governor Gardner of North Carolina, “who support the textile workers like a rope supports a hanged man,” and the U.T.W. controlled by a little group of highpaid officials. The U.T.W., it points out, is a company union.
The National Textile Workers’ Union, however, is a real workers’ union, controlled by its rank and file workers, and fighting for them. It is necessary, in order to carry out its purpose, recognizing the class struggle, to put into effect the following program:
1. The creation of a special fund to organize every mill in the South.
2. We have enlisted and are training a staff of Southern worker-organizers in all principal mills and textile centers, but must increase this greatly.
3. We must establish sub-district offices within the next few months in Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and in other parts of North and South Carolina to strengthen the work of the organizers already functioning in these sections.
4. More organizational activity will have to be carried on in the rayon section of the industry.
5. We must work out a clear program for social insurance of all kinds. The present workmen’s compensation laws are almost useless. We must use all election campaigns, organization campaigns, and mass pressure to secure insurance, to be paid by the bosses and their government.
“The mill owners of the South have been trying for years to keep the Negro and white workers divided. For years they have been saying that they will never mix their labor. Mill owners have a definite purpose for doing this—in order to extract more profits from the workers. They know that if the workers are divided one against the other, white against black, there can be no common struggle against the bosses,” says the resolution on organization of Negro workers.
“The mill owners are not interested in the white workers welfare as opposed to Negro workers. They are interested only in profits.”
The resolution describes the oppression of the Negroes as double oppression, both as a race and as a class. It declares:
“The N.T.W.U., realizing that the interests of the Negro and white workers are the same, that the interests of all workers, regardless of race, creed or color, are the same, that they all suffer from the same oppression, robbery and plunder, cannot and will not permit the mill owners to divide the ranks of the working class. The N.T.W.U. pledges itself to organize all textile workers black and white, in a militant industrial union, and to carry forward a militant struggle against all oppression and exploitation of the Negro and white workers by the mill owners.”
The resolution on rationalization and the war danger points out that speed-up, stretch-out, unemployment, long hours and low pay are getting worse. The employers control all state and national political offices, and prove by such acts as those in Gastonia and Marion what state power is used for. The working class, which produces the wealth, is getting increasingly lower wages, longer hours, and worsening conditions. Less than 3,000,000 of the 27,000,000 workers are organized and most of them into conservative, highly skilled unions.
The resolution hails the Cleveland convention as showing the way out by a program of militant unionism, based on the unskilled and semi-skilled masses, the factory workers especially.
The war danger arises from the conflict of the overstuffed master classes in each country, struggling for the same markets, sources of raw material and cheap labor power.
The workers of the world are called upon to join hands and fight all these robber groups, and to defend the Soviet Union, menaced by all of them. It ends: “The Trade Union Unity League is the center that can direct the struggle of the working class against speed-up, stretchout and the coming war of the imperialist rulers.”
Daily Worker, October 18, 1929.
By Henry C. Rosemond
(Vice-President of Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union)
I have found it necessary as a trade unionist and a militant worker to face many instances of the ruthless capitalist system in the trade at which I have been working for many years, as well as in taking part in the strikes in which our aims were the better living conditions for our fellow-workers. I wish to urge all Negroes of my trade, as well as all Negroes in other trades, to support the coming Trade Union Unity Convention being held in Cleveland. This convention will embrace many angles of the Negro problem here in the United States which the A.F. of L. has never touched, since it is a part of the terrific and miserable conditions and oppressions that the Negroes are suffering.
It has been proven more than once that the A.F. of L. was not in favor of organization of Negro workers and in the places where Negroes are a factor in different industries, they establish Jim Crow locals, dealing always with the idea of white “superiority.” I have also noticed that the few Negroes in these various unions under the leadership of the A.F. of L. who manage to have a voice are still compelled to remain in the far background and expose an inferiority complex in order to remain in these circles. The Needle Trades Industrial Union, of which I am today an executive member, has more than once shown, not only in the acceptance of Negroes into the union and into its leadership that it was one of the most progressive in the United States, but also shown an interest on the side of the Negroes in fighting openly the discrimination of the old leadership of years ago under the direct control of the A.F. of L.
Trade Union Unity
The Cleveland convention will be the first step toward the establishment of a real trade union unity in the United States, securing complete racial, social and economic equality, controlled by workers for the benefit of the workers, and will always fight militantly and break down the barriers of the capitalists, for the betterment of the working class.
Therefore, the Negro workers, being the most exploited workers here in the United States, exploited as Negroes and as workers, we must once for all realize the need of a full and complete collaboration with our brother white workers in embracing the struggle against the ruling class for the extermination of capitalist oppression, which can be overthrown only by the complete unity of the workers of all trades, races and creeds.
Daily Worker, May 21, 1929.
Build The New Miners Union120
By Isaiah Hawkins
There are tens of thousands of Negroes working in the mining industry. In many mines the Negro workers are predominating. The number of Negro miners has grown especially since the last coal strike, when large numbers of Negroes were brought in together with white strikebreakers to take the place of the striking miners. In most cases these Negro workers were never told of the existing labor troubles in the coal fields.
The coal operators were importing scab labor not because of special love for them, but because of necessity, because of the then existing labor shortage and the difficulties to get the necessary number of workers to replace the striking miners. This is readily seen from the fact that no sooner was the strike weakened than the Negro miners were being discharged by the operators and one could again see the display of the infamous signs—“Only White Miners Need Apply,” or “Only White Miners Wanted.” There are numerous mines where a Negro miner could find no employment, just because he is a Negro. Without a strong organization of the miners, there is no way of compelling the coal operators to do away with this brutal race discrimination.
During the strike the Negro Miners, who were members of the miners union, were fighting valiantly for their union, for their right to organize, against wage cuts and for the improvement of the working conditions. They were fighting shoulder to shoulder with their white brother miners and at least just as courageously as their white brothers. However, in some ranks of the Negro miners there still exists a prejudice against the union. Some of the coal operators are carrying on special propaganda to show that it is in the interests of the Negro miners not to have a union at all.
The constitutions of the American Federation of Labor and of the old UMWA made no discriminations between blacks and whites. In reality, however, the Negro miners felt the discrimination against them on every turn. Suffice it to mention the fact that during the recent strike the UMWA kept hundreds of organizers in the fields of Western Pennsylvania. Among this army of organizers only one or two were Negroes. Yet, every child knows that in western Pennsylvania there was a sad need for Negro organizers, who in many cases could be of special service to the cause of the strike.
Divisions in the ranks of labor along the lines of race, color, or nationality are injurious to the cause of labor. Only the coal operators and the reactionary labor officials are interested in keeping the ranks of labor divided. It is much easier for the coal operators to cut wages and workers than working conditions with the ranks of labor divided. The employers are especially interested in keeping the Negro workers down, so that they will be compelled to work at lower wages and will make the organization of labor unions much more difficult. This is why the bosses encourage lynchings, Jim Crowism, race discriminations in housing, restaurants, theatres, public institutions.
Only by organization by united action of white and Negro workers, can the barbaric medieval system of race discrimination be done away with. United action between the white and Negro workers is absolutely necessary in order to carry on a successful struggle against wage cuts and slave working conditions.
The National Miners Union welcomes all miners, regardless of race, color or nationality, in its ranks. The Negro miners, especially, are called upon to join the National Miners Union, to take active part in the union affairs and to participate actively in the union leadership on a basis of full equality with their brothers in the union.
The Coal Digger, February 1, 1929.
By William A. Boyce, Vice-President
No longer than a year ago the sentiment among the miners was “Something must be done.” All those of a militant spirit were urged to do that something. I, for one, felt that I owed it to myself, to my fellow workers and to my race, most especially, to do something which might be of benefit to us all. When the fighting Save-the-Union Committee began to spread its news the majority of miners listened with anxious ears for the message of the Committee was genuine and correct. We entered that movement heart and soul, and remained in the front until the tide turned and the National Miners Union, fighting determined and militant, appeared upon the horizon.
Champion of Oppressed
The Negro miners can well hail, together with their white fellow workers, the National Miners Union, as an organization that means more to the Negro miner than any that has ever existed in the U.S.A. before. Every Negro should join the National Miners Union because it fights vigorously for full economic, political and social equality for them. It fights discrimination, segregation, Jim Crowism and disfranchisement. In the N.M.U. the Negro miners have a valiant defender.
The old and dead U.M.W.A. had in its Constitution “There shall be no discrimination against a fellow worker on account of creed, color or nationality, etc.” There isn’t a Negro miner in America that doesn’t know the above words didn’t amount to anything, not worth the paper they were printed on, for in deeds discrimination was rank everywhere.
When a Negro looks for work in the mines, many of them cannot stick their heads in, while those that do get work are given, usually receive the worst place in the mine, dangerous and unfit to work in. In the old days, when he would apply to his local for redress, the local would send him to the district, the district would send him back to the local, who in turn would refer it again to the district, who then might say they will take it up with the International office! So went the ducking and shifting. And that was the last ever heard of the “grievance.” To ask a Convention delegate anything concerning these conditions he would reply that Lewis would not permit any racial questions to be discussed. Why, I ask, should the Negro miner be a part to, or support a machine, or help support an organization in which he finds no voice or protection?
Gets Worst Jobs
In the mining town where there are company houses—the Negro gets the worst, but pays the same amount of rent just the same. The dirtiest, filthiest of work is given to them. They are hounded, persecuted, ostracized and discriminated. Is it a wonder the Negroes are bitter? But my Negro brothers must learn, as the white worker must learn as well, it is the tactic of the employer to keep the black and white separated for then he can beat down both at will.
Lewis and Company did not and do not want the Negro miners. It is a matter of record that UMWA hoodlums broke up various NMU meetings in the Pittsburgh District, shouting, “You have niggers with you, yes,” because there were Negro speakers on the platform (Isaac Munsey, Vice-President, N.M.U., Pittsburgh, Pa.). But the N.M.U. wants the Negro miners. We are all workers, our sufferings are alike, our division is because of the tactics of the employers and the stupidity of some white workers. The N.M.U. has its face set like granite against wrongs to our people. To build the N.M.U. means building a bulwark of defense to the Negro miners.
The Negro miner is an integral part of the mining industry. It is the policy of the N.M.U. that he should not only be a part of the industrial division, but of the Executive Department itself. A special representative of the Negro miners sits as a member of the Executive Board of the N.M.U. to guarantee our people representation. In the N.M.U. the Negro is not a dues paying member, silent, bulldozed, discriminated, but an active, leading part of the directing councils of the organization itself.
Into the Union
I have faith in my Negro brothers that when he is convinced the above is the actual situation, then he will be as good, if not better, a union man as the next one. When he see representatives of his race in the field organizing them, in official capacities and otherwise, standing shoulder to shoulder with the white workers—then he will know a new day is here for the Negro miner. So it is, in the N.M.U. The N.M.U. is asking him not only to help build, but help control.
Negro brothers! Join our ranks! Build the Union to defend yourselves. Help us fight against the wrongs done to our people. Join forces with the militant, class conscious white miners in the N.M.U. Help make it strong and powerful for your own protection.
The Coal Digger, January 10, 1929.
NEW YORK—Plans for the full mobilization of the workers in the struggle against the anti-labor warfare being carried on by the bosses all over the country, which has already resulted in nearly 5,000 arrests this year, has been announced by the International Labor Defense.
The “Defense and Liberation Drive” launched by the I.L.D., has as its central point the fight against the death sentences being planned for the six Atlanta organizers, Powers, Carr, Storey, Burlak, Newton and Dalton. They were arrested for organizing Negro and white workers into the same unions and advocating social equality and are being charged with “insurrection” under an old slave law, which demands the death penalty. The trial is expected to be called in September.
The Atlanta bosses, in their effort to stem the tide of working class revolt against starvation, seek the burning of these organizers on the electric chair, and have been launching one terror organization after another like the Blackshirts and the Holy Crusaders. Workers thruout the country and everywhere in the world are being mobilized by the international organization to combat the bosses’ murder scheme.
A special drive is also being made among the rank and file members of the A.F. of L. whose officials Nance and Marquardt, helped in obtaining the charge against the organizers. Every A.F. of L. local in the country is being circularized with a resolution by the I.L.D. demanding the immediate and unconditional freedom of the Atlanta comrades. In view of the fact that the members are becoming more and more disgusted with the treachery of the officials, it is expected that many locals will overrule the petty officials and the instructions from the central bodies and pass the resolution, forwarding them to the prosecutor’s office in Atlanta and to the press.
Struggle Against Terror
The campaign will include the struggle against the terrorism of the bosses as exhibited on September 1, in Birmingham against lynching and for the release of all class-war prisoners.
Southern Worker, September 13, 1930.
The Negro toiling masses are subjected both to capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression—they suffer as members of the working class and of an oppressed race. In this or that country the one or the other form of oppression predominates.
In the U.S.A. the Negro toilers are mercilessly exploited, on the cotton plantations and in the mines, factories, and workshops of the Southern and Northern States. They are being deprived of full civil rights, and are forced to live in overcrowded houses, in restricted sections of the cities. They are helpless victims of racial prejudice and antagonism fanned by the bourgeoisie, they are subjected to lynch-law and mob rule, and do not get even the kind of “justice” which is being meted out to their white brother toilers.
The low standard of living of Negro workers is made use of by the capitalists to reduce the wages of the white workers. The misleaders of labor, the heads of the reformist and reactionary trade union organizations are refusing to organize Negro workers and thereby are helping the capitalist masters to drive a wedge between the white and colored proletarians. This anti-Negro attitude of the reactionary labor leaders helps to split the ranks of labor, allows the employers to carry out their policy of “divide and rule,” frustrates the efforts of the working class to emancipate itself from the yoke of capitalism, and dims the class-consciousness of the white workers as well as of the Negro workers driving the latter into the arms of the church and petty-bourgeois nationalistic societies, such as Garveyism and the like.
The Negro toilers as well as the white workers in the industrial countries must bear in mind that only united in the ranks of the general labor movement can they achieve their freedom. As to the Negro workers, their fight for emancipation from race oppression is clearly, in the main, a fight against capitalist exploitation. In this fight for emancipation attention should be paid to the Negro peasantry of the Southern States of USA. Agitation should be carried on among them against capitalism and racial oppression connecting this agitation with the economic demands of the Negro farmers.
In a somewhat different aspect is the position of the Negro toilers of the colonial and semi-colonial countries. In Africa the majority of the Negro population is still living a primitive tribal life. Here the imperialist invader, by expropriating the communal lands, by heavy taxation and by all kinds of oppressive legislation, is forcing the natives to supply cheap labor for the farms, mines and other industrial undertakings of the capitalists. This process of proletarianization, whilst breaking up the old tribal life, at the same time subjects the natives to a miserable existence under conditions which are hardly distinguished from plain slavery.
In order to safeguard the domination of the handful of white masters, the huge masses of the toilers in these colonial and semi-colonial countries are artificially divided into several social castes subject to different laws. We have in South Africa, for instance, the natives, the most degraded caste, then come the so-called colored races, and above them the “poor whites.” The common class interests are being obscured by this color differentiation and instead of organizing a united front against their common class enemy, the workers are fighting each other, strengthening in such way the position of the capitalist class.
The struggle of the Negro workers for liberation is insolubly bound up with the wider struggle of the international proletariat, and the Negro workers must line up in the revolutionary class organizations the world over, by organizing their forces for joint struggle. In order to help the establishment of such a united front between the Negro toilers and their fellow workers, in order to liberate the Negro workers from the influence of reactionary nationalistic petty-bourgeois ideologies and draw them into the lines of the international revolutionary class movement, the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers of the RILU issues and asks the Negro workers to rally to the following program of organization and action:
1. Equal Pay for Equal Work: Negro workers as a rule are working at lower wages than white workers. In South Africa the wages of native workers are from 4 to 5 times lower than the wages of European workers in most fields of work; in America the constant lowering of the wages of Negro workers, the employment of Negro workers only upon their acceptance of lower wages than the white workers, not only means the lowering of their own standards of living, but the standards of living of other workers as well; in the West Indies, in Cuba, on the sugar plantations, etc., Negro workers toil for a few cents per day. In order to raise the standards of living and subsistence of Negro workers it is necessary to struggle for equal pay for equal work, regardless of race, color or sex. At the same time the Negro workers, together with all other workers, must wage a common fight for higher wages, raising the general standard of living of all the workers.
2. An Eight-Hour Day: In most industries and at all kinds of work, the Negro workers toil from 10 to 12, and in some parts of the world even 16 hours per day. One of the main tasks of the Negro workers must be to obtain an 8-hour day and ultimately, together with the rest of the working class, a 7 and a 6-hour day.
3. Forced Labor: Close to the struggle for an 8-hour day is the question of Forced Labor. In many parts of the world Negro workers are forced to toil, in some cases, for no wages at all, “for community improvement.” In the West Indies, at point of the bayonet of U.S. marines, native workers have been forced to build and upkeep roads. They have been driven from Haiti into Cuba to work on the sugar plantations; in South Africa forced labor takes the form of contract labor, natives being conscripted and recruited in Mozambique (Portugese East Africa) and transported long distances to work in the mines of South Africa; they must live in compounds and cattle pens. This system is legalized through the so-called “Mozambique Treaty,” which exists between Portugal and the South African Government. In French Equatorial Africa the system of forced labor is so brutal that it resulted almost in the complete annihilation of the native population. In the U.S.A. forced labor does not exist in the same form, but in the southern part of the U.S.A. many agricultural workers work under a system of peonage; in some states of the South of the U.S.A. Negro convicts are forced to work in the coal mines and on plantations. It is against this system of camouflaged slavery that we have to wage an incessant fight. We must do away with the “Mozambique Treaty,” with peonage, forced and convict labor, “Corvee Labor,” contract labor or whatever other name this modern slavery is being disguised under.
4. Labor Legislation (Insurance, Etc.): As one of the means of raising the living standard of the workers we must demand the adoption and enforcement of insurance laws that provide for the care, at the expense of the employers, of all workers in case of unemployment, accidents, sickness and also the paying of old age pensions and death benefits.
5. Protection of Women and Youth: The ITUCNY demands adequate protection for women and young workers, equal wages, equal benefits and proper working conditions. Vacations for expectant mothers before and after confinement, with full pay and leave periods during the working day after returning to work for nursing the babies.
6. Freedom of Trade Unions: We fight for the right to strike, for the right to organize in trade unions, for the right of free speech, wherever these rights do not exist.
7. Against Class Collaboration: We must wage a militant fight against government coercion, compulsory arbitration, company unions; against all reformist class collaboration.
8. Against Racial Barriers in Trade Unions: The first requisite for a victorious struggle is a hundred per cent organization of all Negro workers in trade unions. We must therefore conduct a relentless fight against racial bars in some of the existing white unions, the opening of the unions to all workers regardless of race and color.
9. Special Unions of Negro Workers: Where special bars are not removed, and where white unions refuse to admit Negro workers, special unions of Negro workers must be organized. Also, in white unions where Negroes are admitted but are treated as second-class members with unequal rights and privileges, special unions must be organized.
10. Against White Terrorism: We must carry on a resolute fight against terrorism in all its forms—against lynchings, police and soldier terrorism, against the assassination of trade union leaders and social workers, against their arrest and deportation.
11. Housing and Social Conditions: The housing and social conditions of Negro workers in the industrial centers are among the worst in the world. We must demand that adequate attention be paid to the protection of the health and well-being of the Negro workers and their families, and that better houses and social surroundings be provided for.
12. Agricultural Workers: Worst of all is the condition of Negro agricultural workers. Agricultural workers must be organized into trade unions which must fight for the special demands of agricultural workers including shorter hours, social legislation, protection for women and children of the workers, etc., etc.
13. Against the Confiscation of Peasant and Communal Lands, Against Poll and Hut Taxes, Against Per Capita Tax, Etc.,: A special problem is the land question and particularly the agrarian policy of the South-African Government. The confiscation of the land of the natives and its reservation for white settlers in different parts of Africa, and confiscation in the West Indies tends to create alandless peasantry which is forced to seek work on the white farms and in the cities. The position is yet more aggravated by the policy of levying hut and poll taxes, making the competition for work more acute and the level of wages lower still, and bringing about a worsening of conditions in general. We must therefore fight against confiscation of native land and for the restitution of all land confiscated in the past to the native communities, as well as for the abolition of all special taxes and laws which result in the driving of the peasants from the land.
14. Universal Education: To reduce the amount of illiteracy among the Negro workers and their families and to raise their cultural standards, free universal primary and secondary education for the children of the workers and special courses for adult workers must be provided for. At the same time we must demand the abolition of racial segregation in educational systems.
15. Civil Rights: A basic task for agitational and organizational activities necessary as the first step in our main struggle against imperialism, is to achieve the abolition of all racial discriminations, abolition of “Pass Laws,” and all other laws, and regulations abrogating the rights of the Negro workers, and to achieve universal suffrage, freedom of speech, freedom of workers’ press. All “Color Bar” and caste systems existing in South Africa and the West Indies, which tend to split the ranks of the workers, must be abolished wherever they exist.
16. Self-Determination of Negroes: In South Africa, in the West Indies, and in the Southern part of the U.S.A., the trade unions of the Negro workers must become the central organs and transform the economic struggles of the Negro workers into political struggles, into a combined economic and political struggle for power and self-determination.
17. Fighting the Influence of the Church and of Bourgeois and petty-bourgeois Ideas and Movements: We must combat the influence of the church, of bourgeois and petty-bourgeoic ideologies and movements. The church, by offering to the Negro worker and peasant for the miseries they are enduring in this world, compensation in heaven, are befogging the minds of the Negro workers and peasants, making them a helpless prey to capitalism and imperialism. The bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas and movements, such as Garveyism, etc., detract the Negro workers from their fight hand in hand with the international working class, for their emancipation from the yoke of capitalism and imperialism.
18. The War Danger: The International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers directs the attention of the Negro workers of the world to preparations for the next world war, which are now being made by the imperialists, on the one hand against the Soviet Union—the fatherland of workers and oppressed peoples—at the same time, it goes without saying that the imperialists are in armament races for a war amongst themselves for a re-division of the colonial and semi-colonial spheres of influence. This not only means unheard of economic burdens upon the back of Negro workers, but also the terrible destruction of the lives of Negro soldiers recruited from among the workers and peasants. To understand what Negro workers must pay in the next war one only has to recall the last war with the consequent killing of hundreds of thousands of black troops who were fighting in the armies of the imperialists. The black troops had nothing to gain by fighting for the imperialists, and after the war was over, Negroes not only received most terrible oppression in the imperialist countries and colonies, but whole colonies of Negro people were placed in virtual enslavement. At the present moment the imperialists are training “black armies” for the next war, and are utilizing black troops to suppress the struggles of workers (in France), and against the Chinese workers in China (by Great Britain).
The Negro workers of the world must struggle against this menacing war danger; they must mobilize their forces against the imperialists using black troops against the workers.
We must rally to the support of our fellow workers.
We must defend the Soviet Union!
Issued by International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers of R.I.L.U.
The Communist, 9 (1930): 42–47.
By Earl Browder
In view of the tremendous tasks facing the revolutionary movement in organizing the Negro workers together with the white workers in the revolutionary unions, it is of value to secure as much knowledge as possible of past experiences in this direction. Especially is this clear when we realize that past experience bears out recent events in the South, proving that “racial prejudice” is an artificial thing deliberately cultivated by the employers, and that it can quickly be broken down, and the white and Negro workers can be, and have been, mobilized in fraternal working class solidarity for common struggle.
The following story of events in Chicago in 1919, was furnished to me by Jack Johnstone, at that time secretary of the Stock Yards Labor Council, in the form of his personal recollections and in newspaper clippings and leaflets.
The race riots in Chicago, in 1919, were organized by the white bourgeoisie, in an effort to enforce an unofficial segregation of Negroes who were being drawn from the South into industry in large numbers, especially in the stock yards. They took place at a time of sharp class struggles all over the world—the time of the first German revolution, and the slaughter of the German workers by “Bloody Noske” the socialist; of the imperialist intervention against the Soviet Union; of the general strikes of Winnipeg and Seattle, in America, and the great movements of the steel workers, miners, and packing house workers. The masses of workers in the American Federation of Labor were, in spite of and against their bureaucratic leaders, developing militant struggles. The race riots of Chicago were a part of the counter-offensive of the capitalist class against the rising tide of working class revolt.
In July, 1919, the employers of Chicago instigated and encouraged a movement to drive the Negro workers out of certain residential sections by violence, making use of bombing of Negro homes to terrorize them and drive them into “Negro districts.” The aim was to impress upon the Negro workers that in the North, as well as in the South, from which they had recently come, they must “know their place,” the place of “loyal” slaves of white masters; to establish the dogma of racial inferiority, with lower wages for the Negro workers than for the whites, with worse unsanitary housing conditions; to divide the white and Negro workers; to imbue the white workers with a false feeling of superiority, and whip them into mob violence against the Negroes. This aim, a classical example of imperialist methods of dealing with oppressed peoples and the working class, was carried through by the bourgeoisie in many cities, above all in Chicago.
That this movement was consciously supported by the ruling capitalist circles, is amply demonstrated by an extract from an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1919, which said:
“Regardless of the validity of the claims of the whites, it is a matter of fact that these claims do exist, the whites do resent the appearance of colored people in white neighborhoods and the resentment does, whether justly or not, work a change in the neighborhood feeling and in property values. We may as well look the facts squarely in the face and we ask the colored people to consider them.”
The ringleaders in the capitalist conspiracy were the Packing House capitalists (the “Packers,” for short). The largest part of the Negroes were in the packing houses, and the riots were designed to destroy the unions. For months prior to the outbreak, the Stock Yards Labor Council had recognized the serious threat directed against it by the situation being deliberately created by the employers, who had their agents working among both white and Negro workers.
White and Negro Agents of the Bosses
First in importance of the bosses’ agents among the workers were the officials of the A.F. of L. craft unions affiliated to the Stock Yards Labor Council; these constituted less than 10 per cent of the total membership, the main bulk of which was butcher workmen, or unskilled workers, whose union took in Negroes on a basis of full equality. These craft union officials, by their discrimination against the Negro workers, furnished the basis for the agitation among the Negroes against all unions with white workers, even though the Stock Yards Labor Council organized all Negroes, of whatever craft, into the general organization when they were excluded by the craft unions.
The Negro agents of the bosses were not from among the workers. They were such elements as the secretary of the Negro Y.M.C.A., and two Negro aldermen of the second ward, who were on the payroll of the Packers. One of them, Alderman L. B. Anderson, appeared before the government Food Administrator, Alschuler, ostensibly on behalf of the Negroes, but in reality for the Packers, to oppose the recognition of the Union. The Packers, through their paid Negro agents, even went so far as to organize a Negro company union, which issued the following proclamation:
“Time has come for Negroes to do now or never. Get together and stick together is the call of the Negro. Like all other races make your own way, other races have made their unions for themselves. They are not going to give it to you because you join his union. Make a union of your own race, union is strength. Join the American Unity Packers Union of the Stockyards, this will give you regard to work at any trade, or as a common laborer, as a steamfitter, etc. A card from this union will let you work in Kansas City, Omaha, and St. Louis, or any other city where the Five Packers have packinghouses.
“This union does not believe in strikes. We believe all differences between labor and capital can be arbitrated. Strikes is our last motive if any at all.”
“GET IN LINE FOR A GOOD JOB.”
(Signed) “American Unity Packers of the Stockyards.”
The Stock Yards Labor Council opposed the agents of the bosses with a program of organization of the Negroes, with a guarantee of equal rights. Inter-racial dances and other social affairs were organized. Any Negro barred from one or other of the A.F. of L. craft unions, could join any local of the Butcher Workers. A Negro was elected vice-president of the Stock Yards Labor Council, and there were seven paid Negro organizers, who were: Ball and Robinson, two Negro organizers from the United Mine Workers; John Riley, an engineer; A. K. Foote, vice-president of the Council; a steam fitter, barred from the steamfitters’ union; Robert Bedford and I. H. Bratton, butchers; and a Negro woman (name unavailable at time of writing) from the Women’s Trade Union League.
The Stock Yards Labor Council carried on a constant struggle with small craft unions which barred Negroes, to force them to abandon all discrimination. This struggle for equal rights culminated during the race riots, in the adoption of a resolution by the Council, expelling from the Council all unions which refused to accept the Negroes on a basis of full equality.
The Struggle in July and August
It was under these conditions, plus the atmosphere created by the race riots in Washington and other cities, that the Stock Yards Labor Council decided in June, 1919, to intensify the campaign to draw all Negroes into the Union. Street-corner organization meetings were organized. The Packers used mounted police to ride into these meetings and break them up. The Stock Yards Labor Council called a protest strike, which was only settled by the workers winning the right to speak on the streets, and by the removal from the district of the police officer in charge of the aggressions, Captain Caughlin. Thousands of Negro and white workers joined the Union. The climax of this campaign was to be a parade of Negro and white workers, through the Negro neighborhood, on July 6, which was nicknamed the “checkerboard parade.”
At the last moment before the parade took place, the police issued an order forbidding it, on the demand of the Packers and the Negro politicians, on the grounds that it might provoke a conflict. The Stock Yards Labor Council made one of its serious mistakes by failing to defy this order of the police; instead, whites and Negroes paraded separately, coming together in a joint demonstration in Beutner playground at LaSalle Street and 33rd Street. There took place an enthusiastic demonstration of solidarity of 25,000 to 30,000 Negro and white workers.
On July 27th, the employers played their trump card. White agents, with faces blackened to appear as Negroes, set fire to and burned a block of houses inhabited by white stockyard workers, mostly Poles. Immediately the employers threw a large force of militia, police, and deputy sheriffs, into the stock yards, and their agents spread among the white workers to incite them to violence against the Negroes.
The Stock Yards Labor Council called a mass meeting, which was held at 50th Street and Oakley, attended by 30,000 white workers. The meeting unanimously and enthusiastically declared its solidarity with the Negroes. Even the capitalist Herald-Examiner, reporting the meeting, was forced to give the keynote of the meeting as contained in the speech of J. W. Johnston, secretary of the Council, who said:
“He (the Negro) has the same privileges in organized labor as you have. It is up to you to protect him. The non-union Negro is being brought into the yards by the Packers, he must be brought into the Union. There is no color line in this Union, and any man who attempts to draw one violates the Union code and has no right to protection.”
The meeting voted to strike, demanding the withdrawal of all the armed forces from the stock yards. This stroke-vote was endorsed by the 4,000 Negroes in the Union. White and Negro workers went on strike together, and stayed out until their demand was met.
The presence of militia, police, and deputy sheriffs in the stock yards was for the purpose of covering the organized assault made by the Packers’ agents upon the Negroes, and to participate in the pogrom started by these agents. All that had gone before, bombing of Negro homes, the killing of two Negroes early in July, was but a prelude. The militia and police were used to disarm the Negroes; while the white pogroms were given a free hand to kill Negroes. There were 2,800 militiamen thrown into the Negro districts. Not one white man was killed or wounded by police and militia, but at least a half of the Negro casualty list were killed or wounded by the police and militia. In spite of this one-sided struggle the Negroes defended themselves exceptionally well.
The Stock Yards Labor Council held its 35,000 white and Negro workers on strike, in solidarity with the Negro workers, demanding the withdrawal of the armed forces, and the return of the Negroes to the Yards under the sole protection of the Union. This sustained demonstration of inter-racial solidarity played a large part in bringing the riots to a close. During the whole time, no considerable number of white workers in the stock yards were involved in the assaults upon the Negroes; on the contrary, the 35,000 organized white and Negro workers stood solidly together—the one bright spot on a black page of American history, the race riots—carnivals of murder—organized throughout America in 1919 by the capitalist class.
Acting from working class instinct, without revolutionary theory and therefore with many blunders, yet the Stock Yards Labor Council had made a real contribution to the development of revolutionary trade unionism in the United States, on one of its most important problems, the organization of the Negro masses together with the whites in close solidarity.
The Betrayal By the A.F. of L.
With the close of the riots, and the return of the workers to the Yards after the withdrawal of the armed forces, the Packers and their agents organized a new assault, an even more vicious one, against the Stock Yards Labor Council.
The capitalist press led the way, with a campaign of accusation against the Council that it (the Council) has been the cause of the pogrom against the Negroes.
The Packers followed by discharging 400 white workers, the Union shop stewards, who had led their departments on strike.
The Government, through the Food Commissioner, Alschuler, condemned the Union for striking in support of the Negroes.
Finally, the National Secretary of the Butcher Workmen’s Union (A.M.C. and B.W. of N.A.), Dennis Lane, who had disappeared from the city during the pogrom (like Mayor Thompson, another “friend” of the Negroes!), reappeared upon the scene. He condemned the officials of the Stock Yards Labor Council as “Bolsheviks and I.W.W.’s” and expelled the Stock Yards Labor Council from the Union with its 30,000 members.
This mass expulsion, because of left-wing policies, was the first of its kind in America in the post-war period. It was endorsed by the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor, and the Chicago Federation of Labor was instructed to throw out the delegates of the Stock Yards Labor Council.
At that time the Chicago Federation of Labor headed the “progressive” tendency within the A.F. of L. It defended the position of the Stock Yards Labor Council. But finally, in order to save the Chicago Federation from being also expelled, it was mutually agreed by Federation and Council that the latter should withdraw, and that the Federation should continue (as it did) to give its support to the Council.
This weak and mistaken policy of the Federation and the Council was characteristic of that period. All who took part in those struggles were without any well-developed revolutionary theory or program of action, with the result that the most serious mistakes were constantly being made. The left-wing socialists, then in the process of forming the first Communist Parties, were entirely outside the struggle. The I.W.W. isolated itself on principle. The little group of militants in the A.F. of L., who had left the socialist party for the syndicalist movement, were, while more practical in the current struggles, still entirely without a correct revolutionary program or perspective.
The result of these expulsions, and the lack of aggressive struggle against them, was the destruction of the militant union of the Stock Yards Labor Council. It was killed by the treachery of the A.F. of L. officialdom, who could not forgive its achievement of solidarity of white and Negro workers against the capitalist class; but the A.F. of L. officials could not have succeeded in killing it, if the Stock Yards Labor Council had been able to fight under a clear, theoretically-grounded, Bolshevik leadership.
Joint Struggle of Black and White
The outstanding lesson of 1919, in Chicago, is that all the obstacles to unity and solidarity between white and black workers came, not from either group of workers themselves, but from the enemies of the working class—from the capitalist press, from the bosses, from the bourgeois politicians (white and black), and from the reactionary A.F. of L. officialdom.
Not at any single moment was there any resistance from workers, white or black, to the policy of equality, of solidarity, of the Stock Yard Labor Council.
The Negro workers, while their bourgeois race leaders were crawling on their bellies before their white paymasters, defended themselves, remained solidly with the Union, and refused to go back to work except under the direction of the Stock Yard Labor Council.
It was 30,000 white workers who struck solidly, against the employers, the government and all its forces, and against their own highest A.F. of L. officials, in solidarity with their Negro brothers.
From both white and black workers, there was unanimous and conscious joint struggle for a common program against the reactionaries of both races, but above all against the white capitalist class and its agents.
These experiences proved, just as today the National Miners’ Union, the National Textile Workers’ Union, and all the sections of the Trade Union Unity League are proving that there is no deep division between white and black workers, that racial prejudice are artificial cultivations of the capitalist class, designed to break the solidarity of the workers, but which can and must be completely smashed in order that the working class may unite all its forces, of all races and colors, men and women, youth and adults, for its common struggle against the common enemy.
This story was told by Jack Johnstone to a meeting of strikers in the Murray Body plant in Detroit a few months ago, when a young Negro comrade had asked if the Chicago race riots were not caused by a fight between union white workers and non-union Negro workers. The young Negro comrade asked Johnstone to write up the story. Johnstone has been too busy since then with organizational and strike work to do the job. The present writer has been glad to volunteer to do it for him, in the firm belief that it will contribute to the fulfillment of our present task of organizing Negro and white workers for joint struggle, for a common program.
The Communist, 9 (1930): 35–41.
Testimony of Asa P. Randolph (Colored)
(The witness was duly sworn by the chairman).
The Chairman. What is your full name?
Mr. Bachmann. What is your occupation, Mr. Randolph?
Mr. Randolph. I am president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping-Car Porters.
Mr. Bachmann. How long have you been president of that organization?
Mr. Randolph. About five years.
Mr. Bachmann. And what was your occupation prior to that time?
Mr. Randolph. Editor of the Messenger Magazine.
Mr. Bachmann. How long did you edit that magazine?
Mr. Randolph. About 10 years.
Mr. Bachmann. You live here in New York City?
Mr. Randolph. I live in New York City.
The Chairman. Now, will you proceed in your own way and give us any information at your disposal in regard to the activities of communists among your group of people. You are not a communist yourself?
Mr. Randolph. No.
The Chairman. Will you give us what information you may have of the activities of the communists, whether it is of recent origin, whether it is increasing, how it is affecting your people, and so on. Just take your time.
Mr. Randolph. Well, I would say that the communist activities among negroes began about the same time that they began among the whites; not on as large a scale, however. The beginning of the communist movement was not as aggressive, probably, as it now is. In the last year and a half, I should say that the activities have increased among the negroes throughout the country. As to the number of negro communists, I cannot speak with any certainty. I think you have but a very small number of negroes who are actually in the communist movement. I should say that probably there has been an increase in sympathy and sentiment among negroes for the communist movement in the last year and a half or more.
The Chairman. Do you know the reason for that? Is it the fact that orders have come over from Russia to intensify the campaign among negroes within the last year?
Mr. Randolph. I think that the communists in America among negroes are acting under orders from Moscow.
The Chairman. Do you know specifically whether orders have come recently to that effect—that it must be accentuated among the negroes?
Mr. Randolph. I read in the papers to that effect, that specific orders have come recently and that the activities have increased and they have become more aggressive. Now, I want to state specifically about my organization and the activities of communists in relation to our group. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was organized in August, 1925, in New York, for the purpose of getting more wages and shorter hours of work for the Pullman porters. At that time the Pullman porters received $67 a month and were working about 400 hours a month, and the sentiment among the men was to have an organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
Mr. Bachmann. You are affiliated with the American Federation of Labor?
Mr. Randolph. We are affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
The Chairman. Are you secretary of that organization?
Mr. Randolph. President. The Pullman porters now receive $77.50 a month. Now, in 1928 we projected a strike maneuver. On June 8 we planned to execute a strike among the Pullman porters in the interest of getting the demands that we had set forth. When this strike program was initiated, the communists attempted to penetrate the various divisions of our organization throughout the country, with a view to either capturing the organization or wrecking it.
Mr. Bachmann. Now, let me ask you right there: When you say they endeavored to penetrate your organization throughout the country, the points of their penetration were only in New York and Chicago; is not that true?
Mr. Randolph. What do you mean—points of penetration?
Mr. Bachmann. Well, you said the communists were trying to penetrate your organization throughout the country.
Mr. Randolph. Yes. Well, in most of the districts they were active.
Mr. Bachmann. Well, were there any other places outside of Chicago and New York?
Mr. Randolph. Oh, yes. In Kansas City, Oakland, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Washington—-
Mr. Bachmann. Detroit?
Mr. Randolph. Washington, D.C., so that there were many points where they were active. Now, they went to our various organizations in various districts and attempted to make them feel that they had the power to win the strike and they were going to set up relief stations when the strike occurred; they were going to collect money in the interests of the strike, and, of course, our various organizers did not know about the communists. They did not know who they were and what their program was, and it was only due to the fact I knew something about their activities, knew the nature of their activities, their strategy, motivity, and technique, that I was able to warn our various organizers against them, through telegrams and immediately ordered the various organizers to drive them out and have absolutely nothing to do with them.
The Chairman. Is it not a fact you have had some association in the past with the radical movement?
Mr. Randolph. Yes.
The Chairman. And that is how you happen to have this knowledge?
Mr. Randolph. Yes; that is how I happen to have this knowledge.
The Chairman. Did you use to be a communist yourself?
Mr. Randolph. No; I used to be a socialist.
The Chairman. A socialist?
Mr. Randolph. Yes. They attempted to establish their connection with the group, but, by taking the matter in hand immediately, we were able to cast them out; although recently, here in New York, they have made attacks on our movement. I have some exhibits here of their activities in the various meetings that we have held. They have come into the meetings and, at certain times, they would have members of their group stationed in different parts of the hall and when the program proceeded to a certain point, why, they would rise and proceed to introduce confusion [handing papers to the chairman]. So that our organization is practically the only organization among the negroes which is attacked by the communists. They have sought to break up the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters because we are part of the American Federation of Labor and because they were not able to capture the movement.
The Chairman. How many Pullman-car porters have you in your organization?
Mr. Randolph. We have about 8,000 members in our organization. We are not yet recognized by the Pullman Co., but that is the fight of the movement—to secure recognition from the Pullman Co.
The Chairman. What can you tell the committee about the American Negro Congress?
Mr. Randolph. The American Negro Labor Congress is the official organization of communists among the negroes for propaganda of the communist doctrines. It was organized a few years ago and it is headed by very capable and aggressive young negro men; on the average, I should say they are about as capable as the whites and they are very, very aggressive.
Mr. Bachmann. Do you know what is the membership of that organization?
Mr. Randolph. I think the membership is very small. I doubt if it runs into, oh, say, a couple hundred—
The Chairman. Do you know where the money comes from?
Mr. Randolph (continuing). But, of course, the membership does not represent the extent of the organization, you know.
Mr. Bachmann. I understand.
Mr. Randolph. Because they have a sort of closed membership, as Mr. Leary pointed out, as a dues-paying group; but, as a matter of fact, the group is much stronger and much more extensive than the membership implies.
Mr. Nelson. How many Pullman porters have refused to join your order?
Mr. Randolph. Well, there are about 12,000 Pullman porters in the service.
Mr. Nelson. And you have about 8,000?
Mr. Randolph. We have about 8,000—the large majority.
The Chairman. This American negro labor congress has a letter-head and the names of the officers are given, and the board of directors or organizing committee of about 60. Are you familiar with them? I will present it to you, with the names of these men who are on that committee, and ask whether the most of them are here in New York [handing the paper to witness]?
Mr. Randolph (after examining paper). I am familiar with some of them. Cyril Briggs is of New York; Otto Hall is not of New York—I think he is of the West; Otto Huiswoud is of New York; Richard B. Moore is of New York; James W. Ford, I think, is of Chicago.
Mr. Randolph. No. These are not Pullman porters.
Mr. Bachmann. I was asking whether he was. Do you know what his occupation was before he got into this movement?
Mr. Randolph. I think he was in the Post Office; I think he was in the Postal Service. Sol Harper is of New York, formerly of Schenectady and Syracuse, I think. Those are all of the negroes I know.
Mr. Nelson. You must have talked with a good many of these fellows. What do they say and what is the appeal to them in this?
Mr. Randolph. Well, I might say, as a general thing, there is discontent and unrest among the negroes as a whole throughout the country, and that unrest and discontent arises as a result of the existence, I believe, of a recrudescence in lynchings at the present time. Then you have, also, the existence of widespread peonage in the South.
Mr. Nelson. Does that exist, do you think, to any considerable extent?
Mr. Randolph. Oh, yes; to some extent, especially in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and other sections. Then you have the disfranchisement of the negro, where they do not have the privilege—though being citizens and having fought to save the country in every war of the Nation—and are not permitted to vote in the country for a Government that exercises control over them. Then you have, for instance, the recent matter of the gold-star mothers, which the negroes throughout the country resent from the point of view of discrimination and segregation, although I have been told by Hon. Alderman Moore that the conditions under which the gold-star mothers went to France were very good; that the accommodations were splendid.
The Chairman. That was what I was going to ask you, because I think that perhaps is not a function of the committee, but I could not understand the newspaper accounts of it, unless the discrimination was that they did not have proper quarters and a proper vessel to go on. We up here in this section believe, as far as that is concerned, that they were entitled to the same accommodations as given by the Federal Government to other people.
Mr. Randolph. Yes.
The Chairman. But there was no discrimination in the accommodations?
Mr. Randolph. No; no discrimination in the nature of the accommodations, but I might say the objection of the negroes to that form of segregation is based upon the same principle that they object to being segregated and discriminated against on the cars; that is, they object to the Jim Crow car.
The Chairman. Yes. Of course you remember, and I remember, too, that the colored soldiers who went into the service or volunteered, or even those who were drafted, went over as colored regiments, as units in colored regiments.
Mr. Randolph. Yes.
The Chairman. And I do not know that they could make very much complaint, at this late day, about the mothers of those boys, who went as a colored regiment, going together. But, if it is a question of accommodations, I, for one, would like to know about it.
Mr. Nelson. This gentleman is not making a complaint, as I understand, but he is answering my question as to what is the general feeling and general sentiment among colored people in this country. That, I think, is advisable, to get the psychological situation.
Mr. Randolph. Yes. Then there is the matter of industrial discrimination, regardless of the efficiency of the negro worker, regardless of the capability of the negroes. For instance, the negro boy on coming out of high school or college is just as capable as white boys, but there is a distinct limitation to the rise and progress of that negro boy, based solely on the fact he is a member of the Negro race.
The Chairman. Are they shut out of the hospitals here as doctors?
Mr. Randolph. They are shut out of some of the hospitals as doctors.
The Chairman. Do they have colored hospitals here?
Mr. Randolph. Well, they have some sanatoriums operated by negro doctors. Now, of course, negro doctors are in the Harlem Hospital; that is, they work in the Harlem Hospital. That has come about, recently, under the new administration.
Mr. Chairman. The complaint is largely in the professions, is it not, that they cannot rise?
Mr. Randolph. In the professions and industrially, also. For instance, there are the negro industrial chemists that do not get the opportunity to exercise their ability; there are negro carpenters. For instance, only 3 per cent of the carpenters of America are negroes; although negroes have the ability to carry on that work and opportunities ought to be afforded them to exercise that ability; also, educational opportunities.
The Chairman. That is due to the American Federation of Labor, is it not?
Mr. Randolph. No; I do not think so; because the discrimination against negro workers is larger in open shops than in shops that have union control. There is discrimination in some of the unions, of course, against the negro workers, but I do not ascribe that to the American Federation of Labor proper; because the American Federation of Labor proper does not regulate the constitutional provisions of the various international unions. There are certain international unions that do discriminate against negro workers joining them.
Mr. Nelson. Now, as regards those grievances of the colored people (and many of them are very real), the communist agitator promises to do away with all of them?
Mr. Randolph. The communist agitator capitalizes those conditions.
Mr. Nelson. And they promise, with the inauguration of their regime, that all men shall stand equal?
Mr. Randolph. Right, sir; that is, there is that program. And I might say that the communists have a paper known as the Negro Champion.
The Chairman. When is that issued?
Mr. Randolph. You have a sample of that there.
The Chairman. Where is that published?
Mr. Randolph. I think that is published in New York. I am not so sure, but I know it was published in New York.
The Chairman. Is that the only one you have?
Mr. Randolph. The only one among negroes.
The Chairman. Do you know where the money comes from that keeps up a paper of that kind and also keeps up the American Negro Labor Congress?
Mr. Randolph. Well, I think they all get the money from the same source as the whites, whatever that is—I think from the Russian Government, from Moscow.
The Chairman. Do you know anything about colored American citizens being sent to Moscow to study over there?
Mr. Randolph. Yes; I know of a number of instances where young negro men and women have been sent to Moscow to study and then they have come back as agitators to propagate the communist philosophy.
The Chairman. Do you know whether any of them have been sent from New York City—any that you know personally?
Mr. Randolph. Yes; I do. There is one man by the name of Patterson, who is a lawyer, who has gone over and he has not returned; and, from Chicago, there have been a number of young men and women sent to Russia.
The Chairman. I want to take occasion to state that, acting in the capacity of chairman of this committee, I have issued subpoenas for about 20 of those members of the board of directors of the American Negro Labor Congress.
Mr. Randolph. Yes.
The Chairman. Assuming that they were all communists, and wanting to have them appear here.
Mr. Randolph. Yes.
The Chairman. We were unable to serve the subpoenas. We want to give those men an opportunity to express their views before this committee; we are not seeking to persecute or to prosecute them but are seeking to have the views of the negro communists before the committee; but, so far, we have been unable to locate them.
Mr. Nelson. How many colored people are there in New York City?
Mr. Randolph. Well, it is variously estimated. I suppose the next census will defintely show, but they say there are from two hundred to two hundred and fifty thousand.
Mr. Nelson. How many of those would you say are communists?
Mr. Randolph. Oh, I should say, in the Communist Party, I doubt that you have 50 who are members of the communist organization.
Mr. Nelson. And how many are active as propagandists?
Mr. Randolph. That is just an estimate. I should say that you would have about half a dozen, or a dozen active propagandists.
Mr. Randolph. New York City; the City College of New York.
The Chairman. Are you a native American?
Mr. Randolph. Yes; I was born in Florida.
The Chairman. Is there more activity among the West Indian negroes than among the native American negroes?
Mr. Randolph. Well, I do not know. I think that you have about an equal split. For instance, this man Patterson was an American negro, who has gone over to Russia. He is a lawyer, and some of the most prominent of the negro communists are American negroes, and they about equal up.
Mr. Nelson. Did you ever live in Boston?
Mr. Randolph. No; I never lived in Boston.
Mr. Nelson. You have the accent of Boston East Beacon Hill.
The Chairman. You say there are about 50 in the Communist Party. Here are the names, I think, of 65 right here.
Mr. Randolph. Well, all of those are not negroes. I do not think.
The Chairman. Can you show any white men on that list? I think it is called the American Negro Labor Congress.
Mr. Randolph. Yes; they call it the American Negro Labor Congress.
The Chairman. You do not know of any white men on that list?
Mr. Randolph. I do not know; but those that I mentioned are negroes.
The Chairman. You do not know the name of any white man on that list?
Mr. Randolph. Well, I do not know of any white man on this list.
The Chairman. I do not think you will find any on it. I think there are 65 names, and I think they are all negroes and most of them of New York.
Mr. Randolph. It is quite possible, though, that there would be white men on this list with the negroes for the purpose of helping them to carry on the movement. I doubt if all of those are negroes.
Mr. Bachmann. What is the procedure followed by the communists to attract your group to this movement?
Mr. Randolph. Well, they employ meetings in halls and they have street meetings and they disseminate literature among the negroes, especially where situations arise such as strike. Now you will take, for instance, in Sunny Side and Mott Haven yards, of the Pullman Co., the communists stand out near the gates and give the Pullman porter the Daily Worker and sometimes the Negro Champion.
Mr. Bachmann. Now, after they attract them to the movement, what is the procedure?
Mr. Randolph. Well, after they are attracted to the meetings, why the communists proceed to tell them that the present order of society is unsound and present generally the communist philosophy, and also proceed to exploit the various grievances of the negroes—for instance, the present condition, such as lynching and things of that sort and exposing the negro leaders and denouncing various representatives of other political organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor that is active.
Mr. Bachmann. Can you say whether you have information where they have some of the white women who assist them in a way to attract negroes at those meetings?
Mr. Randolph. Well, I do not know about that. Of course, you have the communist men and women coming to these meetings, and I have simply stopped at these meetings and listened to them; I have not gone to any of their hall meetings; I have not had the time; but I know generally just what they do and the methods they employ. In Atlanta, now, they have a little communist group there, which was quite a surprise to me; when I went down there to lecture to some colleges I found the communists.
Mr. Bachmann. Where was that?
Mr. Randolph. Atlanta, Ga. I found there was a little communist group in Atlanta; not very large, but apparently quite active.
Mr. Nelson. On what subjects do you lecture?
Mr. Randolph. Why, in the colleges, on economics, history, sociology, psychology, and things of that sort, especially presenting the labor angle of the question of the negro worker, and also setting forth the work of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The Chairman. Who is the actual head of the communists among your group here in the city of New York?
Mr. Bachmann. Ford is very active, too.
Mr. Randolph. Ford, I think, is not in New York at the present time; I think he is in Chicago. We held the National Negro Labor Conference in Chicago last year, and the communists came into the meeting and attempted to capture some of the meetings. We were to have Mr. Matthew Woll to speak at the Sunday afternoon meeting and they heard about that, so they came there and began to distribute their literature attacking Mr. Woll, attacking Mr. Green, and attacking myself. However, they were not permitted to remain in the meeting very long, because they were put out.
Mr. Bachmann. There is no question, is there, Mr. Randolph, that those of you who understand this movement, through your organization are well able to combat it?
Mr. Randolph. Oh, yes. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has grappled with the communists, and we routed them and practically destroyed their movement so far as it relates to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. They do not molest us any more now in the way of coming to our meetings.
Mr. Bachmann. You do not feel, do you, they are making much of an inroad into your organization?
Mr. Randolph. Oh, no; they are not making any inroads into our organization.
Mr. Bachmann. The movement is on the decrease there rather than on the increase at the present time?
Mr. Randolph. Oh, yes. We had our struggle with them, don’t you see; our struggle was rather intense at the time; but we were able to overcome them and to route them.
The Chairman. Now, can you tell the committee anything about Mr. Cyril Briggs?
Mr. Eslick. Let me ask one question first; the representatives of the Communist Party approaching your organization, are they negroes, white men, or both?
Mr. Randolph. They are both.
Mr. Eslick. Both?
Mr. Randolph. Yes.
The Chairman. Can you tell the committee anything about Mr. Cyril Briggs, who is the national secretary of the American Negro Labor Congress?
Mr. Randolph. Yes, I know Mr. Briggs. He is a writer; he does not do very much speaking, but he is a very capable writer and has been quite active in the communist movement from the very beginning, I think, and is located here in New York.
The Chairman. Is he associated with the paper you referred to as being a communist paper?
Mr. Randolph. The Negro Champion—yes; I think he is.
The Chairman. Is he the editor of that?
Mr. Randolph. I think he is the editor of that. You will see it in the heading there.
The Chairman. Therefore he must have an office here in New York?
Mr. Randolph. Yes; he has an office here in New York.
The Chairman. And could be reached and a subpoena served on him?
Mr. Randolph. Yes. He has an office somewhere here.
The Chairman. And what does Mr. Otto Huiswoud do?
Mr. Randolph. Mr. Otto Huiswoud is one of the organizers of the communist group here. He was one of the beginners of the communist movement in the country.
The Chairman. Has he an office here?
Mr. Randolph. Well, I think he has some place where they do their work; but they have no real office where you have—-
The Chairman. There are no negro communists general headquarters where they hold their meetings—rooms?
Mr. Randolph. Well, they hold their meetings here in certain places. They were located on One hundred and thirty-fifth and Seventh Avenue, in the new building right above the Chelsea Bank.
The Chairman. Is that the Rockefeller Building up there?
Mr. Randolph. No; it is a place over the Chelsea Bank. They were there; I do not know whether they are there still or not. They go from place to place and usually operate on the street corners.
Mr. Randolph. Mr. Richard B. Moore, I think, is the leading spirit in the communist movement here now. He was nominated for one of the city offices on the communist ticket recently.
The Chairman. Has he any profession or vocation?
Mr. Randolph. Well, I do not know of any profession that he has. He gives all of his time, I think, to communist activities.
The Chairman. Do you know whether Herbert Newton comes from New York or not; do you know him?
Mr. Randolph. I do not know where he comes from; I never heard of him before.
The Chairman. I think he is the man who went over and notified Mr. Foster, in jail, yesterday of his nomination for governor on the communist ticket.
Mr. Randolph. Oh, yes,; I see.
The Chairman. You do not know him?
Mr. Randolph. I do not know of him. Then they have some of the negroes of education and culture who give some sympathy to the communistic activities, and some of them have sought the opportunity to go to Russia—not so much, I think, because they wanted to return to carry on communist activities in America but because they simply wanted to get the opportunity for a trip and to see Russia and to study the situation.
The Chairman. Did they have their expenses paid?
Mr. Randolph. Their expenses are paid, I think; yes.
The Chairman. By whom?
Mr. Randolph. By the communist movement. I have heard that Mr. Patterson is going to engage in the diplomatic service for the Russian Government. So that it is viewed by a large number of negroes as an opportunity for some unusual progress.
The Chairman. Advancement?
Mr. Randolph. Advancement.
The Chairman. Are there any further questions. If not, thank you very much.
Investigation of Communist Propaganda, Hearings before a Special Committee to Investigate Communist Activities in the United States. House of Representatives, seventy-first Congress, second session, 1930. Vol. 1, pp. 242-51.
Winston-Salem Negro, White Workers Unite
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Feb. 6.—One lone cop observed with disfavor the mass meeting of over 400 Negro and white workers who filled a corner near the Reynolds Tobacco Factory, No. 4, here at noon today, and cheered Communist and Trade Union Unity League speakers who denounced the lynching at Ocilla, Ga., of Jimmy Levine, a Negro tenant farmer. The speakers urged, amidst applause, the organizing together of Negro and white workers, and the building of united defense committees to stop lynching.
This demonstration was the first of its kind here, and was prepared for by the distribution of 3,000 leaflets, Daily Workers and Young Workers, with the slogan: “Down with lynch law” displayed. The workers grabbed them eagerly, especially the Negro workers.
Speakers at the meeting were Sol Harper, Negro worker, chairman; Binkley, local T.U.U.L. secretary; M. H. Powers, District Organizer of the Communist Party; Joe Carr, district organizer of the Young Communist League, and Si Gerson, of the Trade Union Unity League.
Signs were displayed, stating: “Down With Lynch Law;” “Organize United Committees Against Lynching;” other signs called on workers to join the Communist Party, the Young Communist League and the fighting trade unions of the Trade Union Unity League.
The workers are eagerly awaiting more of these meetings, and recognize this as a real move for organization against the Reynolds Tobacco Co. The Negro workers are especially sympathetic to the policies of the Communist Party, and the T.U.U.L. and contrast them with the A.F. of L. program, which sold out the workers here in 1921.
Unemployed meetings are scheduled to be held here soon.
Daily Worker, February 8, 1930.
Among the 6,000,000 jobless workers in the United States there are hundreds of thousands of Negro workers. On the job they are exploited to the utmost, and when unemployed their lot is the most miserable of all the workers. The Chicago World, a Negro paper, reports that there are more than 25,000 unemployed in Chicago. The Chicago World gives a description of the suffering of these Negro jobless:
“A great majority of the men are married, with families dependent on them for support. A great number of the idle workers have been without jobs since last sumer. Their wives and children and others who may be dependent on them are barely existing in miserable living quarters; hungry and cold; racked by diseases peculiar to exposure and ravages of severe winter weather. They are threatened momentarily with eviction because of inability to pay exorbitant rents for dilapidated quarters, unfit for human habitation.”
But the Chicago World, like all the petty bourgeois Negro papers, gives as the solution the election of such capitalist and betraying politicians as Oscar de Priest, who favors the Hoover-A.F. of L. anti-Negro, anti-worker campaigns and the “no strikes,” and “no wage increases” agreements.
The Trade Union Unity League is organizing all the unemployed, both Negro and white, for a united fight for immediate relief and for unemployment insurance. The Negro jobless must organize together with the white workers for the mass demonstrations to culminate on Feb. 28.
No passive section or direct support of the very forces who help exploit the Negro workers, such as the Chicago World suggests, will relieve the miserable condition of the Negro employed and unemployed. By fighting side by side with their white fellow workers, under the banner of the T.U.U.L., will the Negro workers be able to disgorge unemployment relief from the bosses’ state.
The Liberator, February 25, 1930.
Since we colored workers began to organize and join the Unemployed Council to help ourselves, the preachers and their agents became greatly alarmed. At the call of the Charlotte Observer, the paper of the capitalists in Charlotte, Negro preachers in most of the churches have turned their Sunday services into propaganda speeches against the workers and their fighting labor organizations.
It seems like these sky pilots are afraid that if we Negro workers open our eyes and begin to fight our real enemies, these Negro preachers will lose their “do nothing” jobs and will have to go to work.
Douglas Rogers, one of the deacons of the House of Prayer got up and attacked the T.U.U.L., before a crowd of Negro workers, telling them to “stay away” from the union, but to continue praying.
Douglas, why don’t you tell the workers what is being done with the two big bowls of nickels and dimes and pennies that is being collected from the Negro workers every day at the House of Prayer?
Douglas, the union must be hurting you or you wouldn’t kick.
A Negro Worker.
Southern Worker, Feb. 14, 1931.
By Elizabeth Lawson
We begin with the story of Norman and Estelle Smith, young Negro couple of Harlem, New York. Their story tells, clearer than any statistics, the misery of unemployment the long-drawn-out process of starvation that is today imposed upon 17 million people in this country. It tells of the effect of starvation on little children. It shows the cruelty and indifference of the relief bureaus. It shows how the bosses, laying the burden of the crisis on the backs of the working-class, have laid a double load on the backs of the Negro workers. And it shows, finally, how the workers, Negro and white, are learning to throw aside their boss-inspired prejudices and are fighting—together—against misery and starvation.
The Story of Norman Smith
Years ago, Norman Smith, Negro painter and cabinetmaker, went from Anderson, Indiana, where he had been born, to Baltimore. Jobs were pretty scarce for Negro workers, even in those days. The union, too, refused to take him in. They didn’t tell him he couldn’t join—just kept him coming back, until he finally realized they didn’t want him in the organization. One official, a little more outspoken than the others, said that he “didn’t know about Niggers joining up.
Still, he got a little work. Then he met Estelle Palmer. They were married and went to New York. They thought things would be better in New York —more jobs that a Negro worker could get at. Smith took whatever he could get. He worked as fireman-porter for $70 a month, and held on to that job till April, 1930. He remembers the date very exactly, because it was the last steady job he’s had since.
When he got laid off it was the first spring of the present crisis. If jobs had been scarce before for Negro workers, they just weren’t to be found now. For the whole summer of 1930, Norman Smith didn’t work at all, except for two weeks as dishwasher at the Ward Coffee Pot. It brought him—expert craftsman that he was—just $15 a week. He had to take it, for by that time, there were not only himself and Estelle, but also young Norman and Lloyd.
Five Dollars a Week for Four
In May, 1930, he had to ask for help. He went to the Charity Organization Society. After a time they gave him $5 a week-for four people to live on, in New York City. In July, they cut him off altogether. About this time they were evicted from their home.
Next thing, he got a job in the Bronx, through the Charity Organization Society. The job was loading lawn mowers on trucks. It wasn’t long before he strained his back. When he got out of the hospital, still hurt and shaky, the Charity Society said that that showed he didn’t want to work anyhow. They cut off his relief.
The family moved to 53rd Street. The Charity Organization Society there gave them $3 to $5 a week for a little while, then cut him off and ordered him to the municipal lodging house.
And then at last something new happened! Norman Smith and his wife heard of the Unemployed Council! They went to the Council’s headquarters and told them they were denied relief and had been evicted again. The Council got the whole neighborhood aroused about it. Negro workers, white workers, men and women, all together, they came out amd moved the family into the apartment.
It was only a few days afterwards that Estelle Smith gave birth to another child.
The Unemployed Council sent a delegation to the Charity Organization office and forced them to give relief. The charity people had said before that they couldn’t, but they did it now! They gave out $5 at once for food—with a crowd of Negro workers and white workers standing in front of the office with determination all over their faces—and they got a letter to the Emergency Work Bureau that got them work for three days a week for the whole winter.
In April, 1932, they moved back to Harlem. A week later Smith was laid off his charity job. The Charity Society at Lenox Avenue refused any aid—until a new delegation arrived from the Unemployed Council.
By October Mrs. Smith was in the hospital with her fourth child, having eaten almost nothing but cabbage and beans during her pregnancy. She was treated in the Harlem Hospital. On November 16 she died.
Six Negro and white workers stood about the coffin of Estelle Smith, only 27 years old, wife and mother of four small children. They stood there with fists clenched, and the workers vowed to avenge her death.
Workers spoke—the local leaders of working-class organizations.
“The City of New York murdered Mrs. Estelle Smith,” said the leader of the Unemployed Council. “They murdered her by starvation and poverty. At a time when she needed care, she got only hunger and trouble. She was a victim of the mass starvation policy of the city government and of the government of the United States. She was not only a worker, but a Negro worker, and therefore she suffered starvation earlier and more deeply than even the white workers.
Starvation and Plenty
“While the warehouses were bursting with food, Mrs. Smith lived on cabbage and beans. While apartments and flats stood empty, she was thrown out on the street to freeze.
“This murder is only one of many. It will be repeated a thousand times unless we take measures to stop it. We must organize ourselves, black and white together. We must force the city and national governments to grant us relief and unemployment insurance.”
A voice spoke from the crowd: “I move that we elect, here and now, at this funeral, a delegate to the National Hunger March to Washington on December 5. I move that we send Norman Smith, the husband of this murdered woman, to the National Capitol to demand immediate winter relief, unemployment insurance, and an end to the discrimination against the Negro jobless!122
When, in December, 1932, the hunger marchers, elected delegates of the unemployed from coast to coast, swung down the streets of the national capital after being penned by military force in a valley on the outskirts of the city for more than 48 hours, two of the leaders were Negro workers. Negro delegates, who were more than a quarter of all the marchers, were all through the ranks. As the marchers—with a police escort that exceeded the delegates in numbers, went through the Negro districts of Washington, every house was emptied, every street was filled with cheering men, women and children.
The hunger marches of 1931 and 1932 threw fear into the hearts of the starvation-lords of America. And not the least of their fear was the unbreakable solidarity of Negro and white workers.
“No discrimination against Negro workers!” “Equal relief for the Negro jobless!” These and similar slogans were displayed on banners carried by the marchers, both Negro and white.
The national hunger marches smashed through Jim-Crow lines everywhere. Delegations of Negro and white forced even Southern charity stations to house the groups together. The marchers indignantly rejected offers of lodging in government-owned camps with discrimination against Negroes. When a city official suggested to a delegation that the Negroes leave for another lodging, a wave of indignation went through the group, and the official was thrown out. The delegates, Negro and white, ate, slept, fought, side by side. On every leading committee of the marchers were Negro workers. David Paindexter, Negro worker of Chicago, led the first delegation to the capitol.
Behind the delegates were records of struggle in every important center of the country. No fighters in these struggles were more militant than the Negroes.
In Chicago and in Cleveland, Negro members of the Unemployed Council gave their life’s blood in the struggle against evictions. In the struggles for bread in Detroit and in St. Louis, where the city officials answered the demand of the starving for bread, with a rain of bullets—Negroes were in the front ranks, and were among those murdered in the fight. Young Angelo Herndon, Negro leader of the workers who has been sentenced to serve 18 to 20 years on the Georgia chain-gang is the victim of this boss-terror, because he led the hungry workers of Atlanta to demand relief from the city council.
Why Negro Workers are Fighting
It was no accident that the Negro delegates were in the front ranks in the national hunger marches. It was no accident that such a large number of the marchers, who had withstood hunger and cold and threats of death from the armed forces at Washington to present the demands of the unemployed—that such a large number were Negroes.
There are seventeen million workers out of a job in the United States today. They are starving and homeless. All of them have reasons to fight against these conditions.
But the Negro workers have double cause to fight.
Because wherever the Negroes turn, they find that they are in even worse straits than the white workers.
Because more of their numbers, in proportion to the percentage of the population, are jobless than the whites. Because in every industry, in every, factory, they are the first to be turned away and the last to be taken on.
Because the relief agencies Jim-Crow the Negro workers, degrade them, and in many cases slam the door in their faces altogether.
Because, whatever crust of charity is thrown out, the last and least of the crumbs fall to their lot.
Because, in addition to hunger and misery, the Negro unemployed are forced to suffer the extra yoke of special discriminations in the form of lynching, segregation, an extra measure of abuse, and intensified terrorism.
Negro Workers are Hardest Hit
In the large cities, the rate of unemployment among Negroes is admitted even by the city authorities—who are interested in concealing the true state of affairs—to be twice, three times and four or more times as high as the rate of white unemployment.
In Harlem, New York, sixty-four out of every hundred men are out of work. And four out of every five heads of families are jobless. In Baltimore, Negroes form seventeen per cent of the population, but are 31.5 per cent of the unemployed. In Charleston, South Carolina, half of the population are Negroes, but the Negroes form seventy per cent of the unemployed. In the steel and metal center of Youngstown, Ohio, Negroes form two-thirds of all unemployed. Over 90 per cent of the Negro workers in Newark are out of jobs.
Why the discrimination against the Negro workers?
The national oppression of the Negroes in America serves the white bosses and landlords—the real rulers of the country—in two ways. It lets them make bigger profits by having a section of the workers that they can pay even more miserably, work even longer, than other workers. Also, this discrimination is designed to keep Negro and white workers from getting together and fighting their common enemy, the white bosses, for bread and work and the fight to live.
The director of the Community Chest in Birmingham reports that while in 1928 and 1929, twenty per cent of those applying for relief were Negroes, by 1932 this proportion had increased to 65 per cent. This shows that Negroes were thrown out of industry at a much faster rate than white workers—that the crisis and the resulting unemployment have been felt most sharply by Negroes.
But not only are the Negroes the first to be laid off—they are also being replaced by white workers in the jobs that do exist. The bosses hope in this way to divide the Negro and white workers through petty bribes to the whites.
In the past, certain jobs have been recognized as traditionally “jobs for Negroes.” These were, of course, the worst jobs, carrying with them the most disagreeable work, the longest hours and the least pay.
Today, white workers are being used, in many instances, to lower still further the conditions of the Negroes and the workers in general. Many white workers have been used to replace Negroes as janitors, bootblacks, etc., at even lower wages than had been paid to the Negroes.
In Atlanta, 150 Negro bellboys were replaced by whites. White girls were used to replace colored male employees of over 40 years standing in the check room of the Pennsylvania railroad station. In Harrisburg, Pa., one of the largest hotels displaced Negro waiters with white waitresses. Department stores in Ohio have replaced Negro porters by whites. In Austin, Texas, whites are now employed instead of Negroes to deliver goods for jobbing houses. Examples could be multiplied indefinitely.
Discrimination Against Negroes in Public Works
The public works operated by the national, State, city and county governments systematically discriminate against Negroes. At the Hoover Dam, in Nevada, no Negro workers were taken on until persistent protests had forced the contractors to hire at least a handful out of a working force of thousands. Latest reports from Nevada are that the majority of these Negroes have been fired.
It was publicly announced by the Highway Commission of Mississippi that no Negroes would be employed in the work of public road building.
Negroes are not allowed to work on the river work in Omaha, a Federal job. They have been systematically discriminated against at the El Capitan Dam in San Diego. They were refused work in the building of the new wing at Harlem Hospital, New York, and were not employed to tear up and re-lay 143rd and 136th streets, in the very heart of Harlem.
But at the same time, with the least chance of being employed, with the worst pay on the job, Negro workers are forced to pay higher rents and higher prices for food, in the segregated, Jim-Crow areas into which they are herded. And on top of it all, they get the least relief of any of the jobless.
According to a survey made in October, 1932, 74 per cent of the unemployed in Harlem were not receiving any relief at all. In Washington, D.C., Negro jobless receive at all times at least one-third less than the meager relief doled out to unemployed whites. If work is given, Negroes get less. They also get less food. Negro and white are waited on in different rooms. The unemployed relief station for Negroes in San Antonio, Texas, has been closed down altogether. In many cities of the South—Jacksonville, for example—the grafting charity authorities force the Negro jobless to work for the Red Cross flour which the white unemployed get free.
The relief agencies say smugly: “Never mind—Negroes are used to a lower standard of living anyway.” That is the excuse given to grind the Negroes down still further.
Terrorism Against Negro Jobless
The authorities in many places are trying to send back to the South some Negro families who have come north. The city officials of Newark thought out a scheme to deport jobless Negroes back South. They did this through the Red Cross.
This means sending Negroes back where they will not only starve, but are denied the most elementary democratic rights, where terror against the Negro people is greatest.
The police are most vicious against the Negro jobless. In the South, the vagrancy laws are used to put jobless Negroes on the chain-gang. In every city, in every rural village, the police ruthlessly frame jobless Negroes and throw them into jail. They even murder them outright. In the last year, hundreds of Negro workers were shot down in cold blood, by police and sheriffs, for picking up a bit of coal along the railroad tracks, for taking a loaf of bread. The nine Scottsboro boys, who were framed on a fake charge of “rape” in Alabama, were jobless boys looking for work on the Mississippi river boats.
How can we help ourselves?
The leaders of various groups have different solutions to propose, especially to the doubly-oppressed Negro workers. Let us examine some of these proposals and see what they are worth.
Back to the Farms
Some say the unemployed should go back to the farms. But what would this mean? The situation of the Negro farmer, share-cropper and tenant is today one of literal starvation. There is hardly a handful of Negro farmowners left in any one State. The farms are being seized for debt. The landlords are refusing to “furnish” the croppers and their families. Thousands of farms are being abandoned by Negro farmers who can no longer scratch even the barest living from the soil.
The Negro share-croppers, in heroic struggles, are fighting against this starvation. Already, at Camp Hill and at Reeltown, Alabama, they have had bloody encounters with the landlords and sheriffs.
Shall the Negro jobless allow themselves to be shipped back to this slow starvation on the farms? No! It is a scheme to put the jobless where they can starve out of sight. We must fight to force the bosses and their government to pay unemployment relief and social insurance.
As usual the Negro misleaders fall in line with the white bosses and landlords and approve this scheme. They also support the tactics of the bosses of splitting and dividing the toiling masses. For example, the editors of the Chicago Defender say that the bosses should “Hire American!” What does this mean? It means that the Defender is falling in line with the policy of the big white bosses to divide the workers still further. This slogan seeks to drive a wedge between foreign-born and Negro workers. It is aimed to prevent our joining together, Negro and white, native and foreign-born, to fight for bread and work. By this slogan, the bosses seek to set the workers to fighting one another. And if we examine this slogan—“Hire American!”—we see that it drives a wedge even into the ranks of the Negro jobless, because there are not only native but many foreign-born Negroes in the United States. In the North the bosses and their agents raise the fake slogan of “Hire American.” In the South they raise the slogan “Fire the Niggers.”
The Boycott Movement
There are groups that say that Negroes should boycott,—that is, refuse to buy from—all stores in the Negro neighborhoods that will not hire Negro workers. Not only the Negro, but also the white workers, should make a fight on those stores that refuse to hire Negro workers.
But there are definite limits to the results to be obtained by a boycott. First of all, this struggle is confined to stores in the Jim-Crow districts, and this movement applies only to such stores. But most of the jobs are not in stores at all, but in factories and mines. To be effective, the fight must be carried on jointly by Negro and white workers and must extend far beyond the confines of the Jim-Crow district.
The Unemployed Councils
In every city the Unemployed Councils have rallied the workers to present demands before local officials. The Unemployed Councils and their block committes fight to prevent the evictions of the jobless. They form committees to take individual workers and their families to the relief stations and get immediate aid.
We saw, in the case of Norman Smith, that only when the Unemployed Councils came on the scene, was anything actually done. The Unemployed Councils of the various cities, uniting Negro and white toilers together, have been able to gain relief for many jobless families; have been able to prevent evictions of the unemployed; have been able to prevent the cutting down of relief.
After Angelo Herndon, young Negro organizer of the Unemployed Council, had led Negro and white workers in a demonstration before the City Council, the authorities were forced to vote an additional $6,000 for relief for the unemployed.
By militant and united action, the unemployed of Chicago forced the city to revoke a cut in the amount of relief. In St. Louis, after a furious struggle, the jobless workers, Negro and white, forced the city relief bureaus to put 13,000 names back on their rolls.
What are the demands of the Unemployed Councils? As various questions come up in different neighborhoods, the Unemployed Councils fight for these immediate needs. But there are certain general demands that the Unemployed Councils are fighting for all over the country. These are:
1. Immediate relief for the unemployed, $50 for each unemployed worker, $10 for each dependent. This to be given by the Federal government in addition to the local relief.
2. Unemployment Insurance, at the expense of the bosses and government.
3. No discrimination against Negroes on the job or at relief stations.
From a system of Federal unemployment insurance, the Negroes would have the most to gain. Fired first, hired last, denied even the few crumbs of relief granted to the white workers, abused and terrorized—the Negro workers stand in the greatest need of such a system of unemployment insurance. Their jobs are the least secure; their chance of getting aid is the least of all the workers.
Well-fed misleaders among the Negro people (the Du Boises, the Pickenses, the Walter Whites) tell the Negroes not to fight. They say there is no use fighting. They say the Negroes will only get into “trouble.” They talk as if starvation and suffering and terrorism were not “trouble.” Here, as in every struggle, these misleaders try to hold back the developing fight of Negro and white workers.
Here is the fact: whatever has been gained, has been gained by militant, united mass struggle, by united action of Negro and white workers, employed and unemployed, native and foreign-born.
Race Hatred Being Smashed in Struggle
Under the leadership of the Unemployed Councils, the white workers are learning that they can gain nothing unless they fight also with and for the Negro workers. The Negro workers, on their side, are learning that their only allies are the white workers, who, like themselves, are jobless and freezing and starving. In the process of struggle, the color-line, so carefully set up by the white bosses, is being smashed.
The workers can force the bosses to give larger sums for relief. The workers can break down the system of discrimination.
We will not starve! We will not tolerate Jim-Crowism! The only way out is the way of unity for white and Negro workers, under the leadership of the Unemployed Councils, in a militant fight for bread and work!
Pamphlet issued by the National Committee of Unemployment Councils, New York, 1933. Copy in Library of Marximus-Leninismus, Berlin, DRG.
The International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers earnestly appeals to the Negro workers and employees of Africa, the West Indies, Latin America, the United States and other countries arouse themselves, to give voice to their complaints and grievances and to take the necessary actions to protect themselves at this, one of the most serious, one of the most decisive moments in the history of the black peoples.
NEGRO WORKERS AND TOILERS! We constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of Africa and of the West Indies. We are one-tenth of the population of the United States. Yet, while we are for the most a people of the soil, everywhere we are practically landless. Wherever coloured races and peoples are oppressed and exploited, we suffer most. We are scattered in many lands, a subject people under alien rule. And almost everywhere we are the victims of the same evils of discrimination, disfranchisement and persecution. We are faced with a common situation and can only gain our freedom in common action where we live.
The living conditions of the Negro toilers are growing worse and are becoming ever more intolerable. Wage cuts, lengthening of hours of labor, unemployment, stringent repressive measures, increasing limitations of rights and freedom, these are among the growing burdens of the Negro masses.
We endured inhuman sufferings in the last world war organized by the moneyed class who talked of freedom, of democracy, but who redivided our lands among themselves, intensifying our slavery. There was no relief for us. No emancipation, no freedom, no land, no equality! Today, there is again open talk and preparation for redividing the African colonies, for redistributing the mandated territories between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of the imperialist powers. But not one word is said about the interests of the colonial peoples, about their inherent right to national independence.
Abyssinia is being mercilessly attacked with bombs and shells and gas. Her men, women and children are being slaughtered. Italian fascism led by the most chauvinist, the most reactionary of its ruling cliques has started a redivision of Africa. The League of Nations seeks to evade the question of stopping the war. The British and French imperialists seek to settle the war at the expense of Abyssinia which will suit the interests of the various imperialist powers, but not the interests of the Abyssinian people.
We must demand the consistent application of the covenant of the League in defense of the integrity and territorial independence of Abyssinia. It is our task to draw all sections of the Negro people in a mighty movement of action to prevent the enslavement of the Abyssinian people.
More and more clearly the war in Abyssinia is showing that we have friends and allies among the people of every land, race and nationality. The workers and intellectuals, the men and women who are advocating peace and are carrying on a great struggle against war. Those who are working to defend the national independence of Abyssinia are thus helping to strengthen everywhere the liberation struggles of the Negro masses. We must make common cause with, and join the working class and progressive forces of every country who are fighting for peace, rights and freedom.
We must throw ourselves fearlessly into this struggle. We can and must be a decisive factor in securing and maintaining the national independence of Abyssinia and thus helping to gain our own freedom. But this demands organization and struggle.
We must organize so that through our united strength and activities we can be of aid to all who fight against oppression, war and fascism. Equally important is that we should organize our forces so that through organized struggle we can better the conditions of our daily lives and those of our families. These are our greatest tasks!
Let us organize and build the trade union movement, let us organize trade unions or other forms of organization, according to the circumstances, that will work and struggle to promote the interests of the Negro masses. Trade Unions that will fight for the shorter working day, for more pay, for better working conditions, for sick and accident insurance, for equality for the workers of every race. Trade union organizations that will struggle against the Master and Servants laws, the Color Bar in industry, forced labor, high taxation, the abominable practice of fines and whippings and other repressive measures and for the right of the Negro workers to organize.
On our determination to organize and direct our forces into trade unions, and to join, strengthen and unite the existing unions into strong militant organizations capable of leading and guiding the struggles of the workers, much depends.
Negro Workers and toilers! The International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers helps and advises the workers in their activities and in their efforts to organize their ranks. Our Committee has always been in the forefront defending the interests of the Negro toilers and guiding them in their struggles. It initiated the international campaign against the bloody war of Italian fascism against Abyssinia. It has given vigorous aid in the campaign for freedom of the Scottsboro boys and Angelo Herndon. It has fought against the exploitation and oppression of the African peoples everywhere.
During the five years of its activities, it has always responded to the call of its supporters and of the workers to aid them in their attempt to improve their condition and to fight against the forces of reaction. Through its organ, the Negro Worker, and other literature, it has carried on a relentless fight against every form of exploitation and tyrranic rule imposed upon the Negro people.
The increasing attacks on our living standards calls for serious attention to the pressing necessity of uniting our ranks to organize and build up the trade union movement or to join the already existing unions. At the same time, it is of extreme importance that the trade union and other organized forces in the colonies and elsewhere should be coordinated and combined in order to stimulate their growth, strengthen their fighting capacity, and that they may be of mutual assistance to each other.
To accomplish this, and to be able to aid and serve more effectively the Negro workers in their future activities and struggles, the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers appeals to all trade unions, agricultural workers’ unions, peasant committees, groups, committees and associations of workers, tenants leagues, mutual aid organization, educational clubs, etc., of Negro workers in Africa, the West Indies, the U.S.A. and elsewhere, who are not already affiliated to the Committee, to join its ranks through affiliation. In this way it will be possible to create an international coordinating center that will be able to give real and effective support to its adherents in their work as well as greatly help to carry out its task of aiding in the development of trade unions among the Negro workers everywhere and in helping to break down the barriers which separate the Negro toilers from the workers of other races. In this way we will be able to close our ranks in a common front against the enemy.
Affiliation to the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers is voluntary and fraternal, the only condition is that the organization agrees to struggle against exploitation, for improving the living standards of the Negro masses, for equal rights and conditions on the job for Negro workers in every country and for the liberation of the Negro people.
Negro workers organized and unorganized! Heed our appeal! Discuss it at your meetings or other gatherings and spread it among the workers at the work places! Decide to affiliate to the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers.
Let us organize and fight for a better life, for equal rights, for freedom.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNION COMMITTEE OF NEGRO WORKERS.
The Negro Worker, 6 (April, 1936): 18–20.
By The Associated Press
New York Times, January 19, 1933.
Herndon, Sentenced for Inciting Insurrection, Takes Case to Georgia High Court
Unfair Trial Claimed
Negroes Barred From Jury, Defense Says—Old Law Invoked
by the State
New York Times, August 27, 1933.
MEN AND WOMEN OF ATLANTA:
Thousands of us, together with our families, are at this time facing starvation and misery and are about to be thrown out of our houses because the miserable charity hand-out that some of us were getting has been stopped! Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been collected from workers in this city for relief for the unemployed, and most of it has been squandered in high salaries for the heads of these relief agencies.
Mr. T. K. Glenn, president of the Community Chest, is reported to be getting a salary of $10,000 a year. Mr. Frank Nealy, executive director of the Community Chest, told the County Commission Saturday that he gets $6,500 a year, while at the same time no worker, no matter how big his family, gets more than two dollars and half to live on. If we count the salaries paid the secretaries and the investigators working in the thirty-eight relief stations in this city, it should not surprise us that the money for relief was used up and there is no more left to keep us from starvation. If we allow ourselves to starve while these fakers grow fat off our misery, it will be our own fault.
The bosses want us to starve peacefully and by this method save the money they have accumulated off our sweat and blood. We must force them to continue our relief and give more help. We must not allow them to stall us any longer with fake promises. The city and county authorities from the money they have already collected from us in taxes, and by taking the incomes of the bankers and other rich capitalists, can take care of every unemployed family in Atlanta. We must make them do it.
At a meeting of the County Commissioners last Saturday, it was proposed by Walter S. McNeal, Jr., to have the police round up all unemployed workers and their families and ship them back to the farms and make them work for just board and no wages, while just a few months ago these hypocrites were talking about forced labor in Soviet Russia, a country where there is no starvation and where the workers rule! Are we going to let them force us into slavery?
At this meeting Mr. Hendrix said that there were no starving families in Atlanta, that if there is he has not seen any. Let’s all of us, white and Negroes, together, with our women folk and children, go to his office in the county court house on Pryor and Hunter Streets Thursday morning at 10 o’clock and show this faker that there is plenty of suffering in the city of Atlanta and demand that he give us immediate relief! Organize and fight for unemployment insurance at the expense of the government and the bosses! Demand immediate payment of the bonus to the ex-servicemen. Don’t forget Thursday morning at the county court house.
Issued by the
Unemployed Committee of Atlanta,
P. 0. Box 339
As reproduced in Angelo Herndon, Let Me Live (New York, 1969), pp. 335-36.
“Gentlemen of the Jury: I would like to explain in detail the nature of my case and the reason why I was locked up. I recall back about the middle of June 1932, when the Relief Agencies of the City of Atlanta, the County Commission and the city government as a whole, were cutting both Negro and white workers off relief. We all know that there were citizens who suffered from unemployment. There were hundreds and thousands of Negroes and whites who were each day looking for work, but in those days there was no work to be found.
“The Unemployment Council, which has connection with the Unemployed Committees of the United States, after 23,000 families had been dropped from the relief rolls, started to organize the Negro and white workers of Atlanta on the same basis, because we know that their interests are the same. The Unemployment Council understood that in order to get relief, both races would have to organize together and forget about the question whether those born with a white skin are ‘superior’ and those born with a black skin are ‘inferior.’ They both were starving and the capitalist class would continue to use this weapon to keep them further divided. The policy of the Unemployment Council is to organize Negroes and whites together on the basis of fighting for unemployment relief and unemployment insurance at the expense of the state. The Unemployment Council of Atlanta issued those leaflets after the relief had been cut off, which meant starvation for thousands of people here in Atlanta. The leaflets called upon the Negro and white workers to attend a meeting at the court house building on a Thursday morning. I forget the exact date. This action was initiated as the result of statements handed out to the local press by Country Commissioners who said that there was nobody in the City of Atlanta starving, and if there were, those in need should come to the offices of the Commissioners and the matter would be looked into. That statement was made by Commissioner Hendrix.
“The Unemployment Council pointed out in its circulars that there were thousands of unemployed workers in the City of Atlanta who faced hunger and starvation. Therefore, they were called upon to demonstrate in this court house building, about the middle part of June. When the Committee came down to the court house, it so happened that Commissioner Hendrix was not present that morning. There were unemployed white women with their babies almost naked and without shoes to go on their feet, and there were also Negro women with their little babies actually starving for the need of proper nourishment, which had been denied them by the county of Fulton and State of Georgia and City of Atlanta as well.
“Well, the Negro and white workers came down to the Commissioners’ office to show that there was starvation in the City of Atlanta and that they were in actual need of food and proper nourishment for their kids, which they never did receive. I think Commissioner Stewart was in the office at that time. The white workers were taken into his room and the Negroes had the door shut in their faces. This was done with the hope of creating racial animosity in order that they would be able to block the fight that the Negro and white workers were carrying on—a determined fight to get relief. The white workers were told: ‘Well, the county hasn’t any money, and of course, you realize the depression and all that but we haven’t got the money.’ We knew that the county did have money, but were using it for their own interest, and not for the interest of the Negro workers or white workers, either way.
They talked to the white workers some considerable time, but when the white workers came out, they had just about as much results as the Negroes did—only a lot of hot air blown over them by the Commissioners, which didn’t put any shoes on their little babies’ feet and no milk in their stomachs to give them proper nourishment. No one disputed the fact they did keep the Negroes on the outside, but the white workers were in the same condition that their Negro brothers were in. In spite of the fact that the County Commissioners had published statements to the effect that there was no money in the county treasury to provide unemployment relief for the Negro and white workers, still the next day after the demonstration the County Commissioners voted $6,000 for relief, mainly because it was shown that for the first time in the history of Atlanta and the State of Georgia, Negro and white workers did join together and did go to the Commissioners and demand unemployment insurance. Have not they worked in the City of Atlanta, in different industries, different shops and other industrial concerns located in Atlanta for all their years, doing this work, building up the city where it is at the present time? And now, when they were in actual need of food to hold their bodies together, and when they came before the state and county officials to demand something to hold their bodies together, they were denied it. The policy of the Unemployment Council is to organize these workers and demand those things that are denied them. They have worked as slaves, and are entitled to a decent living standard. And, of course, the workers will get it if you ever organize them.
“After the successful demonstration, the solicitor’s office had two detectives stationed at the post office to arrest anyone who came to take mail out of box 339. On Monday, July 11, 1932, I went to the post office to get mail from this box and was arrested by detectives, Mr. Watson and Mr. Chester. I had organized unemployed workers, Negro and white, of Atlanta, and forced the County Commissioners to kick in $6,000 for unemployment relief. For this I was locked up in the station house and held eleven days without even any kind of charges booked against me. I was told at the station house that I was being held on ‘suspicion.’ Of course, they knew what the charges were going to be, but in order to hold me in jail and give me the dirtiest kind of inhuman treatment that one could describe, they held me there eleven days without any charge whatsoever until my attorney filed a writ of habeas corpus demand that they place charges against me or turn me loose. It was about the 22nd of July, and I still hadn’t been indicted; there had been three sessions of the grand jury, and my case had been up before them each time, but still there was no indictment. This was a deliberate plot to hold me in jail. At the habeas corpus hearing, the judge ordered that if I wasn’t indicted the next day by 2:30, I should be released. Solicitor Hudson assured the judge that there would be an indictment, which, of course, there was. Ever since then I have been cooped up in Fulton County Tower, where I have spent close to six months—I think the exact time was five months and three weeks. But I want to describe some of the horrible experiences that I had in Fulton Tower. I was placed in a little cell there with a dead body and forced to live there with the dead body because I couldn’t get out of the place. The man’s name was William Wilson, who fought in the Spanish-American war for the American principles, as we usually call it. He was there on a charge of alimony. His death came as a result of the rotten food given to all prisoners, and for the want of medical attention. The county physician simply refused to give this man any kind of attention whatsoever. After three days of illness, he died, and I was forced to live there with him until the undertaker came and got him. These are just some of the things that I experienced in jail. I was also sick myself. I could not eat the food they gave me as well as hundreds of prisoners. For instance, they give you peas and beans for one dinner, and at times you probably get the same thing three times a week. You will find rocks in it, and when you crack down on it with your teeth, you don’t know what it is, and spit it out and there it is. They have turnip greens, and just as they are pulled up out of the ground and put in the pot, with sand, rocks and everything else. But that’s what you have to eat, otherwise you don’t live. For breakfast they feed grits that look as if they were baked instead of boiled, a little streak of grease running through them, about two strips of greasy fatback. That is the main prison fare, and you eat it or else die from starvation. I was forced to go through all of this for five months without a trial. My lawyers demanded a trial time after time, but somehow the state would always find a reason to postpone it.
“They knew that the workers of Atlanta were starving, and by arresting Angelo Herndon on a charge of attempting to incite insurrection the unity of Negro and white workers that was displayed in the demonstration that forced the County Commissioners to kick in with $6,000, would be crushed forever. They locked Angelo Herndon up on such charges. But I can say this quite clearly, if the State of Georgia and the City of Atlanta think that by locking up Angelo Herndon, the question of unemployment will be solved, I say you are deadly wrong. If you really want to do anything about the case, you must go out and indict the social system. I am sure that if you would do this, Angelo Herndon would not be on trial here today, but those who are really guilty of insurrection would be here in my stead. But this you will not do, for your role is to defend the system under which the toiling masses are robbed and oppressed. There are thousands of Negro and white workers who, because of unemployment and hunger, are organizing. If the state wants to break up this organization, it cannot do it by arresting people and placing them on trial for insurrection, insurrection laws will not fill empty stomachs. Give the people bread. The officials knew then that the workers were in need of relief, and they know now that the workers are going to organize and get relief.
“After being confined in jail for the long period of time that I have already mentioned, I was sick for several weeks. I asked for aid from the county physician and was refused that; the physician came and looked through the bars to me and said: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I told him, ‘I’m sick, can’t swallow water, my chest up here is tight and my stomach absolutely out of order, seems as if I am suffering with ulcers or something.’ He would answer: ‘Oh, there’s nothing the matter with you, you’re all right.’ I explained: ‘I know my condition. I know how I’m feeling.’ He said: ‘You will be all right.’ Through friends I was able to get some medicine; otherwise I would have died.
“On Christmas Eve I was released. My bail was once $3,000 but they raised it to $5,000 and from that up to $25,000, just in order to hold me in jail, but you can hold this Angelo Herndon and hundreds of others, but it will never stop these demonstrations on the part of Negro and white workers, who demand a decent place to live in and proper food for their kids to eat.
“I want to say also that the policy of the Unemployment Council is to carry on a constant fight for the rights of the Negro people. We realize that unless Negro and white workers are united together, they cannot get relief. The capitalist class teaches race hatred to Negro and white workers and keep it going all the time, tit for tat, the white worker running after the Negro worker and the Negro worker running after the white worker, and the capitalist becomes the exploiter and the robber of them both. We of the Unemployment Council are out to expose such things. If there were not any Negroes in the United States, somebody would have to be used as the scapegoat. There would still be a racial question, probably the Jews, or the Greeks, or somebody. It is in the interest of the capitalist to play one race against the other, so greater profits can be realized from the working people of all races. It so happens that the Negro’s skin is black, therefore making it much easier for him to be singled out and used as the scapegoat.
“I don’t have to go so far into my case, no doubt some of you jurymen sitting over there in that box right now are unemployed and realize what it means to be without a job, when you tramp the streets day in and day out looking for work and can’t find it. You know it is a very serious problem and the future looks so dim that you sometimes don’t know what to do, you go nuts and want to commit suicide or something. But the Unemployment Council points out to the Negro and white workers that the solution is not in commiting suicide, that the solution can only be found in the unity and organization of black and white workers. In organization the workers have strength. Now, why do I say this? I say it because it is to the interest of the capitalist class that the workers be kept down all of the time so they can make as much profit as they possibly can. So, on the other hand, it is to the interest of Negro and white workers to get as much for their work as they can—that is, if they happen to have any work. Unfortunately, at the present time there are millions of workers in the United States without work, and the capitalist class, the state government, city government and all other governments, have taken no steps to provide relief for those unemployed. And it seems that this question is left up to the Negro and white workers to solve, and they will solve it by organizing and demanding the right to live, a right that they are entitled to. They have built up this country, and are therefore entitled to some of the things that they have produced. Not only are they entitled to such things, but it is their right to demand them. When the State of Georgia and the City of Atlanta raised the question of inciting to insurrection and attempting to incite to insurrection, or attempting to overthrow the government, all I can say is, that no matter what you do with Angelo Herndon, no matter what you do with the Angelo Herndons in the future, this question of unemployment, the question of unity between Negro and white workers cannot be solved with hands that are stained with blood of an innocent individual. You may send me to my death, as far as I know. I expect you to do that anyway, so that’s beside the point. But no one can deny these facts. The present system under which we are living today is on the verge of collapse; it has developed to its highest point and now it is beginning to shake. For instance, you can take a balloon and blow so much air in it, and when you blow too much it bursts; so with the system we are living under —of course, I don’t know if that is insurrection or not!
As reproduced in Angelo Herndon, Let Me Live (New York: 1969), pp. 342-48.
No. 664. Decided May 20, 1935.
On appeal from the Supreme Court of Georgia.
WHITNEY NORTH SEYMOUR (Walter Gellhorn, Herbert T. Wechsler and Carol King with him on the brief) for appellant; J. Walter LeCraw, Assistant Solicitor General of Georgia (M. J. Yeomans, Attorney General, John A. Boykin, Solicitor General, B. D. Murphy, Assistant Attorney General and John H. Hudson, Assistant Solicitor General, with him on the brief) for appellee.
SUPREME COURT OF UNITED STATES —Appeal from State Supreme Court affirming judgment of conviction in criminal case—Absence of Federal question—
An appeal from a decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia affirming a lower state court’s judgment of conviction of attempting to incite insurrection, in violation of a Georgia statute, is not within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States, although the statute is assailed as in violation of the Federal Constitution, since the Federal question was not seasonably raised or passed on, in the court below.
The Federal question was raised in the lower state court in a preliminary attack upon the indictment, but the state supreme court declined to review the ruling of the trial court on the ground that the right to a review thereof was not preserved by exceptions, or assigned as error in due time in the bill of exceptions, as required by the established rules of the state. Such determination by state supreme court is conclusive on the Supreme Court of the United States. The presentation of the Federal question to the state supreme court on motion for rehearing is insufficient for its consideration by the Supreme Court of the United States. The rule that a Federal question may be raised in the Supreme Court of the United States for the first time where the state supreme court’s ruling could not have been anticipated is not applicable.
Mr. Justice Sutherland delivered the opinion of the Court:
Appellant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment upon conviction by a jury in a Georgia court of first instance of an attempt to incite insurrection by endeavoring to induce others to join in combined resistance to the authority of the State to be accomplished by acts of violence, in violation of Sec. 56 of the Penal Code of Georgia (Note No. 1.). The supreme court of the state affirmed the judgment. 178 Ga. 832; rehearing denied, 179 Ga. 597. On this appeal, the statute is assailed as contravening the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in certain designated particulars. We find it unnecessary to review the points made, since this court is without jurisdiction for the reason that no Federal question was seasonably raised in the court below or passed upon by that court.
It is true that there was a preliminary attack upon the indictment in the trial court on the ground, among others, that the statute was in violation “of the Constitution of the United States,” and that this contention was overruled. But, in addition to the insufficiency of the specification (Note No. 2), the adverse action of the trial court was not preserved by exceptions pendente lite or assigned as error in due time in the bill of exceptions, as the settled rules of the state practice required.
In that situation, the state supreme court declined to review any of the rulings of the trial court in respect of that and other preliminary issues; and this determination of the state court is conclusive here. John v. Paullin, 231 U.S. 583, 585; Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Mims, 242 U.S. 532, 535; Nevada-California-Oregon Ry. v. Burrus, 244 U.S. 103, 105; Brooks v. Missouri, 124 U.S. 394, 400; Central Union Co. v. Edwardsville, 269 U.S. 190–194-195; Erie R.R. Co. v. Purdy, 185 U.S. 148,154; Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. McGrew, 188 U.S. 291, 308.
The Federal question was never properly presented to the state supreme court unless upon motion for rehearing; and that court then refused to consider it. The long-established general rule is that the attempt to raise a federal question after judgment, upon a petition for rehearing, comes too late, unless the court actually entertains the question and decides it. Texas &c. Ry Co. v. Southern Pacific Co., 137 U.S. 48, 54; Loeber v. Schroeder, 149 U.S. 580, 585; Godchaux Co. v. Estopinal, 251 U.S. 179,181; Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 261 U.S. 114, 117; Tidal Oil Co. v. Flanagan, 263 U.S. 444, 454–455, and cases cited.
Petitioner, however, contends that the present case falls within an exception to the rule—namely, that the question respecting the validity of the statute as applied by the lower court first arose from its unanticipated act in giving to the statute a new construction which threatened rights under the Constitution.
There is no doubt that the Federal claim was timely if the ruling of the state court could not have been anticipated and a petition for rehearing presented the first opportunity for raising it. Saunders v. Shaw, 244 U.S. 317, 320; Ohio v. Akron Park District, 281 U.S. 74,79; Missouri v. Gehner, 281 U.S. 313, 320; Brinkerhoff-Faris Co. v. Hill, 281 U.S. 673,677–678; American Surety Co. v. Baldwin, 287 U.S. 156, 164; Gt. Northern Ry. Co. v. Sunburst Co., 287 U.S. 358, 367. The whole point, therefore, is whether the ruling here assailed should have been anticipated.
The trial court instructed the jury that the evidence would not be sufficient to convict the defendant if it did not indicate that his advocacy would be acted upon immediately; and that—“In order to convince the defendant . . . it must appear clearly by the evidence that immediate serious violence against the State of Georgia was to be expected or was advocated.” Petitioner urges that the question presented to the state supreme court was whether the evidence made out a violation of the statute as thus construed by the trial court, while the supreme court construed the statute (178 Ga., p. 855) as not requiring that an insurrection should follow instantly or at any given time, but that “it would be sufficient that he (the defendant) intended it to happen at any time, as a result of his influence, by those whom he sought to incite,” and upon that construction determined the sufficiency of the evidence against the defendant. If that were all, the petitioner’s contention that the federal question was raised at the earliest opportunity well might be sustained; but it is not all.
The verdict of the jury was returned on January 18, 1933, and judgment immediately followed. On July 5, 1933, the trial court overruled a motion for a new trial. The original opinion was handed down and the judgment of the state supreme court entered May 24, 1934, the case having been in that court since the preceding July.
On March 18, 1933, several months prior to the action of the trial court on the motion for new trial, the state supreme court had decided Carr v. State, 176 Ga. 747. In that case section 56 of the Penal Code, under which it arose, was challenged as contravening the Fourteenth Amendment. The court in substance construed the statute as it did the present case. In the course of the opinion it said (p. 750):
“It (the state) cannot reasonably be required to defer the adoption of measures for its own peace and safety until the revolutionary utterances lead to actual disturbances of the public peace or imminent and immediate danger of its own destruction; but it may, in the exercise of its judgment, suppress the threatened danger in its incipiency. ‘Manifestly, the legislature has authority to forbid the advocacy of a doctrine designed and intended to overthrow the government without waiting until there is a present and imminent danger of the success of the plan advocated. If the State were compelled to wait until the apprehended danger became certain, then its rights to protect itself would come into being simultaneously with the overthrow of the government, when there would be neither prosecuting officers nor courts for the enforcement of the law.’”
The language contained in the subquotation is taken from People v. Lloyd, 304, Ill. 23, 35 and is quoted with approval by this court in Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 669.
In the present case, following the language quoted at an earlier point in this opinion to the effect that it was sufficient if the defendant intended an insurrection to follow at any time, etc., the court below, in its original opinion, (178 Ga. 855), added—“It was the intention of this law to arrest at its incipiency any effort to overthrow the State government, where it takes the form of an actual attempt to incite others to insurrection.”
The phrase “at any time” is not found in the foregoing excerpt from the Carr case, but it is there in effect, when the phrase is given the meaning disclosed by the context, as that meaning is pointed out by the court below in its opinion denying the motion for a rehearing (179 Ga. 600), when it said that the phrase was necessarily intended to mean within a reasonable time—“that is, within such time as one’s persuasion or other adopted means might reasonably be expected to be directly operative in causing an insurrection.”
Appellant, of course, cannot plead ignorance of the ruling in the Carr case, and was, therefore, bound to anticipate the probability of a similar ruling in his own case, and preserve his right to a review here by appropriate action upon the original hearing in the court below. It follows that his contention that he raised the federal question at the first opportunity is without substance, and the appeal must be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.
It is so ordered.
Mr. Justice Cardozo:
The appellant has been convicted of an attempt to incite insurrection in violation of Section 56 of the Penal Code of Georgia. He has been convicted after a charge by the trial court that to incur a verdict of guilt he must have advocated violence with the intent that his advocacy should be acted on immediately and with reasonable grounds for the expectation that the intent should be fulfilled.
The appellant did not contend then, nor does he contend now, that a statute so restricted would involve an unconstitutional impairment of freedom of speech.
However, upon appeal from the judgment of conviction the Supreme Court of Georgia repudiated the construction adopted at the trial and substituted another. Promptly thereafter the appellant moved for a rehearing upon the ground that the substituted meaning made the statute unconstitutional, and in connection with that motion invoked the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.
A rehearing was denied with an opinion which again construed the statute and again rejected the construction accepted in the court below. Now in this court the appellant renews his plaint that the substituted meaning makes the statute void.
By the judgment just announced the court declines to hear him. It finds that he was tardy in asserting his privileges and immunities under the Constitution of the United States, and disclaiming jurisdiction dismisses his appeal.
I hold the view that the protection of the Constitution was seasonably invoked and that the court should proceed to an adjudication of the merits. Where the merits lie I do not now consider, for in the view of the majority the merits are irrelevant. My protest is confined to the disclaimer of jurisdiction.
The settled doctrine is that when a constitutional privilege or immunity has been denied for the first time by a ruling made upon appeal, a litigant thus surprised may challenge the unexpected ruling by a motion for rehearing, and the challenge will be timely. Missouri v. Gehner, 281 U.S. 313, 320; Brinkerhoff-Faris Trust & Savings Co. v. Hill, 281 U.S. 673–678; American Surety Co. v. Baldwin, 287 U.S. 156, 164; Great Northern R. Co. v. Sunburst Oil & Refining Co., 287 U.S. 358, 367; Saunders v. Shaw, 244 U.S. 317, 320. Within that settled doctrine the cause is rightly here.
Though the merits are now irrelevant, the controversy must be so far explained as to show how a federal question has come into the record. The appellant insists that words do not amount to an incitement to revolution, or to an attempt at such incitement, unless they are of such a nature and are used in such circumstances as to create “a clear and present danger” (Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52) of bringing the prohibited result to pass.
He insists that without this limitation a statute so lacking in precision as the one applied against him here is an unconstitutional restraint upon historic liberties of speech. For present purposes it is unimportant whether his argument be sound or shallow. At least it has color of support in words uttered from this bench, and uttered with intense conviction, Schenck v. United States, supra; cf. Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 374, 375; Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U.S. 380; Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652, 672, 273; Schaefer v. United States, 251 U.S. 466, 482.
The court might be unwilling, if it were to pass to a decision of the merits, to fit the words so uttered within the framework of this case. What the appellant is now asking of us is an opportunity to be heard. That privilege is his unless he has thrown it away by silence and acquiescence when there was need of speech and protest.
We are told by the state that the securities of the Constitution should have been invoked upon the trial. The presiding judge should have been warned that a refusal to accept the test of clear and present danger would be a rejection of the restraints of the Fourteenth Amendment.
But the trial judge had not refused to accept the test proposed; he had accepted it and even gone a step beyond. In substance, he had charged that even a present “danger” would not suffice, if there was not also an expectation, and one grounded in reason, that the insurrection would begin at once.
It is novem doctrine that a defendant who has had the benefit of all he asks, and indeed of a good deal more, must place a statement on the record that if some other court at some other time shall read the statute differently, there will be a denial of liberties that at the moment of the protest are unchallenged and intact. Defendants charged with crime are as slow as are men generally to borrow trouble of the future.
We are told, however, that protest, even if unnecessary at the trial, should have been made by an assignment of error or in some other appropriate way in connection with the appeal, and this for the reason that by that time, if not before, the defendant was chargeable with knowledge as a result of two decisions of the highest court of Georgia that the statute was destined to be given another meaning.
The decisions relied upon are Carr v. The State (No. 1), 176 Ga. 55, and Carr v. The State (No. 2), 176 Ga. 747. The first of these cases was decided in November, 1932, before the trial of the appellant, which occurred in January, 1933. The second was decided in March, 1933, after the appellant had been convicted, but before the denial or submission of his motion for a new trial. Neither is decisive of the question before us now.
Carr v. The State, No. 1, came up on demurrer to an indictment. The prosecution was under Sec. 58 of the Penal Code, which makes it a crime to circulate revolutionary documents. (Note No. 1).
All that was held was that upon the face of the indictment there had been a wilful incitement to violence, sufficient, if proved, to constitute a crime.
The opinion contains an extract covering about four pages from the opinion of this court in Gitlow v. New York, supra. Imbedded in that long quotation are the words now pointed to by the state as decisive of the case at hand. They are the words of Sanford, J., writing for this court. 268 U.S. at p. 669. “The immediate danger is none the less real and substantial, because the effect of a given utterance cannot be accurately foreseen.”
A state “cannot reasonably be required to defer the adoption of measures for its own peace and safety until the revolutionary utterances lead to actual disturbances of the public peace or imminent and immediate danger of its own destruction; but it may, in the exercise of its judgment, suppress the threatened danger in its incipiency.”
To learn the meaning of these words in their application to the Georgia statute we must read them in their setting. Sanford, J., had pointed out that the statute then before him, the New York criminal anarchy act, forbade the teaching and propagation by spoken word or writing of a particular form of doctrine, carefully defined and after such definition denounced on reasonable grounds as fraught with peril to the state.
There had been a determination by the state through its legislative body that such utterances “are so inimical to the general welfare and involve such danger of substantive evil that they may be penalized in the exercise of its police power.” 268 U.S. at p. 668.
In such circumstances, “the question whether any specific utterance coming within the prohibited class is likely, in and of itself, to bring about the substantive evil, is not open to consideration. It is sufficient that the statute itself be constitutional and that the use of the language comes within its prohibition.” 268 U.S. 670.
In effect the words had been placed upon an expurgatory index. At the same time the distinction was sharply drawn between statutes condemning utterances identified by a description of their meaning and statutues condemning them by reference to the results that they are likely to induce. “It is clear that the question in such cases (i.3. where stated doctrines are denounced) is entirely different from that involved in those cases where the statute merely prohibits certain acts involving the danger of substantive evil, without any reference to language itself, and it is sought to apply its provisions to language used by the defendant for the purpose of bringing about the prohibited results.” pp. 670, 671. Cf. Whitney v. California, supra., Fiske v. Kansas, supra.
The effect of all this was to leave the question open whether in cases of the second class, in cases, that is to say, where the unlawful quality of words is to be determined not upon their face but in relation to their consequences, the opinion in Schenck v. United States, supplies the operative rule. The conduct charged to this appellant—in substance an attempt to enlarge the membership of the Communist party in the city of Atlanta—falls, it will be assumed, within the second of these groupings, but plainly is outside the first.
There is no reason to believe that the Supreme Court of Georgia, when it quoted from the opinion in Gitlow’s case, rejected the restraints which the author of that opinion had placed upon his words. For the decision of the case before it there was no need to go so far. Circulation of documents with intent to incite to revolution had been charged in an indictment. The state had the power to punish such an act as criminal, or so the court had held. How close the nexus would have to be between the attempt and its projected consequences was a matter for the trial.
Carr v. The State, No. 2, like the case under review, was a prosecution under Penal Code Section 56 (not Section 58), and like Carr v. The State, No. 1, came up on demurrer. All that the court held was that when attacked by demurrer the indictment would stand. This appears from the headnote, the court states that it may be “useful and salutary” to repeat what it had written in Carr v. The State, No. 1. Thereupon it quotes copiously from its opinion in that case, including the bulk of the same extracts from Gitlow v. New York. The extracts show upon their face that they have in view a statute denouncing a particular doctrine and prohibiting attempts to teach it. They give no test of the bond of union between an idea and an event.
What has been said as to the significance of the opinions in the two cases against Carr has confirmation in what happened when appellant was brought to trial. The judges who presided at that trial had the first of those opinions before him when he charged the jury, or so we may assume. He did not read it as taking from the state the burden of establishing a clear and present danger that insurrection would ensue as a result of the defendant’s conduct. This is obvious from the fact that in his charge he laid that very burden on the state with emphasis and clarity. True, he did not have before him the opinion in prosecution No. 2, for it had not yet been handed down, but if he had seen it, he could not have gathered from its quotation of the earlier case that it was announcing novel doctrine.
From all this it results that Herndon, this appellant, came into the highest court of Georgia without notice that the statute defining his offense was to be given a new meaning. There had been no rejection, certainly no unequivocal rejection, of the doctrine of Schenck v. United States, which had been made the law of the case by the judge presiding at his trial.
For all that the record tells us, the prosecuting officer acquiesced in the charge, and did not ask the appellate court to apply a different test. In such a situation the appellant might plant himself as he did on the position that on the case given to the jury his guilt had not been proven. He was not under a duty to put before his judges the possibility of a definition less favorable to himself, and make an argument against it when there had been no threat of any change, still less any forecast of its form or measure. He might wait until the law of the case had been rejected by the reviewing court before insisting that the effect would be an invasion of his constitutional immunities.
If invasion should occur, a motion for rehearing diligently pressed thereafter would be seasonable notice. This is the doctrine of Missouri v. Gehner and Brinkerhoff-Faris v. Hill. It is the doctrine that must prevail if the general securities of the Constitution are not to be lost in a web of procedural entanglements.
New strength is given to consideration such as these when one passes to a closer view of just what the Georgia court did in its definition of the statute. We have heard that the meaning had been fixed by what had been held already in Carr v. The State, and that thereby the imminence of the danger had been shown to be unrelated to innocence or guilt.
But if that is the teaching of those cases, it was discarded by the very judgment now subjected to review. True, the Georgia court, by its first opinion in the case at hand, did prescribe a test that, if accepted, would bar the consideration of proximity in time. “It is immaterial whether the authority of the state was in danger of being subverted or that an insurrection actually occurred or was impending.” “Force must have been contemplated, but . . . the statute does not include either its occurrence or its imminence as an ingredient of the particular offense charged.”
It would not be “necessary to guilt that the alleged offender should have intended that an insurrection should follow instantly, or at any given time, but it would be sufficient that he intended it to happen at any time, as a result of his influence, by those whom he sought to incite.”
On the motion for rehearing the Georgia court repelled with a little heat the argument of council that these words were to be taken literally, without “the usual reasonable implications.” “The phrase ‘at any time,’ as criticized in the motion for rehearing, was not intended to mean at any time in the indefinite future, or at any possible later time, however remote.” “On the contrary the phrase ‘at any time’ was necessarily intended, and should have been understood, to mean within a reasonable time; that is, within such time as one’s persuasion or other adopted means might reasonably be expected to be directly operative in causing an insurrection.” “Under the statute as thus interpreted, we say, as before, that the evidence was sufficient to authorize the conviction.”
There is an unequivocal rejection of the test of clear and present danger, yet a denial also of responsibility without boundaries in time. True, in this rejection, the court disclaimed a willingness to pass upon the question as one of constitutional law, assigning as a reason that no appeal to the Constitution had been made upon the trial or then considered by the judge. Brown v. State, 114 Ga. 60; Loftin v. Southern Security Co., 162 Ga. 730; Dunaway v. Gore, 164, Ga. 219, 230.
Such a rule of state practice may have the effect of attaching a corresponding limitation to the jurisdiction of this court where fault can fairly be imputed to an appellant for the omission to present the question sooner, Erie R. Co., v. Purdy, 185 U.S. 148; Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Woodford, 234 U.S. 46, 51. No such consequence can follow where the ruling of the trial judge has put the Constitution out of the case and made an appeal to its provisions impertinent and futile. Cf. Missouri v. Gehner, supra; Rogers v. Alabama, 192 U.S. 226, 230.
In such circumstances, the power does not reside in a state by any rule of local practice to restrict the jurisdiction of this court in the determination of a constitutional question brought into the case thereafter. David v. Weschler, 263 U.S. 22, 24. If the rejection of the test of clear and present danger was a denial of fundamental liberties, the path is clear for us to say so.
What was brought into the case upon the motion for rehearing was a standard wholly novel, the expectancy of life to be ascribed to the persuasive power of an idea. The defendant had no opportunity in the state court to prepare his argument accordingly. He had no opportunity to argue from the record that guilt was not a reasonable inference, or one permitted by the Constitution, on the basis of that test any more than on the basis of others discarded as unfitting. Cf. Fiske v. Kansas, supra.
The argument thus shut out is submitted to us now. Will men “judging in calmness” (Brandeis, J., in Schefer v. United States, supra, at p. 483) say of the defendant’s conduct as shown forth in the pages of this record that it was an attempt to stir up revolution through the power of his persuasion and within the time when that persuasion might be expected to endure?
If men so judging will say yes, will the Constitution of the United States uphold a reading of the statute that will lead to that response? Those are the questions that the defendant lays before us after conviction of a crime punishable by death in the discretion of the jury. I think he should receive an answer.
Mr. Justice Brandeis and Mr. Justice Stone join in this opinion.
As reproduced in Angelo Herndon, Let Me Live (New York, 1969), pp. 391–403.
By L. P.
The announcement on April 26th of the United States Supreme Court, declaring that Angelo Herndon was unconditionally free, marks the culmination of a historic five-year struggle on the part of more than a million Negroes and whites in the United States for the freedom of this heroic young Negro.
Angelo Herndon had organized and led a demonstration of hungry unemployed Negroes and whites in Atlanta, Georgia to demand relief from the County Commissioners. The Commissioners had repeatedly said that there were no funds for relief but when a thousand determined hungry Negro and white workers and farmers united and in a procession unheard of in the annals of the reactionary South marched to the city hall demanding relief, the commissioners were forced to grant an immediate sum of $6,000 to the unemployed. The news of this successful demonstration of united Negro and white toilers rapidly spread throughout the county and the Georgia rulers fearing that such united action would be repeated made up their minds to “get” Herndon.
One week later Herndon was arrested while walking out of the Post Office where he had received his mail. His mail contained literature which any working class organizer would receive. But this literature was used against Herndon on a charge of “inciting to insurrection” under the provision of a law passed in 1861. This law was originally passed to quell rebellious slaves and is even more savage than the “criminal syndicatist” laws of California, Illinois and many others.
Herndon was convicted by an all white jury and sentenced to eighteen to twenty years on the Georgia chain gang. In reality, of course, this was a death sentence. No man can live for eighteen years on a Georgia chain gang—a torture camp beyond description.
The campaign for the freedom of Angelo Herndon has been led for these five-years by the International Labor Defense, which has been ably assisted by the Joint Committee to Aid the Herndon Defense, consisting of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Methodist Federation of Social Service, the General Defense League, Church League for Industrial Democracy and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This Committee not only raised funds and engaged able counsel but succeeded in rallying a mass movement and stimulating activities which brought the case to the attention of the whole world. 1,500,000 people signed a petition for Herndon’s release. These signatures came not only from America but from all parts of Europe; the signers included congressmen, mayors, judges and senators.
The whole issues of free speech, free assemblage, and the right to organize in the South were involved in the Herndon case. Above all, the case exposed the restriction of democratic rights, particularly of the Negro people.
The fact that Angelo Herndon was freed through the mass protest of Negroes and whites, through the unity in their determination that this young heroic Negro would not be sent to the Georgia chain gang—that inhuman torture camp—is significant. These people realizing the miserable conditions under which the workers in the South are forced to live, realize that it was not only a fight to save the life of one individual but that this could not be separated from the struggle for the freedom of 15,000,000 Negroes, a fight for the Negro people to be treated as citizens. It was a fight to wipe out a vicious unconstitutional law passed in the days of slavery and used to oppress the wage slaves, Negro and white today. This fight has been won.
From the little demonstration of 1,000 Negro and white in Atlanta, Georgia, organized by Herndon, the unity of white and Negro toilers has grown to literally millions marching side by side in the struggle to free the young working class leader. The Herndon victory is their victory. It is these same people and millions more who must march to ever greater victories.
The Black Worker, 7 (June, 1937): 3.